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The Allure of the Category Romance

(September 24, 1997)

USA Today bestselling author Peggy Moreland is a RITA finalist and is author of more than a dozen series romances for Silhouette. I recently asked her to explain to readers the allure of these short novels for many readers, and perhaps to provide some inducement for those readers who haven't read them in the past to give one a try.

Here is what she had to say:

You've got about an hour's worth of alone time while the baby takes a nap. You're planning a trip where you'll be trapped in either a car or a plane for several hours with nothing to do but stare at the back of the seat in front of you. Your son/daughter has soccer/basketball/dance/karate/piano lessons and you're stuck on the sidelines wishing you had brought something with you to help pass the time. You're stressed . . . your kids never mind you, your husband never listens to you and you're out of Calgon, so you can't cry, "Calgon, take me away!"

You don't have a lot of free time to immerse yourself in a long novel, so what do you do? You pick up a category romance. What do you find? Several hours worth of pleasant romantic reading along with a hero to die for and a guaranteed happy ending.

I was a voracious reader of romance before becoming a published romance author, I was (and am) the mother of three delightful - if at times frustratingly active - children, and the wife of a corporate man who seems intent on winning the record for the greatest number of frequent flyer miles earned in a year, so I can attest that all the above scenarios are true! At least they are for me!

But there are other people besides housewives and mothers who choose category romances as their first choice in reading entertainment . . . and they aren't all women, either! Men read romances, too, and I have the fan mail to prove it!

I have received sacks of fan mail over the years and there are some letters that I truly cherish. One in particular came from a bedridden woman in New Jersey who wrote to thank me for the hours of reading pleasure I had provided her. She also thanked me for taking her places where she physically couldn't go. That letter touched my heart in a way that still brings tears to my eyes when I think of it.

After reading my Silhouette Desire, Miss Lizzy's Legacy, another woman wrote that she was so intrigued by Guthrie, Oklahoma (the setting of the book) that she and her family planned a vacation there! Oddly enough, I had never considered this a bonus to readers. Since then I've strived to be even more descriptive of my settings, in order to provide an even wider canvas of enjoyment for the people I carry there with my words.

I guess the allure of category romance is as individual as the people who read them. I've received letters from emergency room nurses, lawyers, doctors (both medical and academic), firefighters, police officers, school teachers, bankers, stock brokers. They all have different reasons/needs for choosing a category romance, but all their letters seem to hold the same theme: they're looking for a temporary escape - whether from a stressful job or life in general - a quick read, and they want, at the same time, to be entertained.

And I'm not any different from my readers, whether I'm writing a romance or reading one. I love a good story. I love to experience again the heady sensation of falling in love, if only vicariously. I love traveling to locales that I've never visited before. I love to see women and men alike face seemingly insurmountable odds and, in the end, win. I love those dang cowboys with their tight cowboy butts and hearts as black as sin. And I love watching those same cowboys fall head over boot heels for a woman who was destined just for him.

The test for the category writer is to be able to satisfy all those "loves" within a very short space; for me that "space" is 55,000 words. "Fifty-five thousands words!" you scream in disbelief. Yes, fifty-five thousand, and, believe me, that ain't easy! For within that narrow frame, I must acquaint the reader with the hero and heroine's background, establish their conflicts, define their goals, paint the characters in such a way that they come to life for the reader. In addition, I must build scenes using strong enough emotion to draw the reader into the story. I must use colorful and accurate description to give the reader a sense of "place." I must develop the growing relationship between the hero and heroine in such a way that the reader (if female!) finds herself falling in love with the hero and yet sympathizing with the heroine. And the biggest test of all is to resolve the couple's conflicts in a satisfying and believable way. Whew! And all that in 55,000 words.

Do I enjoy the process, the challenge? You bet! I don't write longer books, so I can't really compare the time involved in their creation, but the elements, the ingredients, if you will, I would think, are the same. Those authors just have more room in which to accomplish them!

I've written a short category novel in as brief a time as six weeks and others have taken as long as five months. The reasons for production time vary. Some stories I find are simply harder to tell. Others seem to fall off my fingers as soon as I sit down at my keyboard. And sometimes life just simply gets in the way of my writing and slows me down.

But no matter how long the process takes - whether I'm reading or writing a category romance - the pleasures are immeasurable, the rewards heart-warming and the time spent always worth the effort. .

Peggy Moreland

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