Shots: The Crime & Mystery Ezine

William Kent Krueger speaks to Ali Karim for Shots Ezine

© Ali Karim

William Kent Krueger and Ali Karim I guess Iím in debt to Larry Gandle of Deadly Pleasures Magazine [www.deadlypleasures.com] for introducing me to William Kent Krueger and his series featuring Cork Oí Connor. Larry has followed Kentís work for many years and he recently wrote about the standalone The Devilís Bed:

William Kent Krueger's fast and furious thriller [The Devilís Bed] appears headed for bestseller stardom. Impressive characterizations and a tricky plot with many twists and turns make this another winner... Highly recommended.

I have trusted Larry Gandleís taste for many years and he was bang on with The Devilís Bed which has become one of my all-time favourite books. I am not alone, for Kentís work has won numerous awards and nominations such as the Dilys Award, Minnesota Book Award, Northeast Minnesota Book Award, Anthony Award for Best First Novel, Barry Award for Best First Novel, Minnesota Book Award and the Loft-McKnight Fiction Award.

Kentís work is not as well known in the UK as it should be, so why not grab his multi-award winning debut Iron Lake which features part Irish, part Anishinaabe Indian, Corcoran "Cork" O'Connor.

Cork is the former sheriff of Aurora, Minnesota (population 3,752). Embittered over losing his job as a cop and over the marital meltdown that has separated him from his wife and children, Cork gets by on heavy doses of caffeine, nicotine, and guilt. Once a cop on Chicago's South Side, there's not much that can shock him. But when a powerful local politician is brutally murdered the same night a young Indian boy goes missing, Cork takes on a harrowing case of corruption, conspiracy and scandal.

As a blizzard buries Aurora and an old medicine man warns of the arrival of a blood-thirsty mythical beast called the Windigo, Cork must dig for answers hard and fast before more people, among them those he loves, die.

I was fortunate to meet W Kent Krueger at Bouchercon 2004 in Las Vegas and he agreed to talk to Shots Ezine about his work, his life and his characters. As I studied in the American Midwest in the 1980s, his prose really reverberates and shows that mystery is never confined to the big cities.

I hope you enjoy his insight and reach for his work. You will NOT be disappointed.

********

Ali:

Can you tell us a little of your childhood and what you think it brought to your writing?

Kent:

Book Jacket, Purgatory Ridge Iíve always wanted to be a writer. I wrote my first short story in the third grade, a story called The Walking Dictionary which was influenced, Iím sure, by the fact that my father taught high school English. It was about a dictionary that didnít feel it was being used enough, sprouted legs, and toddled off into the world to be of service. My teacher oohed and aahed over that story, as did my parents. Honestly, I date my desire to be a writer to all that oohing and aahing that happened in the third grade. Although Iíve done many other things in my life, Iíve never stopped writing. In the early years, I penned short stories and sketches and attempts at novels that never went anywhere. It wasnít until I was forty years old that I finally sat down in earnest to write the manuscript that became my first published novel, Iron Lake. What motivated me at that point was a midlife crisis. I realized if I didnít start soon, I may never become the writer Iíd always wanted to be.

Ali:

You were born in Wyoming, where Chandler was conceived. Were you a follower of his work?

Kent:

I didnít know Chandler came from Wyoming. But I have always admired his work. Aside from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, he was the first crime writer I read in depth. Only I wasnít reading him as a crime writer, but just as guy who knew how to put a story powerfully on the page. I loved Marlowe, loved the L.A. noir, loved the prose. I read everything he wrote. I just reread The Big Sleep. Iím more critical now of some of the elements - a lot of unnecessary goings-on - but the prose, atmosphere, and Marlowe certainly stand the test of time.

Ali:

I hear that you were a Hemingway follower. So what is it about his work that appealed to the young Kent?

Kent:

I discovered Hemingway when I was a senior in high school. I started with For Whom The Bell Tolls. Iíve read most of his longer works, and dozens of his short stories. What I like about Hemingway is what everybody likes. His prose is clean, his word choice perfect, his cadence precise and powerful. He wastes nothing. In Hemingway, whatís not said is often the whole point of a story. I like that idea, leaving the heart off the page so that the words, the prose itself, is the first thing to pierce you. Then the meaning comes.

