I do a lot of these Five Questions segments, and try to choose which authors to reach out to based on who readers want to see interviewed. In fact, we take requests via the comment section, email, and even on social media. . .
And then, like with this interview, there are ones I personally can’t wait to do because I’m also a big fan of the author.
Two years ago, when I received an advance copy of Gregg Hurwitz’s first Evan Smoak novel, Orphan X, I remember thinking about how cool the character was right off the bat. Evan, a former child assassin for the CIA, is now living a normal life during the day — often in his luxury penthouse in California.
At night, though, he’s a hard-hitting vigilante in the same vein as the Punisher, known as the Nowhere Man. Whereas other darlings of the genre such as Jason Bourne, Mitch Rapp, and Scot Harvath often live someplace secluded and away from people, Evan hides in plain sight by living amongst others. This creates an entertaining dynamic, and Hurwitz lays it out perfectly.
Whether it’s Evan returning from a mission and having to ride a crowded elevator up to his penthouse while trying to conceal fresh wounds, or him dealing with nosey neighbors who interrupt his work, it all just works so well — and Evan feels real because of it.
Fast forward a year, to December of 2016 — I had just gotten my review copy of Hurwitz’s then-latest Orphan X book, The Nowhere Man. If you’ve followed this site for a while, especially if you follow me on social media, then you know I absolutely loved that book. In fact, it was the first time I ever used the words “near-perfect thriller” in a review. I cannot get enough of Evan Smoak, and Book Spy readers most certainly agree, as Hurwitz’s third book in this series, Hellbent, is one of the most pre-ordered books through our links over the past several months.
Obviously, when given the opportunity to ask Hurwitz a few questions, I leaped at the chance to do so, and tried to ask the questions I thought other fans would want to read the answers to. Thank you to Gregg Hurwitz for agreeing to go on the record here. . . it’s one of my favorite Five Questions segments so far.
Read the Q&A below, then keep scrolling to read more about Hellbent, the all-new, must-read Orphan X thriller that comes out everywhere tomorrow, Tuesday, January 30th.
TRBS: First of all, I have to say that I am a huge fan of your Orphan X series — and so are Book Spy followers! I get more emails, messages, DMs, and Tweets about Evan Smoak than any other character. I’ve always wondered, how did you come up with Evan as a character — and did you plan from the beginning to build a franchise around him?
Hurwitz: “Wow – that’s flattering indeed. The Book Spy followers are the best readers!
“You know, it took me years to come up with Evan. I knew it would be a series from the gates, and I had the notion in the back of my head, but a part of me was almost afraid of it. I kept writing another book first and then another, letting this idea simmer on the back burner. There are so many great characters out there from Jack Reacher to Jason Bourne that I didn’t want to write until I really figured out what differentiated my character from all the others—what would make him an icon deserving of his own place on the proverbial bookshelf. My bible during this time was the transcript of the Spielberg, Lucas, Kasdan conversation when they were developing Indiana Jones. Fifteen novels in, I finally got my mind around that character and Orphan X was born.”
TRBS: No offense to other writers, but a lot of authors seem to keep rolling their series characters out year after year, but their stories all sort of feel the same. That’s not the case with your series. It genuinely feels like you keep finding reasons to tell Evan’s story, which is unique and fun. How did you come up with the plot for Evan’s latest mission in Hellbent?
Hurwitz: “Thank you. Because I wrote so many stand-alones, I think I approach each book from that mindset. After the first two X adventures, I wanted to write Evan’s most personal story yet. And I thought — what if Van Sciver got ahold of the only person Evan really loves. Jack Johns, his handler, was the only person who ever treated Evan like a human being; Jack was his sole connection to humanity. If Jack was threatened, what would Evan be willing to do to avenge him? It started from there. But Jack leaves Evan with one last mission — and that mission will throw a grenade into everything Evan ever thought about himself.”
TRBS: From novels to screenplays and even comics, you’ve kind of written a little of everything. What is your writing process like — and do you ever work on more than one project at a time?
Hurwitz: “I like to put my head down and blast on one project. Then move to the next and do the same. I don’t do as well working on one thing in the morning and something else in the afternoon. But sometimes when deadlines crowd in on me I’m forced to do that. It takes a lot of focus.”
TRBS: A couple of years ago, The Hollywood Reporter reported that Bradly Cooper was in talks to tackle Orphan X for Warner Bros. Are you writing the script for that film, and are there any other updates on the movie?
Hurwitz: “I did write the script and had a great time working on it. In fact, I’m working with Bradley on a TV project as well (Black Flags). But Bradley just directed a feature for the first time—A Star is Born, with Lady Gaga. And he’s also starring in it. So his schedule got a little wonky as actors’ schedules do. I’m figuring out the next move for Orphan X now and hope to have more news to report soon.”
TRBS: Lastly, is it safe to say that readers can expect to see more Evan Smoak in the future?
Hurwitz: “Yes, yes, yes. Unless I get hit by a falling Acme safe.”
Evan Smoak―government assassin gone rogue―returns in Hellbent, an engrossing, unputdownable thriller from Gregg Hurwitz, the latest in his #1 international bestselling Orphan X series.
Taken from a group home at age twelve, Evan Smoak was raised and trained as an off-the-books government assassin: Orphan X. After he broke with the Orphan Program, Evan disappeared and reinvented himself as the Nowhere Man, a man spoken about only in whispers and dedicated to helping the truly desperate.
But this time, the voice on the other end is Jack Johns, the man who raised and trained him, the only father Evan has ever known. Secret government forces are busy trying to scrub the remaining assets and traces of the Orphan Program and they have finally tracked down Jack. With little time remaining, Jack gives Evan his last assignment: find and protect his last protégé and recruit for the program.
But Evan isn’t the only one after this last Orphan―the new head of the Orphan Program, Van Sciver, is mustering all the assets at his disposal to take out both Evan (Orphan X) and the target he is trying to protect.
Praised as “one of today’s finest book reviewers” by New York Times bestselling author Gayle Lynds, Ryan Steck is “is the guy in the thriller world that people talk to behind the scenes.” (Mark Greaney, New York Times bestselling author). He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children.