Grandma's Tales

February 2, 2007

Sidney Sheldon and high school girls

Filed under: Language — Geeta Padmanabhan @ 9:35 pm

I read Sheldon’s Rage of Angels 35 years ago. It was the first book of his that I read. I saw he had a special method that would hook the reader to race through the pages. In a 1982 interview he admitted he employed a page-turner technique.

I try to write my books so the reader can’t put them down,he explained. “I try to construct them so when the reader gets to the end of a chapter, he or she has to read just one more chapter. It’s the technique of the old Saturday afternoon serial: leave the guy hanging on the edge of the cliff at the end of the chapter.”

NDTV described his books as thrillers. That is not true. Not in the sense thrillers are understood. He had thrilling plots that were suspenseful but there was a liberal sprinkling of sensuality in what he wrote.
For the 25 years I taught English to school students every high school girl who read books listed his name as one of the authors she read. That was Sheldon’s strength.
When asked why so many women bought his books, the author said,

I like to write about women who are talented and capable, but most important, retain their femininity. Women have tremendous power — their femininity, because men can’t do without it.” He also knew women read light fiction more than men did.

Sheldon had a simple enough style. You didn’t have to master a dictionary to follow what he wrote. He had no profound philosophy to promote. He wrote about lives of people, mostly ordinary – their highs and lows, their kindness and meanness, dreams and disappointments. Most women felt they were their own stories. Or tales of people they knew. Even when Sheldon was extravagant with situations, his plots sounded plausible. He won his greatest fame with “Rage of Angels,” “The Other Side of Midnight,” “Master of the Game” and “If Tomorrow Comes”.
Sheldon was a prolific writer. He began writing books at the age of 50. So all of you out there, it’s never late to begin! But before that he wrote Broadway musicals, film scripts and TV serials. For all three mediums he won awards – Tony, Oscar and Emmy. He said writing books was what he liked best.
He had a writing system. He said,

If I write about a place, I have been there. If I write about a meal in Indonesia, I have eaten there in that restaurant. I don’t think you can fool the reader.”

For “Windmills of the Mind,” which was about the CIA, he interviewed former CIA chief Richard Helms, travelled to Argentina and Romania and spent a week in Junction City, Kansas, where the heroine had lived.
He was very different from other writers in that he never used typewriters or computers. He simply shut off all calls in his office and dictated 50 pages a day to a secretary or a tape machine. He corrected the pages the following day, continuing the routine until he had 1,200 to 1,500 pages. Then I do a complete rewrite — 12 to 15 times,” he said. “I spend a whole year rewriting.” Skill meeting craft.
Regular critics never approved of his works. No one said he was a “great” writer. But his novels sold thousands of copies. He went into the Guinness Book of Records as the author whose works were translated into the maximum number of languages. “I don’t write for critics,” he said. “I write for readers.” Of those there were many. Pulp fiction may be, but hugely popular.
He said:

When you do a novel you’re on your own. It’s a freedom that doesn’t exist in any other medium.” You will be missed in India, Sidney.


  1. Wow!I’m impressed. Rage of Angels was the first his books that I read; a pleasant coincidence.

    He drained out my confidence, he was first serious author I read & his style made me feel that you should have everything in a book that he had. There was always a feeling that I cannot write like him so, stop dreaming of becoming a writer. The realisation that everyone cannot be a Master Story-teller like him & I’d try to something within creative limitation dawned much later. 🙂

    Comment by Paresh — February 5, 2007 @ 8:25 pm | Reply

  2. Hi Paresh,yes, Sheldon was a master story-teller, but that doesn’t mean you have to “write like him”. Then you would be a pale imitation. You do have a style of your own and use it to give expression to your imagination. Your readers are bound to find something unique in your style of writing too!

    Comment by Geeta Padmanabhan — February 5, 2007 @ 9:53 pm | Reply

  3. ““I like to write about women who are talented and capable, but most important, retain their femininity.”

    Should that not have been ‘most importantly’?

    Comment by Shefaly — April 26, 2007 @ 11:34 pm | Reply

  4. Hi Shefaly, here “most important” stands for “most important among all the qualities I found in these women”.

    Comment by Geeta Padmanabhan — April 27, 2007 @ 9:36 pm | Reply

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