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Writing’s Not Such a Silent Art After All

Michael talks to Audible about the sound on the page with writers like Michael Connelly Books, Stephen King, Alafair Burke, Dean Koontz, and Megan Abbott Books.

The Voices Tell Me What To Do

Writing’s not such a silent art after all. The bestselling author explores the role that voice plays in his process as well as that of writers like Stephen King and Dean Koontz.

S68_Thriller-Michael-KorytaThis is about the voices in my head. It’s not a manifesto, I promise. I hope that it will never be used against me in a court of law, and I’ve made my wife sign paperwork promising not to use it to have me committed. In an attempt to validate this confession, I’ve even sought witnesses who will testify that they, too, have voices in their heads — and some of them say very bad things.
I love listening to a well-read audiobook, and I’ve had the good fortune to have my own work read by two great narrators, Scott Brick and Robert Petkoff. Robert was honored with an Audie Award for his reading of my novel, Those Who Wish Me Dead, and they sent me a duplicate of the award, which was nice but also amusing to me — because if the audiobook had been offered in my own voice, it would have been useful only as a torture tactic. What skilled narrators do with the words on the page is humbling and inspiring.

But it’s also nothing like what I’ve heard in my head for the many months along the way to publication.

By the time I’m done with a book, I’m really hearing the characters and am deeply familiar with their individual voices.

This is not a criticism of the narrators, who make the books infinitely better than I deserve, but rather just an explanation that, by the time I’m done with a book, I’m really hearing the characters and am deeply familiar with their individual voices. This involves more than accent or affect; it’s about rhythm, how quickly they speak, when they pause, if they linger on a word or hit it harshly.

Mind you, I can’t replicate this aloud, myself. When I give public readings, I don’t strive for any real change of my own voice because I simply lack that skill. It’s one thing to hear the way a voice sounds in your head and another to convey that, and this is what separates most writers from being able to do their own audiobooks. (Although there are certainly exceptions — if you want to hear the best of both worlds, listen to Terry McMillan on audio.)

The only thing I can do to help the performance when I read aloud is to put the brakes on in the right places, enunciate it in the way I’ve heard it in my head, or maybe hit a word harder than the text would seem to suggest. Of course, then I’ll listen to Petkoff and think, “Okay, he fixed that portion for me, and he sure gives that paragraph a flow that it doesn’t have on the page.”

While [the audiobook is] still your story, it’s a different, enhanced version of that story.

Listening to a great narration performance is kind of like watching a movie adapted from a book you loved — I never would have thought to cast her in that role, but she’s fantastic. The adaptation comparison might seem over-the-top, but I really don’t think it is, because an audiobook, like a movie, is an entirely different medium. You need people to bring certain gifts toward that medium, and while it’s still your story, it’s a different, enhanced version of that story.

Rhythm and cadence are among the most important elements of that thing we generally call a writer’s “voice.” Ben Yagoda wrote a really interesting book on this topic called The Sound on the Page. We read with our eyes, but also our ears. It’s largely an auditory experience. Dean Koontz told me that he not only “hears” distinct voices when he’s writing dialogue, but that he will “laugh out loud when a character says something funny and hiss ‘Yesssss’ when he or she says something either poignant or kick-ass.”

He captures perfectly the odd sense of being more on the transcription side of things than the authorial. I know the writing is truly going well in the moments when I don’t feel anything close to creative; rather, I feel as if I’m just trying to keep up with the voices. That’s also when it’s the most fun, by far.

Now comes another confession: I’ll speak while I write, without intending to. Not all the time, but often enough. And far more often than I speak aloud, I’ll catch myself mouthing the words.

If people watched me write, I think they’d feel like they should be on the other side of bulletproof glass.

In his book On Writing, Stephen King counsels to “write with the door closed.” He’s referring to avoiding feedback on first drafts, but in my personal case, it’s also prudent advice for maintaining any social ties in the world. If people watched me write, I think they’d feel like they should be on the other side of bulletproof glass. My lips move in the way a child’s might when he’s learning to read — sounding things out, quite literally. And that’s because there is a unique sound to it, and — particularly with dialogue — I need to know how it feels to say the words. It’s not a conscious thing, not a plan, just something I catch myself doing. It happens most often when I’m first meeting a character and learning who they are and how they talk, and then again in revisions, when I’m honing a sentence.

I’ve been curious what the experience of other writers has been with this, and so I sent out a few inquiries, asking people if they ever catch themselves speaking or mouthing the words that they write. Here are some of the responses I received:

Michael Connelly: “I do this all the time. I say dialogue out loud when I’m writing just so I know it sounds like something someone would say instead of write. I don’t do this with all dialogue, just those lines where that question comes to mind: Was this written or was this said?”

