Tips on love from experts — romance novel writers

by Lakiesha McGhee — Sacramento Bee Staff Writer

Published: Tuesday, February 18, 2003 – 2:15 a.m.

He poured two glasses of chilled white wine, set them on the makeshift coffee table and turned on some soft jazz, which he’d come to appreciate. Then, he went into the bedroom and lit vanilla-scented candles in preparation for what he’d hoped the night would bring …

If you think that sounds like a sexy scene from the pages of a romance novel, you’re right. You’ll find it on page 45 of “Silicon Secrets,” a novel by Catherine Burr.

Last week, Burr, who lives in Saratoga, met with four local romance authors at the Red Lion Inn in Sacramento to swap life stories and exchange their thoughts on how to keep the romance alive.

“If guys really want to know what women want in love and sex, they should read a romance novel every now and then,” says author Brenda Novak of Fair Oaks.

In addition to Novak and Burr, the group included novelists Amanda Scott of Folsom, Debra Lee Brown of Sacramento and Bobbie Vetter Fite of Rancho Murieta.

They belong to the Sacramento Valley Rose Chapter of Romance Writers of America, which has 100 members, including 32 published authors.

In all, Romance Writers of America has about 1,200 published romance writers among its 8,400 members. The organization says romance fiction now makes up about 55 percent of all popular paperback fiction sold in the United States, read by tens of millions, generating more than $1.5 billion in sales annually.

For the local writers, the literary genre was irresistible.

“Four years ago, I quit my day job as a secretary at a parish church,” Burr said while having lunch. “I just had this burning desire that wouldn’t go a way.”

Burr’s passion for writing is reflected in her latest book and first romantic novel, “Silicon Secrets.” It’s the tale of a money-hungry, power-driven man from Europe who seeks out his fortune in the Silicon Valley but is swayed from his path by Heather, a beautiful, beach-loving artist.

Burr said the research involved in romance writing is part of the fun — and, of course, it didn’t hurt that her husband of 23 years works as a business executive in Silicon Valley, where her latest story takes place.

“When I’m writing a romance scene, it’s very romantic,” Burr said. “Sometimes I can’t wait for my husband to come home.”

The writers agreed you have to be something of a romantic to do their job, and if you’re not, you become one in the process. They say they have learned that couples must work to keep the romance alive — not just on special occasions but year-round.

Fite recommends scheduling “play dates,” which give couples time to nurture themselves and their relationships. She said such dates may be necessary for those who have demanding schedules.

Scott, who with 42 published books is one of the group’s most prolific writers, said that in her marriage, she’s the one who is more likely to forget special occasions.

“Relationships are about give and take,” Scott said. “I’m usually working seven days a week, and depending on where I’m at in a book, I forget the rest of the world.”

Novak, who has five children, ages 6 to 16, said it’s easy for a woman to get wrapped up in motherhood and ignore her partner’s needs.

“Sometimes the best thing you can give your spouse is your complete and full attention,” Novak said. “Don’t let your children take all of your attention. The best thing you can do for them is to show them that mommy and daddy have a stable, loving relationship.”

To spice things up, Burr suggests sending sexy e-mails to your mate regularly, developing your own living romance novel. And if you want to give your special someone something more meaningful than chocolates and roses, she said try whisking him or her away to enjoy doing the things he or she likes best.

Debra Lee Brown said cuddling up to your sweetheart with a good romance book isn’t such a bad idea, either.

“Oftentimes when people think of romance novels, they think of hundreds of pages of sex, but it’s not,” Brown said. “It’s about the evolving relationship between a man and a woman.”

Fite said some people complain that romance books have too much sex while others say there’s not enough.

“Romance is not as much sexual as it is sensual,” Fite said. “It brings out the sight, sound, touch, taste and sense of adventure.”

The desire to read romance novels has broadened the genre to meet today’s varying interests.

The group spoke of new sub-genres of romantic novels. For example, Brown’s book “Northern Exposure” is a romantic suspense novel — a subgenre that attracts 91 percent of romance readers, according to Romance Writers of America. Other sub-genres include contemporary romance, historical romance, and futuristic or time-traveling romance.

The organization reports that 51.1 million Americans read romance novels, up by 10 million readers since its 1998 study. Of all romance readers, 93 percent are women, with one in five women having read a romance novel in 2002. About half of romance readers are married.

The popularity of the books also has sparked romance-book clubs like the one that met last Monday night at Barnes & Noble bookstore at Arden Fair mall. Members of the all-woman group, organized by Novak, said they have been reading books from the genre since they were teenagers. Others said they had just started.

“I didn’t start off reading romance,” bookstore manager Missy Dubois said while participating in the club’s discussion. “I held the stigma that those books were all about men who look like Fabio and sex, but it’s not. Romance books are like chicken soup for the soul. After reading one you can say — oh, the world isn’t all bad.”

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