Nora Roberts finds love in all the...


Nora Roberts finds love in all the right places

Nora Roberts relies on daytime television for diversion while racking up the miles on her NordicTrack exerciser -- and it has paid off in more than fitness.

"What is the deal?" she would wonder as she took in Oprah, Phil and their innumerable imitators. "Where do they find these people . . . telling these deep, dark, dirty secrets about themselves?"

The rest of us might just shake our heads and leave it at that. But when you're a best-selling writer with more than 26 million books in print, you end up researching and writing "Private Scandals" (Putnam, $19.95), a novel due in the bookstores this week about two battling talk-show hosts whose own lives very well could be the subject of their shows:

"TV celebs who are stalked by obsessed fans!" "The man you're dating also dates young girls!" "I've got your boyfriend . . . now I want your ratings!"

Ms. Roberts, who lives in Washington County in Western Maryland, writes several romance novels a year for the Silhouette series as well as what she calls "mainstream" books like her latest. Several of those have made the New York Times best seller list.

Married to her second husband and the mother of two grown sons, Ms. Roberts is from Silver Spring and moved out to the country during a previous "earth mother" phase. A legal secretary in yet another incarnation, she's always loved to read and began writing books herself when the blizzard of 1979 snowed her in with two small children.

Save your literary condescension for the PEN crowd -- Ms. Roberts has no apologies for her genre writing.

"Sometimes it's irritating -- how can you kick something that's such an enormous market?" she says of romance books. "People find books about love and commitment fluff?"

The Gibson RB-100 banjo rests in Ola Belle Reed's lap. She rests in a wheelchair in a little white house behind a furniture store in Rising Sun. With her right hand, she plays the five-string banjo claw-hammer style. Her left arm lies immobile at her side. Her son, David, plays the chords for her and sings. She joins him in parts of some verses. Songs of a Maryland legend fill the room.

"Look at her eyes sparkle," Ralph "Bud" Reed says of his wife of 44 years. "Look at that concentration."

Almost six years have passed since a stroke stole Ms. Reed's strong voice and paralyzed her left side. She will be 77 next month, and her many songs, such as "Tear Down the Fences," "High on a Mountain" and "I've Endured," have become a part of American traditional music.

The stroke came a year after the National Endowment for thArts named Ms. Reed as one of 13 Americans to receive a National Heritage Fellowship.

The director of NEA's Folk Arts Program called her a "national cultural treasure." The Smithsonian and Library of Congress agreed. She already had recorded songs for the library's Archives of Folk Songs, and "the Smithsonian sent us on a few tours," Mr. Reed says.

Country singer Marty Stuart put "High on a Mountain" on his "This One's Gonna Hurt You" album last year. When it earned a gold album, he had a duplicate made and sent to Ms. Reed.

Today, when Mr. Stuart plays shows at Sunset Park near West Grove, Pa., David and Bud Reed will lead off with a tribute to Ms. Reed.

A North Carolina native who moved to the Rising Sun area during the Depression, Ms. Reed called her mountain music "hillbilly" even as others gave it fancier titles. "She could have been on the Grand Ole Opry," Bud Reed says. In a career that spanned the 1940s to the 1980s, she was associated with country greats like Roy Acuff and Hank Williams. Acuff wanted her for his band, but she wouldn't go. Instead, she did things her way, from home.

The voice once said to be as "rich and deep as plowed earth" has weakened, but Ola Belle Reed has not been forgotten.

Wayne Hardin

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