Lauren Collins: An Interview

In the 22 June issue of the New Yorker, there’s a 10 page profile of Nora Roberts by New Yorker reporter Lauren Collins. I know many people haven’t had a chance to find it and don’t want to buy access. If you go to the you can subscribe in the upper-right corner to a “Digital Edition Free Preview” which includes archive access. From there, you can find the Nora Roberts profile by Lauren Collins.

When I read the profile, and realized how much research she’d done into the backlist and history of Roberts’ work, I asked if she’d be willing to endure the pain that is… a Smart Bitch Interview.

I listened to the New Yorker podcast – well done! – and heard you mention that you’d not read romance before writing the article. Yet the piece itself demonstrates a HELL of a lot of research. Did you read a number of Roberts’ novels as research? Which did you like? What did you think overall?

Lauren: Maybe a better way to say it was that I had read romance, and I just didn’t know it—due to the Miseducation of Lauren Collins (which was quickly corrected) I had failed to realize that Jane Austen and her ilk were the foremothers (if that’s a word) of the genre. I did do a lot of research. But not nearly enough as I’d have liked to! According to my unmathematic calculations, it would have taken me something like a year to conquer the complete works of NFR—and that’s at a rate of two books a day, which, of course, is impossible. So what I tried to do was to read some representative selections: early stuff, middle stuff, recent stuff, J.D. Robbs, family sagas, trilogies, straight romance, romantic suspense.

It turns out I’m sort of a straight romance girl. The demons and ghouls that turn up in some of Nora’s later stuff I found not so much scary as boring. It’s the dialogue and the relationships between the characters—the human characters—that kept me going. I hauled the books everywhere and at least once “worked” while getting a pedicure.

You also mentioned in the podcast that you really wanted to write a profile of a very famous author, and this was a big opportunity. How did you decide upon Nora Roberts as your subject?

Lauren:I went to her website and read the story of Bruce and the Bookshelves, and that was pretty much it.

Before you began researching, what did you know about romance? About Nora, or her books?

Lauren: Very little, except for the usual stuff about Jackie Collins and bodice-ripping and Fabio. I knew Nora just as a big, embossed name I had frequently seen on the covers of books that the passengers next to me in airplane seats were reading.

Did you watch any of the Lifetime movies?

Lauren I was busy with the books! But I did get some secondhand experience of them through the Leann Rimes/Eddie Cibrian affair as documented in US Weekly.

What did you find most interesting or unexpected in your process of developing the profile?

Lauren: On a micro level, I loved this little factoid I found in “Writing a Romance for Dummies” (which is itself a totally fascinating document): publishing industry legend has it that a publisher once left out the light that customarily shines from the turret window on the cover of a Gothic romance, and the book tanked.

That book is full of interesting stuff. Who knew that heroes, at their most commercially viable, aren’t supposed to be from Scandinavia or the countries of the former Soviet Union? Or that they can’t be artists or athletes?! I also loved the laundry list of familiar plot devices: Secret Baby, Back from the Dead, Runaway Bride, Dad Next Door (my favorite). More significantly, I had—perhaps unfairly—not expected to find such a vocal and committed community of smart bitches who love trashy books.

What book are you reading now?

Lauren: “Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas,” by Jill Abramson and Jane Mayer. I just finished Steve Coll’s “The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in the American Century,” which, I swear, is as juicy as anything by La Nora.


Ha! Considering the way most of Nora’s books sneak up and smack me on the head with the sneak-attack emotional depth, I bet the Bin Laden profile is way more juicy page-for-page.

Thank you Lauren – for both a great profile and a fun interview.

 

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Terry Odell says:

    I hadn’t read much romance until I started writing. OK, I was writing a mystery, but my daughters told me it was a romance, so I figured, what the heck, and picked up a few to see what they were like.  I’ll admit, I avoided Nora Roberts, simply because I thought they’d be too “romancey”.  Then I found out (so, I was living under a rockpile) she was also JD Robb. I bought one on a whim, and have been addicted ever since.

