Nick Pirog - Writing Thrillers With a Dash of Humor
Nick Pirog lives in South Lake Tahoe and when he isn't writing, he enjoys playing with his dogs, visiting the lake or practising his kickboxing moves. Today, we chat about his favorite book from his own pen, Gray Matter, how Thomas Precott's character is a reflection of himself and why he writes thrillers with a healthy dose of humor.
Please give our readers who haven't read the book yet a short introduction to Gray Matter
Thomas Prescott returns home to Seattle. He hasn't been back in eight years. Within hours of being back, Thomas sees a woman floating in the cove behind his parents' house, which looks out on Puget Sound. Turns out, the body is the governor of Washington, a woman who has been missing for six weeks. Thomas is warned not to poke his handsome head into the case but he's not very good at taking orders. He starts looking into her murder and it turns into quite the whodunit. Lots of twists, lots of surprises. It's actually still my favorite book that I've written.
Thomas seems like an average Joe who is at a low point in his life when everything changes... why did you decide to create this type of "flawed" hero?
Funny story, I was actually at a low point in my life. A girl had just broken my heart and I felt flawed. I suppose this translated onto the page. Anyhow, who wants to read about a guy who has all their shit together?
You have a humorous take on otherwise serious situations. Why did you decide to give Thomas such a hilarious sense of humor?
It isn't really one of those things that is planned. In fact, humor, at least from my experience can't really be outlined or plotted. There is a lot of me in Thomas and it comes out when I write him. I have no more control over it than breathing. Maybe it's a defense mechanism, who knows?
What does the title mean? Why "Gray Matter"?
Spoiler alert: The Gray has a double meaning. The murdered governor is Ellen "Gray" and her husband, the prime suspect is Adam "Gray." But there are also "gray" wolves involved. And it's catchy!
Your book is quite a departure from the stereotypical murder mysteries you get today. Was this a conscious choice?
Not really. I just wanted to write the most entertaining book I could. Sometimes I think authors forget that at the bottom line, we are entertainers. That the book is funny is a bit of a departure, but the humor in the book is probably the reason I've been so successful. The other departure is probably the side story with the old man.
Readers mention that Thomas Prescott seems a bit more mature in this book than in Unforeseen. Did you plan for him to "grow up" a bit in Gray Matter?
I was twenty-two when I wrote Unforeseen and it shows. Thomas is especially immature in the book because I was especially immature. Gray Matter actually took me five years to finish, having to scrap it on two occasions. In that five years I learned a lot about writing, a lot about myself, and it translates to Thomas' character in the book.
Tell us a bit about your writing habits - what is the first thing you do before you start writing a book?
I usually have a pretty in-depth outline before I start. I have run the entire movie over in my head. Over the course of the writing process it's going to change, but in a mystery it's important you have an idea of how the book is going to end, or at the very least, who the bad guy is. One funny thing that I do is cast my characters like you would cast a movie. So, I'll find actors and actresses that I want to play the parts and sometimes I even steal little nuggets from their backgrounds.
You keep your readers in suspense throughout the book - how hard is that to pull off?
There are some universal formulas for suspense, which after a lifetime of reading you just sort of soak up. I probably learned the most about suspense from Dan Brown. He has a way of ending chapters that just leave you breathless. It's been a while since he published a book. What gives Dan?
Who are some of your favorite authors and why?
My favorite authors have changed over the years. Nelson DeMille, John Grisham, and Michael Crichton are my three heroes and probably the authors who influenced my style the most over the years. A couple of my favorite authors right now would have to be Markus Sakey, Pierce Brown, and Matthew Norman. All are great story tellers. Check out their stuff.
Do you read the reader reviews? Or do you prefer to avoid them in order not to interfere with your creative vision?
The bad reviews used to kill me, but I don't really care much anymore. My stuff isn't going to be for everyone and I don't want it to be. What I really get a kick out of now are the fan emails. Saying how much they laughed and enjoyed the book. A couple have even been deeper, more emotional, my books having gotten them through a tough time in their life or brought them a smile when they really needed it.
What are you working on right now? Will we see more of Thomas Prescott in the future?
I'm working on a book called Show Me. It's the fourth in the Thomas Prescott series. He inherits a farm in Missouri and moves there, only to find out that there was a massacre in the small town five years earlier. I'm hoping it will be out this December, but I'm not going to rush it. It has the potential to be the best book I've written yet. Knock on wood.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
The best way to interact is to sign up for VIP newsletter at www.nickthriller.com. I give out signed first editions and all sorts of fun stuff. And Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/nickpirogbooks. And if you just want to see me an email, I'm at [email protected].