WOMEN YOU SHOULD KNOW IN WYOMING: Romance Novelist Finds Success in Engaging Stories, Solid Business Practices
Linda Rae Sande weaves web of 500 characters across 46 books
- Published In: Other News & Features
- Last Updated: Aug 16, 2023
Cody author Linda Rae Sande uses merchandise like customized tote bags to help promote her work. (Wyoming Truth photo by Ruffin Prevost)
By Ruffin Prevost
Special to the Wyoming Truth
CODY, Wyo. — For years, Linda Rae Sande has been creating meticulous family trees outlining the relationships between a dozen intertwined families. But she is not a genealogist. Those families include dukes, earls and viscounts, but she is not a royal watcher. And they all lived during the industrial revolution of the early 1800s, but she isn’t a historian.
The Merriweathers, Fitzwilliams and Carlingtons — and over a dozen others — are all families created straight from the boundless imagination of Sande, a prolific romance author who has published 46 books.
Most of those books are part of a popular sub-genre of the $2 billion-per-year romance fiction category. Known as Regency romance, it includes Jane Austen’s “Pride & Prejudice,” which was a contemporary novel when published in 1813, but has since sold over 20 million copies.
Sande’s stories focus on an intricately woven web of 500 interconnected, recurring characters who play out their lives during Great Britain’s Victorian and Regency periods, when the aristocracy flourished. Their strict manners, stringent social hierarchy and ostentatious fashions stood in stark contrast to the rampant poverty and squalor of the working classes.
But while the setting of her stories are in a faraway time and place, Sande said their themes are universal.
“These are stories that are about the human condition,” she said. “These are feel-good stories. You should be able to close the book when it’s done and feel better than you felt when you started.”
Sande defends the romance genre against derisive nicknames like “bodice-rippers” or “mommy porn.” Many of her fans, including some men, like reading romance because “it helps them deal with their daily life, or makes their marriage better or gives them a better perspective on how to deal with the opposite sex,” she said.
But success for Sande, 64, has been the result of more than just a decade of telling engaging stories. In the crowded field of romance novels, top publisher Harlequin releases over 60 new titles every month. Thousands more come from other publishers and independent authors, many appearing in a range of electronic formats for devices like Amazon’s Kindle reader or as audiobooks.
Decades in Silicon Valley
Navigating new electronic publishing platforms is a challenge for which Sande is well-suited. She spent two decades in California’s Silicon Valley as a technical writer at companies like Silicon Graphics and Pacific Data Images, which was acquired by DreamWorks Animation. (You’ll find Sande’s name in the credits as a technical writer for the movie “Shrek” and its first sequel, both produced by DreamWorks.)
Though she has lucrative contracts with publishers in the United Kingdom and Australia, Sande disseminates most of her work and derives over two-thirds of her income through her own company, Twisted Teacup Publishing. In a genre where there are high expectations for frequent online and in-person interactions between readers and writers, she devotes considerable time to managing an active social media presence and organizing events and signings.
That includes the inaugural Cody Romance Round-up, held Saturday at the Chamberlin Inn. The affair drew 17 authors and dozens of readers, and was successful enough that planning has already started for next year’s event.
The Round-up was the idea of Cody romance writer Tam DeRudder Jackson, who is part of a local writers’ group that includes Sande as well as Sara Vinduska, K.J. Gillenwater and JR Cobourn. The five women organized the Round-up as a way to expand their readership and meet up with other authors.
“Linda Rae is the reason I’m here,” author Lynn Donovan said during Saturday’s Round-up. “I have so much respect for her that when she asked me to come, I said ‘Sure!’”
Donovan, who writes sweet, clean Western historical fiction from her home in Cañon City, Colorado, said the nine-hour drive to Cody also helped her realize the popular tourist destination might make a good book setting.
Like most romance authors, Donovan uses common industry nomenclature to describe her work, which helps guide readers to stories and writers that match their preferences.
Definitions vary, but in the case of Donovan’s 90 titles that include space opera and time travel, “sweet and clean” refer to relationships without detailed descriptions of sex and language without profanity—stories that are usually safe for young adult readers.
The ‘steam scale’
Another way readers and writers classify romances is by ranking the story’s “spice,” “steam” or “heat.” (And if you have to ask what that’s about, you might want to stick to sweet, clean selections.)
Sande ranks most of her books as a four on a steam level ranging from one to five, a common industry scale. She isn’t shy about writing “open-door” sex scenes—where readers are “in the room” with characters, as opposed to the action taking place behind closed doors.
Nor is she bothered by running into readers or acquaintances in Cody — a town of 10,000 where she has lived for nearly 20 years — who have read or heard about the “really hot sex” that appears in her work, although relatively sparingly.
But Sande does remember that after she donated some of her early books to the Cody Library, a woman she knew from a different local organization asked her: “Do you know that there’s 35 pages of sex in this book?”
Sande recalled thinking “it was so funny that she would actually count exactly how many pages” included sex in a 350-page novel.
In fact, Sande is a regular fixture in local bars and restaurants, working on her stories during happy hours and dinners on her own. And she and the other members of her writers’ group regularly read and critique each other’s work, usually meeting at Cody Steakhouse.
Frank Cocchia, who co-owns Cody Steakhouse with his wife, Julie, described Sande as “a very nice, intelligent and glamorous person,” and said he was happy to host the writers’ group gatherings, where he sees her as “probably a bit of a mentor.”
“She travels all over the world to research the places that she writes about, and she knows all about the history of her books,” Cocchia said. “I really enjoy talking to her.”
Not enough shelf space
Kalyn Beasley is the manager of Legends Bookstore, where some of the five women in the writers’ group first got together to share manuscripts and insights on the publishing business. He said he was surprised by the widespread followings Sande and the other authors have. And he was impressed with Sande’s skills at promoting her work, as well as her steady pace of producing new titles.
“I’ve seen her over the years posted up in a bar, enjoying a martini and clicking away,” Beasley said. Both Legends and Cody Steakhouse were sponsors of Saturday’s Round-up, and Beasley said he tries to carry several of Sande’s titles, “although we just don’t have the shelf space for all of them.”
For Sande, who has a degree in physics, enjoys action movies and is a longtime hockey fan, writing romances started as a “creative outlet.” But it grew into a full-time job, allowing her to quit her day job of 18 years at a printing company at the end of 2021.
After living in dozens of towns, Sande said she is glad to be in Cody, especially since both of her parents are from the Bighorn Basin. So she satisfies her wanderlust with trips to picturesque destinations in Greece, Italy and England—all fodder for her novels.
The travel and historical research help fuel her prodigious writing pace of over 350,000 words each year, enough for roughly four full-length novels.
Sande said she has friends from her Silicon Valley days who sometimes ask why she writes romance novels instead of working on technical science projects.
“I worked in that field long enough. I still have my telescope, and I still enjoy astronomy. I still enjoy all the things about physics I ever did. But now I get to do something creative that I enjoy,” she said. “My mother always said I was either going to work for Disney or I was going to work for NASA. I kind of feel like I’ve been able to do both.”