Nora and I do most of our work together virtually. I drive up to Boonsboro for events but on the whole, I work in Raleigh while Nora works in her Fortress of Solitude. So we do many things by email — conveying information, ironing out details, discussing all things Justified, gardening tips. She lets me know when she’s finished a book (just did). I occasionally offer stellar advice like naming every heroine Laura (she’s yet to agree).
And then there are emails like yesterday’s (she said I could share):
Came down from my office, preparing to go down to the gym to work out. I hear something bang into the front window.
See a bird. As this happens often enough, my mind immediately went to: Bird outside.
No, bird inside.
Creep over, see the bird on the back of the chair looking dazed. Ease in, gently capture bird who just sits there. Take bird outside, put her up on the garden wall so she’s safe.
Two minutes later, the damn bird, feeling feisty, flies right in the back door I didn’t think to shut all the way.
She’s now in my dining room, and not at all dazed.
Not sure what comes next.
Four minutes later this comes next:
I finally herded her, if you can herd a bird, out the dining room door leading to the deck and outside.
Doors are closed now!
See? Writers are real people who have bird problems too! And here’s an album of garden updates:
I thought about this when I took my little after-work stroll around the gardens on Friday. Everything’s looking so pretty, color and texture already changing. Then I got to one of my favorite spots, what I think of as a little faerie garden.
I literally stopped dead, stunned speechless.
During my earlier workout, I’d heard Pancho
barking incessantly–and yelled out a few times for him to knock it off. I didn’t think much of it–until I saw my dragon wing begonias, my pretty mini fuchsias, some of the yellow bells and foxglove had been trampled on, and many broken.
It didn’t take much for me to get the picture. Some critter had wandered in, and the dogs had gone wild. Now if a deer passes by, they generally just lie there, maybe give it a glance. I hear them thinking: Okay, it’s bigger than us, we’ll just stay where we are. But a raccoon or possum, that’s fair game.
And the games must’ve been vigorous.
A moment–okay longer than a moment–of heartbreak, and a stern talking to given to the dogs.
While I’d planned a quick trip to the nursery for Saturday, it was for a couple of specific things to fill particular gaps–and didn’t include fixing up that section. Now it would. After I gathered up some of the broken plants–sticking them in water on the faint hope they might shoot some roots–I scribbled down a short list of what I’d need.
Saturday’s trip took longer, and well, there I am in the middle of all those gorgeous plants, so four and a half flats later, I come home. I’ll also confess, I had to make myself stop. So tempting to get more–and somehow I’ll always find room. But enough already.
BW isn’t home today, but will be pleased I only have a single plant I want him to do–pretty big hole needed, and in a tricky spot.
I’ll do the rest.
As I’m setting them out, getting a visual, switching them around, next visual, I realize I never have any real plan when I garden. I have a basic concept I may or may not follow.
That’s just the way I write. Huh.
Both are jobs and joys for me, and I approach both in a way I’ll call organic. Let’s start here and see what happens. After the first draft in a book, I’m going to need to start from the beginning again, start weeding what doesn’t belong, prune out what needs to go. Maybe I have to move what I thought should go here to there.
I’ll need that third pass in a book, doing all the fussy work, making sure this is the best I can do, making sure it all holds together.
Gardening’s the same with my process.
There are going to be gaps that need filling. More color, more texture, maybe a different angle. My nasturtium seeds have only sprouted two little plants. I think about this, move one carefully and plant it with the other.
In its place I fill in with mini fuchsias (I bought far too many for the faerie garden anyway), and some wishbone flowers (not on my list, but too sweet to resist) that should spill nicely over the wall.
Not what I’d intended, but it works. It works really well, and I think, that’s just how it should look. Readjusting with a story is the same. You go where it works.
Water, compost, conversation. You want a strong story, you want strong plants–and I want to be intimately connected to both.
It’s marvelous to watch things bloom, in a story, in a garden–whether it all blooms the way you anticipated at the start, and even more so when it blooms its own unexpected way.
You’re going to get sweaty and tired–and there can be some disasters–having both my hard drive and backup crash simultaneously years back, costing me an entire chapter isn’t so different than seeing a pretty, thriving section of my gardens trampled by a couple of enthusiastic dogs. There I had to go back,reconstruct–and tell myself, as I am with my faerie garden, it’ll only be better for it eventually.
With a book, it’s going to end. You’ll have done the best you could with the story, and you’ll move on. A garden is a constant work in progress. But for me, getting there is pretty much the same.
