Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Wordcraft: Sandra Brown on writing

“I got started when I got fired from my job,” the woman on the podium at the DFW Writers Conference admitted.

It didn’t sound like the scenario for starting a successful career, but the speaker is Sandra Brown, who has more than sixty New York Times best-sellers to her credit and more than eighty million books in print.  When the Arlington, Texas, wife and mom lost her job as a local television journalist – “They fired the whole crew” – she needed something to fill her suddenly spare time.  And although she considered doing what her neighbors did – playing bridge or golf, or joining clubs – if it came to that, “I thought, just kill me now!”

She credits her parents with instilling her love of books, and her husband with the encouragement of buying, in those pre-computer days, an IBM Selectric typewriter.  Even with her new typewriter, success didn’t come overnight.  She published for ten years before having her first NYT best-seller.  But when it happened, “it changed my life.  It changed my career.”

Now forever entitled to the title “NYT best-selling author”, Brown further credited son Ryan, now a fellow writer, with pushing her to approach a customer they saw standing outside a mall bookstore holding one of her books.  “That’s a really good book,” she told him, at the instigation of Ryan, then a teenager.  “Have you read it?” the man asked Brown, whose face wasn’t yet widely-known.  She said she had – in fact, had written it – and signed it for him.

And then, she said, Ryan picked up a copy of The Firm and told the customer, “And I’m John Grisham.”  The quip may have been the start of Ryan’s later career as an actor but the customer, Brown confided, “is probably still in therapy.”

When asked for her writing secrets, Brown insisted that it was a matter of approaching writing as a job, a career, with the goal of writing to get published.  “You start by putting words on paper.  There’s no fairy dust.”

But it is, she closed, “the best job in the world because you get to lie for a living and you don’t  have to run for public office.”

(Brown says she bribed her children – toddlers when she began writing – to give her time to write by promising to put their names on every page of her book.  What suggestions do the rest of us have for making time to write?)

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