Former La Jollan’s thriller novels lead to USO tour to visit the troops

By Marti Gacioch

Former La Jollan Andy Peterson, now best-selling author of the thrillers “First to Kill” and “Forced to Kill,” will join four other suspense writers for Operation Thriller, a weeklong USO tour, to visit troops in the Middle East this fall. Peterson, along with Clive Cussler, Sandra Brown, Kathy Reichs and Mark Bowden, will discuss books, movies, and writing; sign autographs and pose for photos with service personnel.

“We’ll probably spend five or six nights in various locations,” Peterson said. “There are a lot of USO centers at military installations, so we’ll get up early, have breakfast and meet the commander and the troops, then we might get on a Black Hawk helicopter and go to the next operating base.”

Peterson stressed that this tour is about visiting the troops and not promoting books for the authors. “We’re really there for them,” he said. “This is more about our going over there and ‘tell me about your day,’ kind of thing. There will be both one-on-one discussions and loose gatherings of soldiers.”

For security reasons, the destinations will not be made public, and the authors will visit only controlled environments and will not mix with the general public. The Operation Thriller tour was the brainchild of retired Marine Col. Andy Harp, who checked to see if the USO would be interested in hosting some authors. The USO liked his idea, and Operation Thriller One took place in 2010. This year, the International Thriller Writers (ITW) group chose Peterson to be the 2011 chairman of Operation Thriller Two.

“Basically it’s a USO event and ITW selects the authors to tour,” Peterson said. “I’m coordinating all the logistics and making sure that my fellow authors have all the information they need.” Peterson said he never served in the military, but has had a lifelong interest in firearms and has excelled as a marksman since age 6. He has won numerous competitions and now holds the classification of Master in the NRA’s High Power Rifle ranking system.

Peterson said his knowledge of firearms is essential to his writing because lead character, Nathan McBride, is a trained Marine Corp scout sniper and CIA operations officer. Because Peterson doesn’t have a military or espionage background, he does extensive technical research to add authenticity to his characters and plot action. But too much technical research does not always make for a better book, he said.

“If I do 100 percent research, I just put 10 percent of it into the book because I don’t want to bog the story down with minutiae. I find that most readers are much more interested in character than facts and technical stuff, and if you can create a character who engages them, then they’re hooked,” he said.

Born and raised in San Diego, Peterson attended La Jolla High School. He later majored in mathematics at the University of Oklahoma before switching to architecture and earning a Bachelor of Science degree. He worked briefly in architecture before becoming a real estate developer. He began pursuing writing seriously more than 20 years ago.

“I wrote a horror novel and it was absolutely dreadful,” Peterson said. Several more horror novels later, he said he realized that horror writing wasn’t his passion, but thriller writing was. After that epiphany, he began taking classes and attending writers’ conferences, which he said he found tremendously helpful.

“I learned all of the things I was doing wrong,” Peterson said. “I think it helps to do your homework.” Peterson added he received five publisher’s rejections for “First to Kill,” his premiere Nathan McBride thriller, before receiving a positive response from Leisure Fiction, an imprint of Dorchester Publishing. “First to Kill,” debuted in 2008. Peterson recently sold the film rights to two Hollywood producers.

His second McBride thriller, “Forced to Kill,” was first launched as an audio book from It will be available in both print and e-book form in November. Peterson is now writing the third McBride thriller, which he hopes to complete next spring. He plans to eventually write 10 thrillers in the McBride series.

Peterson and his wife, Carla, reside in Monterey County.

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