Well, earlier this week LA-based thriller writer, screenwriter, graphic novelist (Wolverine, Punisher, and other Marvel titles) and Shakespearean scholar Gregg Hurwitz visited our fair shores for a couple of days; hitting Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch for media interviews and a couple of public events on a whirlwind publicity tour to coincide with the NZ release of his latest crime thriller OR SHE DIES.
A lunchtime crowd were entertained by Hurwitz at the Takapuna Library in Auckland, which in the past several weeks has seemed to be a compulsory destination for visiting thriller authors (Linwood Barclay, Tom Rob Smith, Hurwitz). Hurwitz was making a flying visit to New Zealand on the way to appearing at the Brisbane Writer's Festival.
Hurwitz was born in 1973 and grew up in the Bay Area of California, loving stories from an early age. He went to Harvard, gaining a BA as well as competing as a pole vaulter (becoming the undegraduate scholar-athlete of the year), before heading across the Atlantic to complete a Master's degree in Shakespearean tragedy (1996) at Trinity College, Oxford (where he also played college soccer (football) and was a Knox Fellow). He worked on his first novel while studying, and in the decade since his debut THE TOWER was published in 1999, he has written 11 more acclaimed thrillers, as well as several screenplays, graphic novels, and academic articles on Shakespeare. He now lives in Los Angeles.
In person, Hurwitz was down-to-earth, funny, and charismatic; one of those people who is so passionate about life that they talk quite quickly, as if reflecting the fact they try to squeeze as much as possible into the time available no matter what they are doing. Highlights from Hurwitz's comments during the Takapuna Library event, and from our lunch interview afterwards, included:
On starting to write his first manuscript at 19: "I was learning as I went, and really had little idea [of how to write a book]... I was learning so quickly and I knew so little when I started that the ends of my chapters in my first attempt were much better written than the early parts of the same chapters..."
On researching his thrillers: "I really believe in first-hand research [where possible], there is no replacement for talking to people in the field, getting on-site, breathing the smells... talking to the people who investigate cases, do the autopsy."
Hurwitz shared several anecdotes of his hands-on research, including how it all started when a military demolitions expert was struggling to explain aspects of an explosion to Hurwitz. Eventually the expert, frustrated, told Hurwitz to meet him; and then proceeded to blow up a car - turning to Hurwitz and saying "see, that's what I mean!"
From that time, Hurwitz tried to get as much practical exposure in his research as possible, including learning to ride a Harley Davidson and taking part in a biker run through LA Canyon, swimming with sharks, going into freezers storing bodies donated for medical research, and infiltrating a mind-control cult undercover.
"I became known for doing crazy things," he laughed. "And as often happens, getting in on the ground creates great scenes for books... it opens up a lot of possibilities..."
Hurwitz shared a couple of examples of real experiences that led to book scenes or ideas; seeing the bodies stored for medical research suspended vertically rather than laying flat, and being taken to a restaurant where the meal is served in total darkness (to heighten taste and smell). Without "getting out there" and experiencing things, some ideas, or richer detail, wouldn't be possible, he said.
Hurwitz noted he now has a packed rolodex of contacts and consultants - "from pathologists to Army Rangers, porn stars to Professors..."
On a shift in his plots/themes as he has matured: "As I have got older, I have found my writing has changed, as my life has changed... I am now married with a couple of kids... I have moved from adventure and super-cops to more about family and domestic suspense."
On writing "everyman" heroes rather than 'supercops': "I love those everyman stories; an ordinary person stuck in extraordinary circumstances... I always thought those everyman characters stand in for all of us in the way that if we're tired/stressed/down... we can all feel we're a fraud, that we're really not up to our job... and then magnifying that by like 1000%... we've all experienced that paranoia, at least in a small way..."
On getting involved with writing graphic novels on well-established characters like Wolverine, and The Punisher: "I had always been a fan of comics since I was a kid... so I got very happily sucked into writing books for Marvel..."
"The hardest one was The Punisher, having to follow Garth Ennis... my aim was not to make mine like Garth or the writers who came before... The Punisher is going to be killing people long after we're dead... in a way you're almost holding these characters in a public trust... I want to put my spin on it, add something of mine, but still keep the character..."
With the shift in his novels to everyman heroes rather than super-cops, and "less on-screen violence, and more about the consequences", Hurwitz noted that "with the comics, they've kind of become my outlet for all my rage, all the violence..."
On writing in different mediums (thriller novels, screenplays, graphic novels): "I usually have a lot of projects going on at once, but when I'm rough draft writing, I can only work on one thing at once... I can toggle back and forth a little easier with re-writing."
Hurwitz has worked on a number of screenplays and TV pilots for people like Jerry Bruckheimer Films, Paramount Studios, MGM, and ESPN, and developed TV series for Warner Bros. and Lakeshore.
"Books take the most time, because you're creating 400 pages of content... when you are writing a screenplay it's more like a 120-page recipe [for others to work with and help create], with lots of white space, and you need to write much leaner... with comics, it's about how do you tell a story with five or six snapshots on a page...
It was a pleasure to meet and chat to Gregg Hurwitz, who is one of those people you come away from buzzing and excited about life yourself.
You can listen to a Radio New Zealand interview with Hurwitz HERE, and see his appearance on TVONE's Close Up programme (which follows the 6pm news) HERE. You can read some of Hurwitz's own thoughts on his visit to New Zealand HERE.
New Zealand residents also still have a few days to win a copy of Hurwitz's latest thriller OR SHE DIES as part of a competition the New Zealand Women's Weekly is running.
It was another fantastic event at the Takapuna Library. Many thanks to the library (especially organiser Helen Woodhouse), Paper Plus (kudos to Vanessa, again), Hachette NZ (especially Karen McMillan of the Little, Brown stable), and Gregg Hurwitz himself.
Did you attend the event? What did you think? Have you read Gregg Hurwitz's books? What do you think of them. Do these types of thriller interest you? Comments welcome.