In New Mexico he met underwater archaeologist Daniel Lenihan, and the two became fast friends. "We realized that we both loved Hemingway and Melville," Hackman recalls. "I said, 'Let's write a novel together.'" They did: a saga about diving, salvage, and piracy called Wake of the Perdido Star.
The pair wrote two more, but with Lenihan busy on another project last year, Hackman tackled Payback at Morning Peak solo. The plot is reminiscent of his favorite westerns: Shane and Red River. "I think it would make a pretty good film," he says.
If it does make it to the big screen, Hackman won't pen the script. During the 1970s he optioned the novel Silence of the Lambs and attempted to cobble together a screenplay. A third of the way into it, he realized the tight, clipped script form was not his forte, and he surrendered the rights. "Not my smartest move," he says, chuckling.