Nicholas Petrie: Five Books That Changed My Life

A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT AND OTHER STORIES, by Norman Maclean. I read this collection many years before the Robert Redford made his film, which I’ve never seen – I’m afraid it will spoil these three gorgeous, funny and sad stories about growing up in Montana in the first half of the last century. ALL THE PRETTY HORSES, by Cormac McCarthy – a cowboy novel, turned up to 11. The language (and lack of punctuation) requires your full attention, but the story is pure story, and utterly beautiful. This book is what made me understand that there is no such thing as genre fiction. This novel, along with The Crossing and Cities of the Plain make up McCarthy’s Border Trilogy. I’ve read the whole thing four times. Again, never saw the movie for fear of ruining the book. JESUS’ SON, by Denis Johnson. Raw experience rendered purely on the page. OMFG. The first of these linked stories, “Car Crash While Hitchhiking” changed the way I read and write. Never saw this movie, either – yes, you’re detecting a trend. (Johnson went on to win the National Book Award for Tree of Smoke.) LEGENDS OF THE FALL, by Jim Harrison. This collection of three novellas covers the entire human experience at a breakneck pace. Is it any wonder that two of them were made into films? Again, haven’t seen them. BANDITS or FREAKY DEAKY or STICK, by Elmore Leonard. Or, KILLSHOT, or MAXIMUM BOB, etc.. Street life and superb dialogue rendered with care and precision, and absolutely nothing extra. And so damn funny! Mr. Leonard, your readers miss you. I’ve seen many of the movies made from Mr. Leonard’s books, and enjoyed them, but the books are entirely different pleasures, each one a master class in character and plot. Every writer should read Leonard’s essay, “Elmore Leonard’s 10 rules of writing”. Nicholas Petrie Nicholas received his MFA in fiction from the University of Washington, won a Hopwood Award for short fiction while an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, and his story “At the Laundromat” won the 2006 Short Story Contest in the The Seattle Review, a national literary journal. A husband and father, he runs a home-inspection business in Milwaukee. THE DRIFTER is his first...

Five Books & Films that Influenced Andrew Grant...

ICE STATION ZEBRA by Alistair MacLean. This is the book that marked my growing-up as a reader, and the one that’s more responsible than any other for me wanting to become a thriller writer myself. One of my most prized possessions is a first edition that my wife bought me a couple of years ago, but I first read it in 1978 or ’79, thanks to the grade-school teacher I had at the time. One day he caught me with a book under my desk–probably Watership Down–which I was using to distract myself from the mind-numbingly dull projects he used to waste the class’s time with, and the sight of it set him off on a bizarre rant: “You think you’re a good reader, do you, Grant? Well let me tell you: You’re not. Not if that’s all you can manage. That book’s for babies. You’re not a good reader unless you can go to any bookcase, anywhere, pick up any book, and read it without thinking.” Read without thinking? A strange concept, you might say. But I wasn’t concerned about that, back then, because his words had struck me as a challenge. So that night I approached my father’s bookshelves and took down the first book my hand fell upon. Somewhat nervously I looked at the title. “Sweet!” I thought, feeling relieved. “There are stations on the ice? And they have zebras at them? This is going to be fun!” And it was. RED DRAGON by Thomas Harris is possibly the first story that made me feel afraid. I’ll always remember reading the scene near the beginning of the book where the hero, FBI profiler Will Graham, visits a home where a family has been slain. The physical evidence has baffled all the other experts investigating the case, but when Graham – alone in the house – puts together the pieces of what happened, a shiver literally ran down my spine. THE MIERNIK DOSSIER by Charles McCarry is a simply outstanding book. I’ve always been fascinated by different ways of telling stories, and the way McCarry weaves an intricate, multilayered tale through a set of “documents” rather than a traditional narrative is nothing short of brilliant. MY COUSIN VINNIE is for me one of the most under-rated movies of recent times. Not only is it hilarious, with a fabulous cast of unconventional characters, it’s a tour-de-force courtroom drama in its own right. The way that the apparently invincible case is built up, and then systematically demolished piece by hidden-in-plain-sight piece is absolutely magnificent drama. A FEW GOOD MEN is another interesting twist on the courtroom drama. As with Vinnie the script is full of wit, and the audience delights as the verbal trap is constructed, and the villain of the piece can’t resist walking straight in. What this movie adds, though, is an interesting moral dimension—what steps are reasonable or necessary to take in order to defend our freedom, and what right do those who benefit have to judge the things that are done in their name?   Andrew Grant Andrew was born in Birmingham, England. He went to school in St Albans, Hertfordshire and later attended the University of Sheffield where he studied English Literature and Drama. After graduation Andrew set up and ran a small independent theatre company which showcased a range of original material to local, regional and national audiences. Following a critically successful but financially challenging appearance at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival Andrew moved into the telecommunications industry as a ‘temporary’ solution to a short-term cash crisis. Fifteen years later, after carrying out a variety of roles including several which were covered by the UK’s Official Secrets Act, Andrew became the victim / beneficiary of a widespread redundancy programme. Freed once again from the straight jacket of corporate life, he took the opportunity to answer the question, what if … ? Since then, he...

