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.