Cecil Novelist Finds Worldwide Audience for Historical Romances

Article excerpt

Best-selling author Gaelen Foley bristles when folks describe her books as "bodice rippers." She blames such labels on ages-old, male control of the arts.

"Most people who use this language don't even realize they are parroting centuries-old sexism," says the Washington County-based writer.

With her pool-blue eyes, cascading locks and ruffled blouse with plunging neckline, Foley looks like the romantic heroine of her hilltop home in rural Cecil Township.

Foley will discuss and sign her 15th historical romance -- "My Dangerous Duke" -- at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Borders in Bethel Park.

Ages ago, "women writers could be silenced and shamed by ridicule and disapproval -- and doubly so -- whenever sexuality was expressed from a strong female point of view," Foley says. "This is a battle women writers still face every day when people call our works demeaning terms, like 'trash.'"

People around the world read Foley's novels in 17 languages. She receives about a dozen handwritten fan letters per month, and 50 e- mails per week. More than 2 million copies of her books have been sold in the United States and Canada.

"Her characters are very believable. You feel very close to them very quickly -- even her bad guys. ... You get sucked in," says Karen Rumbaugh, moderator of the Romance Book Club at Borders in Bethel Park.

Foley typically writes from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. most days, then stops to clean, cook or exercise before answering readers' mail and requests for items like autographed bookplates.

"I've commandeered the master bedroom as my office. I love to see the distant view," says Foley, who is married to her college sweetheart. "We've been together 22 years."

The couple has a 2-year-old bichon frise named Mr. Bingley.

Foley specializes in romance novels set in early 19th century England.

Foley recently spoke to aspiring romance writers at a Disney World conference sponsored by Romance Writers of America. She told listeners how she "wrote" her first love scene at age 3 after spending a day at the Pittsburgh Zoo.

"When I came home, I was really excited about everything that I had seen, and just wouldn't shut up about it," Foley says. "My mom said, 'Why don't we write it down in a book?' So I spoke it, and my mom wrote it down, because I wasn't old enough to write words yet. ... I told the romance (writers) group that this was my first romance novel.

"But Gaelen, this doesn't sound like a romance novel," the writers told her.

"That's because I haven't told you about the zebras yet," Foley replied. "It was a springtime day, and when we went to the zebras, I was like, 'Mommy! Mommy! The zebras are trying to give each other a piggyback ride!''"

As a second-grader at St. …