Today on Thriller Thursdays, Novels Alive is delighted to have the one and only Mr. Andrew Peterson, truly a gentleman and a scholar. And he just happens to be an incredible thriller writer as well.
What drives your story forward in your books the most, the characters or the plot?
The Nathan McBride novels are definitely character driven, but they contain a lot of action. It’s important for an author to know why his characters are behaving the way they are. It’s kinda like the chicken and the egg question. Which came first, the character, or the situation he finds himself in? Because Nathan holds a core set of values that govern his life, the way he sees the world, determines the way he reacts to the world. He’s not afraid to step up. Occasionally he’ll do some questionable, or even unethical things, creating a dilemma for him. He doesn’t enjoy bending or breaking the rules, but he has to consider the greater picture. When tough choices need to be made, Nathan is decisive and “takes care of business.”
If you were a character in one of your books, which would you be? The hero/heroine, mentor, villain, love interest, etc.
I’d definitely be Nathan McBride, but there’s no way I could ever fill his shoes. He’s bigger than life and he says and does things ordinary people don’t say and do. He’s also a deeply conflicted character. We share some common values, but he’s much tougher than I am, or could ever hope to be. People often assume my background is the same as Nathan’s. It’s not. I have experience in precision target shooting, but I was never a Marine, or a scout sniper. Having said that, Nathan’s still very real to me. His former spotter and current business partner Harvey Fontana is not a sidekick character and doesn’t play that role. Harv is an integral part of Nathan’s life. Many people admire Harv as much, or more than Nathan. I really enjoy writing their interactions.
If you had the power to make any of your books into a film, which would it be and why?
The first book in the series, FIRST TO KILL, has been optioned for film. Looking back now, I’d have to say the third book, OPTION TO KILL, would make the best film. It’s definitely Nathan’s toughest assignment. Being allied with Lauren—a twelve year old girl—created some traumatic moments and made his journey far more difficult. They had to learn to trust each other. Given they’re from such opposite backgrounds, it wasn’t easy. There’s a scene at the end of OTK where Lauren is forced into a harrowing, life or death decision.
Do people you know end up as characters in your book? Be honest…
The answer is wholeheartedly yes! A good friend of mine, a plastic surgeon named Doug Reavie, became an actual character in the book (I used his real name) and he played a large role in OPTION TO KILL and a smaller role in FORCED TO KILL. I got his permission to include him and I think he had a good time reading about himself in the books. Anyone who knows Dr. Reavie, knows I made him true to form. On the opposite side of the spectrum, I’ve heard of authors who kill people they don’t like in their books. Death is so final. Wouldn’t it be more gratifying to have them enslaved or imprisoned for the rest of their lives? I guess it’s my imagination at work!
Do you surprise yourself at your ability to write the vilest villains with such believability? Which book is your most vile villain featured?
For me, writing villains is not difficult. I hope that doesn’t sound weird. We all have a dark side we can tap to create evil characteristics in people. Heck, all we have to do is watch the nightly news! My favorite villain of the series is Juan Montez de Oca from book two, FORCED TO KILL. In many ways, Montez shaped Nathan into the person he is. After a botched mission in Nicaragua, Nathan was captured and fell into Montez’s hands. He endured three weeks of torture and interrogation before being rescued by his spotter, Harvey Fontana. Montez carved deep physical and mental scars into Nathan. He’s never fully recovered, and probably never will. Referring back to question one above, part of Nathan’s core is driven by a deep resentment of bullies.
Is there a particular genre of fiction that you have always wanted to write, but haven’t yet tackled?
I’ve always dreamed of writing a fantasy novel. Kings and queens. Sorcerers and magi. Maybe someday I’ll pursue it. I believe all mainstream fiction has common themes; good versus evil, obstacles for the heroes to overcome in order to defeat the villains, etc. In a fantasy novel, the challenge is creating an entire world from scratch. For now, I’m firmly committed to continue the Nathan McBride series into the foreseeable future with Thomas & Mercer.
As with the rest of us, you have a real life to live. So, in your most recent book, what was happening in your life and how did it influence your writing?
