Sidney Sheldon's switch to novels from screenwriting came about almost by accident. He explains, "I had a story idea that was so introspective that you really had to know what the protagonist was thinking. I decided that the only way to write it was in the narrative form." Despite his fears of venturing into unknown territory, Sheldon wrote THE NAKED FACE, which he sold to William Morrow Company after being turned down by five different publishers. The book was a critical success and earned him an Edgar Award.
THE OTHER SIDE OF MIDNIGHT, Sheldon's second novel, was a huge hit and firmly established him as a best-selling author. His subsequent works, including A STRANGER IN THE MIRROR, BLOODLINE, RAGE OF ANGELS, MASTER OF THE GAME, IF TOMORROW COMES, WINDMILLS OF THE GODS, THE SANDS OF TIME, MEMORIES OF MIDNIGHT, THE DOOMSDAY CONSPIRACY, THE STARS SHINE DOWN, NOTHING LASTS FOREVER, MORNING, NOON & NIGHT, THE BEST LAID PLANS, and TELL ME YOUR DREAMS have soilidified his position as one of the top best-selling authors alive today. With over 300 million books in print, Sheldon's novels are published in 51 languages in 180 countries worldwide.
When asked to explain his universal appeal as an author, Sheldon reflects on a visit he recently paid to Morocco. "As my guide and I walked through the throngs of people in an outdoor souk, we noticed several groups clustered around various entertainers performing their acts. However, there was one fellow who really caught my attention. He was just sitting and talking quietly to the crowd which was seated around him. My guide informed me he was the village storyteller. And I thought to myself, That's what I am — the village storyteller — except I'm lucky enough to be able to tell my stories to millions of people around the world."
"I enjoy the challenge of writing novels more than any other type of writing I've done," reflects Sheldon. "As a novelist, I'm able to go into much greater detail than when writing a film or TV script. When you do a movie or television show, you have hundreds of collaborators. In my books, I can't rely on an actor's facial expressions and actions to bring my characters to life. I have to go into much greater depth and give them personal histories and emotional dimension, if they are to be believable. There are no set directors or movie cameras to supply the visual settings. My descriptions have to be more than 'Greece; twilight; a convent' I need to provide the word pictures which will flesh out and enhance the story's plot."
Researching each of his books in great detail, Sheldon often will spend a year of traveling in foreign countries, observing their customs and mapping out locales. "My wife, Alexandra, is an enormous help to me," Sheldon says. "She's a great photographer and her pictures are valuable reminders of the details of places we have been." Sheldon notes, "Accuracy and authenticity are very important to me in my novels, because a reader can always tell if an author is 'faking' it. If you read about one of my characters eating a meal in a restaurant in some exotic part of the world, you can bet that I've had that very meal in that same restaurant. Caring about details makes the difference between a fair book and a really good one."
Sheldon admits to working in an unusual way. When he begins a novel he has no plot in mind, only a central character (i.e. female criminal attorney). Dictating his first draft to his secretary, Sheldon works six days a week, from early morning to late dinner time. "As I begin to talk, the novel comes to life," states Sheldon. "I feel that the story is given to me — I don't know where it comes from, but when it starts to roll, the characters take over. They tell the story, and I just get swept along."
"It takes me several months to finish the first draft. My secretary types it, and I go back to page one and start rewriting. This version can number anywhere from 1000-2000 pages at a time, ripping all the scenes apart, getting rid of and creating new characters. Two months later that draft will be finished and I'll start all over again. I do that for 12-18 months, doing up to a dozen different rewrites. My publisher doesn't see a word until I bring him the final draft."
While Sheldon's sales figures keep climbing, he admits that the books get harder to write all the time. "Each of my novels has been doing about 25% better than the one before it," he observes. "But I don't like to take anything for granted. I feel a real responsibility to my readers. I don't want them to be disappointed. I want them to have the excitement of having read an adventure story that involved interesting characters — to enjoy reading my books and find each one a unique experience."