The Return of the Native

Before trying his hand as a novelist, before winning four Emmys and a variety of other awards for his broadcast journalism, Mark Nykanen was a prep basketball star--one of the state's leading scorers, he claims--at McClintock High in Tempe. "I got kicked off the team two-thirds of the way through my senior year for being a behavior problem," he notes by phone from his Oregon home, shortly before heading for book-signing dates in the Valley.

Thanks to his reputation as a behavior problem, few colleges beckoned to Nykanen, so he spent a year at Mesa Community College where he claims he earned dough writing research papers for Arizona State University students before dropping out. His next writing job was (slightly) more reputable--investigative pieces for New Times in the early '70s.

Nykanen left the Valley behind in 1980 when he stepped up to NBC News--at 28, he was then the network's youngest correspondent. He worked for the Nightly News With Tom Brokaw, the Today show and Monitor, a short-lived 60 Minutes rival. He also served as press secretary to Jerry Brown during his presidential primary campaign.

Eventually settling in Oregon with his wife (and new daughter), Nykanen started work on his debut novel, Hush--no relation to the recent, wretched movie with Gwyneth Paltrow--a few years ago after a nightmare. "One night I happened to get sick, I had a fever, and when I got up the next morning, I recorded my dream in a dream journal, and as I was recording it, I had this almost loathsome feeling there was a story there." It originally took the form of a short story, but his agent warned him that "the idea was very rich, and somebody would read it and rip it off and get a best seller out of it, and he said, that might as well be me."

It could be. Hush is an impressively grisly, haunting thriller about an art therapist in peril from the psychotic stepfather of one of her patients. The therapist could make a fine role for a young actress--say, Gwyneth Paltrow. Better change the title, though.

--M. V. Moorhead

Mark Nykanen signs Hush from noon to 1 p.m. Tuesday, May 26, at the Poisoned Pen, 7100 East Main, Suite D, in Scottsdale. 947-2974 (