By Sean Tuohy
For more than 40 years, Gene Hackman was known for award-winning performances movies in like “Bonnie and Clyde,” “The French Connection,” “Superman,” and “Hoosiers.” His true strength as an actor was developing and presenting real, honest characters.
Now, Hackman brings his character development talents to the written page with his latest novel Pursuit. The pulse-quickening thriller follows Sergeant Juliette Worth— a single mother and police officer—as she tracks down a deadly killer that could cost her everything she loves.
Hackman was nice enough to sit down and chat about why he got into writing novels and offers new writers sage advice.
Sean Tuohy: What drew you to writing?
Gene Hackman: I suppose it was my way of staying relevant. My other job, that thing I did for 60 or so years, was getting tougher as the years slipped by. The characters bouncing around in my head had to play out.
ST: You were an actor before becoming a writer. Did your training as an actor help your writing in away?
GH: Yeah, the exploration of character comes with the territory in acting.
ST: Which authors influenced you?
GH: Twain, Hemingway in my early days. Elmore Leonard. Twain told stories so simply. Hemingway had a great breadth of experience that commanded the story and Leonard was just Leonard. He once said something to the effect of, "If it sounds like writing, rewrite it."
ST: Your previous novel (Payback at Morning Peak) was a western, but Pursuit is a crime/mystery novel. Why the change in genre?
GH: Challenges are intriguing. Julie Worth seemed decent, professional. To me, it's interesting when a woman does what has traditionally been a man's job. A tough-minded female is always an exciting quandary.
ST: Pursuit starts with a bang for the hero, Sergeant Juliette Worth, when she is forced to take down a gunman in a mall. Do you believe a story needs to start with a big bang to grab the reader's attention early on or did that scene happen naturally?
GH: I believe it helps to try and hook a reader early on. As far as something coming naturally, uh-uh. Not for me. It's all teeth grinding, elbows on the floor.
ST: Pursuit has a crisp plot and a ton of character building. How did you develop your writing style? Was it something that came naturally or was it developed over time?
GH: If in fact I have a style, it came from repeated edits, friends' suggestions, and my wife's unwavering, specific read-throughs.
ST: What was the writing process like for Pursuit? Did you do a lot of research on the novel?
GH: Time was spent scouting in Missouri, taking photos, just nosing around. A female Lieutenant with the Highway Patrol who had been around quite a bit helped with the police business. Also, a close friend, a senior FBI special agent, made some great suggestions.
ST: Sergeant Worth is a no-nonsense by the book police officer but a single mother as well. Where did the idea for this multi-faceted hero come from?
GH: I was in an art class (of all places) and a gal sitting next to me introduced herself as a former forensic pathologist. It got me thinking.
ST: Will you be returning to western genre any time soon?
GH: I do have a book deal for another western but I haven't worked out that timeline yet.
ST: What advice would you give to young up-and-coming writers?
GH: Stick with it. That's number one. Believe in the editing process. Don't fall in love with your first draft. Take chances.