With over sixty novels under her belt and a rumored fifty million books in circulation around the world, Sandra Brown is one of the most recognizable best-selling authors on the planet.
Her latest book, Outfox, is an unputdownable psychological thriller that follows FBI agent Drex Easton as he tries to track down a notorious conman who, to date, has swindled eight women out of their fortunes, before disappearing them altogether. Eventually, Drex locks onto a charming middle-aged man named Jasper Ford, who recently wed a successful businesswoman, Talia. Posing as their new neighbor, Drex goes undercover to get close enough to the couple to expose and stop Ford, but things take a complicated turn when the FBI agent begins to fall for the man’s wife, who may or may not be Ford’s accomplice . . .
With time running out, Drex must figure out how to outsmart his opponent, and stay one step ahead of him before he can kill again—then vanish forever.
Just ahead of her highly-anticipated release, Brown agreed to go on the record for our Five Questions segment, and I asked her about everything from how she came up with the story idea for this one to what advice she has for new or aspiring writers. See her answers to those questions and more below, then click here to order your copy of Outfox, in stores everywhere on Tuesday, August 6th.
TRBS: I really loved this book, and think it is some of your finest work yet. How did you come up with the story idea for Outfox?
BROWN: “I’d seen a TV news story about a serial conman who’d finally been run aground by the FBI. He’d been rooking people out of fortunes for years, but had cleverly escaped capture. Within weeks of that story, I heard another about a woman who had done the same. She ruthlessly killed her victims, yet evaded capture by changing her appearance. While their misdeeds were despicable, I admit to being intrigued by these criminals. My mind started spinning, playing ‘What if…?’, and it occurred to me that it would take an equal or better con to catch one. Gradually my central characters – Drex, Talia, and Jasper – introduced themselves to me, and what had been an idea began to take the shape of a story.”
TRBS: What kind of research did you have to do before actually sitting down to write this one?
BROWN: “Using something as generic as ‘famous conmen’ I searched the Internet for stories of other such conmen and women, some of which have yet to be captured. As I read account after account, two things stood out. One, the gullibility of the victims. How could one not see through these creeps? And, secondly, how audacious the perpetrators are.
“Ted Bundy was the classic, of course. My research corresponded with the thirty-year anniversary of his execution, which generated several docudramas about him. Like it or not, he was fascinating. After watching these histories of him, I remarked to someone that he would adore all this post-mortem attention. He would bask in it. He was brilliant, charming, handsome, persuasive, and had a colossal ego. Characterizing Jasper, I tried to distinguish to my own satisfaction, the difference between a psychopath and a sociopath. Even among experts, the lines between them are blurred, and often the terms are used interchangeably.
“Generally, the sociopath has a sense of entitlement. They see themselves as superior, so the rules of God or society don’t apply to them. They scorn us ordinary slobs, who don’t even know just how inferior we are. Consequently, Drex’s parting words to Jasper were the most crushing, belittling, humiliating thing he could possibly have said. To Jasper, being perceived as ordinary would be anathema.”
TRBS: What is your writing process like, and do you have any advice for new or aspiring authors?
BROWN: “I spin an idea until it lets me know it wants to be a story. Some ideas don’t. I know those legal tablet pages of handwritten notes, questions, squiggles, arrows, and underlines want to be a story when I get the ‘ah-ha!’ And that’s defined as the – often very elusive – element that brings everything together, that gives cohesion to the unattached scenes and snippets of dialogue. It’s the first question I plant in the reader’s mind, and the last one I answer. It’s the ONE THING I know that the reader doesn’t. Sometimes the protagonist is in on the secret, sometimes not. But I’m the secret keeper, and I try to withhold it from the reader for as long as possible.
“After I get that, I build in several turning points in the plot that sink the characters into deeper doo-doo. I devise flips that hopefully will keep the reader flipping pages. But some of the best surprises, I don’t see coming until they happen! Those occasions are rare and wonderful. For instance, I wrote the first chapter of OUTFOX just to see what would happen. At the end of it, I learned, as Drex did, that my heroine was married to the villain. Shocked the heck out of me! Until then, I didn’t know exactly how Talia was going to fit into the story. Of course it was the worse possible conflict, especially if Drex developed the hots for her, so I ran with it.
“So, do I work from a detailed outline? No. I know where I’m going, but I don’t know how I’m going to get there. I enjoy the spontaneity, although it’s like perching on the end of the high-dive each day. Often the characters figure out what comes next ahead of me. They’re smarter than I am.
“My advice for aspiring writers would be to READ READ READ and WRITE WRITE WRITE. I don’t know any shortcuts from putting words on paper, one at a time, day in and day out. One may look at the book jacket photo and think, “That writer leads such a glamourous life. I want to do that.” But except for that one day of the year when the picture is taken, the other 364 are spent wrestling with words, browbeating characters who’ve turned mute and lazy, and seeking an escape route for a storyline that’s come to a dead end. Before undertaking to write, one should ask himself how hard he wants to work. Writing isn’t for sissies.”
TRBS: Who are some of your favorite authors, and what was the last really great book that you read?
BROWN: “I loved Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan. Another that’s had real staying power with me is A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. In the nonfiction list would be Rocket Men by Robert Kurson. Even knowing the outcome of that Apollo Eight mission, I was on the edge of my seat. And the astronauts’ Christmas Eve message to the world still raises goosebumps.”
TRBS: Lastly, what’s next for you now that Outfox is finally set to hit bookstores?
BROWN: “Well, no rest for the wicked! I’m making those handwritten notes on my legal pad, scribbling down possible character names as they come to me, asking those as-yet-unseen characters to let me have a peek at them, and let me in on their story. I never feel as though I create anything. The story is already there, waiting for me to tell it.”
Praised as “One of the hardest working, most thoughtful, and fairest reviewers out there” by #1 New York Times bestselling author Lisa Scottoline, Ryan Steck has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). Steck also works full-time as a freelance editor and pens a monthly thriller column for CrimeReads. For more information, be sure to follow him on Twitter and Facebook. He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children.