618. The Romance Reader’s Handbook with Steve Ammidown


Sarah Wendell: Hello and welcome to episode number 618 of Smart Podcast, Trashy Books. I’m Sarah Wendell. My guest today is Steve Ammidown. In June 1989, Kathryn Falk published the Romance Reader’s Handbook, which is a 354-page spiral-bound collection of everything a romance reader would need to know. Steve is going to take us on a brief tour through this really neat artifact of romance history. There’s over two thousand pseudonyms in this book, plus a directory of where to contact authors, lists of bookstores that love romance, and recommended reads, plus advertisements – lots of advertisements. Basically, this is early social media for authors and readers, and it’s a really interesting time capsule.

And because, as always, podcast is the most visual of mediums, I will have a PDF download of the pages that we’re talking about at smartbitchestrashybooks.com/podcast under episode 618. It’s a big PDF, but like I said, this is a really interesting time capsule, and if you’d like to see what it looks like inside, well, I’ve got scans. My flatbed scanner and I, we’re really good friends.

And speaking of scans, hello, podcast Patreon community! You remain fabulous. Thank you. And I have a compliment this week for Alon Z. – heh-heh:

There might be an abundance of pollen near you, but this is partly because the flowers and the trees in your area are trying their hardest to show off in order to brighten your day, because you are among their favorite people.

If you would like a compliment of your very own, have a look at patreon.com/SmartBitches. Monthly pledges start at one dollar, and if you are a Patreon member you get full PDF scans of Romantic Times Magazine each month, and those are, you know, several hundred pages. And you get bonus episodes, we have a lovely Discord where people tell bad jokes and share links to new videogames, and it’s a really lovely community. Plus, you’re supporting the show and making sure that every episode has a transcript like this one – hello, garlicknitter! – [Hi! – gk]

Thank you, Alon Z., and thank you for being part of the Patreon. If you’re not a member and you’d like to join, patreon.com/SmartBitches.

Support for this episode comes from Caraway. We love our Caraway cookware. We decided after twenty-plus years it was time to replace our pots and pans, and we got the entire cookware set. It’s navy; it’s gorgeous; we love it. But our older child is moving into his first apartment this fall, and we got a set for him as well, and he’s excited about the storage and organization as he is about the cookware. The cookware set is extremely useful, and it comes with a lot of pieces. There’s a fry pan, a sauté pan, a saucepan, and a Dutch oven, with lids and storage. All sets come equipped with an easy-access storage solution; no stacking is required. There’s little magnetic slots, and each pan fits in its little house. Our other task this summer is teaching our older child how to cook some of his favorite meals, and it’s really fun walking him through the recipes and showing him which pan works for which step. The Caraway pans just work. We sauté vegetables, we make pasta, we simmer sauces, and the pans can go from the stove to the oven and back again with no trouble. Over twenty-five thousand people have raved about their Caraway kitchen, and you can try it for yourself, and as a reminder, their iconic cookware set comes with a sauté pan, fry pan, Dutch oven, and saucepan, plus lids for all of them, a canvas lid holder, and a magnetic pan rack for storage. It’s the ultimate kitchen set up, and it will save you a hundred and fifty dollars versus buying each item individually. Plus, if you visit carawayhome.com/SARAH, you can take an additional ten percent off your next purchase! This deal is exclusively for you, our listeners, so visit carawayhome.com/SARAH or use code SARAH at checkout. Caraway: nontoxic cookware made modern.

All right, are you ready to go back in time in a different direction? We’re going to journey into The Romance Reader’s Handbook. Let’s do this podcast.


Sarah: This thing is so wild. I love this. It’s –

Steve Ammidown: It’s –

Sarah: Like, I just opened up to a random page, and I’m like, What the hell is this?

Steve: [Laughs] It’s, it’s a beautiful little time capsule, so.

Sarah: It really is. One of the things –

Steve: Yeah.

Sarah: – I’ve noticed about the Romantic Times magazines, we just did – I have it right here because I’m still working with it – we just did this glorious thing –

Steve: Oh! It’s a beauty.

Sarah: – and not only, by the way, not only did Amanda frigging love this issue from May 1994, but she bought Heaven? She wants to read it. She’s like, I have to read this.

Steve: [Laughs]

Sarah: But, like, the number of author glamour shots. Like –

Steve: Yes.

Sarah: – look at these headshots. That was a thousand percent a glamour shot. I mean, I even know what that, what colors that was, ‘cause I was, I was, I was around in the glamour shots time. Now, in this one, the head shots are like, Laura Kinsale’s head shot is very dramatic. It’s very dramatic!

Steve: Mm-hmm.

Sarah: So this is going to be so great; I’m so excited to do this. Thank you for doing this. Do you have any questions for me?

Steve: Yeah, of course! I don’t think so.

Sarah: Tell the people who will be listening who you are and what you do!

Steve: So my name is Steve Ammidown.

Sarah: Hello, Steve!

Steve: Hello!

Sarah: Long time, no talk!

Steve: Yeah, it’s been a few years! I am an archivist and librarian by training. Right now I am sort of an independent researcher, I like to call myself, and I focus on romance novels in general with sort of sideways into, like, unique collecting items and then also Black romance and, and some of the history of the genre as well. So –

Sarah: It has quite a history.

Steve: Yeah, and I operate a website called romancehistory.com, and also sometimes update my Instagram page, @romancehistorian. Sometimes. It’s been a while.

Sarah: Well, you know, the, social media is a pain in the ass.

Steve: It’s exhausting!

Sarah: It really is, and –

Steve: Yeah.