Nora was out in the garden yesterday and sent in these photos. We’ll update them as the season progresses.
How’s your garden growing these days?
We arrived in Louisville Thursday afternoon to cool temps and a seriously brisk wind. Delighted to see our BFF in Louisville, Kathy, and our fabulous cop Brian at the airport. Load up and head to the hotel. Time for a little catch-up, and our traditional lunch at the Dizzy Whiz–on to the hotel for unpacking, then it’s already time to change for the evening events.
We have a big bonus round this trip as we’ve been invited to have drinks with Sue Grafton and her husband Steve at their home in Louisville. I’ve been a fan of Sue’s and her brilliant Kinsey Milhone since A Is For Alibi, so it’s a real treat. As if that wasn’t enough, their home and grounds are absolutely amazing. They’ve rehabbed an gorgeous old mansion, and Steve particularly is an avid and creative gardener. Jason, Kat and I had a delightful time wandering the hedge maze they’ve built–I’ve ALWAYS wanted to try my hand at a maze, and this one was just great. We eventually found our way out where BW waited for the adventurers with Sue and Steve.
This visit was a perfect kickoff to our Derby time.
Then we’re off to Poker Night. We don’t play–Texas Hold ‘Em confuses me–but it’s a great time catching up with friends we’ve made from previous trips. VERY cool evening, and cool inside, too, so I’m grateful for my topper. Never took it off.
Friday is Oaks Day for BW and Jason, and Girl Day for Kat, Kathy and me. As is tradition we start off at City Nails for manis and pedis. I love this place, everyone’s so happy and friendly. I get bright orange toenails to go with my Derby Day outfit. Fun!
Time for lunch, and a glass of champagne for me. It’s Derby! Then onto Rodes for shopping. I spy a bag within ten seconds that had to be mine, and it just got better from there. Another tradition is finding BW (size 14!) cool shoes in the men’s department as a Father’s Day gift, and they don’t let me down. Bags, scarves, a jacket, BW’s shoes, some baubles. Where has the day gone?
It’s back to the hotel where the Louisville goddess of hair, Sarah, is waiting to make us beautiful for the gala. I have to find the pictures we took of the back of Kat’s updo. Just stunning. We all look pretty glam even by the time the guys get back from the track. My filly didn’t come in, but I figure okay, I’m saving my luck for Derby.
The guys change into their tuxes, and we’re a pretty awesome group. Head to the gala, do the Red Carpet, and dive into the crowd. They do wonderful decorations for the ballroom. Fountains of lights, flowers, so festive and elegant–and not stuffy. I need more champagne! And must check out the silent auction offerings. They benefit Blessings In A Backpack, an organization I support, so I’m happy to bid on what catches my eye. A few things did.
We mingle, we eat, we check on my bids (still holding!), then it’s time for the first round of live auction. I got BW the Indy 500 package a couple years ago, and it’s up again. He really loved going, so I bid on it. A spirited if confusing short time later, and BW will be heading to the Indy again in 2015 or 2016 (his choice). Happy!
Kat discovers they’ve got the photo booth up again this year. It’s a do-it-yourself, with props. We have a fun and silly time there. Can’t wait until the pictures are on line. I have some great ones from our last trip.
Check on silent auction bids, and I’m all good. I’m kind of surprised, but pleased, no one seems overly interesting in what I’m bidding on.
By eleven-ish, I’m beat. They’ve got some glitch with the silent auction check-out, but will handle my wins the next day. Great, because I’m ready for bed.
Out of finery, into pjs, crash.
Derby Day dawns, and it’s perfect weather. The kind of day tailored made for Derby. I’ve already decided California Chrome is getting my main bet. I loved his story, I loved his owner, his trainer. Everything about him works for me–and I happened to catch an interview with his owner before I dressed that morning that just cemented it. It’s not just about the race, the money with this guy. It’s first and last about the horse. I’m betting on this guy and his beautiful horse.
I have to say, again, the four of us look pretty damn good! Traffic’s just awful, but Brian handles it. Then we’re there, that spectacular place. The spires, the crowds, the color, the excitement that’s like light in the air. Blue skies, warm breezes. Perfection.
