James S. Murray, better known as “Murr” to fans of the prank-based show Impractical Jokers on truTV, had a calling long before he joined his Staten Island friends in laughing at each other’s expense for a living. As it turns out, the reality television star also has a talent for writing thrillers, and devoted readers have made his debut novel, Awakened, co-authored by Darren Wearmouth, a Publishers Weekly and Sunday Times bestseller. Murray spoke to us about the inspiration for his action-packed horror novel and teased the rest of the trilogy still to come for this second episode of The Fourth Wall podcast.
In Awakened, construction crews extending a New York subway line to New Jersey unknowingly release a subterranean predator, and the attempt to contain the threat engulfs the city, the president of the United States, and a secret organization that knows more than it’s letting on. But it was the subway setting that initially inspired Murray, especially considering his own difficulties as a Staten Island commuter when the book was written over a decade ago.
“[Taking] the subway late at night, like 2:30 in the morning, there were many times I’d be on the train, and the car would be empty; it was just me in there,” says Murray, setting the scene. “And fourteen years ago when I wrote the book, sometimes the train would lose connection with the third rail — it would happen a lot back then — and you’d be plunged into darkness, and the air would go off. You’d be alone in the car, and you’d be like, ‘This is kind of scary!’… so that’s where the idea hatched.”
Harper Collins brought on veteran horror novelist, Darren Wearmouth, to help polish up the languishing manuscript, and it was a perfect match. “[Darren] and I have very complementary skill sets,” says Murray. “I’m good at pace and dialogue and action and cliffhangers because I think in those terms from TV development, and he’s excellent at character and description and overall structure of a novel. So we worked together and whipped the book into shape into what you have now in bookstores. Book two and three are much more collaborative; we’re riffing on ideas and building on each other.”
After the success of the summer release of Awakened, the second and third books in the trilogy will be published over the next two years at the same time, starting with the second book, The Brink, on June 18, 2019, which will continue the themes of Awakened with a familiar protagonist. “Awakened is very much about obsession. The first book is about the mayor, Mayor Cafferty, who has been so obsessed with success in his goal, in his dream, in his legacy that he loses track of everything. He loses track of what’s right and wrong; he loses track of his marriage; and he has to come to terms with that in book one. Book two is about obsession as well.”
As for book three, Murray can only hint at the theme and the stakes that will be raised to the ultimate level. “Well, when you take down the Foundation that’s been hunting these creatures the past eighty years, what happens then?” asks Murray. “I have no idea what [the book] will be called yet, but the idea is extinction. There can only be one apex predator on Earth. Who’s gonna win?”
Murray’s first novel is available for purchase now at awakenednovel.com or on Amazon, and the paperback will be available on February 26, 2019. The follow-up novel, The Brink, can be pre-ordered before its June 18, 2019 release. To hear the full audio of our interview with James S. Murray, subscribe to The Fourth Wall podcast or simply listen below.