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Surprising stories about 15 bestselling authors

  • Story Highlights
  • Some bestselling book authors have led interesting lives
  • Tom Clancy is part-owner of the Baltimore Orioles
  • Jodi Picoult wrote a five-issue arc for Wonder Woman comics
  • Dean Koontz gave millions to a companion dog organization
By Ethan Trex
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Mental Floss

(Mental Floss) -- How well do you know the authors of your favorite bestselling beach fare? We did some digging and came up with a few surprising facts on some of the literary world's biggest cash cows.

"Da Vinci Code" author Dan Brown is one of several famous writers who's writing wasn't their first career choice.

"Da Vinci Code" author Dan Brown is one of several famous writers who's writing wasn't their first career choice.

1. Dan Brown didn't get his start as a writer. Oh, no. Before he penned thrillers like "The Da Vinci Code," Brown worked as a pop singer and songwriter. His second solo album, "Angels & Demons," even shared its title with one of his literary juggernauts.

2. Former lawyer and politician John Grisham may not need to practice law now that he's moved 250 million copies of his books, but he did head to court on one special occasion after his literary success. In 1996 Grisham returned to the courtroom to represent the family of a railroad brakeman who was killed on the job. Apparently Grisham still had his chops; he won the case (and over $650,000) for the family.

3. Nora Roberts has been a staple on the New York Times Bestseller List for years, but it wasn't easy for her to get her foot in the door. According to Roberts, who also publishes under the name J.D. Robb, when she was submitting her manuscripts to romance giant Harlequin, the publisher sent her a note rejecting her work because they "already had their American writer."

4. Bestselling thriller author John Sandford's work may not be considered high art, but he's got something a number of his more ambitious literary colleagues would kill for: a Pulitzer Prize. Sandford, whose real name is John Camp, picked up a Pulitzer for Non-Deadline Feature Writing in 1986 for a series of articles in the Saint Paul Pioneer Press that chronicled a year in the life of a Minnesota farming family. Mental Floss: Why 10 celebrities picked their stage names

5. Danielle Steel's life sounds surprisingly like something from a Danielle Steel novel. The author has been married five times, and there have been some real winners in the bunch. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, husband number two was a bank robber who was convicted of raping a woman while he was married to Steel, and the third Mr. Steel was a heroin-addicted burglar.

6. The late Sidney Sheldon wrote a whole raft of bestsellers even though he didn't start writing novels until after he turned 50. Sheldon kept himself pretty busy before his career took off, though, by creating TV hits like "The Patty Duke Show" and "I Dream of Jeannie." Sheldon also won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for penning "The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer."

7. Having Stephen King as your dad has its perks. In the late '80s, King's son Owen was just as obsessed with G.I. Joe as any other boy. Owen, though, got a little shout-out most of us didn't receive. When Hasbro introduced the new G.I. Joe Sneak Peek in 1987, the character's promotional materials stated that his real name was "Owen S. King," a gesture that may have stemmed from Owen's dad helping to create another G.I. Joe character.

8. Before James Patterson became a bestselling thriller writer, he worked for the advertising firm J. Walter Thompson. He's also credited with creating the "Toys R Us Kid" slogan. Mental Floss: Cheetos Lip Balm and other bizarre brand extensions

9. Jodi Picoult has enjoyed quite a bit of success as a novelist, but she's also dabbled in comics. In 2007, she wrote a five-issue arc for Wonder Woman.

10. Nicholas Sparks' works like "The Notebook" fly off of store shelves, but they might not move as quickly as their author. Sparks not only attended Notre Dame on a track scholarship, he also helped set a still-standing school record in the 4 x 800m relay.

11. Thriller author Clive Cussler often writes about searches for underwater shipwrecks, and it's a topic he knows a thing or two about. Cussler founded the non-profit National Underwater & Marine Agency, and together with his NUMA volunteers has located more than 60 historically significant shipwrecks.

12. Janet Evanovich's novels featuring bounty hunter Stephanie Plum have entertained millions of readers, but where did the author get the idea for a female bounty hunter? She apparently decided to have a bounty hunter protagonist after watching Robert De Niro play one in Midnight Run.

13. Tom Clancy isn't just a techno-thriller novelist; he's also a part owner of the Baltimore Orioles, for whom he serves as vice chairman of community activities and public affairs. If only Clancy could crank out wins as easily as he does bestsellers.

14. Whatever you think about Dean Koontz's novels, it's tough to knock his generosity. Trixie Koontz, the beloved golden retriever in whose name Dean published the book "Life is Good: Lessons in Joyful Living" was originally a service animal. She came to the Koontz family as gift from Canine Companions for Independence, an organization that trains service dogs, in recognition for Koontz's donations of over $2.5 million to support the group. Mental Floss: 5 other kinds of sniffing dogs

15. Harlan Coben's chapter of Psi Upsilon at Amherst must boast the greatest combined book sales of any frat ever. Coben's Myron Bolitar series of detective thrillers has been a bestselling force, and his old fraternity brother Dan Brown knows a thing or two about writing thrillers, too.

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