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Interview with Michael Koryta 2011

Author Michael Koryta

Author of 8 highly acclaimed novels and winner of numerous prestigious awards, his latest outing with Hodder & Stoughton, The Ridge, is sure to see Michael Koryta’s career is going from strength-to-strength thanks, he tells Chris High, to his attention to detail.

You really manage to get under the skin of your locations and bring them to life. How important is it to you that the location becomes an extra character?

Extremely important. Setting is always critical to me, but particularly when dealing with supernatural fiction, because a critical component of selling the uncanny elements of the story is the ability to ground the reader in a familiar, or at least knowable, world. All of the past three books (So Cold the River, The Cypress House and The Ridge) are stories that draw a great deal of their plot from place, actually. Without the locations of those books, I wouldn’t have the stories. You couldn’t extract the plot from one of those and slide it into a different part of the world too easily. Or at least I couldn’t!

Roy Darmus is a beautifully rounded character. How much of your journalistic experience did you use to create his personality and what are the traits he carries that you, as a writer, share?

Thank you. Roy was originally the protagonist of the story. It took me about five full drafts to realize that the story really belonged to Kimble. I probably gravitated toward Roy originally because of those shared experiences you mention. The idea of working for a smaller-market newspaper, of covering local stories in a rural community, that is very personal to me. And my writing career started in a newspaper morgue, so all of those scenes are again very familiar. His emphasis on that old credo, “It is the tale, not he who tells it,” is something I always view as paramount to a novelist or a journalist. Also shared is the concern over what happens to a community when you lose the watchdog that the local newspaper has historically provided. We’re seeing that situation, and I suspect will see more of it still. I don’t know that blogs or Twitter or the like can replace the presence of a daily beat reporter working with police, government, etc. I often wonder what will be missed when those reporters are gone.

Kevin Kimble and Jacqueline Mathis – though their relationship is integral to the story – almost act as conduits to the action that takes place, rather than being the focal point of events. How do you manage to restrain their involvement so that the tale being told has such a natural quality to it?

I was sort of at war with my own rules in this story in some regards, which made it a difficult book. I always want a very active protagonist, but I also needed to create the sense that Kimble’s hand is being forced in many ways, that the walls are closing in around him, that he’s ultimately irrelevant in the scenario at Blade Ridge until he accepts the things he would like to deny. That requires floating more of the action at him then I’d ordinarily like to have, he is much more reactive that active, and that was an adjustment for me. Jacqueline is key to making it work, if indeed it does; she’s both his anchor to the world and his burden in it. 

How much research did you undertake so as to achieve the quality of detail necessary to capture what Audrey Clark experiences through most of the novel and, yet, set that against the “knowledge” and “expertise” of Wes Harrington? Also, do you enjoy the research process?

I do love research. That’s a bit of the journalist background rearing its head again, I’m sure. I could lose myself in research quite easily if it’s the active sort, where I have the chance to watch people first-hand. Audrey’s big cat rescue center is based on a very real place near my home in Indiana. Most of what I got into the book about the animals came from the generosity of the staff at the center. I spent a good deal of time up there and have continued to do since. More time after publication, in fact. I’ve joined them on several rescues this summer, have put down the notepad and picked up the lions – quite literally. But fear not, they’re sedated before that happens.

What in your opinion that makes the Ghost Story so enduring?

The notion that the past isn’t gone, that its influence remains. This is of course true on a very literal level, but the ghost story romanticizes that. We all feel the weight of the past in different ways on a day-to-day, hour-to-hour basis. In the ghost story, it joins the present actively.

What comes first, the plot or the characters, when it comes to planning your novels?

Characters and setting. Maybe in reverse order, actually. As I said earlier, I couldn’t imagine moving the plots around to new parts of the world. I’m realizing more and more that I’m driven by place and atmosphere. As far as plot is concerned, I’d have the inciting incident, the trigger, in mind, but generally not much beyond that. I understand the opening scenario, though I don’t know where it will lead.

Do you have a particular writing routine or superstitions?

I keep track of my daily word count, write that down in a log and keep totals for the week, month, year. I almost always write with music on. If I’m in a good groove, I’ll get a little superstitious about the songs, keep playing the same tracks over and over.

What are the biggest problems facing aspiring authors today and what advice would you give to those looking to be published in the near future?

The advice I would give is to worry about what’s in your grasp, which is the story, your work ethic, your attention to craft and desire to improve. Those are the things you can control. Problems facing aspiring writers? Well, I think there are a lot, honestly. Publishing is changing more than publishing would like to admit. The e-book phenomenon is not going to plateau, in my opinion, though I hear that suggested from people on the print publishing side. I just can’t fathom how you can look at the effect of the digital age on the music industry, film industry, and journalism industry and say, “This will have a limited impact.” I think it’s going to change everything, and fast. What that means to the aspiring writer, I’m not sure. I’d like to believe that if you write quality work, it will always find an audience.

Is writing to the standard required something that can be taught on a course or is it more of an innate skill that needs to be honed by the individual writer?

Well, I think both are true. I think honing of skill can be taught. I’ve learned a great deal in writing classrooms and from books on the craft and author interviews. But do you need to bring some innate ability to the table? Sure. It’s an art; I think some level of natural talent is required just to get in the door. What you get out of that talent, though, can certainly be influenced by study of the craft, and should be.

What’s next for Michael Koryta and can your UK readers expect a visit any time soon?

The next novel is about two brothers who dealt with the impact of a violent tragedy in very different ways, and collide again twenty years later in the wake of another crime. It’s in the early stages, but I’m excited about it. I’d love to make a visit to the UK, and hope to do so sometime next spring. The response I’ve had from readers and journalists in the UK has been extraordinary, and I’d love the chance to meet them in person.

Chris High


If you would like to comment on this interview with Michael Koryta 2011, 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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