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RISE THE DARK, Coming August 16, 2016

For those who read LAST WORDS and encountered a teaser of a book-to-come called ECHOES, all I can say is….hang on to that copy, because it will be a special collectible!


IMG_5431The first-person Markus Novak novel promised there didn’t want to be written—and who am I to argue? I just listen to the characters. And I had a hell of a lot of fun listening to the characters who populate the pages of RISE THE DARK.


I’ve said many times that I can’t outline to save my life—that the story guides me and not the other way around, and I’ve never felt that more than with this book. When I set out with what I thought was a pretty clear sense of where I was going, I ended up in a very, very different place. If you enjoy the trip a fraction as much as I did, it’ll be a great thing.


RISE THE DARK is a family affair – a sibling of LAST WORDS, a cousin to THOSE WHO WISH ME DEAD, and the great-great-grandson of THE CYPRESS HOUSE. We’re out of the Indiana caves and traveling from the eerie swamps of central Florida to the high windy peaks of Montana and Wyoming.

I’ll have a lot more to say about the book in due time, and cover art is pending, but here’s a little tease:


Rise the dark.


These were the last words written in Lauren Novak’s notebook before she was murdered in a strange Florida village. They’ve never meant anything to the police or to her husband, private investigator Markus Novak. Two years after her death, Markus believes he knows who killed her, though it’s never been proven. Now that man is back out of prison, released on appeal, and he reaches out with a subtle taunt that finally brings Markus to the place he’s avoided for so long, the lonely road where his wife was shot to death beneath the cypress trees and Spanish moss in a town called Cassadaga.


Rise the dark.


 In Red Lodge, Montana, a senseless act of vandalism shuts the lights off in the town where Sabrina Baldwin is still trying to adjust to a new home and mourning the loss of her brother, who was a high voltage linesman just like her husband, Jay. As the spring’s final snowstorm sweeps out of the mountains and Jay is called farther and farther out into the weather, chasing the destruction on the electrical grid, Sabrina has never heard of Markus Novak, his wife, or Cassadaga. But an unknown watcher knows all of them well, and understands that you can never outpace your past.



Michael’s 20 Best Books of 2015

best of 2015

To end the year in true writer style, Michael shared his 20 favorite books of 2015 on his Facebook page. He reports 107 books read this year so far—51 novels and 56 nonfiction—and would love to hear your favorites of 2015 as well; You can add your recommendations in the comments below or on Michael’s Facebook page. Let’s get this countdown started:




20) WHAT STANDS IN A STORM, by Kim Cross

I’ve mentioned this one previously, but it definitely makes the best-of-year list, as Kim’s combination of science reporting and emotional, human stories make for a riveting and informative read about a devastating tornado outbreak.




THE LIFE WE BURY, by Allen Eskens


19) THE LIFE WE BURY, by Allen Eskens

There’s a reason this novel was sweeping up awards for best debut of 2014. Eskens is an extremely talented writer, and this is a psychologically nuanced crime novel with some beautiful writing.





FLOW, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi


18) FLOW, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

A fascinating and highly readable look at the elusive state of total absorption in a craft or task, from music to mountain climbing. He writes: “The best moments of our lives usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to the limits in a voluntary moment to achieve something difficult and worthwhile.





Admittedly this one requires a bit of a literary geek audience, but I loved this book. Andy Martin, a scholar of serious achievement and a fine writer, sat in (quite literally) on Lee Child’s writing process, from first sentence to last. Lee’s process is, um, maddeningly unique. (*&#^ you and your one draft, Lee!) But the inside baseball of the bestselling thriller writer of our generation is fascinating, and I’d argue it really is a warranted study.

A friend recently asked me: “Who is the flat-out smartest writer you’ve met?” I’m ashamed to admit my mind immediately drifted to non-fiction and literary writers, because, well, they have to be the brightest, right? The first name I offered was Stewart O’Nan, and I’d stand by that, but then I added, “Hang on – Lee Child. He might be the best-read person I’ve ever encountered, and he might have the best recall to go along with it.” (I’d have thrown Alafair Burke into the off-the-charts IQ mix but I couldn’t live with her if I gave her that much credit, so it will be our little secret).

Lee’s mind is truly remarkable, though – he is so incredibly knowledgeable, so quick to make connections, and so committed to widening his knowledge base. Any readers who would dismiss him simply because he’s a perennial #1 bestseller of the thriller vein – you know, “airport fare” – are readers who would miss one of the really great voices in literature right now. Hopefully, Andy Martin’s fun and insightful account will turn a few more readers Lee’s way. Because, you know, he’s hurting for readers…



This posthumous release from one of my all-time favorite writers is a Gothic gem, and the material included with the novel explains Gay’s personal relationship with the ghostly legend at the story’s
core. Of what he believes, or doesn’t, he writes: “I do know that the world is a strange and wondrous place. There are mysteries on every side if you care to look. I also know that I don’t know nearly as much now as I thought I did at twenty-five. If I stacked the things I know next to the ones I don’t, I wouldn’t have a very tall stack.” And as one of his characters tells another: “I don’t believe it or disbelieve it. I’m just tellin you is all.”

It’s an excellent, chilling novel, but the most powerful writing in the book is actually in the introduction, when Tom Franklin writes of his friend with such an obvious, fierce love that I read it twice before beginning the book, and a third time when I was done. It’s a tremendous and moving tribute.


