The Associated Press
March 18, 2006
DALLAS (AP) — Romance novelist Judith McNaught writes for women like herself — smart women who want a break from reality by reading love stories with sophisticated dialogue, plot lines and characters.
McNaught had never read a romance novel before accidentally purchasing one about 30 years ago, putting her on a journey to find material beyond the usual bodice rippers. When she couldn’t, she decided to write her own. She’s been writing ever since.
“I never underestimate women’s intelligence,” says McNaught, whose philosophy led to an avid fan base and a career that produced 14 novels, most of which have appeared on The New York Times best seller list.
McNaught’s latest novel, “Every Breath You Take,” is a modern romance set on the island of Anguilla, where Kate Donovan falls for Mitchell Wyatt and into a high-society murder case.
“The way she can illustrate the emotional life of her two main characters is just very moving for readers and very unforgettable,” said Linda Marrow, vice president and editorial director at Ballantine Books, a part of the Random House publishing group, which published McNaught’s latest novel.
Marrow has worked with McNaught since discovering her first novel, “Whitney, My Love,” a historical romance set in England, while working at another publishing house.
McNaught’s early novels set themselves apart from others at the time because of their elevated levels of emotion, said Neal Wyatt, a member of the American Library Association’s codes section, a group of librarians who specialize in building library collections.
“She sort of set the standard of what a romance novel was like,” Wyatt said. “They were highly detailed in sort of this fabulous way. They were emotionally rewarding and they were emotionally draining.”
Before setting off on a literary career, McNaught, 61, worked at jobs ranging from an executive producer at a radio station to a comptroller of a trucking company.
Born in San Luis Obispo, Calif., she got a business administration degree from Northwestern University in 1966. Her interest in writing didn’t develop until she was in her 30s, when she inadvertently bought a romance while stocking up on books for a family vacation. Toward the end of the trip she read her accidental pick: “The Flame and the Flower,” by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss.
“I had never in my whole life read a romance novel — wouldn’t have been caught dead reading a romance novel,” she says.
Setting off in search of similar reads, she discovered that there weren’t any: “What passed for romance novels were foolish. They were immature. They were just silly.”
She decided that she could do better, and with the encouragement of the her husband, she started writing. Her first version of “Whitney, My Love” took a couple of months. She sent it to publisher after publisher, getting one rejection letter after another. She was told that such novels should be short, never emotionally intense and not sensual.
Motivated by each rejection, she kept adding to the book over a four-year period.
“Each time I’m sure that I made it longer and more emotionally intense and more sensual,” she said.
In the meantime, she sold two stories to Harlequin, “Tender Triumph” and “Double Standards.”
While waiting for the arrival of her first published book, “Tender Triumph,” in 1983, personal tragedy struck. Her husband, a gun collector, died from a gunshot wound when a vintage gun with a defective safety accidentally discharged.
“When the book came out five months after that, I didn’t really care,” she says. “I think I scarcely knew it came out.”
By 1985, “Whitney, My Love” was finally published, winning the Romantic Times Award for Best New Historical. But it was a bittersweet time, since her husband of nine years, Michael McNaught, was not there to share her success.
“The hero of ‘Whitney’ was very much patterned after Michael,” says McNaught, who lives in Houston but will soon relocate to Dallas to be closer to her two adult children and grandchildren. “Michael was my great love. Michael was witty and strong and loyal. He was the best of men, and could make me laugh. He could also laugh at himself, and that’s pretty special.”
After her husband’s death, McNaught began noticing other women who were carrying on after being widowed or divorced. She was briefly married before her marriage to McNaught and briefly again after his death, said she got “a real education in what we’re made of.”
“So I write for women like that, women like me,” McNaught sayss.
Copyright: The Associated Press