Cody Launches ‘Romance Round-up’

Inaugural event brings together writers, readers of growing genre

Romance author V.J. Lee, far left, chats with readers, from left, Ali Price and Lisa Price, while her assistant Monica Bird looks on during Saturday’s Cody Romance Round-up. (Wyoming Truth photo by Ruffin Prevost)

By Ruffin Prevost

Special to the Wyoming Truth

CODY, Wyo. — Romance is their business, and business is booming.

That’s what authors attending the Cody Romance Round-up reported, saying their readership is blossoming as the romance category continues a long trend of expanding at a heart-throbbing pace.

Seventeen romance authors—all women—from around the region gathered Saturday afternoon in the courtyard of Cody’s historic Chamberlin Inn, where Ernest Hemingway stayed in 1932 after completing work on “Death In the Afternoon,” his nonfiction book about bullfighting in Spain.

Like Hemingway, the Round-up women from Wyoming, South Dakota, Montana and Colorado have written tales of romance and adventure, love and loss. Unlike Papa, they have also written romance novels about a widowed U.S. president, paranormal intrigue, early 19th Century British aristocracy and supernatural Celtic warriors capable of bending time.

That broad range of diverse topics and amazing specificity of subject matter comes as no surprise to Round-up authors, or anyone else closely following the industry. Romance novels pull in $2 billion annually in revenue, making it the top-earning fiction genre.

Romance sales have been trending up—way up—with sales growing by 52% over the last year, and romances commanding a third of all book sales in the mass-market paperback format, according to WordsRated, an industry research and analytics group.

Cody-based romance novelist Linda Rae Sande makes a book sale on Saturday to Sandra Rewers during the Cody Romance Round-up. (Wyoming Truth photo by Ruffin Prevost)

So if you’ve got a hankering for a contemporary romance with no sex set in the Greater Yellowstone Area and centered around pet rescue and adoption, Gayle M. Irwin has you covered.

Irwin lives in Casper and has worked as a newspaper editor and freelance writer. She has adopted rescue dogs and lived previously in the Montana towns of Bozeman and West Yellowstone, so her five-book “Pet Rescue Romance Collection-Yellowstone Country” reflects those experiences.

“I write what I know,”said Irwin, whose next book will include a pet rescue romance with dog-sledding set in Jackson.

For Cody author Tam DeRudder Jackson, her love of reading about Celtic mythology grew into writing a series of romance novels about “modern-day Celtic warriors who are based out of Bozeman, Montana and they’re battling goddesses in the Celtic pantheon and saving the world behind the scenes.”

While the details of Jackson’s “Talisman” series about supernatural warriors stem from her specific interests, the themes of love and connection are universal, and part of the widespread appeal of romance novels, she said.

Finding love and community

“People want to find love, they want to belong in a community or belong with a person they can share time with and be supported by,” Jackson said.

While some romance novels, like Jackson’s, contain a few steamy sex scenes—perhaps one every 50 to 100 pages—some have none at all. Romances shouldn’t be confused with erotica stories like “Fifty Shades of Grey,” she said.

“In a romance novel, it’s not gratuitous; it serves the story and the characters,” Jackson said. “Whereas in erotica, the characters are there to serve the sex.”

Another reason for the popularity of romances is that they “always deliver happily ever after,” she said. “So even on your worst day, if you pick up one of these books, you can feel a little bit uplifted” by a happy ending.

Romance novelist Tam Derudder Jackson sells some of her books on Saturday in Cody to reader Tanya Raile, right, who is joined by friends, from left, Diane Syring and Molly Greene. (Wyoming Truth photo by Ruffin Prevost)

The allure of a specific setting is another big appeal for romance readers, with the chance to visit an exotic locale or intriguing time period accounting for a big part of what makes reading the genre fun.

“It is fun because it’s just another world,” said Iris Harbert, a Cody resident who attended Saturday’s roundup with her friend, Sue Haisch. The two are avid readers who loan each other books and like to discuss literature.

“When I read, I’m no longer in Cody. I’m wherever that book is set,” said Harbert, who reckons she reads an average of about 100 books per year and has a “to-be-read” list numbering in the thousands.

Haisch, a former accountant who said she loves spreadsheets, pulled out a 10-page, single-spaced, double-sided list of books (alphabetized by author, of course) that helped her keep track of ones she had read, those she had bought but not yet read and others she wants to buy and read.

Both women left the roundup with several books, hauling away their finds in purple tote bags emblazoned with the name of Linda Rae Sande, a prolific Cody romance novelist who can often be spotted in Cody bars and restaurants typing up her latest story on her laptop.

Sande has published 46 romance novels, and specializes in a genre known as “regency romance,” set in Great Britain in the early 19th Century.

With recurring characters popping up throughout her dozens of books, Sande’s website offers detailed family trees to help readers track the love affairs amongst the various aristocratic families riding waves of wealth and chaos resulting from the industrial revolution.

A secret baby situation

“I have to keep a ‘series bible’ going of who’s related to whom and make sure I don’t marry off the aunt to their nephew,” Sande said with a laugh. “Which almost happened. I was halfway through writing one story and realized I can’t marry these twin girls to these twin boys because they had a family connection from a secret baby situation.”

But not to worry, dear reader. Sande was able to rewrite the story so it had what she calls an “H.E.A.” conclusion.

A display at Saturday’s Cody Romance Round-up offers books for sale by Colorado-based author Lynn Donovan. (Wyoming Truth photo by Ruffin Prevost) 

“There’s that promise to the reader that you’re going to give them a happily ever after ending, and there’s no other genre that promises that,” she said, repeating the most common reason cited Saturday by authors and readers for the popularity of romance stories.

Even if a story is part of an ongoing series, with the possibility that complications could thwart a romance in the future, it still has to end on a “happily for now” note, Sande said.

In a throwback to the days of Charles Dickens, one Cody romance author has found success releasing short, serialized stories online, including tales heavier on suspense than love.

K. J. Gillenwater helped organize the Roundup with Sande, Jackson and two other local writers whose work include romances. They meet regularly to read each other’s manuscripts and offer insights on writing and publishing.

Her “Genesis Machine” trilogy has been building a strong and growing readership on the Kindle Vella platform, a mobile app from Amazon geared for shorter, serialized works.

Gillenwater said she wrote the series all at once, but split it into segments with cliffhangers to make it appealing for serial readers. The “Genesis Machine” follows a military cryptologist recruited to study evidence of an extraterrestrial presence, a thriller “with a little bit of romance.”

With a steady stream of readers showing up throughout the afternoon, Gillenwater and many other authors said they were pleased with how the inaugural Cody Romance Round-up turned out.

Organizers said they didn’t know what to expect, but the event reached a “happily for now” ending on Saturday, with a sequel in the works.

Said Gillenwater: “We already have plans for next year.”

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