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Michael Koryta’s Lost Man’s Lane is a ‘Love Letter’ to Bloomington

Michael Koryta, BA’06, wrote his first two books while studying at IU Bloomington. "Book tours take you through a lot of college towns, and I like them across the board, but if you wanted to offer someone a quintessential version of a college town, I’ve never seen one that does a better job of delivering than Bloomington," he says. Images courtesy of Michael Koryta and design by Kendra Kay Creative.

Bloomington born and raised, New York Times best-selling author Michael Koryta, BA’06, says he’s a full-blown townie; and it shows in his novel Lost Man’s Lane, which hit bookshelves March 26, 2024.

The 500-page supernatural mystery is set in Bloomington in 1999 and follows 17-year-old Marshall Miller who has an internship with a private investigator. Together, they’re tasked with looking into the disappearance of a local girl.

While the story itself is entirely invented, Koryta shares a few similarities with the protagonist. He also had an internship with a private investigator while in high school, and he continued that work through his time at Indiana University.

“That became my day job after school until I was fortunate enough to make a living writing full-time,” Koryta says. “The PI and Bloomington worlds were very familiar to me, but I didn’t pull from any specific case I worked on. There’s no reality to the plot, but there’s a lot of reality and personal experience to the texture of the book.”

In the Q&A that follows, Koryta discusses his writing process, the Hollywood projects fans have to look forward to, and why he wrote Lost Man’s Lane under a pseudonym.

How did you come up with the idea for Lost Man’s Lane?
Michael Koryta
: My stories come from a setting before a character. For instance, in Those Who Wish Me Dead, I knew I wanted to write something set in the Beartooth Mountains in Montana, I just wasn’t sure what it would be. So Called the River is set in West Baden, Ind., and is all about the hotel and crazy history down there.

Lost Man’s Lane was driven by wanting to go back and write something in an era that doesn’t feel that far away and yet in some ways it feels already antiquated. Technology was present in our lives but not as omnipresent as it is now. We had AOL Instant Messenger, email, some of us had cell phones. It was a big part of my high school experience, but it wasn’t this omnipresent force that it became.

Looking back, 1999 was a very important year in Bloomington’s history. There was a famous shooting close to campus, when [white supremacist] Ben Smith went on a shooting rampage through a few cities, and Bloomington was one of them.

Describe your writing process.
MK: It really depends on the book. An Honest Man is roughly 300 pages, but I cut more than 1,000 to get there. That was a nine- or 10-draft book. Lost Man’s Lane was more like a two-draft book. The characters were much more polite and well-behaved. They knew what they wanted to do.

After 20 years, the only thing I think I do better than when I started is I have a little bit more emotional scar tissue for knowing I will end up cutting a lot of stuff.

When you don’t know where a book is going, it’s impossible to avoid taking a wrong turn or three. It’s sort of like the great Mark Twain line, “I would have written a shorter letter, but I didn’t have the time.” It’s so much easier to write long than short.

Lost Man’s Lane is written under your pseudonym, Scott Carson. Why?
MK: I do it to clarify for the reader what type of book it’s going to be. I originally wanted it to be a secret, but it didn’t work out because the publisher wants you to promote the book, so that grand plan collapsed quickly.

A lot of readers don’t like anything with a supernatural element. I bounce around enough in genre that I thought let’s have one brand, but it does clarify for the reader and booksellers that, ‘Okay, this one is going to be in this camp,’ with ghosts and weirder things.

I use more realism under the Koryta name. I think it’s kind of funny that the first book I’ve ever written that’s even remotely like my real life is published under a different name.

As for the name, Scott Carson, he’s a character in the movie The Natural who never appears on screen and whose motives are entirely unknown. I liked that for a pseudonym.

Do you have plans for your next novel?
MK: I’m working on one right now. It’s set between Maine and Bloomington in 1963.

The only time I ever get nervous is if I’m finishing a project and don’t know what the next one is. Then I’m convinced that I’ve had my last idea.

A couple of your novels have been made into movies. Are there any additional films in the works?
MK: I’ve had two books made into movies so far—Those Who Wish Me Dead and So Cold the River.

I am working on a few different scripts right now, developing An Honest Man as a series and Never Far Away as a feature film.

I would say the project closest to the goal line is Never Far Away, which has casting and a director in place, and ideally will shoot early next year. I’m guardedly optimistic about An Honest Man, which is being developed as a TV series with the team that made Mare of Easttown. We are still in the early days of series development with that one, but I really like the project and my partners.

What is one piece of advice you’d give your younger self?
MK: Don’t rush—I was always horizon-focused. I wanted to get to the next thing, the next experience, whatever, and then suddenly you realize those were good times and really good days that you were trying to rush through.

Rapid Fire with Michael

Favorite writing snack?
MK: I go through a lot of unsweet iced tea when the writing is going well. I love good bourbon, but I know better than to let it be anywhere near the writing desk, especially when things aren’t going so well.

What time of day do you do your best work?
MK: I’m absolutely convinced the early afternoon and only after I’ve moved or exercised. I get up, do busy work such as emails, and then I need to get out, get away before I come back and turn off phones and Wi-Fi and kind of disappear in the afternoon.

Do you listen to music or watch TV while you write?
MK: I almost always listen to music. I’ll make playlists for different books and different characters. I’m really superstitious about that, so if I feel I’ve had a few good days with a playlist, I’ll play that one for months.

It also depends on the book. For An Honest Man, I listened to the soundtrack for Dunkirk. I played it thousands of times. For Lost Man’s Lane, because it was set in 1999, I listened to a horrifying amount of bad ‘90s hip-hop, and it was a glorious, glorious time.

Name a book you always recommend to people.
MK: Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell.

Where is your favorite place for a writer’s retreat?
MK: Cooke City, Montana.

Read an excerpt from Lost Man’s Lane.

This story is part of our IU alumni author series, Novel Ideas.

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Written By

Rachel Wisinski

Rachel Wisinski, BAJ'14, is a freelance writer and editor from the suburbs of Chicago.

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