Late Bloomer She May Be, but Author Jacqueline Briskin Clearly Has Played Her Cards Right
12/09/1985 at 01:00 AM EST
First there was Jacqueline Susann. Then came Jackie Collins. And now a third Jackie must be added to this raunchy roll call of flash-and-trash queens—Jacqueline Briskin. Briskin's latest release is Too Much Too Soon (Putnam, $17.95), her third straight best-seller. Too Much is the sweeping saga of three English sisters who rise from poverty to riches against a background of international big business and illicit romance.
Behind its bedroom and boardroom scenes, the novel is a Horatio Alger story much like the author's. In 1963 Briskin was a housewife living in a three-bedroom L.A. bungalow with her husband, a businessman, and three children, and feeling only a faint sense, she says, "that something was missing from my life." That year she enrolled in a UCLA night course called "The Craft of Fiction," thinking it was a literature-appreciation class. It turned out to be a course in writing. "Here was what I hadn't realized I'd been looking for," says Briskin, now 56. "It was love at first write." Her first novel, California Generation, came out in 1970; today she is one of the nation's highest paid authors, having received $1 million in advances for Too Much.
Briskin's low-key life is the antithesis of her high-powered fictional world. Unlike her volatile, sultry heroines, the petite, dark-haired author has coped calmly with sudden success. In fact her life-style has hardly changed. "Bert and I were very happy before all this," she says, "and we didn't want to jiggle with it." Briskin still starts writing every morning at 8:30 and doesn't finish until 5:30. Her books, which take about two years to write, are known for their accurate evocations of exotic locales but are never based on the lives of real people. Like other authors, she is reticent when it comes to examining her inspiration. "I don't know where my characters come from," she says. "They simply appear on the screen of my word processor."
Briskin's Hollywood upbringing prepared her for the fantasy world she explores in her fiction. The daughter of London silver importer-exporter Spencer Orgell, she moved to Beverly Hills when she was 10. The family lived on Rodeo Drive, next to Maureen O'Sullivan. Gene Kelly, George Murphy and Greta Garbo were neighbors. After graduating from Beverly Hills High School, Briskin studied political science at UCLA but dropped out after her junior year to marry Bert Briskin.
Success has changed Bert's life much more than his wife's. Eight years ago he wanted to become her literary agent. She was skeptical at first, but after Bert sold a friend's novel (The French Passion by Diane Du Pont) for $250,000—at the time a record sum for a paperback original—Jacqueline asked him to represent her. He did more than that. He gave up his business (he owned 11 service stations in L.A.) and began to manage the household, allowing Jackie to turn from part-time housewife to full-time author.
Her children have grown accustomed to their mother's mid-life achievements. "When I was younger," says daughter Liz, a psychologist and aspiring novelist, "I was shocked by some of the graphic sex scenes, but that has worn off. It's still hard to reconcile, however, that the person I've known my entire life is the same person these books come out of."
So far Briskin has written 900 pages of her next novel, which she says is "about someone who comes from a very poor background, then becomes immensely rich and successful in show business." When Briskin isn't writing, she keeps busy gardening and visiting her three married children and two granddaughters. She and Bert also enjoy going on trips to Europe, most of which double as research missions for future Briskin books.
Eschewing L.A.'s traditional trappings of success, her few personal indulgences include several pieces of good jewelry and an antique silver collection. The Briskins have invested most of Jacqueline's royalties in six L.A. apartment buildings, which Bert manages. As for adventure, she is happy to leave that to the characters in her novels. Indeed, the author revels in the sheer sameness of her life-style. "I have the same husband," she says, "I live in the same house and I have the same friends." But not the same tax bracket.