Partners in Romance: What's the Secret Behind Judith Gould, Best-Selling Author of Sweeping Romance Novels? She's Actually a Couple of Gay Men

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TRUE DEVOTEES OF ROMANCE NOVELS know Judith Gould. They know her oeuvre-best sellers like Sins (1982), Never Too Rich (1990), and The Best Is Yet to Come (2002). They know her heroines--brassy dames who defy the odds and find adventure and passion in exotic locales. And they know her sex scenes-torrid encounters on cluttered desks and bathroom sinks. In fact, the one thing readers might not know about Judith Gould is that she doesn't exist. Gould is the nom de plume of two gay men who are finally stepping out from behind its sizable shadow. Nick Bienes, 56, and Rhea (pronounced "Ray") Gallaher, 63, the men responsible for Gould's literary legacy, have been partners in writing and life for 30 years. "We met at the Mineshaft in New York on New Year's Eve, 1978," Gallaher says. "We went home together, but instead of having sex we talked books all night."

Both were already involved in writing--Gallaher was a freelance medical editor and Bienes was tinkering with a novel--and over the next two years they hashed out the manuscript for Sins, the tantalizing tale of a female fashion magnate's quest for vengeance. Signet Books bought the rights to the novel but had a specific demand before agreeing to publish the title. "They wanted to put a woman's name on it or they'd cut the print run," Bienes recalls, "preferably something Jewish." Judith Krantz was a big romance novelist at the time, so their name choice was a subtle nod to her, plus, they note, Gould sounds a lot like gold. "[The publishers] were really embarrassed having two male authors," Bienes says. But with the Gould name on the jacket, Sins sold 2 million copies in the United States and was translated into 22 different languages. Over the next couple of decades, "Judith Gould" appeared on 16 more titles.

Joe Pittman, a former Signet editor, doesn't think it was homophobia that kept the men's identities hidden. "There's a perception in publishing that if a book is written by a man, women won't read it," he says. "And it's a question of branding--these books are very much associated with the persona of the people who write them. When you read a Jackie Collins novel, you think of Jackie Collins. …