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Cover Story: Breaking the Clichés

Local authors shatter the romance-writer myth

By Lisa J. Mauch · July 8th, 1999 · Cover Story
Ryan Greis

Admit it. Whenever you see a romance novel's cover -- a scantily clad vixen swooning in the arms of a bronzed, muscular rogue -- you're picturing a bored housewife writing these alter ego love stories while the kids are in school.

To meet a romance writer in person is a pleasant surprise. They come in all forms. Married, single and divorced. With and without children. Careers that range from stay-at-home moms to business owners.

"You cannot pigeonhole writers anymore than you can readers," says Kathleen Gerberick, founder of the local chapter of Ohio Valley Romance Writers of America (OVRWA). Members consist of area writers who belong to the national organization, Romance Writers of America (RWA). "The only thing we have in common is most of us were bookworms, and we have an active fantasy life," she continues.

At first glance author Lori Foster, a OVRWA member for eight years, seems to fit the image of a typical romance writer. She is a homemaker as well as a devoted wife and mother.

"There's a lot of stereotypes," Foster says about her chosen industry. "That burns me up. I resent that attitude that you're sitting home with nothing better to do than to write romance novels." She goes on to say that her family is her top priority.

She also puts an end to another common cliché: the femme fatale. "(The public) always assumes that, if you're not the dowdy housewife, then you're running around town in black leather. I'm not a bombshell," says Foster, who describes herself as the tennis-shoes-and-jeans type.

"It's fiction. It's entertainment. It's not meant to be me."

Foster first started writing romances to entertain herself. But after going to a convention and discovering OVRWA, she turned her hobby into a profession.

"I was writing, and nobody knew I was writing," says Foster about her pre-convention days. "(The group) made a difference in information. They were able to give me information (about getting published). That made a really huge difference."

Gerberick, who works in a bank, says she started the chapter in 1986 because, "I had thought maybe that would be a way to connect with writers in my area." After getting a list of other RWA members, she sent out some letters and gathered other writers together to form a chapter. The first year they had 20 members. Thirteen years later, there are approximately 70, 15 of whom are published.

"It was so bizarre to meet with people who knew what I was talking about. I didn't know how to act around other writers," remembers Gerberick about their first meeting. "I have made lifelong friends as a result (of being a member). The most exciting change is we've had so many of our members get published."

Over the years the members have come from a variety of professional fields. The list includes an engineer, a lawyer, an accountant and a homemaker with a pilot's license. So how do you integrate a work-intensive career with writing love stories?

According to Jen Sokoloski, a computer software specialist who is working on being published, it's not that big of a stretch. She says her fast-paced work environment sometimes serves as inspiration. "Life gives you all sorts of ideas. (They) come at you faster than you can take them down."

When asked how this related to the stories she's written, Sokoloski answers, "Romances are about life, too. The romances I write are contemporary novels about women ... how they resolve their conflicts and goals into a happy ending. The world of romance isn't all hearts and flowers."

So how does she deal with the stereotypes placed upon her?

"If people say, 'You write those trashy bodice-rippers?' I say, 'No, I write the fiction that makes up 55 percent of all mass-market paperback adult fiction.' That shuts them up," Sokoloski explains.

OVRWA has helped her in other ways. "Having the writers' group has increased my business savvy with the business aspect of writing exponentially. (The group) puts me in touch with women who know where I'm coming from," says Sokoloski about the benefit of talking to group members about plot points instead of to family and friends. "Their eyes don't glaze over."

Six-year OVRWA member Crystal Harris also deviates from the romance type. She's a single mom with a master's degree who teaches developmental English at Sinclair College. "There doesn't seem to be a typical type," she responds when asked about the standard romance author. "The images -- feather boa, chocolates and a French poodle -- that's not it at all."

Harris, an African American, broke the mold eight years ago when she first published one of her books specifically for the African-American market.

"There wasn't a confidence in the industry that there would be a fan base for black romances. I don't think the market is as race-driven as it is money-driven," she says, explaining why traditionally African Americans haven't graced the covers of most romance novels.

After successfully publishing several contemporary multicultural books, Harris believes today's market is different than when she first started. "There is a market, and there are readers. Since then, the market has really expanded. It's not just African Americans who read my books. I get fan mail from all kinds of readers."

"The writing has gotten better," explains Gerberick. "The market has allowed the writers to take themselves more seriously. They're letting them push the edges of the envelope more. There's a lot more variety; it's not the rule-of-thumb the way it used to be. They're more willing to take chances. I think that's a good thing.



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