THE OUTSIDER, by Frederick Forsyth15) THE OUTSIDER, by Frederick Forsyth

This memoir from Frederick Forsyth has nearly nothing to do with his novel writing—and it’s utterly fascinating. What a life! From joining the

RAF at 17 to work as a war correspondent to some literal espionage in his later years, Forsyth has stories to burn, and he tells them here with humor and grace and some pointed warnings.

His writing about his time in Biafra is particularly powerful, where he was a reporter in a place where a predicted “10-Day War” lasted for 30 months and a million children died.

Of two of them, brother and sister, Forsyth writes: “In a long life, I have never seen such resignation, such towering dignity, as in that wasted form as she turned away, all last hope gone. Together the two little forms walked away across the field to the tree line. In the forest she would find a shady tree, sit at its foot, and wait to die. And she would hold on to her kid brother, like a good sister, all the way. I watched them until the trees took them, then sat at my table, put my head on my hands, and cried until the dispatch was damp.”


HOSTAGE TAKER, by Stefanie Pintoff

14) HOSTAGE TAKER, by Stefanie Pintoff

Pintoff is a writer who deserves a wider audience, because she’s got great talent and the sort of ambition I love. It takes courage to depart from what your audience expects, and Pintoff displayed plenty of it with HOSTAGE TAKER, moving from her wonderfully researched historical mysteries like IN THE SHADOW OF GOTHAM to a novel of terror in the heart of Manhattan. The early image of a woman standing in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral holding a sign that reads “Help Me” sets the tone for a wonderful ride. I cannot wait to see what Stefanie Pintoff does next.


THE SIXTH EXTINCTION, by Elizabeth Kolbert

13) THE SIXTH EXTINCTION, by Elizabeth Kolbert

I’m a year late on this, one of the New York Times Best Books of 2014, but it’s a marvelous and fascinating read. Kolbert manages to make science reporting into page-turning reading on a regular basis, but she doesn’t get enough credit for her prose, with lines like this: “Right now we are deciding, without quite meaning to, which evolutionary pathways will remain open and which will forever be closed. No other creature has ever managed this, and it will, unfortunately, be our most enduring legacy.” A fascinating look at the world around us, behind us, and ahead of us.




Ron Rash is one of my favorite stylists at work today. He’s a renowned poet, and that shows in his prose, but he doesn’t allow it to clutter the storytelling, either. The indelible scenes in this book are pure story—a haunting memory of a school shooting; a meth bust so well described Vince Gilligan would want to steal it. And through it all, a setting rendered with stunning beauty.

A favorite line: “Outside town, a roadside apple stand has opened. Red delicious and Granny Smiths brim the latticed baskets. Like the half-mown hay field across the road, a harbinger of mornings when firm ground crackles and white breaths precede, trees start unblending and the leafers appear. Though a difference these last few years. Once out of their vehicles, the tourists raise cameras or cell phones, as if unable to see without them.”

11) WORLD GONE BY, by Dennis WORLD GONE BY, by Dennis LehaneLehane

It’s strange to identify a Lehane novel as something of a sleeper pick, considering the name-recognition he has, but I thought I’d hear more talk about WORLD GONE BY through the year.

The novel is a standout and one of the best gangster stories you’ll ever come across. Set in Tampa’s Ybor City area, the novel marks the conclusion of an ambitious trilogy that began with THE GIVEN DAY and the 1918 Boston police strike. Now it is 1943, the good guys are all involved in bad business, and Joe Coughlin is at home navigating a criminal empire while the rest of the world is at war. 

Lehane makes use of this time and place beautifully while employing his standard strengths of dialogue and cinematic action sequences to build to a beautiful, emotional finale.


DEAD WAKE by Erik Larson

10) DEAD WAKE, by Erik Larson

A treasure in his ability to offer up forgotten or poorly understood history and render them as carefully researched and infinitely readable gems, Larson delivers again with this story of the sinking of the Lusitania. The calm confidence of those on the Cunard liner, even in a time of war, is both suspenseful and the perfect window into the American mindsets on the eve of World War I, and Larson uses that neat old trick of his where he makes you care about the story while he educates you. 

I suspect American knowledge of the romantic tribulations of President Woodrow Wilson during his courtship of Edith Galt has increased fifty-fold thanks to this one, for example, all because the reader remains in the grasp of the main narrative. Larson is the Mary Poppins of history. (Use that on the next cover, Mr. Larson?)

9) CITY OF SECRETS, by Stewart O’NanCITY OF SECRETS by Stewart O’Nan

I tried not to include many galleys, even though the bulk of my fiction reading throughout the year is galleys. But you should also be pre-ordering for the cause, so I’ve selected just two novels coming out in spring of 2016 to tease you with. This short but powerful novel from one of the best writers we have is certainly one of the “pre-order it now” crowd.

Set in 1945 in the world of the Jewish underground resistance in Jerusalem on the heels of WWII, and building to the bombing of the King David Hotel, O’Nan is dealing with big history here and handling it deftly, but he never loses his center. 

The novel is the story of a man named Brand, fighting for the cause even while wondering what has become of himself, the man he used to be, and filled alternately with despair and hope as he eyes the future. CITY OF SECRETS is sure to be ranked among the year’s best novels, reminiscent of Graham Greene’s finest work. And it may well contain the best final sentence of 2016.