Ali:

Did your parents offer encouragement in your writing?

Kent:

I couldnít have asked for more supportive parents, a more supportive family. As I said, my father taught high school English. My mother was a musician and actress. Stories were always read to us. Books were always around the house. Our weekly trip to the library for new reading material was always a joyous occasion. Reading was endlessly encouraged. As a result, I grew up thinking of the world in terms of stories. How could I not become a writer?

Ali:

What novels do you feel were important to you as a writer?

Kent:

Iím an unabashed admirer of American writers. I grew up on American prose. As I approached my formative years as an author, the writers who influenced me most were Hemingway (of course), Steinbeck, Fitzgerald, and James T. Farrell. In my early twenties I read a lot of Henry Miller, Lawrence Durrell and D.H. Lawrence, very sensual and erotic stuff. Also very evocative in terms of setting, something I appreciated. Lately Iíve focused on reading more contemporary American work-Toni Morrison, Russell Banks, Saul Bellow. My favorite book continues to be To Kill A Mockingbird.

Ali:

At university, I read you left after the first year. Would you care to tell us about that period of academia and the changing America of that time?

Kent:

The year I spent at Stanford was one of the best, most exciting of my life. It lasted from the fall of 1969 until the spring of 1970. It was a time of great upheaval in America, with the Vietnam War causing enormous division and rancor in the country and in the world. But it was also a time of great hope, a period in which young people and people of conscience in general felt a unity of spirit and purpose, an empowering sense that what we did could actually change things for the better on a global scale. It was a wonderful time to be nineteen. Ali Wins A Novel Critique From William Kent Krueger In the spring of í70, several major events triggered reactions on college campuses across the United States. At Kent State, the National Guard opened fire on demonstrators, and students were killed. Riot police and tear gas swept across other campuses, and the blood began to flow. This was serious shit, and at Stanford we were doing what we felt was our share. We marched against the presence of ROTC on campus. We marched against the universityís ties with Stanford Research Institute, which, at that time, was under government contract to develop weapons for the military. We sat in, protesting what we considered was the administrationís spineless response to the need for leadership toward peace. Finally, we took over the presidentís office. In the night, riot police crashed through the doors and arrested many of us. I was on a full scholarship, which I lost as a result of my activities. In the world today, I see a hopelessness in the eyes of so many young people, a sense that thereís nothing they can do that will have an impact on making the world any better. What a terrible thing to feel when youíre young. I wish they had the chance to stand facing a line of advancing police, with a cloud of tear gas floating between, feeling more afraid and more alive than they ever thought possible. To confront injustice in such a physical, dramatic way is thrilling and, yes, empowering.

Ali:

Then you worked in an eclectic array of jobs. Would you care to talk about that period?

Kent:

I left college before graduation because I didnít feel I was learning the kinds of things I needed to be a writer. Logging, construction, these were pretty manly pursuits, and I thought I might pick up material along the way for the great American novel I planned to write someday. I loved physical labor, loved working with men who spoke their minds and didnít give a shit whether you agreed or not. Itís true that sometimes those who were most vociferous were also the most intolerant, but in life you have to learn to deal with intolerance head on. Later, working in academic settings rife with labyrinthine, bureaucratic procedures, I learned the virtue of patience.

Ali:

What were your early experiences as a writer like? Have you always written?

Kent:

Thereís not much to talk about in my early days of writing. Most was done without any hope of publishing, just trying to learn how to put words together in a way that told a compelling story. I tried my hand for a while at freelance journalism, writing enlightening articles on important topics such as buried treasure in Colorado, the charm of dude ranches, and the art of quilting, but my heart wasnít in it. I published a few short stories - some award winners - in my late twenties and early thirties. During this whole time, I tried to work on my fiction every day, and it was this discipline, this dedication to the art that was the most important outcome from all those years of working quietly and anonymously.

Ali:

I read that your award-winning debut Iron Lake took many years to emerge. Can you tell us about that period?

