There’s a hit new supernatural thriller set to storm bookstores in 2020, but so far, the biggest mystery of all surrounds the author’s secret identity.
A wild ride about a supernatural force that threatens New York City, The Chill by Scott Carson is perfect for fans of Stephen King, John Connolly, and, according to Publisher’s Weekly in their starred review, bestselling author Micahel Koryta. “Fans of Michael Koryta’s horror thrillers such as The Ridge will be more than satisfied,” says PW.
Turns out, that was a heck of a coincidence (or maybe an educated guess, depending on who you ask) because, indeed, Carson is the pseudonym of If She Wakes author Michael Koryta, the thirty-seven-year-old New York Times bestseller who first broke into the industry in 2004 with his hit debut novel, Tonight I said Goodbye.
Over the course of a thirty-minute phone conversation, I spoke with Koryta about his forthcoming new release and why he felt the time was right with this book to try out a pen name, among other things.
Whip-smart and funny, Koryta kicked things off by explaining to me that his reasoning for creating Scott Carson was twofold.
“One, on just an emotional level, it’s something that I’ve always wanted to do,” said Koryta. “I don’t really know why, but I guess the idea of—particularly after you’re a number of books in—trying a new thing or type of story, I really do think the fun of having a book out there that a lot of people didn’t know I wrote is kind of interesting. Seeing reviews will be kind of interesting. It’s just strictly personal entertainment. And then there’s the real side of the industry, which I realize how much I’ve asked of publishers and sales and marketing departments by hopping around within a genre.
“When I was starting out, I probably took that a little more for granted. Some of the readers who love thrillers and detective novels have no interest in supernatural. It’s like a nonstarter for them. And then there’s the horror crowd, but they don’t want to read a private investigator novel.
“I find this almost hard to believe, but by the time this book comes out, It’ll have been about a decade since I wrote anything that was supernatural in content,” Koryta told me. “So, I’m trying to create—this is such a shitty term—brand clarity, I guess, so that readers and booksellers know what they’re getting. I thought having an identity on the horror and supernatural side of the spectrum where everything is clearly promised and branded might possibly be a help,” he said before quipping, “and I have long had a fantasy of having a name that people could pronounce . . . or spell.
“After fifteen years of being introduced with a different pronunciation every time, and then hearing from everyone about how this is a word-of-mouth business, I’m excited about an easier name.”
For those wondering about a few of Koryta’s (pronounced Ko-ree-ta) favorite mispronunciations, he says there are two that stand out after fifteen years in the business.
“My favorite is Korupa,” says the author, before noting, “there’s not a P in my name. I’ve heard that one a lot. I have always joked with my publicist at Little Brown that Michael Kor-TEE-A gets better reviews than Michael Koryta. Unless it’s a bad review, and then they seem to always take time to spell my name right. If it’s a good review, they just kind of do it fast and spell it Kortya almost every time. ”
(Continue reading the interview below)
In this terrifying thriller, a supernatural force—set in motion a century ago—threatens to devastate New York City.
Far upstate, in New York’s ancient forests, a drowned village lays beneath the dark, still waters of the Chilewaukee reservoir. Early in the 20th century, the town was destroyed for the greater good: bringing water to the millions living downstate. Or at least that’s what the politicians from Manhattan insisted at the time. The local families, settled there since America’s founding, were forced from their land, but they didn’t move far, and some didn’t move at all…
Now, a century later, the repercussions of human arrogance are finally making themselves known. An inspector assigned to oversee the dam, dangerously neglected for decades, witnesses something inexplicable. It turns out that more than the village was left behind in the waters of the Chill when it was abandoned. The townspeople didn’t evacuate without a fight. A dark prophecy remained, too, and the time has come for it to be fulfilled. Those who remember must ask themselves: who will be next? For sacrifices must be made. And as the dark waters begin to inexorably rise, the demand for a fresh sacrifice emerges from the deep . . .
As for how the story came about, Koryta told me The Chill came to him differently than past books.
“It actually goes back to a single newspaper story, which was a New York Times piece in April of 2016 that talked about the delays and reallocated funding for the completion of water tunnel number three. There was a quote it in referencing back to a meeting that had occurred years earlier—I don’t remember offhand which year that meeting was—but they quoted one of Blumberg’s deputy mayors as coming out of this disaster planning session where they talk about everything from hurricanes to terrorist attacks to dirty bombs, and out of all of those terrible things . . . they said that the only thing that could completely shut down the city for a prolonged period was the collapse of one of the two existing water tunnels.”
“When I read that,” remembered Koryta, “the novelist brain in me went off immediately.” Then came the research that would end up taking readers inside the Chilewaukee Reservoir—sequences that, for those brave enough to face the pages in The Chill, will no doubt induce a feeling of claustrophobia and panic.
“I had been blissfully unaware of it, but the idea of five million people going with water if one of those tunnels failed, that sort of sent me down the road of research. David Grann did this brilliant piece for The New Yorker a number of years ago called City of Water, which kind of took a look at the lives of those who’ve been working on this for years. I was fascinated.”