Halberstam was one of my favorite journalists, whether writing about politics or sports, but I’d never read this insider account of his days with the 1968 RFK presidential campaign. Much of the book takes place in
Indiana, where Kennedy campaigned aggressively and successfully, and gave his most memorable speech, in Indianapolis on the night Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. That speech, which included his first public reference to his brother’s assassination in five years, is generally credited for keeping Indianapolis from joining the number of cities that went up in flames and rioting.

Halberstam’s account of the campaign on all levels, from the calculated, shrewd moments to the lighter sides – every time Kennedy b
gan to quote George Bernard Shaw was the cue that the press could run for the buses, because he wasn’t going to offer anything new – gives a wonderful sense of Kennedy as a man, dealing with doubt from all corners and struggling in many ways, but relentlessly committed to his beliefs on the war, the poor, and Civil Rights.

He also provides an understanding of the political and cultural moment without stepping outside to explain it. Halberstam was a fine reporter, and understood that if you did your job right, there was no need to editorialize. Thus he concludes the book with a final moment of Kennedy upstairs at the Ambassador Hotel, while a euphoric crowd and his assassin await him downstairs. He offers no description of the assassination, nor attempts at explaining its impact, but simply this single, beautiful line: “Then he descended to acknowledge his victory, to talk about the violence and the divisiveness, and to let a nation discover in his death what it had never understood or believed about him during his life.”

7) THE FIREMAN, by Joe HillTHE FIREMAN by Joe Hill

The second and last of the galleys I’ll include on the list. Joe Hill is a fantastic storyteller, with an incredible imagination and a rare ability to render scenes in their most visual fashion.

This new novel finds him depicting an American landscape that is up in smoke – literally. A highly contagious spore is infecting millions, and turning them into human time bombs, as eventually the infected will burn to death from the inside out. Harper Grayson, a nurse from New Hampshire, discovers the first signs of her infection shortly after discovering the first promise of her pregnancy. With no proof that the baby will be infected, Harper is determined to avoid the “Cremation Squads” that comb the towns, exterminating the infected in an effort to keep the disease from spreading. 

THE FIREMAN will inevitably draw comparisons to THE STAND, but Hill keeps the focus much tighter as the book goes on, making Harper’s fight for survival the dominant and compelling main story.


A Deadly Wandering

6)  A DEADLY WANDERING, by Matt Richtel

Incredibly well-written, and important, this book looks at how a quick glance at a text message while driving claimed several lives and changed others forever. Combining the neuroscience of distraction with a suspenseful narrative of police investigation and legal action, Richtel pulls of a truly impressive feat on a topic that all too many of us would like to ignore. It’s my “push this book into as many hands as possible” pick of the year.





5) FOLLOW THE RIVER, by James Alexander Thom

I read this for the first time about 20 years ago, and it didn’t disappoint on return. Thom’s fictional look at the real-life story of Mary Ingles, a 23-year-old pregnant mother kidnapped on the frontier by the Shawnee, who made a remarkable 1,000-mile escape, is one of the all-time classics of survival stories.




4) THE PLOUGHMEN, by Kim Zupan

A terrific debut novel that evokes its western landscape with gorgeous prose, The Ploughmen is a powerful and at times painful story. At the ageof 77, John Gload has long been suspected of a series of brutal murders, but more evidence is needed, and Valentine Millimaki is the deputy who has the unenviable task of trying to engage the old man in overnight shifts at the jail. Millimaki is a sympathetic and nuanced character but Gload is the star of this tale. 

When we first meet him, in the midst of a crime, he assesses his youthful partner: “Though he had never sat on a horse or been among cows, he thought himself a cowboy…John Gload had found him through a series of dismaying defaults and in the end had used him simply because of his youth and apparent good teeth, which the old man judged indicated an abstinence from methamphetamine.”

Zupan lives in Missoula, Montana, where he teaches carpentry. After reading his first novel, I’d say he could teach plenty on the craft of writing, as well.


DETROIT- AN AMERICAN AUTOPSY Charlie LeDuffLeDuff is a reporter who tends to piss people off, and it’s pretty clear how and why that might happen in this book, but he renders an important and vivid portrait of Detroit that is wildly readable. What works best for LeDuff is righteous anger, and he’s got no shortage of it in this story of urban decline, because he spends most of his time writing about people.The grander elements of the city are covered, yes, and the politics, but it’s in the stories of real people in a real city that LeDuff thrives. His writing is strong – at times too strong, he can fall in love with his own voice – and because he’s not seeking to offer a balanced view of the city, he’s able to hit hard and hit often. And he’s entitled to: it’s his hometown, his dead sister, his laid-off brother, his dying newspaper. 

The personal elements of the book are the most powerful, and they provide LeDuff with room to riff on the city and its times. Like a boxer, he’s at his best when he’s angry. The stories in the book belong to Detroit, sure, but also to the country, and to get them out there into mass consumption and consideration I think it takes a hard edge and a compelling style. (See, Baltimore – THE WIRE).

I have no connection to Detroit, but I thought of Cleveland often while reading it, and I suspect there any number of other cities that will come to mind depending on the reader. The book also produced one of my favorite review lines in recent memory, from the New York Times: “Detroit is one of those taxing places that require you to have an opinion about them.”


