What everyday situation drives you mad?
People who say they don’t have time to read.
Your favourite music and the best live concert you’ve ever been to?
I like a wide range of music – rock, opera, country, classical, jazz, blues. Best concert was Smokey Robinson at the Paul Masson Winery up in the hills of Saratoga.
Colours you’d never wear?
Why rule anything out?
Name three contents currently in your fridge!
Homemade (alas, not by me) brandied cherries, martini olives, blueberries.
Three books that you read that made you want to become an author?
Gone But Not Forgotten. Salem’s Lot. Along Came a Spider.
It’s movie night – which films do you choose to watch with your friends?
Something exceedingly violent.
Your idea of a perfect holiday?
Fire, ridgebacks, bourbon.
Favourite literary or movie villain?
Your favourite Hitchcock movie?
You’re really gonna make me choose? Okay… Psycho.
Orphan X introduces a new book series with the character of Evan Smoak. What made you want to write about a recurring character again after the Tim Rackley books? Your last stories were all standalone novels.
To write a series, I knew I’d have to commit to living with someone else for the foreseeable future. Have him talking in my head nonstop. Spend more waking hours with him than I do with my wife or kids. In other words, someone who I find interesting and compelling and funny and just and true. Fifteen novels in, I finally found that guy in Evan.
Your new character Evan Smoak is practically a shadow. I felt he’s a combination of Stingray, a one man A-Team plus the Equalizer mixed with a little James Bond. Do you think seeing those characters on the screen and on television has unconsciously – or even consciously – influenced you writing that character?
Not necessarily those characters (except for Bond). But to answer you’re question, here’s the book’s dedication:
To all the bad boys and girls, rulebreakers and vigilantes—
Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade, Bruce Wayne and Jason Bourne, Bond and Bullitt, Joe Pike and Jack Reacher, Hawk and Travis McGee, the Seven Samurai and the Magnificent Seven, Mack Bolan and Frank Castle, the three Johns (W. Creasey, Rambo, and McClane), Captain Ahab and Guy Montag, Mike Hammer and Paul Kersey, the Lone Ranger and the Shadow, Robin Hood and Van Helsing, Beowulf and Gilgamesh, Ellen Ripley and Sarah Connor, Perseus and Coriolanus, Hanna and Hannibal, the Man with No Name and the Professional, Parker and Lucy, Arya Stark and George Stark, Pike Bishop and Harmonica, Lancelot and Achilles, Shane and Snake Plissken, Ethan Edwards and Bill Munny, Jack Bauer and Repairman Jack, the Killer and the Killer, Zorro and the Green Hornet, Dexter and Mad Max, the Dirty Dozen and Dirty Harry, the Terminator and Lady Vengeance, Cool Hand Luke and Lucas Davenport, Logan 5 and James “Logan” Howlett, V and Vic Mackey, Hartigan and Marv, Sherlock and Luther, Veronica Mars and Selina Kyle
—for being so wicked that they’re good.
Evan, as well as his adversaries, has a lot of modern gadgets at his hands. I was mostly impressed with the invisible nano microchips that, once ingested, can make you track a person’s whereabouts for a certain time. How do you start researching about groundbreaking new technology like that? Do you have a subscription of ‘Spy Monthly’ or do you know experts you can ask about these things?
I have a great Rolodex filled with guys who have operated in all sorts of fields under all sorts of cover. I’ve built up enough trust for them to talk to me on and off the record. I never know where the germ of an idea will come from—sometimes while talking to them over a beer, sometimes from an article I might stumble over. The idea for those nanochips actually came from an article I read about a medical product that doctors use to track insulin levels in diabetic patients. I thought: Wouldn’t that be cool if Evan used it instead as a secret GPS tracker?
The baddies in Orphan X, foremost Slatcher and Candy, have such a memorable physique and reminded me so wonderfully about henchmen from the Bond movies. As you are a huge Bond fan was that a conscious bow?
