National Book Festival

Sandra Brown
Thursday, September 22, 2005; 3:00 PM

Sandra Brown is the author of more than 65 published novels, including 55 New York Times bestsellers, including "Chill Factor," "White Hot" and "Where There's Smoke." Learn more about Brown's work at . She will be participating in the National Book Festival , organized and sponsored by the Library of Congress, on the National Mall on Saturday, Sept. 24 Her most recent novel is "Chill Factor" (Simon and Schuster, 2005).

Brown was online Thursday, Sept. 22, at 3 p.m. ET to discuss her novels and writing style and her appearance at the National Book Festival.


Falls Church, Va.: The introduction to this chat doesn't say what kind of books you write. How would you define your genre?

Sandra Brown: I would define it as romantic suspense. I had my roots in romance and then gradually over the course of many years, but especially since 1990, I've really gone more into suspense, even "Chill Factor" is what I would term a thriller.


Washington, D.C.: Over 65 novels. Where do you get the ideas (not to mention the energy)?

Sandra Brown: Well, about 40 of those books were the shorter genre books and they were written early in my career. For the last 18 years or so, I've only written one book a year.

In terms of where I get the ideas, they come from all different sources and for each book there's a story about how the story came about. But I'm attuned to topical items that are going on and I presume if they interest me, they'll interest my readers. Sometimes ideas come from current events. Other times a character will just step out of my subconscious and introduce himself and other times the idea just pops into my head and I have no clue where it comes from.


Harrisburg, Pa.: There is a Romance Writers group in central Pennsylvania. How easy or difficult is it to enter the world of romance writing and getting published? Are there growing or decreasing opportunities in the field?

Sandra Brown: Oh dear, I really don't know much about that anymore, but I think one good way to acquaint oneself in that market is to join writers groups and this is true not only for romance, but any genre. They can be extremely beneficial.

In fact, very early in my career before I was published, I was encouraged to attend a workshop and it was there that I made contacts that later proved to be of tremendous value to me -- I met agents, editors and other writers -- so friendships were formed and associations formed that are still important to me today, so that's a very good way to not only get feedback on your work but also to kind of get into a league of people with similar interests and ambitions and to kind of tap into the communication grapevine.


Philadelphia, Pa.: You became a writer because you had the time after losing your job. Another upcoming writer in these discussions left her job in order to write. I detect a pattern here. While you probably didn't have a choice over losing your job, do you think you could have broken into the world of being published had you continued working full time at another job?

Sandra Brown: Well, it certainly helped to have more time to which I could devote to writing. However, the job from which I was dismissed was part-time and my full-time job at that point in my life was being the mother of two toddlers. So I started writing when my family made great demands on my time. So I think is what is very important is that if one is driven to write then it's important to make time and it's every day... if it's two hours or 20 minutes... to set aside the time in which to do it.


Arlington, Va.: Have any of your books been turned into movies?

Sandra Brown: I had one book turned into a movie for ABC. It was called "French Silk" and it was in the mid-90s and I've had several others optioned, but for one reason or another they never were produced.

It's an unfulfilled ambition to have one of my novels turned into a feature film.


Boston, Mass.: Who are your favorite authors?

Sandra Brown: I read with such diversity that it's hard to specify one particular author. I love to read John Sanford, but I also read Tracy Chevalier's books -- and these have absolutely nothing in common. So one time I may be reading about a serial killer and the next about the court of King Edward II, so I really read across the board and it's hard to say who my favorite author is.


Washington DC: How do you define the difference between a suspense and a thriller? Is one faster paced or less character-driven than another?

Do you write each day for a specific amount of time, or for a set number of words? What is the secret to your success in completing a book a year?

Sandra Brown: I think that the individual asking the question already knows the difference between a suspense and a thriller. Thriller does indicate possibly a faster paced book. Suspense can be agonizingly slow, but it's that agonizing slowness that makes it so suspenseful, but I do think that to the publishing mind the term thriller would indicate probably more action and adventure possibly and that the pace would be a little bit uptempo.

I do try to write every day. I don't really set a word count or a page count anymore although I used to. I am a little bit kinder to myself and I think it's more important that you have the self discipline to sit down each day and write until your mind is beginning to get muddy with thought and sometimes I will work for four days on one scene and then at other times I'll write 18 pages and it will have gone very quickly, so it just really depends. But if I have a secret to my success, it's no secret at all -- you have to write, write, write. As far as I know whether you're writing your first of 66th book you can only put one word on paper at a time and at some point you've got to put in the time.


Washington, D.C.: I can't make it down to see you at the Book Festival. Will you be making any other appearances in the D.C. area in the near future?