This insider account of Pixar could have fallen flat as another bland portrait of a company’s triumphant rise against the odds, but instead it’s absolutely fascinating, and helpful. I’ve alreadyreferenced Catmull’s portion on “good notes vs. bad notes” to at least a dozen people – I don’t care what your business is, his ideas on fostering creativity while also getting quality product out the door on time are wonderful.

One friend told me, “I never highlight anything when I read. I’ve highlighted about half of CREATIVITY INC.” From a writer’s viewpoint, I was interested to learn how Pixar holds dear the idea that smart and emotional storytelling is even more important than the best animation. Like a companion text, I read this around the same time I watched INSIDE OUT, which I loved, and which provided one of my favorite lines of the year: “That’s the subconscious: it’s where they take all the troublemakers.”


1) DESCENT, by Tim JohnstonDESCENT Tim Johnston

I’ll close the list of my favorite reads of the year with my favorite novel of 2015, and a thank-you. Someone on this page, and again on Twitter, kept promoting the book to me, so when I came across it at the bookstore, it was already in mind. This is why we writers are so grateful to those of you who take the time to talk about what you’ve enjoyed.

I’ve given a couple copies of the book away since then, talked it up enough that several others have purchased – and loved – it, and generally tried to keep the word-of-mouth campaign moving. Johnston’s setup of a teenage girl who vanishes is hardly original. What he does with it, though, is absolutely his own, and it is stunning.

Part of this comes from the power of his prose, as Johnston is a writer of tremendous gifts, but it’s also in the delivery of the story and the reversal of expectations. Those reversals don’t come across as plot twists, over-slick surprises, but rather as organic developments to characters who read like real people, capable of surprising you because they’re complex.

It’s an emotionally loaded story, and there are so many beautiful lines that I hesitate to pick just one, but I’ll offer this, from the father of the abducted girl, who has returned to the site of the family vacation where she disappeared in the rugged mountains: “I never believed in God like I never believed in the truly bad man. In his power to touch me. Now I ask of this God, that if he will not give me my daughter back, at least give me my bad man. At least give me that.”











Cameras rolling on BOSCH

I was working in LA a couple weeks back when Michael Connelly invited me to visit the set of his TV show, BOSCH, for a couple hours. I’ve known Michael for a more than a decade now, but my history image1with him as an influence goes back well beyond that — when my first submitted novel was getting close to acceptance, when it seemed all over but the victory parade, and then we got bad news from the decision-makers at St. Martin’s Press.


My editor, a great editor and great guy named Pete Wolverton, one of the best, said he wanted to publish the book, but that he also wanted to see me get out of the gates with a bigger splash. He thought the plot was too quiet, which was generous, because I don’t think the book really had a plot. His superiors weren’t as enthused about the book as he was, period. So he sent me away with a bit of advice: “Re-read Michael Connelly to see how it’s done right.” I re-read them and I’d urge any would-be crime writer to do the same. I’d urge anyone who simply enjoys reading good fiction to try Michael’s work.



There’s another fun overlap on the set of BOSCH for me, though. THE RIDGE is dedicated to friend named Tom Bernardo (along with Joe Taft, of the Exotic Feline Rescue Center) and reads: To Tom Bernardo, whose generosity and friendship carried me through this one. This gives you an idea of how important his feedback was to the early drafts.

I met Tom when I moved to St. Pete, and he’s been a great friend and a critical member of my early-reading team for years. Tom also did one of the boldest things in pursuit of his craft that I’ve ever personally encountered, leaving a six-figure job as an attorney in a major firm to get an MFA in creative writing. Bear in mind, readers, that I said that was a bold thing to do and not necessarily a smart one. I don’t want the liability on my hands…

Season 2 of BOSCH is coming off a smashing success of a debut season. It was special to see Mike finally watching his baby take life in the way he’d envisioned; that was a treat for me. And to see Tom on the set, who has co-written at least two scripts this year and might work on three, and knowing how long the road was for him to get there made it even more special. (Bosch fans will even see Tom’s acting debut in Season 2. I personally think he should stick to writing…)

Watching lead actor, Titus Welliver, play the character I love from Michael’s pages, and play him note-perfect, was interesting to say the least, because Titus has a very non-Bosch personality himself, but he channels the character perfectly when the cameras are rolling. I had only a few hours but I couldn’t have selected a better scene – it was Harry in his house up in the hills, Harry receiving some hard news as he looks out over the city he polices so relentlessly, with his everyone counts or no one counts mantra. It will be a standout moment of the second season, I suspect.

image3In theory, I suppose we exist in a competitive business. I don’t buy into that. Most importantly, Michael hasn’t seemed to – he’s well known for his support of new writers, and younger writers. Michael actually helped me find the great publishing team I’m with now, and has always supported the books. And without Tom Bernardo, Lord knows how bad my early drafts would have been. My only beef with Tom is that we tended to throw darts while I really vented about my mistakes in the books, and he still never let me win, even on the bad days. You’d think just once….

image5In all seriousness, seeing that shoot was a thrill for me on three different levels. To watch two friends, great men, generous men, having success doing what they love, that’s always good. But the real highlight was seeing Harry Bosch brought to life. When it works, it’s a special thing. If you’re a fan of the books and haven’t given the show a try yet, I’d urge you to do so. They’re certainly doing the stories justice.



