Our author this week is Nick Petrie, the award-winning writer of the outstanding Peter Ash thrillers and a master of the art of bad-assiveness. So, thanks, Nick, for sharing your insights with our readers, and welcome, to the Mysterious Book Report. Let’s get started . . .
Why do you write?
I write because I love to read. That’s what got me started. Then I realized I wanted to tell stories of my own. The more I wrote, the more I realized that writing helps me make sense of my own life and the world around me. I wrote without getting published for many years – and if this great ride stopped tomorrow, I’d keep writing. Also, apparently I’m much more pleasant to be around when I’m working on a book.
Do you plot-outline or wing it?
I start with a situation and wing it from there. I know a lot of writers who start with an outline, and it works for them – but it doesn’t work for me. I need to surprise myself along the way. If I plan ahead too much, I get bored – and if I’m bored, I’m pretty sure the reader is bored, too.
I used to think there was something wrong with me because I couldn’t work with an outline. My process is slow and inefficient, and sometimes makes me very grumpy. But the most important thing for every writer, I think, is to find a way of working that allows you to produce good stories. And my process, however messy, works for me.
What’s your advice for aspiring writers?
I always tell folks to read a lot. I think that’s the way writers learn how character and story work, deep in their bones – by reading a huge amount.
Find an author whose books you really admire. Read, then read again. Multiple reads of a single work, done in a deliberate way, allows you to get past pure story and see the hidden machinery.
The second piece of advice is to take the long view. It takes years to learn to really write – or it took me a long time, anyway. In fact, I wrote three books that nobody would publish before I wrote The Drifter – which was nominated for five awards and won two. So be persistent. It takes time and hard work. Pull up your socks and get to it!
Does luck play into success? Why, or why not?
I think luck plays a huge part in success. I feel very lucky that the stories I want to tell are also stories that resonate with readers. I’m lucky to have a fantastic agent who is a real champion for my work, and I’m lucky to work with an astounding editor who understands what I’m trying to do and has the skills to help me achieve it.
That said, it took me more than two decades of unpublished writing to get lucky. I firmly believe that you can create your own luck. Hard work creates luck. Persistence creates luck. The trick is to keep working long enough and hard enough for luck to find you.
That’s an interesting answer to that question—one of the best we’ve ever heard. And leads right into this next one.
Does a MFA Degree play into success? Why, or why not?
I can’t think of a single specific thing I learned while getting my MFA. But it was valuable to me nonetheless – because I spent two years with like-minded people who were deeply serious about the craft of writing. That time meant a great deal to me and I wouldn’t do it differently today. (My MFA was also very affordable and I didn’t have to uproot myself to get it, which makes a big difference. I wouldn’t advise anyone to borrow a ton of money to get a fine arts degree.)
That said, there are many ways to duplicate that experience. Work hard to cultivate a small group of writers you respect, and who respect you back. Meet frequently and regularly. Read good books and talk about them as writers. Read each other’s stuff with kindness and rigor. Rewrite and repeat.
Where do you get most, some, or any your story ideas from?
I’m really interested in people, and that’s what’s driven my work from the start. My conversations with Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans sparked a deep and profound interest in the lives of those who have served. That’s where the first Peter Ash book, The Drifter, came from.
I also read a lot of non-fiction, including newspapers and magazines, and I often find ingredients for my books there. My work always has some social issue underlying the story – unintended consequences of technology, for example, in Burning Bright, or the legalization of recreational marijuana in Light It Up. Once something captures my interest, I really dive in. Research is my friend.
Does your style make use of adjectives and adverbs? Why, or why not?
My favorite books are the ones that, once I open the cover, I immediately begin to forget myself and fall into the lives of the characters and their story. My goal as a writer is to give my readers the same experience: to paint a living picture that will capture them completely until supper is burnt on the stove or it’s way past bedtime.
So I like to set the scene, to describe people and place and action with depth and clarity. I’m not a huge fan of adverbs – the lazy writer’s crutch, I take out as many as I can when rewriting – but I don’t mind adjectives. For me, the goal, always, is to find the balance between painting that vivid picture and keeping the story moving along.
Where could you be reached on the World Wide Web?
Nick Petrie’s first novel, The Drifter, won the 2016 Thriller Award and the 2016 Barry Award for Best First Novel, and was nominated for 2016 Edgar and Anthony Awards for Best First Novel, as well as the 2016 Hammett Prize for Best Novel. He was named one of Apple’s 10 Writers to Read in 2017, and won the 2016 Literary Award from the Wisconsin Library Association. His books in the Peter Ash series are The Drifter, Burning Bright, Light It Up, and the upcoming Tear It Down. A husband and father, he has worked as a carpenter, remodeling contractor, and building inspector. He lives in Milwaukee.
Thank you nick for taking the time to talk with us kindly stay in touch and let us know when Tear It Down is due . . .
We’re all looking forward to more thrillers from you !!