For more than 35 years, author Sandra Brown has been cranking out bestselling novels with regularity, with nearly 70 New York Times bestsellers to her name.
To celebrate the release of her newest, "Seeing Red," Brown will appear at A Likely Story bookstore in Sykesville on Tuesday to discuss the book, her career and writing in general.
Brown said she loves having the opportunity to get away from her writing desk and meet fans of her work.
"I guess I'm a born storyteller," Brown said. "I love hearing the standard compliments like, 'Oh, your books always keep me up at night. I keep turning the pages. My housework and school work goes away when I'm reading your book.'"
Brown said the thing about meeting fans that's most satisfying is hearing their stories and learning about their passions. She said it's validating to hear that her work was able to get a reader through a difficult time. For her, these stories are just make-believe, she said, but for many of the readers, they can feel real.
Some of Brown's most popular novels include "Sting," "Mean Streak," "Friction," "Deadline" and "Rainwater." Her latest, "Seeing Red," follows the relationship between a television journalist and the estranged son of a man who came to fame as the subject of a photograph depicting him rescuing people from a bombing.
Brown said the idea for the story came about while thinking about the lives of the subjects in iconic photographs, like the men raising the flag at Iwo Jima, combined with the experience of her daughter living in Oklahoma City during the Oklahoma City bombing.
"I started thinking about what happens to people in such iconic photographs," Brown said. "Does it impact their lives at all? Does it impact them in a negative way or a positive way? What would it be like to live in that shadow?"
Brown said one of the biggest misconceptions people have about working as a writer is that they assume she has to wait for inspiration to strike before writing a story. She said being an author is much more of a real job than many assume it is.
"People think we wait and wait and wait and then write something down," Brown said. "I think most people don't have an idea how grueling and how taxing it is to sit for hours a day. When you're not inspired, you still have to make up stuff."
She said when she began writing, she quickly burned through the several book ideas she had worked on her entire life, and realized she still needed to come up with more concepts to keep up with her contract. She said the piece of advice that came in most helpful came from her father, who worked as an editorial writer for the Worcester Telegram.
"I called him and I told him that I told all of the stories I had and didn't know what to do next," Brown said. "He said 'This is when it gets hard. You have to start working to come up with something. Typically, you start writing and one sentence will lead to another and lead to another. Then, at least you've started.'"
Brown said she got her work ethic from her father and love of reading and storytelling from her mother who would read to her from before she could read herself. Unlike many authors who picked up the pen immediately, though, Brown said she didn't start writing until her late-20s.
Brown is best known for her thrillers, quick reads with well-drawn characters, regular plot twists and a massive reveal at the end. She said though she doesn't write to the market, she is aware of what audience expectations are when they pick up one of her novels.
"When they grab a Sandra Brown novel, they know there's going to be a set of characters they're invested in, and they're going to watch how their dynamic unfolds," brown said. "There's going to be action and twists and a big jaw-dropper at the end of the book. The key is to give audiences something that's the same but different every time."
Brown said it's not until she figures out what the central twist or reveal is that she feels like she's cracked a story. Until that point, she said, she feels she just has characters and sketches of ideas. Sometimes the reveal comes organically as she starts writing, while other times it's the first thing she knows when she sits down to write.
"I don't feel as though I create anything as much as I excavate," Brown said. "The story and those characters are there living a parallel life to mine, and their story is there. It's just up to me to bring it out and to find it."
Despite her success with her current work, Brown said she dreams of one day writing a sprawling multigenerational family saga, split over three books, with time skips between each entry. She said she's always loved these kinds of massive stories, but in today's market there's not as much of an appetite for lengthy, in-depth tales.
"People want the quick-moving kind of books where there's a surprise on every page and is full of action," Brown said. "The attention span of the audience has become shorter and shorter. We tell whole stories in 140 characters now on Twitter."
Despite this, she said she's not giving up on her idea, and just needs to find the right time to put it together. Brown said audiences can often be more unpredictable than creators thing.
"We didn't know people wanted 'Fifty Shades of Grey.' We didn't know they wanted 'Harry Potter,'" Brown said. "Every once in a while, lightning strikes and it's just brilliant and it brings in a whole lot of readers who ordinarily wouldn't have read a book. I always say, if you think you don't like reading, you're just reading the wrong thing."
If You Go
What: Sandra Brown author talk
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 15
Where: A Likely Story, 7566 Main St., Sykesville
Cost: $30 for reserved seating. Includes copy of the book,