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.