By Jeff Ayers
The amazing Sandra Brown is the author of over sixty NEW YORK TIMES bestsellers. Writing professionally since 1981 she has published over seventy novels and has upwards of eighty million copies of her books in print worldwide. Her work has been translated into thirty-three languages. She holds an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Texas Christian University, and in 2008 she was named Thriller Master, the top award given by the International Thriller Writer’s Association. Other awards and commendations include the 2007 Texas Medal of Arts Award for Literature and the RWA’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
In her latest, DEADLINE, Dawson Scott is a well-respected journalist recently returned from Afghanistan and suffering from battle fatigue. But then he gets a call from a source within the FBI. A new development has come to light in a 40 year old story–a story that could be the biggest of Dawson’s career. Soon, Dawson is covering the disappearance and presumed murder of former Marine Jeremy Wesson, biological son of two terrorists. Then the case takes a stunning new turn, and haunted by his own demons, Dawson takes up the chase for the notorious outlaws. . .and the secret, startling truth about himself.
DEADLINE continues the amazing streak of thrilling reads from Sandra Brown, and she talked a bit about her latest work with The BIG THRILL.
What sparked the idea for DEADLINE?
Having gone to Afghanistan with three of the best military writers in the world, I never considered writing a book based on the USO trip in 2011. (Clive Cussler, Andrew Peterson, Mark Bowden, Kathy Reichs and I.) But when I began thinking of a plot, I remembered how many civilians our group met while we were there. It occurred to me that we hear a lot – sadly – about service members returning for the war zone with PTSD. But what about the civilians, whose lives are also at risk 24/7? That sparked the idea for Dawson Scott, my protagonist, who is a journalist for a news magazine. He’s been in AF for nine months covering the war. He returns home suffering from PTSD.
How did you research Afghanistan and the emotional effects of experiencing such a harsh environment?
I relied on my memory, and the recollections are vivid because the topography of AF made such an impact. One day, a bee stung me on the index finger, and it hurt like hell! One of the soldiers escorting us said, “Welcome to Afghanistan where everything wants to either sting you, bite you, or shoot you.” We laughed, but it’s not far from the truth. The terrain is one of the most hostile on the planet.
Regarding the PTSD, there is, unfortunately, a wealth of information on the symptoms, which vary among those who suffer from it. But one common symptom is the sufferer’s effort to hide the condition. In DEADLINE, Dawson doesn’t own up to his panic attacks, sleeplessness, and reliance on pills and alcohol. He’s trying to resume his life, but he’s finding it difficult. Especially when I subject him to the murder trial of a decorated Marine, fresh from AF.
With so many amazing books written, what are your steps to continue to grow as a writer plus motivate yourself to keep writing?
I’m my first reader and harshest critic. And because I believe that complacency spells ruin for a fiction writer, I challenge myself with each book to try something different, to inch out along the limb just a little bit farther. I try not to stick to what I know is safe. This keeps me from getting bored, and, hopefully, makes readers interested in buying the next book. I want them to expect the unexpected.
In DEADLINE, I had forty years of backstory to impart. Had I covered it in narrative, even I would have nodded off at the keyboard! Readers would have put the book down and never gone back to it. I had the idea of conveying that information, which was vital to the story, through the pages of a character’s diary. They’re the first thing I’ve ever written in first person. They are only seven of them. They’re short, never more than a few pages long, but they humanize that character for the reader and fill in a lot of history in an anecdotal way. That kept it from being tedious.
How do you mix romance and suspense so well?
The two elements – suspense and romance – are used to ramp up each other. I base this on the axiom that never does an individual feel more afraid or desperate than when a loved one is in danger. Fear intensifies – sometimes clarifies – every other emotion. So does love. If it’s written well, the characters find these emotions conflicting and foreign. They’re misunderstood, resented, and resisted. Until. . .saving the day and saving each other are equally imperative.
I’m plotting the next book. Presently it’s a skeletal idea that I hope will develop into a story. Not all ideas want to become a story. I hope this idea does because there’s some good meat attached to the skeleton.