Ask any woman if she reads romantic fiction, and you’re likely to get a deflection. Most of the women I know, women who read seriously, won’t ever cop to reading a romance novel from time to time. I don’t understand what it is. If we watch chick flicks, we need the books that made the genre what it is today. And if I had to single out one author in the genre, it would have to be the one and only Nora Roberts.
The writer is worth upwards of $200 million, has sold millions of copies and is a fixture in the Bestseller list. Her profitability aside, she is proof positive that content sells. Well-written and well-thought-out content that is about building the story and telling it well is her forte and she has excited her readers more than she has upset them.
There is one thing, I single-handedly blame Nora Roberts for my fascination with Ireland. That’s a huge accusation, especially since I majored in Literature, and the Irish poets were a big part of our syllabus. And yet, an American romance novelist managed to imprint this country and its culture more decisively than anyone else.
If you’ve read her trilogies, you’ll know why. The mythology and Ireland’s culture of superstitions and beliefs are well-known. The writer takes all this and converts it into profit-making machinery with good writing, well-researched plots, and a whole lot of magic. To the point that I once looked into whether there were any conspiracy theories on if she was a witch!
At first read, I was intrigued. Here was a romance writer, so far removed from the excessive ellipses of Barbara Cartland that she had me at hello! What also drew me in, when I began reading her novels, was that she never wrote a world that was far removed from reality. Often, when you read romances or watch rom-coms, you find yourself unraveling “the big conundrum” with a simple sequence of events. Not in a Nora Roberts novel. Her witches are using those iPads and the dark web to source their secret ingredients, not to mention the abundance of back channels.
But magicks are not the only reason I enjoy her work. During this lockdown, I find myself more inclined to pick up a Nora Roberts novel to take a break from everything. At the very least, I will be surrounded by smart, good-looking men and women who always get the happy ending. There are, to me, some key aspects to her, both, as a writer and a person, and it’s what I love about her over and above her work. And those are…
- The Women
They are no withering flowers, they are not tools of the patriarchy, and they are all immensely flawed. She writes them authentically. There was one story, part of the Dream Trilogy set in Monterey, in which Kate, an accountant, antacids her way through adolescence and adulthood because of her anxiety and the pressure she puts on herself. There are very few women in literature generally who mention antacids, let alone anxiety! Roberts’ women are real. Not all of them can cook, clean, be domestic. But all of them stand up for themselves and each other, and none of them suffer the patriarchy silently. That’s saying a lot for someone in the romance genre, generally.
- She Writes Her Own Work
There’s no ghostwriting, that the publishing world is notorious for, where writers farm out their content. Each of her books has been written by her. Her first novel was published in 1981. Her 39-year writing career includes more than 215 novels. When you read about her writing routine, you’ll feel like a fraud. No, she doesn’t hide out for days at end, like some of the artists in her book do. She has a highly regimented routine and it’s a little disgusting if you’re the kind of person who thinks they should write a book.
- She Doesn’t Suffer Bullshit Quietly
She has fought plagiarism allegations very publicly and has always proven herself. The ugliest was the one in 2018, when a huge social media-fuelled saga erupted over one of her book titles. It got uglier on social media because the writer who accused her is a young Nigerian American YA author. If it was that the book’s plot had been borrowed there would have been something to voyeuristically admire about how such a titan of the industry is such a fraud. This entire issue was over a book title. Roberts wrote about the whole thing on her blog, and it was the classiest takedown I’ve had the pleasure of reading. Roberts’ response also put into perspective something very important in this age, even if the internet is forever, facts always win.
- Sexual Trauma Is Real
When I was confined to bed with hyperemesis gravidarum in my second pregnancy, I got a lot of reading done. I didn’t want to read some heavy books, I had enough on my mind. Romance novels usually come to my rescue when I am in this kind of mind space. Then I read Come Sundown (2017). The way in which Roberts documented Alice’s abuse. Her trauma. Her healing. I was amazed that an older woman had written that. If there is something I have observed over at least two decades of reading Roberts’ fiction, it is that the torment she presents is visceral. It’s not token, it’s not inauthentic. You feel for these people. Even if they inhabit some kind of perfect fantasy world where things right themselves somehow.
- Experimentation Is Everything
When it comes to romances, authors stick to a genre and a proven template. Nora Roberts, however, chooses not to. She is a romance novelist, that hasn’t changed, but, she also writes as J.D. Robb and has published almost 30 titles in the In Death series. Mystery novels with a love story attached. She also switches between trilogies and standalone titles and does it all with aplomb. This year, she has scheduled five books for release. I cannot imagine being that prolific, and also making money, and not losing your fan base. With her experience, it is easy to get out of touch, but pick up one of her recent books and you’ll be hard-pressed to think that it has been staged.
I never thought I would be rooting for a romance novelist, but, for Nora Roberts, I’m happy to.
Featured image courtesy: CBS News