Kent:

Iron Lake took me four years to write for two major reasons. It was my first attempt at a genre novel, so I didnít know what I was doing. And all the while I was writing it, I was working full time to keep a roof over my familyís head and food on the table. I wrote approximately an hour and a half every day, finished the first draft in three years, and spent the entire fourth year revising, cutting a manuscript that was over five hundred pages (and unsaleable at that length) to one that was well under four hundred.

Ali:

So where did your character ĎCorkí Oí Connor spring from?

Kent:

Book Jacket, Iron Lake Long before I knew anything else about the manuscript that was to become Iron Lake I knew the name of the main character. Cork. This was his name because I knew that no matter how far down life shoved him he was the kind of guy who would always bob back to the surface. He was resilient. And he was ordinary as cork. As I began to conceive the story and knew that it would involve conflict between the Ojibwe and the whites, I thought the book might be even more powerful if Cork was a man of two bloods, a guy who straddled both cultures, so that the conflict outside was mirrored by his own internal conflict over the duality of his heritage. He ended up being part Irish because as I was thinking about the story, before the actual writing, I happened to meet a woman who was part Irish and part Ojibwe and she was pretty dynamic. Cork became Corcoran, and his last name became OíConnor.

Ali:

Did you get an agent or approach a publisher direct and what was the path of Iron Lakeís publication like?

Kent:

I belong to a group of mystery writers. We call ourselves CrŤme de la Crime. For the past twelve years, weíve met every Thursday evening to read and critique one anotherís work. When we all felt Iron Lake was ready to go out, I sent it to a number of agents in New York City, all of whom turned it down. Then I was introduced to a Chicago agent named Jane Jordan Browne, and her associate Danielle Egan-Miller. They asked to see the manuscript. Their reaction was that it had potential but there were several problems, among them that it was too long. I took their suggestions and over the course of the next year drastically revised the work. Then I resubmitted it. This time Jane felt it was ready to go. In November of that year, 1996, Jane sent the manuscript to a number of publishing houses with the bold demand that we wanted to hear from them by Christmas. Now, what I didnít know then was that nothing gets done in the publishing world over Christmas. For a couple weeks before and couple of weeks after, everybodyís gone, enjoying the holidays. So, Christmas came and went, and we heard nothing. The new year rolled in and still we heard not a word. I remember one bleak January night sitting at the kitchen table with my wife and moaning bitterly, ďNobody wants my book.Ē The next day I got a call from Jane telling me that somebody wanted my book. St. Martinís had offered a first author contract. It wasnít much money, Jane cautioned, but somebody wanted me. I was ecstatic. I said, ďWhere do I sign?Ē and Jane said, ďDonít sign yet. I think youíre going to hear from other publishers.Ē The next day, Pocket Books called with a very nice offer. I was ecstatic. I said, ďWhere do I sign?Ē And Jane said, ďYouíre not going to sign.Ē She explained that sheíd informed St. Martinís of the other offer and had given them the chance to respond. Bidding went back and forth between the two publishers for some time before we finally accepted an offer from Pocket Books. I have had many exciting moments as an author, but none to match those few days during which a couple of big New York publisher housing were fighting to acquire my first book.

Ali:

So winning the Barry and Anthony [among others] for Iron Lake was a real achievement. What did the awards mean to you at the time?

Kent:

Iron Lake was published to wonderful critical reviews. For a first novel, it sold extremely well. And then the awards started happening. I admit that at first I was thrilled. And I still continue to traffic on the kudos. Probably having the epithet ďAward-Winning AuthorĒ on a dust jacket sells a few more books. But I have a different perspective about awards now. While itís marvelous to be nominated for or to win one, it also contributes to a false standard, an arbitrary measure of excellence that seems to me in the end rather meaningless. I donít mean to belittle the efforts of those who spend an enormous amount of time in consideration as judges, but the truth is itís all so arbitrary. Thereís so much outstanding writing being done that any attempt to lift one work above another is bound to be rife with problems. Donít get me wrong, I would never turn down an award, but also I would be very supportive of any effort aimed at ridding the business of them.

Ali:

I read that you write early in the morning at a coffee shop. Could you tell us your writing routine?

