2012 Nick Linn Lecture Series: Andrew Gross

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Andrew Gross will speak in Naples on Tuesday.

Andrew Gross will speak in Naples on Tuesday.

Photo with no caption

The foundation for thriller-writer Andrew Gross' career might be found in the less-than-scintillating field of women's clothing.

Gross, who has written best-sellers both individually and in collaboration with James Patterson, will be in Naples on Tuesday as the third speaker in the 2012 Nick Linn Lecture Series. Gross follows Brad Meltzer and James Rollins in the series presented by the Friends of the Library of Collier County. Lisa See will close this year's edition on March 26. For information and tickets, call 239-262-8135.

Gross, a New York City native who turns 60 this year, majored in English at Middlebury College in Vermont. But then, with a master's in business administration from Columbia University, he worked for the Leslie Fay Cos., a women's clothing firm started by his grandfather. Switching to the sports apparel field, he became president of Head Ski and Tennis and, later, le coq sportif, a French sports fashion line. Although he helped grow Head to No. 1 in the United States in both divisions, his career at le coq sportif included "one too many turnaround situations or, more precisely, one that didn't turn around, that hastened my writing career," according to his website (www.andrewgrossbooks.com).

While shopping his first novel in 1998, Gross came to the attention of Patterson. The duo produced several best-sellers, including "2nd Chance," "3rd Degree" and "Judge and Jury." Writing solo since 2006, Gross has had a string of best-selling novels, three of which featured detective Ty Hauck. His latest novel, "Eyes Wide Open," premised on events in his own life, was published in July 2011. His new book, "15 seconds," comes out July 10.

Just back from South Africa and ahead of his appearance in Naples, Gross answered questions via email.

Q: You were teamed with James Patterson because a publisher said you write women well. How did you gain that ability?

Gross: The unpublished manuscript that took me three years to write and three weeks to accumulate 20 rejections ended up in (Patterson's) hands with the words written on the cover, "This guy does women well!!!!" Which I believe was referring to my writing! Not sure where it originated from. Maybe 20 years in the women's apparel business, which I always say was my apprenticeship for writing about crime! More likely, just a natural sensitivity and the belief that there is nothing sexier than a woman who rises to the challenge and alters a story with her own heroism.

Q: After your success with Patterson, was it hard to find your own voice?

Gross: A good question. Not surprisingly, my first book, "The Blue Zone," is by far the most Pattersonian of anything I've done, stylistically. His approach is so lean of scene setting and character development and texture and so pace-driven that it did take me a couple of books to feel relaxed and natural. I'd written six with him. Not that those did so badly — they hit the New York Times best-seller list and were published in 25 countries.

Still, "Eyes Wide Open" and the upcoming "15 Seconds" strike a perfect balance between pace and texture in my view. I still use the short, dramatically linked chapters and the tight first-person point of view, but I do let scenes flow to their natural dramatic conclusion, unlike Jim, who tends to cut them off after three pages.

Q: What is your working process for developing story ideas and getting them into print?

Gross: Too long to answer in full, but I do try to focus on a poignant or dramatic opening scene or series of events that tie you to the hero's character — my last two books came from things taken from my own life — then link them with a catch, such as the hero put in danger but not being able to put up his hand and just go to the police, then link it once again with a pattern of crime that is the delivery system for suspense — murders, vendettas, conspiracies — that raises the stakes.

Every one of my books has this triangulated structure.

Then I outline heavily in advance and go to work!

Q: What do you read?

Gross: Anything. Everything. Right now, "The Art of Fielding" and two suspense novelists I'm growing to like: Jo Nesbo and a South African — since I've just been there — who isn't read much in this country, Deon Meyer.

Q: "Eyes Wide Open" departed from your popular character Ty Hauck. Was that refreshing for you? Will you return to Hauck?

Gross: Not for a few books. Publisher decision. They want me writing stand-alones of everyday people whose happy lives have the rug pulled out from under them, not more traditional crime novels where the hero is a crime solver. I think I'm at my best there too!

Q: You took an unusual route to being an author. What advice do you give to aspiring writers?

Gross: Well, it's tough to break in now — tough, tough, tough — at least in the traditional pattern. The retail market is down, the advances are smaller. The Internet does allow access to the system, but the handful of happy outcomes is drowned out by hundreds of thousands of invisible work. The homily "Don't give up the day job" has never been stronger.

But in terms of writing advice: patience! Tenacity! Continuous improvement. Constant rewriting. Don't be put off by rejection. Just figure out why and make your story stronger. All the sexy stuff comes on the second to third draft.

Writing is not as linear as you think. And read your books out loud, to eliminate the writing tics we all have that you tend to gloss over when you breeze through.

Q: What new projects are you planning?

Gross: I do a thriller a year, so that's what I'm doing now — 150 pages into 2013! Still untitled. My publisher loves "15 Seconds" so much (out in July) they said, "Can you do the same thing (innocent man accused of double murder) but make it a woman?"

Q: What will you talk about in Naples?

Gross: My path to becoming a best-seller is unique in writing. I had six No. 1 best-sellers before I'd published a word under my own name. I transitioned from the women's apparel biz.

So I tell my story, which I think is both entertaining and kind of inspiring, if your thing is reinvention. No one could have reimagined or reinvented a life for themselves quite as completely as me!

© 2012 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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