In 1979, Sandra Brown lost her job at a television program and decided to give writing a try. She bought an armful of romance novels and writing books, set up a typewriter on a card table and wrote her first novel. Harlequin passed but Dell bit, and Brown was off and writing, publishing her works under an assortment of pseudonyms.
From such modest beginnings, Brown has evolved into multimillion publishing empire of one, the CEO of her own literary brand; she towers over the landscape of romantic fiction. Brown has used her growing clout to insist her publishers drop the bosom-and-biceps covers and has added more intricate subplots, suspense, and even unhappy endings to her work. The result: A near-constant presence on The New York Times bestsellers list. In 1992, she had three on the list at the same time, joining that exclusive club of Stephen King, Tom Clancy, J. K. Rowling, and Danielle Steel.
Her work in the mainstream realm has taken her readers into The White House, where the president's newborn dies mysteriously; the oil fields and bedrooms of a Dallas-like family dynasty; and the sexual complications surrounding an investigation into an evangelist's murder. Such inventions have made her a distinct presence in a crowded genre.
"Brown is perhaps best known now for her longer novels of romantic suspense. The basic outline for these stories has passionate love, lust, and violence playing out against a background of unraveling secrets and skeletons jumping out of family closets," wrote Barbara E. Kemp in the book Twentieth-Century Romance & Historical Writers . Kemp also praises Brown's sharp dialogue and richly detailed characters. "However, her greatest key to success is probably that she invites her readers into a fantasy world of passion, intrigue, and danger," she wrote. "They too can face the moral and emotional dilemmas of the heroine, safe in the knowledge that justice and love will prevail."
Critics give her points for nimble storytelling but are cooler to her "serviceable prose," in the words of one Publishers Weekly reviewer. Still, when writing a crack page-turner, the plot's the thing. A 1992 New York Times review placed Brown among a group of a writers "who have mastered the art of the slow tease."
Staggeringly prolific, Brown found her writing pace ground to a halt when she was given a different assignment. A magazine had asked her for an autobiographical piece, and it took her months to complete. Her life in the suburbs, though personally fulfilling, was nonetheless blander than fiction. That may be why she dives into her fiction writing with such workhorse gusto. "I love being the bad guy," she told Publishers Weekly in 1995, "simply because I was always so responsible, so predictable growing up. I made straight A's and never got into any trouble, and I still impose those standards on myself. So writing is my chance to escape and become the sleaziest, scummiest role."
When she started writing, her goal was always to break out of the parameters of romance. After about 45 romances, the woman who counts Tennessee Williams and Taylor Caldwell among her influences told The New York Times that felt she had reached a plateau. In fact, she doesn't even look at her books as romances anymore. "I think of my books now as suspense novels, usually with a love story incorporated," she said. "They're absolutely a lot harder to write than romances. They take more plotting and real character development. Each book is a stretch for me, and I try something interesting each time that males will like as well as women."
Good to Know
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Her first pen name, Rachel Ryan, combines the first names of her children.
She met her husband, Michael, when she was 19 and working for the summer at Six Flags Over America as a dancer. For their 26th wedding anniversary, he gave her pair of Texas Longhorn steers named Bubba and Bowie.
In 1997, a Russian publishing house paid Brown what was believed to be the largest advance to an American writer, $45,000 for the rights to distribute Fat Tuesday.
Brown says that some of her books feature recurring characters and should be enjoyed in a specific order. She doesn't, however, have any plans for further series. For those who don't already know, the existing series books and the order they should be read are:
- Sunset Embrace before Another Dawn
- Led Astray before The Devil's Own
- Breakfast in Bed before Send No Flowers
- Fanatic before Adam's Fall
- Texas!Lucky before Texas!Chase before Texas!Sage
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In 2002, Sandra Brown answered some of our questions for Meet the Writers.
What is the book that most influenced your life, and why?
Magnificent Obsession by Lloyd C. Douglas
It touches on Christianity, and an unusual love story. One of self
sacrifice, devotion, etc.
What are your ten favorite books, and why?
- Mila 18 - Leon Uris. The best novel I've ever read. It's one of the most compelling,
poetic, moving and enlightening. It details a very tragic period with the Warsaw uprising.
- The Flame and the Flower - Kathleen Woodiwiss. Has endearing characters. It's also one of the
most romantic stories ever written. Pure fantasy that every woman would
want to live.
- Magnificent Obsession - Lloyd C. Douglas. As stated above.
- The Assassin - Evelyn Anthony. Intriguing mystery -- a wonderful plot.
- Watchers - Dean Koontz. Incredible plot as only Dean Koontz can do. I fell in love with
- The President's Lady - Irving Stone. Marvelous love story about Rachel Jackson. In fact, I named my daughter Rachel in honor of this wonderful lady.
- Testimony of Two Men and The Captains and the Kings - Taylor Caldwell. Both family sagas
that make me wish that this genre was still popular. I wanted to grow up to
be a writer like Taylor Caldwell.
- Rainbow Season - Candace Camp. One of the most human love stories. It's got the bad-boy-turns-good theme that all romance lovers love.
