So I have this tattered yellow notebook of the spiral variety from high school, the kind which sheds chads of paper at the faintest rustling. As an aspiring author, I used to write down snatches of dialogue, plot ideas, and my first clunky attempts at scenes. There might be a few opinions in there as well about unattainable girls and other matters social, the dark nights of the soul that a prep school kid believes he’s suffering through.
But one scrawled thought stayed with me all these years. It asked: What if there was some group devoted to cleaning up criminals who got off due to loopholes in the justice system?
A cool, high-concept idea. But high-concept ideas are a dime a dozen. It’s when they collide with the right character that they actually have the legs to turn into a story. And writing a tale about another off-the-tracks loose cannon? Well, it seemed banal.
So I finished high-school. Went off to college. Studied in England while completing my first thriller. I was fortunate enough to sell that book. I published a second. And a third. And then, one day, I met the character to go with that decade-old scrawled note.
I don’t recall the precise moment, but I remember the thoughts striking, one after another: What if there was a guy who was one of the most ethical law enforcement officers you could imagine? Maybe his father was a con artist and this guy spent his life craving the straight and narrow the way a preacher’s son might crave a card game. And then, what if something awful, truly awful knocked him off course? Wouldn’t that be a vigilante we’d be more interested in? One who started from a position of vigorous moral authority? One who doubted his actions at every step, who never gave in fully to the dark urges, who might even, at some point, change his mind?
And Dray. Dray was my answer to every annoying cop’s wife I ever read in a book or saw on TV or film—the hysterical ones who always complain that the job’s killing her husband. That’s he’s taking too many risks and why can’t he just stop caring so much, damnit, and focus more on home.
Andrea Rackley, she ain’t like that. She’s a sheriff’s deputy, tough as hell, a resource in her own right. Quite often, she’s more level-headed than her husband. Their relationship is one I admire, and it taught me about marriage before I was married. They banter and argue, fight and make up, but always, always get a kick out of each other.
I wrote four Rackley books: The Kill Clause (2003), The Program (2004), Troubleshooter (2005), and Last Shot (2006). They’re old friends of mine now, Tim and Dray. They’re family. And I’m glad that you’ll have a chance to see them arguing through the particulars of a case, staring down danger, doing what they do.
The Tim Rackley e-books will be available for $2.99, but only for a limited time:
From time to time, I get emails or letters from readers taking issue with the language I use in my books. Usually it’s holy-than-thou nonsense claiming that my use of this word or that offended their pure eyes to such an extent that never again shall they check a Gregg Hurwitz book out of the library. I like responding with four-letter declamations because, well, I’m witty like that.
But the other day, I got an email that struck me for its civil tone. I’ll like to share it here and include my response.
I just finished reading They’re Watching, which was absolutely awesome. It’s the first book that I’ve read of yours and I look forward to reading the rest of your books.
However I wanted to write you about something I find very dismaying. In your novel you frequently use God’s name in vain and I can’t understand why someone so educated finds it necessary to do so. Surely there are enough curse words in the English language that can be used as exclamations instead. I am an avid reader, since I’ve been keeping track of books I read in a database I’ve read 1104 books to date, I only mention this to show that I’m not a book a year reader. I’ve written to a bunch of authors regarding this matter and have received a response from some stating that the majority of people speak this way and they are merely just trying to make their characters realistic. A poll was taken that determined that 83% of Americans are Christian. So I believe it is the loud, vocal minority that speaks this way, especially Hollywood, and not the silent majority.
So I just thought I’d speak up for the silent majority. I think you are an excellent writer and taking God’s name in vain in your novels adds nothing to the story and leaving it out would take nothing from it. In fact, John Grisham and Brad Meltzer are authors who do not take God’s name in vain in their novels. So you see it also isn’t a requirement to become a famous author. I know you already are famous, all I’m saying is that it wasn’t a requirement for them to get there.
Just something I hope you’ll give some thought to when you write your next novel.
To which I replied:
Thank you for writing. I’m so pleased you enjoyed the book, and I also appreciate your civil and thoughtful tone in conveying your issue with the language I use. Since you took the time to express your question, I’d like to answer it thoroughly.
