Tuesday, March 20, 2018

KEEPING IT FRESH


guest post by William Kent Krueger

Lynn here: 

Kent Krueger is one of the stellar authors who will be on hand at the 44th Annual Wyoming Writers, Inc. conference this coming June 1 - 3 in lovely Dubois, Wyoming. (Turns out Kent has been to Dubois, doing research for his novel, Heaven's Keep.)  

During the conference, Kent will be the keynote speaker at the banquet. At his breakout sessions Kent will provide insight on finding the soul of the story, creating suspense and elevating setting and place. 

Little known fact: Kent was born in Torrington.

For more information on the conference, visit the Wyoming Writers, Inc. website. Registration is now open! 

Without further ado... here's Kent:

I’ve just completed revisions of the manuscript for the seventeenth novel in my Cork O’Connor series. Seventeen. That’s a number hard for me to believe. In 1998, when Iron Lake, my debut novel, was published, if you’d told me there were going to be sixteen more (and probably then some), I’d have wondered what you were smoking.

Of course, I’m thrilled, and one of the questions I’m most frequently asked is how I manage to keep the series fresh and maintain my enthusiasm. So, for anyone who has launched into the writing of a series or is contemplating that move, I offer a few suggestions from my own experience.

The most important decision I made when I started out was to create a protagonist who would not be static. What do I mean by that? I believe you have only two real choices when considering the essential, central character for your series. You will create a protagonist who is either static or dynamic. A static protagonist is someone who never changes, who is the same story after story.

Think Sherlock Holmes. You read one Sherlock Holmes tale, and he’s the same guy in every other Arthur Conan Doyle story you read. A dynamic protagonist, on the other hand, is someone who does change, who ages, someone for whom what happens in one story affects how he or she sees the world in the subsequent entries. When I began my series, Cork was a man just past forty. In Sulfur Springs, the most recent entry, he’s in his mid-fifties. He’s aged fifteen years. His children were young in the first book; now they’re grown and one of them has a child of her own.

What this choice has done is to help frame the series as a journey for the O’Connor clan. Each time I sit down to write a new story, I’m writing about slightly different people. Events and time have changed them. They see the world and themselves a little differently. They may relate to one another with different dynamics. Which means that the series is a journey for me as well, and I’m always discovering something new along the way.

Here’s another thing to consider when writing your mysteries: Try putting at the story’s center an issue about which you feel passionately. At one time, there was a kind of story often in literature referred to as the Social Novel, a fiction created around a very real, contemporary social issue that the author wished to bring to the attention of a larger audience. Think Dickens or Victor Hugo or Upton Sinclair or Theodore Dreiser. We don’t really have the Social Novel anymore. What’s taken its place? To a large extent, our genre has shouldered this responsibility. Many of our fine crime novels today hit hard at issues important in our society.

In my own series, I’ve dealt with the on-going battle here in Minnesota over Native hunting and fishing treaty rights, the influx of the drug and gang cultures on the reservation, the sexual trafficking of vulnerable Native women and children, the rape of the land by uncaring corporations, and most recently, the tragic situation involving refugees coming across our border with Mexico. When you construct a story around an issue you feel passionately about, it’s not hard to create a compelling narrative in which you can invest your heart and your artistic sensibilities fully.

Here's another suggestion: Educate your readers. Without being didactic or becoming pedantic, offer your readers information about an area they probably don’t know very well. Everyone likes to feel that, along with a good read, they’re learning something. Tony Hillerman informed a huge audience about the Navajo culture. When you read Nevada Barr, you get the inside scoop on so many of our national parks. From Keith McCafferty you might learn everything you need to about fly fishing and wilderness survival. It’s fun to show off what you know or what you’ve learned through research, as long as you do this judiciously.

In my own work, for example, I continue learning about the rich and complex culture of the Anishinaabeg. With each entry, I try to offer readers something I haven’t previously, a slightly different perspective. This means that I have to keep learning myself, and I find that I continue to grow in my appreciation of these fine people.

Finally, I offer this: Write because it’s what you love to do. If you’re following your passion, that’s going to be evident on every page. There’s nothing more compelling than a story that comes from the heart.

I told myself a long time ago that I would write the Cork O’Connor stories until I had no enthusiasm left for them. I’m at work in my head on number eighteen in the series and I even have a glimmer of what number nineteen might look like. At the moment, the energy still flows, I’m excited about the possibilities ahead, and I feel very blessed.

William Kent Krueger: Bio


Raised in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon, William Kent Krueger—he goes by Kent—briefly attended Stanford University, before being kicked out for radical activities, a dubious honor which he continues to be unduly proud of.

Before becoming a writer fulltime, he worked in a number of manly enterprises, including logging and heavy construction. Kent writes the New York Times bestselling Cork O’Connor mystery series. 

His 2013 stand-alone novel Ordinary Grace was honored with several awards, including the Edgar Award for Best Novel. Desolation Mountain, the 17th entry in his series, will be released this August. He does all his writing in a couple of wonderfully funky coffee shops in St. Paul, Minnesota.

4 comments:

  1. Oh NO! Lynn, you've just made choosing which sessions to attend at the Wyoming Writer's conference just that much harder. This is a beautifully written piece on how to write well, to write about what you care about and have passion for. I am considering writing a novel about something like that, and have almost decided not to because it will be very hard to write. Maybe Kent can help me over those doubts in Dubois.

    But I also want to go to the poetry sessions, and the ones about agents, and those about self-publishing and marketing self-published books. And now this. HELP!

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    1. Dontcha know it's our goal to make life hard for you!?!

      I have some of the same dilemmas myself. I'll just have to see how the conference rolls out... And chat with folks over meals about what they learned in the sessions I missed.

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  2. I'm not familiar with his work, but he sounds like a very interesting writer with lots to offer. I'm looking forward to meeting him.

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  3. Can't wait to hear you speak at the conference, Kent.

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