Nick Petrie is an author whose first book, The Drifter, earned rave reviews from critics and readers alike. His protagonist, Peter Ash, is an Iraq war veteran who struggles with PTSD and has been called a modern day Rambo. His second Peter Ash novel, Burning Bright, hits bookstores today. After reading an advanced copy, it became clear that Nick shares our passion for cars and road trips, so we sat down with him over coffee a few weeks ago to get the backstory on his lead character and see if his knowledge of cars comes from real life experience.
Thanks for joining us behind the wheel, Nick. I loved the new book and read it all in one sitting.
My pleasure and thank you. Glad you liked it.
Tell me about Peter Ash, how did you come up with the character?
My day job is a home inspector, so I meet a lot of people. I noticed during the recession I was meeting a lot of returning veterans and started talking to them about their stories. Some had post traumatic stress symptoms and as we talked I got more interested. I wanted to know more about their war experiences. It’s easy to ignore for most of us because we don’t have skin in the game. I really wanted to know why they joined and what they got out of it. As I learned more, I was able to create a composite character who brought together both the strengths and struggles I saw from the vets. One thing that struck me is that they never talk about PTSD and I wanted to use this as something that motivates Peter.
In Burning Bright you’re very specific in your descriptions of the cars. Why is that?
The cars are an important part of the story. As in real life, the car someone drives says something about them. I had to pick the right cars for the people and the way they’d be used.
Is that why you went with a Subaru for June?
Absolutely. It’s a classic Pacific Northwest car. I lived there for 10 years and you see them everywhere. In addition, I needed a car that could realistically be beat up badly and still run after the big chase scene in the book (excerpted here). After doing my research, this was the one.
So what was your first car?
I had a rusty Datsun pickup truck. It was rough. A real piece of work. The passenger door didn’t open, which my girlfriend really liked, not. Then I got a 1976 Chevy Impala Wagon. That’s when I fell in love with big V8s. We had a lot of fun in that one. It was a great car for doing donuts. I grew up in Shorewood (a northern suburb of Milwaukee) and having a car was an important part of my high school years.
What do you drive now?
Well when I’m not writing, I do home inspections, so I really need a truck for all my gear. I drive a Toyota Tundra Pickup with a big rack on the back to hold my ladders and other tools of the trade. It’s not my dream car and it’s not much fun to drive, but it does the job. I’m going flat out working on the third book these days, though, so I don’t really have time for much fun.
What is your dream car?
Like I said, I’m a ‘60s Detroit muscle car guy in general. My dream is pretty much any of the cars on Al’s lot in Burning Bright: a ’68 Mustang, Chevy Chevelle SS, Pontiac GTO, Plymouth Barracuda, Dodge Charger or Ford Galaxie 500, any of those will do.
How did you get started writing?
I wanted to be a writer forever, but I guess it really started in high school. I used to write a lot in English class and my teacher asked me to help out with the other kids who didn’t write well. From there, I just kept going. I did my undergrad at Michigan where I was lucky enough to win the Hopwood Award for short fiction then went on to University of Washington for my MFA in fiction. It’s hard to make a living writing fiction, but I didn’t want a real job, so I started working as a roofer and became a carpenter. I wrote at lunch. Now I still work as a home inspector. These days is seems like I spend 75% of my time writing and another 75% of my time on my day job. It doesn’t give me a lot of free time, but it does give the writer in me a chance to take a break.
So you’re working on the next book, what’s next for Peter Ash?
Well I can’t tell you much without giving anything away, but I will say the long arc of the story over the course of these books is what it will take for Peter to get better. I’ve talked to so many veterans who suffer from PTSD and they say it’s like your brain gets caught in an endless loop. I’m constantly reading about treatments and therapies. In the end, I hope helping Peter get better helps others get better.
We better let you get back to writing then. Thanks for your time Nick, we’ll see you, And Peter Ash, down the road!
Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.
‘Burning Bright’ is on the shelves of your local bookstore now. Or you can purchase it online at IndieBound.com