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DOWNEY – Author Gregg Hurwitz’s 12th crime thriller titled “You’re Next” was published last year and it will be followed shortly by his 13th, “The Survivor.”
He has also collaborated with another screenwriter to create a TV drama for TNT based on his book franchise series featuring U.S. marshal Tim Rackley. He has also written comics for Marvel (“Wolverine,” “Punisher”) and DC (“Batman,” “Penguin”); in fact, he takes over this month as writer for “Batman: The Dark Knight” comic book series (“The job I’ve been waiting to get since I was eight years old”), beginning with issue No. 10. Moreover, he has served as a consultant on ABC’s “V” series, even as several of his other works are in development or have been opted for possible production.
To say that he is busy is an understatement. Backgrounds and details for his novels are thoroughly researched. To achieve verisimilitude in his stories, he has been known to sneak onto demolition ranges with Navy SEALS, swim with sharks in the Galapagos, and gone undercover into mind-control cults. In the course of doing research for one of his earlier stories, “The Kill Clause,” he followed a locksmith and learned how to pick locks.
There was never any doubt, he said, about his desire to write crime novels: “As long as I remember, I wanted to be a crime writer. I have mysteries that I wrote when I was in third grade that I bound between cardboard covers.”
Hurwitz emphasized his success as a crime fiction writer didn’t come easy. He says he wrote 16 drafts of his first novel, “The Tower,” while working on his AB degree at Harvard (’95) and his master’s in Shakespearean tragedy at Oxford University’s Trinity College (’96), before he felt it was good enough for publication.
Luck played a big part in its publication. “I had done an internship with a film producer (Cary Woods, who produced ‘Swingers’, ‘Scream’, ‘Godzilla’) when I first started writing ‘The Tower’, he narrates in a past interview. “Cary produced Night Syamalan’s movie just prior to ‘The Sixth Sense’. When I finished my book, a producer at the film company got the manuscript to Night’s attorney. The lawyer loved it and flew me to New York, and got me an agent, who promptly sold it to Simon & Schuster.”
His second novel, “Minutes to Burn,” took him 2-1/2 years to write. Since then the pace has picked up. He’s turned out an average of a little more than a year per book, he said.
A writer this prolific and this productive has a few bits of advice for would-be authors. This is what he said at the Friends of the Downey City Library luncheon last June 2: “There are three rules for writing. Unfortunately, nobody knows what they are.”
“Seriously,” he said, “there are enough courses and workshops and books (and articles) out there which throw light on plot, characterization, narrative, dialogue, and what-not, but ultimately one has to depend on one’s gut if he or she is to write a book.”
As already mentioned, he places a high premium on meticulously researching his topics. “There’s no substitute for research,” he said. “It not only fills in the blanks of your story, but it often leads into opening new opportunities, new vistas.”
“Writing is an evolving thing. You get better and better as you go along. You have to keep moving, keep producing, keep turning things over in your mind.”
He had written on the themes of passion and determination before. In another past interview, Hurwitz said, mincing no words: “Strung together journal entries won’t work…To write a book you have to write a book that is clearly a book and adheres to all the conventions and requirements of being a book. This is a shit-ton of work and will take drafts and time and sweat and blood until it’s either good enough to submit or you give up…No publisher or agent will be interested in talking to you until you’ve written a manuscript. Since you’ve never written a manuscript, how good that manuscript is will be all that matters.
“Go to your bookshelves and look at all the novels or memoirs or inspirational/self-help books that you’ve read and loved, pick the appropriate format for your story, then start to create a manuscript along those lines. Set a high bar. It will have to be as good as your favorite books on your shelves, the ones that changed your life. As to what angle to take or how to approach it – that’s on you. It’s your life, your book, and your vision. No one else will care to tell you how to approach it, and even if they did, they probably wouldn’t be right since it’s your (highly personal) story to tell. Some jackass might tell you it must be second-person haiku but in your gut it’s a first person memoir. Which are you gonna write? Also, people who have experience don’t necessarily know what’s right for you. Your job is to have vision and to realize that vision in ink and paper in a fashion that will make that particular order of words on the pages the one in five hundred collections of words on pages that an agent will stake his or her livelihood and reputation on that month. And that an editor, from the agent-culled collections of words on pages, will pick from worse odds to stake even more. This may sound discouraging, but if you’re really a writer, it won’t matter. If you’re really a writer, you don’t have a choice anyway. Be bold and venture forth. And good luck.”
He rendered the same thought more succinctly in another interview, thus: “Write as goddamned well as you can manage (and let people sort it out a couple hundred years hence).”
We were each given a paperback copy of “You’re Next,” at the luncheon. Not being overly fond of fictional thrillers, I speed-read the book, slowing down when the reading didn’t match comprehension. And frankly, I viewed one critic’s endorsement of it with skepticism, which said: “I’m going to run out of adjectives describing Hurwitz’s thriller. Chilling, heart-stopping, breathtaking…and surprisingly tender.” I don’t know about the other adjectives, but I don’t hesitate to say I can’t agree more with the gushing critic’s description of the thriller as “surprisingly tender.” It’s not perfect, but it’s that good.
In the end, Hurwitz says: “I love writing more than anything. It’s the most natural thing I do, which doesn’t mean it’s not sometimes difficult. I think the hardest part is rewriting and getting every last detail right.”
Published: June 14, 2012 – Volume 11 – Issue 09