Do the Red Carpet, funnel into the waiting area. We’re assigned a guide, and she zips us right through–knows a short cut–and wham, we’re into our area, at our table. Couldn’t have been smoother. I have to go out on the terrace first thing, because there’s nothing, just nothing, like that view. The rich brown oval of the track, the green of the infield already filled with color from the crowds, the circling stands, those spires spearing up into blue skies. But I see we have like three minutes to post on this race, grab the program. I see a horse named Faerie Dancer. Well, obviously. Ask BW to bet $10 across the board. He adds $10 for himself. I get to watch this race before I’ve gotten my bearings. And watch Faerie Dancer streak across the finish line in first. Woo!
A most excellent start!
Derby is first, for me, about the horses. They’re more magnificent than I can say. Watching them walk out on the track, riders up in their colorful silks, is awesome. Some of them will trot around with their companion horse like they’re saying, oh yeah, I’m ready for this. Others will have their heads together with their companion like their telling secrets. Those moments when they’re loading in the gate, the seconds before those gates open, so exciting. Then watching them run is pure thrill. Those long legs flying, the thunder of sound, the jockeys glued to their backs, it’s such a stunning experience.
It’s also about the hats, and there are many. Big ones, tiny ones, sparkling little fascinators, whooshing wide brims that need their own zip code. Color and shape and most of all fun.
And as we realize this is our tenth Derby, it’s also about the people we’ve met, sharing the day with them, consulting on bets, sharing wins and losses. And lots and lots of laughing.
Despite the hats, the fashion, the people, it always comes back to the horses. Anticipation builds all afternoon toward that single, spectacular two minutes.
At the last minute, I decide to up my bet on California Chrome. I’m a pretty conservative gambler–it’s about fun for me. But I have such a good feeling about this horse. Even if he loses, I’m enchanted by his story, so I bet more on him (surely considerably less still than many of our companions) than I’ve ever bet on a horse before.
Then I forget about the bet because it’s nearly here.
I know I’ve said it before, but I’ll repeat, it’s glorious and heart-tugging when they play My Old Kentucky Home. Maybe it’s the tune itself, how it’s played here at the Downs before this race that spawns all the chatter and excitement, all the work of the horses, the grooms, the trainers, the hot walkers, the jockeys, but it’s a truly special moment out of time.
And oh my, here they come for their walk around the oval to the gate. All of them gorgeous, and the crowd already cheering them. I see my horse and he’s so relaxed, like he’s thinking, I was born for this one, I’m ready. I’ve got this.
It builds and builds, that all but visible anticipation and excitement, the noise coming in waves as they approach the gate, as they’re loaded in.
And they’re off.
It’s simply like nothing else. Even over the oceanic roar of millions, you can hear that thunder. As I always do, I forget everything else for those two minutes–too awed to think. Somewhere in the din, the announcer’s voice is piping to tell us which horse is in the lead or coming around the outside. There’s a HUGE screen at the Downs now, so you can watch the horses when they’re on the far side of the track.
Somewhere in the gigantic thrill of it, I pick out California Chrome, and he’s everything and more. I actually think: Yeah, you’ve got this.
Around the final turn, streaking for the finish line, and he does that change of gears some horses can do. And oh boy, yeah, he’s got this.
It’s wonderful to win. Fun to win. But nothing comes close to that two minute experience.
I have to watch the replay as then I can really watch him, just him, run. That’s some horse.
We hang out for the last two races, saying goodbye to Derby friends, back to the hotel through miserable traffic–but it can’t dim the day.
Fall into bed early, wiped out. Up to pack. Off to the airport, and home again.
A whole lot of fun packed into one long weekend. That’s Derby.
They fly home today and I’m sure more photos and Nora’s travelogue will follow!
Did you watch the race? Did you pick the winner?
5/4//14 11:20 am: I’m back with the link to Nora’s red carpet interview: http://www.wave3.com/category/240203/video-landing-page?autoStart=true&topVideoCatNo=default&clipId=10122146
Nora’s flown off to Louisville for this year’s Kentucky Derby. I’ve seen photos of the hat and it’s just amazing and fabulous. Travelogue and photos to follow early next week. (You can read about her 2013 Derby experience here.)
So while La Nora is away La Laura will play.
The first weekend in May always makes me think about Nora’s Derby books specifically her very first book Irish Thoroughbred and it’s sequel Irish Rose (which are currently packaged in one book as Irish Hearts) as well as True Betrayals. Perhaps it’s unfair to compare the books because category romances are more limited in scope than a big romantic suspense, but I think as Nora was a maestro at giving us fully fleshed out stories and characters when she wrote for Silhouette that it’s not so much comparison as it is companion.
