Thursday, May 24, 2007

Q & A with Michael Koryta

Q: What makes Lincoln Perry different from other fictional private eyes?

A: I'm a firm believer in the idea that if you write well and create multi-faceted characters then being different shouldn’t be hard. People are inherently different, and characters should be, too. In terms of general demographics, I suppose Lincoln is younger than the average PI and in better control of his drinking. The one thing that you see sometimes in this genre and that I really dislike is when a writer tries to create a "different" PI through some sort of a gimmick. "No, no, my PI is totally unique because he has a peg leg and rides a bicycle." That sort of stuff isn’t character, and it isn’t good writing. It’s an amateur attempt to be original without any effort, when the focus should be on taking the traditions of the genre and making them feel original through great stories and great writing.

Q: You were first published at a relatively young age. Any advantages or disadvantages to that?

A: Yes, and yes. It is definitely a double-edged sword. On one hand, my age has been a marketing hook, which is a plus, but on the other hand there’s certainly an age bias for some people, a tendency not to take young writers seriously. There is, of course, little I can do about that. I’ve enjoyed being a young writer simply because of the quality of age jokes I hear. In a few years when I finally get the opportunity to pick on the young guy, I’ll be loaded with great material.

Q: Who would play Perry and Pritchard in a movie?

A: For Perry I have no idea. None. Pritchard is a little easier. I’d
love Robert Duvall, even though the look isn’t quite right, and Paul Newman about ten years ago would have been great. There’s a PI movie called "Twilight" in which Newman is about the right age and look for Joe. I’d also take Ed Harris if they could throw a wig on him, but somehow I don’t see Harris agreeing to that.

Q: What would a soundtrack to your novels sound like?

A: I never write without music playing, so this is a good question. I change the playlists often but there’s always one or two songs that sort of become my "theme" for the book, that I pick up on just because the mood is right. Now, it may never sound right to anyone else, but that’s okay. For Sorrow’s Anthem, the two songs that I listened to constantly while writing were "A Rush of Blood to the Head" by Coldplay and "Wayfaring Stranger" by Jack White, which is from the Cold Mountain soundtrack and is just a haunting song. For A Welcome Grave I listened to a ton of the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s album "Howl", particularly the song "The Line." I’d love to have those guys or the Kings of Leon on a soundtrack. Also fell in love with the Ryan Adams cover of "Wonderwall" by Oasis while I was working on A Welcome Grave.

Q: Has your writing changed much between the novels?

A: Hopefully. The goal is to keep getting better, so I’d like to
always be able to see changes. I’m more obsessed with tone and voice than I was at first, with mood, but I think some of that comes from being so familiar with a character. I know Lincoln by now, don’t have to worry about him quite as much, though you want to dig deeper with each book, cover new territory. In terms of the actual process, almost nothing has changed. I’ve relocated a few times but still write on the same computer, even though it can’t handle anything but word processing at this point, and still write late in the day with music playing. Can’t write in the morning to save my life.

Q: What's next for you and or Perry?

A: A break! Lincoln was, well, a little beat-up physically and emotionally at the end of the last one and he demanded a rest. I’ve been working on a standalone, which has been a wonderful experience, but I’ve got another LP book under contract, and I’m sure he’ll begin clearing his throat impatiently in a few weeks and asking for some new work.

Q: Do you have any favorite Sons of Spade yourself?

A: Of course. Lehane’s Kenzie and Gennaro novels are the reason I ended up in this genre. Absolutely love his stuff. Michael Connelly has been a huge influence, as was Robert Crais’s early stuff. Love James Lee Burke, and I became a crime fiction fan courtesy of Hammett and Chandler and MacDonald. Found out about the SMP/PWA contest that ultimately led to my publication because I read Steve Hamilton’s work. So I’ve got all sorts of debt and gratitude to spread around this genre.

Q: In the last century we've seen new waves of PI-writers, first influenced by Hammett, then Chandler, MacDonald, Parker, later Lehane. Who do you think will influence the coming generation and in what way?

A: Lehane is the big name in terms of influence. I can’t think of a young crime writer, or one who was first published in the last ten years, who doesn’t read Lehane with a measure of awe. Mystic River is the most influential crime novel of the last decade. I think Connelly is another benchmark in terms of how to sustain a series. Tell me another writer who has written so many books in a series without allowing the quality to diminish. I can’t think of one. Pelecanos will definitely stand the test of time as a writer of influence, because his novels are really unique in the crime fiction world, and much like Lehane I routinely hear his name spoken with a tone of reverence. Those three, who came in at about the same time, will be linked for many years, I believe, and the next generation of crime writers will absolutely be chasing at their heels. The way that influence will show itself is in the attention to craft, I hope. Those are writers who are dedicated to the craft, who constantly seek to improve the level of art in their writing, who want to go beyond a flashy action scene and a surprising plot twist. If that’s the influence that lingers, then the genre is in for a wonderful future.

Q: Harry Hunsicker came up with the following question: You wake up in a dingy motel room, the police banging on the door. You have no idea of how you got there. A dead woman lies on the floor, a pile of bloody hundred-dollar bills strewn around her head. Your cell phone is gone. You've got time to make one phone call before jumping out the bathroom window. Which fictional character would you call?

A: I call Sheriff Alan Pangborn of Castle Rock, Maine. He’s one of the truly neglected heroes of law enforcement, in my opinion. While a normal fictional detective might sort out a murder or two in each book, Sheriff Pangborn has had to deal with a town populated by the worst Stephen King could throw at it, and I think that goes well beyond the typical mean streets. A minor, human-related problem like this, with no apparent supernatural twist, should be something he could clear up before his coffee got cold.

Q: What question should be asked every PI writer we interview and what would be your answer to it?

A: What writer outside the genre would you most like to see write a PI novel? For me, the answer is Stewart O’Nan. His body of work is incredibly diverse, and incredibly impressive, and I’d love to see what he could do with a PI novel. His book The Speed Queen is one of my all-time favorite noir novels.

For more information about Michael Koryta and his novels visit

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