Monday, September 01, 2014

@ The Poisoned Pen with Margaret Coel and William Kent Krueger!

Denis and I are getting used to our once-a-week trip to our favorite bookstore, The Poisoned Pen, and it will feel mighty strange when there's a week when no author we want to see is appearing there. There wasn't any threat of rain on our drive to Scottsdale, and even the rush hour traffic seemed light.

When we walked into the bookstore, I had some business to conduct. It's something I very rarely ever do, but when I do slip up and buy a duplicate book it seems to bring me humility for a couple of years. I exchanged my duplicate for a copy of Louise Penny's The Long Way Home, then I joined Denis in the back so I could immerse myself in an advance reading copy of Betty Webb's new Lena Jones mystery, Desert Rage. Whenever I sit and read in The Poisoned Pen, I feel as though I'm in a vault filled with Fabergé eggs. What can I say? Books are my treasures!

Time passed quickly, and in no time the room was filled with people who came from as far away as Tucson to see this evening's authors Margaret Coel and William Kent Krueger. Amongst the fans was another author-- Betty Webb. I barely had enough time to talk with her about Desert Rage before the event started, but I managed.

"I'm feeling pretty good tonight!"

L to R: Barbara Peters, a show-off bag, William Kent Krueger, Margaret Coel

Bookstore owner Barbara Peters appeared first, telling us that after Labor Day (when Louise Penny will be there to pack the store to the rafters) it would be a rather quiet two weeks, for which the staff was grateful. It's been a frenetic year for everyone at The Poisoned Pen, and they certainly deserve a little breather. As Barbara told us, this lull wasn't planned, it is simply due to the vagaries of the publishing world. Peters is already hard at work scheduling authors for next March when there's evidently a glut of crime fiction being released. 

Margaret and her necklace
When Coel and Krueger appeared to a big round of applause, Barbara showed us the gorgeous turquoise jewelry she was wearing, saying, "I got tired of Margaret upstaging me with her jewelry!" Coel, who always wears fantastic turquoise jewelry, patted the necklace she was wearing. "I priced necklaces like this in Santa Fe, and I thought [making a raspberry sound] I can make that! The toughest part is getting the stones to lay just right." Barbara shook her head and exclaimed, "See? She upstaged me again!" Yes, it would be another fun evening at The Poisoned Pen!

This isn't the first time Coel and Krueger have appeared together, and they make quite the team. Coel urged Krueger to speak first, and he asked us, "How many of you have never read a William Kent Krueger novel?" A few (very few) people raised their hands. With a twinkle in his eye, Krueger pointed at one raised hand and said, "Get out!" to laughter from us all. Before he could say anything else, Barbara urged him to "mention your Edgar" and Krueger told us that his excellent book, Ordinary Grace (one of my Best Reads this year) had won the Edgar award for best mystery novel a few months previously. "I've also been nominated for another three awards at the upcoming Bouchercon-- thank you, Lord!-- and I just got word that Windigo Island debuted at #12 on the New York Times Bestseller List. I'm feeling pretty good tonight!"

"We aren't afraid to tackle serious social issues."

William Kent Krueger and Margaret Coel
Once all the applause died down, Krueger settled down to talk books. 

While writing Ordinary Grace, Krueger spent a lot of time preparing audiences for something different from his Cork O'Connor books. He was unsure that anyone would want to publish the book based on the reaction to the fourth book he wrote, a non-Cork book called The Devil's Bed. "Anyone here read The Devil's Bed?" Several hands were raised. "Oh my God! All of the people in the entire universe who've read that book are in this room tonight! The book didn't do well, not because it wasn't good, but because readers weren't interested in anything that didn't have Cork O'Connor in it. That's why I spent a lot of time preparing readers for Ordinary Grace.

"We haven't been afraid to tackle significant social issues," he said, with Coel nodding in agreement. "Any time that the native community is an element of your work, you're going to be dealing with significant social issues. I love that we can do this. I can stand up on a soapbox and spout off without giving the other side an opportunity for rebuttal. And I've learned that when you couch that issue within the context of a really compelling mystery, people are going to read you. They wouldn't read a polemic, but they'll read your mystery and hopefully be enlightened by what's there.