To begin with, the percentage of Christians is indeed close to what you claim. The last demographics show Christians at 76% in 2008 (though continuing to decline). So — a clear majority. But conveying what is pleasing to a majority isn’t really the aim of a writer or artist. It is writing what is true and offers a veneer of verisimilitude. Indeed, as other authors have stated in their answers you, I do want to write in a manner similar (though not precisely similar) to how people really talk. And there’s no telling what will offend folks — whether they compose the majority or minority. If I eliminate seeming religion-referencing exclamations in favor of sharper swear words, that will upset people too (and has — I’ve received those emails as well).
Lastly, as one of the few Jewish kids in my Jesuit High School, I had the advantage of approaching religion — and the commandments — from a relatively fresh perspective. And what I was taught (and what makes sense to me) is that taking the Lord’s name in vain doesn’t really refer to a frustrated utterance, but rather using God’s name in pursuit of hypocritical, manipulative, or un-Christ-like aims. Like a preacher swindling his flock. Like waging an illegitimate war in the name of God. Like a cult leader abusing members in the name of Jesus. This makes intuitive sense to me. I understand why this would be more offensive to the moral parameters of a religion rather than naming God or Jesus in an utterance. I’ve always taken someone’s declaiming, “Jesus!” to be shorthand for nothing more than “Jesus help me!” or the like — not offensive to my mind.
That said, I do feel compelled to add that when I’m writing characters, each comes with his or her own morality which I allow them to express in full, whether that be in action or language. I’ve written rapists and serial killers and cult leaders and psychopath businessmen. And I’ve written my share of protagonists who are flawed and imperfect and, I hope, three-dimensional — who sound and act as we do. And in painting this ever changing cast, I try to make use of not just one moral perspective — nor just the moral perspective of the majority — but the vast and sundry approaches to life and language that characterize the human condition.
All best to you and thank you for writing,
After nearly five months on the international bestseller charts, YOU’RE NEXT is finally coming home! To celebrate, I’m hosting a giant pre-order contest, a giveaway of all my previous books — that’s 10 signed, personalized first-edition hardcovers! To enter, simply pre-order the book from one of these vendors:
One of my favorite things about attending book festivals and touring in different countries is that there’s always a good amount of overlap with other authors. Books, for me, are one of the best ways to gain entry to a new culture, to understand a country and its quirks and history. I leave in a few days for New Zealand and Australia and in preparation for numerous panels and interviews and on-stage conversations, I’ve received over the past few weeks a steady stream of books written by the authors who will also be in attendance at the various events and venues. What’s cool is some of these are not books I would come across on my own, so I’m getting a view of a new cross-section of lives and voices – stuff I wouldn’t normally get to dip my hands into. Most of these books aren’t available in the US – must be ordered through amazon NZ or the like, but I can’t emphasize enough how stimulating it is to spend a few days reading books from countries I’m about to visit for the first time.
So…I read five books in the past couple days.
THE DEAD PATH by Stephen M. Irwin about a man who, after his wife’s tragic death, starts to see ghosts. Everywhere. He returns to his home in Australia to confront the woods that have always been a source of dark allure for him.
ICE by Louis Nowra, an incredible story that tells two parallel stories. One is a biography of Malcolm McEacharn, the man who towed an iceberg to early Sydney and introduced electricity to Melbourne (before becoming its Lord Mayor). McEacharn was obsessed with his first wife, and his tale of longing is interwoven with the present-tense story of the husband of McEacharn’s biographer, a woman who lies in a coma after a random attack. The husband has finished writing the biography as an homage to his wife, who like McEacharn’s first wife, remains frozen, suspended in time.
BLIND CONSCIENCE by Lateline journalist Margot O’Neill, which tells the incredible story of the people who fought to get the asylum seekers out of detention during the Howard government. It offers insight into the political struggles of a country – struggles which are at once distant and familiar.
SHOTS by Don Walker. This guy is a legendary songwriter and musician in Australia, and this memoir of his childhood and rise – his story, really – is told in half- to one-page “shots,” poetic riffs that are gorgeous and haunting and shot through with a wild Beatnik energy. I loved this book.
And finally…Lisa Unger’s DIE FOR YOU. Lisa will be a fellow American over at the Brisbane book festival. I’ve heard much about her (all of it good) and we’ll be sharing a stage at one point, so this was a good excuse to finally read her. It’s a great thriller, really focusing on family relationships and the ways they strain and break under incredible pressure. She’s a real talent.
Now I feel nicely read and ready to fly out to experience some of this firsthand.
Finally posted to YouTube – a really fun talk with Crais about pacing, characters, plotting, and inspiration. This is one of my favorite interviews I’ve ever done.