A couple of questions to stir the conversation pot:
If you are an active re-reader, which do you reach for more often: Irish Thoroughbred or True Betrayals?
Adelia Cunnane is a heroine who knows exactly what she wants to do with her life and does it while Kelsey Byden has spent years trying one thing or another until she finds her footing in the world of thoroughbred racing. Which sort of heroine do you prefer the one who knows what she wants or the one who is seeking her place?
More favored hero: Travis Grant or Gabe Slater? I’ll have to admit that Travis is a bit more mysterious since Nora was constrained by the category romance standards of 1981 which meant readers never got the hero’s POV (point of view), but she gives us as full a picture of him as she can.
Finally, do you watch the Derby every year?
The Slow Food movement stands for taking pleasure in cooking, eating, and sharing meals with others.
I thought: why not Slow Read Weekends? Theoretically, the weekend is the time to take a break, take breath and savor life.* (I say theoretically because when my children were younger, weekends were sports and activities and a bewildered stare at my husband on Sunday night wondering where the 48 hours had gone.) And sometimes you really want to share the love of a book or an author in a larger space than Facebook.
So let’s start a regular thing here on the blog, shall we? What are you reading/savoring this weekend? (It doesn’t have to be a Nora Roberts or a JD Robb.) What reading pleasures have you explored recently? Sharing recommendations with other readers is the best way to keep the reading community healthy and growing.
I’m devouring Nalini Singh’s Archangel’s Legion because I can’t wait for her Archangel’s Shadow this fall (I’ve been waiting for Janvier and Ashwini’s story for sooooo long). How about you?
Thank you to everyone who took part in the recent conversations both here and on Facebook. It’s an interesting, fascinating — at times frustrating — exercise to share information with well over a half million people worldwide. You have to deal with a lot of questions and hand out a lot of disappointment along with lovely, satisfying dollops of exciting news and conversation.
The center of this blog and the pages on Facebook are a writer and her books. You may not love every single book. I don’t love every single book. But I do anticipate each one and enjoy the worlds Nora/JD bring to me.
I’ve read Nora’s books from nearly the beginning of her career. Actually, The Law is a Lady was the first book I remember consciously thinking “I want more from this author.” Over the years as a reader then a colleague, I’ve read them all. Some I reread regularly, some I enjoy and then just put away. I’ve got my favorites (Naked in Death, The Villa, Three Fates) and my least favorite — for some reason it’s Born in Ice (I know, people loooooooove that book). But books are a personal thing for me. I don’t share I just enjoy.
In this easily accessible social media life we’re leading everyone has an opinion — Nora/JD included. But the word “opinion” doesn’t come with a gold-plated shield allowing a poster to be rude and presume to know what an author does and why under the umbrella of opinion.
What I saw in Nora’s recent posts was humor and a great deal of patience for and a respectful nod to readers’ opinions and requests. (Please remember the humor and patience have been honed over 30 years — what’s a fabulous question about a book to a new reader is usually one she’s heard many times over.)
Neither Nora nor I expect herd mentality here. Every book will not be perfect for every reader. It’s not a fairy tale world full of rainbows and sparkles. Posts with dissenting points of view stay in the comments. Here and on Facebook.
I’ve wondered over and over how come so many people love the humor of Nora’s heroines, but don’t quite like it when humor is used to illustrate that while readers may pine for certain events in the In Deaths or multiple additions to a series that’s finished (please see the Brides and the Quinns and the MacGregors) those things will never happen. Somehow that’s interpreted as condescension or mocking when all it is is the answer no,
A great deal of my time is spent saying no. The reader email is full of requests Nora outlined in Comas and Kidnappings and Orphans. Oh my! (those weren’t even the most jaw dropping requests) and I can’t answer them with half the humor Nora does. A reader once wrote asking why the FAQ page on Nora’s website was so negative. I could see her point because the FAQ is mainly made up of answers to those requests for something more. Those answers invariably disappoint someone.
It’s an endless cycle. Sometimes it’s frustrating, sometimes it just makes me laugh because readers in general are a hopeful sort. I spent years asking for stories about children in a certain Silhouette series when they got to be adults. Years. And Nora was about to start those stories when she left that publisher. So I feel the pain about wanting, needing more. I really, really do.
Bottom line? Here’s why I can answer those questions with disappointing answers over and over:
Nora has given me three decades of wonder. I’ll bet she’s given that to many readers.
