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By Milton C. Toby

It takes quite a while to download and print a comprehensive list of books written by Sandra Brown—70-plus novels and still counting.

Restrict the search to Brown’s bestsellers and the process goes a little faster, but not much, and the list remains a long one.  The prolific and popular author has been turning out books, good ones, for three decades, and there’s no sign that she’ll be letting up anytime soon.  That’s welcome news for her many fans.

“Retire?” Brown asked when the question of reducing her workload came up during a recent conversation. She sounded incredulous at the suggestion.  “Retire—and then do what?  There’s nothing I enjoy more than writing.  I can’t just cut back and relax.  I’ve never been able to do that.  I love to sit down and read a good book, but all my chores have to be done first.”

Brown’s latest literary “chore” is LOW PRESSURE, a contemporary thriller due for release this month from Grand Central Publishing.  LOW PRESSURE is the story of Bellamy Lyston, who was not yet a teenager when her older sister was killed on a storm-ravaged Memorial Day.  Two decades later, Bellamy has written a bestselling novel based on her sister’s murder.

The young woman wrote the novel using a pen name in deference to her family’s pain, but a tabloid reporter learns that the book is based on a true story and that the victim’s sister is the author.  Making matters worse, Bellamy becomes the target of an assailant who may want the truth about the murder kept under wraps or who may want revenge for a man wrongly accused and punished for the crime.

Brown got the idea for LOW PRESSURE from television coverage of the extensive tornado damage in the Midwest that occurred in Spring 2011.

“The book is fiction based on fact,” Brown explained. “I was seeing all the storm damage on television and I began to wonder what would happen if a murder had taken place just before the storm struck.   The devastation would make it very difficult to determine what actually happened to the victims.  The coroner might think one of the bodies was a victim of murder rather than the storm, but the storm damage would make it very difficult to gather evidence of the crime.”

LOW PRESSURE is the latest in a long line of thrillers authored by Brown, and like the others a radical departure from the romance novels that marked the early years of her career.  She made the switch from romance to thrillers some 20 years ago.  It was a risky change of direction that meant giving up a genre where the author already had built a solid reputation.

“It was a fork in the road for me,” Brown said of the genre switch, “and it was really scary.  Do I give up what was a very lucrative market and go in a totally different direction?  But there was no choice from a career standpoint.  I needed to move forward, and I wanted to widen my reader base.”

She lost some readers in the process, which she expected, but many of her fans went along for the ride.  The fact that she’s taken up residence on the bestseller list is a clear indication that the move was a successful one.  Surprisingly, however, the author’s phenomenal success has not reduced her anxiety about each new book.

“I still sweat bullets every time I turn a manuscript into my editor,” she said.  “Just inside my office door is a wall of fear that I have to climb over each day.  I’m always afraid that I won’t ever have another good idea for a story.”

Fears aside, Brown continues to embrace the challenges inherent in trying to turn ideas into books that will satisfy her old fans while bringing new ones into the fold.

“I always want to be challenged,” she said, “and every single book presents a new set of challenges.  I want to do something a little bit different in each book.  That on-going challenge keeps me on my toes and it keeps the readers interested.

“I hope the dyed-in-the-wool readers are surprised with every book.  I don’t want them to know what to expect.  That’s the job of a fiction writer, to come up with a new story each time.  I want something entirely different each time, which can be a challenge for my publishers because they don’t always know how to pigeon-hole the books.

“How to hook the new readers, that’s the real question for an author.  I never have any idea what the new readers want, the ones who are picking up a Sandra Brown book for the first time.  Some of most gratifying emails I get come from new readers who say that they’re just discovered my books, and that they love them.”

Brown’s string of bestsellers is a product of talent and years of hard work.  I wondered if there was something she knows now that she wishes she had known when she started writing, something that might have made the work a little easier.  Her answer, after some thought, was not at all what I expected.

“Looking back, I’d be a little easier on myself.  I was the mother of two toddlers when I started writing and I was patronized by some people: ‘Oh, you’re writing.  That’s so cute.’  I wanted to prove myself to the skeptics.  I was really driven those first few years and I got frazzled.  I shouldn’t have let that happen.  You need to relax a little bit, stop and take a deep breath, and have fun with the writing.”


Sandra Brown is the author of sixty New York Times bestsellers, including  RAINWATER (2010), TOUGH CUSTOMER (2010), SMASH CUT (2009), SMOKE SCREEN (2008), PLAY DIRTY (2007), RICOCHET (2006), CHILL FACTOR (2005), WHITE HOT (2004), HELLO, DARKNESS (2003), THE CRUSH (2002), ENVY (2001), THE SWITCH (2000), THE ALIBI (1999), UNSPEAKABLE (1998) and FAT TUESDAY (1997), all of which have jumped onto the Times bestseller list in the number one to five spot.

To learn more about Sandra, please visit her website.

Milton C. Toby