Sunday, May 30, 2010

Picks from the first half of 2010

I try to read at least 100 books each year, but right now I'm a bit behind pace for 2010. Hoping to address that this summer, but I've already found plenty of noteworthy titles. Here are some standouts from what I've read thus far, books that merit your consideration as you pick your summer reading material.

1) Mr. Shivers, by Robert Jackson Bennett. Easily my favorite debut of the year. I'm a sucker for style, and the prose is so gorgeous that the book reads like a dark parable. A chilling and mythic tale set against the backdrop of the Depression, the novel closes out with a stunningly good epilogue. I simply cannot wait to see what this writer does next.

2) Burning Bright, by Ron Rash. I'm not finished with this short story collection yet, but I'm already confident it will be among my year's favorite reads. Rash is one of our truly great American writers at this point.

3) The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement, by Jean Twenge and W. Keith Campbell. This is a fascinating and disturbing study of our culture, one that should be read and carefully considered.

4) 212, by Alafair Burke. Another excellent thriller from a talented writer who is constantly improving.

5) Blockade Billy, by Stephen King. Stephen King writing a chilling novella about baseball? Seems like the definitive summer read to me.

6) Burnt Offerings, by Robert Marasco. Sadly out of print, I finally tracked this book down after hearing about it for years. A wonderful supernatural thriller about the perfect summer retreat that's, well, maybe not so perfect.

7) Peace, by Richard Bausch. A gorgeous, tightly written WWII drama that unfolds in essentially one act, with stellar prose and character.

8) The Big Burn, by Timothy Egan. Egan wrote the stunningly good Dust Bowl account "The Worst Hard Time" and returns to form with this story of a forest fire that changed the nation.

9) Dogtown, by Elyssa East. This non-fiction account of a forgotten New England town, a brutal crime, and the region's emotional hold over the writer was one of my most pleasant finds of the year so far, and captured a lot of the feelings that drove me to write So Cold the River.

10) The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread, by Don Robertson. Sure, I'm biased because it is set in Cleveland and I've heard my grandfather's recollections of the terrible industrial fire that provide the backdrop for this coming-of-age story, but the narration style, locked into the voice of a young child and always providing moments of profound grace and power, was mesmerizing. The first book in a recently reissued trilogy.

Come on, aren't you intrigued yet?

Some nice words from both in the states and abroad. I love Australia.

1) So Cold the River has been named a "great read" by Australia's Men's Fitness magazine. They passed on the opportunity to interview me for the "six-pack secrets" feature, which is disappointing, because I have some great tips on how to handle those tough six-pack moments in which your bottle opener is missing, but I'll forgive them because of the following quote: "He's 27 years old and has already been mentioned in the same breath as Stephen King. Koryta's earned it -- this paranormal thriller is a cracker of a read." I'm hoping that last bit is praise and not a dig at my southern Indiana roots.

2) Australia's Booktopia Blog provides a nice interview.

3) The Chicago Sun-Times identifies So Cold the River as one of its five summer thrillers that just might be worth your time...,summer-reading-thrillers.article

4) The St. Petersburg Times and Cape Cod Times also select So Cold as a "must-read" of the summer.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Three more to come!

I hope everyone is out on a deck or a boat or a beach with their beverage of choice in hand by now. I'm headed for at least two of those destinations myself. Before I melt into Memorial Day, though, I'll share some much-appreciated mentions of So Cold the River. A few of the pieces also break some news that I am VERY excited to report: Michael Pietsch and Little, Brown have signed up three more novels, which means that I'm locked in with that incredible publisher for at least six books. I am beyond delighted with that, extremely grateful to the good folks at LB for their faith, and looking forward to those future projects.

1) Sarah Weinman's always excellent "Dark Passages" column for the Los Angeles Times features the So Cold:,0,5640763.story

2) USA Today includes So Cold in its list of "hot summer reads"

3) The Wall Street Journal's Laura Mechling profiles the book:

4) The Wall Street Journal also posts an excerpt, the entire first chapter, for any interested readers:

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Genuine Hoosier Product

Last week I saw the first hardcover editions of "So Cold the River." Always a good feeling; even better when the book has such a gorgeous cover. Beyond that beautiful face this one may seem a little on the pudgy side, sure, but I insist that it is quicker on its feet than you'd think.

I signed copies at the Hachette Book Group's massive distribution center in Lebanon, Indiana. The people there are outstanding. My thanks to Doug, Alicia, Kim, Tim, and Mike (aka Eugene) for being gracious and good-natured hosts. They put up with me for several hours, always an arduous task, and patiently answered a lot of dumb questions about the warehouse. It's an impressive facility, though I was concerned when informed that they "recycle every single one of our books." I'd hoped that at least a few were sold.

While signing, I asked where the books were printed before being shipped to Lebanon, where they are then distributed all over the country. Turns out they're printed in Crawfordsville, Indiana. This discovery no doubt provokes deep excitement for everyone. It actually did for me, though -- turns out So Cold the River was written in Indiana, set in Indiana, printed in Indiana, and shipped from Indiana. Considering all my contact with the publishing world has always been centered in New York, that struck me as a pleasant surprise.

