In December 2021, University of New Mexico English professor Andrew Bourelle published his first suspense novel, “48 Hours to Kill.” Due to the fluctuating situation surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, Bourelle never really got a chance to celebrate the achievement in person, which made the Nov. 16 reading of his work hosted by the UNM creative writing department all the more special.
While working on “48 Hours to Kill,” Bourelle co-wrote several books with New York Times bestselling author James Patterson. Prior to becoming a fiction author, he worked as a journalist and wrote academic articles while pursuing his doctorate in English.
“It all has an impact. Especially my years, the journalists were really helpful in terms of writing every day on a deadline. You can't just say, “oh, I don't feel like writing today.” You've got a deadline, you've got to do it. And so it helped me make me a really disciplined writer. And so, even though those things (are) stylistically really different than fiction writing, I think they did … make me a better writer,” Bourelle said.
During the semester, Bourelle teaches in the creative writing department at UNM, something that he said also influences and strengthens his writing, which in turn also strengthens his teaching.
“I think that by being a practicing writer, it helps me in the classroom (because it) gives me that real world experience that I can share with my students. At the same time, I think working in the classroom and working with students does make me a better writer, because you know, the more you read of others, and give feedback and suggestions, the more you can take and use that same critical eye with your own writing,” Bourelle said.
Greg Martin, the director of creative writing at UNM, said that Bourelle provides a unique opportunity for students to study genre writing.
“Some creative writing programs look down their noses at thrillers and crime fiction and Westerns. And all of this is just nonsense, because there's incredibly good writers writing this. Andy is one of them, and we have him on our faculty. So sure, you can study, you know, traditional conventional literary fiction in our program. You can also study science fiction and fantasy,” Martin said.
Starting out with just a skeleton outline of what “48 Hours to Kill” would look like, Bourelle spent 7 months writing the draft. The first 40,000 words came to Bourelle over the course of six months, but a trip to Durango, Colorado helped Bourelle to write the next 40,000 in just one month’s time.
“My son was really young, so he's taking naps. My wife was pregnant with our second child, so she was resting a lot. And so I just wrote a ton. I get up in the morning before they are awake, and I write, we go for a hike in the morning and then we come back ... and I'd write while they're napping, and then in the evening time, they'd all go to bed before me and I'd write,” Bourelle said.
Spending a month in Durango gave Bourelle a chance to find a rhythm in his writing — something that is important to him in the writing process. During the semesters with lots of things going on, he said he will block out times in the day to just write and start to build out bigger blocks as he finds more of his rhythm.
“That's the reality, sometimes you just have to get your word count for the day or the week. A book takes a long time. It's not like writing a short story, you really just have to keep at it through the parts where it's going well, and through the parts where it's a struggle … You have to put the words down on the page and even if you have to go through significant work, revising them later it's better than not having any words at all to work with, so for me, I try to just find blocks of time to work through to keep plugging away at it,” Bourelle said.
Bourelle said his next book will also be a thriller; the genre has been compelling to him because of how it can engage readers and keep them “on the edge of their seat.” However, according to both Martin and Anita Obermeier, the chair of the English department, his gruesome writing is contrary to his personality.
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“He's just a wonderfully sweet and mild mannered man. And yet he writes this gruesome fiction. So he's a really wonderful colleague. He's a wonderful person to have around, not only for his writing, but also for his teaching, and for services that we all do. You can always count on him,” Obermeier said.
Maddie Pukite is the managing editor at the Daily Lobo. They can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @maddogpukite