Dean Koontz: “I don’t move my lips silently while writing dialogue, but when, for one or another reason, there needs to be a certain rhythm to what a character says, I whisper the dialogue to get a sense of whether the beats are falling where I want them. I don’t speak it fully out loud, because I’m a rotten actor, and I’d give it such a ludicrous reading that I’d spoil the mood.”

Alafair Burke: “I know it sounds crazy, but dialogue plays in my ear as if I’m monitoring a wiretap. Even in the first draft phase, I know I’m in the zone when I find myself mouthing words as I write them on the page.”

Stephen King: “When I’m not sure, I always read it aloud. Again and again, until it’s right. ‘Easy reading comes from hard writing.’”

Megan Abbott: “I rely on sound heavily. I tend to rewrite and rewrite until what’s on the page ‘sounds’ like the, er, voices in my head. I always want the experience of reading my books to feel like the main character is whispering in the reader’s ear, and so that does lead to all kinds of crazy behavior while writing it. So you are not alone.”

(Bless you, Megan. You will be Character Witness #1 in my defense.)

In discussing this with other writers, it seems that many of them will pause to read aloud during revision. Some authors will read the entire work aloud as they go through copy edits. I know one writer who will even read his book into a recorder and then play it back just so he can be more objective about the cadence and pacing. That seems like a great idea to me, a total immersion in craft, the ultimate example of Strunk and White’s “every word counts” mantra, but whenever I’ve tried to read prolonged portions aloud the characters begin to fade on me, and then I’m only hearing myself (perhaps because, out loud, I can’t do the voices justice).

The responses on this topic seemed a little like discussing outlining — every writer has a different philosophy, and they’re wedded to what has worked for them. Alafair Burke said, “Before I let a manuscript go into production, I read the entire book aloud. I advise my law school students to read their memos and briefs aloud to find the clunky spots.” Megan Abbott said she knows several writers who do this but that she can’t, that it’s a “bridge too far” for her and that she is most likely to read aloud “when I’m revising, trying to nail the rhythm of a voice.” Likewise, Stephen King said that he’ll read it aloud only when he’s not sure if he has things precisely right.

A highly individual habit, but a consistent one, those voices in the head. Duly reassuring for me. I’ll save my next confession for another time. For now, there’s no need for you to know that I also find myself talking out loud when I’m hiking. No reason to share that at all! Although in Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton, he mentions that “Hamilton’s lifelong habit of talking sotto voce while pacing lent him an air of either inspiration or madness.”

So, if I did do such a thing, at least I’d be in good company — squarely in that comfortable spot between inspiration or madness. Don’t lean too far …

 

 

 

 

 

Huffington Post: Koryta’s Talent is No Fluke

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Koryta’s RISE THE DARK Proves His Talent Is No Fluke

BY Jackie K. Cooper, August 20, 2016

Last year I stumbled across the novel LAST WORDS by Michael Koryta. I really enjoyed the story and enjoyed the author’s talent. However I thought possibly this one novel was a fluke. I have been lured in by good stories in the past and when I selected to read the author’s next novel it was a major disappointment. Thus I approached Koryta’s new novel RISE THE DARK with feelings of trepidation. This book was a sequel to the other Koryta novel I had read and I am also wary of sequels. So with RISE THE DARK I was concerned with both his talent and the story.

Now I am happy to report RISE THE DARK is not a letdown. If anything it is even better than LAST WORDS. Once again we are drawn into the world of Private Investigator Markus Novak as he attempts to find out details about his wife Lauren’s murder. Lauren was killed in Cassadaga, Florida and the last words she left on a notepad in her car were “Rise the dark.”

Garland Webb was convicted of her murder but now through some legal technicality he has been released from prison. Markus is determined to find him and to force him to tell why Lauren was killed. In addition to gaining information he also plans to get revenge.

His search for Webb takes him to Red Lodge, Montana, a place he knows well since he grew up there. Ominous thoughts swell around him as he finds himself in familiar surroundings and filled with unwanted memories.

Michael Koryta is very creative in his creation of characters, but he is even more successful in his establishment of place. I have never visited the state of Montana but having read this book I have a keen sense of what the countryside there looks like, and a feel for the inhabitants who reside there.

RISE THE DARK has a very convoluted plot but in Koryta’s hands it is very easy to understand. There are conspiracies against the entire country as well as feuds between a few people. People are kidnapped, assaulted and murdered and these acts of violence occur swiftly. You can never lower your guard once you enter the world Koryta has created for it is a place of violence and one where no character is safe from harm.

Having read this second book of Koryta’s I can now safely place him on my list of “must read” authors. He has proven the talent displayed in LAST WORDS is not a fluke and that he is a writer of consistent greatness. I will be eagerly awaiting his next novel.