Sarah: – now there’s, like, what, five you need to kind of keep track of, and I’m like, this is –

Steve: Yeah.

Sarah: – preposterous, and I hate it, but, you know, that’s –

Steve: Yeah.

Sarah: – that’s how we do business on the internet, which sucks!

Steve: Exactly. [Laughs]

Sarah: So today we are talking about the Romance Reader’s Handbook. What is the Romance Reader’s Handbook? You and I each have one. I will be putting –

Steve: Yes.

Sarah: – lots of visual aids in the show notes for this. And also, just, listeners, when you listen to this, this sound is the fact that this is an old spiral-bound book, and I –

Steve: Yeah.

Sarah: – cannot hide that noise, so if you hear that and you’re like, What the hell; why is the cat in the litter box? No. That is the spiral-bound book that you hear.

So what is the Romance Reader’s Handbook…

Steve: I, I will be make –

Sarah: Making that same noise?

Steve: Yeah, exactly. Yeah.

Sarah: So what is the Romance Reader’s Handbook? Tell me about this wonderful trove of weird history.

Steve: So the Romance Reader’s Handbook was published by Romantic Times in 1989. Their plan, according to everything they wrote in sort of the front of the book, was to update it every few years. They did not. It, this is a one-and-done project; it is a beautiful little time capsule of the moment. It is in equal parts bibliography, bookstore guide, a resource for readers, resource for authors. They, it’s got a little bit of everything. It’s based on and built off something called The Romantic Spirit, which was a bibliography published a few times, starting in 1983, by three women who lived in San Antonio: Mary Hotchkiss, June Manning, and Kay Garteiser. They worked at a bookstore called The Second Edition in San Antonio that was romance-focused. It wasn’t exclusively romance, but it was a used bookstore, so clearly it had a lot of, like, category and, and all of these other romances in it. And there was no bibliography for all these books, so if you wanted to sort of follow an author across pseudonyms, across publishers, you had no chance. You, unless you found an article somewhere, whether it’s in Romantic Times or elsewhere, you just had no chance to, like, understand where Jayne Ann Krentz went after she left Candlelight or, or what have you.

Sarah: So, so to be real clear, because I have a feeling that there are some people who might be listening who’ve never heard of such a thing, a bibliography is a list of books. It is a book that is a list of other books.

Steve: Yes. Exactly.

Sarah: And this is a research tool that is very useful.

Steve: Yeah, and, and it’s, well, you usually think of them as research tools for academics –

Sarah: Right.

Steve: – but when it comes to genre fiction, whether it was science fiction or mysteries or romance, like, people have built bibliographies, both themselves and then published them, just to keep track of things, whether it was magazines or books or whatever, because this is all ephemeral stuff, right? Like, it’s stuff that was meant to be thrown away, and the records were not good.

Sarah: No.

Steve: So it, we relied on readers to put all this together.

Sarah: I know that’s true for the Romantic Times magazine, ‘cause I actually reached out to the Bowling Green Library and said, Which ones do you not have? Because whichever ones you don’t have I will send them to you, because they’re, like, I put out a notice on Facebook, and somebody sent me like a box this big full of Romantic Times. They’re –

Steve: Mm-hmm.

Sarah: Some of them are from the ‘80s! They’re, like, very delicate; they’re crispy. Very crispy.

Steve: Yeah.

Sarah: These are not meant – and these are, these are printed on newsprint; they are not meant to be, like, just sort of hanging out. They’re not on a glossy paper; they’re very delicate. It’s why I had to buy, like, special boxes for my Romantic Times magazines.

Steve: [Laughs] What, and the original ones were like tabloid sized; they were –

Sarah: Yeah.

Steve: – these sort of fantastic newspapers, which, you know, somebody would have picked up at like Waldenbooks or something.

Sarah: Ohhh, Waldenbooks. That’s the other thing: I read these old issues of RT and I’m like, Oh, B. Dalton! Oh, Waldenbooks!

Steve: [Laughs]

Sarah: Borders. But the, the thing that’s kind of amazing is that these are very well-funded, professional fan products.

Steve: Mm-hmm.

Sarah: I kind of love that, because what Kathryn Falk was doing was creating an archive and a printed record of the genre which was itself extremely ephemeral, so I have, I have a lot of respect for that. Let’s –

Steve: Yeah, absolutely.

Sarah: Let’s take a look at what this is doing. Like, what, what are some of the things that are happening inside this book that you want to, that you want to talk about, and also, why do you love this book so much?

Steve: [Laughs]

Sarah: Like, you get so delighted when you talk about this.

Steve: I get giddy. I’m, like, giddy with love for this book. Because, so the internet does not hold all things.

Sarah: What?!

Steve: I know! It’s amazing, but it’s true! And so these books, you know, both this one and The Romantic Spirit, are these kind of essential little moments where you, you will find pen names and things in those books that don’t exist elsewhere. Like, you’ll be able to track somebody down and go, Ohhh, that’s that person! You know, someone like Jane Adams who wrote all these great mystery books, but also, you know, kind of cut her teeth as a writer writing category romance, but disavowed it completely. So, like, these books provide you a way to sort of track those down. So that makes me so happy, and, and these books are kind of this bridge, I think, between the reader and the author and, you know, the, like you said, the, they’re very well, well-financed and marketable fan products. You know, you’ll find copies of these books that have, like, coffee stains on the cover and, like, clearly, and, yeah, and smell like smoke and, you know, for better or worse –

Sarah: Thank God this one does not, but I do have stains.

Steve: Yeah, my, some of mine, my other reference books definitely do smell like smoke. This one does not.

