Robyn Carr has delighted and sustained readers through the years with her positive stories of men and women finding their way through the rough patches of life. Grace Valley, Thunder Point, and Sullivan's Crossing have built homes for themselves in her readers' hearts. But Virgin River—now ten years old—is where readers often begin their love affair with Carr's novels.
Robyn Carr recently spoke with us over the phone from her home in Las Vegas to tell us about how Virgin River began, the rugged beauty of Humboldt County, her new Sullivan's Crossing series, and her complex relationship with camping.
Amazon Book Review: This year marks 10 years since the start of the Virgin River series—now a 20-book series.
Robyn Carr: Yes, and I have them listed and numbered on my website because it’s something people ask me all the time: “What’s the order, and do they have to be read in order?”
Do they have to be read in order?
No, they don’t. But some people prefer to do that. I have readers who buy the whole set before they start the first one. [Laughs] I think that’s a little nuts, actually. But to each his own.
At the time, was there any resistance to having “Virgin” in the title?
Oh, no, not at all. In fact, I think that was killer brilliant!
How did you get the idea for Virgin River?
I happened to be out in Mendocino County for a very exciting reading from Alice Walker. She was giving a reading in town, and somebody knew somebody who knew her, and I got to go. So I was standing on the roadside with one of the locals, and a Black Hawk helicopter flew over. There’s no mistaking a Black Hawk. I said, “I didn’t know you had an army post out here.” He said, “That’s not the army; that’s the DEA. This is the biggest drug-growing area in the United States.” And I said, “Wow. I can work with that.” So the Grace Valley series [began].
I thought if I was going to do another series, I would want it to be sexier and edgier. So I started Virgin River in Humboldt County. I was completely unprepared for how rugged and remote, back in those mountains, it really is. I went out there with a friend, and we drove from the middle of California to the coast. We were on Highway 36, and it looked on the map like it was a hundred miles long. We said, “Oh, good. Less than two hours and we’ll be having lunch on the coast.” [Laughs] Five hours later, we finally got to the edge of California. Honestly, it was so rugged. It got down to one lane in some places. No guard rails, up and down, twisting and turning. Locals on your tail, honking. And weird people coming out of the trees. It was the craziest place. I went home and started rewriting.
People still write me and tell me that they’ve just discovered Virgin River. This amazes me. I never in my wildest dreams expected there to be this kind of a love for a series. They sold 13 million books!
The new readers must be so delighted to know that there are 20 books to read.
They are! But they’re never happy. They want more. I keep writing them back, saying, “I think I only have 20 in me really; I don’t think there’s any more.” And I think if I tried to write another one, it would never be good enough.
You’re writing two books a year these days. What’s your writing schedule like?
I sit down and write every day. And I write crap. And then I fix it. I think that’s a really, really important thing to remember about writing. You can’t just wait for inspiration to strike. You really have to be willing to sit down and write no matter what’s floating in your brain. And that’s what I do. And then I do a lot of fixing.
Oh, I loved writing that first book so much. I never wanted [What We Find] to end. I was so in love with the hero, Cal Jones. He was such a wonderful hero. His hero is Atticus Finch, so it gave me a chance to play with that idea. I love Atticus Finch, the greatest American literary hero. [What We Find] takes place at a summer campground, where some of the campers are long-distance hikers on the Continental Divide Trail, which is three thousand miles long. It takes months [to hike].
Through-hikers are really interesting people, and they stop at places like this general store and campground to refuel and recharge. They can even send themselves packages at these specific stops along the way—money, clean socks, clean shirts—because they can’t carry very much that distance. So I developed this general store, an all-purpose store, on a campground, and Cal is a camper in the campground. And the owner’s daughter is a neurosurgeon who’s completely burned out and needs to get away, so she goes home to the campground. That’s the primary couple in the first story, and they will be around for all the books to come. Also, the owner of the general store—Sully, for Sullivan—will around for the whole duration of the series.
Cal comes from a family of four kids, and they all have these bizarre names. His name is California. His brother’s name is Dakota, his sister’s name is Sierra, and his other sister’s name is Sedona. His parents were hippies. The next book, the second book, Any Day Now, follows Sierra, the youngest in the family, and she is a woman with a lot of challenges. [She’s a] young woman, 30 years old, who’s lived hard and rough. And she’s in recovery.
When I was reading Any Day Now, there was a revelation about Sierra and why she really went into rehab that surprised me—I’m not going to say what it is—but I thought you set it up really nicely. When you’re writing, do you plot it out beforehand, or are you more of a seat-of-the-pants writer?
I’m seat of the pants. I know it drives editors nuts, and they would have me be any other way, but it’s just a done deal. I really like to start on page one and discover. I like to discover the story just the way my readers are discovering it.
Will the Sullivan’s Crossing series bring in the other siblings?
Yes, I’m writing about Dakota right now. I love him.
Sully is one of my favorites. It seems like he’s everybody’s rock, but he’s had his own problems in the past.
Doesn’t he just make it clear that there’s no easy road through this? I read a quote once that was something like, “Life is hard for everybody: The people you envy, and the people you pity.”
A lot of your characters need to rebuild themselves in some way. Is that a theme throughout your books?
Yes, and to find balance and peace of mind. And to live a life well lived. We’re all going to have problems. But we can also get to the other side. What I really hope when I write these books is that the characters can be role models. People don’t write to me and say, “Oh, I loved Cal.” They write to me and say, “My baby died. And your book really touched me.” Or “My husband died, and the Virgin River series got me through a year of grief.” That’s the kind of letters I get. Everybody is struggling for balance and peace of mind and serenity. So if the characters are well drawn, and if they’re smart characters, they can serve as role models and help readers—real people—deal with their problems and their emotional difficulties. Because we’re stuck with that stuff, and my books are a safe place.
I think that as a society we’re not always very good about teaching ways of coping. TV certainly doesn’t do it. Books tend to do it a lot better by getting more in depth into what happened and how you can self-heal and find support.
And it also gives you an opportunity to look at ways people have coped and find hopefully intelligent and positive ways of resolving these issues.
There seems to be a love of the outdoors in your Sullivan’s Crossing and Virgin River books. Do you have that love for nature as well?
I live in Las Vegas. I would give anything for a vegetable garden, but I live in the desert. I lived in Sacramento, California, 25 years ago. I loved that place; I love northern California. You can stick a rock in the ground and grow a rock bush, it’s that fertile. And up in the north, in the redwoods and the rivers, it is so breathtakingly beautiful. I’m really attached to the area. I just love it.
Did you ever do family camping trips in that area?
My idea of camping is no room service. [Laughs.] I’d really rather not camp. My daughter and her husband and the grandchildren camp. They have an RV and a boat and all that stuff, so their camping is glamping. But we go down there to [visit] when they are camping, and we spend one night. And they give us the bed, because we’re kind of whiny, and that’s the extent of the camping I do. One night.
What have you read lately that you’ve enjoyed and have been recommending?
Do you know what I did? I just recently reread The Shell Seekers. I read it 25 years ago, and I have to say, it held up. I think it’s wonderful, and it hasn’t aged. It is still my favorite book. My copy is a little paperback with teeny-tiny print and falling apart, and so I downloaded it onto my Kindle, and I was surprised to see that she wrote a foreword to that edition I downloaded—I think it was a 10th anniversary edition. It has a wonderful foreword by Rosamunde Pilcher that talks about how she came to write this epic domestic drama.
Anybody who hasn’t read it must, and anyone who read it a long time ago like I did should give it another go.
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