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Alexandra Breckenridge as Mel Monroe and Martin Henderson as Jack Sheridan in Virgin River on Netflix. (Netflix)
This River Just Keeps Rolling
Henderson author Robyn Carr unleashed a global phenomenon with her Virgin River books and subsequent TV series. And she’s not done typing yet.
This story first appeared in the Fall 2022 issue of rjmagazine, a quarterly published inside the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Henderson author’s Virgin River just keeps rolling

Beau and Bella, both of them golden retrievers, have a penchant for getting their paws onto Robyn Carr’s laptop and deleting things. Bella — she’s the bossy one — also likes to nudge an elbow or two when Carr is in the act of typing, which is a problem this morning as the Henderson resident and bestselling author of the Virgin River series races against against deadline on her 65th — no, you didn’t misread that — book.

“I’m terrible about deadlines,” Carr says. “Every single time I see an email from my editor, I get scared. It’s, Oh no, she knows about me! Sometimes, the rush is good, but I’m getting too old for this!”

Henderson author Robyn Carr's "Virgin River" books have sold more than 13 million copies. (Mich ...
Henderson author Robyn Carr's "Virgin River" books have sold more than 13 million copies. (Michael Alberstat)

Carr, 71, is fast-witted, friendly and excited about this stage of her career — and why not? She’s one of the top romance writers in the country. So far, her 64 books have sold over 27 million copies and have been translated into 19 languages in 30 countries. She has spent nearly 250 weeks on the New York Times bestsellers list and her 20-book Virgin River series alone has sold over 13 million copies.

Oh, yes, and in 2019, Virgin River was adapted into a Netflix series that became not only a megahit but a comforting cultural touchstone in an uncertain age. The series entered its fourth season in July and promptly knocked the mighty Stranger Things — a somewhat less comforting touchstone — from its top ranking. The series, and the books from which it sprung, have inspired a whole subculture of Virgin River-ology, from fan fiction to academia. Carr even learned that a graduate student wrote a doctoral dissertation on Virgin River.

• • •

Carr discovered romance novels as a reader in the mid-1970s when doctors forced her to keep her feet up during a complicated pregnancy in San Antonio, Texas.

“I was 25, stuck in a little apartment with two babies and no car,” says the former college nursing student whose husband was in the Air Force at the time. “A neighbor brought me 10 paperbacks to read. And I was hooked. I was reading romances all day long, reading them as I fell asleep at night. I thought, if it’s this much fun to read them, wouldn’t it be fun to write one? So, I got a notebook and a pen.”

She joined a local writer’s critique group where a fellow author vowed to help her find an agent. None of those agents worked out, but Carr was determined. “I found an agent, and in 1978 he made photocopies and I sold my first book, a historical romance fiction called Chelynne. It was sent to every publisher and one made an offer. We’d just been moved by the Air Force to California, and I was alone with the babies that day. I got the word I had a publisher, which was the biggest day of my life. The champagne was supposed to be popping, but I was alone unpacking boxes thinking, ‘My book is about to be published!’ ”

In 2007, Virgin River, about a utopian swath of rugged land in California and the eccentrics who live there, struck the right nerve with readers. “The country was at war and in the middle of a huge recession,” Carr says. “It was a difficult time. People didn’t have any money. Not that I planned it, but it was the perfect time for Virgin River. A town like Virgin River is a dream because although eccentric, it’s about having good people around you. The Virgin River people are adorably bossy, but they seem to accept each other as they are — which means a lot.”

There were other offers to turn Virgin River into a TV series or movie over the years, but they didn’t stick until Netflix came calling. The collaboration has been rewarding — and, in a way, refreshing: Carr doesn’t mind if the TV plots veer from the books. “I don’t know what’s coming, and I’m fine with that,” Carr says. “I decided before I even signed the contract that there would be a departure. I made up my mind that it would not bother me. The end result is somewhere between ‘Why didn’t they use my idea?’ to ‘Gee, why didn’t I think of that in the first place?’ I know they’re two different projects — the TV series and the books.”

Early on, Carr visited the show’s Vancouver, British Columbia, set. “The cast and crew were so gracious,” she says. “And it dawned on me that this book put a lot of people to work on a really good project, which made me happy. One day, a great big carpenter with a beard came up and thanked me.” Since then, Carr hasn’t frequently visited the set. “I made the decision not to get too involved. I don’t make movies. I don’t make TV. I could screw it up. And it’s a totally different thing to write the scripts. What I might do might not be good for TV.”

Carr has high praise for the cast — though sometimes the actors’ appearances depart from what she’d imagined. “I’m of a certain age. All the handsome guys were Tom Selleck,” she says with a laugh.

But while actor Martin Henderson’s non-mustachioed embodiment of male lead Jack Sheridan departs from the Selleck ideal, that’s just fine with Carr. “Martin makes a very, very good Jack,” she says.

As for the leading lady who plays nurse practitioner Melina “Mel” Moore, Carr says, “Alexandra Breckenridge has more expressions on her face than they have room for in a scene. She’s wonderful.”

Fans know that what makes Virgin River hot are the intense love scenes on both page and screen between Jack and Mel. And Carr says what makes it work is not skin, but syllables.

“Dialogue,” she says, “makes a good love scene — in a book ­­­­­and in real life.”

• • •

Now single with grown children, Carr says her day-to-day life hasn’t changed radically since Virgin River became a multimedia hit. (A TV series based on her Sullivan’s Cross books is also in the works.) “I have emails and interviews,” she says, “but the pandemic has meant I’m traveling less. Thank God for Zoom. I was at the end of my rope with airports. Just sick of it. My last tour was 17 cities in three months and I was exhausted.”

Carr says Henderson, where she has lived since 1999, is the perfect place to rejuvenate. “I love Henderson — it’s like a small town within a bigger city. I live near The District and there are tons of great restaurants. Being a single woman at my age, my favorite outing is lunch or happy hour. I don’t like to stay out late. Does nothing for me. Gathering at someone’s house here in Henderson is great, too. I’m such an introvert, too.”

Carr doesn’t create a mob scene when she visits the local grocery or walks down the sidewalk at The District. “Occasionally somebody will find out that I’m a writer and that I wrote the Virgin River books. They will get all excited, but that doesn’t happen often.”

Those encounters come and go. What remains is Carr at her computer on most mornings. She’s now working on a stand-alone book — and on that pesky deadline. “I write every single day, deadline or not. I’m asked for the secret of my success and I always say to write anyway. You have to do it daily, even if you’re not inspired or not in the mood. The next day, you look back at what you’ve written and might think, ‘Oh, that’s good.’ Or maybe you think you had a really good day and re-read it, knowing, ‘Oh, that’s garbage.’

“No matter, you hit a button, delete and then push the next letter.” ◆

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