ORDINARY GRACE by William Kent Krueger (a 2014 Edgar Award nominee) is doubly special to me, because I got to review if for Crime Fiction Lover, and also do a write up on it for the Fresh Meat feature at Criminal Element. The author was kind enough to answer a few questions about his exceptional book, and more! Please welcome William to the blog!
Congratulations on the Edgar Award nom for ORDINARY GRACE! I absolutely loved the book, but what inspired you to write it?
There were two inspirations, really. First, I’d wanted for a long time to write a story that would allow me to go back and explore an important time in my own life, the summer I was thirteen years old. For many reasons, it was an important period in my development, and I’ve always remembered it clearly. So I wanted to be able to call it up, examine it, and evoke it in such a way that readers could share the experience with me.
Second, anyone familiar with my Cork O’Connor mystery series is probably aware that there’s often an undercurrent in the stories that deals with the spiritual journey. It’s something that comes naturally to Cork. He’s a man of mixed heritage, White and Ojibwe. So he has a foot in two different spiritual traditions—Catholicism (he’s Irish Catholic), and his Ojibwe spirituality. In the stories, he’s often struggling to understand where his own spiritual path lies. That’s been a consideration for me most of my life, and Ordinary Grace allowed me to explore this issue more deeply.
Why do you think readers connect to Frank Drum, your narrator?
I think it’s because his voice is so authentic. Initially, I tried several approaches to the story, but it wasn’t until Frank’s narrative voice came to me that the story began very naturally to reveal itself. And I think it’s because we all can relate to that time in our lives when our youthful eyes first get opened to the world as it really is. It’s such a bittersweet time for us all, isn’t it?
You traveled a lot when you were young, and eventually settled in Minnesota, but what made you decide to make it the setting for Ordinary Grace?
The novel is set in southern Minnesota, which is a very different place from what we call “up north,” which is the locale for my Cork O’Connor books. Southern Minnesota is very Midwest, agrarian and lovely in the way that farmland can be. In my adolescence, I lived on farms and in small towns in Ohio, so that was the experience I wanted to relate in Ordinary Grace. Southern Minnesota, which I know and love well, seemed a natural choice. And, oh, was it a good one. The landscape there inspired me in so many ways. I can’t tell you the number of readers who’ve contacted me and said the setting was so resonant in their own growing up experience.
Your books have gotten many accolades and for good reason, continue to be beloved among readers, but have you always wanted to be a writer? What was one of the first things you can remember writing?
When I was in the third grade, I wrote a short story called “The Walking Dictionary.” My father was a high school English teacher, and he was always storming around the house ranting something like, “Nobody uses dictionaries enough!” So I wrote a short story about a dictionary that didn’t think it was being used enough, magically sprouted legs, and walked out into the world to go to the people that needed it. My third grade teacher went gaga over the story. My folks oohed and aahed. In the third grade, I knew I wanted to be a writer.
What is your writing process like? Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Because a mystery is such a tightly woven fabric, I always think my Cork O’Connor stories through significantly before I ever begin to write them. I know how they begin, how they end, who did what to whom and why. I understand how to plant my red herrings to misdirect the reader’s attention. I know the emotion I want the reader to feel at the end. But Ordinary Grace was very different. I had only a general sense of what would occur when I began to write the story. It seemed to unfold for me day by day in the writing of it. It was, in the end, one of the easiest and most satisfying writing experiences I’ve ever had.
What are a few of your biggest literary influences?
Hemingway, of course. Didn’t he influence every male writer of my generation? Steinbeck, Raymond Chandler, Tony Hillerman, Cormac McCarthy, to name a few.
If you could experience one book again for the first time, which one would it be?
I re-read To Kill A Mockingbird every other year or so. It always feels new and fresh to me. Oh, do I love that book, that narrative voice, that place and time, that lovely, lovely writing.
What’s one of the things you enjoy most about being an author?
That every morning when I get up at 5:45 AM, I know the first thing I’m going to do in that day is write, which is what I love most in the world. The other thing I enjoy a lot about being a fulltime writer is that I’m my own boss.
When you’re not writing, how do you spend your free time?
I play tennis, bike, walk with my wife, play with my grandson, and I’m addicted to working the New York Times crossword puzzle every day.
What’s next for you!
I’m completing revisions to the next book in my Cork O’Connor series, a novel titled Windigo Island, which will be released in August of this year. And then I return to completing the manuscript for a companion novel to Ordinary Grace. It’s called This Tender Land, and like Ordinary Grace, it’s set in southern Minnesota in an earlier time. I’m loving it.
About ORDINARY GRACE:
“That was it. That was all of it. A grace so ordinary there was no reason at all to remember it. Yet I have never across the forty years since it was spoken forgotten a single word.”
New Bremen, Minnesota, 1961. The Twins were playing their debut season, ice-cold root beers were selling out at the soda counter of Halderson’s Drugstore, and Hot Stuff comic books were a mainstay on every barbershop magazine rack. It was a time of innocence and hope for a country with a new, young president. But for thirteen-year-old Frank Drum it was a grim summer in which death visited frequently and assumed many forms. Accident. Nature. Suicide. Murder.
Frank begins the season preoccupied with the concerns of any teenage boy, but when tragedy unexpectedly strikes his family—which includes his Methodist minister father; his passionate, artistic mother; Juilliard-bound older sister; and wise-beyond-his-years kid brother—he finds himself thrust into an adult world full of secrets, lies, adultery, and betrayal, suddenly called upon to demonstrate a maturity and gumption beyond his years.