Sarah: Can I recommend, if, if it, if it doesn’t hurt your archivist heart’s feelings, dryer sheets are great for taking that out.

Steve: Oh, that’s a great idea, actually. I’ve let them air out; I also keep them in the same room as the cat litter, so it kind of all, all blends together.

Sarah: Well, I mean, it all cancels out then, right?

Steve: Yep, yep.

Sarah: The other thing that’s interesting is that I think these lists of synonyms really sort, sort of form a bridge between two time periods, where romance was published under the auspices of the publisher. You were a Harlequin Presents reader –

Steve: Right.

Sarah: – you were a Candlelight reader; you were an Avon historical reader. The sort of top line goal for the publisher was to continue the line, and the author identity and the author voice was all, often kind of secondary. Like, they wanted a good voice, but they weren’t necessarily investing in you; they were investing in your place in this line. So for readers to be able to trace, Oh, so-and-so, who I liked in historical, wrote Harlequin Presents and also wrote like Love Inspired or whatever else. You can find them under different names when the publisher might not be really super into telling you where this person has gone.

Steve: Right, and Harlequin at this point in sort of the, the mid to late ‘80s still, in a lot of cases, owned people’s pen names. You know, when you –

Sarah: Oh my goodness, I did not know that! They owned the pen names!

Steve: So this was a whole thing, and RWA actually fought them and sued them on this and won, under Shirley Hailstock.

Sarah: Oh, yep! Now the penny has dropped. I remember people talking about the lawsuit. Oh, wow.

Steve: Yeah.

Sarah: So yeah.

Steve: So you will actually find, as you go through, less this book and more The Romantic Spirit, that you’ll, you’ll find sort of authors linked under multiple pen names, you know, sharing pen names, and it’s not that they were co-writing. It’s that some, in some cases they just came after each other –

Sarah: Yeah.

Steve: – under the same pen name.

Sarah: Francine Pascal did that with Kate Williams. Kate Williams –

Steve: Mm-hmm.

Sarah: – who wrote the Francine Pascal books was like five, six different writers? Yeah.

Steve: Yeah, yeah.

Sarah: So let’s take a tour of this amazing book. You have pulled out some pages that we’re going to take a look at, and I am ready. Let’s go.

Steve: So I think we start at the beginning. There’s, on page 3 here –

Sarah: Yeah.

Steve: – there’s a photograph of what are identified as the compilers, and we, I think we know that Kathryn Falk was really the guiding light more than the compiler, but you also had Melinda Helfer, who was a long-time reviewer for RT –

Sarah: Oh yeah.

Steve: – and Kathy Robin, who was also a, had been around forever at that point. Now, RT was like seven or eight years old at this point in 1989 –

Sarah: Wow.

Steve: – and Melinda had reviewed like ten thousand books already. Like, it, it was really, it was the two of them. They did not, I don’t think they had bylines on the reviews at the, at, at that early date.

Sarah: Not consistently that I’ve seen, no.

Steve: Yeah. And so Melinda Helfer also ran the Pseudonym Sleuth column in the early RTs.

Sarah: Very smart.

Steve: But she, she wrote about sort of tracking down, you know, and had people, like, writing in like the, you know, the letters in the front of Parade magazine, like, How do I track down this author?

Sarah: Yeah.

Steve: And she would sort of be that connecting tissue. And she sort of is this incredible presence, and we’ll get to one of the reasons why I think she’s so important later. But also, like, you have their addresses; you can send them mail, and this is part of the whole communicative nature of this project, I think.

Sarah: Yeah, a lot of this was about connecting with authors and writing to authors –

Steve: Mm-hmm.

Sarah: – or, and I noticed this in later issues of RT, RT would be like, Oh, we reached out to them on your behalf and found out the answer to your question; here you go. So they were both –

Steve: Yeah.

Sarah: – the connection and also the conduit for people.

Steve: Yeah, and I think that was the real gift that –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Steve: – Kathryn Falk had with this project was create, understanding the fan culture around romance and sort of boosting it and kind of like being like the, the fertile soil for it to grow in, in a lot of ways.

Sarah: Yep.

Steve: So I think that was really just so important in that establishment of, like, you know, not quite a parasocial relationship, but kind of a parasocial relationship between the two –

Sarah: Yeah.

Steve: – to kind of get all that going.

Sarah: I used to have breakfast with Kathy Robin when we, when I lived in New Jersey, and I have lost touch with her?

Steve: Oh yeah.

Sarah: I don’t even know if she’s still on the Earth? I have to find out.

Steve: Yeah. It’s, you know, there’s a lot of – as I think you guys have found in your RT series – there’s a lot there that, like, deserves, like, a documentary or something about, like, how that magazine existed for so long and, like –

Sarah: You could do such –

Steve: – some of the decisions.

Sarah: – a documentary series on this magazine. It’s –

Steve: Oh my God, it would be great!

Sarah: And one of the things that Amanda pointed out that stuck with me that I think is so smart is, she pointed out she had never read the magazine before we started, like, looking at issues? But she’d been to RT, and she’s like, Wow, the conference really was the magazine come to life.

Steve: Yes. Absolutely.

Sarah: And that’s astonishing, that you start –

Steve: Mm-hmm.

Sarah: – a print magazine and then turn it into a conference, and they, they, the vibes matched. Like, that’s really extraordinary.

Steve: Yeah.

Sarah: Let’s jump ahead to page 13, “The Story Behind Pseudonyms” by Kathryn Falk.

Steve: So this kind of kicks off a whole section of articles.

Sarah: [Laughs] I’m just looking at this through a 2024 lens.

