Book Review: Local Author Michael Koryta’s Latest Novel Out March 26th, Author to Speak at Monroe County Public Library March 28th

Photo and Article by Nick Bauer

Bloomington, Indiana – March 25, 2024

Lost Man’s Lane, released March 26, 2024, is the nineteenth novel from Michael Koryta, and the third written under his pen name Scott Carson. Koryta will discuss the novel during a talk and book signing at the downtown Monroe County Public Library on March 28 at 6:30pm.

Lost Man’s Lane is Koryta’s first novel to take place in his hometown of Bloomington, Indiana. Set in the summer of 1999, the story introduces us to Marshall Miller, a 16-year-old high school student whose life takes a haunting turn after an encounter with a police impersonator that leaves him entangled in the case of a missing girl. Marshall finds his way into a summer job interning for a local private investigator who is working the case. As Marshall’s reality blurs with the supernatural, marked by recurring dreams and unsettling encounters with ghosts and snakes, he finds himself accused of fabricating stories, while those close to him start to worry about his wellbeing.

Koryta crafts a rich cast of characters, from Marshall’s single-parent mother who works as a television weatherperson, to his private investigator mentor and his high school friends, each dealing with their own struggles. The novel is an eerie coming-of-age story both for Marshall and for the community, as the story references real historical events that shaped Bloomington’s direction as it reckoned with a changing world. The deep sense of place Koryta builds in his hometown, derived from his upbringing and experiences in Bloomington, adds authenticity to the story. Readers who are familiar with the 1990s in Bloomington will see the novel as a nostalgic reminder of a past era, with its many references to long-lost local landmarks and community events. Koryta masterfully captures the genuine experience and emotions of living in Bloomington through that time.

For those who are unfamiliar with Bloomington in the late ‘90s, Koryta’s eloquent prose and skillful storytelling will captivate your imagination and draw you into a world where he blends reality with the supernatural in a haunting tale that transcends its genre while exploring life in a small midwestern town.

Where to Buy: Support your local bookstores by picking up a copy of Lost Man’s Lane starting March 26, 2024, in Bloomington at Morgenstern’s Bookstore, 849 S Auto Mall Road, or the Book Corner, at Walnut & Kirkwood downtown. The book will also be available online and from other retailers.

Attend Michael Koryta Live at the Library: Michael Koryta will discuss his latest novel on March 28, 2024, at 6:30pm in the Auditorium at the downtown Monroe County Public Library, 303 E. Kirkwood. The event is free and open to the public. Morgenstern’s will be on site selling copies of Lost Man’s Lane, with the author signing books following the talk.

A brief interview with Michael Koryta about Lost Man’s Lane follows, edited for length and clarity:

QUESTION: How did you balance Bloomington as the landscape of your childhood and your high school years, against the landscape of a novel by Scott Carson, where it’s intended to be suspenseful and terrifying? Did you have any concerns about setting the story in Bloomington?

MICHAEL KORYTA: There’s a reason it took me twenty years to set a book in my hometown, and that’s because it’s not easy. I also think it’s probably not coincidental that I wrote most of the book from Maine. 90% of this one in the first draft, I was in Maine for the writing, and I think that helped because it allowed me to create the distance of place. Also, I wasn’t writing contemporary, it was sort of like calling back a place that I remembered, which was helpful. But one of the reasons I’ve always stayed away from writing about Bloomington is that concern where readers, even well-intended readers, will assume or imagine that you are basing a character on someone real. And you can tell them, no, I’m not, but they struggle to believe that. I love Bloomington. There is a reason I continue to live a good amount of the year in this place. When I knew that I wanted to do a great story, filled with a lot of positive, funny things, filled up with the hopefully scary suspense, and particularly in 1999, I wanted to set it in Bloomington. I feel like 1999 is such a fascinating time capsule for the country, as we were right on the edge of a very different era in so many ways.

QUESTION: You bring up 1999, the year the novel is set in. Bloomington was on the cusp of some big local and national stories, from the July 1999 murder of a Korean graduate student by white supremacist Ben Smith to Jill Behrman disappearing in 2000, then September 11, 2001, layered on top of major manufacturing operations closing in town. How did these historical events and the shift in Bloomington at that time influence your choice of year?

KORYTA: It all influenced my choice of year mostly because I liked the sense of writing a book where there was a loss of innocence moment on the horizon. And I feel like nationally, 9/11 plays that role in the book. On the community level, we were going through all of the change that you mentioned. I think there are three stories in Bloomington that have driven a lot of my writing, over a lot of years: Ben Smith and Matt Hale in 1999, the tornadoes that I covered in 2002 as a reporter, and, of course, Jill Behrman. There are elements of those real events that I seem to continue to turn over in different ways across different novels. The way people respond to weather as if it is both a supernatural force and a personal one, for example. The books that qualify as “horror” are not nearly as frightening to me as those with only human villains. It is interesting that readers tend to disagree; most of them find the “scarier” books to be the least-plausible ones, which always fascinates me.

QUESTION: What was your approach to including the nostalgia and history of Bloomington without overdoing it or portraying Bloomington in an unrealistically positive light?

KORYTA: That’s where the old newspapers really helped me, going back and just getting the details of here’s what was happening in the town. And while I loved the place and I loved growing up here, like any community, it’s not all good news every day. And so going back through the Herald Times archives and using real events to create the texture helped me stay honest about the community. From a story standpoint, none of the novel comes from anything real, it’s all wholly imagined. There’s my own memory, there’s the historical record, and then there’s conversation with people. But that’s about the texture of setting and giving it layers and making it feel realistic. The story was uninfluenced by anything real. And it was nice to tell a supernatural story. When I’ve gotten close to home with So Cold the River and now with this book, I’ve gone to more of that sort of Stephen King territory. And I think that helps me write closer to home. Whereas with a crime novel, for example with How It Happened, I’ve written about that book before and how it was influenced by the Jill Behrman case. I could not have set that book in Bloomington. It would have felt too close. Maybe it still does, I’m not sure. She is someone I’ve thought about virtually every day for the last 24 years – certainly every week, no exaggeration at all. I had to build layers of distance for that one. Any version of fiction that comes close to home carries a different risk of people misinterpreting your intention, I think, and that’s fair. But with Lost Man’s Lane, I’m dealing with this type of fiction that helps me remove that overlap with reality. It’s filled with ghosts and – hopefully – some laughs.

QUESTION: Is there anything that you want people to know about Lost Man’s Lane, prospective readers, fans of yours, that you’d want mentioned in an article in Bloomington?

KORYTA: The novel is dedicated to Bloomington for a reason. And it’s dedicated to Bloomington because I love living here, but I loved growing up here in particular. And it was so much fun to try to work in as many real places as possible, whether that’s Stepp Cemetery or the Sample Gates, or Nick’s, whatever the location, I had a lot of fun trying to bring the place to realistic life.What I wanted to do at the end of the day was obviously it needs to be just an entertaining story first, even if you’ve never set foot in the town. But my hope was if you did know the town particularly in that era, that it would serve as an accurate depiction of time and place.

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