    I went and found some ‘regular’ Nora Roberts books. I’m also of the ‘prefer the contemporary’ bent, but that’s across the board, not just her books. No paranormals for me.  But her voice and her characterizations work so well, I can count on loving the characters and not wanting the books to end.

  2. 2
    MaryKate says:

    There was an eyerollingly (ok, not a word, but whatever) snotty review of Black Hills in the Washington Post yesterday. Although the reviewer did acknowledge that it didn’t seem to matter whether she wrote a positive or negative review, the book would be on the best seller list.

    This was a fun interview though, Sarah. It was really refreshing to see a journalist who had never read the genre, enjoy it, and own up to the fact.

  3. 3
    Randi says:

    MaryKate: good lord, you weren’t kidding! Could this reviewer be any more condescending, patronizing, or bitter? Jesus, even if you didn’t like Black Hills, her other comments, both about Nora and romance readers, are sooooo off base-it makes me want to take a stick to her head.

    link below if ppl want to get themselves in a tizzy…

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/07/12/AR2009071201981.html?referrer=facebook

    plan76: I plan on making this reviewer read 76 different types of romances before making judgement calls about other people’s characters.

  4. 4
    Kristin says:

    What a snarky, bitchy review in the Washington Post.  I love that Collins is willing to admit she likes romance.  Great interview with her.

  5. 5
    Kristin says:

    Bummer…I signed up for the digital Edition free preview and I can NOT access the issue with the Roberts’ interview.

  6. 6
    Heather says:

    Nerdy librarian jumping in here.

    Check your local library to see if they offer access to databases such as LexisNexis, ProQuest, or Factiva. All three catalog the New Yorker. I used my library’s subscription to Factiva to read the article.

    Of course, your library may also have the paper copy. :)

    Hope this helps.

    minutes45—took me about that long to read the article. It’s long!

  7. 7
    Debra says:

    Good Lord.  I thought the WaPo interview was done by a man.  Read the whole thing and posted on FB how I was going to kick his ass and a bunch of other things about him.  Now to find she’s on OUR side of the gender breaks my heart!  She must have been too busy climbing the corporate ladder to indulge in the best thing since chocolate…la Nora.  I don’t care what Nora writes, as long as she keeps writing. 

    cent49 – I wouldn’t pay 49 cents for the WaPo column or any other column SHE writes.

  8. 8
    Janet W says:

    There’s a big ole thread on All About Romance: Sandy, one of the publishers, started the thread. I can’t believe some of the push back—even “within” the family, so to speak. I doubt I’ll enjoy this Roberts as much as others—contrary to the reviewer’s accusation, I am not a Stepford reader and I actually have to ability to judge a book on its own merits (that came out wrong—my opinion may differ from yours and that’s OK). Be that as it may, my shelves are laden with Roberts/Robb keepers. Anyone who thinks our anger is over a bad review is, as my dh often shouts at the umpire, “Missing a good game Ump!” She was condescending, inaccurate, puffing herself up at someone else’s expense … need I go on?

  9. 9
    Suze says:

    For beyond any of the fantasies her individual novels heat up and serve, it’s the tale of Roberts herself—her transformation from an average mom to a Dickensian lean-and-mean writing machine who maintains her down-to-earth, saucy persona in the face of stupendous success—that offers the most satisfying fantasy of all. That’s a tale that Roberts fans, as well as her critics, can agree to applaud.

    Wha?  The reason so many people buy NR books is because she’s our Cinderella?

    Lauren Collins:  awesome!  You actually did some investigation into what you were writing about.  Would I have liked you as much if you found Roberts lacking?  I think I would. I get the sense you would have given it an honest attempt, and given some legitimate reasons for not digging her beyond her failure to be a Serious Literature Personage.

    This WaPo person, on the other hand, seems to thing that her role as a reviewer is to make or break a book, and educate the unwashed masses about what is Good.