Michael’s 10 Favorite Halloween-Season Reads

I’ve been kicking this project around for a while, either for my own social media sites, or for the wonderful new site, The Life Sentence, which I think is an absolute gem. With THE RIDGE, the most recent of my outright-supernatural thrillers due for a handsome new mass market edition on October 27—adorned with a Stephen King blurb that never fails to make my heart skip a beat or two—the time seemed right for publication, but really the time seems right for me today, or rather tonight.

You see, it’s just past 3 a.m. when I type this. I’ve been in bed for four hours, reading, turning the lights off, reading again, rinse and repeat. It’s just not a night for sleep. Outside on the porch, a steady northwestern breeze is blowing, taking down dry leaves, the ones that will always make me think of THE PROPHET now, of innocent girls in Chambers, Ohio shaking them free from their hair, twenty years apart, and of two brothers crushing them heedlessly beneath their boots, bound for different missions.

FullSizeRender copy

We had full color today (here’s a picture) but after a few more days of this wind the tree will be picked clean and the spooky limbs of the Halloween Tree will be left. It’s Ray Bradbury’s season with THE HALLOWEEN TREE, THE OCTOBER COUNTRY, SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES. And others. Oh, certainly others. So many. So my challenge—and attempt to give something back to readers who have recommended so many fine titles to me this year, and who have said such kind words about my own efforts—will be a countdown clock to October 27. No, not to Halloween—you should have your own scary movie and book in hand by then.

In between, because the publishing folks do like to encourage you to buy my own work, God bless them, we’ll probably also run some blurbs and quotes central to THE RIDGE. I’m grateful for all of them, but most of all for this little endeavor.

Note: The books are picked for fear factor and quality of writing, yes, they need a dose of the supernatural, yes, but also a feel for the season. They need to reach my autumnal heart in some way. So this isn’t a list of my favorite horror novels. Just the books I’m thinking of as the leaves lose their last chilled grasp on branches, and an eerie moon rises beyond.

We’ll give you a break for football, family, or pulse-restoration, and nominate books only on weekdays. Starting with:


The night countryDay 10 – Wednesday, Oct. 14

THE NIGHT COUNTRY, by Stewart O’Nan.

Here’s why I have to hate Stewart a little bit—gems like this, evidence that he could wander into any literary territory and dominate it. But, Lord, how I love this book. If you were to take a night drive in autumn in the right part of the country and say, “How should this feeling read?” THE NIGHT COUNTRY is your answer. Perfect in tone, slickly circular in execution, and forever haunting. I return to this one each fall. (Really.) I first read it on a bus back to New York from Boston when I was 21. I’d just come from meeting Dennis Lehane for the first time, and we sat on the rooftop deck of his apartment overlooking Fenway and talked books and I tried to maintain my cool (yeah, right) and he mentioned O’Nan. I confessed that I hadn’t read him yet. Dennis fixed me with a “well, now, that tells something about you…” look, and by the time I was on the bus back to the city, I had A PRAYER FOR THE DYING and THE NIGHT COUNTRY in my hands. I opened with the latter, simply because the fall smell was in the air. And it came through in those pages, too. That, and so much more.


Intensity_DKDay 9, Thursday, Oct. 15

INTENSITY, by Dean Koontz.

This was one of the first books to put a real scare into me, and for that I can thank my aunt. We would crash at her place on visits to Cleveland, and I occupied an air mattress on the floor of her office, which was the best seat in the house, because her books were stored just behind me. I don’t know if she would have recommended I delve into Koontz at that age, but knowing my Aunt Dorene, she probably wouldn’t have discouraged it, at least. I was with Chyna Shephard, a graduate student visiting the family of her wealthy friend in the California vineyard country, down under the bed with Chyna as boots entered and blood drops fell and….the lamp I’d hauled down from my aunt’s desk went out. Now THAT enhances the terror, let me tell you. But I got the rest of it done by flashlight, and for better or worse, I’ve never really been the same since.


Heart shaped heartDay 8, Friday, Oct. 16


This one arrived at a perfect time in my life, when I was struggling to write another PI novel and my creative brain was urging me ahead toward a ghost story, toward the book that would become SO COLD THE RIVER. Reading Joe Hill was like receiving an adrenaline shot loaded with pure story. He didn’t quibble, didn’t overwrite, didn’t underwrite. He was as naturally balanced on the emotional investment and the plot mechanics as any writer I’d encountered, and from the first chills to the creepiest road trip south you’ll ever take—albeit in one sweet ride—he delivers as only a master can. Highly recommended would be too faint praise. Without this book, I’m really not sure that I would have written SO COLD THE RIVER. I needed the challenge from new blood, someone out to prove that the supernatural thriller was far from dead, and Joe is, and has been, that writer.


CARRION COMFORT_DSDay 7, Monday, Oct. 19

CARRION COMFORT, by Dan Simmons.

This one’s a bit longer, but worth every page. It opens with concentration camps in the 1940s and proceeds from there to span decades and have you turning pages with rapid-fire intensity, a possession-tale of the highest order.





