How Nora got started
Tell us about the blizzard of 1979 that jump-started your career
The blizzard of 79 hit in February, and I was stuck in the house with two small children. Any mother out there knows what it is to weep bitter tears when the radio announces that there will be no morning kindergarten. I live in rural Maryland, and had no four-wheel drive transportation, two active sons, a dwindling supply of chocolate and three feet of snow. Id never thought about writing as a career. I thought everyone made up stories in their heads. But after days of being trapped by the blizzard, I was tired of playing Candy Land and was desperate for some sort of release. I took one of those stories in my head and wrote it down. The minute I started the process of writing, I fell in love with it. I had, to this point, sought some avenue for creativity in every craft known to man. Ceramics, embroidery, sewing (I even put little flies in the overalls I made my sons) canning, macramé, needlepoint, baking. I had a distressing craft addiction. Fortunately writing cured me of it, and I found the right avenue.
When you first took a number two pencil to a spiral notebook, did you realize that you were on your way to becoming a bestselling author?
Writing down stories during that long week in February was more to save my sanity than a career move.
How long was it before you published your first novel?
By the time my first novel, Irish Thoroughbred, was published in 1981, I already had three years of hard work behind me and several rejected manuscripts languishing in desk drawers.
Have you thought about publishing those early works?
The very first story -- definitely no....never! But everything else has been reworked, punched up, and sold years ago. There's really nothing else languishing now.
What did you do before you became a writer?
I was a really bad legal secretary.
Who helped to develop your talent as a young person?
I imagine every teacher helped. I joke about the nuns, but the fact is the discipline that they drum into education sticks. You can have all the talent in the world but if you dont have the discipline to sit down and write on a regular basis, youre not going to write or publish any books.
What influence did your family have on your writing career?
I grew up in a family of readers. Books and stories were always a part of my life. I always loved to read.
Youve achieved so much as a writer and career woman. Is there any goal you feel you have yet to attain?
I dont think about goals. I just try to concentrate on writing the best book I possibly can.
What do you find difficult about this writing business?
The business of writing all the extra stuff that isnt actual writing can be difficult simply because most of us who write prefer to sit down and do just that. Traveling can be stressful, inconvenient and tiring. The writing is a joy, even when it is not going particularly well. The simple fact that you are lucky enough to have a job you love cant be beat. The days when you cant wait to get to the keyboard are the best. You can sit there and work in your pajamas. It doesnt get much better than that!
How is your career evolving? Where do you see yourself five years from now? Ten years?
I never do this. Never have done it. Why look five years ahead when now is whats going on Id much rather focus on now and the book Im writing now than try to figure out whats coming down the road. My goal has always been to write the best book I possibly can.
How difficult was it to establish your name?
It was a gradual process. Selling the first book was like a miracle. Silhouette opened a marvelous door for me, and gave me the opportunity to write, publish and establish a readership. None of this happens overnight. The best advice my agent ever gave me was: Build a foundation. Thats what Ive tried to do to build a foundation of reliable and entertaining stories that the reader can depend on.
Can you tell us what a typical Nora Roberts day is like?
It would look, to anyone outside the business, incredibly boring. I sit in front of the keyboard all day. On a perfect day, I get up and maybe work out for about 40 minutes or so because Im on my butt the rest of the day. I usually go up to my office by 9:00 and work for about 6 8 hours. And I write check email write some more. After dinner, I either call it a day or go back to work for awhile.
How do you prepare yourself mentally and physically to write a novel?
Honestly I dont do a thing. I have a basic idea in my head, I do whatever research needs to be done and will continue to research throughout the course of the book and then I sit down and start. Thats it. Oh, and I try to make sure there is a good supply of Diet Pepsi in the house. And pretzels or some salty thing. And chocolate.
How can you be so productive with so many outside and family obligations? How do you keep a balance between home and work?
Lifes a juggling act. Practice enough and you get pretty good at keeping the important balls in the air. This is my job. If I were a doctor or businesswoman, Id still be juggling. I have a fast writing pace that helps. But I work every day a full day.
When you are researching a book, what is your most valuable resource?
