Episode 83: Writing Outside Our Experience – with Nicholas Petrie

by Gabriela Pereira
published in Podcast

Today I’m talking to Nicholas Petrie, author of the stunning debut The Drifter, an explosive thriller written with a strong literary sensibility. In our conversation, we tackle a topic that many authors often struggle with: how do we write about something when we have no first-hand experience with it?

This question goes deeper than “how do you write what you don’t know?” After all, it’s one thing to write historical fiction about a time period long ago and fill in those gaps using library research. But how do you write about characters whose experiences and backgrounds are different from your own without crossing the line and appropriating that experience in some way. We all know we should include diverse characters in our stories, but how does a writer actually do that without appropriating those experiences?

In this episode, Nick opens up about his process, and talks about how he portrayed the experiences of war veterans on the page even he has never been in the military himself. If you’ve ever worried about this question of appropriation, this podcast interview is a must-listen!

In this episode Nicholas and I discuss:

  • The winding road to getting published.
  • The importance of research in nailing your plot.
  • The importance of language in nailing your prose.
  • Writing characters who are different from you.

Plus, Nicholas’s  #1 tip for writers.

About The Drifter:


The Drifter draws its considerable strength from Petrie’s uncompromising portrayal of shattered war veterans, returned home and trying to reintegrate into the civilian world they left behind. The unforgettable protagonist, Peter Ash, came home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with only one souvenir: what he calls his “white static,” buzzing claustrophobia due to post-traumatic stress. Ash is drawn back to the past when an old friend from the Marines commits suicide. When he goes to Milwaukee to help the man’s widow, Ash makes a discovery—a suitcase filled with money and explosives—that leads him into an investigation of his friend’s death, which may take him back to the world he thought he’d left behind. Suspenseful and thrilling, and featuring a compelling new hero, The Drifter is an exciting debut from a fresh voice in crime fiction.

This is a gorgeous book, and if you’re into crime fiction with a strong literary bent, this one will be right up your alley. If you choose to buy this book, we hope you’ll consider doing so via this affiliate link (which gives DIY MFA a small commission at no cost to you). Thank you for supporting DIY MFA!

About Nicholas Petrie:

“I was never in the armed forces, but I swung a hammer for a living for many years,” Petrie writes in talking about the genesis of Peter Ash and The Drifter. As part of his extensive research, Petrie says he “talked with a number of veterans about their experiences. In the course of these conversations, I felt like I came to understand these men and women in a way that I hadn’t before, and to truly admire them. Over and over, I encountered that extraordinary quality of character I tried to capture in Peter Ash—a happy warrior who sees every difficulty as a challenge to be overcome, and every challenge as an adventure. The more research I did, the more interested I became in the idea of what to do after your war is over. After the largest set of sustained military operations in decades, this is one of the singular challenges of our time. Many veterans come home and overcome these challenges, but some veterans have more difficulty, some due to physical injuries, some with the less tangible but no less real injuries of PTSD. I’ve tried to find both sides in this book.”

A debut author, Nicholas received his MFA in fiction from the University of Washington and won Hopwood Award for short fiction while an undergraduate at the University of Michigan. His short story “At the Laundromat” won the 2006 Short Story Contest in the Seattle Review. A husband and father, he runs a home appraisal business in Milwaukee.

To learn more about Nicholas read his blog here, follow him on Facebook, or visit his website.

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Until next week, keep writing and keep being awesome.

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