It was fascinating to see the place, and also humbling -- there were a lot of people working very hard in there, reminders that long after the writer has typed the last word of a book, many people must invest a lot of diligence and energy into seeing it become a product. I'd be remiss if I didn't thank Ploy Siripant for her incredible work on the cover design. She tried several different ideas and looks before coming out with the beautiful final version, and I very much appreciate the effort.

Monday, May 17, 2010


Michael Connelly is appearing in the ABC show "Castle" tonight. You can find the episode here: and feel free to contact Michael to urge him not to take the big-dollar acting offers and give up on writing. I know I will.

On other castle fronts: Mystery Scene magazine recently asked me to participate in their "Writers on Reading" feature with a short essay about a book of influence. I sat down to work on it thinking I'd dust off another version of my consistent love song to Dennis Lehane's "Gone, Baby, Gone" or Chandler's "The Long Goodbye" or Michael Connelly's "The Poet" or...

Then I read the essay Carolyn Hart had provided, in which she reflected back on the early mysteries of her reading life. The first mystery I ever read was a young adult novel from the 1950s called "The Crow and the Castle." In the book, a crow (named Hector) steals a chess piece (technically a rook but the often-substituted term castle makes for a better title) and thus the caper ensues. The "Carson Street Detective Agency," comprised of two friends, Neil Lambert and Swede Larson, steps in to handle the mess. It's a great children's novel -- the characters are realistic, the suspense is high, it's educational in a sneaky, this-fits-right-into-the-plot way, it's funny, and it's able to laugh at itself in a way that allows kids to be in on the joke, and not winked at over the top of the material in the patronizing manner of some movies or books that are praised for being "fun for the parents, too!"

The novel hooked me on reading, writing, and detecting. No, really. I started to make my own attempts at writing -- mimicking Robertson's every move -- after discovering the book; I began to read voraciously; I decided I would become a private detective in addition to being a writer. Most children develop as human beings after these eight-year-old epiphanies. I apparently did not, but I ain't complaining. Throughout school and right on into my career, I stayed locked into two paths: writing and detective work. I've been fortunate enough to do both professionally. When I look back on the impact of that novel, it's eerie to consider.

The novel was long out of print by the time I read it. My father remembered it as a favorite from his own childhood, and the Monroe County Public Library had two copies. I read every book Keith Robertson wrote -- he was best known for the very funny Henry Reed series -- but the mysteries were my favorites, and it's interesting to me to note that they often embodied shared themes: the young protagonists had a realistic but deep love affair with the land around them and the history of that land, and weather often played a central role. Anyone who doubts the influence of children's books on a writer should peruse "So Cold the River" and consider those three elements. But, then, it's already been admitted that I progressed very little from the time I was eight.

I wrote Keith Robertson a letter after discovering his books, and with the help of a patient research librarian, found the address for his farm in New Jersey. The letter arrived a few weeks after he passed away. (Robertson died on September 23. I was born on September 20. My first novel was published on September 19. One of the other great literary influences in my life, Stephen King -- I've written before about the impact his memoir/guide "On Writing" had on me -- was apparently born on September 21. There's something about that week for me...)

Keith Robertson never read my letter. His son, Jeff, did, and he wrote me a response. I immediately wrote back, and Jeff, for a reason I'll never understand, held up his end of the chain. For years. He encouraged my writing, told me stories about his father, about his own experiences (he'd sailed around the world; often I'd get letters after he'd made port again), and offered reading suggestions. We fell out of touch for a few years when I was in my late teens, but when I found out my first novel, Tonight I Said Goodbye, was going to be published, it became important to me to track him down. This was where the detective work came in handy -- it took a bit of effort. We had a nice exchange and have continued to on occasion since. I've tracked down most of his father's books by now. I found one signed copy. That one gave me a thrill.

I enjoy considering the ripples and threads, moments chained upon moments that make up a narrative, the plot points of real life. I can follow a lot of threads back to "The Crow and the Castle," and to Keith Robertson, and to letters exchanged with his son. I've never met Jeff, but I hope to someday -- talk about a generous soul!

Last year I stopped by a small Wisconsin town to visit the "August Derleth Room" in a pint-sized library. Derleth was a prolific writer, and the founder of Arkham House, a horror publisher whose books were of tremendous influence to the genre in which I'm working of late. His impact on me -- direct impact -- came through a series about the "Mill Creek Irregulars," young would-be detectives with a love of the land, its history, and the weather. Long-out-of-print books, but remembered by my father as favorites.

