Romance Expert Kathryn Falk Has All the Answers for Authors Yearning to Write Palpitating Pulp

updated 07/11/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/11/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Does life seem empty and dreary to you, hardly worth the effort? Have you considered becoming a wealthy, famous author with a fabulously exciting sex life? What? You say you've never written an English sentence? Don't let a little detail like that stop you, says Kathryn Falk. The daughter of a Michigan physical education consultant, Falk landed in New York at 20 and worked as a singer, cosmetics rep and boutique owner before hustling her way into the romance novel market. (Last year some 20 million readers in the U.S. spent $244 million on romance novels, which account for a remarkable 40 percent of total paperback sales.) While she has never published a romance novel ("I'm still polishing"), Falk, 42, teaches a seminar in romance writing in Manhattan, publishes Romantic Times, a romance novel newsletter, and has now produced How to Write a Romance, and Get It Published (Crown, $15.95). She has never married ("I'm too young") but lives with plastics executive Kenneth Rubin, 38, in a Brooklyn, N.Y. carriage house that is decorated like a penny arcade. She revealed her tips on breaking into the exploding industry to PEOPLE Senior Writer Kristin McMurran.

Why are romances so popular?

Women are not getting any romantic entertainment. They don't make movies with Cary Grant or Fred Astaire anymore.

Can you describe the ideal romantic hero?

He must be devastating. You can give him flaws so that he's believable, but he has to be perfect in bed. You may have a penchant for short, ugly men, but a hero has got to be someone mother would like. Rosemary Rogers uses Clint Eastwood as her model.

And the perfect heroine?

She doesn't have to be a virgin. She can have made love 100 times, but she's never felt like this before. She must be independent, spunky. She gets the best job at the best company. She should wear beautiful clothes. She has flaws, but not a run in her stocking. She should always be thinking of the hero, talking to the hero, or talking about the hero. There is no room in 200 pages to hear about her dog or her girlfriend at the office.

How do romances affect women?

Romances make me more sexually stimulated, and I'm probably much more affectionate after I read a book than if I had gone into the kitchen and cleaned the cupboards.

How does a romance novelist get in the mood to write?

If you feel like a slob, it's very difficult to create romance. Create an atmosphere for writing with scented candles, fresh flowers, romantic music. Many writers sleep in satin sheets. Some wear nothing when they write. These books are not of this world and you cannot feel of this world when you write them. If you've got to get up to answer the phone, walk the dog, feed the kids, you're going to break the mood, so most authors write late at night or early in the morning.

Who is best suited to writing romances?

A woman who is not afraid to have sensual feelings. Her fantasies should be uninhibited. Her descriptions should not be graphic or lusty, but beautifully romantic. It has nothing to do with how she personally looks or whether she has had an adventurous romantic life. Some women just have an ability to conjure up scenes that make your heart go pitter-pat.

How should an aspiring writer begin?

Read. Get to know the genre. There are several types of romances. Category romances are the hottest. They are short, modern (60,000 words) and follow a strict formula: Woman meets devastating man, sparks fly, lovers meld, lovers are torn apart, get back together, resolve their problems and commit themselves, usually to marriage. A beginner's best bet is to write a category romance.

What are some other types of romances?

Historical romances (by authors such as Janet Dailey) are longer (100,000 words) and set in any period prior to World War I. Contemporary romances (Danielle Steel) are medium-length, problem novels with modern settings and realistic characters. Regency romances (Georgette Heyer) are light novels of manners set in England (1811-1820). A Regency heroine is pure until her wedding day. There are also Romantic Suspense and Gothic romances, which don't sell today.

How does a beginner determine how much "romance" to put into the story?

Decide whether you are most comfortable writing sweet, spicy or steamy. Sweets have limited plot potential. Spicy romances have some sex, but concentrate on the heroine resolving her emotional problems with the hero. Steamy means everything but vibrators. They are the most popular.

Is romance writing easy?

No. Many people think they can conjure up a hero that looks like Paul Newman, has the wealth of J. Paul Getty and acts like Prince Charles, and they can just write their romantic fantasies. A big problem is understanding that it must have a framework.

How should you study the genre?

Buy several colored felt-tip pens and underline dialogue in blue, sensuality with purple, erotic sex with red, description with yellow, humor with orange, and so on. This gives you a visual picture of the ingredients of a romance novel. Observe the spacing of chapters, how many words in a chapter and how much action in a chapter.

Is dialogue a problem for beginners?

You should be so inspired that the poetry just flows. If not, get a tape recorder and invent conversations. Ninety percent of the books are dialogue, so it should be smooth and natural.

How do you develop your story?

You have to forget who you are. Enter another world and fall in love with the hero. It's like being in a trance. If you could have any job, what would it be? Any man, whom would you choose? Stay in your own locale. The days when romance had to take place in London or Edinburgh are over.

How do you create a scene?

Close your eyes and concentrate on a place you have visited or seen. Notice the weather, the sounds, the colors, the scents, the people. Go over this type of exercise every day. The imagination is like a muscle and it's important to give it a workout every day.

How should the plot evolve?

In Chapter One, hero meets heroine. The heroine cannot just pick him up at a bar. It has to be somewhere respectable. Then the lovers are pulled apart. The reasons for the separation have to be believable. There always has to be a separation; otherwise there is nothing to talk about for 200 pages. If you go to a party, meet Mr. Right, date quietly for six months after which he proposes, there's no story.

How do you submit a manuscript?

Submit a query letter either to an agent or an editor at the publishing house you choose. They are looking for writers who make you turn the page, fall in love with the hero, and, perhaps, give you hot pants. Send them the first 50 pages and a synopsis (two to three pages) of your story.

How much money can a newcomer expect to make?

The usual advance for a first book is $4,000 to $6,000. The royalty is usually 6 percent. You are not paid until you deliver a final manuscript. Then six months to a year after publication you receive a royalty statement.

What happens to your manuscript?

The editor gives it to a reader, who writes a critical evaluation. If it is recommended, it can be three to six months before an author hears. You cannot get any information on how many they are going to print; you cannot choose your cover. If your publishers do not like your pen name, they can give you another one, which they may own. If you become very popular as Chastity Delight and another company hires you away, the first company may keep the name Chastity Delight.

Can men write romances well?

Best-selling author Jennifer Wilde is Tom Huff. And Mike Hinkemeyer writes as Vanessa Royall. Others have tried. Men are usually strong storytellers, but most don't understand that women like pretty words. They don't like push, pull, tug and flank. They like silky words, like caress. Because they are more into violence and power, men use Mickey Spillane language. They understand genre, but not the syrup.

How should a romance novel end?

The end is always happy. Romances are the way life would be if we could have anything we wanted.?

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