Monday, January 9, 2012


I met Nora Roberts, the unquestionable queen of romance novels, thirty years ago next summer. The year was 1982, the place was the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California, and the occasion was the second Conference of the Romance Writers of America. I had entered the Golden Heart contest and won second prize (they called it that, instead of “finalist,” in those days). Nora, on the other hand, who went everywhere on board the ship with a clipboard so she could write whenever she had five open minutes, had just sold her first novel and signed a four-book contract with Silhouette.

Nora continued to be prolific, and the next time I saw her in person was in 2001, twenty years later, and she had sold 240 books, an average of eight a year. I don’t know for sure but she’s probably sold 500 by now. As for Moi, I’ve written twenty-five (plus the eight unfinished ones on my computer) and my fifteenth published novel comes out next July, almost exactly thirty years from the day I had that first success as a romance novelist and received a golden heart necklace.

“So, you sloth,” you ask, “what were you doing all those years while Nora wrote rings around you?” (Besides not making one-hundredth of the money she did.)

I was still raising children (well, so was Nora, I’m told, although I raised four to her two) plus I ran my husband’s sideline business and then (via long distance from California) managed two condos on Maui for twenty of those years.

Those excuses aside, I did a certain amount of writing too, namely my non-fiction book, WALL STREET ON $20 A MONTH, “How to Profit From an Investment Club,” and many magazine articles on that and other topics as a result of the book. I also ghost-wrote three books: one for a woman friend about the life and death of her two daughters (sold to a religious publisher), and two for a businessman client who wanted a book to sell after his speeches and workshops. And, oh yes, many one-act plays, a full-length play and two thirty-minute radio scripts produced by American Radio Theatre.

My first romance sale came in 1984, and therefore twenty-one sold books (counting the three ghost books which I was paid for, plus three self-published books) gives me an average of eight-tenths of a book per year instead of Nora’s eight whole ones. But, not too shabby for someone who writes slowly, rewrites a lot and even writes longer books than category romance. Like several at 75,000, 90,000 and even 110,000 words.

So what did I learn that I can pass on to you? First, that Nora and I used the same title, ONCE MORE WITH FEELING, for one of our romance novels, and you have to want to do this really bad. But if you like sitting at the typewriter (first an IBM Selectric) and computer and inventing stuff, that’s good news, not bad. The hours may be long, but no longer than you choose, you can work in your jammies and fuzzy slippers, chocolate is always close at hand, and the children are (supposedly) being supervised. Unless, like mine, they’re grown up now.

And I intend to go right on doing it. How long have you been writing, my friend? Do you have any Nora Roberts stories to share?


  1. Ha! Cute blog! :)

    I met Nora at Nationals in DC. SHe seemed kind enough... I have no idea how she writes so many books! Yow!

    My first books was published in 2011. I had 3 releases last year (2 self-pubbed) and I have 2 releases scheduled so far this year, although I'd love to sell my werewolf series and add one more release for 2012 but we'll see...

    Good luck this year!

    Lisa :)

  2. Enjoyed your comparison, Phyllis. I met Nora at the last RWA National Conference in Anaheim, where a throng of her admirers waited in line for her to sign books. She visibly faded as we watched. Then a thoughtful aide brought her a glass of red wine and, like a bicycle tire being re-inflated, we watched her revive to the point she could once again smile as she asked the next person in line some personal question that made them feel important to their favorite celebrity while she signed their book.

    Toni Noel

  3. I met Nora in her husband's bookstore in Boonsboro, MD--Turn the Page Bookstore. It's lovated in an old building on Main Street where the tree roots crack and buckle the sidewalk. The bookstore was about the square foot size of the average living room, only narrow and long. At the time I lived maybe 12 miles from Boonsboro, so going there was no pilgrimage, but a treat nonetheless.

    She breezed in as the young woman behind the register was ringing my purchases. I had no clue who she was, but was taken aback when she snatched my books, saw one was written by Nora Roberts and winked. "Great purchase." She hugged and kissed the cashier before opening the door to a narrow staircase and stepping lightly on the stairs.

    "My mother-in-law," the cashier purred.

    I laughed. "She must like Nora Roberts, too."

    The cashier blinked. "That WAS Nora Roberts."

    One of those OMG, I'm so dumb moments.

    Can I write as fast as she? No, I write a romance in 3-4 months, but then I do little else. It's a job I've always wanted and I love it.

  4. Nora Roberts and James Patterson are industries unto themselves. I understand Patterson has some ghostwriting elves. I don't know if Ms. Roberts does, too, but a New Yorker article a few years ago suggested it.

  5. Wonderful post, Phyllis. You write beautifully and your words ring true and clear. Thank you for your marvelous stories. Sincerely, Joy

  6. Phyllis: I too, met Nora here in Vista at Sam's Club, a book signing for Carolina Moon, a few years ago. She and Ruth Ryan Langan are best friends. I've known Ruthie for 30 plus years. They do some tri-stories couple times a year together. Both great ladies and YOU ARE definitely in their league, Phyllis. Welcome to their club. Joy

  7. Lisa

    Glad you liked the blog. Thanks for sharing your meet with Nora. I liked her too. Congratulations on your latest releases. I hope they're successful. I don't write werewolves myself, but am always amazed at the creativity involved.

  8. Toni:
    Thanks for your comment and sharing that glimpse of Nora signing books. Chocolate, not wine, does it for me.

  9. Vonnie:

    What a great story about meeting Nora as you were buying her book. Thanks so much. I'm so happy you can write a book in 3-4 months; as I said, I'm a sloth in comparison. Do keep up the good work. Thanks again.

  10. Anne:
    Thanks so much for reading my blog. I like to think Nora really knocks out those books herself, but I know for sure Patterson doesn't. I picked up one of his books last summer and it was so obviously co-wrtten, I couldn't finish it. The pieces didn't fit, one part was in first person, and in the first 40 pages, seven characters had names beginning with "C".
    I hope you'll stop by again. I am a huge fan of your blog - wouldn't miss it. And THE GATSBY GAME is a keeper.

  11. Joy:

    Thanks for your kind words. And especially the story about Nora and friends. She's an inspiration.


Speak to me! I'm listening!