Friday, July 20, 2007

On Romance by Bertrice Small

When this article came across one of my newsletter listservs this morning, I thought it was too interesting to not have more exposure than for writers only. Although Ms. Small wrote it for writers, the history will interest all romance readers.

The following article first appeared in the August 2007 issue of ShoreLines, newsletter for the Long Island Romance Writers. Permission to forward, with proper credits, granted.

A Brief History of the Romance Genre, Late 20th Century
by Bertrice Small

In February of 2008 I will have been in print 30 years. I'm astounded at how the time has gone. But I'm more amazed when I speak with many aspiring writers who want to write Romance, but have absolutely no idea of its modern beginnings. They know nothing of the Romance Revolution in which I played a part, and still continue to play a part. As I write this for ShoreLines the Romance community is mourning the loss of Kathleen E. Woodiwiss who died on July 6th. It seems impossible that some of you reading this have no idea who she is, or was, yet there are those of you who don't. Oh, you might have heard the name, but you really don't know about her great contribution.

Charles Dickens's kindly character, Bob Cratchitt toasted his miserly employer one Christmas Day as "the founder of our feast." So it is I think of Kathleen E. Woodiwiss. She is indeed the founder of our feast, the Romance revival. A genteel, private Southern woman living in Minnesota, she would have never considered causing any kind of a stir much less a revolution. But cause a revolution she certainly did, proving once again that old adage that the pen is mightier than the sword.

She wrote a novel, and sent it to a New York publishing house. So it was in the summer of 1970 that an editor plucked the bulky manuscript from the slush pile, taking it home to read over a weekend. The editor returned Monday morning determined to publish the manuscript she had read, and she lobbied so hard that to shut her up, Avon agreed to publish it. Everyone except the editor in question was astounded when the manuscript was published in April of 1972 and became an overnight mega-bestseller. The book was titled, "The Flame and the Flower." Its author was Kathleen E. Woodiwiss, and the revolution had begun.

Several months later a manuscript arrived at Avon Books addressed to the editor of "The Flame and the Flower." Written by another unknown, Rosemary Rogers, this manuscript was published in January 1974, and titled, "Sweet Savage Love." It proved to be another huge bestseller. The editor of these two books, Nancy Coffey, began collecting writers to publish. There was Laurie McBain, Joyce Verrette, Patricia Gallagher, Johanna Lindsay, Shirlee Busbee, and me, Bertrice Small. We were known as the Avon Ladies. Nancy wasn't too keen on men, even with female nom de plumes, writing Romance, and so, Tom Huff, a.k.a. Jennifer Wilde, ended up writing for Warner Books. And so began the Romance Revival of the late 20th century.

Until then women, who buy most of the books, were hard pressed to find anything in the paperback racks to read other than Westerns, Mysteries, Thrillers, and Horror. Oh, there was Barbara Cartland, and Harlequin, but it was Woodiwiss and Rogers who fired our imaginations with their sexy, swashbuckling prose. And in short order we were pushing the other fiction genres to the back of the bus as Romance exploded full force onto the scene.

Now there are those who sneer at the Romance genre. They say it isn't real literature. But literature is defined by the Random House Dictionary of the English Language as: writings, in which form and expression, in connection with ideas of universal and permanent interest are characteristic or essential features as poetry, ROMANCE, history, biographies, essays, etc. You will note it doesn't say ponderous, dull, boring writing critically hailed by stuffy snobs. I suspect that the publishers would agree with my simple opinion. Literature is anything that gets people reading, gets them to recommend a title to friends, gets them coming back into the bookstores to buy more books.

And that's just what the Romance genre did. It got women into the stores and reading again. It made Romance a billion dollar baby for publishing. It was a two-headed baby to begin with: Historicals and Category. But then as women's palates grew more sophisticated, baby grew more heads. Historical and Category were joined by Western, Thriller, Paranormal, Glitz, Chick-Lit, Christian, Contemporary, and OHMYSTARS! Erotic, just to name a few. And the Historical sub-genre had sub-sub-genres. Regency. Georgian. Medieval. Tudor and Elizabethan, not to mention Stuart. Pre- and post-Colonial America. Southern. Civil War. Victorian. Gothic. And World War I. Paranormal sprouted a few noggins. Sexy vampires and wolves prowled the pages of novels along with faeries, witches, and wizards. Romance, it seems, offers something for everyone today.

Thirty-five years have past since "The Flame and the Flower" burst upon the publishing scene. I think it's a pretty safe bet to say that few, if any of you, would be publishing today if it hadn't been for Kathleen E. Woodiwiss, and the seven other Avon Ladies who followed behind her. And of those eight crusaders, five still publish. "Everlasting, " Woodiwiss's last novel, is currently scheduled to be published posthumously in October of this year. Rosemary Rogers still writes for Avon. Johanna Lindsay is with Pocket Books; Shirlee Busbee with Kensington; and me, Bertrice Small, well, I toil for NAL and HQN. I like to think of us as the survivors of the Romance wars.

So the next time you sit down to write; or you stop at your favorite bookstore to browse, and buy, I hope you will think of us. We are your past. We are the present. And while I suspect the four of us intend being around for a while longer, you are going to be the future of Romance. We've laid a solid foundation for you. Make Kathleen and rest of us proud!

Bertrice Small lives to write and writes to live. She is the author of 43 novels encompassing Historical Romance, Fantasy Romance and Erotic Romance. She lives on the North Fork of the East End of Long Island with her hero, George, 3 cats, 2 fish and a cockatiel who whistles the NY METS charge call.

1 comment:

  1. I was reading all of Kathleen's and Rosemary's books when they first came out! I loved them and was always waiting for the next one! I was at home with small children at the time and I looked forward to their nap time so I could read! lol