She’s a proven commodity to me and I trust that she will take me to places I didn’t even know I wanted to visit. I trust that I’ll have a fabulous time going to those places and meeting new characters who I’ll miss when I’m done.
Readers will outgrow authors. I’ve done it more than once. I know Nora has too. Sometimes you just need a break and return with vigor. Sometimes you are done and are sad that an author’s books no longer work for you.
That’s your opinion and you’re entitled to it.
So the request going forward is to share your thoughts. Positive or negative, please express those opinions in ways that don’t go over the line of respectful conversation. If you can’t do that, then please just don’t post. Walk away and find a new author. We wish you only the best and hope you find the stories that you need.
For me? I’ll just continue to trust that Nora will continue to tell me grand stories.
In the recent discussion we could call Procreation In Death, readers tossed out a lot of ideas about plot direction, story additions, plot devices. It’s gratifying to know books and characters I created resonate with readers and have them thinking of what ifs and what’s next.
Characters, like Eve and Roarke and the gang, or like Lila and Ash in my most recent book, The Collector, become a major part of my life. It’s incredibly satisfying when they become a part of a reader’s life.
Now here’s the thing. It’s sort of a big, sweeping thing. There are many, many readers with many, many opinions, feelings, hopes, ideas. As we can see, just as one example from the previous discussion, some readers are as opposed to a Baby Roarke as I am at this time. Others long for one.
So who do I listen to? I listen to the characters–and myself. If I listened to the readers I’d go slowly mad as it’s impossible to please all as one readers says this, another says that. Often with equal passion.
A writer can’t write, not well, not truly, with a reader standing over her shoulder. If only because there’s a second reader over her other shoulder saying the exact opposite. Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Neither, because books are subjective and personal, and readers are entitled to take exactly what they want out of a book.
But the writer’s the only one who puts the words, the characters, the feelings, the actions, reactions on the page for those readers to take away.
Here’s the even bigger, more sweeping thing.
I’m never–let me repeat–never, ever, ever going to take a reader’s idea and run with it. Not no way, not no how. If it doesn’t come from me, I’m not going to write it, I’m not going to be compelled to follow that path and see where it leads. It’s not mine.
Over the years I’ve had countless suggestions from readers on storylines, character types, and in the case of the In Death books, countless suggestions for direction and plotlines. Comas, kidnappings and babies seem to be the most popular. (Though puppies were off and running this time out.) You’re not going to see Eve or Roarke in an extended coma so Peabody and McNab can run the show. It’s not the Peabody and McNab show. If Roarke got himself kidnapped, he’d lose considerable of his edge. I can spend the next twenty minutes writing out other reasons why these devices won’t work, but above all you’re never going to see these devices because they’re not mine. It’s not how I see the books or characters.
And over the years I sincerely can’t count the times someone has come up to me, or written me hoping I’ll take this wonderful idea for a book, write it, then split the royalties with them. Or maybe I could just edit this book they’re writing and they’ll cut me in on what’s bound to be a major best seller. Or–a personal fave–they want me to write their life story because it’s so fricking fascinating.
To all of these I say, PLEASE, write your own book. I think it’s pretty clear I can come up with my own ideas, so thanks but no thanks for the offer of yours and half the royalties.
And to those who pine for me to write their autobiography, I say here, as kindly as possible, everyone’s life is, or should be, fascinating to them. It’s probably not going to be fascinating to most everybody else. And it’s not my story. I’m never–repeat–never, ever going to write it.
Ideas, honestly, are the easy part of this job. It’s the execution of the idea that frustrates, fascinates and drains the blood from your body. Ideas? I’ve got a million of them. Some of them will never make it to the page because they’re not especially good ideas. Nearly all of them seem like the wrong idea at various points during the writing process when it feels like nothing’s going the way you’d hoped it would or thought it would. But that’s the process.
So don’t look for comas and kidnappings In Death, don’t look for your life story on the New York Times Bestseller list with my name after it, don’t look for your phantom vampire and the international assassin who loves him or your struggling single mother finding love and adventure with the incognito prince as they thwart a terrorist attack on Cleveland.
Hmmm….maybe make her a blogger, and he’s undercover CIA, and….No.
So the big (and simple) and sweeping thing is this: If I didn’t think of it, I’m not going to write it.
I hope you’ll continue to enjoy what I do think of, and where I take you.