Shortly after dropping out of college in 1971, Mark Nykanen began his professional career by writing and selling term papers to lazy, hapless students at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona, a school justly renowned in the early 70s for its party atmosphere. As bored by the term papers as he had been by the classroom, he quickly moved on to New Times Weekly, an underground newspaper. He spearheaded a prison research team whose work contributed greatly to hearings held by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights on the brutal conditions of the Arizona penal system. An assistant warden was asked by a commission member why Nykanen was barred from the state prison in Florence, and why his articles were clipped from the newspaper before it was distributed to inmates. The assistant warden responded that Nykanen "represents a direct and immediate threat to the security of the institution.” Nykanen was twenty-three at the time. The assistant warden didn't know that Nykanen already had entered the prison six times undercover to talk to inmate sources, and to observe first hand the inhumane conditions he'd written about.
Between stints at New Times Weekly, and a job as a newscaster at KDKB (Krazy Dog, Krazy Boy) Radio in Mesa, Arizona, Nykanen supported himself by driving a taxi, and taking a particularly loathsome gig as a long haul trucker. It was difficult to decide which job was worse: facing down a knife over a $2.30 fare, or unloading forty thousand pounds of pesticide-drenched oranges by hand.
As soon as he could, he took a full time position as the morning newsman at KDKB. He also hosted a one hour early evening news show that aired his documentaries, and his interviews with everyone from Timothy Leary to Eugene McCarthy, and not a few of Arizona's own homegrown rubbishy politicians. He lasted a couple of years, winning state and national journalism awards before becoming the interviewer on a daily public affairs show on public television station KAET TV in Tempe. It was among the worst shows to ever violate the airwaves. It did, however, morph into a weekly newsmagazine that won numerous Arizona Press Club Awards. Nykanen's investigations led to a widely publicized state senate hearing in which his hard-hitting expose of the Arizona Revenue Department was shown to the legislature. His reports also forced the resignation of top state officials, and led to the criminal prosecution of private individuals.
NBC News hired Nykanen in 1980 to work as an investigative on-air reporter for their evening news show. Nykanen's work also appeared on The Today Show, and on First Camera, a newsmagazine that went up against 60 Minutes, and got clobbered.
Nykanen won four Emmys for investigative reporting at NBC News, along with a host of other awards, including a duPont-Columbia from Columbia University. He left NBC in 1988 to write fiction and windsurf, not necessarily in that order, on the north coast of Maui. His interest in fiction has proved more enduring than his interest in windsurfing. Alas, to support himself he's had to take a number of odd jobs in television, and he uses that word advisedly.
He produced much of Hard Copy's coverage of the Tonya Harding, Nancy Kerrigan fiasco, for which he takes no pride. About the time he ran out of Tonya money, OJ Simpson murdered his ex-wife and her friend, and put him back in business. During the OJ year, he wrote and directed most of the OJ segments that appeared on Hard Copy. He returned to his mountain top home in the Northwest with enough money to finish his psychological thriller, Hush, which St. Martin's Press published to strong reviews and sales in 1998. It has been translated into Dutch.
Nykanen still wasn't through with his day jobs in TV. He spent another three months in Hollywood working on Hard Copy, which was soon canceled, raising the national IQ by four points.
He then directed an infomercial about a skin care product that to his knowledge--and dearest hopes--never aired anywhere, before writing for Melissa Etheridge, who hosted a woo-woo show called Beyond Chance on Lifetimetv.
He never met Etheridge. In fact, he never left his living room while writing for her. Her producers in LA sent him transcripts of interviews with people who claimed to have undergone paranormal experiences, along with tapes that purported to depict their altered states. Nykanen would then cobble the material together for Etheridge.
While living on an equity line, and his wife's take as a psychotherapist (she deals with severely emotionally disturbed creatures, and then she goes to work), he wrote the stark and, at times, morbidly funny psychological thriller The Bone Parade, which Hyperion Books published in 2004. The book was widely reviewed (see "books” for reviews and plot summary) and translated into French, Italian, Russian, and German. It became a bestseller in Germany.
In 2005, Hyperion published his third psychological thriller, Search Angel, which also garnered strong reviews, but fewer sales. It was also published in French, Italian, Russian, and German.
Nykanen recently sold Primitive to Bell Bridge Books. The novel straddles the thriller genre to tell a tense story about a mother and her adult, estranged daughter, and how their lives get caught up in the war on terror and global warming. It is his most ambitious book to date.
His Books From BelleBooks/Bell Bridge Books: