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Sandra Brown

Sandra Brown, who lives in Arlington, Texas, is a writer who has produced a long string of New York Times bestsellers.

Sandra started her career as a romance novelist, but over the past two decades, her specialty has become the fast-paced, contemporary thriller — crime fiction dealing in murder, corruption, betrayal, and steamy sexual intrigue.

RainwaterHowever, her new book, Rainwater (Simon & Schuster, $23.99), is something very different. It’s a story that was inspired by Sandra’s own family history. It is set in 1934, in rural, Depression-era Texas. And while there is indeed corruption and murder in Rainwater, there is also romance, courage and heartbreak. And in her title character, David Rainwater, Sandra has created one of her most memorable heroes.

Here is Sandra Brown, talking about Rainwater.

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When they were young: Sandra's paternal grandparents.

You have said that Rainwater is very close to your heart, and that it was inspired by Depression-era stories told in your family. What real-life experiences happened in your grandparents’ time that made you want to tell this tale?

 

In 1934, as part of the Federal Surplus Relief Corporation’s attempt to remove surplus commodities from the open market, independent dairy farmers were required to pour out the milk they couldn’t sell to dairies. My paternal grandfather refused to waste good milk when families in his community were starving. He’d been giving away his surplus milk to people in need. Federal agents showed up at his farm, and engaged in an armed standoff against my grandfather and some of my gun-toting relatives. However, without a shot ever being fired, the agents withdrew and my grandfather continued to give away his surplus. This made a distinct impression on my daddy, who was six years old at the time. He told this story to me, and it fired my imagination.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Sandra's new book was inspired by her father's family, who owned a dairy farm in Central Texas.

You’re always on a tight writing schedule, because you’re under contract to produce a book every year. How did you ever make the time to write Rainwater in addition to your other commitments? How long did it take you from the time you began writing?

 

This story insisted it be written. So when I finished SMOKE SCREEN, but before I began SMASH CUT, I gave myself two months in which to write the first draft of RAINWATER. I didn’t know where the story would go, exactly. I just began writing and let it unfold on its own. When I completed the first draft, I had to put is aside for months while I worked on SMASH CUT. Then, throughout the year, whenever I took a break from SMASH CUT, for instance when my editor was reading the first draft of it, I’d take out RAINWATER and work on it. It took a year to complete, working on it when I could. And when I couldn’t because of other obligations, I missed it!

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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On the farm: Sandra's paternal grandparents, later in life.

There’s a good deal of racial tension portrayed in Rainwater. Did you research how racial segregation affected ordinary people in small-town Texas during that era, 75 years ago?

 

Anyone who grew up anywhere in the United States during the past 75 years has experienced racial segregation on some level. Racial lines were definitely drawn in Central Texas during 1934 when RAINWATER is set. In the story I tried to remain true to the general mindset, from the viewpoint of both blacks and whites, while asserting that not all whites are bigots.

Autism plays a significant part in the plot of Rainwater, but it had not even been identified or named yet, in 1934. What did you learn about the historic treatment of autism? Were autistic children often institutionalized?

What’s really interesting: I didn’t know Solly was autistic until he pulled the pan of hot starch onto himself. I didn’t know he was going to be a special child in any way. When Ella, the doctor, and Mr. Rainwater burst into the kitchen to see what had caused the ruckus, there was Solly, shrieking. His autism came as a total surprise to me. Autism wasn’t given a name until the late forties. One of the characters in RAINWATER refers to Solly as “backward.” She says this to Ella’s face, and not unkindly. I believe that’s simply how Solly would have been regarded by people at that time. He would have been an object of pity. And, yes, most children with this condition were either committed to institutions or locked in the proverbial attic.

 

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Sandra Brown's father (right) as a boy, with his younger cousin.

What did you love about the conflicted character of Ella Barron?

Another interesting bit of trivia about the book: Until I’d finished the first draft and was reading back through it, I didn’t realize that I’d written every scene from Ella’s point of view. I suppose my subconscious knew, even if the thinking Sandra didn’t, that the story would be much more powerful this way. Ella is the character who grows and changes. At the end of the story, she has a totally different perspective on life than she did at the beginning. So it was important to chronicle her reactions to everything that happened, even to events that she didn’t personally experience but was only told about. What I also found interesting is that, as a single parent rearing a challenged child alone, the problems Ella faced weren’t that different from those of contemporary women in similar situations. For that reason, she’s very relatable to the reader.

Mr. Rainwater remains mysterious in some ways, right to the end, but you have obvious affection for this character. What did you like best about him?

I loved this character. That’s why I titled the book after him. He was the cataclysmic event in Ella’s life. He touched everyone with whom he can into contact, even the bully Conrad Ellis. Although he’s ailing, he’s the strongest character in the book. He has an inner strength that I envy.

Thanks so much, Sandra!

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ALSO: If you want to learn more about Rainwater, tune in to The Early Show on CBS on the morning of Monday, Nov. 9, to see Sandra’s interview. It is slated to air during the 8 a.m. hour of the show.

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