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Living Through History

Gary Grossman straddles the line between fictional and actual history in his new book Red Hotel.

Melissa Byers

Witnessing the culmination of one of the world's most horrific plots got Gary Grossman thinking.

Grossman was a documentary producer and co-owner of Weller-Grossman Production, which worked a lot with the History Channel, when he and his partner were in a meeting that changed his outlook and his life.

"Robb Weller, my old business partner - we had Weller Grossman Productions, right across from the Academy - we were in New York, pitching things for History Channel. And I remember the day exactly. We had a conversation with History Channel and somebody in the meeting, not me, somebody in the meeting said, at the History Channel, 'Do you think we're running out of history?'

"Robb said, 'No, no, no, no, no. There will always be history, there'll be things to look at. History is happening every day.' And the reason I remember the date, because that meeting was on the afternoon of September 10th, 2001."

The following day, of course, was a dark day in American history. Grossman says, "So the next day we were scheduled to go to MSNBC which at that point was in Secaucus, New Jersey and we would have been taking the train right under the World Trade Center towers. Obviously, we did not do that.

"We got a car two days later out of Westchester County Airport. We were lucky enough to get a car. And we started driving back to Los Angeles.

"I began thinking about if that plot took seven to eight years to formulate since the previous World Trade Center bombing and attempt to bring it down, which was a bomb in the underground parking lot, what about a plot that might take 25 or 30 years?

"You make a TV show a hit or a miss in a week or a couple of weeks, movies the same way. The opening week, if it doesn't open well it evaporates. I used to be a rock DJ and if a song didn't land fast in the top 40 it could disappear. But to the rest of the world, particularly the Middle East, the crusades were yesterday.

"There's a current sense of history. So I began thinking about a plot that might take 30 or 40 years, and if so, what would be valuable enough. And I thought, well, it's the presidency itself as a target, as something to wait long enough to try to acquire for an agent.

"And while driving, we talked about a lot of things. We filed reports on the media while we were driving. We talked to the History Channel about the need to do a doc on the history of civil defense in the US. We did one and the times the United States had been attacked during war, including World War II attacks we had on the ground here.

"We did that, but Robb said, 'Geez, you ought to write a book someday.'

"Well, about nine months later I deposited a very large manuscript on his desk, and he said, 'What's this?' And I said, 'Oh, it's what you told me to do. It's a novel.'

"I had not told anybody at all that I was writing my first novel, because again this was 2001 through 2002. Even my wife, I didn't tell my wife that I was writing a novel."

That was Grossman's first novel, Executive Actions. In that novel, the wife of a rising politician is killed. Grossman, as all good writers do, had done a great deal of research for the book, which he never mentioned to his wife - until she found some of that research and confronted him.

Grossman says, "One day I came home and she was standing at the door with a folder, blue folder, full of research. And she said, 'Gary, do we have a problem?' And I said, 'No, why? what are you talking about?' She said, 'This,' and she put the folder down.

"We didn't even make it to the office, right on the table in the foyer and I looked at it and I opened it up and I said, 'Oh, this. Well, this ...' in the file were the research on poisons that would go undetected in a body unless an autopsy was really focused, and a coroner knew exactly what to look for. Sniper rifles good for 4 or 500 yards.

"And I said, 'Oh, I'm writing a book.' And she ... her arms were still folded. 'Cause here are ways to kill her, right? So I couldn't go to the computer fast enough, open up the file and do a word search for poisons and showed her exactly what I was doing, which was not trying to kill her.

"So that's really how I started and thanks to Robb, I got an agent who was partnered in Robb's wife's firm called Broadthink. It's a marketing company, and she hooked me up with the publisher who had first discovered Tom Clancy."

That first novel has expanded into a series of four. But that isn't the only idea Grossman had for a novel. His latest, Red Hotel, written with global executive Ed Fuller, will be released on March 19.

This is the first time Grossman has worked with another writer, and that came about in, as Grossman says, "a real L.A. story." He says, "I was walking my dogs one night and bumped into a fellow who lives a couple of blocks away who I know, who I'd done TV with in New York when I produced a show called Day's End for ABC.