>> Why do so many authors use pseudonyms?

I’m a dumbass that uses my real name on the internet. Let me tell you why I wish I had! Come on, now! [Laughs] Looking at this through –

Steve: But here we are!

Sarah: – 2024 is wild!


Steve: And, and I think that’s, you know, sort of what, what this sort of section gets to is Kathryn’s kind of spilling some tea on some of the names like, mmm, Dean Koontz comes up.

Sarah: Yes!

Steve: He wrote like romantic, I think romantic horror or romantic suspense. Like, something in there, he wrote a few titles under a pen name. And then there, there’s a bunch of other men, like Tom Wilde, who, or Tom Huff, who was Jennifer Wilde.

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Steve: You know, who was kind of Kathryn’s darling through a lot of the early days of RT, wrote The Men’s Perspective article, or column, for a number of years that I thought was always fascinating. But, so this whole section is, there’s an article by Tom Huff/Jennifer Wilde. There’s an article by Melinda Helfer explaining the Pseudonym Sleuth – which is hard to say. Like, I would not want to say that ten times fast.

Sarah: There’s a lot of things in RT that I’m like, No one was meant to say this out loud, huh? [Laughs]

Steve: Yeah. No, it was all meant to be read.

Sarah: Yeah.

Steve: So, and then you have Heather Graham who wrote as Shannon Drake, and of course Heather Graham Pozzessere.

Sarah: She was also a major figure at RT. Like, she would sponsor a –

Steve: Yes.

Sarah: I, I used to think of her family as like the van, the von Trapps if they were from Vegas. Like, the whole family is theatrical.

Steve: Uh-huh.

Sarah: I think they used to own or still own a prop business. My first RT, they hung somebody on stage. There was a hanging.

Steve: [Laughs]

Sarah: After dinner, thankfully it was after dinner, but there was a hanging.

Steve: My goodness! Yeah.

Sarah: Yeah, you know.

Steve: And then there’s also a Jayne Ann Krentz article where she sort of reveals, I think at this point she had five, six pseudonyms.

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Steve: So Jayne Castle, Stephanie James, Amanda Glass, Jayne Bentley, and Jayne Taylor, in addition to Jayne Ann Krentz, and then –

Sarah: Amanda Quick.

Steve: Amanda Quick! Amanda Quick came after this, I think.

Sarah: Yes, and Jayne Castle were the futuristics, so that’s –

Steve: Yep.

Sarah: – that’s seven names.

Steve: Yep. And I know she’s talked about this on other podcasts, that she originally did it to both appease publishers –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Steve: – and, like, make sure she wasn’t confusing readers, but kind of wishes she didn’t. [Laughs] You know, kind of the opposite reason about be-, using a real name on the internet, right? Like –

Sarah: Yeah.

Steve: – then it’s get, it’s too confusing.

Sarah: I’ve also heard authors talk about how adopting a pseudonym means that they can sort of separate their work life from their personal life? And that they can put themselves in a slightly different headspace for writing and what is –

Steve: Mm-hmm.

Sarah: – and what is this, this, this pseudonym becomes like a character.

Steve: Right.

Sarah: Makes sense.

Steve: Except when you get to seven.

Sarah: Yeah, and you get to seven and like –

Steve: Then you’ve gotten to, like –

Sarah: – who the hell am I? That’s just a real fractured –

Steve: [Laughs]

Sarah: That’s just a real, real fractured –

Steve: How do you keep it straight?

Sarah: – fractured identity there.

Steve: Yeah. Yeah. So I think this is a really fascinating section that kind of leads into the pseudonyms themselves.

Sarah: Mm-hmm. Which is a big chunk of this book!

Steve: It’s a huge chunk! And I think really interesting in the, the way that you kind of get to see all these names together. And, and they do not discriminate; there are men listed here who were kind of mercenary romance authors I call them, where, like, they were really, they were doing it for the paycheck, right? Like, it wasn’t they wanted to be a romance author. It was like, I, you know, I just finished my World War II book; now I need to write a romance.

Sarah: Yep!

Steve: You know, to keep the, the paychecks coming in.

Sarah: And one thing about RT is that – and RWA, to a lesser extent, but definitely RT – the minute a man showed up as a writer, the vibe would change. Like –

Steve: Yep.

Sarah: – there were mercenary romance writers who were men when I was attending RT. This was – I mean, this book is before my time. What, what did you say –

Steve: Yeah.

Sarah: – this was? 1983?

Steve: 1989.

Sarah: 1989.

Steve: This one was –

Sarah: So I was, I was –

Steve: – ’89.

Sarah: – I was fourteen. Like, I was not –

Steve: Yeah. [Laughs]

Sarah: – I was not here yet.

Steve: Yeah.

Sarah: But –

Steve: Exactly.

Sarah: – yeah. Mercenary romance writers.

Steve: Yeah.

Sarah: Fair enough! Fair enough!

Steve: And, and, and at this phase of RT, they would sort of, they would kind of lavish the men who appeared on their pages in, like, sort of faint praise and, like, Oh, look at this brave man writing a romance novel.

Sarah: It was very weird. There’s a lot of –

Steve: Yeah.

Sarah: – Here’s the men’s perspective, and I’m like, But why do we need that?

Steve: Yeah!

Sarah: Does that make us legitimate? I don’t think so.

Steve: [Laughs] At the first, at the first RT conference, which – ohhh, I forget what year it was – but there was a separate men’s track for the husbands of the authors –

Sarah: Yep, that was continued…

Steve: – and it pretty much involved them going to the bar.

