I caught up with best selling author William Kent Krueger whose latest novel,
This Tender Land, is an epic story that will draw you in and take you away to a different time and place in America’s checkered past – just what the doctor ordered for these lockdown days. Inspired by The Tales of Huckleberry Finn and The Odyssey, Krueger’s book will immerse you in a world both loving and cruel, depression era Minnesota where four orphans escape the merciless Lincoln Indian Training School in a canoe along the Gilead River, all four searching for home. If you liked Where the Crawdads Sing, then this American saga full of captivating characters and gorgeous prose is for you. If you want to get lost in a story – and who doesn’t right now – This Tender Land will do it. It also will make you fall in love with America again- its beauty and vastness, and the wide cast of personalities who inhabit it.
I’m curious about your writing process. You book is 450 pages long, (I wish it was longer) much of it written in a notebook at the crack of dawn in your local coffee shop in St Paul, Minnesota where you live. Can you tell us about your process? How much of it is planned before you set pen to paper?
My approach to writing a manuscript depends largely on the type of story I’m creating. Before I began composing stand-alone novels, I was best known for my long-running Cork O’Connor mystery series. Because a mystery is such a tightly woven fabric of storytelling, I generally think those stories through from start to finish before I ever put my fingers to my laptop keyboard.
This Tender Land is a different kind of story, a sprawling epic, and I took a more organic approach in its creation. I knew very few details of the story when I began the writing. I knew it was going to be, in a way, a homage to Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I knew it would be set during the Great Depression. And I knew I would structure the narrative in the same way Homer structured theOdyssey, that the four vagabonds would have adventures which mirrored those experienced by Odysseus in his long journey from Troy back to Ithaca. Then I began the writing and simply let the story reveal itself to me as I composed. It was an extraordinarily exhilarating experience, creating my own epic tale.
While you wrote about a very painful time in American history, the Great Depression, your book is full of hope and love. We are going through a very difficult time now. Do you see any parallels?
The setting for This Tender Land is the Great Depression, a time when we had a significant homeless population in the United States. We have that same circumstance today. It was a time when an enormous number of people were out of work and desperately seeking jobs that would pay a liveable wage. Exactly the situation we have here now. It was a time of great social and economic divide in our nation, just as we see today. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
One of the messages I hope readers take from This Tender Land is that as long as we have hope, we’ll find a way to a better place. It’s only when we lose hope that we have no future.
If you couldn’t be a writer, what would you like to be?
The only other job I ever really wanted aside from writing was to be forest ranger in one of our National Parks.
You can read the rest of my interview here on 26 to inspire the love of words in business and in life. Here, here!