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Books

Sandra Brown Still Thrills With 77th Book, ‘Friction’

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Sandra Brown has been writing and publishing novels since the early 1980s. But her career began in a most unusual way.

“I got fired from my job,” she says with a long laugh. “I was working for the ABC affiliate in Dallas on a show called PM Magazine. It was a nationally syndicated show but one day they came through and fired all of our crew and said that they needed fresh faces. So I was left without anything to do. I had two children and a husband, and I loved all of that. But I started looking around for what I was going to do with the rest of my life and on a dare from husband, he said, ‘Well, you’ve always said that you wanted to write and now you have time and opportunity so you can keep talking about it, or you can actually do it.’”

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Credit Andrew Eccle
Sandra Brown

From there? Well, Brown knew that writing was going to be more than a hobby.

“When I began I did so with the goal of being published," Brown says. "I thought, ‘If I’m going to tell everybody that I’m doing this, then I can’t just dabble. I’ve got to approach it as a job and go to work every day like everybody else. And that’s what I did. It was really applying a lot of self-discipline because I had a household to run. I had children to take care of. I said, ‘This is my writing time.’ I set up a card table in the spare bedroom with a typewriter—that’s how long ago it was—and got a ream of paper and I just dived right in. Not really knowing that I could do it, but really know that I wanted to do it.”

Since 1981 the Texas native has written and published over 70 novels in both the romance and suspense genres and is consistently on the New York Times best-seller list. Her latest suspense volume, Friction, involves a Texas Ranger named Crawford Hunt, who’s involved in a complicated custody battle for his daughter and, along the way, finds other elements that complicate his life—including a romantic attraction that could upset the balance of everything. For Brown, writing about a Texas Ranger was a chance to fulfill a natural curiosity she’d had about an element of history from her home state.

“There’s so much lore and legend that surrounds them, so I thought it’d be interesting to write about one and put him in a very contemporary context and very contemporary scenario.”

You’ve got this tough cop with a Dirty Harry mentality. What would be the one thing that would be unexpected or would be such a contrast? I thought, 'Ah! A little girl!'

Brown’s books often begin with a character and from there she begins to assign a series of complications to the character’s life. In this case, Crawford Hunt was someone she knew she wanted to see work around challenges that worked against expectations of what a Texas Ranger would think and do and how he would feel.

“You’ve got this tough cop with a Dirty Harry mentality," Brown explains. "What would be the one thing that would be unexpected or would be such a contrast? I thought, ‘Ah! A little girl!’ So I gave him a five-year-old child, a daughter, with pink ballet slippers and glitter and fairy wings and the whole bit because I thought, ‘What a contrast. If he’s trying to get custody of a sweet little girl, and yet his job seems so incongruous to raising a little girl.’ So I put him in this custody battle and I thought, ‘Who can I pit against him?’ The judge was the perfect answer to that question. So I made her the heroine. So they have this incredible, kind of an antagonistic situation going on because she is holding his future in her hands and, at the same time, they have this very electric sexual attraction. Then they also have a common enemy that they’re trying to outrun. It really started with the character of Crawford, and then I gave him all these sets of problems.”

In the end, Brown says that writing suspense novels—and being good at it—comes down to reminding herself of one simple thing:

“I know something that the reader doesn’t know," Brown says. "And when I get an idea, like Crawford, and I start with all the problems I’m going to give him, all the conflicts, and all the trouble I’m going to get him into, I’ve got to know something—one thing—that the reader does not know. And when I get that one thing, that thread that pulls it all together, then I’ve got a story.”

That story, the core of Friction, has given Brown the latest in a series of well-received books. But did she anticipate, in 1981, that she would still be writing and publishing books well over 30 years later?

“No! I had ambitions, and I went at it with the view—with the goal—of being published but I remember distinctly going to a luncheon where I was introduced to an author who had published seven novels. And I was like ‘Oh my gosh! And I came home and I told my husband, ‘She’s written and published seven books. Can you imagine? Seven books! Now here I am 77 books later. And I’m so grateful and I realize how fortunate I’ve been.”

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Follow Jedd Beaudoin on Twitter @JeddBeaudoin

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