Friday, December 18, 2009

Last-minute shopping!

Okay, you guys are surely far better people than yours truly and therefore completed all Christmas shopping in April, but in case there are any deadline-pushing junkies like me (it's a newspaper thing, I tell my friends and family, don't blame me, blame the business) I'd offer a few recommendations from my year's reading list. I'm at 98 books so far this year, my annual goal of 100 likely to be conquered again, and then it's on to 2010 and back to zero, which hopefully means a lot of great reading ahead. I've already listed my favorites from the front half of the year, now here are some from the back half.

1) Columbine, by Dave Cullen. Not exactly high on the cheer list for Christmas, but it is a magnificent piece of journalism, painstakingly researched and beautifully written. A story that everyone should understand better.
2) Ravens, by George Dawes Green. Cool concept, great cast, wonderful read.
3) Under the Dome, by Stephen King. If you like his door-stopper epics (and we always do) you're in for a treat.
4) What the Dog Saw, by Malcolm Gladwell. Collection of ingenious pieces from one of our most fascinating writers.
5) The Glister, by John Burnside. Dark, creepy, captivating.
6) The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters. See above, and amplify. This one does Henry James and Shirley Jackson proud.
7) The Signal, by Ron Carlson. Hike-in-the-woods-goes-bad storyline isn't anything special, but the prose and the characters and the beautifully handled emotions are.
8) More Than a Game, by Brian Billick. Not really a coaching memoir, but an extremely insightful insider's account of the NFL, and why we should worry for its future.
9) The Good Soldiers, by David Finkel. Up there with Dexter Filkins and "The Forever War." Powerful on-the-ground war reporting.
10) Sag Harbor, by Colson Whitehead. This coming-of-age account of black teens in a Long Island summer community was one of the funniest, sharpest novels I read this year.

So Cold the River widget

It took me a while to figure out how to post this little guy, but it was worth the effort because the online marketing folks at Little, Brown and Co. did a wonderful job on this. I'm web-challenged (as anyone who has followed this blog can already tell) so I wasn't familiar with the idea of a "widget" and had no idea what to expect when I was told LB would be creating one. Have to say I'm awfully impressed by the result! You can share this through blogs, e-mails, Facebook, and whatever other social networking services you use. Please give it a look, and many thanks to the talented Miriam Parker for producing it. Hopefully, it sparks your interest in the book and gives you a little more sense of the story and the place behind it.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Kind words from kind people

Early galleys of So Cold The River are floating around out there, and I'm thrilled to report that several excellent writers have already offered up very generous words in support of the book.

We also have an official pub date now: June 9, 2010.

"An icy, terrifying winner. SO COLD THE RIVER puts an October chill in your blood by the end of the first chapter. It's not much longer before you've turned on all the lights and rechecked all the window locks. Few novelists warrant mention alongside Stephen King or Peter Straub. Michael Koryta, however, earns comparison to both."
--Dennis Lehane, New York Times bestselling author of The Given Day, Mystic River, and Shutter Island

"Michael Koryta is a gifted storyteller. His writing is eerie, suspenseful, and pleasantly wicked. If you're looking for a dose of Midwestern Gothic at its best, So Cold The River will be just the thing for you."
-- Scott Smith, Oscar-nominated and New York Times bestselling author of A Simple Plan and The Ruins.

"This book builds like a summer storm. Beautiful to watch until it shakes the house and knocks out the lights, leaving you alone in the dark. Another masterful work from Michael Koryta, So Cold The River is guaranteed to put the cold finger down your spine."
-- Michael Connelly, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Scarecrow, 9 Dragons, and The Brass Verdict

"With So Cold The River, Michael Koryta's West Baden Springs Hotel has joined Stephen King's Overlook Hotel in the listings of 5-star places to stay in Frommer's, Fodor's, and The Lonely Planet's Guidebook to Hell. Like King's 'Overlook' (based on the real Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado), Koryta's West Baden Springs is a real hotel with real history. But if you stay there . . . for God's sake, don't drink the water! Koryta's So Cold The River is an example of the good-writing equals good-reading equation that makes fright-inducing fiction worthy of our time, attention, and real enjoyment.
-- Dan Simmons, NY Times bestselling author of Drood and The Terror

Monday, September 7, 2009

Looking ahead...

The Silent Hour was released just one month ago, but it's never too early to start looking for the next book, right? Here is a rough draft of the cover for my upcoming Little, Brown release, "So Cold the River." I really love the look of this. There will be much more about this book in the future, but for now I'll just say that I'm extremely excited about it, and it's going to release in June 2010.