    Well, I’m going to live out a personal fantasy for a moment and pretend that it’s still the Golden Age of Critics: Mencken, Parker, Woollcott, Wilson—witty gatekeepers of culture who said what they thought without fear of the backlash of the booboisie or the demagogy of the Internet.

    Yep, the only reason you’re not a Witty Gatekeeper of Culture is because you’re given dreck to review.  That’s got to be it.  Schmuck.

  10. 10
    Randi says:

    JanetW: Where at AllAboutRomance is that thread you mentioned? That site is huge and I can’t seem to find it.

    Thanks!

  11. 11
    Randi says:

    Nevermind, JanetW. I found it. It’s here if anyone else wants to check it out…

    http://www.likesbooks.com/boards/viewtopic.php?t=5601

  12. 12
    JoanneL says:

    Nora Roberts: Lean, Mean Writing Machine
    Ya’ know, I bet her publishers have that tattooed over their hearts.

  13. 13
    Magnolia says:

    Booboisie? WTF?

    That WP writer spends as much time trashing NR’s fans (and by implication, all romance readers) as she does actually reviewing the book in question.  Lovely.

  14. 14
    Joelle says:

    From the snarky WaPo article:

    “Roberts could probably do better than a novel that, chapter by chapter, feeds her readers the top 100 female fantasies: (1) a rock-‘em/sock-‘em romantic partner who also takes out the garbage the minute he’s asked; (2) a French lover; (3) lustrous hair that keeps its shape even when a serial killer is looking to scalp its owner; (4) a rollicking shopping spree with the girls, followed by a spa day the following week; (5) a fierce wild animal (in this case, a cougar) that, inexplicably, forms a loving bond with the heroine. Need I continue?

    Where can I find the rest of the Top 100 list?  Where does Free Makeover fit in?  Who rates higher—Italian lovers or Greek tycoons? This will have me thinking for the rest of the day…

    woman78: That’s fantasy #78?

  15. 15
    Tina C. says:

    My first thought when I read that review was, “Wow…still pissed that that romance you wrote to make some “easy money” while working on your Great American Novel never got picked up, eh?”

    I haven’t read Black Hills and most likely won’t until it’s out in paperback, so I can’t comment on the quality or lack there of.  One of my all-time favorite books ever was written by La Nora, but there have been a few that I couldn’t even finish, so who knows how I’ll like it until I actually read it.  So it isn’t the fact that this woman panned Nora Roberts that irritates me—it’s the pointlessness of what she did write.  How does her disgust at having been assigned to read a Roberts book tell me anything about the actual book?  How does her condescension and dismissive attitude towards Roberts’ fans help me decide if this book is for me?  She even whines about how a review of a book that she did not write is somehow not all about her.

    So let’s step away from Roberts and her books for a moment and, instead, consider me.

    I’m the fall guy here—the stooge who’s been assigned to review “Black Hills”—and whatever I say about Roberts is going to affect me a heck of a lot more than it’s going to affect her.

    We have 3 paragraphs of dismissive sniffs, snotty prose, and whining before she even gets to the first actual sentence about the book.  Given her attitude, how am I supposed to give the actual critique of the material any more weight than any other uninformed ignoramus that automatically slams any book labeled, “romance”?  Sure, all the other snoberattis (yes, I know that’s not a word) will nod their collective heads and mutter, “How does that woman continue to have so many best sellers??  Tsk tsk, the Great Unwashed.  Tsk tsk, silly, tasteless women.”, but those of us who actually want to know if this particular book is worth our time obviously need to look elsewhere.  “Roberts Rules.  Sigh.”  And Corrigan drools.  Sigh.

  16. 16
    SusannaG says:

    Snoberatti – I like that one!

  17. 17

    Nice interview…but not nearly long enough, alas.  I would have like to have seen you dig into her journalistic head about such forbidden topics as the media insistence upon portraying all romance authors as dames in pink robes surrounded by poodles and chocolates.  Or the hoary old myth that all romance authors are oversexed housewives looking for relief…  Could have been fun!

