You’ve Got a Friend in Me by Sandy Manning

Jenn McKinlay: Good morning, everyone. Our good friend Sandy Manning is back to talk about her latest thriller novel, featuring Kolya Petrov, entitled Nerve Attack. Welcome, Sandy!


S. Lee Manning: When I started writing my latest novel, Nerve Attack, I had to figure out a way to get my series protagonist, Kolya Petrov - whose agency had betrayed him, setting him up to be kidnapped and tortured - back into the spy game. After all, why would he go back to working for people who had shown such a lack of concern for his life and the life of his fiancee? Yes, he's the kind of person who would feel responsible for preventing the deaths of innocent people, but he's also pretty pissed off after the events of Trojan Horse my award winning debut novel. There would have to be a situation that required his personal involvement to prevent mass casualties, a situation that no other agent could handle. 


I considered various options before deciding to use Kolya's relationship with Dmitri, his childhood best friend but whom he'd put in prison ten years earlier, as the plot mechanism.  What if Dmitri, who appeared in Kolya's dreams and hallucinations in Trojan Horse, had information that could prevent a terror attack but refused to work with anyone but Kolya? 


That choice - using Kolya's tenuous relationship with someone who had been like a brother - made the book. Through their relationship, I could delve into the characters' backgrounds, into their conflicting loyalties, and into the nature of friendship. I'd say more - but I don't want to reveal too much.  


One critic, who gave Nerve Attack a five-star rating on Readers' Favorites, direct messaged me to say how after finishing the book, he couldn't stop thinking about Kolya and Dmitri - how their relationship brought both of the characters to life.


So how important are friendships in real life?


We don't talk as much about the importance of friends as we do about the importance of lovers, and of families, but friends have an enormous influence on our lives.


Friends are how we take our first steps away from our parents. Friends, especially when we are young, shape our values and our worldviews. I have read that soldiers who risk their lives in battle often do so more to protect the fellow soldiers in their unit than out of abstract patriotism. But as we get older, involved in careers and raising families, we sometimes have to let something go. All too often - it's friendships.


I know that it happened with me. Busy with children and my job as an attorney, I lost touch with so many people.


Now, in my post child rearing, post law career life, I am rediscovering the joys of friendship. I have looked up and reconnected with friends from my younger years. My best friend from my teen years and I talk every two weeks, and we've met a few times here in Vermont. I regularly call one of my close friends from the University of Chicago, where I earned my M.A. in English. And I've started chatting periodically with another friend from my time working as a deputy attorney general for the State of New Jersey. There is something so deeply satisfying in reestablishing a relationship with friends who knew me as a young woman.


But I've also made new friends, now that I'm part of the writing world. Back in pre-pandemic days, I met people at conferences who have become some of my closest friends. I have wonderful friends in Florida whom Jim and I met while volunteering on a political campaign. I've connected with people on Facebook. And, oddly, as an Encircle Publication author, one of the side benefits is that I've developed a deep bond with other Encircle writers, with whom I meet at a virtual cocktail hour once a week.


Maintaining friendships in the midst of a pandemic was not been as difficult as I would have thought. Through the magic of zoom, I could see my friends' faces. Telephones still worked. As did email and Facebook. In some ways, the pandemic made keeping in touch easier. People were generally home. And, the pandemic meant talking to friends had never been more important. When the stress and the isolation would start to get to me - I could touch base with friends experiencing the same thing.


Time is still an issue. I am a working writer, with deadlines, with marketing pressures. I have a great husband, grown kids, and a very demanding Tonkinese cat. But even so, even with time pressures, I'm not cutting out my friendships again. My friends make my life so much richer.


Maybe that's why friendship became such a central theme in Nerve Attack, why the friendship between Kolya and Dmitri strikes such a chord with so many people.


How about you? How important are your friendships?

S. Lee Manning