Five Things I Only Know Because My Husband Forces Me To Live Half My Life In Los Angeles...

FIVE THINGS I ONLY KNOW BECAUSE MY HUSBAND FORCES ME TO LIVE HALF MY LIFE IN LOS ANGELES. 1) Someone needs to publish a euphemism dictionary, to help English people when they move here. Words that don’t exist in LA include right (appropriate); wrong (inappropriate); death (passing); tell (share) and fucking (intimacy). A phrasebook would also be handy. I had to explain to my eight year old son when he started school here that “Do you want to think about your choices, honey?” actually means “Stop doing that right now you little shit.” You can imagine his relief. 2) Sunshine isn’t everything. They have lots of it in Iraq. I don’t see a lot of people moving there. On a slightly related topic, have you ever noticed how palm trees look a bit like heads on spikes? Maybe the heads of all the writers whose screenplays didn’t make it… 3) Jewish humour and British humour are the same. If it weren’t for my Jewish friends here, I would shoot myself. Also, if you ask a Jewish person how their book is going, they will never smile and say “awesome!” Never. God bless them and all who sail in them. 4) There are no republicans in LA. Except Schwarzenegger. And even he had to marry a democrat. This seems to be one of the few cities in America where people don’t view being given basic healthcare as some kind of personal affront to their intelligence. Weird. 5) Hollywood is one of the least glamorous places on earth. And I say that as someone who spends every other Christmas in a suburb of Pittsburgh. Its full of litter, Japanese tourists and homeless schizophrenics rambling about gun control and ‘Big Government’. On the plus side, it is extremely sunny. Tilly Bagshawe Tilly Bagshawe is the international bestselling author of nine previous novels. A single mother at seventeen, Tilly won a place at Cambridge University and took her baby daughter with her. She went on to enjoy a successful career in the City before becoming a writer. As a journalist, Tilly contributed regularly to the Sunday Times, Daily Mail and Evening Standard before following in the footsteps of her sister Louise and turning her hand to novels. Tilly’s first book, Adored, was a smash hit on both sides of the Atlantic and she hasn’t looked back since, publishing 17 novels, including sic for the Estate of Sidney Sheldon. Sidney Sheldon’s RECKLESS, the most recent, was published yesterday.  Tilly and her family divide their time between their homes in Kensington and Los Angeles and their beach house on Nantucket Island. You can learn more about at her website and on Facebook....

Five Things that Influence my Writing: Susan McBride...

Five Books/Music/Movies that Influence My Writing by Susan McBride 1. Def Leppard. I don’t listen to music while I write, or I end up jamming and not working. But if you read my books, you’ll find musical references peppered throughout, often involving Def Leppard. Not coincidentally, Andy Kendricks, the protag of my Debutante Dropout series, loves the Leps, too. She uses their music as ringtones and plays songs from their repertoire while driving and pondering whodunit. Def Leppard makes me want to write the way they play: my brain rocking out as I pound words onto the page and always going for the high notes even if I have to scream them. 2. Nancy Drew. I was a voracious ND fan growing up. I’ve preserved my books with the yellow spines to give to my daughter someday. Nancy was and is my idol. Despite being motherless and nearly fatherless (her dad sure traveled a lot), she managed to stay on course. No wild parties, getting knocked up or kicked out of school for Nancy. No, siree, Bob. Girl had her red head on straight. So how could I not make Andy Kendricks’s mantra for crime-solving “What Would Nancy Do?” Through Andy, I can be Nancy, too. 3. The Sixth Sense. I still remember squirming in my seat the first time I saw this film. “Something’s not right,” my mind kept telling me, but I couldn’t put my finger on it, not for a while anyway. Like an amateur sleuth who puzzles out the solution before the cops, I was desperate to figure it out. And when I did, I thought, “Brilliant!” What it taught me was this: who tells your story and how they tell it can be the difference between “ho-hum” and “OMG!” 4. Harry Potter. I read these books straight through during radiation therapy after breast cancer surgery. To say I needed to escape is an understatement. HP’s magical world of wizards was just the ticket. No, JK Rowling is not the most finessed writer in the English language, but she is a magnificent storyteller. I was swept away and left marveling at her brilliant and wicked brain. A pensieve into which one drops their memories…the game of Quidditch where teams fly on broomsticks…Muggles and Mudbloods and Mandrakes, oh, my! Harry Potter is one of the reasons I took a vacation from mystery writing and dipped my toes into magical realism. And, yes, thanks, I had a lovely time. 5. Disney Movies. I hadn’t given much thought to Disney in my adulthood, not before I had Emily three years ago. Sure, I watched plenty of Disney flicks in my youth, but none of the newer ones (er, like anything 21st century). Submerging myself in modern Disney reminds me of what I love most about writing mysteries: pitting good against evil and putting my protagonist through a whole lot of s**t before the dust settles. Although unlike Disney, my protags don’t wear harem pants or seashell bustiers, and they rarely need princes to save them. Susan McBride Susan McBride is the USA Today bestselling author of Blue Blood, the first of the Debutante Dropout Mysteries. The award-winning series includes The Good Girl’s Guide to Murder, The Lone Star Lonely Hearts Club,Night of the Living Deb, and Too Pretty to Die. She’s also the author of The Truth About Love and Lightning, Little Black Dress, and The Cougar Club, all Target Recommended Reads. She lives in St. Louis, Missouri, with her husband and daughter. SAY YES TO THE DRESS, the latest in the Debutante Dropout series, came out this week. She can be found on...

Five Things I’ll Miss after the Trumpocalypse

Five Things I’ll Miss after the Trumpocalypse I am, for all intents and purposes, a bona fide country girl: I live on the edge of a cornfield, stroll down a long swath of gravel to fetch my mail, and am often seen rooted to the spot as I watch a family of wild turkeys amble across my lawn.  The world leaves me limp with confusion.  I prefer darting dragonflies to political analysis.  But of one thing I’m certain: if Donald Trump’s current popularity results in a 2016 win, then the end is near.  I’m not talking about God’s wrath or an invasion by other countries willing to liberate us.   Rather, it is only logical that if this American electorate chooses Donald Trump, the soil of the country will convulse, and all those who at one point took electing a president seriously will burst from their graves in an undead rage.  They will, quite properly, feast on our flesh to teach us a civics lesson:  Don’t elect a blistering pustule of affront to human reason.  Just.  Don’t. There are things I will miss in the aftermath.  Here are my Top Five: The day my coffee supply finally runs out, my head may well split open of its own accord, saving the zombies the trouble of exacting revenge for the forsaken republic upon this particular remiss citizen. My students. They are young and deeply attached to the electronic world, while somehow blithely oblivious to the madness of our current political climate.  I can’t really identify any actual life skills that will allow them to survive the Trumpocalypse.  With the exception of some of my rough-n-tumble hunter kids, the ones who skip on the first day of deer season, I’m pretty sure the whole millennial generation won’t last a week after our undead chew through the doors at the power stations.  As soon as the juice runs out of the country’s last two cell phones, the millennials will turn on each other—again, saving the zombies the trouble.  Actually, with the exception of the ones who have confused Martin Luther with Martin Luther King, Jr., and thought the latter had freed the slaves, many of my students dazzle me.  They are open, excited, and eager to connect with the world beyond their borders.  I especially appreciate the ones who have taken on the adventure of studying Arabic.  I love watching them tackle a new letter and etch it into a new word thus linking themselves, wittingly or unwittingly, with centuries upon centuries of people unraveling the mysteries of that beautiful script.  If only, instead of history and language, I had taught these fledgling voters to fear the zombies enough to concern themselves with our electoral process… My kayak. I know someone will swipe it and try to head for Canada—it’s only 26 miles, after all, and, Ashley Madison’s hold over Ottawa notwithstanding, is probably a proper refuge after the Trumpocalypse.  Me, I’d never make it that far—I like to kayak, but I’m not very brawny.  What the kayak has given me is an experience of Lake Erie that has sustained me in many situations.  I’ll miss the lake on days of satiny stillness, when all I can hear is the plunking of the oar in the water and my own breathing.  I’ll miss the view of the shore, craggy with driftwood and wave-strewn stones, and the lush, green banks against which I have learned to acknowledge my smallness.  Still, perhaps I luxuriated too much in my smallness.  Was it while I was kayaking that the most offensive words could be hurled at our immigrant populations?  Was it while I was kayaking that gross misogyny and shouts of “white power” became another acceptable day on the campaign trail? Lolling about reading. Not that we’ll stop, of course.  Surely without electricity my teenager will eventually pause at the bookshelves she passes each day in the...

