Robyn Carr talks romance novels, women’s issues

April 25, 2016 

When romance novelist Robyn Carr shared the manuscript for her latest book with her son, a surgeon, he told her the opening chapter had to change. On the first page, Dr. Maggie Sullivan sneaks into the hospital stairwell for a good, stress-relieving cry after the twin emotional gut-punch of a miscarriage and getting dumped by her doctor boyfriend.

"He said, ‘She can’t be crying. Someone would say, ‘Stop crying, you don’t have what it takes to be a neurosurgeon,’ " says the best-selling author, laughing. "He was wrong. Why doesn’t it upset men if a guy puts his fist through a wall, but if a woman cries, they don’t know what to do? Women get it. Men don’t. It may be another century until they do. My daughter is a police officer, and she has been known to hide in her squad car and cry."

Understanding what women do and say and want is something Carr — who calls herself "an old feminist" who fought for the Equal Rights Amendment in Florida’s Broward County in the 1970s — has considered hard over her long career. At 65, she has written more than 50 books, the latest of which is "What We Find" (Mira, $26.99), the kickoff of her new "Sullivan’s Crossing" series. In "What We Find," Maggie Sullivan finds herself desperately needing a break, and so she leaves Denver for rural Sullivan’s Crossing to stay with her eccentric father and — hopefully — heal. Naturally life turns out to be more complicated than she expects, and one of its complications is a mysterious hiker named Cal Jones. You will not be surprised to learn he has a secret.

Carr taps into female emotions over and over in her books, which incorporate romance and women’s issues.

"In romance, we’re trying to discover a perfect love," she explains. "In women’s fiction, we’re trying to find ourselves. Usually I create a juxtaposition."

As you’ll learn swiftly when you pick up "What We Find," Maggie Sullivan’s weeping stayed in the book. But Carr admits she always wants a happy ending.

"I don’t want to cry. I don’t want tragedy. I want hopefulness. People do have hopeful lives. They resolve their issues and have happy lives! Those are the people I want to share with my readers."

Q: Why are you drawn to women’s issues as a writer?

A: Since the dawn of time, women have been left in charge of all relationships. Guys went out and slew woolly mammoths while women were dealing with how the family feels, the romantic relationships, who’s caring for the children or aging parents. But those are all men’s issues, too. My husband had to deal with his aging parents and figure out solutions. Still he would say: How ’bout those Red Sox! He didn’t want to talk about it or dwell on it. Divorce and widowhood are every bit as much a man’s problem. But women, we take each other’s temperature to see how we’re holding up. Men have brains divvied up into nice, neat little compartments. Women have brains that have wires connected to everything else. I want to be a man in my next life for two reasons: One, they have compartments, and two, they can pee off a boat.

Q: Location plays a big role in your books. The "Thunder Point" series takes place in an idyllic Oregon coastal town, for example, and the "Virgin River" series is set in California’s redwood forests. Is the perfect setting part of the books’ appeal? 

A: Absolutely. You want to go there. To me, the places seem realistic because they are! The Virgin River area of Humboldt County exists among the redwoods and the river. 

Q: How did you choose the setting for the new series?

A: Starting a series is tough. You have to look for the right location if you’re going to make that location a character. It has to fit your style and what you do. I’ve been thinking of Sullivan’s Crossing a long time, ever since I read "Wild" by Cheryl Strayed. I really loved the outdoorsy quality and the hiking saga. The idea of through-hikers fascinated me. I started thinking I want to do something that capitalized on that, so where would it be? Colorado came right to mind. In the valley south of Denver in the "Sullivan’s Crossing" series, there are hundreds of hiking trails, hundreds of places to climb. All of that exists. What doesn’t exist is Cal and Maggie. They’re mine.

Q: Do you feel there’s a prejudice against genre writers?

A: We still see prejudice with romance fiction. "These are just chick books," so therefore they’re not great. Maya Angelou had that great quote: "There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you." That doesn’t just apply to the poet laureate. But I do think the prejudice is less than when I started. Then it was horrible. Sexism was more obvious then. People used to say terrible things in reviews of romances.

Q: What are some of the books or authors you’d recommend to someone who wanted to dive into romance novels for the first time?

A: Kristan Higgins’ "The Best Man." It’s a great romance. If you like historical romance, read Eloisa James. She’s also a college professor, a Ph.D. She’s a brilliant woman and a feminist. And Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ Chicago Stars series — it’s about a football team! They’re great romance at its best.

Q: Where do you recommend readers start with your books?

A: Probably the first "Virgin River" book ["Virgin River"]. If you like that, you’ll probably like everything else. That’s the gateway drug. I felt I was on something when I was writing them! It’s so much fun. I promise I don’t suffer much at all. I’m not a tortured writer. I have a lot of writer acquaintances with the back of their hands planted on their foreheads, but that doesn’t describe me.



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