Lawrence Sanders Leads a Quiet Life, Leaving the Sex and Violence for His Readers
Ingrid: If you wish.
Anderson: That's what I like—a hot woman.
Ingrid: Oh, Duke...if I was a hot woman you would not bother with me.
Anderson: Take off your robe. You know what I like.
Ingrid: All right.
—From 1970's The Anderson Tapes,
by Lawrence Sanders
PEOPLE: So we have three hours. I want you to tell me about your life.
Sanders: If you wish.
PEOPLE: That's what we like, a hot author.
Sanders: Oh, if I was a hot author, you would not bother with me.
PEOPLE: Take off your sunglasses. You know what we like.
Sanders: I get up at 7:30. I grab a canvas bag and go out. I say hello to the people in the supermarket and liquor store. I buy the New York Times. I go to the beach and think about characters and plot. At 2, I start preparing fish or chicken for dinner. I don't drive. I don't have hobbies. I have no desire to travel. I start writing every night a 17 and finish at 11:30 p.m. Sound boring? No way. It took me about three minutes to get used to it! PEOPLE: All right.
Like an actor who lives vicariously through derring-do roles, author Lawrence Sanders, 65, lives through his tough-talking, girl-getting characters. He has to. The well-heeled retirement haven of Pompano Beach, Fla., where the prolific and charmingly down-to-earth writer has lived quietly for 10 years, is hardly grist for the supercharged, sex-slathered, violent thrillers he writes (20 novels and some 22 million copies sold so far). "It's all from imagination and newspaper clips," he allows. "I never let reality interfere with what I write."
Times could not be better for Sanders, who limits the excitement in his life to his books. His latest thriller, The Fourth Deadly Sin (No. 4 in the series), is near the top of the hardcover best-seller list and The Passion of Molly T., about a feminist activist in the 1990s, is No. 3 on the paperback side. Critics are generally kind to Sanders, the Brooklyn-born son of a bookkeeper. They like his fast pace and crisp dialogue. But even they were divided on his latest Sin, complaining it lacked enough sex and violence. Sanders laughs off such notices. "You can't let reviews influence you. Critics read symbolism into my work that I didn't even know was there."
Sanders produces up to five pages a night, seven nights a week. "Writing is the most important thing in my life—above marriage," says the never-wed Sanders. "You can live a million lives. All your fantasies come true."
Sanders perfected his craft editing pulp fiction magazines in New York after World War II. Later he edited men's adventure magazines and worked at Mechanix Illustrated and Science & Mechanics. "It's marvelous training because you learn to keep the action moving," he says. "Forget philosophy of character. Just get on with it."
He eventually decided he was as good as the writers he was editing and by night would churn out adventure stories, at $75 a crack, from the West Side apartment he shared with his cocker spaniel, Feets. His free-lance income came to equal his take-home pay. Then in 1970, at age 50, he wrote The Anderson Tapes, a best-selling thriller based on fictional transcripts from bugging devices. Things moved quickly after that. Though he had gotten only a $3,000 advance (he now commands seven figures), Sanders sold the movie rights for $100,000 and the paperback rights for $210,000. Success didn't change him. "You'd think with loot like that I would go buy chorus girls and swimming pools. But no clothes, no car. I paid my taxes and bought a new red bathrobe."
Sanders and his longtime friend Fleurette Ballou, 60ish, moved to Florida after she was mugged twice in New York. (Sanders owns two Pompano Beach condos: He and Fleurette live in one, he writes in the other.) He misses New York and returns solo twice a year. His Florida location makes it easier for the interview-wary author to shun the talk show circuit. "I'm not Gore Vidal or William Buckley," he says. Sometimes he carries his reclusivity too far. When his agent, Bill Berger, tossed a party in New York to celebrate their 25-year association, Sanders was a no-show.
In all likelihood he was writing. About 10 years ago Berger suggested, to avoid flooding the market, that Sanders either slow down or write under a pseudonym. He chose the latter. "Since the publisher paid me less, I suggested they call me Mark Down," he cracks. (They settled on Mark Upton.)
The next novel under Sanders' name will be a paperback original, The Loves of Harry Dancer, which is due in January and which he describes as a "spiritual espionage" tale. Next summer will come the hardback The Eighth Commandment (that's "Thou shalt not steal"). Fans may be saddened to know that the Sin series may be finished. None of the remaining three—gluttony, envy and sloth—excites Sanders. "Where do I go from here?" he says. "Now I lay me down to sleep?"
His readers would say it would be a sin if he did.