Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Goodness Knows, Almost Anything Goes When It Comes to the Ever-Growing Business of Romance Novels. but as Writers along the First Coast Know, a Lot of Work Goes into the Passionate Pursuit of Publishing. A Fine Romance

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Goodness Knows, Almost Anything Goes When It Comes to the Ever-Growing Business of Romance Novels. but as Writers along the First Coast Know, a Lot of Work Goes into the Passionate Pursuit of Publishing. A Fine Romance

Article excerpt

There are only two rules that cannot be broken in a romance novel.

There must be no unfaithfulness between or among hero and heroine.

There must be a happy ending.

Otherwise, anything goes.

The story can take place in ancient Egypt or outer space or Hahira, Ga. It can be cozy and homespun as a granny quilt, or dark with supernatural horror. It can be steamy, innocent or somewhere in between. It can be adventure or comedy. It can be pure fluff or issue-oriented, deal with breast cancer, care of an elderly parent -- or the heroine can be an elderly parent -- post-traumatic stress syndrome, equal pay for equal work.

Romance novels' heroes and heroines come in all ages, colors, sizes.

There is a burgeoning market in ethnic romances.

"I was one of the first blacks signed on to do African-American books for Arabesque publishers," said Brenda Jackson, a Jacksonville writer who has published five romances since 1995 and has a sixth due at the end of May, plus a contract for her first hardcover novel.

Jackson works full-time for an insurance company and works another couple of hours a day at love stories. She carries a little cassette with her at all times in case she needs to record an idea before it gets away.

"The secret is to work every day," she said. "Always looking for that happy ending."

"But no adultery, absolutely, which is why books like Bridges of Madison County and The Horse Whisperer, which people think of as romances, are not. Besides, they don't have happy endings," Charis McEachern said unequivocably.

McEachern was speaking ex cathedra for the Romance Writers of America, a national organization of 8,000-plus writers of romantic fiction with a chapter that meets in Jacksonville.

Romance novels are big business -- humongous.

Book sales figures from 1998 are not available yet. But, 1997 sales figures for romance novels hit 202 million books, which is 19 percent of total U.S. book sales.

"Out of pop fiction, it's by far the largest category in sales," said Pete Reynolds of the American Booksellers Association, based in Tarrytown, N.Y. The closest category to romance was non-fiction's cooking and crafts, 10 percent of sales.

"Almost half -- 49 percent -- of all the paperbacks sold in America every year are romance novels," noted Marge Smith, a St. Augustine writer who has sold six romance novels: Eight Men and a Lady, Jenny's Castle, The Overnight Groom, Gabriel's Last Angel, Convenient Daddy, For Your Love .

Smith is a pro now, with a pen name even -- Elizabeth Sinclair, because her first publisher decided Margarite was too long for the book cover and Smith was too common. But, it took Smith a long time to segue into Sinclair.

"I spent 12 years trying to publish a book. When it finally happened it was like having your first born all over again," she recalled. She was an avid romance reader before she took pen in hand. "I used to read six or seven books a week. I finally said, `Gee, I could do this.' So I started writing."

Smith simply sat down and cried when her agent called -- Aug. 3, 1993, at 3:47 p.m. -- and said "Congratulations, you did it." She was 53 at the time.

Smith is a mainstay of First Coast Romance Writers, the Jacksonville area chapter of Romance Writers of America. The group, about 40 members, meets monthly to talk about the industry, to talk about techniques of writing, to conduct workshops, hear experts. The members read and critique one another's work. Smith's workshop specialty is what to do in the middle of the story, those troublesome pages between the beginning and the end. …

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