A lot of authors and their characters are compared to Lee Child and Jack Reacher, but Nick Petrie is the only one actually deserving of such praise.
Since breaking onto the scene in 2016 with his award-winning debut, The Drifter, Petrie has fast become one of the best new writers in the genre, constantly upping his game with each new book. His protagonist, Peter Ash, is as Reacher-like as you’ll find, though the large, combat-tested nomad has plenty of his own unique characteristics as well . . . like a severe case of PTSD that has left him dealing with what he referrers to as “white noise,” a term describing his intense claustrophobia.
This time around, Peter, again feeling restless, heads to Memphis to help a woman in need, only to discover a larger conspiracy beneath the surface that, much like in past books, he deals with the only way he knows how: head on. For my money, Tear it Down is Petrie’s best work yet, and I can’t recommend it enough. I actually read the whole thing in one sitting, enjoying every page.
Just ahead of his big release, Petrie agreed to go on the record for our Five Questions segment, and I asked him about everything from how he came up with the plot details for this book to what Peter Ash will be up to next. See the full Q&A below, then make sure to order your copy of Tear it Down, in stores Tuesday, January 15th.
TRBS: Man, you crushed it with this one! In Tear it Down, we see Peter Ash head to Memphis. How did you come up with the plot details for this book, and what research did you have to do before actually sitting down to write?
Petrie: “To be honest, I never know where any book comes from–or where it’s going–until it’s finished. I first thought of Tear it Down as a kind of natural disaster book, which is why I set it in Memphis, the largest city in the New Madrid Seismic Zone. Plus Memphis has a rich, troubled history which I thought would provide added conflict. As usual, however, my characters started banging into each other right away. I never got around to the actual earthquake.
“The specific and crucial details of my stories always seem to appear out of thin air until I realize, much later, that they come from things I read or saw or heard years before. Basically, my brain is like a giant recycling depot in which all scrap memories and conversations are stripped for useful parts which will eventually end up in a book.
“Tear it Down turned into a book about good people making bad decisions against a backdrop of urban and social decay – topics which have interested me for a long time. I live in Milwaukee, a Rust Belt city, so I’m quite familiar with the dynamics. Memphis has that same struggling urban core, with an added Southern element. Traveling there in the heat of summer, and driving around some really bad neighborhoods, gave me a lot of great material.”
TRBS: What is your writing process like? Do you outline your books, have a set word count you try to hit each day?
Petrie: “I don’t outline, although I honestly wish that I could, because it seems like a much more efficient process. For me, unfortunately, outlining a story sucks all the life out of it. If I’m not personally curious about what might happen next, I don’t think my readers will be, either.
“In general, I start each workday by reviewing the previous few days’ work, then use that momentum to get me moving forward into the next piece of writing. Ideally, I know where the scene I’m working on is going, and I know what the next few scenes will be, but sometimes those ideas sort of deflate, and I have to try something different. Sometimes I’ll write a sentence that doesn’t fit where I thought I was going, but I’ll follow it anyway, and something extraordinary happens. My hero climbs a redwood tree, for example, or rides a hospital gurney down a winding mountain road. Both those scenes, the first from Burning Bright, the second from Light it Up, appeared spontaneously. I couldn’t have planned those if I tried. Honestly, it’s a ridiculous way to work.
:On word count, I shoot for 1000 words per day, but what I actually produce varies wildly. Some days I make a lot of progress, other days not so much. I spend more time than I’d like banging my head against the wall. It’s the downside of this goofy writing process.”
TRBS: Your stories are so visual and read like they’re made for the big screen. Any chance we might see a Peter Ash movie or TV show in the future, and which actor would you most like to see play him?
Petrie: “I try very hard to make the books feel vivid and alive. I want to engage all your senses so readers really feel what it’s like to be in Peter’s skin, no matter what he’s doing. I think that’s the reason so many people tell me they’d love to see my work brought to the movies or television. Frankly, I’d love to see that, too, and we’ve had some interest, but nothing definite to report yet.
“I get asked about actors a lot, too. Although most writers have very little control over how their work is transformed into a movie or series, of course I’ve thought about it. The actor would have to be able to convey the essential mix of Peter’s toughness, his intensity, his vulnerability, and his likeability. For these reasons, I’m a big fan of Christian Bale, Michael Fassbender, Chris Evans, and Chris Pine. (Any readers who are friends with these excellent actors should feel free to reach out….)”
TRBS: Who are some of your favorite authors, and what’s the last great book that you read?
Petrie: “The crime writers who probably had the biggest early influence on me are Elmore Leonard, Robert Parker (the Spenser series), John D. McDonald (the Travis McGee series), and Lawrence Block (the Matt Scudder series). I’m a total sucker for Lee Child and Michael Connelly, of course. I also read a lot of so-called literary fiction, as long as it contains a compelling story. For that reason, I love Cormac McCarthy and Charles Frazier.
“I just re-read Frazier’s Cold Mountain–I learn a lot by re-reading–and that book really knocks me out. It’s a war story and a love story and a harrowing tale of outlaw life on the road, all at once.”
TRBS: Lastly, now that Tear it Down is set to hit bookstores, what’s next for you, and when can readers expect to see Peter Ash again?
Petrie: “I’m currently revising my next Peter Ash book, which takes place in Iceland. I’m having a lot of fun with this one, and it will hit the bookshelves in early 2020.”
Praised as “one of today’s finest book reviewers” by New York Times bestselling author Gayle Lynds, Ryan Steck (“The Godfather of the thriller genre” — Ben Coes) has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). Steck also works full-time as a freelance editor and pens a monthly thriller column for CrimeReads. For more information, be sure to follow him on Twitter and Facebook. He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children.