- To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee. It's presumptive to even explain why To Kill a Mockingbird is a favorite book.
- An Officer and a Gentleman
- Doctor Zhivago
- Roman Holiday
- A Man and a Woman
- The Godfather
- Out of Africa
- The Way We Were
Classic Rock, Country & Western, Show Music, and Classical.
If you had a book club, what would it be reading – and why?
All Over But the Shoutin' by Rick Bragg and The Bottoms by Joe R. Lansdale -- Both of these books are heart-felt and human. For laughs -- Carl Hiaasen and Kinky
Friedman. For history -- John Jakes.
What else do you want your readers to know? Likes and dislikes, hobbies...whatever comes to mind.
I came to write after several mini careers. I did
live theatre, managed a
cosmetics store and was a local television personality. Writing was
something I'd always wanted to do and when I was fired from my job at the TV
station, I ran out of excuses for not giving it a try. I set up a card
table in my spare bedroom with two toddlers under foot. For several years
the rule was "don't bother Mommie unless it involves smoke or blood."
I remember personally what I was doing on May 23 when I learned Mirror Image had become a New York Times bestseller. Now, 50 bestsellers later, I
still get that same thrill.
My husband and I love to travel. My favorite activities are getting
together with my children and their spouses, and my two golden retrievers --
Lucky and Chase (named after the brothers in Texas! trilogy). My family
and I love movies and the theatre. We enjoy working out, biking, and the
beach. I'm happiest when I'm writing or when I'm with my family.
In the summer of 2004, we asked authors featured in Meet the Writers to give us a list of their all-time favorite summer reads, and tell us what makes them just right for the season. Here's what Sandra Brown had to say:
Peyton Place by Grace Metalious -- Because I had to "sneak" read it on a
family vacation when it first came out.
Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann -- Possibly the ultimate beach
The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris -- I stay up later in the summer because of Daylight Savings Time, and this book keeps me wide awake with fear until dawn.
The Flame in the Flower by Kathleen Woodwiss -- Fantastic, romantic escapism.
The Wolf's Hour by Robert R. McCammon -- This is a werewolf every woman
wants to meet, and every man wants to be.
Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett -- Best spy story.
The Black Rose by Thomas Costain -- I read it first as a teenager and it's still one of the best historical adventure yarns.
Beaches by Iris Rainer -- For a good cry.
Jaws by Peter Benchley -- Still scares me and makes me wonder why I didn't vacation in the mountains instead of the seashore.
Slow Heat in Heaven -- Yes, it's mine, but it's still got all the ingredients that make a "beach book."
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|Sandra Brown Home
Good to Know
|Love Beyond Reason, 1981|
|Love's Encore, 1981|
|A Treasure Worth Seeking, 1982|
|Eloquent Silence, 1982|
|Hidden Fires, 1982|
|Seduction by Design, 1982|
|The Silken Web, 1982|
|Tomorrow's Promise, 1983|
|A Kiss Remembered, 1983|
|A Secret Splendor, 1983|
|Breakfast in Bed, 1983|
|Heaven's Price, 1983|
|Prime Time, 1983|
|Shadows of Yesterday, 1983|
|Tempest in Eden, 1983|
|Temptation's Kiss, 1983|
|Tomorrow's Promise, 1983|
|Bittersweet Rain, 1984|
|In a Class by Itself, 1984|
|Send No Flowers, 1984|
|Tiger Prince, 1984|
|Another Dawn, 1985|
|Led Astray, 1985|
|Riley in the Morning, 1985|
|Sunset Embrace, 1985|
|Sweet Anger, 1985|
|Thursday's Child, 1985|
|Above and Beyond, 1986|
|Honor Bound, 1986|
|The Rana Look, 1986|
|Demon Rumm, 1987|
|Fanta C, 1987|
|Sunny Chandler's Return, 1987|
|The Devil's Own, 1987|
|Two Alone, 1987|
|Adam's Fall, 1988|
|Hawk O'Toole's Hostage, 1988|
|Slow Heat in Heaven, 1988|
|Tidings of Great Joy, 1988|
|A Whole New Light, 1989|
|Long Time Coming, 1989|
|Temperatures Rising, 1989|
|The Thrill of Victory, 1989|
|Mirror Image, 1990|
|Texas! Lucky, 1990|
|Best Kept Secrets, 1991|
|Breath of Scandal, 1991|
|Texas! Chase, 1991|
|Texas! Sage, 1991|
|French Silk, 1992|
|The Silken Web, 1993|
|Where There's Smoke, 1993|
|The Witness, 1995|
|Fat Tuesday, 1997|
|The Switch, 2000|
|The Thrill of Victory, 2003|
|Not Even for Love, 2003|
|Hello, Darkness, 2003|
|Best Kept Secrets, 2003|
|Sunny Chandler's Return, 2003|
|Above and Beyond, 2004|
|Words of Silk, 2004|
|White Hot, 2004|
|Demon Rumm, 2004|
|Led Astray, 2005|
|Chill Factor, 2005|
|A Secret Splendor, 2006|
|Play Dirty, 2007|