Nora on Writing: Before she started writing, Nora Roberts was a woman in search of a creative outlet. Staying at home with her two small sons, she was the ultimate earth mother, gardening, canning fruits and vegetables, making her son’s clothes, stitching and knitting. “I macramed two hammocks,” she admits now. “I needed help.”
That help came in the form of a blizzard in February 1979, which left her stranded at home for a week. In an age without four-wheel drive vehicles, getting down the hillside from where she lived was impossible. Morning kindergarten was canceled for a week. It was the endless games of Candy Land and a severe lack of chocolate that drove her to look for a little entertainment that was not child-related. She took out a notebook and started to write down one of the stories she’d made up in her head.
As the story took shape on paper, the idea took shape in Nora’s mind that “this is IT. This is the thing I am meant to do.” The sun came out and the snow melted. The crafts were shelved and a career was born. She decided to write the story as a category romance, since she’d recently started reading Harlequin romances. At the time, Harlequin was the only publisher of category romances and their pool of writers was mainly British. The manuscripts she submitted were summarily rejected.
In 1980, Nora heard that a new publisher—Silhouette—was looking for authors who would put an American spin on Harlequin’s framework. In the summer of that year, Silhouette bought Nora’s first book. Irish Thoroughbred was published in 1981. As the years passed, Nora Roberts’s books were published several times a year under various Silhouette imprints. In 1987, she began writing single title books for Bantam. Five years later she moved to Putnam to write single title hard covers as well as original paperbacks as both Nora Roberts and J.D. Robb.
Now that her sons are grown, Nora looks back at that February blizzard as a blessing in disguise. “I started writing as a way to save my sanity,” she says, “and I fell into a job that I love.”
At Home with Nora: For the past 30 years, home for Nora Roberts has been on the top of a hill in western Maryland. When she arrived there with her children, she knew she’d found the perfect home. “I realized I was home,” she explains. “Sometimes you just recognize it.” Over the years her career has taken her all over the world, but she always returns to that hilltop to renew her spirit and create her magical stories.
While there have been many changes to the house, the heart of it is a home that has seen a family grow. The framed photos of Nora, her husband Bruce and her sons, Jason and Dan, which are placed everywhere, chart the years. Early in her career Nora wrote in notebooks and then on a portable typewriter in a corner of her kitchen so she could keep an eye on her two small sons. After her career started taking off, she hired a local carpenter to build some shelves in her bedroom. In the manner of all good stories, the carpenter, Bruce Wilder, later married Nora. “He came and just never left,” she jokes.
Little did either of them know that the home projects had only just started. Bruce built Nora’s third floor office and a tower closet off the bedroom. Later a pool house was attached to the first floor, the kitchen was built out and a library was added on for the perfect nook in which to curl up and read a book. To bring their lives full circle, Nora recently realized the only thing left to add was some more bookshelves.
When she’s not writing, Nora tends to her gardens. She ruthlessly weeds, plants, and mulches, and enlists her family to help out. Her constant battles with marauding deer have made it into her books and entertained her fans over the years. There’s an herb garden off the kitchen, a hillside of tiger lilies and hundreds of annuals throughout the property, giving Nora ample opportunity to still play in the dirt.
At Work with Nora: Since she started writing stories down in notebooks 30 years ago, Nora Roberts has used discipline and talent in equal measure. Early in her career, she worked her writing in between her sons’ daily pre-school and nap schedules. When they were both in school full time, her writing schedule mirrored theirs, although she put in extra hours over the weekend. Now, after almost 200 books and countless bestsellers, she writes eight hours a day — every day.
Nora’s office, on the top floor of her home, reflects the hard work that goes on there as well as the rewards that work reaps. The walls are filled with framed covers of her books. On the shelves, awards compete with Nora’s various collections of crystal figures, whimsical wizards and dragons. Her computer is housed on a desk in front of a large picture window that looks out into the woods behind her home. A comfortable sofa completes the warm, charming room.
A perfect day in Nora’s opinion has no interruptions during her hours of writing. “But I don’t get many perfect days,” she admits. A more typical day starts with a workout in the pool or on her elliptical trainer, then up to work. After running through her e-mail and logging onto the various websites where her fans gather, she dives into the work at hand.
There’s a short break at midday to check e-mail that has come in or to read and post on the online boards. Then she’s done around four or five and heads down to fix dinner for herself and her husband Bruce. If a book is moving well or she was interrupted throughout the day, she’ll go back up and write for another hour or two in the evening.
With her publishing schedule there are frequently galleys of upcoming releases to read, but those are relegated to the evening. “Daylight hours are writing hours,” Nora says firmly. Otherwise she relaxes by reading or watching some television with Bruce.