To kick off our latest innovation, Manly Mondays, TLC welcomes Gregg Hurwitz. He’s award-winning and best-selling, attended Harvard and Oxford, writes thrillers and comic books and screenplays, has survived Harley’s undercooked chicken and overcooked lamb, has a master’s in Shakespearian tragedy, and is--I'm sorry, but it must be said--cute. For a good time, visit www.gregghurwitz.net
By Gregg Hurwitz
I am known, it seems, for doing stupid shit. Especially early in my career, I was the front-lines guy who wanted to get in there and see everything first hand.
It started with the Navy SEALs. (How would that be as a first line to a novel?) I was on the phone with one of my guys who was explaining to me how a certain detonation device worked and finally he got frustrated with my lack of retention and comprehension. “I’m coming over.” Not the threat I wanted to hear. But he did drive over and he threw me in the back of his truck, smuggled me onto a demolition range, then blew up a car. Pointing at the smoky aftermath, he declaimed, “Like that, dummy.”
I used my books as an excuse for continuing education. For a while, it seemed, I was embarking on a new idiotic adventure every month. Swimming with sharks in Galápagos. Going undercover into mind-control cults. Learning to ride a Harley through biker routes in the canyons of LA. Going up in a stunt plane (lunch, this is windshield, windshield, meet lunch). I conducted an interview once with a hospital tech as he literally carved up a cadaver, parting it out to send various chunks to different departments for research purposes (note to self: wear galoshes next time).
I found that getting in there and seeing the sights and—yes—smelling the smells always gave me a new angle I wouldn’t have thought of had I not been present. In the instance of the lab tech, when he’d finished with the cadaver, he crossed the room and opened a massive door which proved to lead to a gigantic freezer. Inside were a couple dozen corpses, suspended from their heads with figure-eight clamps. It turns out that if cadavers are stored flat, their bodies distort, making them less useful to medical students during anatomy dissections. But by being suspended, the bodies retain their natural shapes (for better or worse). Cool! So of course, that freezer required a scene or two in said book. And yet I never would’ve known about that freezer had I not braved the Sawzall spatter.
So some gross stuff, right? Some look-at-me macho stuff. And some dark stuff. Harley still hasn’t forgiven me for a particular inside-a-refrigerator torture scene in an earlier book (what’s with me and cooling appliances?).
But as I’ve gotten older, that’s begun to shift a bit. And so have the types of books I’m writing. I’m married now, I have kids, and I’ve found that my concerns have moved away from action and forensics and supercops and to my family, and the ways that having a family makes you vulnerable. I’ve segued over to suspense thrillers, more in the model of Hitchcock than Thomas Harris. Violence more often than not now takes place off camera, so to speak, and my focus has moved to how pressure—often incredible pressure—works on individuals and the relationships they try to maintain under great strain.
Of course, I still pride myself on the nuts and bolts; I’m not gonna suddenly refer to a semi-auto revolver or the U.S. Marshalls (two Ls, get it?) Service. But whereas for past books, my research involved practicing hand-to-hand or going to a SWAT range, for TRUST NO ONE, my research was going to dinner with my wife.
My wife and I love food, and we often try to surprise each other with new restaurants (scorpion toast, anyone?). On this particular night, my wife, with a degree of elegant smirking, delivered me to the lobby of a fine hotel, where a manager came out, stripped me of my cell phone, and showed me a menu. In the lobby. Puzzled, I ordered. Next, a woman emerged from a hall and shuffled over to us. As she drew nearer, I realized she was blind. With New-Age ceremony, she placed my hand on her shoulder, and my wife put her hand on my shoulder, and the woman led us back through two dense floor-to-ceiling curtains into a pitch-black restaurant. We ate in darkness, an experience that was supposed to (and did) heighten our sense of taste. We could hear everything too—each time a wedding band knocked a wine glass, every giggle. I enjoyed the meal and the company, but the entire time, I was thinking, What a great goddamned place for something awful to happen! A mysterious meet, a stranger who has information but doesn’t want his face known….As my mind wandered, one of the key chapters of Trust No One took shape. Of course, while my wife enjoyed her Syrah in the dark, I was furiously trying to jot down notes and wound up scribbling on my sleeve.
But I thought a bit afterward about the ways that my research changes as my books change, and how my books change as my life changes. I’m writing more about ordinary people stuck in extraordinary circumstances—again, doing my best to hearken back to those great Hitchcock Everyman tales. Jimmy Stewart stuck in his damn wheelchair. Cary Grant as the wrong guy in the wrong place at the wrong time, strolling through that train station, unaware that he’s about to have the worst day of his life. My character, Nick Horrigan, is about to wake up to one helluva awful day as well. But to paint this story, I needed to show not assault teams and skydiving, but our own ordinary lives, offset by about twenty-five degrees. A dark sedan parked outside our house at night. A threatening phone call. And a meal, eaten in perfect darkness.
[To see Gregg live, check out his interview with his (and our) friend Robert Crais.] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KLG3k4bTBFE