Before I was dragged kicking and screaming into the world of computers, I did all of my research at the library. Id start in the childrens department it was a great way to get basic information which I would then take to the grown-up section of the library for more in-depth research. Now I just use the internet. You can find anything on the internet. I do all my own research because the process gives me ideas for plot angles.
How do you cope with the inevitable stress of deadlines?
I dont think about them. Denial works. Seriously, Im never on publisher deadline anymore. They cant keep up with me. I put myself on a personal deadline, and that can flex. But normally, Im tougher on me than the publisher so I stress myself out perfectly well on my own. I have to give myself deadlines in order to figure out how to fit in the book tours, the traveling, the conferences, the extra projects and my life as Id like to know it.
How long does it take you to complete a book, from the time the idea for the book is conceived, to when you submit it to your editor?
Each book is different. It takes as long as it takes. I try not to think about how long a particular book is taking to write.
How many drafts does it take you before the book is just right?
In general I do a first draft fairly quickly. Just to get the story down without looking back I dont worry about fixing or fiddling. Once I have that initial draft, I know my characters more intimately, know the plot line more cohesively, so I can go back to page one and go through it all again, fleshing out, fixing little problems, finding where I went wrong and adjusting it, or where I went right and expanding it. Adding texture, sharpening the prose. Then I go back to page one again, for the third draft, polishing, making sure I hit the right notes. If it feels right after that, I send it to my agent and editor. If it doesnt, I go back and try to find whats not working. No book is perfect. I try to send in the best book I can write at that time. And I trust my editor to tell me if it can be made better.
Where do you find the time to produce so quickly?
You dont find time, you make time. I have a fast pace thats just the luck of the draw, like eye color. But I also have a great deal of discipline a gift from the nuns who educated me for the first nine years of my schooling. Nobody instills the habit of discipline and the shadow of guilt (two essential writers tools) like a nun. And I love what I do I seriously love the process of writing.
What inspires you?
I dont believe in waiting for inspiration. Its my job to sit down and figure out what to write.
How do you keep your books fresh?
I dont have any tricks. For me each book is the first book. Its new to me each time. There are so many different kinds of people in the world, and creating characters as people, mixing those people together, builds a different conflict each time. There are 88 keys on a piano. Think of the different music made from them.
Can you explain your working environment?
I write in my office. My husband, who is a carpenter, added a third floor on our home. We live in the woods and the office features a large window in front of my workstation and skylights. I see nothing but trees when I look out. Its full of light and very roomy. Its a nice comfortable place to work.
What advice would you give writers starting out today?
Write what you read for pleasure. Concentrate on the work, on making the story better. Whatever the market. Most of all have fun with it. This is the best job in the whole world, and if you cant enjoy it, youre missing the biggest perk besides not wearing pantyhose!
Where can aspiring writers go to learn about the business?
Join a local writers group. Those interested in writing romances should join the Romance Writers of America. They have chapters all over the country and offer a great deal of information and support.
How important is it to attend writing conferences?
I think writing conferences are invaluable. If only for the contact, the perk of being able to talk with people who do what you do. For the beginning or aspiring writer there are so many workshops that can help map the way through the maze of publication. Friendships made through conferences make the business human. On the business front, its a chance to meet and talk to editors and agents.
What should aspiring writers know about Nora Roberts?
That she started out as an aspiring writer, too. We all spring from the same dream.
Why did you start writing books under the name J.D. Robb?
I write quickly. Thats just my natural pace. As a result, my publishers had considerable inventory of my books for publication. My agent and editors suggested I write under a different name. I didnt like the idea, really dragged my feet on it. It took about two years for me to be convinced to try it. My agent explained it this way theres Pepsi, theres Diet Pepsi, theres Caffeine Free Pepsi. And the light went on in my head! I got it! I agreed to try it if I could do something a little different. I still didnt see the point in writing straight romance or romantic suspense under a different name. Thats when Eve Dallas and Roarke walked on the page.
Why do you enjoy writing as J.D. Robb and revisiting the same characters?
