Andrew Gross on why it’s sexy to write women as heroes

in Thrillers by

What would you do, if, on the day your whole life was crashing down around you, fate threw you a chance to turn it all around—would you take it? Would you take that chance, even if it were illegal, immoral, and dangerous?

Hilary Cantor, the desperate single mom in Andrew Gross’s new book, Everything to Lose (William Morrow, April 22), has only seconds to decide when she finds half a million dollars in a wrecked car, next to its dead driver. She’s just lost her job, her deadbeat ex-husband has stopped sending her money, her house is under water, and her special needs son needs to stay in a school she can no longer afford.

EverythingToLose_CoverHer choices will keep you reading, because this is one of those books that could keep you up all night. Or as Library Journal says about Gross’s 2011 novel Eyes Wide Open, “If there are tricks of the trade, Gross has learned them all. He writes with seeming ease, offering no fancy stylistic tics, no overwrought prose, no melodrama, just a menacing tale with effective twists, perfect pacing, intriguing characters, and heart-gripping suspense.”

When Hilary realizes her actions have put her and her son in mortal danger, she turns to an unlikely ally for help: the policeman son of the dead driver. Patrick Kelty is mourning his father while trying to rebuild his home on Staten Island after the destruction from Hurricane Sandy. He’s in serious financial trouble, too, and the Russian mafia is threatening him over an unpaid debt.

Gross is a master at keeping three or four story lines spinning until they crash into each other. The first, of course, is Hilary’s dilemma: How far will a mother go to protect her child?

There’s also the matter of a killer diagnosed as “callous-unemotional.” Known as CU children, these are kids with behavioral problems that may be genetically inclined to psychopathology. Gross explores the question of what would happen if one of these kids—who managed to control his urges while growing up—later found himself in a position of responsibility and power with something to hide?

Finally, there’s an old, unsolved murder that took place on the blighted northern shore of Staten Island, a real crime Gross had read about and couldn’t forget. While he was plotting his book, Hurricane Sandy hit, and all the pieces started to fit together.

“Staten Island was pretty much ground zero,” says Gross. “My goal was not just to make the storm a backdrop, but also a character in itself.” Unknown to Hilary and Patrick, the devastating storm exposed a clue to an old mystery with unforeseen consequences about to close in on them both.

Gross is no stranger to writing about women with grit. It was his way with women protagonists who brought him to the attention of James Patterson, with whom he co-wrote two of Patterson’s Women’s Murder Club titles, 2nd Chance and 3rd Degree, both bestsellers.

The “club” is an unofficial cooperative of four tough women—a homicide detective, a medical examiner, an assistant D.A., and a crime reporter—who solve sensational murder cases in San Francisco. The books spawned an ABC series of the same name that aired in 2007 and 2008.

“I think it’s cool and sexy when a woman provides the active heroism that a book hinges on,” says Gross. “And I like my books to revolve around family and have some sort of emotional payoff at the end, and I think it’s easier to do that through the lens of a woman.”

Even his male characters, including Ty Hauck, the Connecticut detective in his political thrillers, are on the sensitive side, says Gross. “Maybe it’s something I picked up from Jim Patterson—his heroes really have a high sensitivity to feeling. I think it’s Alex Cross’s humanity that is his most appealing trait.”

Before turning to writing, Gross held leadership positions at several clothing companies, including Head Sportswear, Leslie Fay (founded by his grandfather and named for Gross’s mother) and Le Coq Sportif.  (Lots of tough women in that field, he says.) Eventually, he hit a rough patch in the industry, and took three years off to finish his first book.

“Writing a novel was always high on my bucket list, says Gross, who attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and has a degree in English as well as an MBA. “I was just fortunate that when I put everything aside to write one, it didn’t make the cut, but one of the 22 editors who passed on it handed it to Patterson with the words ‘This guy does women well’ scrawled on the cover.”

Fifteen books later, Gross and his wife, Lynn are parents of three grown children and live in Westchester County, N.Y.

Joanna Poncavage loves New York and native plants and lives on a horse ranch/organic farm in the Poconos. Joanna’s career includes reporting on food, health, the arts, crime and general quirkiness for The Morning Call newspaper in Allentown, Pa., and writing and editing for Rodale’s Organic Gardening magazine. She is currently a contributor to Mother Earth News and is at work on a collection of short stories.

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