Feb. 1, 2021
York Times-bestselling author Michael Koryta’s thrillers have been translated into more than 20 languages. His books have won or been nominated for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, Edgar Award, Shamus Award, Barry Award, Quill Award, International Thriller Writers Award, and the Golden Dagger.
Q. Famously, you started off as a private investigator and newspaper reporter (before publishing your first acclaimed crime novel by the age of 21). What did you learn from those PI and journalism years?
Michael: They absolutely continue to influence the writing. There’s no better teacher of writing discipline than a daily news deadline. I was surrounded by really good writers in my newspaper years. Journalists are competitive people, both with the scoop and with the writing itself, the precision of language and the eye for the telling detail. There’s overlap here between the PI world and the reporter’s world. When I envision a scene, I tend to fall back on those habits of searching for the visual that evokes the place swiftly, or the one quote that best captures the speaker’s personality and style. In PI casework, particularly surveillance or undercover jobs, your job is to blend in and observe. To see but not be seen. I can’t think of a better parallel for the novelist’s role – it is the tale, not he who tells it, right?
Q. What do crime novels and supernatural thrillers have in common, when it comes to your writing? Which comes more naturally to you?
Michael: I honestly do not perceive any difference in writing them. From 30,000 feet, I see all the differences, but when I’m on the ground, working, they’re all novels, plain and simple. The job remains the same regardless of genre. The concerns are characters and story and setting and pacing, etc. Nothing changes from my point of view by introducing a supernatural element. As for which one comes more naturally, I’d say that supernatural stories are more of a plotting challenge for me because I’m a natural skeptic. As a reader, I think I’m pretty hard on supernatural fiction. It needs to be grounded in a known world, with authentic characters who offer authentic emotional responses, to sell me on taking the journey. Because of that challenge, they may be more fun to write, too.
Q. Stephen King called you “a master.” Which of his books do you enjoy the most? How has his writing impacted yours?
Michael: Stephen King’s book On Writing was one of the crucial reads of my life. It came along at the perfect time for me. I was a senior in high school when that book came out, working as seriously on writing as any 17-year-old can, and to see the overlap between the approach of one of the great storytellers of the last century and the instructions of my newspaper-writing mentor, Bob Hammel, was particularly important. Strunk and White! Zinsser! And the ideas of writing with the door closed, showing up every day, and bringing the carpenter’s responsibility to craft were exactly what I needed at that time. It demystified the process for me while also making me double down on the work. It kept craft first and removed the business. No talk of agents or marketing, just story and character and language.
Then, of course, there’s his fiction, which has been very influential. It’s impossible for me to pick a favorite. With a gun to my head I would probably say The Shining, but there are so many. I think Bag of Bones doesn’t get enough credit. That’s my sleeper pick.
Q. Nine of your books have been optioned for potential TV or film production. As a writer, what’s it like to have both that level of success, but also the loss of creative control? Are there any developments on the ‘screen’ front?
Michael: We should see a couple releases this year, which is exciting. So Cold The River is in post-production and Those Who Wish Me Dead is done, with an incredible cast – Angelina Jolie, Nicholas Hoult, Jon Bernthal, Aidan Gillen – and a great director, Taylor Sheridan. I did a lot of work on the screenplay for that one, so there was some level of creative control, and then they take it away and you’re on the sideline and that does feel strange, but it’s also the inevitable reality unless you want to direct the film, too. Which I do not. It’s my book and their movie. The idea that anyone wants to offer a version of your story is exciting, humbling, and doesn’t change the original. It’s like seeing another band do a cover of your song. Hopefully, you like the band and their take, but if not, hey, you’ve still got the original!
I’m working on a feature script for Never Far Away now, with a great producer and studio team, and I just finished a pilot that I’m excited about. We’ll see what happens with those.
Q. What are you working on now?
Michael: I just finished a draft of a new supernatural story, Where They Wait, which will be out in October, and I’m in the earliest stages of the next book. I can’t outline to save my life, so I don’t understand much about a book until I’m underway, which makes this the most fun stretch, with the possible exception of rewriting. I actually love to rewrite.
Tara Beckley is a senior at idyllic Hammel College in Maine. As she drives to deliver a visiting professor to a conference, a horrific car accident kills the professor and leaves Tara in a vegetative state. At least, so her doctors think. In fact, she’s a prisoner of locked-in syndrome: fully alert but unable to move a muscle. Trapped in her body, she learns that someone powerful wants her dead–but why? And what can she do, lying in a hospital bed, to stop them?
Abby Kaplan, an insurance investigator, is hired by the college to look in to Tara’s case. A former stunt driver, Abby returned home after a disaster in Hollywood left an actor dead and her own reputation–and nerves–shattered. Despite the fog of trauma, she can tell that Tara’s car crash was no accident. When she starts asking questions, things quickly spin out of control, leaving Abby on the run and a mysterious young hit man named Dax Blackwell hard on her heels.