Meet Sandra Bricker

Location: Wesley Chapel, FL
Age: 53
Marital Status: Divorced
Education: University of Cincinnati, Hollywood Scriptwriting Institute

In her novel The Big 5-OH!, FOF Sandra Bricker tells the story of Olivia Wallace, an Ohio woman who survives ovarian cancer just before turning 50. The combination of events causes Olivia to re-evaluate her life and escape with her best friend to Florida, where she encounters several adventures and falls in love again.

The book is one of Sandie’s wildly popular Christian romance novels—she’s published over a dozen—but her books are not filled with flowery paeans to the Lord. They’re about normal women whose lives are filled with—but don’t revolve around—love and faith.

Perhaps that’s because Sandie is just such a woman. An ovarian cancer survivor herself, Sandie started a whole new life and career in her mid-40s. And her uniquely hilarious approach to women, God and aging has gained her a cult following among FOFs of all denominations.

How did you get to writing Christian romantic comedies, specifically?

They had to be spiritual, because my faith is as much a part of who I am as my red hair or always battling a weight problem. I’m not a buttoned-up kind of Christian—I worked in Hollywood for twenty years. At first, I thought I’d write typical romance, Harlequin-type novels with voluptuous bodies and steamy sex scenes. But Abingdon Press, my publisher, prefers books that are more understated. So instead of coloring my books with luscious sex, I use comedy.

Is faith a big theme in the books?

Faith—or lack of faith. But, I don’t write the kind of books that are typical of the Christian market. I don’t want to preach. I want to create characters like me—whose spirituality is so important to them, but it doesn’t stick out like a smashed-up thumb. It’s in the natural, smooth flow of who they are. Their faith would be a part of them making a decision, or finding a mate, or choosing a career. It would be part of their decision-making process, rather than a big, shining neon light that says, “I am a Christian.”

You said you worked in Hollywood for 20 years. How did you end up in Florida writing novels?

I lived in Dallas for a short time in my twenties, when I was married. Then that marriage broke up and I moved with a girlfriend out to LA. First, I was a personal assistant to actors. Then, I took over publicity for one of my clients, and I loved it. In the next few years I took on over 17 clients, but I always had a yearning to write. I went to film school and wrote some romantic comedies, but they didn’t go the way I wanted. Then my mom got cancer in Florida and I flew here to help her out. One day she said, ‘if you can’t write screenplays in Florida, write something else.’

And the rest is history?

I wrote my first romantic comedy in Florida, and it was picked up by my lovely and talented editor at Avalon in 2001, when I was 43. My mom got to see my first published book before she passed away.

It must have been gratifying that she got to see you publish a book—a little preview of a big career.

Three weeks before she died, she said to me, ‘I can see you have a life, and you have these books going. I don’t have to worry about you anymore.’ It was awful and terrible and wonderful at the same time.

But soon you became sick yourself?

Less than a year after my mom died, I was diagnosed with stage 1 uterine cancer, which is very treatable. There aren’t supposed to be many repercussions after you’re treated. But when they went in to treat it, they also found out I had stage 3 ovarian cancer, which is a whole different animal because it’s very hard to diagnose. The symptoms are so generic, that by the time most women are diagnosed, they’re almost gone. It was a miracle, and it impacted me both as a person, and a writer.

In The Big 5-OH!, the main character, Olivia, is diagnosed with cancer in addition to turning 50. What inspired you to combine the two challenges?

I’m not 20 anymore. I can’t write about a twenty-year old looking for a hot guy and starting a career. After the surgeries, treatment and chemo, when they tell you you’re cancer free, you’d think that you’d feel like dancing. But what happens to most of us—we’re just stunned. After I was told the cancer was in remission, I went to my car, stared out the window for 45 minutes and thought, ‘Now what?’ I wanted to put that into a character.

Have you gotten a positive response from the book?

Fantastic. When I do book signings, women come out with their bald heads and the scars the pale faces and those big smiles because they want to tell their story to someone who’s been through it.

Your books have so much mainstream appeal. Do some people bristle when the subject of your faith comes up?

It happens all the time. People I run into will say, ‘What are you writing?’ As soon as I say it’s for the Christian market, they say ‘Ohhh,’ almost like they’re saying, ‘Sorry.’ In the beginning it made me feel lesser. But when you’re fab over 50, if you have a calling to do something, the criticism doesn’t carry weight anymore. You don’t sweat the same things you did in your twenties and thirties.

Who inspires you?

Filmmaker Rob Reiner—everything he does. I love Garry Marshall’s wit, the way he looks at things. He can take a bag of fluff and really make it into something. When I was young, I loved Rob Petrie on The Dick van Dyke Show. One time I met Dick van Dyke and I told him that Rob Petrie formed the idea of the man I wanted to marry. He started laughing and said, ‘Oh, I’m so sorry.’ I also liked how Marlo Thomas ended the That Girl series—not getting married. She took that stand that marriage doesn’t have to be the goal for every woman.

How do you relax?

I close the doors, turn off the phone, and spend time at home with my dog. I’m very much a homebody, so I love, love, love to be at home alone. I turn on some music, or rent a movie, and curl up on the couch with my dog, Sophie—a strawberry blond collie.

How do you rejuvenate?

I go to the bay or the gulf and sit outside and pray. Music is always great. I love entertaining. Or I’ll watch a movie, have a bottle of wine and sit and talk to a friend.

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