Last week I reviewed Michael Koryta's latest novel, THE RIDGE. Me, being the busy body that I am, had some questions I wanted to ask Michael about his experience of writing this novel. Once again, Michael tolerated my "inquisitive" nature and humored me.
By the way, if you'd like to see other times Michael has been generous to share his time with me, you can check out this written interview and this video interview.
MJK: I struggle with this element of the supernatural books, which is the fun part. I'm a natural skeptic, so there is great challenge in trying to create this realm and then convince the reader to float along in it. I think that challenge is what appeals to me, and it certainly has forced me to write books that feel -- to me, this is a personal answer, I'm not trying to speak for the reader -- bigger in thematic and symbolic ways. Early on, I have nothing but visions of "Twilight Zone" kind of moments on unreality. I'll think, "Oh, nice, that's creepy." But then I write on and remember that I have to explain them, and then you'll find me face down on the floor, announcing plans to retire. (Really, ask my fiancee, this happened multiple times during The Ridge. She and the cat are very understanding of it; the dog is more concerned...) So it's a great test of "practice what you preach" to me. I always say that I believe the subconscious understands the book you are trying to write, and if you can get out of your own way, you'll see it. The intellectual challenge is in finding what is already there and in releasing a little bit of control. That's not easy for me, I want to guide it all along, and so I fight myself through the whole process. With The Ridge, it took me draft after draft after draft. Around 2,500 pages to end up with, what, 320? It was the hardest book for me, as far as rewriting is concerned. Maybe the hardest, period. I blew it up and started over many times. Cut POV characters from it after spending months on them. Threw out favorite scenes and favorite plot threads. That sort of thing.
Q. Besides that supernatural realm of your creation, you worked with the world of the felines. What were the greatest challenges for you and what was the most fun about creating those non-human characters that were so integral in the plot?
MJK: The big cats were by far the most fun and most difficult element of this book for me. I'd seen the real preserve (www.exoticfelinerescuecenter.
org) so many times and I was very aware of how incredible it was and how beautiful and intimidating. To replicate that as a setting was fairly easy. To make it work as something integral to the core of the story, though, was different. I worried a lot about tipping over and delving too deeply into their world, but Michael Pietsch, my editor, kept saying, "more cats." He was like Christopher Walken in the "more cowbell" Saturday Night Live skit with Will Ferrell. "I've got a fever, and the only prescription is..." But because he's Michael Pietsch, and in my opinion the best editor working today, as evidenced by both his successes (Infinite Jest comes to mind) and his willingness to take on hopeless causes (Michael Koryta) I am generally willing to listen. He might disagree with this depiction of my cooperation, but he's not on the mike right now, so I can get away with it. What finally clicked for me was when I went back and made Audrey less trustworthy of the cats. Then they became part of her arc, her development, and began to feel more organic.
I went easy this time, but I love these responses. And if you go check out the website for the Exotic Feline Rescue Center, you'll see you can stay overnight there. I totally want to go...even after having read The Ridge!
As I mentioned in my review, The Ridge is truly my favorite book from Michael's bibliography to date. His passion about what he's doing comes through in his books, as it does in these responses. If you haven't checked out a Michael Koryta book, I hope you do...soon!