It's probably not going to be that clever a reveal when I say all three men are Gregg Hurwitz. (Although if he were three separate persons, it would explain a great deal about his prolific output.) Today he's going to answer the burning question:
“What the Hell’s a Shakespeare Scholar Doing Writing Thrillers?”
Aside from Where do you get your ideas? which is easily answered (I don’t know. Where do you get yours?), the above is the question I’m most frequently asked.
As my master’s degree focused on Shakespearean tragedy and I published a few sleep-inducing essays in scholarly journals, interviewers and interlocutors like to zero in on the perceived disparity between my study of so-called high culture and my production of so-called entertainment. The truth is, the distinction doesn’t hold up.
Shakespeare was, above all else, trying to put asses in seats and sell out the Globe night after night. He wrote convention-bound, highly plot-driven narratives, tales of lust, greed, murder, and ambition. Sound familiar? And he was always careful to alternate tone and mood within the plays—a philosophical aside for the Queen, a dick joke for the groundlings (thank God for groundlings). Noir has oft been referred to as blue-collar tragedy, depicting not falls from kingly thrones, but from the curb into the gutter (to paraphrase Dennis Lehane). I just watched Body Heat again last night and good God does the parallel hold true there. In fact, methinks this is an essential parallel for every type of good crime narrative.
Tragedy is shaped most often by the tragic flaw of the hero. Something inside him, often the very trait that propelled him to greatness, becomes the very thing to drag him down to his mortal fate. Our blessings become our curses. Our best traits are also our worst. We know this from our own lives, and tragedies show us the same, blown up onto a grander stage and trotted out under the Proscenium arch.
When I’m writing a thriller, I think about a misstep my protagonist makes—or a flaw inherent to his or her personality—that sets the plot into motion and calls forth unforeseeable and often disproportionate consequences. Something in them opens the door to the barbed and torturous journeys I drag them through. In the absence of that, I’d not be writing fiction, I’d be writing stories about bad things happening to good people. And what’s to be learned from that?
The Survivor, my next book (August), opens with Nate Overbay
standing on an eleventh-floor ledge outside a bank, about to end his life. He a decent guy who—for a variety of reasons—is at the end of his rope. He sets one foot out into the weightless open when he hears gunshots from within. A spray of blood paints the window to his side. Rather than jump, he crawls back through the window, picks up a gun set down on the bank counter by one of the heist men, and—
You get the picture. But the point for our purposes here is: If Nate wasn’t on that ledge, if he hadn’t decided to commit suicide while leaving some personal matters—matters involved an estranged wife and daughter who he still dearly loves—unresolved, then he wouldn’t have been in (literal) position to go into that bank and face those gunmen. And if he hadn’t done that, then none of the holy hell that faces him over the next four hundred pages would have happened. A tragic flaw or misstep opening a world of unforeseen consequences. That’s what defines tragedy—and thrillers of every stripe.