The New York Times Finds Eerie Thrills in Rise the Dark

The Latest and Best in Crime Fiction

By MARILYN STASIO, August 19, 2016

NYTWelcome to Michael Koryta’s latest nightmare. In RISE THE DARK, Eli Pate, a self-anointed messiah capable of calling up a homegrown army of “more than 200 heavily armed and deeply paranoid white men,” is preparing to shut down the electrical grid supplying energy to half the country. (“Good night, Seattle. Good night, Portland.”) Very few,  very brave linemen have the nerve and technical skills to pull off this feat. One of them is Jay Baldwin from Red Lodge, Mont., and to ensure his participation Eli’s confederates are holding Jay’s wife hostage. “When darkness fell, chaos would reign,” and Eli intends to be “the man who controlled the chaos.”

Meanwhile, across the country in Cassadaga, a little Florida town populated mostly by “registered mediums,” Koryta’s private detective, Mark Novak, is searching for the psychic his wife consulted before she was murdered. In one of those wonderfully eerie scenes that always manage to creep into Koryta’s novels, Mark has a brief exchange with a little blond boy who’s standing on a ladder to pick oranges from a tree. (“He was incredibly pale for Florida, with bright blue eyes.”) He’s the littlest psychic in town, it seems, but he puts a fright into the detective. Us too.

Koryta isn’t entirely successful in his attempt to merge these two plots into a cohesive whole, but each one has its distinct thrills. On the domestic terrorism front, it’s the horror of watching Eli convince his various extremist “brothers” that bringing down the electrical grid is a political act committed in their name. Meanwhile, Mark’s hunt for his wife’s killer picks up steam when he heads for Wyoming and enlists the aid of his slow-talking, straight-shooting Uncle Larry. But Mark will never be out of the psychic woods, certainly not after his own mother — a bogus medium who, in her younger days, used to dye her hair and skin, posing as Snow Creek Maiden of the Nez Percé to bilk tourists — shocks him with a reading that should propel him right into his next adventure.

Michael Talks with the Indy Star

Michael talks with the IndyStar and shares how his father’s job at Indiana University influenced parts of the plot in Rise the Dark.

Electric thrills guide Michael Koryta’s ‘Rise the Dark’

By David Lindquist,  August 16, 2016

In new novel “Rise the Dark,” Indiana author Michael Koryta pits his protagonist, private investigator Markus Novak, against a fringe group that wants to control power — electric power.

With bad guys planning to attack the power grid and turn out the lights for half of the United States, “Rise the Dark” has roots in Koryta’s childhood.

The Bloomington resident didn’t grow up thinking a sinister enemy wanted to cut the conveniences of television and air conditioning. His father, however, was responsible for keeping electricity flowing at Indiana University.

Jim Koryta retired in 2012 after working 36 years as senior electrical engineer on campus.

“My sister and I grew up with electricity and power outages being very central to our lives,” Michael Koryta said. “When the phone rang at 2 a.m., you had an idea that it was going to be a power outage.”

Koryta’s 12th novel is his second to feature Novak as the main character. Following 2015’s “Last Words” and its exploration of caves in Southern Indiana, “Rise the Dark” has action set on high-transmission lines in Montana and Wyoming.

Although Jim Koryta wasn’t part of a “high-line crew,” Michael said his father always expressed admiration for those workers.

“It added the real understanding of the human element that goes into fixing these things,” Koryta said. “You’re dealing with physically demanding work, and it’s extremely dangerous.”

Fear factory: Eli Pate, the criminal mastermind of “Rise the Dark,” wants to experiment with mob mentality and the viral nature of fear. He is not aligned with ISIS, right-wing militias or militant environmentalists, but his “Wardenclyffe” crew isn’t opposed to any of these groups. “This guy does not have a political point to make in the least,” Koryta said. “He’s just a sociopath who sees the potential of activating other groups by understanding the fears that set them off.”

Personal research: Koryta looked back to his days as a reporter for The Bloomington Herald-Times when crafting “Rise the Dark’s” Eli Pate character. In 1999, Indiana University student Benjamin Nathaniel Smith killed Won-Joon Yoon, a Korean graduate student at the school, as part of a three-day killing spree in Illinois and Indiana. Smith followed the teachings of white supremacist leader Matthew F. Hale. Koryta interviewed Hale before and after he was convicted in 2005 of soliciting an FBI informant to kill a federal judge. “He was kind of ahead of his time in the way he used the internet as a recruiting tool,” Koryta said of Hale. “Now it has grown to the point where the people who are being radicalized for any cause are generally not going to have a face-to-face recruiter.”

