Nora Roberts, IDENTITY

Nora Roberts, IDENTITY

Zibby interviews Nora Roberts, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of more than 230 novels, about her chilling new thriller Identity. Nora discusses different components of her book: identity theft, murder, family, bartending, and suspense. She also reveals how writing came into her life, why she publishes certain books under a pseudonym, her trick for writing several books a year, and the secret to a happy marriage (it involves marrying a carpenter!). Finally, she shares the books she’s read recently and loved, the topic of her next novel, and her best advice for aspiring writers.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Nora. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss your latest book, Identity, and your career and all the good things.

Nora Roberts: Thanks. Thanks for having me.

Zibby: Nora, I can’t get over how many books you’ve written, how many books you’ve sold. I don’t know how you’re keeping this up. I need to know all the secrets. You’re just amazing. You’re a one-woman wonder over there.

Nora: No secrets. You just work. I work every day like a regular job, six to eight hours a day. I have a pretty fast pace. That’s just luck of the draw. It’s just wiring. I’m disciplined. I love my work. I love being a writer. I work at it a lot.

Zibby: I guess those are the tips.

Nora: That’s about it.

Zibby: Tell listeners about Identity.

Nora: Morgan, the main character, is a bartender. She also works as an office manager. She’s very focused and driven. She wants security. She has her little house. She wants to expand it. She works really hard. She works two jobs. Someone steals her identity and gets her in tremendous debt by doing that. I don’t want to give too much away. She ends up having to go where her grandmother and mother live in Vermont. She had to give up her house. She lost everything. She has to start over. She’s a really good bartender. When I was writing it, I did a lot of research on bartending. That’s a job. It’s a lot more than mixing drinks, a lot more. That was really interesting. She has to rebuild her life. She’s a really strong woman and finds more strength. It’s also a family thing with three generations of women living in the same house and leaning on each other and learning from each other. Of course, there’s a romance in there because it’s something I do. She finds herself. She finds a new start. The guy who stole this identity is also a murderer. He missed her, the one that got away. You have that weaving through it, that he’s sort of determined to take care of her in his way.

Zibby: I once interviewed Chris Bohjalian, the author who said all his books have a sense of dread in them. I feel that sense of, oh, no, what if he comes after her? He got the roommate, but it’s not the main prize. What if? Is that the type of anticipatory tension you try to instill? You pick and choose which books to add that into?

Nora: Certainly, if I’m writing a suspense, you better have a sense of dread or there’s no suspense. It depends on the kind of book I’m writing. For Identity, yes, you definitely wanted a sense of dread and what she was fighting against and the trauma she had lived through and was trying recover from. As I said, she’s a very driven person, so she was determined to make this new life — initially, she was just, I’ve lost everything. Everything I worked for, all my money I’d saved, the house I’d worked for, it’s all gone. I have to start again. She does. Then you’ve got this crazy guy who’s determined to — he just didn’t want to miss one.

Zibby: It’s almost a metaphor for life itself. You can get struck down. You have to rebuild. Yet there’s always something out there that you can’t control that may or may not come and get you.

Nora: Something’s going to try to kick you in the ass every time.

Zibby: Did you ever get your identity stolen or anything like that? Where did this idea come from?

Nora: No, thank god. It’s really horrible. There’s so many elements to it, your bank account and credit and your bills that you think are paid that aren’t, taxes and mortgages. It’s really, really a terrible thing to have to live through and have to solve. You have to pay lawyer fees because you need a lawyer to help you dig out of this. She managed to, but she had to sell her house. She lost everything she had worked for because somebody decided to go after her.

Zibby: What piece of this was the original germ of the idea?

Nora: The identify theft, I guess. What would happen if? Why would he do it? Where is the dread and suspense going to come from? Do I weave through? Once that’s done, you figure, okay, now she’s going to rebuild her life, but that’s not enough if you’re writing a suspense. The original germ of an idea, if I recall correctly, was there’s this hardworking woman who has this happen to her. What does she do next? How does she survive this?

Zibby: Why do you write with two names? Why did you choose a pseudonym for some of your books?

Nora: Because I do write fast, my publisher at the time suggested it. I didn’t want to do it. My agent suggested it. I didn’t want to do it. The CEO called me up and said, “Nora, you need a hobby.” I don’t want a hobby. I just want to write my books. I finally said if I could write something different, I would try it. The In Death books under Robb are different. They’re set in the near future. She’s kind of a dark, difficult woman, homicide lieutenant. starts in 2058 in New York. I could play with that futuristic — not too far in the future, but just enough to play with speculative fiction and explore this deeply troubled woman who was such a dedicated police officer. Then you have murders all the time. Then walked across the page. Okay, there you go. That’s pretty perfect. I really only planned it as a trilogy, but it worked. I love writing them, so I continue.

Zibby: How long does each book take you to write?

