Tara Beckley is hurrying to drive her passenger to campus in time for his lecture at the liberal arts college in rural Maine where she is a student. He demands that she take a detour, takes out his phone, and asks her to pose for a photograph. He hands her the phone. Moments later, he is killed in a freak accident, which knocks Tara into the river and an apparent coma. It turns out Tara is fully alert, but unable to move a muscle or express herself. She has locked-in syndrome. In If She Wakes (Little, Brown, May), Michael Koryta, a former private investigator and newspaper reporter, uses every detail of this short journey to build a suspenseful story.
Koryta says that he was influenced by books and movies to write the detective and ghost stories, as well as family and survival dramas, for which he is known. “I grew up watching old films with my film noir fan father. As a teenager I read Dennis Lehane, Michael Connelly, and Stephen King,” he adds.
Unlike some writers, Koryta, who has written more than a dozen novels, prefers writing standalone books. “I don’t want to write one type of book,” he says. “There is an exuberant feeling of meeting a new cast, as I begin each book.” As for the Maine setting of If She Wakes, he says that he wanted to root the book in real situations. “I live part of the year in Camden, and the drive from Maine to Boston is very familiar to me.”
When Koryta was researching locked-in syndrome, a rare neurological disorder, he was drawn to how it is diagnosed. One way involves showing victims a short Hitchcock movie while they are inside the scanner for an MRI. “The connection becomes obvious,” says Koryta. “When I was revising the initial draft of the book, I realized that an unintended relevance of the story [and locked-in syndrome] is that it reflects what is happening to so many of us. We are bombarded with threats that we don’t feel able to affect, and we suffer from a voicelessness. Even with the availability of social media, we have a hard time feeling that we are heard.”
Koryta enjoys attending BookExpo. “The work of writing is isolated,” he says. “BookExpo connects every facet of the publishing industry, and meeting readers is exciting. When I came when The Prophet appeared [in 2012], that was the first time that I was in a room with people who had read something I had written.”
Today, 10–10:30 a.m. Michael Koryta will sign at Table 5.