They had to unlock the Derleth room for me in the library basement; it doesn't see many visitors. It's nice that he has a tribute there, but it meant more to me to walk the Wisconsin River in the place where he'd set so many stories. Someday, I want to make it out to Hopewell, New Jersey, and find Booknoll Farm, where Keith Robertson lived and wrote. I'm guessing it won't be much of a tourist destination, either. That's fine. That's great. There's something special in the idea -- and something very reassuring to me as a writer -- that the tales should long outlast the tellers.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Writing Fuel

After writing up the short post below about Larry McMurtry's great memoir, I got to thinking about my favorite quotes on writing -- there are plenty -- and it occurred to me that a fairly common question in interviews is whether I have any quotes above my desk. The answer is yes, though it varies often, and varies between Indiana and Florida. The only quote that is constantly in both places -- framed, and read aloud (I'm not joking) before each writing session -- is from Josh Ritter, an incredible songwriter who just happens to have a wonderful new album out.

"I sang in exultation, pulled the stops, you always looked a little bored. But I'm singing for the love of it, have mercy on the man who sings to be adored."

That's from a song called "Snow is Gone," and if there's ever been a better stated sentiment about the sort of mindset you should bring to your art, I haven't found it.

Additional quotes that are on the desk currently:

1) "Write with your head down." Michael Connelly. If you were to do a survey of interviews with Michael, you'd hear him repeat this phrase dozens of times. He's talking about keeping your focus on the book, not on the business, about writing the story you want to write as well as you can write it, and not focusing on the market, the reviews, and all of the other business-related things that can infect the work.

2)"The truth is that when I'm writing, I write every day, workaholic dweeb or not. That includes Christmas, the Fourth, and my birthday...only under dire circumstances do I allow myself to shut down before I get my 2,000 words." Stephen King. I don't think I need to expound on the meaning of that one.

3) "He was the first player at every practice and the last to leave, the hardest-working NBA practice player any of them had ever seen. The only problem was the degree to which he dominated everyone else. Early on, Rod Thorn called over to the Bulls' practice facility, Angel Guardian, to talk to Loughery, only to find that everyone had already gone home. Why was practice over so early?, he asked the next day. "I had to let them off early," Loughery said. "Michael was wearing them all out."
David Halberstam, writing about Michael Jordan in "Playing for Keeps."

4) "This is why the new novels die so quickly, and why the old fairy tales endure forever. The old fairy tale makes the hero a normal human boy; it is his adventures that are startling; they startle him because he is normal." GK Chesterton

Quotes come and go often from my desk (the Ritter line excepted) and when I add a new one, I'll try to remember to post it here. The quotes themselves may change, simply out of a need for refreshment, but the ideas behind them are the same: they offer me reinforced perspective on what my mindset should be as I approach the page, and on how hard I should work once I arrive at the page.

There's prolific, and then there's...

Larry McMurtry. Who, according to his latest memoir, "Literary Life," wrote the excellent novel "The Last Picture Show" in three weeks, "All My Friends Are Going To Be Strangers" in five weeks, and "A Desert Rose" in 22 days. Now, Mr. McMurtry has written over 40 books, 50 screenplays, and plenty of essays and short stories, winning a Pulitzer along the way for "Lonesome Dove," which ranks among my all-time favorite novels. I love the opportunity to hear good writers talk about writing, and "Literary Life" is the memoir of a great writer, so it's an obvious treat. McMurtry is writing a trilogy of memoirs; the first, "Books" discussing his life in the rare book business, the second "Literary Life" discussing his writing, and a forthcoming "Hollywood" installment discussing, you guessed it, his work in the film industry. There's plenty in "Literary Life" that's worth highlighting (such as, you know, the fact that he penned an absolutely brilliant novel in three weeks) but the following quote was my personal favorite, because it resonated the most:

"I learned then and have relearned many times since, that the best part of a writer's life is actually doing it, making up characters, filling the blank page, creating scenes that readers in distant places might connect to. The thrill lies in the rush of sentences, the gradual arrivals of characters who at once seem to have their own life."

Indeed. And, with that noted, I'm off to enjoy that best part of a writer's life, with the hope that somewhere down the line, some of you in distant places might connect with those characters.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

So Cold The River by Michael Koryta

Getting closer...

I've been meaning to add a few blogs of substance, and still intend to, but the good news is I've been distracted by writing a book! In the meantime, release for So Cold the River is only a month away. The events schedule will be up any day now, so check back if you're interested in catching a signing. Two new and much-appreciated reviews are in, and both Booklist and Library Journal have kind words for the novel.

In addition, there's a fun little promo video for the book. Hope you have a chance to check it out!

Library Journal: "A mysterious antique water bottle, a town reluctant to let go of old connections to fame and infamy, hallucinations and a resurgent evil combine to bring readers a gripping chiller that will keep them guessing – and looking under the covers – until the last page…Fans of horror and supernatural suspense will enjoy [Koryta's] latest, and darkest, work yet."

Booklist: "After successes with noirish mysteries (The Silent Hour, 2009), Koryta has ventured into genre-bending, successfully melding thriller elements to a horror story that recalls Stephen King. His tight, clear prose makes West Baden as creepy as Transylvania, and Eric is a compellingly flawed protagonist. Legions of King and Peter Straub devotees will be delighted by this change of direction; Koryta’s hard-boiled fans may feel a bit nonplussed at first, but they, too, will fall under the spell of this very strange Indiana town."