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Beauties and Their Beasts

The first rule of writing a successful romance novel is to make your characters beautiful. The estimated 45 million romance readers in North America demand it. Romance fans also want lush, descriptive writing and some substance to balance the lovey-dovey stuff, according to a couple local romance authors. And with the genre accounting for 40 percent of all popular fiction sales in the United States, publishers are obviously giving readers what they want.

"Most people want escape," says romance writer Marcia King-Gamble of Fort Lauderdale. "They want to read about a male and a female who are gorgeous. This is fantasy."

The fantasy is a virtually unattainable lovers' utopia: perfect people meeting in the perfect setting and falling in perfect love. It's the same dream that drives Valentine's Day, when even slacker suitors are expected to put out for wining, dining, and romantic gifts -- if they know what's good for them.

On the other hand, the novels with covers depicting Fabio-like muscle hunks deliver year round. The woman always gets the man of her dreams, everything ends happily ever after, and divorce rarely happens.

Reality, of course, doesn't come close, which has always been the case. "These [romance] stories are archetypes and fairy tales that go back hundreds of thousands of years," says Marilyn Jordan, another local romance writer.

The recycled scenarios include the abduction story of Hades and Persephone and the marriage of convenience found in Beauty and the Beast.

"Women have always been getting married off to men they have never met," says Jordan, who, along with King-Gamble and three other authors, will discuss their works at the Romance Book Club meeting February 11. "That's why the marriage of convenience story is so possible and will never die."

Jordan knew as much when she wrote First Comes Marriage (1996). The story's young heiress heroine is forced to marry a veterinarian in order to inherit the family department store. The vet taps into her fortune to save a neighborhood pond from developers, and this all works out fine, because by that point in the story, the pair has fallen in luuuuv.

And though Snow White and Sleeping Beauty landed the men of their dreams simply by looking darned good lying around unconscious, today's heroines are a little more proactive.

"Women are empowered by these stories," Jordan claims. "The woman always comes out the winner. She gets to triumph using her brains and her courage." And she looks great doing it.

-- John Ferri

The Romance Book Club meets at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, February 11, at Barnes & Noble Booksellers, 2790 University Dr., Coral Springs. Admission is free. Call 954-344-6291.

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John Ferri

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