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'Tell Me Your Dreams'

Sidney Sheldon reflects on career, from small screen to printed page

Web posted on: Wednesday, September 23, 1998 2:26:51 PMEDT

From Correspondent Gloria Hillard

BEVERLY HILLS, California (CNN) -- Sidney Sheldon keeps on churning out the hits.

The writer has returned to bookshelves with his 17th novel, "Tell Me Your Dreams," a tale of murderous revenge that depicts a woman who fears she is being stalked and retaliates by killing several men, then posts a multiple personality defense. The book is currently nestled at No. 3 on the Wall Street Journal's best-seller list.

At a recent book signing, Sheldon reflected on a writing career that started far from the printed page.

Sheldon created television classics "The Patty Duke Show" (top) and "I Dream of Jeannie"

Wanted: script reader

In 1937 he took a job in Hollywood as a script reader for $25 a week. His script to the 1947 movie "The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer" won him an Oscar for best screenplay. And in 1959 Sheldon won a Tony Award as co-author of the Broadway musical "Redhead."

He then turned his attention to television, where he created "The Patty Duke Show" and "I Dream Of Jeannie."

"On 'Jeannie' it said 'Created by Sidney Sheldon, written by Sidney Sheldon.' It was like an ego trip," says Sheldon, who admits that he wrote so many scripts for both "Patty Duke" and "Jeannie" that he began using pen names to disguise his prolific output.

He didn't publish his first novel, however, until 1969's "The Naked Face," an experience that for Sheldon was far from an ego trip.

"I was sure I was going to break every publishing record, that I would not sell one single copy of the book," he recalls. "I was so panicky I went into the bookstore and bought a copy so that wouldn't happen, and I do that still. Every time a book comes out I buy a copy."

Sheldon gives a talk at a bookstore

Sheldon's new voice

He says writing a novel brought out a different voice in him.

"It wasn't until I wrote 'The Naked Face' that this hard-edged tone came out, and I can't explain why. Obviously it was in there ready to come out," he says.

Sheldon says over the years he has developed a unique method of writing: he dictates to a secretary, beginning each story with one character.

"As I dictate, other characters come in and the story begins to form, and I really talk the story," Sheldon says.

It's a method that has led to plenty of fan mail.

"Some of the most flattering fan mail I get are from women who want to know how I can understand and write like a woman, and that pleases me very much because I love women," says Sheldon.

He shares his life with his wife Alexandra, a few cats and two dogs.

After he finishes the current book tour, the 81-year-old Sheldon says he is still far from retirement.

"I'm working on my autobiography and I have my next novel," he says.

No doubt, they will both be bestsellers.


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