Andrew Gross Interview about THE ONE MAN
Jon Jordan: Andrew, what was the genesis of Nathan Blum and the story you’ve told with him?
Andrew Gross: My father-in-law came to this country in April of 1939, six months before the war. He never knew the fates of any of his family. As it turned out, he was the only one in his entire family to survive.
He never talked about his life back in Poland. My wife knew nothing of her family history, even of her own grandparents. Like a lot of survivors, he carried a mantle of sadness and guilt around with him his whole life, never sharing what it was from. During the war he signed up to fight for his new country, and because of his facility with languages, he was placed in the OSS. To his death, he never divulged a word of what his role was there either. What I carried with me for many years was to write the story he would tell.
The rest of the story evolved from looking into his life and coming across the story of Lvov in WWII, once the third largest Jewish population in Poland. In 1941, the Nazi’s “purified” the university, killing hundreds of respected professors, intellectuals and artists. From there it wasn’t such a leap to wonder, what if one of them took some indispensable and vital knowledge to the grave, say a philosopher or an atomic scientist perhaps, who’s vision could alter the world, or at least the war. That’s where the idea behind Alfred came from.
Jon: This book feels like a bit of a departure for obvious reasons. Was there more research involved with a book set during World War 2?
Andrew: It’s a complete departure—in subject, setting and style. I wanted to tell A different kind of story and I knew it required a new style, more character driven and atmospheric with a higher level of detail—to go with it. And yes, while I had been to Auschwitz and Yad Vashem as a kid, I poured through about twenty books and memoirs still sitting on my office table: on the camp, Jewish life in pre war Poland, FDR and the Jews, atomic science and even chess. As a suburban thriller writer, you can always wing something in a pinmch and call it fiction. With the Holocaust, as Jew, it’s sacred ground, and there is no playing with fact for entertainment purposes.
Jon: The nature of fiction and storytelling usually involving bending fact sometimes to make a story work. How much of THE ONE MAN is based on fact and how much is your imagination? Ah, a similar question.
Andrew: Everything about the book, save the characters and the central hook that the U.S. sent an agent into Auschwitz, everything in the book is based on fact, or some similar precedent that took place. In fact, a British POW named Dennis Avey, actually snuck into Auschwitz for a day to experience life there, by trading uniforms with a prisoner. The few occasions where I felt I had to bed the truth are contained in the Author’s Note at the end.
Jon: Reading this book I took my time as the subject matter kind of needed to sink in and it also stuck with me well after finishing. Has Nathan stuck around for you at all?
Andrew: Of course. As I said, he was built off my father in law. I set out to write a book about the guilt and shame of surviving. After being read a few chapters it seemed to hit home with him as well as he took my wife’s hand and said, “Stop. I think there are a few things I need to talk to you about.” He then spoke about his family for the first time. In addition, Alfred and Leo are both characters as their author, you don’t soon forget. In many way, I think the most distinguishable and meaningful characters are sometimes the supporting actors.
Jon: Is this a book you would have been able to write years ago or did it take the other fourteen novels to get you here?
Andrew: A good question. Writing is one, an act of continuous improvement to me—both in terms of style and depth, and two, the more you work, which is an act of pulling things out of yourself, the more you become wise. So, yes, I think y mindset at an earlier stage of career could not have produced this book. Like anything, it’s all part of a journey. If it happened sooner, I don’t think you would have found it as good.
Jon: What is your favorite part of being an author?
Andrew: The commute. Actually, it’s the freedom of lifestyle, after being bound to an office or managing people for so long earlier on. But in terms of the craft, it’s absolutely the act of creation every day, a place to come to and feel safe, of turning nothing into something, and occasionally, ver As promised:
occasionally, feeling like I’ve done something really worthwhile.
Jon: Have your writing habits changed over the years?
Andrew: Not so much. I always wrote 3-5 page chapters, tho this book breaks that mold. So a book to me was eighty chapters and I planned to write a chapter a day, first looping back, of course, to yesterday’s, which invariably needs much more work than I expected. I outline heavily in advance—learned it from Patterson– so I always have a feel for what I’m going to work on. Though I let chapters linger in this book and not concern myself so much with pace—tho it happens naturally, it still is fundamentally the same process day to day.
THE ONE MAN hits stores on Aug 23rd !