Don't Ask Barbara Cartland to Like Today's Torrid Romance Novels: Sensuality Doesn't Grab Her

updated 05/09/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/09/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

When they pulled into Manhattan aboard what Amtrak had christened the Love Train, the 35 practicing and aspiring writers were eager to attend a Romantic Book Lovers' Conference. Yet the travelers, who came from as far as California and included such luminaries as Jude (Highland Velvet) Deveraux, Lori (To Have and to Hold) Herter and Alice (The Sands of Malibu) Morgan, found that just arriving was half the fun. Leading the Penn Station welcome was the Queen of Romance, England's Barbara Cartland, who at 81 was full of passion—her kind, that is. Majestic in shocking-pink chiffon and white mink, her hat's rosy plumes bobbing, she explained why her 362 books have sold over 350 million copies: "They're about pure love, Romeo and Juliet love, the love of the troubadours, the love of Browning and Botticelli, the love of a decent woman."

She was definitely admonishing the wrong crowd. Most of the Love Train crew were among the new generation of romance writers and readers who don't like having the boudoir doors slammed shut. To them a book with a heroine who is Pure and Untouched, as a 1981 Cartland novel was titled, is in peril of being unread. Recruited by Chelley Kitzmiller, president of the Orange County (Calif.) Romance Writers of America, the travelers included a scattering of males, among them several authors' husbands and one husband-author, Clayton Matthews, who with his wife, Patricia, writes such pulse-pounders as Midnight Whispers. Everyone had been served heart-shaped pancakes, imbibed pink champagne, and guessed each other's romantic fantasies (Jude Deveraux confessed a yen to handcuff a man to a bed "and have my way with him"). On the four-day rail trip from L.A., they gang-wrote a romance, A Hunk on Top of a Bunk, at which Babs would not be amused.

The folks who greeted them at stations across the U.S. ranged from a jostling 200 in Pasadena, Calif. to a single handicapped woman who waited for the train at 4:20 a.m. in Canton, Ohio. Conference organizer Kathryn Falk, publisher of the bimonthly Romantic Times (circulation: 70,000), went out in her PJs to thank the fan and give her a book bag. Why take the trouble? Romance addicts, notes Falk, are "cute ladies, and the books mean everything to them."

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