Book tour and a big thank-you

Most of my travel for release of The Silent Hour -- with the wonderful Murder By The Book in Houston, Sep. 29, excluded -- has been completed now, and I'd like to thank everyone who came out. I had a great time, and it is always a pleasure to hear from readers, and particularly a lot of fun to see some of the same faces with each new book release. I wrapped up travel by retreating north to Willow Flowage in Wisconsin, a place that should be familiar to those of you who have read Envy the Night. To the right is a picture. Look real hard and you can see Ezra Ballard in the shadows.
One of the things I love about getting up to the Willow -- other than the time with my father and the people and the fishing -- is a chance to do some long stretches of uninterrupted reading. This year I ended up re-reading more than turning to fresh material, and savored my second passes through House of Sand and Fog, by the brilliant Andre Dubus III, and A River Runs Through It (I know, such a cliche reading choice for a fishing trip). That book dazzles me, though, and Maclean never gets enough credit for the laugh-out-loud humor. "You have never really seen an ass until you have seen two sunburned asses on a sandbar in the middle of a river," is one of many lines that come to mind, along with: "Painted on one side of our Sunday school wall were the words, God Is Love. We always assumed that these three words were spoken directly to the four of us in our family and had no reference to the world outside, which my brother and I soon discovered was full of bastards, the number increasing rapidly the farther one gets from Missoula, Montana. "
There's so much genius in this short novella, and since I've posted about favorite openings, I'll include an all-time favorite ending, from this work:
"Now nearly all those I loved and did not understand when I was young are dead, but I still reach out to them.

Of course, I am too old to be much of a fisherman, and now of course I usually fish the big waters alone, although some friends think I shouldn't. Like many fly fisherman in western Montana where the summer days are almost Arctic in length, I often do not start fishing until the cool of the evening. Then in the Arctic half-light of the canyon, all existence fades into a being with my soul and memories and the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River and a four-count rhythm and the hope that a fish will rise.

Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.

I am haunted by waters."
Tough to top that without going directly to Gatsby.
I also discovered a driving tip: if you have a long car trip ahead, and you want it to feel like a short one, you would do well to listen to the Stephen King classic "The Shining" on audio as you travel.
Again, my deepest thanks to everyone who made it out to support the book, and I look forward to seeing you all again next time.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Book release week

This is the first time I've ever had two editions released in the same week. On Tuesday, the mass market paperback of Envy the Night will hit shelves, along with the hardcover release of The Silent Hour, the newest book and a return to Lincoln Perry. There's also an audio edition of The Silent Hour available -- you can hear a sample, the opening of the novel, at

A few words about The Silent Hour: the idea had its genesis, as many of mine do, in a merging of two memories. One was a criminal justice class I took years ago discussing the issues of reentry for violent offenders, the challenges we face in transitioning back to society people who have been isolated from it for decades. (I never made it through a day of this class without thinking of the character of Brooks from The Shawshank Redemption. That's a sign of good storytelling, I believe. Well done, Mr. King.) I was particularly interested in the people who made this issue a personal crusade, and wondered what drove them. I found myself fascinated by the idea of a woman who'd grown up in a crime family, had seen the price of their decisions and then the difficulties they had trying to return from prison and find a life that wasn't destined to send them right back. You'll meet such a woman in The Silent Hour. Her name is Alexandra Sanabria.

The other memory, more personal, less abstract, came when I was a newspaper reporter and tagged along with another writer on a story she was writing about an incredible, expensive house that had been abandoned by its owners and would soon be coming up for sheriff's auction. I just wanted to see the house, but once we got there, I was gripped by the haunting quality of such a beautiful, costly home left empty while the grounds grew up and engulfed it. There were clear answers to the "where and why" questions of the abandonment in that case, but as I walked around the property, my storytelling brain immediately began to wonder "what if those answers weren't so clear? What if they were entirely unknown?" Within the first three chapters of The Silent Hour, you'll see how that eventually gave me the start of this novel.

I'd taken a book off from the Lincoln series -- Envy the Night is a standalone -- and from the style of writing I use in the series -- Envy is third-person, multiple point of view, and the Lincoln books are first-person, with one point of view. Contract called for me to return to the series, but I wanted to be careful about how I did it. I didn't want to just shove him into another case. Lincoln had been through a grinder in the last two books, and I thought that in any attempt at honest fiction I had to deal with the burden those cases would have left on him. In real life, people don't just bounce off trauma and go grinning on into the world, whistling and cheerful until the next crisis arises. We are shaped by the experiences of the past, and I've always thought the difference between a really good series and a mediocre one involves how well the writer honored that from book to book. (Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch, for example) Once I began to explore this idea in The Silent Hour I found a character who was having a crisis of conscience, not just for what he had done, but for what he did every day, for his profession and the impact it had on the people he loved. From that came the notion that I could use this story to explore detectives as a sort of joint character, to study how the work impacts each one differently. For that reason, there are a lot of detectives in this book. We've got Lincoln and Joe, sure, but I also imported a handful of others, some police, some private, some FBI...I consider this book a character study, absolutely, but not just of my protagonist, more a character study of "The Detective," writ large.

