A Bonus Writer’s Corner

Nora Roberts

January 24, 2007

It’s been more than five years since Nora Roberts was last interviewed here at AAR. With four new TV movies debuting next week a new J.D. Robb book in February, and with her string of DIKs continuing with November’s Valley of Silence, Nora joined me to talk about the films, her books, what she’s watching and reading – and to offer up her own bits of Roberts-ian wisdom on the always thorny topic of online behavior.

–Sandy Coleman

Nora, there’s so much to cover, so let’s get started. Starting on January 29th and for four consecutive Mondays, Lifetime Television will be airing four original movies based on books by none other than Nora Roberts. First up is Angels Fall, followed by Montana Sky, Carolina Moon, and Blue Smoke. The cast list – including John Corbett, Heather Locklear, and Clare Forlani, and Oliver Hudson – seems to me to be pretty much an A List of TV stars. Are you happy with the final films? Do you have a favorite?

I’ve seen three out of the four movies so far — waiting for Blue Smoke to be completed — and I’m absolutely thrilled with the films. I feel everyone involved did wonderful work, and not only understood but valued and respected the tone of each book, and the characters in it. They’re fun! And I thought they were beautifully filmed. The casting? I couldn’t believe how lucky I was. I don’t have a favorite. However, I think my husband leans toward Angels Fall – but he’s very soft on Heather Locklear. Can’t blame him.

Nora, does it ever…well, bug you a bit that authors who are your peers – John Grisham and Stephen King come to mind – have had multiple big-screen adaptations of their works produced while you haven’t? And can I assume that the In Death deal with Mel Gibson’s production company is still in limbo?

It doesn’t. And that’s not because I’m shy and retiring. The movie part of this is other to me. I’m a novelist — so the books are key. I write books, and writing books is what pulls in my energies, time, and attention. The movies are fun and delicious cake. Would I love to see one of my books as a major big-screen feature? Absolutely. More fun! But I don’t lose any sleep over it. The Mel Gibson/In Death deal isn’t in limbo. It’s dead. Not a good fit, and one of the things I learned from working with Mandalay, Stephanie Germain, and Lifetime, is that a good fit makes all the difference. One of these days, maybe we’ll find a good fit for the In Death series movie-wise.

Well, in retrospect it’s not too surprising that Mel turned out not to be such a good fit! So, the rights have reverted to you?


I’m hanging my head in shame now over the fact that I don’t read the J.D. Robb books. (Hey, I know it’s my problem.) But, fortunately for me, my AAR colleagues, as well as my sister who is also a big fan came to my rescue. With Innocent in Death due out in February, Ellen Micheletti would like to know if you have any plans to spin-off any of the characters from the series. To be more specific, Ellen would love to see Peabody handle a case on her own and also wonders if you have any plans for the clean and shiny Officer Trueheart?

Absolutely no plans for spin-offs. Just not of any interest to me, frankly. And I don’t see any of the sub-characters — of whom I’m excessively fond — having the chops to carry a book on his or her own. I love Peabody, and I love Trueheart. But they’re supporting characters, part of a team. They’re not the meat in the pie.

Robin Uncapher wonders about your male readers. Do they know they’re reading “romance?” Do you hear from them often?

Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. I’ve gotten some wonderful letters from guys. One of my favorites was from a man who’d picked up one of the Quinn Brothers books, not realizing it was Romance. He lived on the Eastern Shore, so it caught his interest. He wrote that I could only imagine his horror, his mortification when a lady friend told him it was a Romance novel — and he denied it vehemently, argued with her. No, no! It’s not. It can’t be! I’m a guy!! Then, he accepted the truth, and didn’t care because he enjoyed the book. And he read the rest of them.

Lots of guys read the Robbs. I guess this is because the name, the packaging don’t say Romance as clearly as Roberts does. And I’ve gotten a lot of male readers on the Roberts’ side this way. Hook ‘em on Robb, and they often slide over to Roberts.

Well, there’s a guy in my family who’s enjoying the Robb books – so much so that he’s even reading them on the Washington subway! Robin also wonders if you could magically materialize any of the technology you’ve created for use in your own life, what would it be? (Robin would opt for the AutoChef.) And considering the lightning fast speed of technology these days, she wondered if setting your books in the near future is getting more and more challenging? In other words, is it getting harder to stay ahead of technology?

The AutoChef would also be number one on my list. No cooking, ever! I say this as I’m about to knock off and go cook dinner. I’m not finding the technology of the near-future more challenging to invent. I’m kind of delighted to find some of the stuff available now more or less mirrors stuff I’d played around with early in the series.

On to Eve, a character who seems to inspire endless speculation and discussion. My sister wonders what your thoughts are these days on motherhood for Eve since she believes the character as she stands now isn’t really cut out for it – not that there’s anything wrong with that!

No babies for Eve in the foreseeable future — and that’s including if you’re extremely far-sighted. No point in it. Neither she nor Roarke are ready to be parents. I love children. Children change everything — and should — and in my opinion, in the best of ways. But change it they do. I’m not ready to change the tone or direction of the series.

A lot of my friends have commented on the fact that they love the way the relationship between Eve and Roarke is always growing and changing and, despite the many challenges the couple faces, these readers never doubt the absolute love at the core of it all. Do you think – as they do – that you are creating one of the most realistic fictional depictions of a “good” marriage ever?

Well, I’m really fond of these two — individually and as a couple. I see them, certainly, as having a strong and interesting marriage, and as being committed to each other — to making the marriage work—their way. For me a good marriage needs that commitment and individuality as well as love and passion.

Nora, you’re great at creating realistic “guys” and great heroes. But you’re also fabulous at celebrating the joys of female friendship, women supporting and learning from each other, all without taking away from the central romance. How important is the female bonding theme to you – in books and in life?