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Steve: Like, went and hung out at the bar and talked about finances. Oh. [Laughs]

Sarah: I went to the Romantic Novelists Association conference a couple of years ago, before the pandemic, and that’s the, the UK writers, but for the most part, the people who attended that conference were mostly people who had retired, and this was their retirement, like, passion was writing, and all their husbands came to the conference –

Steve: Mm-hmm.

Sarah: – and I was like, What, what is, where’s, what, what are we doing, all these men? They all, as a group, got up and left and went birding all day. Just wandering around looking at birds. And I was like –

Steve: That sounds totally appropriate.

Sarah: – See, this is what RT needed, ‘cause in ’93 there was a whole article about the men’s group and what are we doing to support our fabulous wives, and what can we do to – and I’m like, First of all, yes, support your fabulous wives, but, like, you don’t need your own track.

Steve: Yeah.

Sarah: It’s okay. Just go watch birds; it’s fine.

Steve: Right. Go watch basketball or…

Sarah: Yeah.

Steve: Like, go do something else. Yeah, so we, we get into the, the pseudonym section, and I sent you a picture of page 43 from my book –

Sarah: Yes.

Steve: – that I think is really interesting. So my book, in the front, says it was owned by Cassie Ellis.

Sarah: Hi, Cassie!

Steve: I don’t know where she is now, but hopefully she’s still with us. And she annotated the heck out of this book, and I love it so much.

Sarah: Oh, that’s adorable! “Poor characters” –

Steve: There is nothing that a –

Sarah: …girl!

Steve: Yeah. There is nothing that an archivist loves more than an annotated book.

Sarah: And I just want to point out for those listening that the pseudonym section that we’re talking about is page 27 to 156. This is a lot of pages of people’s names is what we’re talking about here. Like, if you remember the begat section of the Bible, it’s like that on steroids.

Steve: And this is just names.

Sarah: It’s just names!

Steve: Like, it doesn’t even list their books.

Sarah: So what kind of annotations do you have?

Steve: So one of the things I love about this is that Cassie really only annotated the authors she didn’t like –

Sarah: [Laughs]

Steve: – for the most part. She would say “poor writing” or next to Elaine Camp’s name it says “poor characters.”

Sarah: Which is wild, because Elaine Camp has one, two, three, four, five, six pseudonyms!


Steve: Exactly! And then she has another annotation for Linda Cajio, says “good on fairy tale rewrites,” and she wrote a, she crossed out “rewrites” several times and, like, notes that she was a Loveswept author. So that’s the thing is, like, I, I feel like readers kind of used this book to kind of keep track of what they were reading, who they had read, because damn, it’s confusing! Especially at this age, you know, in this sort of day and age that we’re talking about. You know, this is post kind of the romance explosion of the early ‘80s –

Sarah: Yeah.

Steve: – but you had now thousands of books out in the marketplace instead of hundreds, so it was a lot harder to keep track. So yeah –

Sarah: I like her notation:

>> I read most of her series with grandmothers/matchmakers and wealthy Philadelphia family.

Steve: Yeah.

Sarah: Cool!

Steve: Which now I’m like, I kind of want to find that series; that sounds intere- – especially as a Loveswept…

Sarah: Right? Heck yeah! I also have to point out that at the top of the section, at the top of each alphabetical letter:

>> Names in italics indicate an author’s legal name which does not appear on books. She or he uses pseudonyms only.

So they basically were just doxing people here. We’re just doxing them all the way down. Yeah, okay!

Steve: Pretty much.

Sarah: Yeah. Which –

Steve: I mean –

Sarah: – it’s a different time, but I look at that now and I go Ewww!

Steve: [Laughs] Well, and, and those names probably would mostly come from the copyright page.

Sarah: Yes, yes.

Steve: So the name was in the book; it just wasn’t, like, a think you spoke aloud.

Sarah: And this was still, this was still meant for a smaller audience. It’s not like this was published –

Steve: Absolutely.

Sarah: – you know, this wasn’t a massive circulation; this was a very niche publication.

Steve: You know, the thing about the, the pseudonym section is you can literally just pick a page –

Sarah: Yep!

Steve: – and it’s this fascinating document.

Sarah: You, you singled out page 91 for Jayne Ann Krentz’s list of names, which is fascinating.

Steve: Yeah, so you can – yeah. Jayne Ann Krentz, like we said, you know, at this point had, what six – two, four, five – yeah, six pen names –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Steve: – and would eventually add Amanda Quick.

Sarah: Yeah. All right, I’m, I’m, you know, in a great game of tag yourself, I just want to claim J. S. Thimblethorpe as my new pen name. I am now J. S. Thimblethorpe. It’s been nice knowing you as Sarah. I am now J. S. –

Steve: All right. I mean, you can’t, you can’t –

Sarah: – Thimblethorpe.

Steve: – copyright a name, right, so that, that’s all yours.

Sarah: It’s mine; I’ve claimed it!

Steve: [Laughs]

Sarah: Yeah, this is a really weird treasure trove of i-, of identity and branding.

Steve: It is!

Sarah: Here’s a whole collection of, of, of names, and it is a really – okay, so this person picked all their pen names with an atlas. So we have Heather Wayne, and then we have Nora Gibbs, Sarah Wittingham, Prudence Boyd, Noel Ireland, Lizette Garland, Claire Richie, Lynn Merril, Nina Shane, and Dallas Romaine. So it’s vegetables and, and country names and location names. 

Steve: City you love in plus the last thing you ate. I think that was the –

Sarah: Very much that! It’s, it’s very much that.

Steve: That was the approach. Yeah.

