Fate—author Nora Roberts believes in it. "After all, I'm Irish Catholic, I come by it naturally," she said in a recent interview. Blessed with a diverse style, a fertile imagination and the discipline instilled by the nuns, Roberts has racked up some staggering statistics and become a publishing phenomenon. A total of 69 books written by the prolific author have shown up on the New York Times bestseller list, including five written under her J.D. Robb nom de plume. With over 145 million copies of her books in print, Roberts is on the fast track of women's fiction. Her mass-market sales now surpass Danielle Steel, and based on USA Today's 2001 bestseller list, she is closing in on J.K. Rowling.

Roberts' writing career began in 1979 when she was snowbound at home in western Maryland with her two kids. "When school was canceled every morning for a week, I'm not ashamed to admit I wept," she says. On impulse, she decided to write down one of the stories in her head. "As soon as I started, I fell for the process of writing, and I knew it was what I should have been doing all along." Roberts went on to write six manuscripts before she was finally published.

"I'd written all these books and nobody was buying anything, but it didn't matter to me whether they got published or not, it was something I needed to do for me. I love being able to make believe. So many of us lose that when we grow up the ability to be able to just go with our imagination." But where do all those ideas come from? "From the National Idea Bank," she laughs. "Actually, I'm clueless. I'm never quite sure what the process is or where these ideas come from. I think writers are hard-wired for stories, it's what we do, it's what we are." The idea for Roberts' latest book, Three Fates, came while she was on a trip to Ireland, the land of her ancestors. She stopped at Cobh (pronounced cove), a historic, picturesque city by the sea, and the port of passage for more than 2.5 million Irish immigrants. "My own ancestors would have departed from there," Roberts says.

The people of Cobh are all too familiar with the whims of fate and destiny. The harbor was the last port of call for the Titanic and is the final resting place of the Lusitania. On May 7, 1915, the passenger ship was torpedoed by a German U-boat and sank offshore, killing 1,198 people.

Roberts was fascinated by the stories of the Lusitania disaster. "But I don't write historicals," she says, "so what was I going to do with that? I started thinking what if. What if something was on the ship and somebody had it and survived?"

The something turned out to be one of three silver statues known as the Fates. According to Greek mythology, the Moerae or Fates are three powerful goddesses who determined the lives of men. Clotho wove the thread of life, Lachesis measured it out and Atropos cut it off with her scissors of death. As one of the characters in Three Fates points out, "Three parts . . . one purpose. Alone they would be nothing but ordinary if interesting women. Together, the most powerful and honored of gods." The someone in Roberts' "what if" became passenger Felix Greenfield, a petty thief who survived the disaster to become a changed man. He kept a small silver statue he had pilfered as a good luck charm, and it became a family heirloom.

Nearly a century later, Greenfield's heirloom has been snatched away from his rightful heirs. Malachi, Gideon and Rebecca Sullivan are determined to recover their statue, find the other two Fates and make their fortune. Almost as determined is Cleo, an exotic dancer, who sees the Fates as her ticket to a new life. In New York, they join forces with a formidable although somewhat neurotic female professor and a sexy security expert who knows how to play high-tech hide-and-seek.

Relationships develop among the treasure and pleasure seekers, who see more action than the craps tables in Atlantic City. All the while, their every move is being tracked by Anita Gaye, an ambitious woman who will stop at nothing to acquire the Fates. As always Roberts creates strong, well-defined characters that practically leap off the page and make you hate to see the story end.

But never fear Roberts is already back at work. "I'm in the process of writing a complex, problematic trilogy that is currently driving me insane. The story deals with three women who meet for the first time when they are challenged to take on three parts of a quest to unlock a box that holds the souls of three Celtic gods. When it's going well, I'm rubbing my hands together; when it's not, I'm beating my head against the wall."

Roberts should have plenty of money for aspirin. In the time it takes to read this sentence, another eight of her books have been sold.

 

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