The Ev­ery­where MAN

From comics to movies to thrillers, writer Gregg Hur­witz is hav­ing a mo­ment. He speaks to

The Dominion Post - Your Weekend (Dominion Post) - - Feature -

Gregg Hur­witz’s novel The Nowhere Man is num­ber one on the New Zealand best­seller lists when Your Week­end phones. It is 10am in Los An­ge­les and Hur­witz is in his of­fice on the sec­ond floor of his house – “It’s the world’s short­est com­mute,” he dad-jokes. He puts in long hours with a break for work­ing out. And writer’s block? That never hap­pens.

There is al­ways some­thing to be done. Hur­witz writes a crime novel ev­ery year – The Nowhere Man is the sec­ond in his Evan Smoak series. He writes screen­plays and comic books. And he is in the process of adapt­ing a prize-win­ning book about Isis for an HBO series.

Be­ing a pro­fes­sional writer, he says, is like be­ing a pro­fes­sional athlete. It is about putting your­self through it even on the days when you don’t feel in­spired. There is no sit­ting around wait­ing for the muse to strike.

Four­teen crime nov­els with terse, snappy ti­tles such as Tell No Lies, Do No Harm, The Kill Clause and They’re Watch­ing pre­ceded his in­ven­tion of Evan Smoak in last year’s Or­phan X. Here is the first sen­tence of the first Smoak book: “Af­ter pick­ing up a set of pis­tol sup­pres­sors from a nine-fin­gered ar­morer in Las Ve­gas, Evan Smoak headed for home in his Ford pickup, do­ing his best not to let the knife wound dis­tract him.”

Hur­witz knows that he re­ally struck some­thing with Smoak, an or­phan raised in a top-se­cret mil­i­tary pro­gramme who op­er­ates now as a pro bono as­sas­sin. What if you de­vised a tal­ented killer who does not have a shat­tered moral com­pass, Hur­witz won­dered.

The sense that Or­phan X was an im­por­tant new be­gin­ning for Hur­witz was ex­pressed in a list of sig­nif­i­cant in­flu­ences at the front of the book. These were Hur­witz’s “bad boys and girls, rule­break­ers and vig­i­lantes”, from Philip Mar­lowe to Mad Max to Be­owulf and Gil­gamesh. Lee Child’s cre­ation Jack Reacher is “in there as the soli­tary badass an­ti­hero”.

Hur­witz con­fesses to be­ing a big Lee Child fan: “Lee has that great, wry Bri­tish sense of hu­mour. He’s com­pletely en­ter­tain­ing and read­able.”

Like Child, Hur­witz is an in­tel­li­gent writer work­ing in what many still per­ceive to be a dis­rep­utable genre. He has a BA from Har­vard and a mas­ter’s de­gree in Shake­spearean tragedy from Trin­ity Col­lege, Ox­ford.

He ar­gues that the tragedies were com­mer­cial rather than lit­er­ary. They have a lot of dark­ness in them and are “in some ways, the first thrillers,” as he ex­plained in an in­ter­view with The Big Thrill magazine.

You can never have too much dark­ness. He wrote Bat­man comics for Mar­vel and The Pu­n­isher for DC. Did he like Christo­pher Nolan’s moody tril­ogy of Bat­man films (Bat­man Be­gins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises)? “I love those, they were a big in­flu­ence. I did a Pen­guin sto­ry­line, Pain and Prej­u­dice, that was dark in its sen­si­bil­ity. I’m drawn to the darker el­e­ments. I rein­vented the Pen­guin, the Scare­crow, Clay­face and the Mad Hat­ter.”

The last four are vil­lains in the Bat­man uni­verse. Apologies for the clumsy segue, but when Hur­witz writes a script about Isis, is he mov­ing from one set of an­ti­heroes or as­sas­sins to an­other? “I wouldn’t think of it in that re­gard. It’s a very dif­fer­ent out­ing.”

The Isis project is an adap­ta­tion of Black Flags: The Rise of Isis, for which jour­nal­ist Joby War­rick the Pulitzer Prize. The chal­lenge is get­ting the “huge ta­pes­try” of geopo­lit­i­cal events and play­ers onto the screen. “It’s im­por­tant that it gets as close as pos­si­ble to verisimil­i­tude and the his­tor­i­cal record.”

Hur­witz has also writ­ten a screen­play for a film adap­ta­tion of Or­phan X, which has Bradley Cooper at­tached as Evan Smoak. That is likely to be less dis­ap­point­ing to his fans than the cast­ing of Tom Cruise was to Jack Reacher’s. But don’t ex­pect it any time soon. A film called The Book of Henry, writ­ten by Hur­witz and star­ring Naomi Watts, is out in June “and to give you a sense of how long things take in Hol­ly­wood, I wrote the first draft 18 years ago”.

The oblig­a­tory pol­i­tics ques­tion is asked and Hur­witz tack­les it po­litely. No, he is not a Don­ald Trump sup­porter and “for other coun­tries watch­ing, it’s im­por­tant to note that Trump’s not speak­ing for all Amer­i­cans”. A week in Aus­tralia and New Zealand, where Hur­witz will meet read­ers in Syd­ney, Auck­land, Dunedin, Christchurch, Welling­ton and Palmer­ston North, will take him away from the long hours at his desk and the long hours fol­low­ing im­prob­a­ble events on 24-hour news chan­nels.

He may even get to turn off his phone and think about some­thing else. Is there some­thing else?

“It’s hard to do any­thing right now other than watch the news,” he says. “It’s hard to ex­plain how all-con­sum­ing it is here.”

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