FIVE THINGS THAT CHANGED MY LIFE: Robert Masello

THE CANTERVILLE GHOST.  Although Oscar Wilde wrote the original short story, this updated  and VERY reinvented movie version (made in 1944) and starring Robert Young, was my favorite movie as a kid.  I felt SO BAD for the cowardly ghost played by Charles Laughton, and of course I loved the whole English castle / ghost story angle.  Still do, and use variants of it in some of my own work to this day.   OF HUMAN BONDAGE by W. Somerset Maugham.  When I was growing up, I was fortunate to have parents who’d stocked the bookshelves in our house with great books.  I was allowed free rein – if I could understand it, I was welcome to read it – and one of the books I stumbled upon at around 13 (and long before the word “bondage’ would have suggested anything untoward to me) was Of Human Bondage.  It was the first book that I can remember reading that had me so caught up in it that I literally could not wait to turn the next page.  That’s how worried I was about Philip Carey, the protagonist, and how concerned I was that he would continue to throw his life away on the conniving Mildred, who took such terrible and unrelenting advantage of him.   IAN FLEMING.  James Bond nearly cost me my life.  Once, at  summer camp, while I was supposed to be playing goalie in a soccer game, I started reading Goldfinger, and became so absorbed that I was completely oblivious to the soccer ball flying straight at my face.  It hit me so hard I was carried into the net, my glasses welded to my nose, my teeth rattling in my skull, and my teammates, of course, fit to be tied.  But it did confirm my love of reading (as if that needed any further confirmation).   DOUBLE INDEMNITY.  No matter how many times I’ve watched this movie, I never get tired of it.  The crackling dialogue (listen to the charged exchange between Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck when she first tries to usher him out the door) and the intricate, if utterly implausible, plot.  If Maugham taught me the importance of creating a full-bodied and sympathetic character, Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler, who wrote the script (based, of course, on the fabulous serialized novel by James M. Cain), taught me to move things along, not waste a second, and keep the plot twisting.   SERGEANT PEPPER’S LONELY HEART’S CLUB BAND.  If I haven’t given away my antiquity earlier, I have just now.  But I loved that album so much I wore it out.  It was more than a record – it was a magical touchstone or talisman of some kind.  The Beatles remain the one thing I can always count on to raise my spirits and take me back to my youth.  In fact, I think I may listen to a few Beatles cuts right now. I need the lift  –it’s way better than a Red Bull! — before getting back to the spot where I got stuck while writing my new novel.    Robert Robert Masello is an award-winning journalist, television writer, and the author of many bestselling novels and nonfiction books.  His most recent historical thriller, with a supernatural spin, is The Einstein Prophecy. His previous work, including the thrillers Blood and Ice, The Medusa Amulet, and The Romanov Cross, have been published all over the world and translated into at least fifteen languages.  He lives and works in Los...