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June 7, 2011

William Kent Krueger: Bedtime Story

Posted by Anonymous
William Kent Kreuger’s Cork O'Connor novels have won him a number of awards, not to mention fans. VERMILION DRIFT --- his 10th novel featuring Tamarack County, Minn. PI, Cork O'Connor --- comes out in paperback today. Below, Kent tells the tale of how an insipid children’s book, and his father’s imagination, inadvertently pushed him to become a teller of tales, and a successful writer. 
vermilion-cover-175.jpgWhen I was a kid, my father, without knowing it, gave me something special, a gift that’s been tremendously important to me in my development as a writer.
In my very early childhood, among my favorite books was one published as part of Simon and Schuster’s Little Golden Book series. It was called THE HAPPY FAMILY. The title said it all. It was about an impossibly contented family. There was a father and a mother, a boy and a girl, a cat and a dog. They lived in a nice little suburban house. They even drove, I believe, a station wagon. Nothing much happens in THE HAPPY FAMILY. There’s a birthday party in the back yard, and the family goes on a beach outing. With the exception of some ants that try to get at the birthday cake, both events occur without remarkable incident. In terms of story line, it’s terribly insipid. So why did my siblings and I clamor for my father to read that book to us night after night?
If my father had read the story as written, we’d have quickly tired of THE HAPPY FAMILY. But he never did. He would read the first couple of lines as printed, then he would take off on his own, and God alone knew where we’d end up. In his telling, for example, the ants at the birthday party weren’t just regular ants, they were giant ants! And they weren’t just after the birthday cake; they were after the happy family! As for the beach outing, those gentle waves lapping against the shore were, in my father’s telling, apt to become a tidal wave that swept up the family, so that they had to fight for their very lives!
The end of the story was always one of my favorite parts. As I recall, in the book as written, the father puts the children to bed, turns out the light, and says something like, “Good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite.” My father never ended the story that way. In his telling, the story would wrap up: “And Father turned out the light, and said ‘Goodnight, sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite.’ But when he came to wake the children in the morning, the bedbugs had gobbled them all!
My father’s inspired riffing on this most uninspired of stories was a tremendous gift to me, as I developed as a writer, because what it taught me was simply this: A story, once begun, can go anywhere. You’re limited only by the reach of your own imagination.
So every Father’s Day, when I consider the many blessings he’s given me over the years, I’m always very grateful to my father for nudging me so uniquely, and probably unwittingly, along the path to becoming, as he was, a grand teller of tales.