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updated 07/01/1996 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/01/1996 AT 01:00 AM EDT

>Nora Roberts

PAGE CHURNER

NORA ROBERTS HAS MOTHER NATURE to thank for her literary career. "It was the February blizzard of 79," remembers Roberts, then a homemaking mom snowed in with two young sons at her rural Maryland house. "Every morning when school was canceled, I wept," she says. "We couldn't even get out to buy Oreos." Having also run out of furniture to rearrange and tired of losing at Candyland, she says, "I decided I would write a story—I had made them up in my head since childhood—just to give myself an outlet until the snow melted." The result was a hot-blooded, Harlequin-style romance set in Spain. "It was really bad," says Roberts, "but I got hooked, and it changed my life."

Roberts's first six manuscripts were rejected before her agent placed Irish Thoroughbred with Silhouette Books in 1981. Since then, she has published an astonishing 101 novels, including her latest bestseller, Montana Sky (Putnam), the saga of three sisters vying for their deceased father's fortune. Throw in a new paperback, Immortal in Death, written under her pseudonym J.D. Robb, and another paperback due next month, and she'll have an estimated 28 million copies in print.

To supply the demand, Roberts labors six to eight hours a day, fortified by Hershey bars and Diet Pepsi. "If I'm stuck, I hammer away until I unstick," she says. "It's like going three or four miles on a Nordic Track. You say, 'Man, I hate this,' then it's done and you're proud." She gives herself only two days off after finishing a manuscript.

"I've been so lucky to find a job I love that can be lucrative," says Roberts, who has been remarried since 1985 to Bruce Wilder, a carpenter and cabinetmaker she met when he remodeled her bedroom. "It's such a tremendous amount of work, if it wasn't fun, you'd shoot yourself."

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