Last year, when I wrote READY TO KILL, I had severe lumbar stenosis. I’m pretty sure I developed it while writing book three. I’d spent super long periods of time at my desk getting the serial episodes plotted, written, and edited for OPTION TO KILL. I had to turn in 10,000 words every two weeks. Four months after completing OTK, my back pain reached an intolerable state and I had to undergo emergency lumbar discectomy and decompression surgery. Before getting the knife, I could barely walk. Simple things—like getting dressed—became ordeals. The timing was bad. RTK was due in five months! Needless to say, I fell behind, but I managed to complete the manuscript and turn it in thirty days late. Anyone who’s had chronic back pain can relate. Honestly, I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.
Can you judge a book by its cover? How much input do you have on the look/feel of your cover?
A cover is important because it gives the reader a first impression of what the book’s about. A good cover is gold and my editor, Alan Turkus at Thomas & Mercer, believes in including his authors in the design process. The final decision falls on Alan’s desk, but he’s open to constructive feedback and welcomes the input. Most authors have a sense of what their covers should look like and I think it’s really terrific the T&M team allows its authors to take part in the process.
How much research went into your last book?
Regarding research, I’ve developed a 90/10 rule. Only 10% of my research ends up in the books. I select the juiciest or most interesting parts and find a way to work the material in. Nonfiction books on snipers exist. I don’t think the vast majority of readers care about all the intricate details of precision shooting over long distances. I’m always trying to find a balance between over-describing a scene versus not having enough detail to create suspense and drama. I often rely on instinct. I’m constantly asking myself: Is this too little or too much detail for this particular scene? Some settings require more detail than others, especially if there’s going to be an extended amount action in the scene. I think fiction novelists need to remind themselves every so often that they’re entertainers, not educators.
Tell us one thing about you that may surprise your readers.
I like to watch animated superhero movies and television series, with Batman being at the top of the list. On occasion, I’ve been accused of making Nathan superhuman. Hmm, I wonder where that comes from? On a serious note, most people don’t understand how much damage the human body can sustain and still function.
Tell us a little bit about the project you are working on now.
I’m working on book five in the series. It will feature a private security contractor from OEF as the villain, but he’s not all bad. He’s a damaged war hero who was never recognized for his heroics and bravery in battle. PSCs don’t get Purple Hearts or other types of valor ribbons and medals. And they very much suffer from PTSD, just like our service members. I’m really liking the direction book five is going. Nathan’s father will have a fairly large role, as well as Holly from the first three books. It’s shaping up to be the best Nathan McBride book yet!
Tell us something about your latest release.
READY TO KILL takes a deeper look at Nathan’s psyche and his conflicted nature. He doesn’t want to be an indiscriminate killer, even when the situation calls for deadly force. Life isn’t cheap to Nathan, never has been, and he knows his mission would infinitely easier if he didn’t care. But he’s a man of deep conscience and it creates an internal battle.
When a mysterious note referencing a top-secret US operation is tossed over the wall of the embassy in Nicaragua, Nathan McBride and his old pal Harv are called out of retirement by CIA Director Rebecca Cantrell and sent to Central America. Cantrell wants the situation resolved quickly and knows that Nathan is the man to do it; after all, he has a history with the place. The jungle he and Harv are about to land in is the same one that Nathan barely escaped with his life decades before, an ordeal that left him physically and psychologically scarred. To make it out alive a second time, Nathan will have to face down his own demons and square off with a ruthless killer who learned from the best, Nathan himself.
Dayna, thank you for inviting onto Novels Alive. We’ve known each other for years and I consider you one of my favorite people in the world!
Born and raised in San Diego, California, Andrew Peterson attended La Jolla High School before enrolling at the University of Oklahoma, where he received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Architecture.
At a very young age, Andrew won his first shooting competition at summer camp. His early fascination with rifles became a life-long devotion to excellence in marksmanship. He has won numerous competitions throughout the Southwestern United States, including a gold medal at the 1995 Excellence in Competition match at the Nevada State Championship, and a first place victory at the 1994 Arizona State Championship, 1,000 yard service rifle match. Currently, Andrew holds the classification of Master in the NRA’s High Power Rifle ranking system.
Andrew wrote his first Nathan McBride novel in 1997, but didn’t pursue a serious career as an author until 2005 when he attended his first writers conference. After receiving some encouragement from Ridley Pearson, Andrew became serious about telling the Nathan McBride stories and sold his debut novel, FIRST TO KILL, three years later.
Andrew has finished the fourth novel in a planned series, featuring the “brutally effective” trained Marine Corps sniper and CIA operations officer, Nathan McBride, who now owns a high-tech private security company with his former spotter, Harvey Fontana.