    But seriously…it’s nice to see a journalist do her job properly and actually research her subject.

  18. 18
    sara says:

    I loved the Lauren Collins article, because I do spend a lot of my time wincing so hard my shoulder cramps when reading mainstream reactions to romance. And she seemed to go into it with an open mind, and wrote a great piece. Let’s face it, Nora Fucking Roberts is great. I wouldn’t want to be the writer who got on her bad side.

  19. 19
    lilywhite says:

    You do not have access to this issue.
    Your subscription does not allow you to access this issue. If you would like to subscribe to this issue, please click here.

    :(

  20. 20
    Rose says:

    Nerdy librarian jumping in here.

    Check your local library to see if they offer access to databases such as LexisNexis, ProQuest, or Factiva. All three catalog the New Yorker. I used my library’s subscription to Factiva to read the article.

    Heather, thanks so much! I work at a university but never would have thought of looking for Nora Roberts on Proquest. I found the full-text version – sadly no PDF – and will print and read it later.

  21. 21

    I actually like romance novels so long as there is some action in them. I write thriller/mysteries, but I always take the time to weave in some romantic story lines also.

  22. 22
    liz m says:

    Comments closed after 13? Way to dish it out…

    Makes me appreciate Lauren Collins even more.

  23. 23
    Rebecca says:

    It’s probably better to leave well enough alone, but I did want to respond to the sudden turn into negative comments about Maureen Corrigan on an otherwise unrelated thread.  Full disclosure: One of my early novels received a positive review from Ms. Corrigan when it came out several years ago.  We have no other connection, but because I was grateful for the review, I wanted to defend her a little, especially since I think some of the comments here misunderstand some of her complaints.

    Just for the record, Ms. Corrigan is a widely respected reviewer of mysteries and thrillers, so she does not turn up her nose at genre fiction (quite the reverse), and from what I saw of her review of Black Hills, part of her complaint was that it was too much romance and not enough mystery.  Her preference is for mystery over romance.  Suggesting that such a preference makes her seem like a man or somehow unfeminine or self-hating strikes me as one of the most reactionary positions possible.

    I think the reason there was so much vitriol in the comments here had to do with the fact that Ms. Corrigan obviously resented being forced to review Black Hills.  I’d like to suggest that the reasons for her resentment are a little more complicated than simple disdain for romances and romance readers.

    We live in an era of ever shrinking space for book reviews.  Financially strapped papers are shrinking or eliminating separate book review sections, cutting daily columns to weekly and weekly columns to monthly.  Under these circumstances, review space is at a premium.  I know many reviewers who feel that a significant part of their job is to bring attention to new or unknown authors who would not otherwise receive it—for example authors who publish with small presses who do not have the marketing budget to buy tables in Barnes and Noble, or the mass distribution networks of the major players.  These reviewers go out of their way to review books by relatively unknown writers whom they like, in the hopes of bringing them to the public.  Given this situation, when a reviewer is ordered by her editor to give precious column inches to a super-established author like Nora Roberts, whose sales (as Corrigan states) will be essentially unaffected by the review, and who does not need the publicity since she already has a loyal readership, some resentment is understandable.  While Corrigan’s frustration was perhaps poorly expressed, I suspect it was more directed at the “powers that be” in the world of newspaper publishing for insisting on reviewing “safe” authors who already have a following.  (And yes, I think she would direct similar snark at an equally established male author in another genre like John Grisham or James Patterson.  Would that make her equally a “bitch” or a “schmuck”?) 

    Aside from all that, she does give reasons why she dislikes Black Hills, and her review of the book per se is no more harsh than a good many of the reviews here at SBTB.  You can agree or disagree with her, but really the only person with the right to feel hurt by snarky comments about the book is Nora Roberts, and from what I’ve read of her comments here, she’s far too classy and too much the professional to take umbrage at a bad review.  We all get them sometimes.