Sandra Brown: No, none is scheduled at the time. I am doing Great Reads in the Park, sponsored by the New York Times and that's in Manhattan on Sunday, Oct. 2 -- a week from Sunday, and it's kind of a book festival to encourage reading and an appreciation of books and I'm on the mystery and thriller panel.


Harrisburg, Pa.: I don't expect you to give too many details, but would you please give us hints on what types of subject areas we may expect from your future works?

Sandra Brown: Well I can only talk about one book at a time. The next book is kind of in the film noir mode. It's set in Savannah, a city which I'm very familiar with and which I love, but I haven't set one of my mainstream novels there and this story just lent itself to that city.

It's about a homicide detective who becomes involved with a district judge's wife.

That's all I'm prepared to say. Use your imagination.


Silver Spring, Md.: How did you get started writing and what is your "ritual"? When do you write best?

Sandra Brown: I'm going to do a radio show in Silver Spring tomorrow!

Well I didn't actually start till I was 30 years old and it was an ambition I'd had for many years and my husband really dared me to stop talking about it and to sit down and do it. I didn't really know I had any talent for it, but once I began it was like all the lights came on. I knew without doubt that it was what I was supposed to do. And I love it and still love it.

I generally, because I started writing when my children were small I took advantage of the schoolday. So I still go to the office about 9 a.m. and do e-mail, correspondence and then try to get in 4 or 5 good hours of writing. But sometimes life interferes and I have to adjust that and go away somewhere and lock myself in a room so I can write without having to run errands.

I love sitting at the keyboard for hours on end playing make believe. My favorite day is when I can write for six or so hours without interruption.


Richmond, Va.: What advice would you give to a person trying to publish their first book?

Sandra Brown: It's really difficult now because I think it's absolutely mandatory that one have a literary agent representing their book to the publishers. Like a lot of the entertainment industry, it's gone the way of namebrands and publishers rely on their namebrand authors and so it's a little bit harder to break in than it once was.

However, and this is a huge however, they're always looking for the new Harry Potter or new Da Vinci Code -- the new publishing phenomenon. So the door isn't closed, it's just that the opening is a little more narrow than it would have been when publishers had a mid-list and would do smaller print runs for smaller authors.


Alexandria, VA: I am continually amazed at your writing and the volumn of books you've put out in your career. It's very motivating to me as an aspiring mystery writer. I wonder, how do you write your novels so quickly and proficiently?

I've been told that in the mystery field, it's easier right now to break into the market with stand-alone novels, versus a series. Do you agree with that assessment, or do you think it's wiser to write a series?

I'm looking forward to the Book Festival. Where can we find you there? Will you be speaking and/or signing at a specific time?

Sandra Brown: I have been asked several times if I would ever consider writing a series, but I think I would become very bored doing that and I very much admire the authors who are able to write a series and keep the character fresh and keep the character compelling to the reader. I think I would soon burn out of things I could have happen to that individual.

And I'm always ready to go on to the next story. I've been asked many times by readers who fell in love with one character or another, but it's not something that interests me at this point. That's not to say I wouldn't ever consider it.

And so I think in answer to this particular question, I would have to say that the writer has to do what feels right to him or her. If a particular character seizes hold and doesn't want to let go, I would say follow it. But I wouldn't write a series just because it is en vogue.

I will be speaking at 10 a.m. Saturday morning in the Mystery and Suspense tent, followed by a book signing and there will be signs directing people where to find particular authors.

It's a great event, by the way. I participated a couple of years ago and last year and it's just really fun for me because I get to meet authors I've had to admire from afar.


New York, N.Y.: I know this is not a question for you, but something I hope will be noted by organizers of book events. As someone who always attends the D.C. Book Festival and the New Yorker Book Festival (and I presume I am not the only one), it will be helpful if organizers could avoid scheduling them on the same day, as happened this year. This might also increase the selection of authors to attend these events, as presumably some had conflicts in choosing which event to attend.

Sandra Brown: Well, since I don't have any part in the scheduling it's hard for me to address this, but if I'm asked to fill out any kind of evaluation sheet for this event, then I'll certainly bring that to the planners' attention.


Washington, D.C.: Do you ever get stuck while writing a novel or does it all just come naturally now, after so much practice? I'm wondering what you might do to steer clear of writer's block?

Sandra Brown: Well, there's always points of the book where I become stuck and I just have to work through it. Sometimes it takes an hour, sometimes a lot longer.

I have found that the cure for writers block is to try to pretend it's not there and to put something on paper and typically, thankfully, usually, it will lead to another thought and I think that the worst thing one can do about a block is to give in to it.


Sandra Brown: I hope that everyone will consider attending the book festival. There is literally something there for everyone, whether they read non-fiction, science, children's books, mysteries, science fiction -- it just about covers the industry. So for anyone who wants an outing on Saturday, it really is a terrific event.


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