Day 6, Tuesday, Oct. 20


This is a special day to me—10 points and a free copy of THE RIDGE to anyone who guesses why—and one that has appeared in a couple of my books. Or no points (sshhh, they don’t count!) and a copy of THE RIDGE to the first person to identify what books I’m talking about, too. And today’s book is…drumroll….

CHRISTINE, by Stephen King.

Don’t lecture me about which King book is best or brightest or scariest—let’s agree that when he’s at the top of his game, they’re all pretty damn great. CHRISTINE comes to mind for a couple reasons. One, it evokes the rural Maine of my wife’s childhood in a perfect way; the way she speaks of the place is the way they live it in this novel. And it’s fall again, don’t you know! Why, we even have a football star suiting up for the new season. It’s sure to be full of glory for him. Until it isn’t. And then there’s harmless Arnie, working on the car that he will no-way, no-how get rehabilitated in time to save him from his high school blues. But this is The King at work, so you might just want to give it a shot. And don’t even try to tell me “but I saw the movie.” No. Not good enough. Move to the back of the class, and take your assigned reading with you.


GHOST STORY_PSDay 5, Wednesday, Oct. 21

GHOST STORY, by Peter Straub.

This novel used to be spoken of as frequently as THE SHINING or THE EXORCIST it seemed, yet I have the sense—hopefully misguided—that it needs a second wind. GHOST STORY is a clinic in storytelling. Note that I said storytelling, not a mention of horror. Because while Straub can horrify with ease, he can write with the best of them when he is on, and he is absolutely locked-on with GHOST STORY, a novel that demands to be remembered, if not re-read, from the first time through. It’s a marvel of narration and structure, and all of it works….right down to the chills along your spine.


DAY 4, Thursday, Oct. 22


We’re getting close now, so the book should be…why, it should be OCTOBER COUNTRY, of course, by Ray Bradbury. The author of such remarkable novels as SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES and DANDELION WINE and FAHRENHEIT 451 left plenty to choose from, but the title lays it out pretty clear, as with THE HALLOWEEN TREE. The stories in OCTOBER COUNTRY prove that this writer could do it all, and he did his best macabre short stories in this collection.


THE EXORCIST_WPBDAY 3, Friday, Oct. 23

THE EXORCIST, by William Peter Blatty.

This classic should come as no surprise at all, but deserves inclusion on any list. Blatty is a master of terror, understanding the slow burn, the urgent, terrifying moment, the unease “settling down” before things explode again. When I run into one of those readers who smartly informs me that she doesn’t care for those “spooky stories” I offer two up fast: The Exorcist, and The Shining. I have a sneaking suspicion that those readers won’t already be corrupted by the movies, if they refuse to read the novels. These are two—along with Shirley Jackson and Poe and Henry James and many others—who deliver the literary goods while never straying for that sacred thing: story. And will it scare you? If you have a pulse, and an ounce of empathy, then hell yes, you should be scared.


A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS _PTDay 2, Monday, Oct. 26

It would only be fair if I told you what I’ll be reading over Halloween. Thanks to your tips on Twitter and Facebook (always appreciated!) I have a crisp hardcover of A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS by Paul Tremblay. I trusted O’Nan’s blurb, which raves: ““Paul Tremblay is an astonishingly talented writer, but even better, he’s twisted, and fun. A Head Full of Ghosts is mind-bending—scary, sad, sweet, funny, sick… terrifying, hilarious, smart, and satisfying.” If it’s good enough for Stewart, I am sure to be thrilled. And the opening pages have hooked me already.


Day 1, Tuesday, Oct. 27


Okay, for the final day of my October Reads Countdown, I’m cheating and loading you up with multiple picks. But it’s fine! Stay with the theme and picture this – it’s the last house you hit on your trick-or-treat run, and what is the best-case scenario there? Obviously, it’s that they don’t limit the treats at that point. You get a little extra for your efforts, for hanging in until the end of the game. So we’ll close in gluttonous treat fashion, with:


IT 1. King-sized treat: IT, by Stephen King. Is your preference for a scary read one involving monsters, the supernatural, human villains, night terrors, subterranean passages, lonely woods, or…gasp…clowns? Good news – IT has you covered, no matter what. The tour-de-force of horror, in all its hefty glory, is a must-read.





2. Classic treat: The Hershey’s of October chillers has to be THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE by Shirley Jackson. The greatest haunted house tale of all time? Perhaps. Don’t dismiss the legendary Richard Matheson’s HELL HOUSE, though. These are the Halloween treats that simply must be present in the bag. If you haven’t read Shirley Jackson or Richard Matheson, there’s no time like the present to make amends.




3. Bite-sized treats: Deliciously dark and nuanced and sadly so much more remembered for their film treatments than their original stories is the Daphne du Maurier collection DON’T LOOK NOW, also published as NOT AFTER MIDNIGHT. Sharp-eyed readers of THE CYPRESS HOUSE won’t be surprised to learn that I’m a big fan of her novel REBECCA, but the short stories in this collection are gems. Including a little tale called THE BIRDS. Didn’t know that the Hitchcock classic was adapted from the same woman who wrote REBECCA? Well, I’d urge you to give it a read.

Blog: Where Ideas Come From

One of the things any writer hears often, probably the most-asked question unless you are speaking to writing students, in which case it has to do with finding agents or publishers, is along the lines of “How do you get your ideas?”

