Romance novelist is proud of her genre

By Alexandra Jacobs
Updated July 19, 1996 at 04:00 AM EDT

Thinking about skulking over to the romance aisle for a frothy summertime read? Think again. Oh, not about buying that book. You’d be in good company: ”Women’s fiction,” as insiders call it, is read mostly by college-educated women, grosses $750 million per year, and accounts for almost 50 percent of mass-market paperbacks sold. Rather, it might be time to stop skulking. Unofficial spokesperson Jayne Ann Krentz, the married, 48-year-old author of 18 best-selling modern and historical romances (she publishes the latter, including the new Mischief, under the more old-fashioned name Amanda Quick), is more than happy to help you get over your embarrassment.

What defines a romance novel?
It’s focused on a positive relationship between a man and a woman. If you took that out, you’d have some other kind of book. Judith Krantz does what we call a ”glitz” novel — usually a tale of a woman’s personal struggle in a glitzy setting to achieve financial success. The relationship is usually secondary.

Do you ever feature heroines out of their 20s?
In the contemporary books, I’ve gone as high as 30 or 31. If you go too much later in the Regency period [the early 1800s, a popular choice for romance novelists], it gets difficult. If women were going to get married at all then, they did so by around 18 or 19, so we’re stretching it already by putting them in their 20s.

Your covers are very discreet. What do you think of the bodice-ripping ones?
Hate ’em. Every author does. They’re the lower end of the publishing spectrum. As soon as books hit the best-seller lists, the ”clinch” covers are the first to go.

Where does Fabio stand in the pecking order?
He’s an embarrassment to the genre. It’s a celebrity marketing gimmick. But I can’t really comment on ”his” books, because I’ve never read one.

Do you put anything from your own life into your books?
Nah. That’s like asking Robert Ludlum if he goes out and shoots people.

Why are romance novels held to higher standards than other kinds of genre fiction?
Anything in this culture that is largely female-dominated has to keep proving itself over and over again. The best thing that could happen in terms of more credibility and legitimacy would be to have more men writing it.

Do you ever want to write for the movies?
I really have no interest in Hollywood or film. I write the books for myself; I’m fortunate that a lot of people want to get into the same fantasies.