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Interview: June 17, 1997

June 17, 1997

On Tuesday, June 17, best-selling author Sandra Brown visited THE BOOK REPORT to discuss her latest novel, FAT TUESDAY, as well as the phenomenal writing career which has seen each of her novels become more successful than the last. TBR's BookpgLiz was our interviewer and BookpgZena our unflappable host.

BookpgXena: Hello, Ms. Brown and Liz. Welcome, and good evening!

Bookpg Liz: Good evening.

Sandra Brown: Hello. Thank you for having me.

Bookpg Liz: When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

Sandra Brown: I started writing when I got fired from my job in television. Deep down, it was always something that I really wanted to do. I was always an avid reader and admired stories that endured across centuries -- the feeling that what you have created was entertaining to so many people. When I no longer had a job, I had time to pursue this secret ambition.

Bookpg Liz: Was your first child's birth aired on the evening news? And did this experience impact on TEMPEST IN EDEN?

Sandra Brown: Actually, the birth was not on the air. The baby appeared on the air that night because five days prior to her birth, I was doing the weather. I went all through my pregancy on the air. When the baby was born, they shot her and put her on the air. The impact on my books? I can't honestly say. That was several years before I began writing.

Bookpg Liz: Pinkie Duvall, the villain in FAT TUESDAY is so wicked. Did you have a difficult time keeping him from taking over the book?

Sandra Brown: To some extent, your villains should take over the book because your book is only as strong as the villain. When I am creating a villain, I want him or her to be really evil -- a force to be reckoned with -- or my readers are not going to be afraid of the villain or care about the plight of the hero or heroine. If you are certain who will win at the end, you won't care about the book. The stronger the villain -- the better the story.

Question: I'm a great fan of yours, Sandra. I have all your books. Would you mind sharing with us some of your secrets of writing? Do you outline your novels or do you write by the seat of your pants? And, how much research do you do before you begin a new book?

Sandra Brown: I start with a basic story idea and I prepare a synopsis for my editor. I introduce the basic conflict and demonstrate how that conflict will progress and then I show how I will end it and what the crisis point is going to be. I don't do a scene-by-scene outline because I would have already written the book! Part of the thrill of writing for me is going to work and seeing what will happen next.

Question: What is your favorite book? And what is your favorite book that you have written?

Sandra Brown: My favorite book is a tough one, but a long time ago I read a book by Lloyd C. Douglas called MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION. I also love THE TESTIMONY OF TWO MEN. There are so many more! The favorite of my books... well, that would be like choosing my favorite child. I like different aspects of different books. I will say that the TEXAS TRILOGY books were a lot of fun to write. Most recently, I had a great time writing FAT TUESDAY --- a real adventure, a real mystery.

Bookpg Liz: Which of your books are slated to be movies and did you approve of the movie FRENCH SILK?

Sandra Brown: I approved of FRENCH SILK. Making a movie is always a great thing. A movie is a collaborative effort. It is never going to be pure, undiluted Sandra Brown. We just closed a deal with Reba McEntire and Universal to do EXCLUSIVE as a feature. I think she will be very good.

Question: Is it true that last year you allowed your home to be burned down for an episode of Walker, Texas Ranger?

Sandra Brown: Basically, yes! It was two years ago. We are in the new house now that was erected on the site of the old one.

Question: I'm curious as to why you have two different writing styles, one more like a Harlequin romance and the other, longer, more involved novels. For years I thought it was two different people with the same name.

Sandra Brown: The romances that are being reprinted now were written years ago. Those books are at least 10 years old. I started moving into more mainstream stories about a decade ago.

Question: What are you currently working on?

Sandra Brown: I am working on a book for next year, as yet untitled. You'll have to wait for more details than that!

Bookpg Liz: FAT TUESDAY and FRENCH SILK are both set in New Orleans. Is this a favorite city of yours?

Sandra Brown: Absolutely! I love the city, I love the ambience, I love the food. It is just rich for storytelling. The culture and language are so distinctive that you can really create a mood there.

Bookpg Liz: Some of your books have been re-released and the covers indicate that they have been updated. Are they steamier or tamed down and, if so, why?

Sandra Brown: The text is not changed. The publishers decided to change the covers. I think that they are trying to keep them more in tune with the current market.

Bookpg Liz: Why did you use different names in your earlier books and how did you decide on the names?