    All right, as Mateotti supposedly said; “now that I have read you my speech, you may write me my obituary.”

  24. 24
    Suze says:

    While Corrigan’s frustration was perhaps poorly expressed

    That there would be a wild understatement.

    And yes, I think she would direct similar snark at an equally established male author in another genre like John Grisham or James Patterson.  Would that make her equally a “bitch” or a “schmuck”?

    Yes, it would.

    She has a philosophical difference of opinion with her employer over a work assignment?  And she chooses to express that resentment in a very public venue by half-assing the job?  She wants to live and work in a world where she gets to pick and choose her work assignments, and has little public temper tantrums when she doesn’t get to?

    Looking at her review in this light, I’m even less impressed by her.

    To repeat Tina C. above, because she nailed exactly what was wrong with the review:

    it’s the pointlessness of what she did write.  How does her disgust at having been assigned to read a Roberts book tell me anything about the actual book?  How does her condescension and dismissive attitude towards Roberts’ fans help me decide if this book is for me?

  25. 25
    Tina C. says:

    It’s probably better to leave well enough alone, but I did want to respond to the sudden turn into negative comments about Maureen Corrigan on an otherwise unrelated thread.

    All right, as Mateotti supposedly said; “now that I have read you my speech, you may write me my obituary.”

    I don’t intend to “write your obituary” unless you consider disagreeing with you doing so.  I would like to point out exactly why I don’t agree with you, however.

    First, this “sudden turn into negative comments” issue.  It began, “suddenly”, in the second comment on this thread, on the same day as the actual post and the first comment was posted.  It’s not like the pitchfork brigade appeared overnight and without warning.  And yes, it isn’t directly related to Lauren Collins, but it is directly related to Nora Roberts (who was also the topic of the post) and had appeared in print the day prior to said posting and, thus, it was (I can only assume) at the forefront of the minds of the fans who had seen it and were now reading about a “highbrow” (The New Yorker does have that cachet, after all) reporter who put aside her preconceptions to actually do the research.  Granted, a profile (Collins’ piece) is a completely different form of writing from a review (Corrigan’s), with obviously different aims and constraints, but the compare/contrast of the apparent attitudes of the two writers (one who is willing to approach a topic with an open mind vs one that states her disdain right up front) is nigh on irresistible.  So the statement that these remarks are in “an otherwise unrelated thread” is rather judgmental, since the implied message is disapproval at those of us who “hijacked” the thread with our “vitriolic” comments, and not entirely accurate.  I would also point out that there are only 23 comments on the thread, in total, so it’s not like there was some massive pile-on here.  Granted, about 50% of the comments are about Corrigan’s review, but your comment contributes to that percentage, so it’s rather hard for you to cast stones in that particular glass house.

    We live in an era of ever shrinking space for book reviews.

    Then perhaps she shouldn’t have wasted a full third, 3 of her 9 paragraphs, to complaining about her assignment, whining about how whatever she says doesn’t matter, feeling sorry for herself, and insulting anyone that chooses to read Roberts of their own volition (as opposed to be forced to do so by some ridiculous editor who is wasting valuable space on an established, inexplicably popular author, dammit!)

    Paragraph #1: It doesn’t much matter what I say about this new Nora Roberts novel; most of the adult female population of the planet is going to read it anyway.

    Paragraph #2:  I’m the fall guy here…If I pan the novel, I come off as a snooty-pants literature professor, and I’ll be deluged by e-mails from her ticked-off fans. If I gush over it, I’ll be suspected of trying too hard to be just a regular gal, a self-conscious populist, like Sen. John Kerry on the campaign trail back in 2004…

    Paragraph #3:  So here I am, caught between a rock and a hard place. Roberts’s feisty heroines are often stuck in this kind of fix at the climax of her tales just before a deus ex machina in the form of Mother Nature or a hunky guy drops in to rescue them.  That’s why women read Nora Roberts: to live out vicariously the fantasies that real life doesn’t provide.