The threat: Regarding the possibility of an attack in which the U.S. electrical grid is taken down, Koryta said it’s not a far-fetched idea. The nation relies on a nearly 200,000-mile network of high-transmission lines, and the author mentioned hospitals and nursing homes as at-risk entities. “The potential of that kind of attack is really very sobering,” Koryta said. “It could be catastrophic in warm-weather months or in warm-weather areas if the grid stayed down for any length of time.”

What’s next: Koryta has spent most of his summer in Maine, where he is working on a third novel of Markus Novak adventures. He also revised a script for a possible film adaptation of his 2014 novel “Those Who Wish Me Dead” for 20th Century Fox. And awaiting a green light is a TV mini-series adaptation of Koryta’s 2012 novel “The Prophet.” Channing Tatum, star of two “Magic Mike” films and “Foxcatcher,” is attached to portray one of “The Prophet’s” lead characters. “It depends on whether and when Channing Tatum says it’s his priority,” Koryta said of the timetable.

AP: Rise the Dark is “Filled with Suspense”

In the Associated Press’ review of Rise the Dark, they say “Koryta has a gift for terrific suspense that immerses the reader while also delivering prose that almost reads like poetry.”

Here’s the full review by the AP from the Star Tribune :

‘Rise the Dark’ by Michael Koryta is filled with suspense

Mark Novak, seen previously in Michael Koryta’s “Last Words,” is still seeking answers regarding the murder of his wife in “Rise the Dark.”

Garland Webb, the man responsible for killing Lauren Novak, walks away a free man on a technicality. Mark knows Garland is responsible, but can he prove it? The words “Rise the Dark” were written in Lauren’s notebook prior to her death, and the cryptic message has been elusive.

In a small town in Montana, Sabrina Baldwin watches her husband, Jay, head out to repair a downed power line. She showers, and when she steps out, she’s shocked to see a man waiting for her. Garland shoots her with a tranquilizer dart and his bold plan begins.

Mark visits the site of his wife’s murder and learns that he’s a pawn in a game where his survival is doubtful. Garland knows every move Mark is going to make, and the truth behind Lauren’s cryptic message will ruin the lives of many people. Jay learns of his wife’s kidnapping and realizes he will have to betray everything he holds dear in order to win her freedom.

Koryta has a gift for terrific suspense that immerses the reader while also delivering prose that almost reads like poetry. Some of the answers that Mark finds are a bit hard to believe, but that’s a minor bump in the road that should definitely be traveled.

 

Michael’s Rise the Dark Playlist

Rise the Dark
Rise the Dark

Music is a huge part of my writing process, and certain songs and artists seep into the individual books and characters. This is never more important than in the middle of a book, or during the first rewrites, when fresh energy is critical. I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know a few of the artists who consistently inspire me – Matthew Ryan, Josh Ritter, and Joe Pug, to name a few – and I’ve been able to see countless others – Brian Fallon, The National, and so many more– perform live (although Lord Huron still eludes me, and as far as I’m concerned they wrote most of Those Who Wish Me Dead).

 

I’d never heard or read anything about The Ballroom Thieves until one bogged-down day when I gave up on writing a coherent sentence and went music hunting on iTunes. Their song “Archers” hooked me, and much of their album became a part of my “soundtrack” for the book, and whenever I lacked creative energy, that music kept providing it.

 

This summer I got to see The Ballroom Thieves at a wonderful venue in Maine, and they played exactly one cover song – a Joe Pug number – while working with a sound tech who used to work for Josh Ritter. Joe Pug and Josh Ritter both graciously provided lyrics for my novel The Ridge. The whole night created a fun and intriguing sense of shared creative circle.

Here’s the bulk of the playlist for Rise the Dark:

  1. Archers, by The Ballroom Thieves
  2. Lantern, by The Ballroom Thieves
  3. Hard Time, by Seinabo Sey
  4. Pistols at Dawn, by Seinabo Sey
  5. Edge of the River, by Jenn Cristy
  6. Windfallen, by Joe Pug
  7. Work Song, by Hozier
  8. The Blacker the Berry, by Kendrick Lamar
  9. Write Them Down, by The Wooden Sky
  10. Top Shelf Drug, by Ryan Bingham
  11. Gun Fightin Man, by Ryan Bingham
  12. God’s Not Here Tonight, by Matthew Ryan
  13. Heaven’s Hill, by Matthew Ryan
  14. Speed Trap Town, by Jason Isbell
  15. How to Forget, by Jason Isbell
  16. Homecoming, by Josh Ritter
  17. Seeing Me `Round, by Josh Ritter
  18. Phantom, by Shirt
  19. Frozen Pines, by Lord Huron
  20. Cursed, by Lord Huron
  21. Dead Man’s Hand, by Lord Huron
  22. Anchors, by The Ballroom Thieves
  23. Cold Wind, by The John Butler Trio
  24. Beggar in the Morning, by the Barr Brothers
  25. The World Ender, by Lord Huron