Thursday, February 24, 2011
Last night I went to see Michael Koryta at Big Hat Books and Arts in Indianapolis, Indiana. It was a great event. Michael Koryta is a great speaker and possess just the sort of sarcastic wit that I thrive on. Rather than a straightforward reading, the owner had arranged what she called "a fireside chat without a fire" between Koryta and Jeff Stone, author of The Five Ancestors series and resident of the Indianapolis area. The audience was also actively involved in the conversation.
First, let me tell you what I learned about Koryta's last novel, So Cold the River. Michael Koryta had tried to force the setting of West Baden and French Lick into a straight crime novel, but could never make it work. He finally realized that the surreal setting called for the supernatural. It also created the perfect bridge between the past and present that he wanted. Thus began Koryta's first foray into the supernatural, which he originally thought would be a novella.
Now onto The Cypress House, which holds great sentimental value for Koryta because it is his first novel written as a full-time writer. Michael Koryta has always been fascinated by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and also felt the story of 300 CCC workers left stranded in the Florida Keys during the hurricane of 1935 would make a good story. The real genesis of The Cypress House came when Koryta got an idea for a character who had premonitions of death. He thought the worst possible place to have this gift would be on the battlefield where death would be all around yet the gifted would be powerless to do anything about it. However, he didn't want to write a war story. So was born the veteran Arlen Wagner and The Cypress House using elements of all these ideas.
Michael Koryta doesn't feel his supernatural works are a great departure from his previous novels. He sees suspense as the thread that connects all his works. He introduces characters who enter a world out of balance and then works to restore that balance.
Following The Cypress House, Koryta intended to return to straight crime fiction, but the idea that presented itself was another supernatural story. It is set in eastern Kentucky. He wanted to draw on Appalachian folklore. Another fascination of Koryta's is the Exotic Feline Rescue Center in Center Point, Indiana, so the novel incorporates some of the mythology surrounding big cats, specifically the black panther. The combination of these elements into a ghost story, as Koryta sarcastically noted, puts him squarely in the mainstream. This new novel titled The Ridge is due out June 8, 2011.
Michael Koryta had so many interesting things to say, but I think I'll close here with a great bit from G.K. Chesterton that he shared. Chesterton once criticized modern novels as a thing that would not last because they were about extraordinary characters in ordinary situations. What would last was a story of an ordinary boy on an extraordinary adventure. [Sorry, I can't find the exact quote. If anyone knows the source, please let me know!]
So Cold the River
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So Cold the River
The Cypress House