LUCY BURDETTE: Oh boy, if you Reds haven't yet read Kent Krueger's Cork O'Connor series, you are in for a treat. In fact, I am green with envy that you get the chance to start from the beginning and read them through. In order.
But listen, if even if you have read the books, you are still in for a treat, because Kent agreed to visit with us today to explain the mystery of how Cork O'Connor came to life.
KENT KRUEGER: Twenty years ago, a character began to materialize in my imagination. This was long before I’d begun to write my first novel in the Cork O’Connor series, before I even knew that I would write mysteries. I didn’t know a lot about this guy. At first, the only thing really clear to me was that he would be the kind of man who was so resilient that, no matter how far life pushed him down, he would always bob back to the surface. His name would be Cork.
Honest to God, that’s how it all began.
Why do we love a series? More fundamental than any other element, it seems to me, is a love of the character, or characters, at the heart of the stories. Everything else that might be good—the plots, the setting, the writing itself—is secondary to what brings us back to a series again and again. We come back to be with people we care about.Readers tell me they like Cork O’Connor. They tell me they care about him and his family and Henry Meloux, who is the spiritual center of most of the stories I’ve written. Why do they care? I think those who’ve followed my series from the beginning, or who discover my series and then go back to read from the beginning, understand that they’re watching a family history play out before their eyes. They’re watching the saga of the O’Connors of Tamarack County.
Among the many choices I made early on in my thinking about Cork O’Connor was that I didn’t want him to be a static protagonist. By static I mean a character who never changes. Think Sherlock Holmes here. You read one Sherlock Holmes story, and you know him. He will never surprise you. He will never age, never change his attitude toward life or his relationship to Watson, never be anything less than brilliant. That’s not who I wanted to write about. I wanted, in a way, to create a character who could mirror my own journey through life. I wanted someone I considered dynamic, someone who would be changed as he confronts the realities of this world, or the realities as I know them—raising a family, negotiating the often difficult terrain of love relationships, failing and rising from that failure. And, of course, aging. I’ve used Cork often to help me explore real issues in my own life.
In the first novel in the series, Cork is going through a pretty horrific midlife crisis. Just as I was when I wrote the book. In Blood Hollow, the fourth entry in my series, he struggles with the spiritual journey and the nature of death. When I wrote that story, my mother was dying. My seventh novel, Red Knife, a long rumination on violence in our culture, was written after the school shooting on the Red Lake Reservation in northern Minnesota, which left seven people dead. It was the worst incident of its kind up that point in time, and it haunted me terribly. On a happier note, a couple of years ago, in Northwest Angle, Cork became a grandfather. I’m a grandfather, and I love writing about that experience.Write what you know. What an old saw that is. But I happen to believe it. There’s much I write about that I have to research significantly—the culture of the Anishinaabeg, police procedure, forensic investigation, to name just a few. But at heart, when I’m writing about Cork, I’m on wonderfully familiar ground. What makes him compelling to readers?
I believe it’s because he’s accessible, he’s flawed, he’s not always right, but he’s always struggling to do the right thing as he understands it. He’s so very human. Just like me, and, I think, just like the people who enjoy my work.
William Kent Krueger is the author of the New York Times bestselling Cork O'Connor mystery series, which is set in the great northwoods of Minnesota. He makes his home with his wife and family in the city of Saint Paul. You can find him on Facebook.
Reds, what makes a series character work for you? And Kent will be stopping in today to answer your questions and comments.