Kent:

Ah, the Broiler. My second home. My office. My retreat. My inspiration. I began writing at the St. Clair Broiler, a little cafť in St. Paul near the Macalester College campus, over twenty years ago. I did this for a very practical reason at first. My wife was in law school and I was the sole support of the family, so I had to work a job for most of every day. Yet I also wanted to be a writer. Trying to juggle work and art is a tricky business, but Hemingway showed me the way. I knew that Papa used to rise every day at first light and spend a couple of hours writing. He felt it was his most creative time. I thought Iíd give it a try. We were living then about a block from the Broiler, which, in those days, opened at six a.m. I would rise at five-thirty, shower, dress, and be waiting at the Broiler when the door opened. I spent an hour and a half every morning drinking coffee and writing while I waited for the bus that took me to the University of Minnesota where I was employed. Short stories, sketches, pieces of narrative that might someday find their way into a novel, I didnít care what I wrote; just the writing was important, the connection with the art and the process. Over time I discovered that in addition to helping me develop the discipline that I still bring to my work, writing at the Broiler became a way to center myself, a way to generate the energy necessary to go out into the world and give whatever was required of me to keep a roof over my familyís head and food on the table. I still look at my early morning writing in this way, as a process that keeps me in touch with myself as well as my art.

Ali:

And do you have any writing rituals?

Kent:

I have no rituals as such. Then again maybe I do. I write longhand in cheap wire-bound notebooks. And I always drink coffee while Iím working. It doesnít have to be at the Broiler, but usually itís at a coffee shop. Come to think of it, I do look on these things as part of the magic of writing. I canít imagine sitting down at a computer and pounding out a book cold. It has no charm, no artistic allure for me. But lay a notebook and pen down on a beat-up tabletop in a booth of a small cafť, and I can feel the magic immediately.

Ali:

There is a gothic edge to your work, albeit a mid-western one, so have you followed the horror genre at all?

Kent:

Ghost stories have always been a great favorite of mine. I camped a lot when I was a kid - with my family and in Boy Scouts - and telling those marvelously chilling tales around a campfire has always been a strong, pleasant memory. The first long manuscript I completed was, in essence, a horror story, an unpublished novel called The Demon Hunter. The belief in things unseen, which we tend to relegate to children and backward cultures, is with us all, I think, and when itís tapped well, artistically, itís dynamically effective. Think about the original film The Haunting and the excellent Shirley Jackson novel on which itís based. Think about The Exorcist, and William Peter Blattyís fine novel. People love to be scared. Not grossed out as many horror novels or films do these days through gorefest, but held in thrall by supernatural suspense, by the primitive voice in the back of their minds thatís saying to them, while they tingle, Maybe.

Ali:

Your second book, Boundary Waters, continues the adventures of Cork Oí Connor and again features Native American folklore and ritual. Can you tell us where your fascination about the Native American World springs from?

Kent:

Although I didnít graduate from college, while I was in school the area of study that intrigued me most was cultural anthropology.Book Jacket, Boundary Waters When I made the choice to set my series in northern Minnesota, and especially when I chose to make my protagonist part Anishinaabe, I began to do an enormous amount of research. And yes, the tribal cultures of North America are fascinating, not just to me, but to many readers. I try to approach the Ojibwe culture in different ways in each book. Iron Lake, for example, was an introduction to readers and fairly straightforward in the information given. With Boundary Waters, I used the young character Louis Two Knives, who is a storyteller, to highlight the Ojibwe perspective. Louis looks at his culture in an almost mystical way, while his father is more practical, more cynical about being Ojibwe. These are rich cultural traditions I study, and they continue to fascinate me. I hope readers continue to find them interesting, too.

Ali:

Are you a reader of Tony Hillerman then?

Kent:

I wouldnít do what I do were it not for Tony Hillerman. Along with James Lee Burke, heís the strongest influence on me as a genre writer.

Ali:

I guess Steve Hamilton and C J Box write using a similar landscape as a backdrop, so how key is the location to you in your work?

