By day, Sandra Brannan searches for 200 years-worth of rock quarry reserves in South Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, Montana and North Dakota, as an industrial engineer for her family’s business, Pete Lien & Sons. By night, Sandra—who is called “Sam” among her friends, family and acquaintances—can be found writing. She is the author of a published murder mystery series featuring heroine Liv Bergen. The six books are titled In the Belly of Jonah, Lot’s Return to Sodom, Widow’s Might, Noah’s Rainy Day, Solomon’s Whisper, and Jacob’s Descent, which was just released on March 29. All of the books are set in the Black Hills and feature real landmarks that local readers will recognize.
“Most people in town would wonder, ‘Who is Sandra Brannan?’” she joked. “Seriously, everyone here just knows me as Sam. Sandra has become my author name.”
Sam was the seventh of nine children born to Chuck and Barbara Lien; two were boys, and Sam was one of seven girls. Barbara—now 86—took all nine kids to the public library once a week during the summer to stock up on books. Sam, 53, said thanks to those early positive experiences at the library, she’s always loved reading and wrote short stories even as a little girl. Raised in a wooded area in west Rapid City (between present-day Deadwood Avenue and Sturgis Road), Sam said that she was blessed to have so many siblings because they were built-in best friends. Her siblings formed softball and basketball teams in lieu of having neighbor kids. She spent most of her time outside as a child, using her creativity and imagination. “That certainly helped me as a writer,” she said. “Because of the way I was raised, with freedom to explore and create, I could imagine a world outside of my own.”