Monday, September 09, 2013

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

When Denis and I headed to The Poisoned Pen on Wednesday, August 28, we were going to see not one, but two authors. Neither of us had read both authors' works. Knowing that we would be going to see Margaret Coel and William Kent Krueger, I had done a little preparatory reading (Coel's first Wind River mystery, The Eagle Catcher), but I didn't have time to read any of Krueger's books. On the other hand, Denis had read and enjoyed four of Krueger's Cork O'Connor books and hadn't read any of Coel's.

Quite a crowd had gathered to see these two, and when host Barbara Peters arrived, she looked a bit dismayed. We soon learned why. She had purchased cookies and realized that she hadn't bought enough for everyone in the crowd. This led to the "Cookies by Number" gambit, in which Barbara called out a number (when you buy an author's book to have it signed, you receive a numbered slip) and the person with that number won a cookie. I think Barbara put an extra mile or two on her odometer with all her deliveries! Once all the goodies were distributed, Margaret and Kent arrived on the scene, and you can tell by the following photo that we all settled in for a fun evening.

L to R: Barbara Peters, William Kent Krueger, Margaret Coel

In her introduction to the authors, Peters told us that Margaret Coel's first Wind River mystery, The Eagle Catcher, published in 1995, is still the bestselling book of the University of Colorado Press. We then learned that both authors have quite a track record, both with their books and with their appearances at The Poisoned Pen.

Coel has written 19 books, 17 of which are Wind River mysteries, and she has now made 18 appearances at my favorite bookstore. Krueger has written 15 books, 13 of them featuring Cork O'Connor, and he's appeared at The Poisoned Pen 15 times. In fact, this is his second time visiting this year!

"They will write and tell you what they are."

Margaret Coel
Margaret Coel is a native of Denver and now lives in Boulder, Colorado. She and Tony Hillerman were very close. Barbara Peters mentioned that Coel's series had at first been referred to as the "Father John and Vicky Holden" mysteries, but were now called the Wind River mysteries after the Arapaho Reservation and the area in which they take place. Coel is happy with the change because the high desert setting and its weather play a significant role in the books. It has to, Coel explained, because from where they live, Father John and Vicky are a thirty to forty-five minute drive from anywhere.

Barbara Peters noticed a theme as she read Coel's latest book, Killing Custer. It's a theme of borders, crossing borders-- and not just in terms of land but also in terms of people. Coel laughed when Peters mentioned the word "theme."  "I never start writing a book with a theme in mind," she said, "but sometimes one develops anyway. A trusted adviser told me never to start with a particular theme. He said, 'When your book is published, all the Ph.D's will write and tell you what the themes are.'"

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After we finished laughing, Peters said, "The last two books focused on popular stories and legends [like Buffalo Bill's Dead Now], although not necessarily about the Wind River area in Wyoming. You really deconstructed the Custer myth-- I learned so much about him from reading Killing Custer."

Killing Custer begins with a parade in Lander, Wyoming, in which many Little Big Horn reenactors participate. In fact, the Custer reenactor leads the parade, and the rest of the "Seventh Cavalry" is there, too. One of the Indians taking part is related to Crazy Horse, so when the man portraying Custer is shot dead during a dare ride in which the Indians are showing who really won the battle, this man is the number one suspect. Vicky Holden winds up representing the wife of the dead "Custer."

"I'd be nicer to them if they were real."

William Kent Krueger
Then it was time for William Kent Krueger, and the first thing Barbara said to him was, "Lots of drama and lots of trauma. You really put the O'Connor family through the wringer!" Krueger nodded and smiled, "Yes, I really beat 'em up pretty bad, don't I? I'd be nicer to them if they were real. For a guy who considers himself pretty nice, I can write some brutal stuff."

According to Krueger, his latest Cork O'Connor book, Tamarack County, is about the wonder and the messiness of love, although Barbara Peters thinks his book shares a theme of borders with Margaret Coel's Killing Custer.

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When Peters asked him where he'd gotten the idea for the book, Krueger told us that he'd read a news article about a man convicted of murder who spent twenty years on Death Row. When an organization began digging into his case, they discovered proof that the prosecution had knowingly and deliberately sent an innocent man to jail.

Krueger began to wonder what would happen if he wrote a book in which a similar thing happens and the people who put the man in prison start being murdered... and what if a young detective named Cork O'Connor was the investigator who had gathered all the evidence that sent that innocent man to jail?

Sounds like a good'un, doesn't it?