Sarah: Wow. Oh, here’s Margaret SeBastion, S-e-B-a-s-t-i-o – wow. What’s fascinating to me, also, is the number of saint. St. Clair, saint –

Steve: That was a real thing, yeah.

Sarah: – St. David, St. John, St. Pierre, yeah. Whole bunch of that –

Steve: Yeah.

Sarah: – and, and now, people –

Steve: Sandra Brown had a saint name at one point.

Sarah: And I think that’s really a struggle right now for the digital algorithm because it’s, it’s, it’s very hard to make sure your book comes up if somebody’s going to put S-T-period or S-A-I-N-T. Do you spell it out? How do you do that? What do you do with the initials, if you have initials? Are there periods, or is it just two letters? Like, it makes it hard for the digital SEO purposes.

Steve: Or if you have an apo-, you know, God forbid you have an apostrophe in your name.

Sarah: Ah, you’re screwed; forget it.

Steve: Yeah, then you –

Sarah: Just, just go with Smith or, you know, I could learn, I could loan you Thimblethorpe if you wanted.

Steve: [Laughs]

Sarah: I can loan you –

Steve: For a fee. For a small fee.

Sarah: For a fee! I’m licensing the Thimblethorpe now.

Steve: Yeah.

Sarah: See how my nefarious plans just grow spontaneously.

Steve: It makes perfect sense! Yeah.

Sarah: It makes perfect sense.

Now, let’s jump to page 156, ‘cause this is, this is wild to me, as a person who does the reviewing. This is wild!

Steve: I love it! So this is, it’s titled “To Be the Best” by Melinda Helfer, and it has a picture of her holding a trophy, which I’m guessing is an RT award that she got at some point. And she says:

>> When I encounter such a special book, one that makes me oblivious to everything except the author’s reality, I rate it as a four-plus, and for those rare books transcending even that high plateau, I have marked them with a rating of five to signify a totally unique reading experience, a true classic of the genre.

Sarah: Okay. I have so many thoughts on the RT grading rubric. I rant about it every issue, no matter where we are. Four and a half stars, four and a half stars Top Pick, four and a half stars Top Pick Gold: what does that mean? I, I actually made an icon for our podcast’s Discord that is a roll of toilet paper with gold stars on it, so you can, you can emoji some gold star TP. Like, the, the, the consistent lack of a consistent rubric makes me bonkers! [Laughs]

Steve: Yeah! And this was at a point when they only had two reviewers…

Sarah: This is all Melinda’s fault. I am just going to blame her.

Steve: Yeah. [Laughs] And I think you, you pointed out at some point that they retired five stars, even –

Sarah: Yeah.

Steve: – at one point. I think it was Melinda Helfer passed away in 2000 –

Sarah: That would probably be when.

Steve: – and it was probably about then.

Sarah: Yeah.

Steve: But then, like, we get all of Melinda Helfer’s five-star picks.

Sarah: So basically, we’ve got, this is Melinda Helfer’s desert island keepers, and it has so much weight it’s in this book. Like, I, I, I’m like in awe of how much weight is now invested in this list of books, and it’s not that many books.

Steve: Yeah, and she says, like, out of the ten thousand plus books I reviewed for Romantic Times, only these have gotten five stars. There are sixteen books on this list.

Sarah: Out of ten thousand.

Steve: Out of ten thousand! So, like, I, this is the page I think of every time the You Should Only Give Books Five Stars discourse pops up. I’m like, Wait a minute. Like, (a) taste is subjective, and (b), like, authors got along perfectly fine through the ‘80s and ‘90s with Melinda Helfer out there, you know, reading their books.

Sarah: Well, I mean, let’s be honest; one star was Acceptable. [Laughs]

Steve: Right, right…pay for you ad, yeah.

Sarah: Fabio’s book got two stars for – [laughs] – Fabio got two stars, ‘cause it was Good!

Steve: You know, this is a real list. Like, this is –

Sarah: This is a wild list. Okay.

Steve: This was like, you know, and it ranges. There’s, like, Sharon and Tom Curtis; there’s Linda Howard, Iris Johansen, Jayne Anne Krentz’s Sweet Starfire –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Steve: – which was like the beginning of romantic science fiction. Laura London, Elizabeth Lowell. Like, these were big names.

Sarah: The Windflower is on here; that makes sense.

Steve: Mm-hmm.

Sarah: So the, the books are Lightning that Lingers – is that the one with the guy who’s a stripper?

Steve: I don’t know.

Sarah: I think I was –

Steve: It’s a Loveswept, so it’s entirely possible.

Sarah: He is a, he’s, he’s the hottest – okay, you’re sitting down, right, Steve?

Steve: Yes.

Sarah: Okay. He moonlights at the Cougar Club at, as their hottest dancer, but his day, his passion is biology, wildlife, and restoring his home. So he, he flips houses and he strips; like, more power to this guy. And then the heroine is a, is a sweet, innocent Jennifer, ‘cause you have to be a sweet, innocent Jennifer in a Loveswept –

Steve: Yeah.

Sarah: – that’s, like, the law.

Steve: If you don’t love –

Sarah: And we have A Special Man by Billie Green?

Steve: Yeah. If you don’t love early Loveswepts, I, I can’t help you.

Sarah: Yeah, they’re –

Steve: They’re just the wildest books, and they’re so great.

Sarah: The Trustworthy Redhead by Iris Johansen. Okay. Danger Zone –

Steve: As opposed to all those other redheads.

Sarah: Yeah, those other –

Steve: Yeah.

Sarah: – those other redheads are not to be borne.

