...Lisa Kleypas, New Wellesley Grad, Beauty Queen (Gasp!) and Successful Romance Novelist
Lisa Kleypas, author of those lines, was never the typical Wellesley College student. While her classmates debated feminist theory and plotted high-powered careers, she entered the Miss America contest as Miss Massachusetts. While they read Aristotle and Locke, she, a political science major, also devoured romance novels like vitamins: one a day. Kleypas wasn't just some maladjusted narcissist. She simply knew she wanted to write romance novels for a living, and part of her preparation included analyzing the genre—poring over the works of Jennifer Wilde and LaVyrle Spencer. "Sexual tension is the key," she says of the form's requirements, "but brutality is neither necessary nor tolerable."
Kleypas' studies paid off almost at once, no slaving in a garret required. Three months after her graduation last spring, while classmates were checking the want ads, her first novel, Where Passion Leads, was published by New American Library. The torrid 405-page romance, for which she was paid an advance of $10,000, follows the tempestuous travails of a 20-year-old governess in Regency England. Rosalie Belleau is ravished—then wooed and won—by the dashing, sensitive lord of the house, Randall Berkeley. Kleypas, who disdains the romance fiction she calls "housewife pornography," prides herself on the historical research she did for Passion, but admits that part of the implicit agreement between romance writer and reader is "a few good pages of action." Still, style is important. If the love scenes are to titillate the reader, she cautions, they must be "explicit, yet sensitive."
The petite Kleypas has no literary pretensions, even with a second romance novel, Love, Come to Me, due out next spring. A third, Forever My Love, will be published at the end of next year. "This is not Tolstoy," she says, laughing. "I don't want to know what critics and professors think of what I'm writing. It might hurt my feelings." Instead, she regards her craft as a business, and a potentially lucrative one at that. "I love the idea of being mass-produced," she says cheerfully. "Depending on the success of Where Passion Leads, I may earn between $50,000 and $300,000 in my first year out of college."
One of two children of Lloyd Kleypas, a land developer, and his wife, Linda, Lisa immersed herself in books from early childhood. At 13, she picked up The Flame and the Flower, a 1972 novel by Kathleen Woodiwiss that helped spark the romance revival. "I started bragging I could produce something better," she recalls. "It got to the point that I had to write or eat my words, so I went out, bought a pound of paper and wrote the first chapter of a novel. By the time I got through the book, it had almost as many characters as it had pages—347."
Lisa's parents weren't convinced of their daughter's talent, but they admired her spunk. "They said they'd give me an allowance in the summer so I wouldn't have to take a job," she says. "That way I could stay home every summer and write a novel." She finished three of them while still in high school in Concord, Mass. All were rejected by publishers, though there were encouraging hints of a gradual thaw. "The rejection letters," she says, "got longer and longer." Then, as a senior, she entered the America's Junior Miss Pageant (once won by news-woman Diane Sawyer, who also went to Wellesley), finishing first at the state level and fourth at the national. Her prize was a $10,000 college scholarship. Kleypas departed for Wellesley.
Brimming with what turned out to be justified confidence, she next entered the Miss Massachusetts Pageant and won it. "I had always been the cheerleader type," she says. "When I won, I felt like the ultimate woman. I felt very powerful in my attractiveness." The title led her to the Miss America contest—singing, in the talent segment, a country song she had written—and a 500-calorie-a-day diet. "I looked terrific," she says. "Nothing jiggled when I moved." She was amazed when she failed to make the Top 10, but not surprised at the criticism she received back at Wellesley. "A lot of people felt I was degrading women by being in the pageant," she says bitterly. "I met with a lot of disapproval."
Home in Carlisle, where she still lives with her parents, she began work in 1986 on the torrid entanglings in Where Passion Leads. "My father'd be working at his desk, and I'd be behind him at the smoking computer," she says. Now, as a published author, Kleypas has set up her office in the family room. A novel takes her roughly three months, and though she works late at night, she dresses to write—in businesslike suits. "It helps me to feel that this isn't just a hobby," she explains.
With her third romance scheduled for publication, Lisa Kleypas may at last be ready for some of the steamy scenes she has created for her characters. "I've dated very little," she admits. "I haven't led a totally spot-free life, but I haven't been promiscuous. And I've missed not having anyone to lean on. I'm looking around for a boyfriend." The author's advice to all interested parties: "I'm a sucker for a good line."