"His name is Bruce Feirstein and he wrote the first three Pierce Brosnan James Bond movies. He was a neighbor; he's a great guy. And he said, 'I'm so glad I bumped into you. There's a friend of mine on a Boston University Board that is interested in co-writing a book. But he really needs somebody to work with him on it. His stories are amazing, and you should meet with him.'

"I go 'Well, okay. I've never worked with anybody, but who is he, what does he do?' Well, he just retired, Bruce told me, from Marriott Corporation. He was the president of Marriott International and I thought, 'Oh, gosh. What do I have in common with the former president of Marriott International? I write political thrillers, international thrillers.' And he said, 'Have the meeting. Meet with him.'

"Ed came over to the office and I met with Ed and it took me 30 seconds to hear enough that told me he was as much in the anti-terrorism business as much as the hotel business. His hotels were blown up in Jakarta, hotels blown up in Mumbai. He was getting on his plane out of Tripoli when Gaddafi fell. He was staying in Cairo at the fall of Mubarek.

"And I thought, 'What an interesting man.' And my first real question to him was, 'Who do you have on speed dial?' And when he told me, I said, 'Okay, we can work together.' Because his intelligence contacts were very, very deep, like Dan Riley's [the main character of Red Hotel].

"So we began plotting a novel based on the multi-color threat assessment code that he put into his hotels internationally. And so that part's real. And what I describe about those levels is all real. But we built a fictional story probably loosely related and probably saw the character Nikolai Gorshkov, [who]looks very similar to somebody currently in power.

"His name only changed at the last minute when the publisher said, 'Gary, we'd feel a little bit better if you changed his name.' And I said, 'I got it. No problem. I got it.' And the issue ultimately it leads to is Gorshkov, [who shares] Putin's desire to rebuild the satellite nations that had previously protected the Soviet Union, that gave them a buffer zone.

"They are now NATO nations, many of them, not all of them. And I thought, 'Okay, that's where we want to get to. How do we start?' And we start with a bombing and to a great extent I'm describing the bombing that took place in Jakarta, Indonesia with the truck bomb.

"And then the end part where there's the flower, the bomb hidden in the flower vase, that's also right out of Ed's experience, because they discovered that the florists in one of the bombings they had was a plant and the bombs were brought in through the florist. And I learned things like if the bomb sniffing dogs are not liable to smell the bombs if they're in a freezer or cold.

"So all those things come from Ed. And it was a great, great, great collaboration because not only did I have made up characters sitting next to me telling me where to go, I had a real person who was really there with all of the experiences or some of the experiences that he had including dealing with the cartel to negotiate with the cartel.

"Those really come from Ed Fuller's experience. And so I had that with him, and he had me, a storyteller and it's just a great collaboration."

Grossman's writing style reflects his other job in television.

He notes, "The writing style, jumping around, that's kind of the cinematic approach. I love James Bond movies, I loved the Bourne movies, but I'm a big believer, probably because of growing up my dad was in law enforcement, my mom was in politics this was upstate New York and I think I learned early on that it doesn't really come down to a superhero, as much as I love Superman too.

"It doesn't come down to a superspy, or a superhero who in the course of 90 minutes for a movie, or in the course of a book figures everything out. It really does come down to a team of people who share information, who try to evaluate what's real, what's not, what's worthy, what's important, what's not important, and that's where a lot of the things happening at different times really play, into the writing style."

The two are already working on a sequel, and Grossman is hoping that these books or his Executive series will eventually find their way to television or movie screens.

He says, "If only one of these books could take off as a movie series or a TV series, and I'm out pitching, and I hope that happens. I think the success of Jack Ryan a couple of months ago when it dropped on Netflix and Bosch on Amazon, I think they will help the Executive series and Red Hotel. We're going to be out pitching movie-wise, I think very shortly."

In the meantime, Grossman is busy promoting Red Hotel. He and his co-writer, Ed Fuller, will be talking with fans and signing copies of the book at Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena on March 21 at 7:00 p.m. For more information on the signing, click here.