"Windigo Island is probably the most issue-oriented of all the books I've written. A few years ago I began working significantly with a couple of Native American organizations in the Twin Cities area-- the Ain Dah Yung Center in St. Paul which gives Native street kids a home, food, job training and education; and the Minnesota Indian Women's Resource Center in Minneapolis does pretty much the same thing for Native American women who are single parents and homeless. They also work with Native women with substance abuse issues, and they work with women who are involved in sex trafficking and want to get out of that life.

"I was horrified to learn that the Twin Cities is one of the largest urban areas in the United States involved in the trafficking of vulnerable women-- a large number of whom are Native. The people in those organizations asked me if I could write a story to bring this to people's attention. How could I say no?

Available Now!
"Windigo Island is one of the darkest books I've ever written," said Krueger. "At the heart of the book is the trafficking of these very young, very vulnerable women."

When Barbara asked him, Krueger explained, "A windigo is a creature out of Ojibwa myth. A cannibal giant, a beast with a heart of ice with an insatiable hunger for human flesh. In myth, the windigo used to be a human being who, through his greed, grew into this monstrous creature. And the only way to defeat a windigo-- in this traditional myth-- is to become a windigo yourself. Once you have defeated the windigo, there is magic involved in bringing yourself back to the size of a human being. If the ceremony doesn't work, you are doomed to be forever a windigo."

Silence reigned throughout the bookstore. I would imagine more than one person shivered, including Margaret Coel, who then began to talk about her book. 

We got a special deal!

"The Ojibwa people you've talked about are related to the Arapaho that I write about," Margaret said, looking over at a nodding Krueger. "And I like what you said before-- a lot of my books arise from something I've come across that's completely shocked me. That's what happened with my book Night of the White Buffalo. In fact we're launching the book here tonight!"

"Not only are we launching it," Barbara Peters said, "we're launching it five days early."

Available Now!
"That's right," Coel said. "Everyone else has to wait until September 2."

"'cause Barbara can do that!" Krueger added to everyone's laughter. 

Barbara then went on to explain that we could get our Margaret Coel books signed early after an agreement made with the publisher. As soon as the event was over, The Poisoned Pen staff had to hide all the remaining copies away until the official launch date. Peters had to sign an affidavit to that effect-- a benefit of having a bookstore owner who once was a lawyer.

Coel had learned that the extremely rare birth of a white buffalo was akin to the Second Coming to the Arapaho because the birth was the fulfillment of a promise from the Creator. The author spends a lot of time on the Wind River Reservation. They have friends up there who own a buffalo ranch, and Coel goes out with her friends to feed the buffalo. 

"Buffalo are the most incredible creatures," Coel said. "I knew I'd have to write about them one day. The thing I like about them is that they are totally, totally wild creatures. You cannot domesticate them. Do not mess with them because you're not going to change them. They have no interest in being anything other than what they are.

"When the news gets out, 100,000 people can come to the birth of a white buffalo. These people come from all over, and they can cause a lot of damage to roads, fences, pastures-- but they also leave donations for the care of the animal. It's possible to receive $1 million in donations. However, I did have a rancher tell me one time that if one was ever born on his land, he'd kill it. Because-- well, would you really want to have 100,000 people trampling all over your ranch?"

"Hmmm... a million dollars? I don't know..." Krueger quipped.

So Coel's Night of the White Buffalo is centered on the birth of one of these rare creatures, and the murder of a rancher that follows soon after. Of course, Father John and Vicky become involved.

Peters added that she thought Coel's newest book was one of the most interesting in the series, and that she also really liked the weaving together of Catholicism and Arapaho traditional beliefs. "I also thought that this book was one of the most interesting from Father John's point of view. Unfortunately we can't tell you about the really special little plot, lest you think it's all about the white buffalo!"  Margaret smiled and said, "If you read the book, and I hope you will, I want you to know that it's based on a true story."

"I love the energy of Henry in this book."

Krueger then told us a bit more about the plot of Windigo Island. The book begins at Lake Superior with the body of a young woman washing up on the shore of a place the local Ojibwa call Windigo Island. It concludes in Williston, North Dakota, an oilfield boomtown that greatly resembles the old Wild West. Thousands of workers have poured into this small town, and these men have lots of money and nothing to spend it on... except alcohol, drugs, and prostitution. Cork's old friend Henry Meloux asks him to investigate the death of the young woman, and because the safety of Henry's family is at stake, Cork agrees. Henry is a very old Ojibwa medicine man, and he plays a significant part in Windigo Island. He's an old man on a very dangerous hunt. "I love the energy of Henry in this book," Krueger said.

