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Publish Date: 5/14/2005

Stocking up on romance novels, Melanie Schaeffer browses through titles at the “Romancing the Rockies” writers’ conference in Denver on Friday.Times-Call/Erin McCracken

At forum, writers talk about the passion
Romancing the page is key at conference

DENVER — Paper makes a poor bed for a steamy love scene.

But 85 romance writers attended the 12th biannual “Romancing the Rockies” writers’ conference Friday to learn how to put passion on the page with more zing.

“Readers aren’t necessarily interested in the insert-part-A-into-slot-B,” Danica Favorite-McDonald, 29, said between sessions at the Radisson Graystone Castle in Denver.

Writing that scene would be formulaic or pornographic rather than romantic, the Lakewood resident said.

Now about 350 pages into her 11th unpublished novel, “Sleeping with the Enemy,” Favorite-McDonald attended the two-day Colorado Romance Writers event to learn to better describe emotional content.

“People can relate to the whole notion of searching for that special someone,” she said.

Still, one session was titled: “Sex Sell$: Five Sexy Secrets for Writing a Steamy Love Scene That Leaves Them Panting.”

Panting? Who are these readers?

Romance Writers of America, a Texas-based professional association of published and aspiring authors, profiles the average romance fiction reader as a white married woman who’s 35 to 44 years old.

And despite the genre’s penchant for stolen love and secret babies, “faithful” describes them.

In 2003, romance fiction — with its dozen or so subcategories — accounted for nearly half of all popular paperback fiction sales to the tune of $1.4 billion, according to RWA statistics.

To keep readers pining for another yarn of love and lust, the conference focused on grooming romance writers with best-selling authors, publishing house editors and agents.

Speakers often stressed the basics. RWA chapter contest judge Jan Crane pointed out that every hero and heroine must have GMC.

GMC is not magnetic charisma, Hollywood good looks or sexual mojo. It stands for goals, motivation and conflict.

“Why are they on this earth? What do they want to do on this earth, and what is preventing them from doing that?” Crane asked one audience.

She also stressed that every romance novel needs a “black moment,” a passage when it seems impossible for the couple to unite.

Down the hall, Leslie Wainger — a Silhouette Books editor and author of “Writing Romance Novels for Dummies” — warned against ending with a wedding, something she called a “blah” note.

“It’s pretty, but we don’t need to see it,” she said.

According to Wainger, romance writers must keep the wedding in sight. Happy endings define this genre, after all.

But readers, much like the reluctant hero or heroine, must be teased along, she said. They need to feel the emotional, sexual and circumstantial tension generated through plot and character development.

“Don’t end a chapter with them making loving and just lying there, both of them looking out the window at the moon rising,” she said.

Still, love scenes don’t just roll off the fingertips of romance writers, conference chair Karen Docter said. Traditional romance novels stop at the bedroom door, and for years she said she would not write about what happened behind them.

“I wouldn’t want to write anything my children or my mother wouldn’t read,” the Northglenn resident said.

Conferences like this one have helped Docter, a five-time RWA Golden Heart award winner of unpublished work, to loosen up on and off the page.

“This is the only thing that’s me. The rest of my life is my kids, my husband and my job,” Docter said. “But this is personal. It’s like breathing.”

It’s personal to 54-year-old Arvada resident Meridy Migchelbrink, too. But it’s also an escape for the medical transcriptionist by day and romance writer by night.

She has researched everything from Navajo rites of passage to the different kinds of moons — blood, harvest, hunter, etc. — to write 168 pages and counting in “Coyote Way.”

The plot and the characters have expanded in ways unimaginable to her when she started researching her book two years ago. But the love scenes, she admitted, are tricky.

“I haven’t written the final one yet,” she said. “But I think that will be a little hotter now.”

Pam Mellskog can be reached at 303-684-5224, or by e-mail at

The top three traits romance readers like in a hero (in order):

• Muscles

• Handsomeness

• Intelligence

The top three traits romance readers like in a heroine (in order):

• Intelligence

• Strength of character

• Attractiveness

Source: Romance Writers of America

For more information:

• Colorado Romance Writers, www.coloradoromancewriters.org

• Romance Writers of America, www.rwanational.org

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