Michael Koryta, author of the up-coming So Cold the River speaks to Booktopia

by |May 12, 2010

At the tail end of his recent Australian tour, we asked

Michael Koryta

author of

So Cold the River, Envy the Night, and the four Lincoln Perry books – The Silent Hour, A Welcome Grave, Sorrow’s Anthem and Tonight I Said Goodbye

Ten Terrifying Questions


1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
I was born in Bloomington, Indiana, and raised there although a great deal of my time in childhood was also spent in Cleveland, Ohio, the location of many of my novels. Both of my parents were born in Cleveland, and all of my extended family remains there. I graduated from Indiana University with a degree in criminal justice and minor in political science.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
A writer and a detective, a writer and a detective, and I’m three years away from 30, so that one eludes me! I’ve always been fascinated by both the world of investigation and the world of fiction. From the time I began to read I’ve wanted to write, and those early childhood desires never really wavered. I’ve had the incredible good fortune to be able to follow those dreams into adulthood.

3.    What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
Good question. There are so many. I’m far more politically interested than I was at that age, and many of my beliefs in that area have shifted, (or merely developed) but with regard to writing, I suspect that at 18 I believed there was a stark delineation between literature and genre fiction. Over the years, I’ve come to understand that the best of the latter encompasses, embraces, and demonstrates the finest elements of the former. At 18 I was working with plot and character and little else, whereas with each passing year and each new novel,  I’m seeking to deepen the work while never losing focus on those two key elements: plot and character. It’s the understanding that you should always try to demand more of yourself as a writer.

4.    What were three works of art – book, painting, piece of music – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?
Dennis Lehane’s crime novels Gone, Baby, Gone and Mystic River showed me that one could create thought-provoking, important fiction and tell a wonderfully gripping genre story at the same time; the photographs of the FSA artists such as Lange and Rothstein entranced me with the stories of the people on the social fringes, their struggle and grace, and Joshua Bell and Edgar Meyer’s haunting strings piece “Short Trip Home” actually inspired me to write my novel So Cold the River.

5.    Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
Never was a choice. I really believe that, too. I’ve been compelled to write since I began to read, and it felt like less of a conscious decision than something that was always in me but demanded learning, discipline, and practice. I’ve always wanted to write, and I’ve always loved it.

6.    Please tell us about your latest novel.
So Cold The River is a mystery with a supernatural element that was inspired by a fascinating place in rural southern Indiana that was once an international destination, a truly famous resort, and then disappeared from public memory and fell into ruin. The history of the town, the visually compelling elements of the area, and the desire to try stretch my writing away from pure detective fiction and toward something a little different all combined to provide this story. It was, without question, the most fun I’ve ever had writing a novel.

7.    What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
Entertainment, first and foremost. These aren’t text books, they are meant to be enjoyed, and I owe the reader a gripping story if nothing else. Beyond that, I’d love to make them think. Not make a point, or an argument, but provide some level of human conflict that resonates with them in a way that produces critical thought and thus allows the story to linger in their minds a bit longer.

8.    Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
Dennis Lehane, Michael Connelly, Stewart O’Nan, Daniel Woodrell, Stephen King, William Gay, George Pelecanos, and…well, I could run on forever with this. I admire so many writers, and the reasons are always similar: they’re talented but evidence of hard work and dedication is shown on every page, they care about the reader more than their own literary egos, and they are consummate storytellers.

9.    Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
To try and improve with each book, and to try and avoid the work becoming overly familiar and stale, which is accomplished through pushing in new directions That won’t always please every reader, I know, but I think it’s key for the creative process and for any real growth. My primary goal, however, is to remember that I love this craft, and to be always and forever grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to write for an audience.

10.    What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Write every day, for as much time as you can spare, because it isn’t a craft that can be learned through random bursts of creativity, but rather slow, steady, and focused efforts. Read in as wide a range as possible, read interviews with the writers you admire, try to find out as much as possible about the process. The craft should be viewed as a constant education.

Watch Michael Koryta in a clip filmed at the hotel that features in So Cold The River

About the author

Michael Koryta (pronounced ko-ree-ta) is the author of six novels, most recently So Cold The River (pre-order for June delivery), and his work has won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, Great Lake Books Award, and St. Martin’s Press/PWA Best First Novel prize, while also earning nominations for the Edgar, Quill, Shamus and Barry awards. In addition to winning the Los Angeles Times prize for best mystery, his novel Envy the Night was selected as a Reader’s Digest condensed book. His work has been translated into nearly twenty languages. A former private investigator and newspaper reporter, Koryta graduated from Indiana University with a degree in criminal justice. He currently lives in St. Petersburg, Florida, and Bloomington, Indiana. His next novel, The Cypress House, will be released early 2011.

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