    I don’t care how you cut it, that is flat-out condescending and insulting and cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be taken as “more directed at the “powers that be” in the world of newspaper publishing for insisting on reviewing “safe” authors who already have a following.”  Unlike SBSarah, who manages to give a poor review without specifically pointing out how anyone that does like the book is obviously a complete idiot, Corrigan can’t seem to resist her little jibes, can she?  And she’s good, I’ll give her that.  She manages to insult both the author and the reader in the same sentence:

    Roberts could probably do better than a novel that, chapter by chapter, feeds her readers the top 100 female fantasies:

    For beyond any of the fantasies her individual novels heat up and serve, it’s the tale of Roberts herself—her transformation from an average mom to a Dickensian lean-and-mean writing machine who maintains her down-to-earth, saucy persona in the face of stupendous success—that offers the most satisfying fantasy of all.

    After all, we all lead such sad, drab lives that we need to read Roberts, and books like hers, to escape into the fantasy of heroic men, great sex, and that we, too, can transform ourselves from “an average mom” to a rich, successful writing powerhouse.  (Editorial note:  Bite me.)  And as long as we are going to stereotype the readers, let’s continue this oh-so-lazy form of critique and continue to pander to the cheapest stereotypes and prejudices of those who are inclined to agree with her (without having ever read a single romance) by using outdated terms:

    in this latest bodice-ripper.

    and implying that it’s all just porn—and boring, been-there-didn’t-bother-to-do-something-so-boring porn at that:

    (partly by repeating the same sex scene every other chapter or so).

    Now, I haven’t read the book, but those that have point out in the very-quickly-closed comment section that Corrigan didn’t even bother to actually read her assignment, considering:

    There were three love scenes total in this book. Which contained more than thirty chapters. If you’re going to be snotty, at least be honest about it. (trainerjen; comment #2)

    So I stand by my original assessment that Corrigan, who may very well be a reviewing goddess when it comes to her preferred genre—she has no opinion to offer me about this book that I could possibly trust.  From all the evidence, she is hugely biased against Roberts, if not the whole genre.  She is resentful about being assigned the book and if she’s going to have to do it, well, by god, no one can make her do it well!  Why, she doesn’t even have to actually read the book, if the commenter who pointed out that one glaring error is to be believed—and frankly, given the damage that Corrigan did to her own credibility with her petulant prose makes me more likely to believe the random, unknown commenter than her.

    I don’t care if you like a book or not, no matter who the author is.  I do care that you have some damned integrity when you take on the task of reviewing it.  If you make a living from doing this (even if it isn’t the entirety of your career), you have a responsibility to do the job to the best of your ability.  I’ll tell you right now, if I’d been her editor, I wouldn’t have accepted that poorly executed “review”.  It didn’t serve the book and it didn’t serve the readers—it only served the writer’s wounded ego.  Hope it made her feel better.

  26. 26
    Suze says:

    I’ll tell you right now, if I’d been her editor, I wouldn’t have accepted that poorly executed “review”.  It didn’t serve the book and it didn’t serve the readers—it only served the writer’s wounded ego.  Hope it made her feel better.

    Tina C., you’re my new hero.  You took everything I felt about that review and described it clearly, concisely, and perfectly.  Thank you.

  27. 27
    hapax says:

    I couldn’t get into the Collins review, but I did hear the interview with Nora Roberts at RWA on NPR’s “Morning Edition” yesterday.

    Roberts, of course, came off fabulously—smart, gracious, funny, and respectful of the genre and her fans. 

    The interviewer, however, was horrible—snotty, condescending, cracking lame jokes, and making most of the segment all about HIM, and his efforts to dash off a bestselling romance novel.  The snippet that he read on air even he admitted was dreadful—an insulting and sophomoric of decades-dead romance tropes.

    [growling76—heh.  More like snarling700 ...]

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