Our Neighbor

Bestselling author Andrew Gross of Purchase



Andrew Gross’s Next Chapter

 

 

With chapter two of his professional life—in which the former businessman became a best-selling novelist as James Patterson’s co-author—wrapped up, Andrew Gross of Purchase is putting the finishing touches on his chapter three: going solo.

 

 

 

 

Andrew Gross’s thrillers are staples on plane flights and on sandy beaches. Yet each time I told someone I was writing about the 53-year-old Purchase resident, they’d ask: “Who?”

“James Patterson’s co-author,” I’d answer. And—surprise, surprise—get: “Oh yes, that guy.” That guy, friends, is now James Patterson’s former co-author, thanks to the recent release of his first solo novel, The Blue Zone.

As we chat in the cozy den of his neo-classical farmhouse in a gated community, Gross, a lean 6’2” with green eyes, tells the tale of his own reinvention—from successful businessman to Patterson’s co-writer (with a failed attempt to sell a first novel between the two) and, today, finally, published author of his own book. Gross, who has a Bachelor’s degree in English and religion from Middlebury College and an MBA from Columbia University, spent more than 20 high-stress years in the apparel industry, first in his family’s business, The Leslie Fay Companies, and then other sports apparel companies. By 1997, though, he had had enough.

“We went down to Key West for a weekend,” Gross recalls. “By then I was in my early forties, and just couldn’t do what I was doing again; I had left too much blood on the field. So I said to my wife, ‘I know it sounds a bit frivolous but I have a book in mind that I’d like to write. Give me a year and then let’s take an audit and see if it’s worth going on.’” His wife’s reaction? “I said ‘Honey, I know you’ll have a best-seller,’” recalls Lynn Gross, a yoga instructor (the couple have three almost-grown children).

The promised year stretched into two as Gross wrote and then worked to find an agent for a conspiracy novel about a right wing, NRA-type takeover of the United States. The book was rejected by some 20 agents—and, though one finally took it on, no publisher would. “I was crestfallen and thinking of which cliff I would drive my car off.”   

Two weeks later, Gross received the call that would change his professional life. “My agent said, ‘Jim Patterson likes your book and would like to talk to you.’ I knew his name but really hadn’t read his books.”  The pair met for breakfast at City Limits Diner in White Plains, a spot Gross suggested because it was equidistant from his and Patterson’s homes (Patterson, who lives primarily in Palm Beach, has a second home in Briarcliff Manor). “We really hit it off,” Gross says. “And he proposed collaborating on a book together, a gig most writers would cut off the digits of their fingers to get.”

“When I first contacted him,” Patterson says, “I could have cared less whether that first book sold or not. I thought he was a good writer and had a lot of promise.”

The pair entered a writing partnership and, over the next seven years, went on to co-author five New York Times No. 1 bestselling thrillers including 2nd Chance, 3rd Degree, The Jester, Lifeguard, and Judge and Jury, with Gross in Purchase and Patterson usually in Palm Beach. So how did that work exactly?

“Every book started in the form of an outline from Patterson,” says Gross. (Patterson, he notes, does not use a computer or e-mail; he writes in longhand and has his work transcribed by his secretary.) “I fleshed that out into a more extended outline and mapped the book out from beginning to end.” Once Patterson signed off on the extended outline, Gross set to work, mailing a group of chapters at a time for his co-author’s input. His former writing partner is “a sharp guy,” Gross says. “He’s one-hundred percent in control of his end product, and as good an editor as a writer.”

While waiting for another outline from Patterson in October of 2005, Gross had an idea for his own book. He brought it to an agent and within 10 days had four publishers bidding on it. “After having worked with Patterson, I sent a fax to the agent I wanted and, before I made it back to my office, I got a call back. My work with Patterson gave me a platform I would never have had on my own. And I am very grateful for it. But we always talked about an endgame strategy for me; it just came about sooner than we anticipated.”

Published by William Morrow/HarperCollins, The Blue Zone, a Literary Guild and Doubleday Book Club main selection, is the story of the seemingly close-knit Raab family of Larchmont, forced into the Witness Protection Program after its head, Ben Raab, is arrested by the FBI for laundering money for a Colombian drug cartel. His daughter, 20-something Kate, chooses to remain behind but is ultimately forced to undertake a perilous quest to uncover the dark secrets of her father’s past. The term “Blue Zone” refers to that state in the federal Witness Protection Program when a subject’s new identity has been penetrated or blown and there is no official knowledge of whether that person is dead or alive.

The inspiration for the book came from a dinner party Gross attended at a neighbor’s house. “There was an over-the-top guy there, with his and her Ferraris, the whole bit, who was a gold trader who was actually picked up for money laundering,” he recalls. “I remember thinking that here’s a guy with the perfect Westchester life and look at how quickly it can be shattered. The consistency of life changes in a flash. What attracted me more was how the people who are left behind have to come to terms with just who their family really is.”

Gross’s journey from suburban Westchester to a world populated by drug lords, Colombia cartels, and the FBI is just a short climb up a steep set of stairs to a room over the garage. He writes in his home office six days a week; he’s at his desk by 8 each morning and usually works until 2 in the afternoon. “I might warm up with a little game of solitaire or hearts on the computer, but I am pretty focused. I write a chapter a day, usually three to five pages, and in eight months, I have a book. It’s a very programmed path.”

In the afternoons, Gross often shops for dinner ingredients; yes, the author cooks for his family most nights. “I schmooze around the local markets, like D’Agostino’s and the vegetable stand on King Street, both in Rye Brook, and June & Ho in Rye.”  And while the Grosses prefer to give dinner parties, they do venture out to La Villetta in Larchmont, and they love Tango Grill in White Plains. To stay fit, Gross, a former tournament tennis player, plays indoors against a local pro and works out twice a week with a trainer in his small in-home gym. He also generally reads a book or so a week, and particularly enjoys the work of mystery writers Alan Furst, Robert Wilson, and Dennis Lehane. “I like the life. And if everyone could do it, they would.”

So what’s next for Gross? “I’m in the middle of the second book of a three-book deal,” he says. “It’s about a rogue hedge-fund manager who uses a 9/11 type of event to fake his own death. And hopefully, The Blue Zone will find its way into the movies. I would love to do a screenplay based on the book.”

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