The Woman On Top

A few thing in life are certain—turkeys will be carved every fall, taxes will be due every spring, and Sandra Brown will publish a new best-seller every summer. With more than 70 million books in print, she is the most successful author in Texas. And (pant, pant, moan, sigh) the steamiest.
Photograph by Darren Braun

As I walked into her office, she rose elegantly from behind her desk. In heels, she was nearly six feet tall, her body slender but curvy. Her reddish hair with blond highlights was perfectly tousled, and her lean face contained both well-defined cheekbones and soft, full lips. She was wearing a silky beige top that was cut just low enough for me to catch a tantalizing glimpse of a bra strap, and her spectacularly long legs were covered in form-fitting linen slacks that accentuated her pert posterior.

Hello,” I said softly, my breath making a hissing sound as I inhaled through my teeth. For a moment, she stared back at me, her brown eyes unblinking, and I could not help but wonder if she too felt something stirring deep inside. Was she, perhaps, already fantasizing about me pushing my way hungrily toward her and pinning her to the desk with my bulging biceps?

But then Sandra Brown, the world-famous author whose blockbuster novels are filled with murder, deceit, suspense, and one steamy sex scene after another—in fact, most of the lines in the preceding two paragraphs could have been taken straight from her books—sighed and turned her attention to a couple of sentences she’d scribbled on a legal pad.

I’ve got only ten months before my next book is due and I don’t have a clue who my characters are going to be,” she said. “I don’t even have a plot.”

I blinked a few times, trying to snap out of my reverie. “What do you have so far?” I asked.

I want the book to begin with my heroine waking up in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

That’s it? You have no idea what’s going to happen next?”

She shook her head. “I have absolutely no idea, no idea at all.” Then, after a pause, she gave me a cheerful smile. “But at some point, I’m sure I’ll come up with something.”

She always does. Since 1981, the 59-year-old Brown has published 67 novels, 55 of which have made the New York Times’ best-seller list for fiction either in hardback or paperback—an incredible statistic that only a handful of authors, like Stephen King and Danielle Steel, have been able to match. Play Dirty, Brown’s sixty-eighth novel, will hit bookstores this month and undoubtedly make the Times’ best-seller list as well. Her publisher, Simon & Schuster, which pays her approximately $5 million for each of her novels, is so convinced Play Dirty will be a runaway success that it is publishing 650,000 copies—the largest first printing ever for a Brown novel.

Like all of Brown’s work, Play Dirty centers on a handsome but slightly flawed hero and a gorgeous but somewhat unfulfilled heroine. Its leading man is the muscle-rippling Griff Burkett, a former Dallas Cowboys quarterback who has just spent five years in federal prison for throwing a game. When Griff returns to Dallas, he is offered a small fortune by the wheelchair-bound owner of Dallas-based SunSouth Airlines to impregnate his new wife, Laura, a stewardess-turned-SunSouth-Airlines-executive. Initially, Griff and Laura have little chemistry. But Laura’s long-repressed sexual desire finally awakens after she gets a look at Griff
in his underwear. They kiss “wildly, recklessly, with abandon and without finesse.” Meanwhile, Griff is being stalked by his nemesis, the cruel Stanley Rodarte, who is willing to try just about anything to bring him down.

Needless to say, critics have always been unimpressed by Brown (for an example of how unimpressed, go to texasmonthly.com and read writer-at-large Mike Shea’s review of her 2001 thriller, Envy). They find her books to be chock-full of literary no-no’s: over-the-top characters, implausible (if not impossible) plot twists, lurid set pieces, redundant descriptions, mixed metaphors, and clichéd happy endings.

But none of this matters to Brown’s fans. Though she currently writes one novel per year (they come out in late summer, in time for beach vacation season), demand is great enough that publishers have started to re-release the bodice rippers she penned (often under a pseudonym) during her early years as a romance novelist. Brown is now one of a handful of authors who are regarded as masters of escapist American pop fiction. As Play Dirty is released in hardcover, Ricochet, her 2006 best-seller about a murder investigation involving the glamorous wife of a famous Georgia judge, is coming out in paperback with an initial printing of 1.5 million copies. Meanwhile, her number one best-seller, from 2005, Chill Factor, about a woman trapped in a mountain cabin with a dashing man who could be a serial killer, has, like many of her previous novels, been translated into at least thirty languages and shipped to bookstores around the world.

Was she, perhaps, already fantasizing about me pushing my way hungrily toward her and pinning her to the desk with my bulging biceps?

With more than 70 million copies of her books in print, Brown is quite possibly the most successful writer in Texas history. She’s a huge star in Japan and, for some reason, in Eastern Europe. Whenever she gives a speech or appears at a writers’ conference, hundreds of fans show up, clamoring for her autograph. Recently, she was on a cruise ship—the Queen Mary 2, of course—and a man from Romania called out her name and fell to his knees before her. “I’ve never been so embarrassed,” Brown told me.

She has a Midas touch,” says Michael Korda, the former editor in chief of Simon & Schuster who wooed Brown away from Warner Books in 2002. “And unlike, say, a Danielle Steel, she’s got enough edge in her writing to appeal to men. Believe me, she still has bigger books to come.”

Brown’s office is a converted two-story home with a sign out front that reads “ SBM Ltd.” (the abbreviation stands for Sandra Brown Management). It’s located on a busy commercial thoroughfare in Arlington not far from the mansion she shares with her husband, Michael, a documentary producer. She cranks out her books in an upstairs room filled with

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