I hope you get a chance to check this one out, and I hope you enjoy it. Let me know what you think, and, as always, thanks for reading.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

One gorgeous opening...

As any of my journalism or creative writing students would assure you, I'm quite obsessed with strong leads. I've got a collection of favorite openings from novels, newspaper pieces, and non-fiction, and use them frequently when I teach. But it has been a long time since I encountered an opening I love as much as the first paragraph of Carlos Ruiz Zafon's "The Angel's Game."

Granted, I'm partial to this because I'm a writer. If he were talking about the moment one decides to become an accountant or math teacher it might not have hit home in the same way, but I think that regardless of profession it's tough to argue how incredibly strong this first paragraph is:

"A writer never forgets the first time he accepted a few coins or a word of praise in exchange for a story. He will never forget the sweet poison of vanity in his blood and the belief that, if he succeeds in not letting anyone discover his lack of talent, the dream of literature will provide him with a roof over his head, a hot meal at the end of the day, and what he covets the most: his name printed on a miserable piece of paper that surely will outlive him. A writer is condemned to remember that moment, because from then on he is doomed and his soul has a price."

Ah, genius. I can't wait to finish the book, loved "The Shadow of the Wind" and am looking forward to diving into this one.

Monday, July 6, 2009

An attempt at genuine updates!

Those of you who've followed the site over the past few years are probably used to the one or two changes I make per year. Not too exciting, I realize. In fact, I discovered the last update on my news page was two years and two books old. Oops. This new page will be an attempt to address that, though I make no promises. In theory, I'll deliver actual publishing news about the books here and occasionally make reading recommendations or address a topic of personal interest or concern. Again, that's the theory. If you check back in six months and discover this is the only post, well, what can I say but: sorry. But I do intend to improve, and thank my wonderful web maven, Madeira James, for setting this up for me.

First of, a bit of NEWS: I'm thrilled and humbled to say that Envy the Night won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for best Mystery/Thriller, and has since been nominated for a Barry Award for best novel. To everyone involved with these prizes, I say a most sincere thanks.

The next book, The Silent Hour, will be released in less than a month. I'll have some more to say about that as Aug. 4 rolls around.

In the meantime, I'll leave you with a few reading picks from my 2009 list. I've enjoyed these titles immensely, and hope that you will, too.

1) Under the Skin, by James Carlos Blake. One of the best-kept secrets out there, Blake is a masterful writer and you can't go wrong with anything he's written. This is my most recent brush with his work, and I certainly wasn't disappointed. It's a classic gangster novel, but one written with grace and humor and insight.

2) Road Dogs, by Elmore Leonard. Jack Foley is back. `Nuff said.

3) Drood, by Dan Simmons. A long, dense novel about Charles Dickens' final years and the mystery that surrounded them, narrated by Wilkie Collins. Simmons is a great writer, and this book is fascinating, creepy, and packed with great historical detail, just as The Terror was.

4) Serena, by Ron Rash. Technically this was from my 2008 reading, but it was my favorite novel of the year, so I had to include it. Rash's prose is gorgeous, and this Macbeth-inspired tale of an Appalachian timber camp is far and away his best work.

5) The Lost City of Z, by David Grann. Fascinating non-fiction tale about an ill-fated exploration of the Amazon.

6) The Forever War, by Dexter Filkins. The best piece of field reporting I've read. Filkins takes you to the ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and spends his time showing you the reality, not making a political or strategic argument. If that's what you want, go elsewhere; there are plenty of fine books that qualify. If you want tremendous writing and an unvarnished view of the situation on the ground, this is the book for you.

7) The Scarecrow, by Michael Connelly. The master returns to the protagonist of my sentimental favorite Connelly novel, The Poet.

8) Black Water Rising, by Attica Locke. A truly wonderful debut novel that reminded me of George Pelecanos, with the crime serving as a backdrop for social exploration. I'm excited about this writer.

9) The Way Home, by George Pelecanos. Speaking of George...yeah, he's good.

10) Follow the Roar, by Bob Smiley. I'm no golfer, but I am a Tiger Woods fan. Smiley, an unemployed TV writer back in 2008, and himself not a Tiger fan (at least at the time) decided to follow the man for every hole of an entire season, from Dubai to Augusta to Torrey Pines. It's funny and fascinating and Smiley seems to have a Midas touch, because there haven't been many more dramatic sporting events than Tiger's last match of the 2008 season, when he won the US Open in an 18-hole playoff, playing with torn knee ligaments and a fractured leg.