There are a lot of things in the world that I don't understand. I do
not understand how young people with their whole lives ahead of them
can fasten their feet to a board and go down a half pipe at mach speed,
flying through the air upside down. Nor can I understand how a man or
woman can ski down an ice channel at 80 miles an hour and live to tell
about it. But the whole program of the Olympic Games involves men and
women striving to reach their physical maximum.
There are other kinds of maximum achievement that I can't understand. I
reached my physical max long ago, and now I'm working on my mental midi
in front of a computer. But as I struggle and sweat and swear and pace
to put 700 words on paper each week, another maximum that I don't
understand is how anybody can write 723 books in a lifetime.
It is a little like going down the half pipe, but one British dame did
just that. No disrespect is intended. She was a Dame of the British
Empire, Barbara Cartland, the Queen of Romance, a very proper
Englishwoman. She wrote her first novel at 20, and was still writing
romance novels at the age of 98. She died in 2000, just two months
short of her 99th birthday. She claimed she could write a book in
seven days and from her pictures she did it without disturbing her
As a long time and loyal reader of mystery novels, I have often been
guilty of sneering in a politely ladylike fashion at romance novels. I
have always thought of the genre in terms of strong, handsome men and
virginal women waltzing politely on starlit patios, chaste kisses under
a nearby tree and saying "I do" on page 250. I have read that there are
only 34 plots in the world. Romance novels leave us with 33, and I
have to confess that I have never read one of Cartland's romances. I
am obviously in the minority. Some 700 million other people worldwide
have bought her books.
But one day by accident I picked up a paperback without noticing the
"Romance" label. I was hooked by page 20. It was one of Nora Roberts'
series written under the name of J. D. Robb. Then I discovered that in
sheer volume, she is up there in the half pipe with Cartland. Now 51,
Roberts has already written 192 books and is keeping her computer
steaming. She has over 127 million books in print. If she lives to be
99 and keeps going at this rate, she may approach the Cartland's record.
But oh what a difference! The two authors are as different as fish and
chips and pizza. Each is a product of her time and native land.
Cartland's heroines are apt to drop their handkerchiefs delicately for
the gallant hero to pick up. Roberts' heroines are more apt to slug him
if he gets out of line. Her women are strong and her men like them that
way. This is the Romance genre?
Actually, the Robb series is a skillful blend of science fiction,
mystery and human relationships. It is set in New York in 2059 with
recognizable people, but electronic equipment and transportation in the
land of the future.
Roberts credits a blizzard for her writing career. In 1979 she was
stranded in her at home for a week with her two little sons and no
chocolate. In desperation she picked up a notebook and started to write
down a story she had in her head. And that was it.
She is an excellent writer and her characters are real and grow in
depth with each volume of her various series. Several of my friends and
I are on the 10th Eve Dallas and Roark series and waiting for the next
one, but I have promised not to tell anyone that they are reading
Roberts has definitely found her half pipe, and will probably chase
Cartland for a lot of years.
But retire? She says, "Retire from what? I want to die at age 120 at
my keyboard after having had sex. Wouldn't that be great?" That
doesn't sound much like Dame Cartland, but who knows!