Michael Koryta is the author of many award-winning crime novels and of late, several highly praised novels of supernatural suspense published by Little, Brown. In the wake of the recent publication of The Cypress House, Michael Koryta took time out from his tour schedule to talk about the ins and outs of genre classification, the origin of ideas, and the kind of dark prose necessary to write a character who sees death before the fact.
He reads today at Mysteries to Die for and Book Carnival in Los Angeles. This Friday, February 11th, Michael will continue this discussion with a reading at Book Passage in San Fransisco, at M is for Mystery on Saturday February 12th, also in San Fransisco, and at Books Inc in Berkeley on Sunday February 13th. Visit Michael’s website and Facebook page for further tour dates.
How did the idea for The Cypress House come to you?
I first had the thought of writing about a man who experienced premonitions of death while on the battlefield. It intrigued me – everyone in combat understands that men around them may die, but if you saw who would die, before it happened, that seemed to me to be an intensified and unique horror in a land of horrors. It also occurred to me that for someone who had the gift of premonition, there would be no worse place than the battlefield, no place so painful. With all that said, I didn’t want to write a war story, and I was determined to return to the detective novel form after So Cold The River. Best-laid plans, and all that.
There was a moment – Sunday morning, I was at home in Indiana; I recall this one quite vividly for some reason – that the first scene of the novel sprang into my mind. I had been grinding away on a different book for a few months, and suddenly I had this vision of my clairvoyant soldier, now years removed from his service days, on a train rattling through Florida. He’d been sleeping and woke to see that the eyes of the men travelling with him had turned to smoke. I knew where they were headed – the Florida Keys ahead of the devastating hurricane of 1935 – and I could imagine the scene quite clearly, and even though I was in the midst of another book, I couldn’t let that idea go. I wanted to write it immediately. So I did, and by the time I had the first chapter done, I knew that was the book I needed to be writing.