Former journalist and PI Michael Koryta is the New York Times-bestselling author of 11 suspense novels. His work has been praised by Stephen King, Michael Connelly, Lee Child, Dean Koontz, James Patterson and Dennis Lehane among many others, and has been translated into more than 20 languages. Koryta’s 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, as well as being selected as “best books of the year” by publications as diverse as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Amazon.com and O the Oprah Magazine. In 2015, Michael published Last Words, which saw him introduce the protagonist Markus Novak, a former PI on the hunt for his wife’s murderer; a hunt which see Markus encounter some of the most hostile landscape in America and, also, his inner self. Now Markus is back in what can only be described as his most electrifying novel to date, Rise The Dark (Hodder & Stoughton). Here Michael talks to Chris High about the novel.
Do you come from a writing background and what did you read growing up?
I didn’t come from a writing background insofar as I didn’t have family members who were writers. Although, apparently, a great, great aunt was a novelist of some renown in the 19th century. What’s particularly noteworthy is women were not given much of a chance in publishing in that era. I’ve been trying for years to track down one of her novels, but none seem to exist any longer. I did come from a family of readers – my parents read for pleasure and I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t surrounded by books. I read everything – particular favorites in childhood were mysteries and non-fiction about the early American frontier days. I knew more about the American Indian culture at age 10 than I do now, in all honesty. I read extensively about that. Then came the discovery of noir crime fiction, and I was off and running in that genre. But I read everything. Still do. There’s really not a genre that I’ll avoid, so long as the writing is good.
Rise The Dark is a follow up to the brilliant Last Words. Was it always the intention to write a sequel, even when Last Words was being written?
Yes, and for better or worse I decided early on in the process of Last Words that I was not going to answer or even come close to answering the question of who murdered Lauren Novak. I wanted to make Mark embark on a deeper journey to get there. I kept saying “this is a saga, not a series.” Now, leaving that question unanswered seemed to anger a lot of readers. I get it, and I understand that it seemed to violate a traditional pact with mystery readers…but you also are going to get my best work only when I’m pushing to break new ground for myself, pushing at fresh challenges. I won’t always succeed, but I’m always going to give you that effort. It’s the only way I know to go about it.
Where do you get your character names from? I’m particularly interested in that of Eli Pate.
That’s a really good question, and it is a pity I can’t answer it. Sometimes I go through a long process to reach a name. Combing old phone books, studying name meanings, things like that. But for the most part it just pops. I knew I was going to use the last name Pate because I have friends in Montana with that name and I was venturing into their home territory and thought it would give them a laugh. It was going to be a minor character, though. Then I wanted a first name for Eli’s character that had a sense of history and the right quality for a self-appointed prophet. I went Biblical with that, and came up with Eli. I didn’t have a last name to pair with it, and Pate seemed to fit.
Pate’s sinister demeanor comes from his laid back manner. Was it difficult to maintain his aloofness?
He was a tougher point-of-view character in some ways, yes. I spent a lot more time in his head in earlier drafts, but I felt that it was draining too much energy from Mark and Sabrina and Jay, so in the final book, Eli’s version of events is minimal. I felt like he was working better when I showed him from another character’s point of view, because that disinterest and indifference to humanity was felt a little deeper, more showing, less telling.
If you’ll pardon the pun, Rise The Dark is never overloaded with technical jargon, but there is an awful lot of detail concerning the maintenance of the power system in the USA. How much research did you undertake?
A lot. I am glad you didn’t think it was too much, because I always worry that I’m going to overload the reader. My former editor, Michael Pietsch, and also the former CEO of Hachette USA, David Young, were both very encouraging of my desire to bring some of my journalist background to bear in the novels, to deliver thrillers that teach you something about a unique world or profession or skill. This is a particular passion of mine, and it is what I miss about being a reporter. The encouragement from those two not to avoid it, but rather to hone it and use it well was very important to me. David retired a few years ago, but it meant the world to me when he reached out with an e-mail and told me how much he enjoyed learning about the Faraday suit that high-voltage workers wear. That note meant a lot. That’s just the sort of detail I fall in love with, but I want it to serve the plot. If I’m giving you details about this suit that allows contact with massive amounts of live current, I damn well better make it critical to a scene later in the book. In this way, it is like the “Shotgun Rule” – if you mention the shotgun on the mantle in the first act, you better actually use the gun in the third. That’s my approach to including technical detail. I am glad to hear you did not think it was too much.
What was your most surprising discovery?
I’m not sure about surprising but the most alarming was one I didn’t use in the book, which was an assessment of what an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack could do to the grid. That is some really scary stuff: makes my fiction look like a warm-hearted children’s story.
Violet, Mark’s mother, is a psychic. Are you a believer?
I’ve got to argue that point – Violet is not a psychic, in my opinion. She wants to be. She strives to be. She’s searching for something that gives her that reach, and she impersonates it well, but she’s a fraud. And I am a firm believer in the latter, and a semi-believer in the real deal. There are a lot of frauds out there and they can do real harm to people who offer them complete emotional trust. The concept of some level of psychic ability, though, of premonition or precognition, have documented and studied at such a level that I absolutely think it’s real, but that it isn’t easily harnessed or delivered on demand. I believe some people, ordinary people, may wake up with a strange chill or have a dream or whatever and decide not to board a plane and that plane crashes. That’s a bad example, but things of that nature. I do not think that many practicing psychics, the people charging you for a “reading” about your future, are legitimate. All of this is just my opinion, obviously. But in the research for these books I’ve had a lot of readings, and mostly heard a lot of generic bullshit. Only one ever gave me the chill of being uncomfortably spot-on, and that was on only one element, really. But it did make the hair on the back of my neck stand up, I assure you.
Will Markus Novak be making a return?
Yes. He’s got unfinished business. He’s halfway home. I know where he’s bound and what he’s got to learn about himself, and I wish him well. It’s going to be a difficult journey! We will see if he makes it.
Putting you back in your former role of journalist, if you could choose one writer to ghost write their autobiography, who’s would it be and why?
If Stephen King hadn’t given us “On Writing” it would have been him, but he’s done the job himself, so no need for me to ghostwrite it! I wish I’d had the chance with Elmore Leonard. I’m fascinated by his approach and craft. I’d rather do a collection of interviews with a great number of writers than pick one for a biography.
So, what’s next on the agenda for Michael Koryta?
One more Novak book, and then a standalone to follow. I’ve got a few ideas contending for that. One is a newer idea, and the other is a book I’ve wanted to write for more than a decade and keep holding off, because when I do it, I’ve got to do it right. It’s too important of a story to me to screw it up. I think the best ones are stories you’ve carried with you for a long time, and finally they kick down the door and say “Let’s go, already, let’s go!” My favorite books are the ones that floated around for a while before I wrote them. I’m also working on a couple of scripts. Just finished a draft of Those Who Wish Me Dead for Fox. I’m hopeful about that, because I really like it, but who knows with film and TV. There are so many moving parts, and as a writer you can’t control many of them. You wait and hope and, if you’re smart, keep working on the next book. But one of these days hopefully one will break through!
Michael Koryta’s Rise The Dark is published by Hodder & Stoughton and is available now. For more information: http://www.michaelkoryta.com