Doreen Owens Malek, who I have a very soft spot for because, I don’t know if the glare will allow you to see this, but I have an original Doreen Owens Malek oil painting –

Steve: Wow!

Sarah: – in my office.

Steve: I love it.

Sarah: Yeah. I think that’s the –

Steve: That’s so cool!

Sarah: – The Lark and the Somebody [The Lion and the Lark]. Sunshine and Shadow: so Sharon and Tom Curtis got two books. Oh, Elizabeth Lowell. I have not thought about Elizabeth Lowell in a long time, and I loved Elizabeth Lowell’s books.

Steve: Yeah.

Sarah: I don’t even know if some of these are still in print even.

Steve: Probably not.

Sarah: Probably not.

Steve: Because, so, a lot of them, especially the first half of the list, are categories –

Sarah: Yeah.

Steve: – that would have had one printing, unless the author got the rights back.

Sarah: Yeah!

Steve: You know, they’re good, but they wouldn’t have, you know, with the exception of One Summer by Nora Roberts, probably wouldn’t have gotten repackaged more than once.

Sarah: Wow. Now I want to read Elizabeth Lowell, so thank you, book. Appreciate that.

Steve: [Laughs]

Sarah: That’s great.

So let’s talk about the ads. There’s also, you will be shocked to notice, know, everyone, there are ads. There are ads out the wazoo in this thing. The whole –

Steve: So many ads.

Sarah: So many ads.

Steve: And they’re mostly individual author ads –

Sarah: Yeah.

Steve: – which I think is really interesting. They’re not – there are a few publisher ads, but not as many as you would have found in a normal Romantic Times.

Sarah: Yeah.

Steve: It’s mostly authors, you know, and page 220 is a really good example for Dorothy Garlock.

Sarah: Aw, Dorothy Garlock.

Steve: And it lists all of her books –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Steve: – and all of her pen names –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Steve: – and all of the, the publishers that she worked with.

Sarah: Yep.

Steve: So, like, Dorothy Garlock, she wrote for Warner and Popular as well as Loveswept.

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Steve: She would have used her real name for Loveswept, because they did not allow pseudonyms –

Sarah: Interesting!

Steve: – which was really fascinating… Yeah. So that was…

Sarah: And you know that had to influence their signing decisions, right?

Steve: Absolutely. That was their, their whole, like, starting lineup was Sharon and Tom Curtis and Sandra Brown and, like, names that people would go Oh! I want to read that.

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Steve: But yeah, Carolyn Nichols’ whole thing with starting Loveswept was no more pseudonyms. And it was kind of this acknowledgement, again, of the fan culture.

Sarah: Yeah.

Steve: Like, people wanted to know the authors, so she said, No pseudonyms, and for every book you have to, like, write a little, like, thing about it, like an Author’s Note that went inside the front and back covers. So mostly when those were digitized, that bit was lost?

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Steve: ‘Cause they would only digitize the pages –

Sarah: Of course.

Steve: – but they’re really fascinating, and Sandra Brown’s early ones are really good in Loveswept.

Sarah: If you look at page 196 –

Steve: Mm-hmm.

Sarah: – there is an ad for Eileen Nauman, also known Lindsay McKenna and Beth Brooks. With her newest book she’s got little stars down the side.

Steve: Uh-huh.

Sarah: She’s wearing a, a, an aviator jacket and a white silk scarf, and the scarf appears to be glowing. It’s pretty amazing.

Steve: It’s so glamour shots.

Sarah: It’s extremely glamour shots. That hair is high. That hair is –

Steve: Yeah.

Sarah: – close to God.

Steve: Yep.

Sarah: And there’s a letter, you know, Dear Readers, and here’s my address. Please send a self-addressed stamped envelope for handsome, four-color bookmarks. As, and my favorite part of this:

>> In a way of saying thanks to those who have taken the time to write, I very often use your names as secondary characters in the book.

Ahhh, I’d be so freaked out! And then this horrible person –

Steve: That would be so wild.

Sarah: – named Sarah showed up.

Steve: [Laughs] Ohhh.

Sarah: And she’s offering to sell you previous titles.

>> Send a self-addressed stamped envelope for a list and prices of previous titles.

Like, she’s, here’s a letter, here’s where to write me, please contact me –

Steve: Yeah.

Sarah: – directly, and this is like, that’s a house!

Steve: Yep.

Sarah: Hardville Road!

Steve: Yeah, it’s a house address.

Sarah: That’s a, that’s a house! Like, you’re just giving out your address! [Laughs]

Steve: You know, you have to admire the hustle in that. Like, there’s, like, she’s just no bones like, I’m going to connect with you, and, you know, I’m going to, like, establish this allegiance that you’re going to read all my books!

Sarah: Yeah! And you’re going to read all my books, and you’re going to write to me, and we’re going to be pen pals, and I definitely grew up at the tail end – and I’m sure you experienced this too – of writing to authors?

Steve: Yeah.

Sarah: Writing fan, like, I wrote a lot of letters to authors care of Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, ‘cause that’s where Dell was. I’m really curious how much these ads were.

Steve: There must be something in, like, some of the 1987-88 Romantic Times, because Kathryn never, like, dropped something by surprise. It was always –

Sarah: Oh no!

Steve: – like, Here’s what is coming, and sometimes it never came but, you know, you always knew it was coming –

Sarah: Oh yeah!

Steve: – one way or the other.

Sarah: She is good at marketing.

Steve: Yeah.

Sarah: The, the ads are such an interesting time capsule, because the, to put it in marketing terms, the call to action is Contact me directly.

