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Interview with Michael Koryta 2015

Michael Koryta promo image

Former journalist and Private Investigator turned Best Selling author Michael Koryta certainly has the knack of being able to create and sustain tension. In his latest book, Last Words (Hodder) , the author takes on a journey like no other, forcing his protagonists not only underground through a myriad of caves and tunnels, but also deep, deep inside his own psyche and into the “personality” of each individual cave. “I’ve been in a lot of caves, have done a good amount of recreational caving,” Michael said when explaining a little that lay behind the idea for the novel.

“I went out with more qualified people, learned the techniques, read a lot. The world of a cave is fascinating to me because it has, as you so aptly say, a personality. Each cave is unique, but there is also this sense of a shared world, a shared underground connection, and the only thing getting in the way is stone walls. But sometimes you find a new passage and two separate caves, or three or four, are suddenly part of one system. Symbolically that fascinated me. The return to the “real world” is always a little startling. Last year I did a trip in a water-filled cave, splashing through chest-deep water in swimming passages, and emerged into a February day that was absolutely freezing. I tried to evoke a little of that chill in Last Words.

Last words front coverHow difficult was it to maintain the intensity and how do Michael manage release that personal tension that must have built during the writing and how much did his journalistic experience help with writing so vividly? “That’s a great question – one of the major challenges of the process for me, particularly when I’m introducing new characters and I’m so fascinated by learning about them. With Those Who Wish Me Dead, I had built a narrative around a sustained breakneck pace. I wanted to step back from that with Last Words and go a little more subtle, a little darker, more introspective. At times I worried that this was hurting the tension. So the way I look to fix this is by trying to enhance the emotional weight of the character’s struggle and to throw more trouble at the poor guy.

“I wanted Mark to be literally stripped down to his essential self by end, I wanted to remove all his layers of defences and have him required to go into places, both literal and of the self, that he does not wish to return to. Journalism was a great learning ground for developing descriptive prose. You have a limited word count, so you learn to look for the telling detail, for the small things that speak of larger moments you learn how to paint a picture with words for the reader.

“It’s funny – the one thing I see referenced constantly in reviews is how well I evoke the natural world, and I am always convinced that I’m missing this. I’m forever telling myself and my editor “I need to take up the description a notch … I need to make people feel what it’s like to be in a cave in the dark,” for example. For whatever reason I view that strength as a weakness somehow and then I feel more confident about narrative techniques in which I am probably nowhere near as natural or as strong.”

There is a snippet of Michael’s next novel, Echoes, at the back of Last Words which was a development that wasn’t originally intended and sees his central character – Markus Novak – embarking on a search for his wife’s murder. “Once I began writing Last Words, I knew that Markus would finish the novel a changed man and one with unfinished business. So, yes, I knew pretty early what the situation would be, and how the second book would set up. But I never really planned a series, I just understood that he would want to solve his wife’s murder but that he wasn’t personally ready for it yet, that he needed to undergo some changes.”

The snippet also sees Michael writing in First rather than Third Person narrative … or so it would seem. “It’s funny – that teaser portion, the snippet, was written in first because I had wanted to show how Markus had changed during the events of Last Words and I thought that writing him in a different voice would be a slick way to have fun with that demonstration. Instead, he began to feel like a previous character to me, like Lincoln Perry, and I felt I was losing the novel’s suspense to become more procedural. So I threw it all out, and went back to third person. The novel came alive much better for me at that point. I just finished a draft and I’m extremely enthusiastic about the potential of this one. I absolutely loved the writing of it and I can’t wait to dig into the rewrites. It will be released in August, 2016, all being well. “

So … having been a journalist … which writer would Michael most liked to have interviewed? “I’ve been fortunate to have the chance to discuss the craft with some of my writing heroes, but I suppose the great unasked question for me would be for Mark Twain, and I would want to ask what about narrative voice, how he found it, how he held onto it. The voice of a Huck Finn, for example, is just flawless, it never wavers. It holds authenticity while working in a story of great depth; it’s a marvel to me. I’d also love to ask Conan Doyle many things about Sherlock Holmes, but I’m cheating now and adding to the list.”

And if there was one thing you could change about the publishing industry what would it be? “I’d go back in time, before the big box stores of the early 1990s in America and the rise of Amazon, and I would say this: if you grant clout, be prepared to see the clout used. The publishing industry seems often surprised by developments that should not have been surprising. Some of the quotes from people in the industry at the dawn of the Kindle, for example, are staggeringly naïve.

“Even before e-books, though, a lot of clout was granted to volume-moving vendors, and then they got an upper hand in the relationship, and publishers promptly tried to fix that situation by granting even more clout to a different breed of volume-moving vendor. There are those who would tell me that is very reductive thinking, I’m sure.

“But I’d point to what Borders once was, now bankrupt and gone, and point to a lot of fury and panic around Amazon, and I’d say “how did you get in this position? You gave a lot of power and leverage away. It’s much harder to get it back than it is to give it away.” But, hey, I just write the stories. And I truly feel I’m published by the best team around, in the states and in the UK, so I am one of the very fortunate writers in the business.”


If you would like to comment on this interview with Michael Koryta in 2015, please feel free to contact me - GUESTBOOK

“Writing gets me away for a while' from this world and into one where I, alone, can make or
break the rules as I see fit.” - Chris High 2003.
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