The character is central

Sudhamahi Regunathan writes about how Sidney Sheldon made it big against all odds

Updated - May 21, 2015 08:25 pm IST

Published - May 21, 2015 08:23 pm IST

Author Sidney Sheldon

Author Sidney Sheldon

“It has become a superstition. Every time a book comes out, I go out and buy a copy,” says Sidney Sheldon, the well- known author who was so scared that his first book, “The Naked Face”, would not sell even one copy, that he went into a bookstore and bought one. Now he does it every time.

Born to parents who dropped out in third grade and whose father’s boast was, “I have never read a book in my life”, Sheldon says his childhood was, “…a very strange kind of atmosphere for someone who is going to become a writer.” This kind of explains why Sheldon was greatly into investing in education in his later years. Sheldon says America has too many illiterates and, “…we have 30 billion illiterate adult Americans who cannot read or write (year 2000), and then there are those at high school who cannot do math, cannot read… it is a disgrace. These people are going to be running the country, the world, one day. So it is a very important issue, we have to something about that. We have to change the education system. And if a child learns to read in kindergarten, it is too late…they have to learn at home, they have to be read to.”

Sheldon begun his writing career with poems, “I sold my first poem at the age of 10 to a children’s magazine called ‘Wee Wisdom’ and for some reason I always knew that I wanted to be writer,” says Sheldon. I wrote short stories and there were a lot of magazines that printed short stories, but not mine. Mine were always rejected. I got a scholarship to go to Northwestern and after few months had to leave (and take up a job) because the family needed the money.” Sheldon did all kinds of jobs to get the money home.

“I finally went to Hollywood and got a job as a reader. I could not get a job as a writer, no one would hire me. I got a job as a reader in Universal for $17 a week. I would get up at 4 in the morning and work on my own stories. I finally started selling them…” The first play he sold was called “And Suddenly it is Spring”, which movie goers will know as “The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer”. With that his story changed.

“The narrative way of writing is totally different from doing pictures or television or plays…they are similar. But when it comes to novels, it is much more detail,” says Sheldon. Asked about the inspiration for all the strong women characters in his novels, Sheldon says, “First, was my mother who got us through the terrible depression the whole country was in. She worked and supported us. She was the first role model.” Sheldon’s mother, though a drop out, was interested in reading and taught young Sheldon, “…the love of books. Then I was married to an actress called Jorja Curtright. She died. She was that way too. And now I am married to Alexandra. She is beautiful and talented….” No wonder Sheldon enjoyed writing the book, “One of the most exciting and the best time I had writing a book was ‘If Tomorrow Comes’ which portrays an ordinary woman who is framed by the Mafia and her subsequent quest for vengeance. She finally becomes a con artist because she is forced to. I also enjoyed doing the book, ‘The Best Laid Plans’.”

Sheldon tells us how he plans his book, “I don’t recommend this to anybody…the way I write. The way I write is to start with a character. I have no plot, no beginning, middle or end and that could be dangerous. But I start with a character and build from there and I dictate my books to a secretary…People come to me and say they want to be a writer….My advice is, do it. And don’t let anyone discourage you. Only one who can stop you is yourself and good luck.”

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.