Palm Springs (California), Feb. 28 (AP): He quit college after one semester, can barely hunt-and-peck on a typewriter and has never touched a computer keyboard. Yet 86-year-old Sidney Sheldon has written 16 novels and is spending most of his waking time writing three more books.
Well, writing is a misnomer. Sheldon talks books. He dictates to his secretary, Mary Langford, who happens to be a court reporter. She runs the machine’s tape through a computer and it emerges as a portion of the manuscript.
“Isn’t science amazing'” Sheldon marvels.
The dictating technique stems from Sheldon’s early struggle to gain a foothold in Hollywood, in the mid-1930s.
As a young hopeful from the midwest, he was unable to get inside the studios. At the time, studios employed young people to outline new books for busy executives to consider and Sheldon decided to try out for a job as a reader. He compressed John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men into a few pages and sent them to every studio.
The only reply came from David O. Selznick, who wanted a book synthesised for the screen by 6 pm. Sheldon took two streetcars and a bus to get to the MGM studio, where a relative worked as a secretary.
He persuaded her to take his dictation as he skimmed through the book. He delivered the manuscript to Selznick’s office shortly before 6 and won his first movie job. Today, Sheldon is working on three projects: a novel, Are You Afraid of the Dark'; a memoir, The Other Side of Me; and a collection of short stories, Sidney Sheldon’s Miracles and Other Mysteries.
“I’ve finished the first draft of the autobiography, and I’ll be turning the novel in by June,” he reports. “Then I’ll go to work on a rewrite of the autobiography. Meanwhile, I’m doing research for the Miracles book.”
Sheldon holds up two folders half-filled with sheets of paper, the novel so far. “When I’m finished, I’ll have seven of these folders totally filled,” he says.
The first draft will go through a dozen rewrites. Some writers hate rewrites, not Sheldon, “because every time I rewrite, the book gets better,” he says.
He works all day, seven days a week. “I have no hobbies,” he explains. “I could do two books a year easily. But I won’t. I’d rather have (a book) as good as I can make it.”
Sheldon lives in a white stucco compound with a red-tile roof beneath the rocky peaks behind Palm Springs. It started as a single house, then he added another house on one side of the original. When Kirk Douglas decided to sell his house on the other side, Sheldon bought it.
The result is a cluster of houses, two swimming pools and several guest cottages, including one where Sheldon and his secretary work. The grounds are handsomely designed with palms, flowers and velvety lawns. There’s a house where his wife, Alexandra, does her arts and crafts. The Sheldons also retain their west Los Angeles home, which they use for refuge from the punishing desert summer.
Sheldon didn’t try novels until he was 52, but he’s been writing words and even some music most of his life. His first sale came when he was a boy of 10 in Chicago: a poem to a children’s magazine, Wee Wisdom. Emboldened, he sent short stories to other magazines but was rejected.