I enjoy writing romantic suspense and was intrigued by the idea of adding a little science fiction to the mix. I could create my own world! I felt that while the toys may change, people remain basically the same. And I enjoy writing a series with continuing characters so I could develop relationships and the romance between the main characters over a number of books. Each book resolves the particular crime or mystery that drives it, but the character development the growth and changes and the tone of the relationships go more slowly. I enjoy that tremendously.
How did you come up with the name J.D. Robb?
I took the initials of my sons first names Jason and Dan and Robb was a shortened version of Roberts.
How many more Eve and Roarke books can we expect from you?
I have no plans at this time to stop writing about Eve and Roarke. More books are planned for next year.
Many of the books you write are part of a larger series. Do you find it more difficult to write a book that is part of a series?
No. Each book has its own set of challenges. Each book must stand alone and be complete. I enjoy writing connecting books but they are not more challenging than the others.
There is a very strong theme of family in your books. Is there a reason for this?
Relationships have always played a key role in my books. Im fascinated by the dynamics of family, the shared history and the way each individual grows.
Do you have a favorite family from your books?
My favorite family is the one Im currently writing about.
You write single title contemporary romances, romantic suspense and mystery/crime as J.D. Robb. Do you have a preference? Is one type of book easier to write than another?
I enjoy writing different types of books. One type is not easier or harder than another type they are just different.
Which of your characters would you choose to have as a best friend?
They are all my best friends. I couldnt hurt anyones feelings.
Which was your favorite book to write and why?
The favorite is always the one I just finished. Like childbirth, the pain is forgotten almost immediately and all you remember is the bliss.
Which novel would you select as your best work of fiction?
My best is always the one on sale now.
Have any of your books been made into movies?
CBS aired Sanctuary as a TV movie staring Melissa Gilbert in February 2001. They are currently working on a script for The Reef. Many, many years ago This Magic Moment became the film Magic Moments, which aired on the Showtime Channel.
Do you have any male readers?
Yes, I have a varied and interesting base of male readers. And since the J.D. Robb books were published, that base has expanded. Recently I got a letter from a guy who drives a rig, and habitually listens to my audios when hes on the road. He assured me he was a real GUY, but that parts of I think it was Jewels of The Sun -- had him tearing up at the truck stop. I love that. Ive also seen an increase at my signings of father-daughter readers. Ive always had mother-daughter readers, and I love knowing books, my books, are a bond between generations.
How would you describe your typical fan.
Theyre not typical! They range from age 13 to great-great grandparents. They bridge all occupations, all income levels, backgrounds and interests. They are extremely loyal. They take care of me. When Im on tour, theyve been known to bring me French fries, chocolate, Diet Coke and other treats to keep me going while Im on the road.
It is estimated that traffic on your web site has increased by 1500%. Why do you think so many fans visit your site?
I think a lot has to do with me being so approachable. Im on the site, I read and answer my guest book, Im active on the boards. Ive made some wonderful friends this way. And a lot of my readers have formed friendships after meeting at on-line chats. This is how the Noraholics came to be.
Who are the Noraholics?
A wonderful group of readers who met on-line back in February of 97 when AOL created a forum for fans to chat about Sanctuary. It was there that the Noraholics, a loyal, devoted group of fans, were born. Many of the people who participated in the chats continued to stay in contact through message boards and e-mail. When my husbands bookstore, Turn the Page, scheduled a book signing for that July, many decided to meet for the first time face to face. These new friends shared frequent flyer miles, cashed in inheritances and made plans for road trips! They came from all over the country from as far away as San Diego. This past summer they gathered at Turn the Page for the Fifth Annual Turn the Page road trip. One devoted reader traveled all the way from Australia to be there.
What do you consider a romantic evening?
Any night my husband cooks and I dont have to cook, clean, answer the phone or get dressed up works for me.
What kinds of books do you like to read? Who is your favorite author?
I love reading across all genres. Favorites include Carl Hiaasen, John Sandford, Sue Grafton, Elizabeth Berg, Stephen King and Patricia Gaffney. Mary Stewart will always be one of my all time favorite authors.
What do you do to unwind in your free time?
Very ordinary, normal things. I love to garden. I enjoy reading in the new library my husband built and I enjoy watching TV and movies.
Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.
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