Kent:

Steve, Chuck and I first and foremost write novels about character, strong protagonists. Those characters arise very much out of the place in which they live. So itís difficult to separate who these characters are from those places. Given that, setting is, of course, important. It provides atmosphere, dictates action, colors mood, gives a framework for certain perspectives and responses. Every reader coming to our books expects a particular flavor - something rugged and smelling of pines and clean fast water - and the place is part of the spice.

Ali:

Your cover-art is all location. How much input have you on the cover design?

Kent:

I suggest, but seldom do I have any effect. The one exception was the cover art for Purgatory Ridge. I sent my editor a number of photographs of the North Shore of Minnesota taken by Craig Blacklock. They loved the images and ended up getting permission to use one of the photos for the cover. In general, Iím very happy with the covers Atria has created. Theyíre eye-catching and tasteful at the same time.

Ali:

Were you under pressure to write a series after Iron Lake?

Kent:

Pressured is not at all the term I would use. When I was deep into writing Iron Lake, I realized the relationships I was creating were so complex that I would never bring them to resolution in one book. I envisioned that it would take me perhaps three to bring the characters to the place I imagined them finally arriving. And thatís exactly what happened. Purgatory Ridge, the third book, ends with Cork and Jo at the point in their marriage that Iíd always imagined. By then, I was definitely writing a series.

Ali:

I admired Purgatory Ridge, especially the unflinching way you addressed issues regarding the environment. It certainly has some sharp twists so was it a tough book to plot?

Kent:

Actually, Purgatory Ridge was rather easy to plot. The book is really divided into two sections. The first is setup for the second, which was the part I always knew, the kidnapping. The tricky thing for me was to create an initial track for the book so that it would seem to be about one thing when in reality it was about something else altogether. The logging controversy, which is the kind of confrontation that goes on a lot anywhere there are thick forests, was a natural for that sleight of hand.

Ali:

So do you plot extensively, or do you let the muse take you where it may? As your work, especially Blood Hollow [the fourth in the series] flows almost as if it were written in one sitting?

Kent:

Generally speaking, I think about a book a great deal before I begin any writing. Book Jacket, Blood HollowItís only after I have most pieces of the plot in my mind that I sit down and start working on a loose outline, which is usually a rough roadmap for the book. Often I end up thinking chapter by chapter, plotting the exposition, so that I know how one event will lead naturally to another. I like this because it frees me from having to worry about plot as Iím going along and I can concentrate on the actual prose, the words and sentences and paragraphs, which is the most compelling part of the writing for me. I think itís important to have a good, logical plot with a complex mystery, but I think even more important is the quality of the prose thatís used to tell the story. So I knew a great deal about Blood Hollow - in fact most of it - before I ever began the writing. This book is different from those that precede it in one very important respect that, Iím sure, most readers donít even notice. Typically, I write from multiple points of view. The story unfolds through Corkís perspective, Joís perspective, and usually the perspective of one other character. Blood Hollow is told entirely from Corkís perspective, a move that, I believe, creates a more intimate and immediate feel for the reader.

Ali:

Blood Hollow also seemed more personal, especially as I read that your mother was gravely ill during that time.

Kent:

Blood Hollow is an example of how writersí personal lives are sometimes reflected in their work. I thought I knew the story very well, but midway into the manuscript things changed unexpectedly. I believed what would happen in the book was basically this: A young Ojibwe man would be accused of murdering a white girl. Cork and Jo OíConnor would work to clear him. I conceived of the final part of the novel as a courtroom drama during which the truth would emerge. I also believed the young Ojibwe, Solemn Winter Moon, would be sent on a vision quest (giigiwishimowin, the traditional Anishinaabeg rite of passage into manhood) in order to find the strength to face his ordeal. I believed he would have a typical vision; that is, he would be visited by a bear or wolf or some other animal who would deliver the vision and serve as his guide. When I sat down to write the scene, I was flabbergasted when, in fact, it turned out to be a vision of Jesus that Solemn had. And the book changed. At the time, I didnít understand what was going on. Only later did I realize that shortly before I wrote that scene Iíd learned my mother was dying. She passed away before I finished the manuscript. Many things that had been important to me when I began Blood Hollow became insignificant, and other considerations became paramount. The book became very much about the spiritual search. I know my motherís illness and death were responsible for this. And I think she would have liked the book.