In life, it’s essential. I don’t know where I’d be without my women friends. I grew up with four brothers, no sisters, so girl pals are an absolutely joy for me. Who else can possibly understand you so well? Who else understands your language without a translator? In books, it would certainly depend on the storyline, but I enjoy, very much, exploring the connection, friendships, conflicts and dynamics between women. And, I think, those dynamics can also show how a woman relates to a man — gives her a sounding board — in a romantic relationship.

That segues nicely into something I’ve been wondering about. You are incredibly supportive of the romance community and other writers – and I don’t think anyone would argue anything else for even one moment – but you’ve never seemed to me to have joined that cadre of authors in their Sunshine Happy Land where everything is joyful and no public criticism of writers or their work is welcome. What’s your take on that world in which that old Mom-ism “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all” reigns supreme?

Well, I’m not always sunny, and I often don’t play well with others, so I don’t join a lot of groups. I don’t know what color the sky might be in a world where there’s no public criticism of writers or their work welcome. It might be nice for a couple of days, but honestly, I think it would start to creep me out.

I don’t believe you can’t say anything if you can’t say anything nice. But I certainly do believe you should articulate whatever you say well, that you can be honest without being vicious or rude, without being personal and actively trying to slice somebody — or their work for that matter — to bits. There’s a lot of room between zip it or be nice, and say any damn thing you want — especially with the cushion of anonymity on the net. If you’re going to post it in public, my rule of thumb is to be certain — absolutely — it’s something you’d say to someone face-to-face. And that you want the whole world to know you said.

Well, to explore this a bit further, even though we’re more than 10 years down the line, I think it’s fair to say that we’re all still feeling our way when it comes to online behavior. I used to think that authors were better off not participating in online discussions because there were just so many opportunities to be misinterpreted and always somebody ready and willing to do just that. But in the last year or so, you seem to me to have taken online activity to a different level. You participate in a number of message boards and blogs when you’ve got something to say and, as far as I’ve seen, there haven’t been any resulting kerfuffles and only a minimal amount of sucking-up. Why do you think it’s working so well? Is it because you’re…well, Nora?

I hope, at least in part, it’s because I’ve learned how to navigate the net. It’s a great tool, but many of us can fumble it and cut off a limb. I made plenty of mistakes, and there’s much I might wish I could take back from years past. It’s been an education. But the fact is, I love this tool — I love being able to communicate with readers and other writers, or just read what they have to say. If I’m not paying attention to what readers have to say, I’m missing out on quite a bit. I’m opinionated, and I say what I mean, mean what I say. But I think — hope — I’ve learned not to post when I’m angry, and I’ve learned to express my opinion without being antagonistic. Honest, yes, but not pissy.

There’s a lot readers and writers can learn from each other, and this is one of the best ways. We don’t always have to agree — but we should try to respect each other. I wouldn’t reject more sucking up, of course, because, well, there can never be enough. But seriously, I appreciate being able to comment and post on blogs and boards like anyone else.

Nora, with an unbelievable backlist and an incredible (and record-breaking) 35 AAR DIKs and too many RITAs to count, are any of your own books or characters especially memorable to you?

Whatever story, whatever characters I’m currently working on are always the most important to me. I have to devote all my energies—physical and creative and emotional to that story, and those people. Because I have, all my books and all my characters are memorable to me. Maybe not to everyone else, but certainly to me.

Speaking again of that incredible (and huge!) backlist, what’s a typical writing day like for you? In other words, how do you do it?

I work every day — generally five days a week. If something’s really rolling, I might sneak in some time on the weekend. Six to eight hours is usual per day, but again, it might be more if it’s cooking. I’m up early most days, so I head straight up to my office and check my e-mail, cruise around the boards and blogs. It’s a nice warm-up — plus it’s fun. Then I get to work. If I’m rolling on routine — which is my favorite thing — I break early afternoon for an hour and work-out. If I don’t work out, the ass I sit on hours every day would be the size of Pluto. After I work-out, I go back to work. Most usually, I’m going to knock off between four and five — and I’ll have toggled over to check e-mail, etc a few times during the day. After work, I’m probably going to have a nice glass of wine — because I earned it — and start dinner.

Nora, this is the point in the interview in which our guest author is allowed to pimp for any TV show she wants. (Did I just type Deadwood? I think I did!) Are you watching Heroes? Lost? Anything else you’re enjoying that you’d like to recommend?

I love Heroes. Just love it like cake. And Dexter — what a dark and delicious show. Nothing makes up for the loss of the truly incredible Deadwood, or the amazingBuffy. But these are great. I’m addicted to Lost — can’t wait until it returns. And I adore Kyra Sedgwick in The Closer.

What about books and authors? What’s striking you lately as especially terrific?

There are too many. I love popular fiction, just love me a good story. My pal, Patricia Gaffney, has a new novel coming out — next year? I think it may be either this fall or next spring. Mad Dash. It’s just wonderful. I eat up Robert Parker, John Sanford. I love Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone, and am in awe of Elizabeth Berg’s gift. Elaine Fox is just terrific in contemporary Romantic Comedy, and Ruth Langan, Mary Blayney, Mary Kay McComas are favorites — otherwise we wouldn’t have another anthology, Dead of Night coming out late fall. Then there’s Stephen King, Terry Pratchett, Carl Hiaasen.

Lastly, Nora, do you plan to keep writing the trilogies, along with the J.D. Robb books and the Nora Roberts single titles?

I’m writing the third book in a new trilogy now. The Sign of Seven trilogy. Kind of a fantasy/horror/romance. The first, Blood Brothers, will be out in December. I never know if I’m going to do another trilogy until I have an idea for one. Since I seem to get ideas that work in that sort of arc, I’ll keep writing them along with the Robbs and the single titles.

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