Sandra Brown: I used different names because I was writing with different publishers. With each house, I used a different name. I thought them up.

Question: What is the most satisfying part of writing?

Sandra Brown: When I meet a reader or receive a piece of mail telling me that a story has touched them in a special way. When they talk about the characters like they know them, when you know that you have really sparked that much emotion... you know that you have done your job well.

Question: Do you do anything to celebrate when you finish a novel?

Sandra Brown: Usually, my husband will take me out to dinner or we will go to our vacation house. I usually treat myself to something, although not always the same thing. I love facials. I love the spa.

Bookpg Liz: Have you considered writing another historical romance?

Sandra Brown: No, unfortunately, as much as I love the ones I wrote, I made a career decision after SLOW HEAT IN HEAVEN in 1988 that I needed to stick with one genre and I decided to stay contemporary. Not a decision I regret, moving into a mainstream market.

Question: Just love your books. Do you do a lot of travelling to do the research?

Sandra Brown: I do only as much research as is necessary. I, frankly, don't enjoy that part of the exercise. I hate reading a book and have an author beat me over the head with information that they researched. I want to be factual and have an air of authenticity, but I don't belabor the point. Anything that draws you out of the story is a distraction.

Bookpg Liz: Do you see yourself writing a different type of book? Is there another genre that's of interest to you?

Sandra Brown: No, I like what I am doing right now. That is not to say that one of these days I won't change. There is a story that sometime in my career I would tell a multi-generational saga. I have given a great deal of thought to it, but it is on the back burner.

Bookpg Liz: In your opinion, how has the romance genre progressed in the last 10 or 15 years?

Sandra Brown: I am a charter member of the Romance Writer's Association. I spoke at the convention last year. In the last 18 years, I and a large number of American writers, began to revolutionize the genre. We had much stronger heroes, the heroines were on much more equal footing. The evolution in the last 10 years -- I am not sure -- I haven't written it in that long.

Question: Where do you get your influence for your steamy love scenes?

Sandra Brown: You don't really expect me to answer that? You don't have to commit murder to write a murder mystery, do you?

Question: To whom did you give your first story to read for you?

Sandra Brown: I actually gave it to the owner of a bookstore, who in turn recommended it to an editor, who bought it.

Question: Where did you come up with the story idea for WITNESS? Was it based upon someone's personal event or something you read about in the papers?

Sandra Brown: Actually, I suppose that I was hearing stories about the hate groups and the secret militias and it interested me. I wrote the story and one month before it was to come out, we had the Oklahoma City bombing. It was eerie to me that the militias that were revealed were so similar to the characters in my book. I can't say that a specific incident influenced the writing of the story. I just made it up.

Question: How many hours a day do you usually write and is it hard to make yourself sit down every day to do it?

Sandra Brown: I coordinate my work schedule with the regular workday and there can be a lot of interruptions. My most productive time is from noon to five or six in the evening.

Question: Do you read romance authors? If so, which ones?

Sandra Brown: I read across the board. I read a lot of things. I read fiction and nonfiction. I read what I consider to be classic literature, but I will read a Stephen King too. Right now I am reading John Sandford's THE NIGHT CREW.

Bookpg Liz: I saw your new home under construction on the television show HAVEN. Are you going to do another interview with them, so we can see the finished product?

Sandra Brown: They filmed the finished house. It will be on in July.

Bookpg Liz: How does being a born-and-bred Texan influence your writing?

Sandra Brown: It has a great deal of influence because our state's history is so loaded with characters larger than life -- heroes AND bandits. When you grow up hearing these stories your whole life, it sort of rubs off. What a storyteller is, is a very good liar. Everyone knows Texans are very good liars.

Bookpg Liz: Do you want to tell us a little bit about your pets?

Sandra Brown: The steers? I have three Texas Longhorn steers. Their names are Bubba, Bowie, and Boudreaux. My husband gave them to me for our 27th wedding anniversary. I am the only one I know who has gotten steers for a wedding anniversary. They weigh 2000 pounds each, but they are very docile. They eat out of our hands. I love them.

Bookpg Liz: What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Sandra Brown: My advice is to read every single thing you can get your hands on and to write every day. Just like any other art form, writing has to be practiced.

Bookpg Liz: Ms. Brown, thank you for talking with us.

Sandra Brown: Thank you so much for having me. I really enjoyed it.