Chad Michael Murray is on a cross-country drive home from Los Angeles (via a stop first in North Carolina) when he calls in for a quick chat with his hometown paper.
Immediately you realize that, celebrity aside, he's still a Buffalonian at heart. The actor knows we're having a mild winter here and asks about the conditions at area ski resorts. He's excited to go to Ralph Wilson Stadium and see his Buffalo Bills play the Broncos on Christmas Eve ("I can't wait to see Tim Tebow play," he says referencing Denver's quarterback sensation. "I'm a die-hard Bills fan, but he is so fascinating. He inspires me.").
Mostly, Murray, 30, is eager to visit his family and friends in Clarence and reconnect with his Buffalo fans. Often when he returns home, it's to take a break from his acting projects, including his long-running role on the popular TV series "One Tree Hill" (which he left after six seasons in 2009), the holiday TV movie "Christmas Cupid" and theatrical films including "Freaky Friday," "A Cinderella Story" and "House of Wax."
This time, however, Murray is coming home as a writer who is realizing a longtime creative dream with the publication of his debut graphic novel, "Everlast." He will do a book signing at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Barnes & Noble, 1685 Niagara Falls Blvd., Amherst.
"It's something I've always just innately done. I've always loved writing. I find it soothing," Murray says. "I love being creative, so I guess to step out and take a shot at telling a story and having a book out there is my first step. Not every book will be in the same genre. As of right now, the stories that I intend to tell are all very different. 'Everlast' was the first."
"Everlast" is a preapocalyptic tale focusing on Derek Everlast, one of a group of soldiers entrusted with the task of finding the chosen ones and guiding them to safety. The idea for the story was planted after a man came to Murray's home preaching about the end of days and how 144,000 people would be saved. It wasn't the story that caught Murray's attention as much as it was that specific number of people that he found intriguing.
"It was only the punchline of '144,000 people are going to be saved,' " Murray recalls. "In that, I thought, what if our world was to end and only a number of people would be left to reign, to give mankind a second chance? How would they be chosen? Out of that just stemmed this really cool story of people who are soldiers who need to find the chosen, the people who are destined to survive the end of days."
With the support of his friends, Murray began writing "Everlast." He liked the idea of telling the story visually through a graphic novel. "It just felt right for the type of story it is," he says, calling the process of writing a graphic novel fascinating.
"You want to get your story across, so you write a script in almost the same form as a feature film," he explains. "You have to describe each panel for the artist so when they receive the script they can have a very detailed idea of what they need to convey in their art."
The themes in "Everlast" may be dark, but hope and faith are also two of the driving forces behind the story. Having it rooted in reality was a priority for Murray, a self-described documentary buff who enjoys watching the History Channel. To that, "Everlast" opens with references to the Garden of Eden, early expeditions to the "Poles" and legends of underground cities that work themselves into the story's mythology.
"It's fun to use your imagination and step outside the boundaries of reality. But I wanted it very much to be a story with a lot of reality in it, that you could question if these people could really exist in the world," Murray says. "And I wanted conflicts that we deal with as human beings every day. If the story doesn't have that human characteristic, then it's not worth telling because we can't connect with it."
One thing he learned during the writing process surprised him: "The story became endless. There are so many more tales to tell."
And he has already started telling those tales. "Phoenix: An Everlast Short" is included in the graphic novel; you can read that and "Flight of the Cormorant" on his website (www.thechadmichaelmurray.com). He hopes to write two or three "Everlast" short stories a year, plus he already has the outlines written for graphic novels two and three.
"We haven't even scratched the surface on who Derek is. I know how Derek became who he is I know all the ins and outs, but no one else does, it's kind of fun," Murray teases.
An obvious question begs to be asked about Derek Everlast: Would Murray play the character on film? His answer says quite a bit about the actor.
"Myself as Derek? No, I don't think so," he says. "I see Derek physically different than me. His look, his physical appearance, the weight that's gonna be on his shoulders that he needs to be able to carry from scene to scene. I see other people in that role. I would want the story to be told at its absolute best. And somebody else would probably be able to do that better."
You'll still see Murray on the big screen in 2012 in two films. "Renee," also starring Kat Dennings and Rupert Friend, is based on the true story behind "To Write Love on Her Arms," the nonprofit organization that helps youth deal with depression and addiction. He also plays a Southern prison guard in "A Haunting in Georgia," which Murray calls "a fun film. I think people will get a kick out of it." He also returned to "One Tree Hill" to shoot an episode that will air Feb. 22, which he describes simply as "Luke's return and his send off." And he plans on more writing.
"I've been focusing on a lot, a lot of writing and studying and enjoying life," he says. "It's been good. The new year is about to start and it will be about work, putting my head down and finding what's right to do next."
Chad Michael Murray Book signing, 7 p.m. Wednesday Barnes & Noble, 1565 Niagara Falls Blvd., Amherst.