Part of my brain is a blender filled with all the books and movies that I love. Nothing in Orphan X is a direct nod to a specific character who has existed before. But everything is informed by the stories I grew up with.
A lot of action in Orphan X takes place in Las Vegas and its cool surroundings. What made you choose that particular city as a setting?
I know a great guy in the shadow service who lives out there and lets me shoot whatever weapons I want for research.
Evan is a character every reader will wish really existed. Standing in for the small people, incorruptible and despite his job with a big heart. Do you reckon that stories about such heroes will never become old as they appeal to our natural need for justice and for a man to right the wrongs?
Yes. Evan’s got the expertise to do one thing. To work pro-bono from the shadows, helping the desperate with nowhere else to turn. It takes a wolf to keep the wolves at bay. He’s a character not just capable of—but who has done—terrible things. But he chooses to do the right thing. And that choice costs him everything.
There’s a conflict here. Because everybody, no matter how tough, no matter what training they’ve received, has a need for human contact, for family. And one thing we never get to see? Is James Bond go home. Or Jason Bourne have an awkward moment with an attractive single mom in the elevator of his condo.
As bad-ass as Evan is, he exists in the real world. Here’s a guy who spends his existence protecting people living ordinary lives that he himself could never have. There’s a longing there—and a tragic shading. What if the code you live by is also a curse that keeps you from having what you most want?
You are a true ‘Gregg of all trades’. You wrote story archs for major comic series like The Dark Knight, Penguin Pain and Prejudice and The Punisher and you also write screenplays so you can’t really complain about diversity in your job. Apart from your talent and your enthusiasm, would you say you are also lucky enough to know the right people to get so many different projects done?
There is always luck involved. No matter how much talent you have or how hard you work, you need luck as well. And for the luck I’ve had, I’m perpetually grateful.
An original screenplay by you, The Book of Henry, has been made into a major Hollywood movie with Lee Pace and Naomi Watts – what does it feel like to finally see that script come alive after more than a decade? Is it the original version or has it been going through many rewrites during the years?
I wrote the first draft of The Book of Henry 18 years ago. Seeing it come alive and being there on set for it was (apologies for using this word) magical. Colin Trevorrow directing, John Schwartzman shooting, Naomi Watts, Jaeden Lieberher, Jacob Tremblay, Sarah Silverman, Lee Pace, Dean Norris—the list goes on and on. And everyone honored the spirit of the material while bringing their own love and expertise to their role. As a writer, there is nothing more you can hope for. Though the spirit of the story – and many of the scenes — remained the same, I rewrote the script right up until we shot it.
You are always meticulous in your research for your books. From training with Navy Seals to going undercover in a religious sect to travelling through the Mexican jungle you practically experience everything firsthand before you write about it. Has that research ever got you in (a) dire situation(s)? What preparations and special training did you undergo for Orphan X?
Yes. I almost got killed in an underground bar in Moscow. But that’s a much longer story.
I didn’t want Evan’s training in OX to feel like bullshit Hollywood training, you know, where he’s catching flies with chopsticks. So once I had a handle on who Evan was, I spent months doing research. Off I went to Vegas to visit one of my consultants, a world-renowed sniper and armorer, who got me onto every gun I write about, from Benelli shotguns to custom 1911 pistols. I trained—badly—in mixed martial arts, familiarizing my face with the training mat. I talked to guys who led operations that you’ve seen on Fox News, who have gone into hostile territory, under deep cover, or played offense in some of the most dangerous theaters in the world. All in an effort to show the process by which a skinny, scared kid from an East Baltimore boy’s home could plausibly transform into Orphan X, a legendary figure in the shadow service.
You studied in Oxford and have lived in Britain for quite some time. Have you ever thought about writing a story set in the UK?
I love England so I certainly wouldn’t rule it out.
And last, any chance you can give your fans a glimpse of what’s to come next from the mastermind of Mr. Hurwitz?
More Evan Smoak. (Fuck, yeah – fangirl remark)
Orphan X is out today – don’t miss it!