Message From The Author
SANDRA BROWN SHIFTS GEARS TO PEN A 'TWO-HANKIE'
DEPRESSION-ERA STORY ABOUT A SINGLE WORKING MOM
By Faygie Levy
"I don't believe a writer creates a story. The story is in there -- in their mind and heart -- and it's up to them to excavate it. This story was there; it just really wanted to be told at this time and made itself known to me."
So says bestselling author Sandra Brown about her new novel, Rainwater (Nov., Simon and Schuster), a Depression-era tale set in Texas that's about as far from a thriller as you can get.
"This story just kept insisting it be told.
So last year when I finished Smoke Screen
I figured I'd take two months and see if I could get a rough draft done. I didn't know
if I would be able to complete this story or if I would want to."
She quickly discovered that she definitely wanted to finish her story. "The times during the year when I couldn't work on it ... I would miss it. I finished it in March of this year and sent it to my agent."
Rainwater tells the story of Ella Barron, a single mother whose 10-year-old son is "challenged" and doesn't seem to communicate with others. To support her family, Ella runs a boardinghouse and takes in a boarder named Mr. Rainwater. "Everything pivots from that," says Brown of her "poignant ... two-hankie read."
"It's a very different kind of book. It's not a thriller by any means. It's set in 1934, in Texas, during the worst days of the Depression, and it's just a quiet, simple little story," says Brown. "But I'm hoping it will have tremendous impact on the readers.
It certainly does on me. I love this book."
The inspiration for the story came from a tale Brown's father recounted of his own childhood. When he was 8, his own father, a dairy farmer, got into a standoff with armed federal agents who demanded that he pour out the surplus milk he couldn't sell to distributors. "He said, there are hungry people,
and no way am I going to waste this milk," Brown recounts. "The agents finally backed down, and my grandfather gave away the milk
he couldn't sell." That story "fired my imagination," she notes. "It's that backdrop, that climate in which the story is set."
Brown's fans know that one of the many things she does exceptionally well is use setting and place, and sometimes even the weather, to add depth and character to her stories.
"I do think that in a way, they should be another character," she says of the plot elements. "Sometimes it may have nothing whatsoever to do with the story, and sometimes it's a very pertinent part of the story. In Chill Factor I had to create the sensation of being so cold, and one of my sisters read it -- it was summertime -- and she said she was freezing. Someone else said I do heat really well, and I said 'I live in the South, and I know how [sometimes] you can't breathe it's so hot.' "
Sweltering heat is part of the backdrop of Rainwater, as Ella toils in her kitchen in the pre-air conditioning days of old. Ella "is a working woman, more independent than other women because she has to support her house and raise this child and be self-sufficient. But the role is traditional. She cooks, cleans and washes [clothes] not just for her family but for her livelihood."
Because the kitchen is where much of the action is set, Brown says the book has a lot of food references. Does that mean Brown herself is a cook? With a laugh Brown replies, "Oh, goodness no. ... I don't fancy myself
a cook at all. I love recipe books and cookbooks, I love to go through them and look at them and I love food, but I'm not an experimental cook by any stretch."
Next on the horizon is her 2010 summer thriller -- a spinoff of this year's bestselling Smash Cut, featuring Dodge Hanley. This is the first time she's having a character from a suspense novel reappear in another book. Of Dodge, Brown says, "I just laughed at everything he said. He's such a burnout, so cynical and caustic, and I wondered what made him that way." Dodge's book will intertwine the events from 30 years ago that made him who he is and the present-day storyline.
And while readers are waiting for that book to come out they may want to sample the writing of another member of the Brown family. Sandra's son, Ryan, will release his first book, Play Dead, this spring, and he's already signed a contract for book two. Brown, who is also a grandmother of three young boys, says she was so excited when she learned of Ryan's book deal, in part because of his work ethic.
"He worked very hard on it for 2H years." Brown says, noting she gave him the same advice she gives all aspiring writers: "It's important for you to network with other beginning writers, to go
to lectures and seminars and go join classes and critique groups," but at some point, you have to "push up your sleeves, go into a room for months and write. No one wants to hear that."
With 73 published titles, no one doubts that Brown follows her own advice on that score. And readers are all the richer for it.
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