Some people have been to enough talks to get the sense that authors don’t like this question, and so they phrase it shrewdly, as in “Is there a special place from which your ideas come?” Or perhaps “How do you dream up the things that happen in your books?” While the phrasing is perhaps more palatable, the question is the same, and writers can be pretty obnoxious about this question, and unfairly so. Just because you don’t have a quality answer does not mean that it is not a quality question.
In the case of “The Dark Side of Sunlight Basin,” I can answer the question with specificity. A very good writer and editor named Christopher Golden approached me and asked me to write a story for an anthology he was putting together. I told him I didn’t have anything remotely close to a vampire story idea. And then…
At the end of June last year, Those Who Wish Me Dead had just been released, my book tour was done and I wanted a break from civilization, or at least from e-mail— so my wife and I headed to Montana. This was her second backpacking trip in the Beartooth Mountains, where that novel is set. The Beartooths are truly rough country – it is the largest block of tundra in the lower 48 and has more than 25 peaks over 12,000 feet and our trip was spectacular: it is so, so rare in our modern times to have the opportunity to stand in the deep snow while getting rained on and getting a sunburn all at the same time. Add to that the experience of being bitten by mosquitoes the size of hummingbirds, that are able to draw blood right through the gloves you’re wearing to keep the frostbite at bay.


IMG_7102People in our urban lifestyles take these treats for granted, and it was a real pleasure to be able to introduce my wife to the gentler, simpler pleasures of wilderness living. She felt so freed, in fact, so uninhibited, that she proceeded to use language that would ordinarily get sailors thrown out of bars at the wharf, so I think my attempt to remove her worldly stress was a smashing success. For some reason, when we returned to the CDP – it isn’t accurate to call our home base a town or a city, it is technically something called a Census Designated Place, which creates an amusing portrait of the census worker assigned to this district – she wanted to do something less strenuous for the rest of our days in the mountains. We’d been told that Cody was an interesting town with a great museum, and my great-grandfather once rode in the Bill Cody Wild West shows, so I was intrigued by that and we set off on the drive. Now, it is important that we pause here so I can state something very, very clearly: I have never run out of gas in my life.
This had become a point of pride for me, and something of a contest with my father, much to the delight of anyone who rides with us. But on the way back from Cody, you traverse sixty-some miles of mountain switchbacks with no cell service and few areas to pull off the road. It was at the last possible turn off with cell service, the cheerfully named Dead Indian Pass, that an executive decision was made from the passenger seat – the very place from which no executive decisions should ever be made – and we came to a stop overlooking an area called Sunlight Basin and I was forced to call for help. Then I did a particularly wise thing, and called my father to argue that I hadn’t lost our contest, and explain the technicality involved – the car was still moving, there was still gas in the tank, and so this didn’t count as running out of gas.


My father’s quote: “Well if there’s gas in the damn thing you should be moving until you can’t move anymore!” I agreed, but sadly my dad had his own bit of misfortune that day, though, in that my mother had picked up the other line unbeknownst to him, listening to him tell me that I should have disregarded my wife’s opinion and continued on down the switchbacks, gas or no gas, cell or no cell. When I hung up the two of them were embroiled in a rather grim conversation of their own.


IMG_7090We had plenty of time left to wait for rescue, but wind and hail started buffeting the car. It actually began to shake where it was parked and for whatever reason my lovely wife was simply not in a talkative mood with me. Not only that, but she’d taken my copy of the New Yorker to read, which seemed very rude, but it didn’t seem prudent to point that out, based on the occasional muttered threats coming from her side of the car. So, I sat in the car waiting on our friend to arrive from an hour away with a can of gas and I looked out on Sunlight Basin, which earns its name by the way it catches and holds light. I could see the darkness at the fringes of it and suddenly I did have an idea for a vampire story.

So here’s a small taste of that story, which I’m honored to say appeared in a collection with some absolutely fantastic writers, and as honest an answer for the question of “where do you get your ideas?” as I can provide.

And one quick disclaimer: I still have never run out of gas. Stopping the car with gas in the tank is NOT running out of gas. This is science, and it can’t be debated.
51MBvSKCv2L._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_They had a good time taking photographs of the new-growth forest where nearly thirty years earlier an incredible forest fire had roared through Yellowstone, but Kristen began to joke that their trip was cursed when they ran out of gas at an overlook above the Sunlight Basin called Dead Indian Pass. Jim was defensive, having insisted that they could make it through after leaving Cody without stopping for a refill, but he still had to smile at her incessant stream of snark as they waited hopefully for the return of a passerby in a Chevy pickup who had accepted fifty dollars in cash and promised to return with a gas can. There was no guarantee that he wouldn’t pocket the fifty, laugh at the tourists, and continue on his way, but it was the best option Jim had found.
“He’ll come back for us,” he told Kristen.

“I know he will. He’ll come back and tell us that there was no gas station ahead for miles, but he’s happy to report that there’s a hotel with, like, ten rooms in the whole place. And he’ll take us down there so we can sleep for the night in comfort. When we check in, we’ll notice that he seems to know the owner. It’ll be subtle, you know, just a little bit of eye contact, but it will be enough. The game will be in play then. And you know what the game is?”

He sighed and shook his head, trying not to smile.