Ali:

Then why did you embark on a standalone The Devilís Bed? Did you need a break from the intensity of Blood Hollow?

Kent:

Book Jacket, The Devil's Bed When I finished Purgatory Ridge, I tied up many of the loose threads in Corkís relationship with his wife, Jo, and his children. I didnít immediately have another story to tell. Or really, any interest at that point in casting about for a likely plot. Honestly, I was ďCorked out.Ē Iíd been writing this character for eight years and it was time for a break. My agent and publisher were pushing for another Cork book, but I resisted. I didnít want to commit to writing a novel I couldnít put my whole heart into. But I did have an idea for a different book, a thriller. At that point, it was a very different story from the final version, which we all know now as The Devilís Bed. There were a couple of other practical reasons for doing a stand-alone. First of all, it had the potential for breaking me out to a larger audience. Michael Connelly, Dennis Lehane, and others have made the big jump through a stand-alone. Also, the Cork OíConnor character has been optioned by Hollywood, and so is tied up. A stand-alone would open the door to further conversations with the moviemakers, and thatís exactly what has happened.

Ali:

From a practical point of view was it harder to write a stand-alone than your series novels?

Kent:

Yes, it was very difficult to write, for several reasons. Moving away from the series, I had to create a whole new set of characters and evoke a new setting. Generally speaking, thrillers require a higher degree of technological detail than mysteries, so more research was needed. It had political overtones, and frankly I donít care about politics. It was also a difficult task because my own sensibilities as a writer run contrary to the elements of a thriller; that is, thrillers tend to rely on action and pace above language, character, or setting. Iím a writer for whom language, character and setting are paramount. So I struggled trying to get the thriller elements and the other elements to mesh. I ended up, I believe, writing a book that is part thriller, part mystery, and depends a lot on characterization, language, and setting. For better or for worse.

Ali:

One theme in your work is religion and rituals and how the past affects the present and the future. Why do these themes interest you?

Kent:

The spiritual life is a significant concern for me - what it is, what impact it has on our lives, how to stay in touch with it. When I created the character of Cork OíConnor, I made him a man whoíd turned his back on God, and who believes that God has turned his back as well. I liked that because I think weíre all struggling with spiritual questions and often feel abandoned and alone. Cork is Catholic, a religious tradition with a complicated history and a lot of ritual. He is also part Ojibwe, a culture with a rich spiritual tradition tied very much to nature. Put these elements together and you have a wonderful complexity of character and theme to deal with, rich territory to mine as an author.

Ali:

Family is another theme that you explore. Is this because of your own family? Or is it a theme that interests you?

Kent:

Much of what a series author writes about is dictated by the initial choices made in creating the first book. I made Cork a family man because I was a family man and felt comfortable dealing with those issues. Now, in every book, his family is a part of every consideration he makes. Thatís who he is. Family is at the heart of his life. Thatís probably me as well.

Ali:

The USA is even stricter about genre classification than the UK, where we tend to lump mystery/crime-fiction/thrillers all in the same shelf space. What are your thoughts about genre?

Kent:

We all get ticked at the arbitrary labels, but I suppose that with so many books published every year there has to be some system of initial sorting that keeps readers from being overwhelmed and confused. In bookstores, my work is often shelved in mainstream fiction as well as mystery because I deal with some heavy themes. Sometimes I find myself subcategorized with thrillers. Personally, I prefer to be thought of as a mystery writer. Makes me easier to locate.

Ali:

I hear that you hard at work on the fifth Cork Oí Connor book; care to tell us a little about it?

Kent:

Mercy Falls, the fifth in the Cork OíConnor series is in production. I had a great time with this book. Early on, as I was considering what exactly the story would be, I happened to reread one of my own favorite classics of American literature, The Great Gatsby. I thought, maybe it would be fun to have a Gatsby theme as one of the threads. So I did it. In addition, there is the new twist of Cork being sheriff again, a position that, in the small town of Aurora, places a lot of stress on his family. And the end of Mercy Falls is one of the riskiest Iíve ever attempted. Iím eager to see what the reaction among readers will be.