Nora: As long as it takes. Every time, as long as it takes. There is no average. There’s no, this book is this many pages, so it’s going to take me X number. How do you know? How do you know how it’s going to flow and what’s going to happen? How do you know if you get sick? You just have a few days where something won’t come. You have a few days where it’s rolling like crazy. I don’t worry about how long it takes. Why does that matter? What really matters, is this the best book you could write at this time? That’s what matters, not how long it took you.

Zibby: You’re absolutely right. I was just trying in my head to think about, how is she writing all these books? How long, on average, must it take her?

Nora: I write four books a year. Pretty much regularly, four books a years. Two Robbs, a Robb standalone and one of the books in a trilogy. The others are reissues. I don’t write them again. They just reissue them. It’s four books a year, which is a lot, but it’s not insane. I know a lot of people think I write ten books a year. No, I don’t. I couldn’t possibly.

Zibby: I find your whole story just so inspiring. You were at home with your kids and needed an outlet. This is what I’ve heard, so if I’m wrong, correct me. In a blizzard, you started writing. Then you fell in love with it. Now you have five hundred million books in print. It’s staggering.

Nora: That’s pretty much it, yeah.

Zibby: You took your deep knowledge of boys and men from your own family of origin of being the fifth and the only girl and having two sons and being able to write the male character, perhaps, in a better way than most women as a result.

Nora: I sure do know guys because I’ve been outnumbered by them my entire life. I did fall in love. I always loved to write. I always liked to make up stories. I just never thought about doing it for a living because I thought everyone made up stories in their heads. I just figured everyone must do that. That blizzard, when you’re stuck in the house with two preschoolers for a week and the chocolate supply is dwindling, it’s really hard. I thought, I’ve got to do something besides play Candy Land for the 1,500th time. I just started writing in a notebook. It’s like, this is so cool. It’s so much fun. I just kept at it.

Zibby: Amazing. I feel like you probably have more books in print than most people in the world. What have you learned from that? What do you get from your fans, from the books itself? How does that feel to you? What have you gotten out of it the most?

Nora: Besides money, a lot of money?

Zibby: Besides a lot of money.

Nora: It’s amazing to be able to do something you love every day and make a living at it. When my kids were little and I was a single parent, I could stay home and make a living. I could stay home. That is a gift. I didn’t have to, okay, I’ve got to go to work. I’ve got to get childcare. I’ve got to do this and that. I did stay home and make a living. I was there the kids and doing something I loved and making a living. That is amazing to me that I was to do that. I was fortunate enough to be able to do that. I love to write. I’m able to do that every day, and even when it’s hard. It’s always hard. It can be incredibly frustrating. You’re sitting there, probably in your pajamas, if most of us are honest. You’re creating something out of your head. Wow, how much fun is that? Then someone’s going to read it. Someone somewhere in the world right this minute is sitting on the john reading one of my books. I guarantee it. Isn’t that fascinating and wonderful? I’m a very lucky woman. I work hard, but still, you have to figure there’s some luck involved there too, and timing and just right place, right time. The readers are incredibly supportive and enthusiastic. I adore them. I value them very much. Hopefully, they understand that I have to write what I write. I can’t write to please reader Jane because reader Mary is saying, that’s not what I want to read. I write what works for me and hope that it works for them.

Zibby: That’s a great attitude. I read that your second marriage, someone came to fix your shelves, and then you married him.

Nora: I hired him. Yes, I did. I needed a carpenter. I wanted this doorway turned into a bookshelf. That’s what I initially hired him for thirty-eight years ago. I would have to do the math. He kept finding other things he could do. I needed those things done. I ended up marrying him because what is better than having a guy who can fix your toilet on Sunday? It’s better than marrying a millionaire, right? Someone who can deal with issues as they come up, as any homeowner knows, and who can fix it, that’s amazing.

Zibby: My husband can’t do that, but he can cook. I feel like that’s another value.

Nora: I cook, but he does the dishes. It’s shared chores. Marrying a man who can cook, that’s a big one too. It’s a big one.

Zibby: I felt like that was a big win. It’s my second husband. Also remarried. When you’re not writing, what do you like to read? Do you like to read? I’m assuming you do. I shouldn’t assume.

Nora: Oh, my god, if you don’t like to read, how do you think you’re going to be a writer?

Zibby: I don’t know. I was like, maybe she doesn’t. Of course, you do, but I should’ve phrased it differently. That’s all.

Nora: I grew up in a family of readers. Again, very fortunate. Our house was full of books all the time. You read whatever you wanted to read. I never remember either of my parents saying, “No, you can’t read that. That’s not appropriate.” You just read. Right now, I’m reading John Sandford’s latest, Righteous Prey. It’s wonderful. I’m so excited because it has Lucas Davenport and Virgil Flowers in the same book. It’s like he wrote it just for me. I just like to read good books, no specific genre, “I will only read in this.” The book I read before this was Stephen King’s Fairy Tale. I love Stephen King. He’s the great American colorist. Then I read Other Birds by Sarah Addison Allen. She’s a treasure.

