Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen


Writer exposes mind of madman in ‘Hush’

• Former Phoenix journalist Mark Nykanen’s thriller is not for the fainthearted.

A.J. FLICK Citizen Staff Writer

Mark Nykanen used to be the one asking the questions.

In the 1970s, as a young investigative reporter for Phoenix’s New Times newspaper, he did undercover research in the Arizona State Prison ComplexFlorence that got him banned from the prison. An assistant warden called Nykanen ”a direct and immediate threat to the security of the institution.”

Later, as an NBC reporter, he doggedly researched an article on a dangerous insecticide, which led to a nationwide ban.

”One fellow from the EPA said he felt when I interviewed him as if he were under congressional investigation,” says Nykanen, who has won four Emmys and numerous other awards during his journalism career.

But now – years later – as author of the newly published thriller ”Hush” (St. Martin’s Press, $23.95), Nykanen is the one fielding questions from reporters.

”I have to tell you, it’s kind of nice,” he said by phone from his Oregon home. ”It is. From having spent so many years in journalism, there’s a certain amount of pressure I felt as a reporter asking questions all the time.

”Because I was an investigative reporter, I was either in a comforting and empathetic mode with victims of crimes or a confrontational mode with people who were quite often very villainous – people who have done horrible things.”

Nykanen walked away from journalism in 1988 to write fiction.

”I think I always wanted to write fiction. I remember in the third grade trying to write a novel. It was called ‘Crossbone Island.’

”I was motivated to go into journalism because of my love of writing,” said Nykanen, who has never taken a journalism class.

In ”Hush,” his first novel, he explores the dark side of humanity that he saw all too often in the real world.

It’s the story of an art therapist, Celia Griswold, who strives to break through to a 7-year-old mute, Davy Boyce, while dealing with a philandering husband, Jack. Lurking around is Davy’s menacing, psychopathic stepfather, Chet.

Nykanen wrote the book in a fevered pitch – literally.

”My wife and I live in rural Oregon,” says Nykanen, who grew up in Phoenix. ”Literally outside the fire district. And like Celia and Jack, we do live on an exposed ridge.”

One Saturday before brush-fire season, the Nykanens discovered bloated rats in their reserve water tank – just as Celia and her fictional husband do.

Nykanen became ill that night and had an ominous nightmare. When he awoke on Sunday with a fever of 102, he immediately jotted down his nightmare in a dream journal he has kept for years.

”Even though I felt horrible, in 3 1/2 hours I had my first draft of a short story, 23 pages long.”

Nykanen’s agent thought the short story would make a good novel and that if it were published as a short story, someone would steal the idea and get a best seller. The agent advised Nykanen to flesh out the piece.

”At the time it was frustrating hearing that,” Nykanen says. ”But it was good advice.”

He wrote the initial draft in about eight months, then put it aside for a couple of years before finishing it in about a year.

”My wife said the first eight months were the weirdest,” said Nykanen, who recently became a father for the first time. ”I was in a different space.”

There are some elements of Nykanen’s real-life experiences. Like Davy, he was an elective mute, choosing not to speak until he was 5 1/2 years old. Davy stops speaking after witnessing the brutal murder of his mother.

”I was not sexually abused,” Nykanen says. ”But I remember that era in my life.”

Nykanen, who has been a hospice volunteer for two years, became intrigued with the work of art therapists when he became friends with one.

The most chilling aspect of the novel is the character of Chet, a homicidal pedophile. Stephen King novels are scary, but the reader can often take comfort in knowing the characters are clearly fictional.

But not Chet. Everyone knows there are too many Chets in this world.

”Without any implied criticism toward other writers, I’m often disappointed when I pick up a book because you’re not taken into the mind of the protagonist,” Nykanen says. ”Even in ‘Silence of the Lambs,’ you’re never in Hannibal Lecter’s head. You’re never in the head of the transvestite killer.

”One of the unnerving and disturbing aspects of ‘Hush’ is that you are inside the head of Chet.”

Indeed, the last few chapters of the book are unnerving enough to make readers keep checking over their shoulders – with all the lights in the house on.

”A friend of mine who’s a world-class mountain climber called me after he’d read the book,” Nykanen said, laughing.

”He said, ‘Mark, I want you to know I finished the novel at 3 this morning, and I couldn’t go to sleep until I double-checked the locks on all the doors and windows.’ ”


• What: Book signing and reading by Mark Nykanen, author of ”Hush. ”

• When: 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesday.

• Where: Clues Unlimited, 123 E. Eastbourne in Broadway Village.

• Details: 326-8533.

Our Digital Archive

This blog page archives the entire digital archive of the Tucson Citizen from 1993 to 2009. It was gleaned from a database that was not intended to be displayed as a public web archive. Therefore, some of the text in some stories displays a little oddly. Also, this database did not contain any links to photos, so though the archive contains numerous captions for photos, there are no links to any of those photos.

There are more than 230,000 articles in this archive.

In TucsonCitizen.com Morgue, Part 1, we have preserved the Tucson Citizen newspaper's web archive from 2006 to 2009. To view those stories (all of which are duplicated here) go to Morgue Part 1

Search site | Terms of service