Ali:

Have you much feedback from Europe over your work?

Kent:

Less from Europe than from Japan, where my work, particularly Boundary Waters, has been wildly successful. Iíve been published in seven or eight languages at this point, and have heard from people all over the world. Itís a kick.

Ali:

Can you tell us how you got involved in the writers group Minnesota Crime Wave?

Kent:

The Minnesota Crime Wave is a group of four Minnesota mystery authors - Ellen Hart, Carl Brookins, Deborah Woodworth and me - who have joined forces to promote our work. Promotion is such an important aspect of an authorís life these days, and it requires enormous energy, time, and dedication of resources. The members of the Crime Wave, when we first conceived the notion, realized that sharing the effort would make it easier on us all. Weíve discovered it makes the whole enterprise much more enjoyable as well. We travel a good deal together, presenting at bookstores, libraries, conferences. We often conduct writing workshops. We have a website (www.minnesotacrimewave.org), a newsletter, posters and other material. We dress in costume, and simply have a good time getting the word out. Now I prefer to travel and do events with other authors, whether itís the Crime Wave or just another friend in the business. A substantial part of every authorís job these days is promotion. Few publishers lay out publicity money enough to get the word about a book out sufficiently, so the responsibility falls to the author. For some, particularly anyone who isnít comfortable with a public persona, this is a huge burden. Me, I donít mind it. Although it takes a lot of my time (easily half of my creative) and energy, I love putting together and doing events, and I feel theyíre worthwhile. I also have my own website and publicity materials. For Mercy Falls, I intend to hire a professional to give me a hand.

Ali:

In todayís highly competitive world of publishing, what are your thoughts on how a new(-ish) author can establish him/herself on our crowded bookshelves?

Kent:

Connect. New authors need to get out there and meet the booksellers, particularly the independent mystery booksellers. These are people who can make careers. Connect with your readers at events. Do a website. Post to mystery discussion groups. And donít get discouraged because it takes so long for anyone to recognize your name. The truth is, even those authors well known in the mystery community are often unknown to the reading public at large. Finally, stay focused on what it is that drove you to write in the first place, which hopefully is a love of the process itself, the creative endeavor.

Ali:

What do you see as future trends in the crime/mystery/thriller genre?

Kent:

Although the harder edged books seem to be the ones hitting the bestseller lists, more traditional mysteries appear as a whole to be selling better. Maybe itís readersí reactions to the violence abroad in the world today, but readers seem to be searching for the comfort read that a more traditional mystery affords them. For my own part, Iíve been impressed with how mysteries, in every way, have developed into serious works of fiction. James Lee Burke, Joyce Carol Oates, Dennis Lehane, these are serious fiction writers whoíve chosen to work in the genre. This is just wonderful, and is certainly part of the reason I continue to write crime fiction.

Ali:

What is your take on the way violence is portrayed within the genre?

Kent:

As a reader, I prefer the dark, harder-edged books, so the prevalence of violence isnít an issue for me, generally speaking. One thing I do find difficult in a book is violence toward women, particularly that which feels extraneous to the plot. If I start a book and sense immediately that the main suspense device is going to be simply doing harm to women (when will it happen? will it be gruesome?), I donít stick with the read. Iíve put a number of novels aside for exactly this reason, even some in which I felt the writing was quite compelling. Also, violence that is needlessly graphic and that doesnít further the story in some significant way is unappealing to me. But violence per se, which is an unfortunate aspect of our world, tends not to bother me. Because the world feels more violent these days, I suppose an increase in the violence depicted in the genre would be a natural outcome.

Ali:

Thank you for taking time out to talk to us in the UK.

Kent:

The pleasure has been all mine!


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© 2004 Shots : The Crime and Mystery Ezine

Ali S Karim is an industrial chemist, freelance journalist and book reviewer living in England. He is Assistant Editor at Shots Ezine and also contributes to January Magazine, Deadly Pleasures Magazine and Crimespree Magazine. Ali is also an associate member of The Crime Writers Association (CWA) of Great Britain. He is currently working on ĎBlack Operationsí, a violent techno-thriller set in the world of plant viruses and out-of-work espionage agents.

 


 

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