Love Among the Rockies

Chastity looked up from the lettuce bin and there he was, his eyes burning holes in the glistening head of romaine she held in her hand. While she pondered Clint's intense gaze, a gentle mist began to spray, soaking her bare wrists and sending shivers through her body...Nah. Let's try this: For years she had admired his handsome features and the confident way he ran the Mega Market produce section. But tonight, with a hefty zucchini in his hand and a day-old beard on his rugged face...Hmmm.

Having trouble writing your love lines? The Colorado Romance Writers Association may be able to help you make the first move.

"It took me ten years to sell my first book," says Christine Pacheco, president of the CRWA, "and I wrote ten books before selling my first one." Since then, Pacheco has penned seven tomes in a field overflowing with authors, almost all of them women. There are more than 8,000 members of the Romance Writers of America (75 belong to the Colorado chapter), some of them published but most seeking publishing contracts. Only 1,500 romance books are published each year, which means the quality of writing, Pacheco says, has to be very skilled.

Before you laugh, consider the fact that sales of romance novels reach $1 billion every year. According to Harlequin, one of the largest publishers of romance novels, nearly fifty percent of all paperbacks sold last year were romance books. Harlequin's research also shows that the 45 million women who read romances aren't all uneducated, sex-starved, chocolate-eating housewives, either. More than half of them work outside the home and maintain an annual income of over $45,000, and nearly 70 percent attended or graduated from college.

Outsiders may brand these readers frustrated ladies short on real-world romance. But Pacheco, who has been married to her "hero" for more than seventeen years, doesn't see it that way. "No more than a mystery would fulfill a need for someone to find a dead body in their backyard," she says.

"I think the people who have that cynicism don't read romance novels," says Colleen Collins, a Denver author who has sold five books in her ten-year career. If they did, "they'd be pleasantly surprised to see the kind of writing and stories that are in the genre today: strong women, social issues, stories that really reach out to women who may need something highlighted."

Collins and Pacheco say another misconception is that romance books are merely pulp vehicles for soft-core erotica. "I write romantic comedies," Collins says. "If I wanted to add more sex, that would be fine with my editors, but I really haven't written a sex scene."

Depending on the sub-genre, the number of a book's sexually charged pages can vary greatly, writers say. In historical novels, "Americana" titles and English Regency, randy behavior is limited and generally happens only after marriage and behind closed doors. Other sub-categories, such as romantic mysteries and Superromances, take place in more contemporary settings. Inspirational Christian romances--"obviously no sex in those," Pacheco notes--are the fastest-growing segment of romance publishing. Red covers, she says, typically hide more sexual content than titles with white jackets.

Pacheco, who writes mainly for the spicy Silhouette Desires label, says her books have a surprisingly small amount of body heat. What's more, the sensual passages in her books always involve honorable couples and responsible behavior, including birth control. She says her twelve-year-old daughter reads her work, and the books have led mother and daughter to healthy discussions of what to do when Derek's growing manhood strains at the fabric of his trousers. Romance, Pacheco argues, is "about two people who are absolutely committed to each other and who will live happily ever after."

The convention will include seminars designed to help writers flesh out such matters. Courses cover topics ranging from "Psychological Suspense in Romance" to "A History of Sex." Many of the sessions will be taught by prominent writers such as Stella Cameron, Sharon Sala and Ann Chamberlin, and Pacheco will teach a course on "Sensuality and Love Scenes." One hot tip? Don't think about "what your mom and grandmom will be thinking when they read your book."

But sex, Pacheco says, isn't what moves these titles. "It's emotion. You have to make the reader laugh, make them cry, make them care about the characters. It's the emotional attachment that women seem hungry for, not the sexual payoff. The attachment is why women get involved in relationships." She adds that the simple act of escaping into the pages of a book is as important for romance readers as it is with any gender and brand of fiction. "There seems to be a perception that when something is written by women, about women and for women, it can be dismissed," she says. "Some of us call romance 'subversive women's fiction.'"

If that's the case, the upcoming convention should be a cause for concern to men threatened by fictional dream-date males. But for those females itching to join the ranks of romance writers, the event should be an affair to remember. The joy of attending, Collins says, "is that you meet people that you can share your work with and get constructive criticisms. And you find out about who the good agents and editors are. If nothing else, it's inspiring--and don't we all need that when we go home alone to write?"

--Marty Jones

Romancing the Rockies--A Romance Writers' Conference, 6-9 p.m. April 30 and 7 a.m.-5:15 p.m. May 1, Regal Harvest House, 1345 28th Street, Boulder. Registration is $155; a free public book signing will be held from 4-6 p.m. on Friday. Call 303-443-3850 for details.

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Marty Jones

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