|Nora Roberts: the Joy of Make Believe|
Nora Roberts started writing in a snowstorm twenty years ago and never stopped. Today with over 85 million copies of her books in print -- and 11 New York Times bestsellers, four of them reaching number one, in 1998 alone -- Roberts reigns as queen of romance. She also provides a sterling example of quality and originality in a genre too often dismissed by "serious" readers as "formula fiction."
Fortunately for more perceptive critics and fans, Roberts shows no sign of slowing her writing pace. But this Haydn of the computer keyboard did take a small break to share with Crescent Blues her views on writing, her characters, the Internet and cooked cereal.
Crescent Blues: In a little less than 20 years, you've sold 126 novels, many short stories and novellas, and you've written even more. And contrary to the popular conception of romances, each one has been unique -- different stories with different characters. How do you do it -- how do you write so many well-written books? Is it inspiration, craft, expertise or something else?
Nora Roberts: Mostly, it's work. It's my job to tell stories, and the point of the job to tell good, entertaining stories. I happen to have a fast pace. That, I think, is just the luck of the draw. I'm disciplined. That's my make-up. And, best of all, I really love my job.
Crescent Blues: You've mentioned that you grew up telling stories, you just never wrote them down until the blizzard of February 1979. Did any of those stories find their way into your books?
Crescent Blues: Looking back, do you recognize the writer you became in the storyteller you were?
Crescent Blues: Family plays a key role in your novels. What makes family themes so compelling for you?
Nora Roberts: As my roots are in romance, relationship has always played a key role in my books. It seems a natural progression from love to marriage to family. And I'm fascinated by the dynamics of family, the loyalty and the spats, the shared history and the way each individual grows.
Crescent Blues: How has your own family life influenced your work?
Nora Roberts: I think having four older brothers, and no sisters, two sons and no daughters, certainly gave me a view of men. How they think and how they operate. It helped me appreciate them. And it helped me appreciate the bond women can make -- female friendships and what they mean.
Crescent Blues: Do you see your family sagas -- the MacGregor series, the Irish series, etc. -- as an exploration of families or as a convenient way to relate separate romances?
Nora Roberts: It's certainly both. I wouldn't do the family series if I wasn't interested in family dynamics, or believed I could tell a good story with that at the core. It's also a interesting way, to me, so show each family member as a separate person with individual needs and dreams.
Crescent Blues: Were all your series conceived as series? Did any "grow" from a single book or result from reader demand?
Nora Roberts: I've done both. The MacGregors started as one book. But in Playing The Odds, Serena had two brothers, and through the course of the book they intrigued me. I wanted to tell their stories. Daniel was, absolutely, a big catalyst there as well. I found him irresistible.
Nora Roberts: First the characters. If they don't compel me to tell their story, I can't believe the reader would be interested. If I'm crafting a trilogy, I have to fall for the people in it, and I need a thread, some theme or question that will weave through all three of the books, and be resolved at the end. Each book must stand on its own as far as character development, relationship and the resolution of the romance, but to continue on I need -- and believe the reader wants -- a connection.
Crescent Blues: How do you keep everybody straight -- especially the MacGregors and all their kin?
Crescent Blues: How do you keep inspiration fresh and avoid repeating yourself? What's your method for tracking earlier novels and stories to avoid repetition?
Nora Roberts: I don't have a method -- at least not a conscious one. Every book I write has a new set of characters with new problems, different backgrounds, different personalities and so forth. There are only 88 keys on a piano, but you can make all sorts of music.
Crescent Blues: Do you consciously base your heroes or heroines on people you know or media personalities?
Crescent Blues: Many of your heroines have red hair. What's so attractive about red-haired heroines?
Nora Roberts: After 130 books or so, you gotta have a good supply of red heads. I think the color might be used, at least occasionally, to show character. The old red-headed temper -- or as a contrast between that preconception and a shy or insecure heroine. Added to that, I've done a considerable number of Irish heroines. Red hair's kind of a natural.
Crescent Blues: Do your characters ever surprise you by turning out very differently from who you thought they would be? Which character (or characters) surprised you the most?
Nora Roberts: My characters always surprise me. Once they've taken on a life in a book, it's wise to let them go their own ways. I can't remember ever having a character turn out precisely as I'd imagined them before I started the book. That's a good thing.
Crescent Blues: In romance, the girl always gets the right guy by the end of the book. If a writer wants to continue the plot or spirit of a given book, they need a new set of lovers. Do you see the steadily developing relationship between Eve Dallas and Roarke in the series you write under the name J. D. Robb as providing an alternative to this model? (Or do you see their relationship more in the romantic suspense tradition of Elizabeth Peters's Amelia Peabody and Emerson, for example?)
Nora Roberts: With the Robb books, one of the things I wanted to do was…