Zibby: That was beautiful.

Nora: Beyond that, I can’t remember what I’ve read . I love to read. I love stories. I love TV. I love movies. Tell me a story in whatever form it comes.

Zibby: I’m the same way. I opened a bookstore recently. I know that you had done that.

Nora: Twenty-odd years ago, yes. Good luck to you. We need more good bookstores.

Zibby: Thank you. I opened it in Santa Monia, California, even though I’m from New York, but it’s fine. Do you have any tips on that, owning and starting a bookstore and all of that?

Nora: Customer service is everything. Everything. I don’t run the bookstore. I don’t work there. We have the most wonderful staff. Those ladies — they happen to be all female. They are creative. Customer service is key. You call in, they’re going to talk to you. They love books. They work it. When you work in a bookstore, you should love to read. You should be able to answer questions about books. You’re not selling cans of soup. If you’re working in a soup store, you should love soup so you know how to speak to the clients or customers.

Zibby: It’s true. Amazing. What’s your next book going to be about?

Nora: I’m writing next year’s hardcover right now. What is it? I’m not sure, but it takes place in Appalachia, Eastern Kentucky. It starts when the heroine, the main female character, is about twelve. She has a younger brother. They’re staying with their grandmother on her little farm for a couple of weeks. Terrible things happen. We move from there. Most of the book will take place in Eastern Kentucky in a little area I made up. It is Appalachia. I looked up a lot of interesting food because when you have a meal, you want it to be authentic. Their grandmother makes soap and candles. That’s also a lot of research. We have a really, really terrible bad guy because you want that sense of dread again. I’m about halfway through the first draft and just about to introduce the main male character, a love interest. She had to go through — obviously, she can’t be twelve and have a lover. I draw the line.

Zibby: Different type of book. Not as much in line with the research at Yankee Candle or wherever you were getting your information. You started out saying that being a bartender, that you learned from that research that it’s way more than mixing drinks. What is the underside of the things we don’t know about bartending that you learned?

Nora: Oh, my god. First, I think they could all be psychologists because you have to read people. Plus, you’re managing with the back bar and the speed rack. You have to know when to cut somebody off and how to do it without causing a big, terrible thing. You’re basically managing a business as a bartender, even though you don’t own the business. You’re in charge of that area. You have to know, how many bottles of this do we have? How many bottles of this? You have to clean up. You have to prep for the next day. What are the garnishes? Someone says they want some esoteric drink, most bartenders should know how to make it, and to make it right there and then. You have to like people. You have to be able to talk to them and know when they don’t want to talk and when they do need to talk. It’s a lot. Other than the physical labor, it’s a lot of mind stuff.

Zibby: Interesting. Do you have a favorite drink? Do you have a go-to drink?

Nora: I like Veuve Clicquot champagne. I like a really good margarita. That’s about it for me.

Zibby: I have a policy that I can never turn down a glass of champagne if it’s offered no matter where I am. That’s one of the rules I live by.

Nora: I agree with that.

Zibby: Why not? Life is short. Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Nora: I think anyone who wants to write should sit their butt in the chair and start writing. You should write what you love to read. If you’re looking, oh, I’m going to study the market and this genre or subgenre or whatever’s hot right now, if you don’t love it, how are you going to write it well? By the time you do, that trend has passed. You’re behind the wheel. Write what you enjoy reading. Why would anyone else enjoy it if you didn’t enjoy it? Why would anyone else? Write every day even if it’s for twenty minutes. Sit down and write. It’s a habit. You have to develop the habit. Drive, discipline, desire. You have to have the three Ds or talent won’t get you anywhere. You have to be driven to work. You have to have the desire to tell a story. You have to have the discipline to sit your butt in the chair and your fingers on the keyboard or if you’re writing longhand, however the process works for you. If you don’t do it, if you just keep saying, I’m going to get to that, you’re never going to do it.

Zibby: This is the anti-procrastination technique.

Nora: So many people say, I have to wait for the muse. Screw that. There is no muse. There is no muse. It’s up to you to sit down and write the book. Tell the story.

Zibby: Understood. Nora, thank you so much. Thanks for coming on. Thanks for talking about Identity. Congratulations. Congratulations on your whole career. I love it. It’s just so awesome to hear it from you yourself. It’s just so cool. Congratulations.

Nora: Thank you so much. Good luck on your bookstore. Really, really good luck.

Zibby: Thank you. I’ll need it.

Nora: I think you can do it. Bye.

Zibby: Thank you. I appreciate it. Take care. Buh-bye.

Nora Roberts, IDENTITY

IDENTITY by Nora Roberts

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