IDOL TALK: Having Two Novels Already Published Wasn’t A Prerequisite  

New York Times bestselling author Michael Koryta got the call from the records office at Indiana University shortly before he was scheduled to graduate. Looking back, it’s easy to understand why he overlooked a single core prerequisite.

Koryta was busy writing part-time for the Bloomington Herald-Times, he worked occasionally for a private detective and in what little spare time he had left, he was writing novels. He did all of this while studying for a degree in criminal justice because he never lost sight of his goal to become a crime fiction writer.

A precocious kid, he can’t recall when the lightbulb flipped on. “I don’t remember a time I wasn’t reading and not wanting to write. That goes back to the earliest part of my childhood,” he says.

Koryta was a college sophomore when he sold his first novel. While shopping his first manuscript, the 19-year-old didn’t tell anyone he was a student for fear they wouldn’t take him seriously. Tonight I said Goodbye, was published the next year. He’d just turned 20, too young to walk up to the bar or rent a car, but old enough to be nominated for an Edgar that year.

His second novel, Sorrow’s Anthem, was published before he was scheduled to graduate. With so much on his plate, it’s easy to forgive him for overlooking that one required course in his curriculum. He was told he could not walk across the stage and pick up his diploma in May 2006.

“They informed me I hadn’t completed my intensive writing requirement.” That’s right. Indiana University was insisting he complete a writing course (he chose creative writing—go figure), before he could graduate. At the time, his creative writing was already published in ten languages around the world. So, he spent the summer of 2006 taking a correspondence course to graduate while still writing for the newspaper and working on his third novel.

Indiana University, after all, has its standards.

He has published seventeen crime and supernatural novels since his sophomore year. His eighteenth novel, Never Far Away, launches February 9. It is a story of a mother who is a witness to a terrible crime that forces her to fake her own death, go into hiding and give up her family. When her husband dies unexpectantly, and with her children believing she died long ago, she reemerges as their aunt and guardian. In doing so, she inadvertently leaves a trail for an assassin who failed to complete the job the first time.

Koryta, now 38, has been a published author for half his life, having written 18 novels in the past 19 years. It can all be traced back to his laser-like preoccupation with writing, which delayed his Indiana University graduation. He finally received his diploma at home in the mail at the end of the summer of 2006, which only goes to prove Michael Koryta is truly in a class of his own.

To read the entire story, visit The Big Thrill magazine.

IDOL TALK: The Bestselling New York Times Author You Never Heard Of

Suppose you had seven New York Times bestselling novels under your belt and still nobody knew your name. Can’t happen, you say?

But it did.

If you’re in the know in Hollywood, then you’ll recognize the name of Tom Straw, a veteran writer of numerous television comedies from “Night Court” to the “Cosby Show.” But I’ll bet you didn’t know about his seven New York Times bestsellers. And it’s not like he was hanging out at the bottom of the list. He actually hit number one.

So, where has Tom been all your literary life?

It just so happens that he wrote under the pseudonym of Richard Castle. Ring a familiar bell? Rick Castle (BTW, a great first name), is the fictitious novelist in the long-running television detective series “Castle.” The show ran for seven seasons and starred Nathan Fillion as Castle and Stana Katic as his romantic interest, New York City Police Detective Kate Becket.

In the series, Castle was a crime novelist seeking his muse. So he wrangled a via New York’s mayor to shadow Beckett while she investigated crimes. While working with her, he created his “Nikki Heat” character for his novel series based on his experiences with Detective Beckett. Of course, this is a television show so there is no real book series.

But then…

Then, the show’s Executive Producer Andrew W. Marlowe approached Straw about actually writing the novels as a tie-in to the television show. He wrote seven novels during seven seasons “Castle” ran on the air and every one of them became a New York Times bestseller. So there you go. Tom Straw, aka Richard Castle, the most successful bestselling author you never heard of—until now.

Lee Child Retires

Probably the most successful thriller writer in the genre, Lee Child, has retired and has passed on his Jack Reacher series to his younger brother, Andrew Grant. Want the details on the transition? Click here for my story in the Big Thrill magazine about the passing of the biggest baton in all of thrillerdom. And if you’d like to know more about Lee Child’s beginnings, click here for a story that will appear as a chapter in my anthology about successful novelists’ beginnings.

