Sandra Brown is the New York Times bestselling author of more than 70 novels and is the indubitable champion of the romance/suspense genre. Mean Streak will be published on August 19, 2014.
Sandra, congratulations on the publication of Mean Streak, the latest novel in your staggeringly prolific career. Do you still feel the same buzz of excitement now as you did when you first started out?
Oh, I still get the buzz — several buzzes, in fact. There’s the one I get when an idea becomes a story. It’s that ah-ha moment when seemingly unrelated elements coalesce. Then there’s the buzz I get when my editor accepts the final manuscript. The more she likes it, the greater the buzz! I get another when I see the finished product actually being read. If I feel the moment is right, I go up and introduce myself to the reader. Other times, knowing that I wrote what he/she is reading is a delicious secret I keep to myself.
There’s a line of thought that suggests there are only a certain number of basic plots in literature, and that any story is merely a variation on these, but if that was the case, you’d have surely used up every variation over the course of your career. How do you keep yourself invigorated and your plots fresh?
Perhaps there are a limited number of plots, and every book is a variation, but if five writers (or 500) were given a basic plot and told to write a story using it, you’d wind up with five (or 500) different characters, settings and stories. A man named Joseph Campbell wrote a book called The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Campbell’s theory, which is widely accepted by book and script writers, is that there are characteristics common to fiction heroes and to storytelling. Mankind’s earliest myths told over campfires and this week’s #1 bestselling novel share the basic elements of good fiction. Actually 1000 is an extremely conservative estimate of how many variations there are to these classic themes! How do I keep the work from getting tiresome both for myself and for my readers? With each book I incorporate something I’ve never done before. In Deadline, rather than making the reader slog through pages of narrative to learn the backstory, I used the journal entries of a deceased character to impart the information. I kept them chronological but scattered them throughout the book so not to slow down the pacing. In Mean Streak, I didn’t reveal the hero’s name until ¾ of the way through the story. The reason for withholding his name became integral to the plot. Limited as to how I could refer to him — it was tricky to write, but the exercise forced me to be creative. Doing something different with each book keeps me on my toes. The plan is to always keep the reader guessing.