Krueger gave us a small hint about his next book. It will be set on Windigo Island in Lake Superior, which holds 10% of the world's fresh water supply. Normally Krueger's Cork O'Connor books are set in Minnesota, but one-- Heaven's Keep-- is set in Wyoming. When Peters asked him about it, Krueger laughed and said, "Yes, my fans told me that they enjoyed the book, but they wanted Cork back in Minnesota!"

"Make 'em laugh..."

We learned many interesting little tidbits during the general chat and question section of the evening. Barbara Peters mentioned that Krueger had written introductions to Margaret Coel's short story collections. Krueger looked out at the crowd and said, "I became a published author due in large part to Margaret Coel. My agent told me about the best query letter he'd ever received, and it was Margaret's query letter! I approached her at my first opportunity."

While Eagles Soar is a collection of all of Margaret Coel's short stories, including the ones called "the ten Arapaho Commandments." When Peters asked Krueger if there would be a collection of his short stories, he nodded. "Yes, along with a novella." "That's a good idea," Peters remarked. "I thought so-- and I still need a publisher for it," Krueger quipped, waggling his eyebrows at the creator of the Poisoned Pen Press (Peters).

Keeping with the short story theme, Barbara Peters told us that one of the reasons why the Sherlock Holmes stories in Strand magazine were so wildly popular was because the Strand was the first to print an entire story in one issue-- no cliffhangers, and no wait for next week's issue.

Krueger said, "I cut my teeth on short stories. The economy of style is a good training ground." 

Coel agreed. "Short stories must be focused on one thing and not contain subplots. Something I learned as a journalist works great for short stories: Make 'em laugh, make 'em cry, say good-bye!"

Krueger then asked Coel about something I hadn't noticed due to my juggling pen, paper and camera. "Who hit you?"  I stopped writing, craned my head around the person in front of me and took a good, close look. There was a bandage above Margaret Coel's left eye that was pretty well disguised by her hair. "I tripped in my hotel room today and hit my head on the corner of the bed. I feel so stupid! I was advised to go to Urgent Care. I immediately thought of how long that would take and said, 'I can't be sitting in Urgent Care-- I have a book signing!'"

Peters asked them why they write. Krueger responded, "One of the reasons why I write is because I absolutely love where I live. I love Minnesota." Coel told us, "I followed the Arapaho. I love the West, and I've spent a lot of time out on the plains. The landscape inspires me. I'd still write about the Arapaho if they lived in Texas, but I'm so glad they're in Wyoming!"

Barbara Peters then told us that she had been putting off reading Spider Woman's Daughter by Tony Hillerman's daughter, Anne. "I was chicken to read it, but now I'm reading it a little at a time. It's a bit more detailed than Tony, but there are still those gorgeous descriptions of the landscape." [Anne Hillerman will be appearing at The Poisoned Pen on Wednesday, October 23.] Coel smiled and added, "We bugged Anne to follow through with her idea. She has the same publisher and the same editor as her dad." I know I wasn't the only person in the room looking forward to reading Anne Hillerman's book. (Spider Woman's Daughter is a new Leaphorn and Chee book that focuses on different characters.)

Talk then swung around to the topic of two established writers collaborating. Peters suggested that Krueger may want to collaborate with Lee Child, author of the Jack Reacher books. Krueger grinned and exclaimed, "And Cork O'Connor would kick that other guy's ass!" to a store filled with laughter.

Film rights was the next subject. Margaret Coel was approached about the film rights to her Wind River books, and Nick Nolte was suggested as the actor to portray Father John. "At the time, I was envisioning Harrison Ford as Father John, but then I had to admit that he was a bit long in the tooth," Coel said.

Krueger has also been approached about film rights to his Cork O'Connor books. "I wanted Sam Shepard to portray Cork, but by the time anything would have been done, Shepard was too old. Everything takes forever in Hollywood," he went on to say. "So long in fact that you gotta think young... so I'm thinking... maybe Justin Bieber." The bookstore was filled with groans, moans, and howls of laughter.

It was such a fun night at The Poisoned Pen. Denis left, determined to read Margaret Coel's books, while I knew it wouldn't be long before I had my hands on a book by William Kent Krueger. We are a couple who love to read!

Barbara Peters and William Kent Krueger weren't the only two having fun!


  1. Cathy - Oh, sounds like a wonderful trip!! And I know what Coel means about not starting a book with a theme. I'm that way too. Often when I look back on what I've written there's a theme, but I don't start with one. Interesting!

    1. I've tried writing articles with a particular theme in mind, and they usually sound very forced and artificial. Best to write what you want to write and let someone else tell you what your theme was afterwards! :-)

  2. I saw Kent at an event here and think is a just terrific! I can't wait to read some of his mysteries.

    1. Denis says they are very good, and I'm looking forward to reading them, too!


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