“So the idea was as simple as finding out about the potential for disaster, and then I was thinking in terms of a more straightforward thriller . . . when the research moved me from the city to upstate. I sort of went in reverse order of how the water comes,” laughed Koryta. “When you get into those towns upstate, any story has that bridge of eras, so you have the era of construction and the towns and villages being moved, cemeteries being relocated—all of that seemed really ripe for a ghost story.
“The real threat, though, the actual tunnel in the city, took on its own era. Whenever I start thinking about different generations, I’m kind of naturally drawn to the ghost story and towards the gothic approach.”
I should add that when I told the author how his descriptions of inside the tunnels left this critic flush with panic and a sense of the walls closing in, that response seemed to be what he was going for. “I love hearing that,” said Koryta, excited. “If I can make someone feel, any emotions really—but especially anxiety, a phobia, those types of things, then I did my job.”
Trust me, he did his job. My fingers haven’t been that sweaty while flipping pages since Ben Coes wedged his six-foot-five, two-hundred-and-thirty-pound protagionist through a series of pipes and underground concrete passageways in First Strike (2016).
When pressed for how he came up with the name Scott Carson, Koryta’s answer was, again, twofold.
“The first book that I read as a kid that I just, like, fell in love with—and helped me become obsessed with books—was a children’s mystery book from the 1950s that my dad had read. It was about a group called The Carson Street Detectives, so that just stuck in my mind as a reader because it’s a vivid memory.”
“And then, if you’ve ever seen or read The Natural (the 1984 flick starring Robert Redford), one of my all-time favorite characters in fiction is Scott Carson, the scout. He’s never on-screen, and it’s never really clear if he’s working for good or evil. My wife and I were watching that movie while I was toying with the idea of using a pseudonym, and there’s a line in there from the manager (when Roy Hobbs shows up) where he goes, ‘I don’t need any thirty-five-year-old rookies.
“At the time, I was thirty-five, so I thought this is perfect—a thirty-five-year-old rookie from nowhere, I’m going for it!”
Though he’s not playing baseball like the movie that inspired his pen name, Koryta is joining a new team to bring readers The Chill after signing with Atria Books, an imprint at Simon & Schuster. I asked him about that and, it turns out, Koryta had long been hoping to work with their Senior Vice President and Editor-in-Chief, Emily Bestler.
“My editor there, Emily Bestler, I had actually never met her until she bought the book. I think I had blurbed a couple of books for her over the years, but she reached out after my first supernatural novel was published, and then she sent a few follow-up notes. I could tell she was a fan of well-written, scary stuff, so we had some back-and-forth about how tough it is to, you know, really write something that is really creepy and atmospheric, but also successful at the levels you need it to be. I sort of always had it in the back of my mind that if I ever went back to the supernatural, that I would love for her to see this. She’s been great, really amazing to work with.”
The goal, at least at this time, Koryta told me, is to keep working with both Atria and Litle, Brown and Company moving forward, as Scott Carson and Michael Koryta respectively.
“Little Brown has been an incredible supporter of my work, and then working with Emily and Atria was incredible—my first outing with them, but they’ve been great. I think I’m probably one of the most fortunate writers on the planet because I have two really supportive publishers, and it’s awfully hard to even find just one.
“With Atria, it was a two-book deal, so there will be another Scott Carson book after this one. Hopefully, he’ll be around a lot longer, but he’s got at least that much. He’s got two at-bats! Everything I put out under that name will be somewhere on the weirder side of things, you know the dark and creepy side. Then, as Koryta, I’m still writing what I guess I would call mainstream thrillers under that name. Obviously, the hope is––I’m trying to sell books here with both the right and left hand––to widen the audience and that there will be Scott Carson readers who decide to try a Michael Koryta book, and readers who pick up a Koryta book that might then check out a Carson one too. And if it doesn’t work, it was definitely a fun experience.”
Koryta’s next book with Little Brown should hit bookstores sometime in the winter of 2020 or 2021. Fans of his thrillers will be excited to know that the reason no official pub date has been announced is because they’re trying to time its publication with the release of Those Who Wish Me Dead, the film adaption of Koryta’s novel with the same name, which stars Jon Bernthal (The Punisher), Angelina Jolie (Maleficent, Mr. And Mrs. Smith, etc.) and Tyler Perry (Madea’s Family Reunion, etc.), which was directed by Taylor Sheridan (Yellowstone, Wind River).
Though he couldn’t say much about the movie, other than confirming that he did help work on the screenplay, Koryta told me, “They wrapped shooting at the end of summer, and they’re in post-production now doing all of the fun video effects and editing, all the things that actually turn it into a movie.
“I was out there on set in June, and to have the chance to see it come to life—I wanted to be on location in the mountains because that’s where the entire book, and then I worked on the script for about a year too, that all came from backpacking trips. To be up and around nine and ten-thousand feet, and to see how they pulled off the logistics of that shoot, was really, really cool.”
Praised as “One of the hardest working, most thoughtful, and fairest reviewers out there” by #1 New York Times bestselling author Lisa Scottoline, Ryan Steck has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). Steck also works full-time as a freelance editor and pens a monthly thriller column for CrimeReads. For more information, be sure to follow him on Twitter and Facebook. He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children.