My Neighbor Randy Wayne White

Decades ago when the The New Yorker reached Floridian Randy Wayne White to pen a piece on the Everglades, he turned down the offer. The Outside magazine columnist and fishing guide was in a foul mood. It was the height of the fishing season and he had enough work on his plate. Besides, he said at the time, what else can be written about Florida’s endangered swamp land that hasn’t already been written?

He wasn’t trying to play hard to get, but it didn’t seem to hurt at all. White heard from his buddies in New York literary circles that the editor he turned down was telling others chumming for talent that Randy was a big catch. “Randy White’s pretty good, if you can get him,” she told people. When the supply is limited, the demand usually goes up.

Randy went on to write dozens of novels, many NYT bestsellers. His most famous novels are part of his “Doc Ford” series about the adventures of marine biologist Doc Ford. Keep an eye on Crimereads.com later this month for my story about Randy. We met at his restaurant, Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grill on Sanibel Island, not far from my Florida condo, and we had a long chat about his beginnings, and book and magazine publishing.

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IDOL TALK: William Styron Stumbling. Lee Child Retiring. Scott Turow Intimidated. Chevy Chase’s Dad Edits.

William Styron was “so wildly drunk, it was embarrassing,” says Scott Turow, the man who created the modern legal thriller. Turow shot to fame (and fortune) after publication of his first legal thriller Presumed Innocent (which became a major motion picture starring Harrison Ford).

Turow’s description of acclaimed novelist Styron followed a New York City luncheon where Scott was awarded a Book of the Month writing fellowship. Styron was on stage handing out the awards that day, or at least attempting to. Turow, at the time, had just graduated from college. He went on to teach writing at Stanford and later attend Harvard Law School. At the time, young Turow found the whole scene intimidating. “New York scared the shit out of me in those days.”

Turow later authored a book about his freshman year at Harvard Law School called One L, Harvard’s computer acronym for first-year law students. He says he doesn’t know what Putnam Editor Ned Chase saw in his book, but he’s glad he chose it. Turow’s been receiving royalty checks ever since. For more than three decades One L has become must reading for law students and those considering law school. Chase, a top book editor in his day, was father of comedian Chevy Chase. Before Turow entered Harvard, his agent told Chase about Turow’s idea for the book. Chase wrote up a contract before Turow even entered Harvard. It was Turow’s first published book.

I talked with Scott Turow recently for CrimeReads.com about what it took to get his first novel, Presumed Innocent, published. What it took was years. Click here to read the story. Presumed Innocent is the novel that sparked my interest in writing thrillers. I remember staying up into the wee hours unable to put it down.

When you become as big as Lee Child, author of the Jack Reacher series, strange stuff happens, he says. In his sixth novel, Echo Burning, he included an attempted assassination. He traveled to Denmark on a book tour just as an assassination attempt on a public official came to light. Child, expecting to be interviewed about his latest novel, was instead asked about the assassination attempt as if he were an expert.

He was candid about it saying he was no expert at all. “I just make things up.”

On another occasion, a member of the Australian Federal Parliament cited Child’s Jack Reacher character during a floor debate in the legislature. You know you’ve arrived when your novel’s protagonist is used in political discourse halfway around the world.

Child’s Jack Reacher series, which has spawned 25 books, is the largest selling thriller series in the genre. Child has sold more than 100 million books. But not any more. He is retiring from writing the franchise and turning the reins over to his younger brother Andrew Grant, also a novelist. For the series, Grant will write under the pen name Andrew Child. The Sentinel, written almost entirely by Andrew Child (with Lee Child’s name still larger than anything else on the cover), was launched this week.

Lee Child says retirement includes buying a new couch to lounge on and do what he loves most. Read books. He will also be busy as executive producer of Amazon’s upcoming Jack Reacher streaming series, which is scheduled to debut in the fall of 2021. Prepare to binge.

I talked with the brothers Grant (Lee Child’s real name is Jim Grant) for a story in The Big Thrill magazine. You can read my story in the upcoming November issue. The Big Thrill is the official magazine of the International Thriller Writers.

BONUS: Ever wonder what goes into designing a book cover? Read my story on the many failed attempts for my novel, Naked Ambition. I learned a lot from this experience. Maybe you will too. It gives you an idea of what goes into the process.

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Please excuse any typos. The editor, like the author, is in solitary.