Michael Koryta is Taking Over Hollywood One Novel at a Time

Headshot of Michael Koryta
Michael Koryta’s first novel, Tonight I Said Goodbye, was published when he was just 21 years old. It won the St. Martin’s Press/Private Eye Writers of America prize for “best first private eye novel.” It was also an Edgar Award finalist. The IU alumnus recalls having to give proof of the Edgar ceremony in order to be excused from a midterm. Photos courtesy of Michael Koryta.

Working as a private investigator didn’t inspire New York Times best-selling novelist Michael Koryta, BA’06, to create Lincoln Perry, his protagonist of four novels.

“It certainly informed [him]. But I didn’t create a P.I. character because I had that experience. Actually, it was more the other way around. I was so interested in reading P.I. novels that I wanted to learn about the reality of the business,” explains Koryta.

The alumnus was a P.I. for nearly 10 years. He started as an intern with detective agency Trace Investigations while still a student at Bloomington (Ind.) High School North. There, he quickly learned to discern fact from fiction.

"Those Who Wish Me Dead" book cover
“You can’t put this baby down,” author Stephen King said about Michael Koryta’s book Those Who Wish Me Dead.

“It certainly wasn’t Magnum P.I. It’s very similar to journalism in terms of understanding the public record, where records exist, and how to access them,” he says. “You’re talking to a really diverse crowd … [so] you need to learn how to communicate across the board. From a writer’s standpoint, that diversity of interaction was really, really crucial to know.”

In 2004, while still a student at IU, Koryta introduced the world to Lincoln Perry with his debut novel, Tonight I Said Goodbye.

“The great thing about being published so young is that you don’t realize in the moment what a fluke it is. I didn’t know anything at all about the business,” he explains. “I was able to come in with a really good opportunity, and it was just an enormous amount of fun and very surreal.”

To date, Koryta, who splits his time between Bloomington, Ind., and Camden, Maine, has written 16 novels, many of which have been optioned for film. He co-wrote the screenplay for Those Who Wish Me Dead, which stars Academy Award-winner Angelina Jolie.

“We have an absolutely amazing cast,” Koryta says of the film that premiered May 14, 2021. “During my time on set, I felt they were all locked in and [it] looked phenomenal.”

Pigasus Pictures—founded by IU alums Zachary Spicer, BA’06, and John Robert Armstrong, BA’02, MFA’07—is currently adapting Koryta’s novel So Cold the River. The upcoming film, shot primarily on location at West Baden Springs Hotel in French Lick, Ind., will star Bethany Joy Lenz. Also in the works is an LBI Entertainment TV series based on Koryta’s book How It Happened.

"So Cold the River" book cover
“This book builds like a summer storm. Beautiful to watch until it shakes the house and knocks out the lights, leaving you alone in the dark. So Cold the River is guaranteed to put the cold finger down your spine,” said author Michael Connelly.

While the coronavirus pandemic put most professional pursuits on pause, Koryta greatly benefited from being confined to his home. He finished his 2020 novel, The Chill, and Where They Wait, which will release October 2021, both under the pseudonym Scott Carson. Koryta also published Never Far Away, under his own name, in February 2021.

From now on, he says, the horror novels will be written by Carson, while the mystery novels will remain under the Koryta name.

“[Using a pseudonym] is something I’ve always wanted to do. I always liked the idea of anonymity. Readers and booksellers do view the genres of supernatural and crime fiction distinctly. As a writer, I don’t, but the business doesn’t agree with me. Trying to give these supernatural/horror stories a distinct brand is part of the goal here,” he says.

Many of the authors who’ve inspired Koryta—Stephen King, Dennis Lehane, and Michael Connelly—have become admirers of his work over the years.

“Even after 15 books, it always feels surreal to me to have writers I’ve admired for so long read my work, let alone enjoy it and be willing to offer support. That is something that has not gotten old,” says Koryta. “[King and Connelly] have been wonderful friends in addition to being supportive as writers. [Lehane] went so far out of his way to help me, in particular early on. In my experience, it’s a business of truly generous people who are interested in paying it forward.”

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Written By
Kurt Anthony Krug
Kurt Anthony Krug is a freelance writer based in Detroit. He has interviewed numerous celebrities, including Kevin Kline, BA’70, LHD’14, for the IU Alumni Magazine.