Dean Koontz interviews Michael Koryta
DEAN: Your new novel, THE PROPHET, is a crime novel, a suspense novel, but also a good novel about brothers and family relationships. I know you a little, and I'm 99% sure that you weren't cloned, that you have a family, but I don't know about siblings. You write so well about brotherly relationships that I wonder--do you have any? And football--playing it, coaching it--serves both as a background and as a solid metaphor for the value of traditions. Did you play football in school? Have you coached any?
MICHAEL: I was a natural athlete. Played every sport, and the responses from my coaches were unanimous and emphatic. Whether it was a basketball or football or baseball bat or golf club in my hands, they’d say, “Son, I think you should be a writer.” It’s good to have consensus. So, no, never played football beyond pick-up games, I bruise too easily and lack fundamental coordination, but I was hopefully able to bring some authenticity to the book due to the tremendous level of help and access I received from Scott Bless, Tyler Abel, and the rest of the Bloomington High School North coaching staff. I spent a full year with them in coaching meetings, practice fields, and on the sidelines, and it was tremendous and fascinating. The bad news for them is I’m hooked now and currently drawing up plays. If they’ll just give me a chance… As for brothers, I have none. Just friends who feel like brothers to me, in the good ways and the infuriating. And I have a sister who brings only the positive side.
DEAN: You quickly built a reputation for crime/suspense, and then went for a touch of the supernatural in SO COLD THE RIVER, THE CYPRESS HOUSE, and THE RIDGE. Did your agent freak out? Many years ago, when I first began ricocheting from genre to genre, I received more than a few heartfelt lectures about how I was destroying my career. Now THE PROPHET has no supernatural edge. What is it with you, pal? Easily bored? Creatively restless? Enjoy walking a cliff's edge? Multiple personality?
MICHAEL: Dean, please stop answering the questions before I can. Yes, yes, yes, and, certainly, yes to those last four. As for the genre ricocheting, I had a supportive agent. I lost a publisher, but that’ll happen, and somehow I fell into the hands of Michael Pietsch at Little, Brown, who I think is one of the all-time-great editors. Can’t say enough about the team over there. They’ve indulged my flights of fancy and I know it isn’t easy and I’ve heard plenty of lectures from other parties about the career suicide I’m cheerfully carrying out, but I’ll always say the same thing here: you’ve got to tell the story that wants to be told. That’s the joy of it, the privilege of it, and, I’d argue, the responsibility of it. To write the best story you can. That won’t always fit the same tidy box. And to try and do so seems far too close to actual work. I’m not cut out for actual work.
DEAN: When researching THE RIDGE, you became interested in big-cat rescue--lions, tigers, nothing as safe as your common tabby. Now you participate in rescues. In a way, your fiction entered your life and became part of it. The same has happened to me with Canine Companions for Independence and other things that I wrote about and subsequently became involved with. Tell us why big-cat rescue so appeals to you. And are there other examples of research/writing changing your life?
MICHAEL: The experience of working with the Exotic Feline Rescue Center is one of the truly special things in my life. I couldn’t imagine not having those cats and those people in my life at this point. It’s an amazing mission and deserving of support and, as you did with Canine Companions, I simply fell in love.
I’d drop anything to go on a big-cat rescue, and will continue to do so as long as they’ll have me. Research is forever changing my life and bringing new interests and new people into it, and that’s one of the great privileges of this craft, the chance to visit so many different worlds.
DEAN: You're young. From my perspective, you're a puppy! Yet you've already published nine substantial novels and are at work on number ten. In your book-jacket photos, you often look intense, driven. In person, you're not like that; you're relaxed and easy-going. Which is the real Michael Koryta? Or are they both real – professionally driven but personally at ease? Given the commitment that's required to write well, do you find it difficult to strike a right balance between writing and downtime?
MICHAEL: I simply cannot take a good picture. If I smile for a photograph, I look evil. Possessed. Since I don’t want to reveal this truth, I try to look brooding, haunted by remarkable stories and gorgeous prose. Now, they’re not my stories and prose, of course, but no one need know that truth, either. Professionally driven? Absolutely. It’s a privilege to have the chance and I want to do it well. Better than well. I’m not anywhere as close as I’d like to be. Personally at ease? Depends on the day. Striking the right balance isn’t terribly hard, or hasn’t been so far. The only real cost to all this is sleep. I’ve been a chronic insomniac since I began writing seriously and I’ve given up on that ever changing.
DEAN: You're writing a novel about wilderness-survival training, so you went to a survival school. Presumably you survived. I went to Las Vegas so I could write about it, and I have drunk numerous California Cabernet Sauvignons so I could write about them. But I have my limits. Do you? Is there anything you wouldn't do yourself – aside from commit a crime – so you could better write about it? At survival school, did you have to eat grubs or rodents?
MICHAEL: I shouldn’t have committed the crimes? Oops! I do love field research, though. That traces back to my PI days and reporter days, but I’d much rather step into the world I’m writing about than Google it. You simply can’t achieve the same level of understanding if you go from the outside in. You’ll find no gold if you don’t pan for it, right? That sounds like a fortune cookie found at a bad steakhouse. Such is my gift with words.
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>Read a "How I Wrote It" Q&A with Michael on the Amazon books blog