When we caught up with Sandra Brown, she was just coming off of a long morning of telephone interviews. Still, despite the poking and prodding of nosy journalists, Sandra was a delight. Southern women do have a certain special charm --- and Brown embodies it. Stories about flashers at a recent trip to Mardi Gras and her 2,000-pound "pet" steers sound so much better in her mellifluous, Texan voice. So as you read, imagine warmth coming across in every word.
BOOK REPORT: So from everything I've read, you seem so normal, well-adjusted, well-married, happy. How do you manage to write about such evil characters, lewd sex, and such gory murders?
SANDRA BROWN: It must be my alter ego. I had four younger sisters. I was always the big sister and I still am. I think the oldest child is often vested with a lot of responsibility. I always wanted to please. I was on the honor roll, student council, everything. Having done the right thing and been the role model my whole life, I think of my writing as a release from my need-to-please. Writing about some of these nasty characters is a way for me to be nasty with impunity. I can get away with murder, literally. The people I know who live by the rules --- married, raise their kids, go to church --- have somewhat routine lives. There just isn't a lot of adventure there. And a good plot needs that adventure.
BOOK REPORT: So the evil is a necessary plot element. But what about your heroes and heroines?
SANDRA BROWN: I think of my characters as ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances. My heroes and heroines are basically normal people. My novels test their mettle. By the end, they've risen to the challenges and beat them. Someone once said to me that a book is only as strong as your villain. I need to create these totally scary and repugnant and nefarious villains to make my books interesting.
BOOK REPORT: In your new book, FAT TUESDAY, the villain, Pinky, is a well-to-do lawyer. Why create villains that, on the surface, are accepted in polite society?
SANDRA BROWN: The scariest villains are the ones that are invisible --- the people you least expect. In FAT TUESDAY, Pinky is a prominent lawyer. In EXCLUSIVE, the villains are these beautiful, successful, perfect people on the surface, but under the surface.... I think the scariest villains I've ever written about were in THE WITNESS. I wrote about an extremist hate group --- but they weren't skinheads or neo-nazis. They were normal members of the town --- the newspaper publisher, the police officers, the businessmen. Abuse of power is about as villainous as it can get.
BOOK REPORT: Earlier in your career, you were a model, and many of the women you write about (especially in FAT TUESDAY) are trapped by their beauty and circumstance. By the end of the book, they are finally recognized for something beyond their looks. Is this a conscious thought on your part?
SANDRA BROWN: I don't think I'm nearly as beautiful as Vanessa in EXCLUSIVE or Remy is FAT TUESDAY. Seriously, I don't know why I write about so many beautiful women. It's a glib answer, but it's the truth. Maybe it's not so much about beauty but about being recognized for what's beneath the surface. I write --- and care --- a lot about overcoming prejudices. People often immediately peg you for something you aren't based on superficialities. For me, it's my Texan accent. People hear me talk slowly and think, "Oh, she must be dumb."
BOOK REPORT: I know you've written a lot of books in a short period of time. How many is it and how do you do it?
SANDRA BROWN: I think I'm somewhere near 60. I've been writing since 1979 --- coming up on eighteen years. I do everything by computer.
BOOK REPORT: Writing that many books must wreak havoc on your nails.
SANDRA BROWN: No, I still have my nails! I can't type without my fingernails. When I type, it sounds like a mouse on a linoleum floor.
BOOK REPORT: How did you research FAT TUESDAY?
SANDRA BROWN: Although I've never lived in New Orleans, I've visited there frequently. I have several colleagues who are natives who help me out by telling me the best places to go and who to talk to. For FAT TUESDAY, I interviewed a police officer who had left the New Orleans Police Department under a shroud of scandal. He spoke very freely to me about corruption within the NOPD. My husband and I took a tour with a Cajun guide into the swamps. And in February, after I had finished writing FAT TUESDAY, we went to Mardi Gras. We got so many beads, we had to buy a new suitcase to carry them home!
BOOK REPORT: Now, we've heard all sorts of stories about what people will do to get those beads....
SANDRA BROWN: (Laughing) We didn't take any clothes off! Our hosts live right in the French Quarter, so we stood out on the balcony for days watching all the people go by. We had brought our son and his fraternity brother and our daughter and her boyfriend. All those handsome boys attracted a lot of women. We saw a lot of breasts.
BOOK REPORT: And your daughter?
SANDRA BROWN: My daughter attracted a lot of men. We saw a lot of everything else!
BOOK REPORT: On another vein, you're from the South and write about Southern characters. Ever considered moving out of the region in your books?
SANDRA BROWN: No. I think we have so much more to write about! It's what I know. It's where I'm comfortable. Every writer needs to develop a voice. Stephen King sticks in his neck of the woods --- so do I.
BOOK REPORT: Is there something particular to being Texan that aids your writing?
SANDRA BROWN: Perhaps being Texan automatically lends to telling stories and legends. We have a heritage of larger than life heroes and heroines. When you grow up with Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie, and the Alamo, it's hard not to have a vivid imagination.
BOOK REPORT: What is your work schedule like? Are you an early morning writer?
SANDRA BROWN: I'm not an early morning anything! And I usually work right through lunch. I get to the office at 9:30 or 10 and work for a couple of hours on office tasks and correspondence. I start writing around noon and write all afternoon. Three days a week, I work out with a trainer after writing. I love working out. It's like my reward.
BOOK REPORT: Tell us a little about your pets. I've heard they're a bit unusual.
SANDRA BROWN: We have three steers --- Texas Longhorns. They're 2,000 pounds a piece and have horn-span of 6 feet. We come right up near the fence and they eat out of our hands.
BOOK REPORT: Dare you share with us what you're working on now?
SANDRA BROWN: If I knew, I'd tell you! Today I start sending the new idea to my editor, so we'll see. I've been preoccupied lately --- we've been moving into a new house for the past two weeks. We've been building for two years on land we bought three years ago. We slept in the new house for the first time last Friday.
BOOK REPORT: Thank you, Sandra, for giving us so much of your time. It's been a pleasure.
SANDRA BROWN: Thank you for being interested!