“Cutting our heads off with a chainsaw,” she said, nodding. “Exactly. That is exactly right, babe.”
There was the trembling roar of exhaust down the highway, and Jim turned and looked out and saw the Chevy returning.

“Here he is.”

“When he mentions the motel…”

“I’ll tell him that we have a tent,” Jim said. “Got it.”

The driver had been good to his word, handing over a five-gallon can of gas from an Exxon thirty miles up the highway, complete with a Post-it note that read “ha, ha, ha” signed by the wiseass who ran the gas station. He did not mention any motel, and even stayed until Jim had poured in the gasoline and proved that the car would start.

“Where ya’ll headed, anyhow? Cooke City, Silver Gate, Red Lodge?”

“Somewhere in the middle,” Jim said.

“Ain’t much in the middle. What are you after?”

“Pictures. I’m a photographer. We’ve been driving for close to two months now. Working on a project called American Ghosts.”

“American Ghosts? You think there’s phantoms out here?”

Jim couldn’t tell if the man’s smile was good-natured or offended. He would have made a hell of a poker player.

“There are plenty of abandoned places, at least,” Jim said. “Things that were once, and are no more. From forests to towns. That’s what I’m after.”

That got a slow nod and no verbal response. For some reason – probably because the good old boy had provided him with gasoline on a lonely highway – Jim pressed on.

“There are supposed to be old copper and silver mines up in those mountains north of us. Abandoned equipment, gated entrances, and –”

“Adits,” the stranger said.


“Those gate mineshafts? They’re called adits. In mining, a tunnel goes straight through and comes out the other side. A shaft goes down, and a winze goes up. A horizontal entrance that goes nowhere? That’s an adit.”

“Okay. Good to know. Anyhow, I was hoping to get some pictures of them in the right light. You know, right at dusk. When they look good and spooky.”

Jim smiled, but it wasn’t returned. The stranger looked out across the Sunlight Basin and when he spoke again his eyes were someplace far away.

“They’re spooky enough. Just be careful which ones you pick. There are gates up for a reason, you know.”

“I don’t intend to go inside of them. Just take some photos.”

“All right,” the stranger said. “Go have fun, kids. But next time, fill `er up. Not everybody around here is as helpful as yours truly, and those mountains?” He waved a hand out over the basin. “They look mighty pretty in your pictures, I know, but they’re not jokers, either. They’re the real deal. You want to pay attention out here.”

Jim thanked him again and then turned back to the car and Kristen’s wide, mocking smile.

“How’s that male ego feeling?” she said when he opened the door.

“Bruised and battered, but still kicking.” He put the car into gear. Below them, the aptly named basin held all the light of the day, a tease that suggested there was no need to rush, but the surrounding mountains were already catching shadows. They needed to get a base camp up in a hurry, and then, if things went just right, they’d be lucky enough to catch the abandoned mines at twilight.





What Are You Doing, Writing a Book?

FullSizeRenderSept 29 was the release of the mass market edition of THE PROPHET, which, I have to say, looks handsome in its new jacket. I like the imagery – the empty football field under the lights, a dark unknown town somewhere beyond. That suits the tone I had in mind opening the book, and I spent plenty of time around a football field while I wrote it. Despite my ability to critique the coaching of professional and college teams with ease, it turns out that I don’t actually know anything about the game. Considering one of the two lead characters was a head coach, that seemed to need a little work, and I was graciously invited to shadow the Bloomington High School North team during a wonderful season.


Prophet MM blogThings started beautifully, when I attended a spring workout and the head coach, Scott Bless, (who appears briefly in the novel) thought I was a scout for the enemy. I was hoping that might be the last identity crisis of the process, but the team’s quarterback spent most of the season locating me on the sidelines to ask “what I saw out there.” I usually directed him back to competent people, but once I couldn’t help saying, “Looked pretty clear to me – you overthrew it by five yards.”

The highlight of confusion came well into the season, in late October, at which point I’d been around the games, practices, and staff meetings for months. Everyone understood what I was doing – we thought – until I asked a few questions during a Sunday meeting and one of the defensive assistants said, “What are you doing, writing a book?” Turns out he thought I was on the offensive staff, and had all year. “Coach Alaska” (he’d grown up in the North Pole, a subject of more than occasional commentary) hasn’t lived that one down yet.


Monty Howell | Herald-Times A familiar mystery on the sidelines at North, Michael Koryta.
Monty Howell | Herald-Times
A familiar mystery on the sidelines at North, Michael Koryta.

I can’t say enough good things about the patience and kindness that Scott Bless, Tyler Abel and the rest of the North coaches and players and families showed me during that time, and it was one of the really fun stretches of research I’ve ever been involved with, evidenced by the fact that I kept coming back. The game became more interesting to me, I saw new layers to it; the games within the game became particularly fascinating. As much as the research was designed to help me think from Kent Austin’s perspective, it also brought Adam much more alive to me – standing on the sidelines, feeling a part of something and distant from it all at the same time, gave me a better sense of Adam than I had before. And also of The Prophet, watching practice from the bleachers. Just a casual fan. Maybe a townie. Maybe a former student. A little familiar, but impossible to place. Nobody threatening, though, no cause for alarm, he’s just that guy right up there in the…oh…he’s gone now. Oh, well. I’m sure he doesn’t mean any harm…