By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
On the surface, there are major differences between Pam White and Pamela Clare. White is an area journalist known for passionately advocating on behalf of women and members of indigenous communities, and for taking contentious stances without regard to political correctness. Just days after 9/11, for instance, she penned "Why Are We Despised?" a Boulder Weekly cover story about allegedly misguided U.S. foreign policy that prompted one of many angry letter writers to declare: "The shame of a nation is on your shoulders." As for Clare, she's the author of the Leisure Books title Sweet Release, a new historical romance novel described in the industry mag Romantic Times as "a sensuous tale of lust, betrayal, redemption and freedom." In addition, the publication declared Release hero Alec Kenleigh, portrayed on the tome's cover as a dark-browed, ponytailed, shirt-optional hunk o' burning love, to be a Knight in Shining Silver -- K.I.S.S. for short. Watch out, Gene Simmons.
Nonetheless, White and Clare have a great deal in common, which makes sense, considering they're the same person. Perhaps that's why White - who will speak and sign copies of her fictional debut at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 18, at the Boulder Bookstore, 1107 Pearl Street -- sees no contradiction between her reputation as a champion of equality and the work of her alter ego.
"I think romance novels are inherently feminist," says White, who was named editor of the Weekly last month after her predecessor in that post, Wayne Laugesen, cut back his hours to serve as CEO of Windhover Creative Partners, a new multimedia firm. "They're very pro-woman. They're about a woman discovering what she wants in her life and fighting for it."
The romance genre is battling for respect, too, and White's doing all she can to help. In "Romancing Society," an offering she wrote for the Weekly that spun off a Romance Writers of America convention held in Denver last summer, White disclosed that romance novels "account for 18 percent of all books sold and a whopping 55.9 percent of the paperback-fiction market," racking up $1.37 billion in sales during calendar year 2000 alone. Yet White feels most mainstream publications ghettoize or condescend toward romance books.
Just as irritating to her is the assumption on the part of many potential readers (most of them male) that while such novels make room for ripped bodices, heavy breathing and tragic obstacles to love, they fail to include anything of real substance. "My book touches on a lot of historical points, the most important of them being chattel slavery, the genocide of native people, and women's rights in colonial society," she says.
Likewise, White feels that perceptions about what appeals to women like her are out of whack with reality -- a point she makes in a February article in the Weekly about the "rising interest in porn" among new-school feminists. As she puts it, "There's tons of stereotypes about romance novels, and most of them are easily debunked by reading one."
White discovered historical romances when she was in her mid-teens and continued to devour them while attending the University of Colorado at Boulder, even though she majored in the classics, with an emphasis on art, archaeology and Latin. After doing graduate work in archaeology, she transferred to the art history department, but eventually realized that "hanging out in grad school was a cool way to avoid writing," she says. "I dropped out, went into journalism in order to hone my writing skills, and started doing research for Sweet Release."
This last process was certainly a lengthy one, in part because White wanted to nail every detail of life in 1730s Virginia, when Sweet Release is set. She translated Latin love poems by Catullus, a Roman scribe whose writings date to the time of Julius Caesar, and explored the particulars of "everything from underwear -- What did they wear? How did it fasten? What was it made of? -- to kitchen utensils to seasonal diet to political affairs of the time to eighteenth-century plumbing in London to Irish folk cures for stab wounds and cow diseases."
Of course, White also had to make a living, and she wound up becoming immersed in newspapering. She freelanced a piece for the Colorado Daily in 1984, beginning an on-again, off-again relationship with what was then a feisty, unapologetically progressive broadsheet. She stuck around the Daily for much of the '80s, returned in a full-time position during the early '90s, and eventually became the paper's first female editor in 1998.
A few years down the line, the Daily was purchased by veteran publisher Randy Miller, whose vision for the paper was considerably more conventional than White's ("Paper Trail," April 26, 2001). She stepped aside in favor of a staff position at the Rocky Mountain News, but her rabble-rousing was a bad match for the tradition-bound Rocky, which cut her loose after only a few months. Shortly thereafter, she took a story the News had dismissed to the Weekly, whose staff she later joined.
Throughout these professional changes -- not to mention many personal ones (a divorce, a near-fatal climbing accident) -- White kept working on her book, which revolves around Cassie Blakewell, an expert horsewoman who runs a plantation owned by her dementia-stricken father. Early on, Blakewell buys a badly injured convict ("to spare him the indignity of dying in chains," White says) without knowing that he's actually the aforementioned Alec Kenleigh, an English gentleman of considerable means. "There's a suspense plot in which we find out how this happened to him and show him trying to regain his identity -- and show the danger he causes to Cassie because of his status as a convict," White allows. She concedes that these assorted complications are resolved, "but not until the very, very end."