Exclusive Q&A With Gregg Hurwitz AB '95

Gregg Hurwitz is the New York Times, #1 internationally bestselling author of 23 thrillers, including the Orphan X series, and two award-winning thriller novels for teens. His novels have won numerous literary awards, graced top ten lists, and have been published in 33 languages. Gregg currently serves as the Co-President of International Thriller Writers (ITW).

Gregg has written screenplays for or sold spec scripts to many of the major studios (including Sweet Girl and The Book of Henry), and written, developed, and produced television for various networks. He is also a New York Times bestselling comic book writer, having penned stories for AWA (Knighted), Marvel (Wolverine, Punisher) and DC (Batman, Penguin). He has published poetry, numerous academic articles on Shakespeare, taught fiction writing in the USC English Department, and guest lectured for UCLA, and for Harvard in the United States and internationally. In the course of researching his thrillers, he has sneaked onto demolition ranges with Navy SEALs, swum with sharks in the Galápagos, and gone undercover into mind-control cults.

Additionally, Gregg is actively working against polarization in politics and culture. To that end, he's produced several hundred commercials which got over a hundred million views on digital and TV platforms, and won multiple American Advertising Awards (Addys) for creative digital political commercials. His editorial pieces have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, The Huffington Post, The Bulwark, and others.

Q. When we profiled you in 2016, you had just released your first novel in the Orphan X series. Your 7th, Dark Horse, is being released in a couple of weeks. How has your protagonist Evan Smoak changed over time, and how have you?

A. Evan develops in tandem with me. Whatever I’m contending with in my personal life or in the socio-political landscape (in my pro bono political work) he seems to find his way into, albeit in more violent fashion. The further I get in my career, the more my writing and my own life become aligned, where I’m dealing with reflections of the same issues and trying to answer the same unanswerable questions in fiction and in reality. 

Q. Is the series still in development?

A. No. I’m pulling Orphan X back for now and waiting for a piece of talent I admire to come with a creative approach that makes sense. I’ve decided I don’t want to actively try to sell it – I want to find a connection with someone who already knows the series and has a notion of how to bring it to life. 

Q. You have written compellingly about how thrillers can serve up a positive archetype of masculinity that is based on the hero myth, something that is hardwired into our culture.  Why are these stories important?

A. In many regards, crime fiction has replaced the social novel. Thriller and mystery writers can reach an incredibly broad audience to challenge notions of power and identity, place and character, social inequality and injustice. And our protagonists exist to shape chaos into order, no matter how painful that process may be. 

Q. Toxic masculinity has been more conspicuous than ever, from the Navy SEALs to the White House. Yet popular action heroes are more vulnerable and open these days, even James Bond. You set out to make Evan Smoak vulnerable emotionally from the beginning of the series. Have you ever gotten pushback for that approach?

A. No. I’ve only received positive input about that. I think it’s because Evan still exhibits appropriate mercilessness when he must. He’s not afraid to use brutality and force. But only when necessary. And he was raised to be a blue-collar gentleman.

Q. You’ve written more than 20 comics for The Dark Knight Series. Batman as a character keeps evolving on screen. What is DC doing right with the character, and what more would you like to see?

A. I just launched my first creator-owned book from AWA called Knighted, which is my personal take on a not dissimilar character. I loved writing Batman but wanted to push our notion of what a superhero can be into new territory. So the book gives the best answer to that. 

Q. As a screenwriter and producer who is also a prolific novelist, you’re in a small club of creatives.  Do you ever connect with fellow author/producers to compare experiences? 

A. I suppose so. At a point it ceases to be of interest to talk about business and deals and logistics. So most of my conversations now are about the creative process and its connection to meaning, etc. In a weird way I’ve arrived back to where I started as a kid facing the blank page asking the most basic questions. What does this story mean to me? What am I trying to convey? Joan Didion said, “I write to know what I think.” The first time I heard that it hit me right in the spinal cord. I process my life and thoughts on the page. 

Q. What book of yours would you recommend for kids to read and at what age?

A. The Rains series (The Rains and its sequel Last Chance) is appropriate for anyone from middle school through so-called adulthood. It’s my take on a rip-roaring old-fashioned adventure story like the ones I grew up with (Kidnapped, Treasure Island). It’s like a Walking Dead for kids with character at the center—courage, loyalty, strength. 


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