William Kent Krueger and Margaret Coel
Since Henry admits to being one hundred years old in the book, Peters asked the author how long this character would remain in his Cork O'Connor books. "Henry can live forever-- or as long as I have a contract!" Krueger proclaimed. "I've made a committment to myself that the series will end when Henry takes to the Path of Souls. That will be the way the series ends."

Peters then asked Coel about the Jesuit mission in her series. "In real life, the Jesuits pulled out three years ago. But this is fiction, so Father John is still there. He will have to leave sometime, and that may be the way to end the series. I still have two books left in my contract."

"We don't want to hear that this is all about your book contracts!" Barbara protested. "These are people we're following!"

The authors then turned to talking about characters. Krueger commented that there are two types of characters: static and dynamic. Static characters never change-- like Sherlock Holmes or Kinsey Milhone. Dynamic characters do change. 

"The shocking things that can happen in these books have to change the characters in some way," Coel said. Krueger agreed. "Writing about dynamic characters keeps the series fresh for me."

Mention was made of Coel's departure from her Wind River mysteries-- two books featuring Catherine McLeod, an investigative reporter in Denver, Colorado. Coel really liked that character, but the publisher didn't, and her fans were wanting more Wind River books--"But that doesn't mean that I won't bring her back!" Coel warned us.

The three also talked for a minute about how white authors were writing Native American-themed crime fiction but Native American writers weren't, which really gave me food for thought.


Margaret told us, "I love writing about the Arapaho. Because of their location, they were involved in everything. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid hid out on the Wind River Reservation. Cassidy also did a bit of ranching up there when he was trying to go straight. There's a rumor up on the rez that Cassidy buried some treasure on reservation land." So... guess what figures into her next book? That's right-- Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid!

Krueger is working on what he calls a companion to Ordinary Grace, even though the setting and characters are not the same. After the publishing debacle of The Devil's Bed, he could only write Cork O'Connor books, but Ordinary Grace has opened a lot of doors for him. The work-in-progress is called This Tender Land and involves the coming home of World War II and Korean War veterans... "That great wounding of us as human beings and the question of how we heal."

Peters mentioned Poisoned Pen Press author Reavis Z. Wortham, and Krueger immediately exclaimed, "He's a fantastic new author!" before talk turned to collaboration. Coel jokingly told Krueger to send Cork down to the Wind River Reservation to work with Father John, but both agreed that collaboration wasn't for them. Both think it's too hard because their writing is "just too personal."

"One reason why I like what I do is that I make all the decisions. If I wanted to collaborate, I'd go to Hollywood," Krueger said.

Coel talked about a collaborative effort she'd done with other writers. Everyone had been given a list of characters to use as they wrote their alternating chapters. Unfortunately the author ahead of her brought in a completely different batch of characters which left Coel floundering a bit. "I'd bring in a character with an Uzi to get rid of all the new characters," Krueger joked, which made Margaret burst into laughter.

Krueger only thinks about Cork O'Connor when he's working on a Cork O'Connor book. Coel will finish a book around November 1, take the holidays off, and then go back to writing in January. "I think about Father John and Vicky a lot," she said.

When the evening drew to a close, Barbara Peters suggested the next time the authors appeared at The Poisoned Pen that they should bring photographs of the places they write about. Everyone-- Peters, Coel, Krueger, and everyone in the audience-- thought it was a great idea.

Once again, Denis and I left our favorite bookstore with smiles on our faces and plenty of book talk on the drive home. 


  1. Cathy - Oh, I like the Coel series very much. And she seems like a really engaging speaker. I admit I know Krueger's work less well, but he's quite talented. Twofer at the PP - what a treat!

  2. Oh, gosh, sounds like a great evening, and I'm sure, some books went home, too.

    I read a few Cork books years ago, but then wanted to branch out in my reading. But I just finished "Ordinary Grace," and now I don't know what to read next, even though the stacks are proliferating around here. But whatever I pick up doesn't enthrall me, and I'm trying to avoid a "post-good-book slump."

    I look forward to reading Krueger's next stand-alone.and will check out "Windigo Island."

    Interesting that Krueger likes Wortham's books, a good recommendation.

    1. I thought Krueger's recommendation of Wortham was not only gracious but spot-on. Wortham's first Red River mystery is one of my Best Reads of the year.

  3. Replies
    1. Sneak Peek: Next Monday, there'll be an interview with Wortham and my review of The Rock Hole.


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