Steve: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

Sarah: Let’s, let’s be pen pals.

Steve: Yeah, and, and ask me for bookmarks.

Sarah: Yeah!

Steve: Bookmarks were like the thing at this point.

Sarah: If you look at page 246?

Steve: Uh-huh.

Sarah: I have a very important question about page 246.

Steve: 246. Oh my.

Sarah: She does not tell us the name of her bird in this ad. How dare you put a picture of yourself with your bird on your shoulder and not tell us the name of this bird?

Steve: I –

Sarah: What are you thinking?

Steve: I’m, I’m shocked and appalled?

Sarah: I am taking this very personally, Steve. I’m very upset.

Steve: I think we should write her a letter –

Sarah: Yes!

Steve: – to Bellyache Ridge Road in Wolcott, Colorado.

Sarah: Okay! [Laughs]

Steve: So on page 270 we have something they called the Directory for Traveling Booklovers.

Sarah: Oh my gosh.

Steve: And what this is is an index by state in some sort of order; they’re not in alphabetical order. I’m not sure how they’re – looks like they’re ordered by zip code, perhaps? I don’t – it’s hard to tell. But it’s ordered by state, and they’re bookstores that Kathryn has some sort of relationship with –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Steve: – as the publisher of RT, but also are, are romance-focused or romance-specific.

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Steve: And this was both for readers who were traveling, but also for authors.

Sarah: I was just going to say, the audience for this, just – this is what’s so fascinating about Kathryn Falk: the audience for the magazine and the audience for this book are multiple groups at the same time. Some of the –

Steve: Yeah.

Sarah: – some of whom have competing interests.

Steve: Right, yeah.

Sarah: It’s, wow.

Steve: It’s always for the reader, the bookseller, the publisher, the author, and the aspiring author. Like, her –

Sarah: Did you see the motto on page 259?

>> Book lovers are equal. No author is better than her readers or booksellers. No reader is better than her author or bookseller. No bookseller is better than her readers or authors. We fight for what’s write –


Steve: [Laughs]

Sarah: Now, I understand the egalitarian nature of this message and the –

Steve: Yes.

Sarah: – attempting to eradicate a power structure, but I would also like to point out that Kathryn Falk is none of those three.

Steve: No. Yes.

Sarah: And she published this book. [Laughs]

Steve: Yeah. The, the gatekeeper’s gatekeeper.

Sarah: Oh-ho, yes, she was!

Steve: Yeah. And, and so this is, you know, as you look at these entries, so for, like, at the very beginning, Alabama, Paperbacks Trade and Save.

Sarah: Yep!

Steve: You have the address, the hours, says it takes Mastercard and Visa –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Steve: – twenty-five percent off romance new and used –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Steve: – and then it says at the bottom, loves photos, newsletters, bookmarks, twenty-five to fifty, and posters, so it’s, it’s begging authors, all of these entries have something similar where they’re begging authors to send them stuff to give away for their –

Sarah: Send your stuff.

Steve: Yeah. Yeah. Some sort of, you know, giveaway or, or newsletter or whatever.

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Steve: So there, there’s just so much good stuff here. A lot of these are gone. I’ve –

Sarah: Oh –

Steve: – I’ve done a little bit of poking, and most of them are gone. I know that one of them, I think – no, it’s not even listed here. There was one I used to frequent in Pennsylvania called The Paperback Exchange –

Sarah: Oh –

Steve: – in Camp Hill, Camp Hill, Pennsylvania –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Steve: – but it is not on the list here. But that was, you know, again, like most of these stores, you know, they, they stocked everything, but their primary sort of trade was in romance novels –

Sarah: Yep.

Steve: – and it would literally be trading romance novels. People would build up credit and, like, swap a Nora Roberts for a Nora Roberts and, you know, just move through the whole store in, in some cases.

Sarah: You also pointed out 292, and when I saw that I guffawed.

Steve: Yes! The section for Chain Store Managers Who Care –

Sarah: [Laughs]

Steve: – which, they care, gosh darn it!

Sarah: Ohhh!

>> There are many managers who care, and as they contact us, we will include them in the next handbook. The story continues!

Steve: Which, which never came. The story did not continue.

Sarah: No.

Steve: Yeah, so these are all, like, B. Dalton, mostly B. Dalton and Waldenbooks.

Sarah: Yep.

Steve: There’s a few, like, regional chains represented: Brentano’s – but the rest are, are mostly B. Dalton and Waldenbooks, and we know, like, there were, like, gatekeepers in these stores, right? Like, these were, you know, people who kind of like made decisions about what romances got stocked.

Sarah: Yes.

Steve: And I will point out, like, their, their names are there, but there’s no, like, contact information.

Sarah: No, no, no! How freaky would that be? Like, you don’t know you’re in this guide and then some rando comes in your store and is like, Hi, I’m looking for Judy? I want to talk to her about romance. Like, how do you know Judy? She’s my boss. What are you talking about?

Steve: [Laughs]

Sarah: And it’s interesting because the whole Bookstores That Care, Chain Managers That Care, it implies that the default is, But nobody cares about us except us. It’s very much enforcing that sort of underdog tinge of victimhood – Nobody cares about us – that romance still, you know, grapples with.

Steve: Us against the world –

Sarah: Yes.

Steve: – absolutely.

Together: Yeah.

Sarah: So jumping ahead –

Steve: So 299 –

Sarah: – Getting in touch with more of your favorite authors! [Laughs]

Steve: Yeah. It’s fun to network with authors, we’re told.

Sarah: Is it now?

Steve: And so this is actually advice for authors, primarily, about doing bookmarks; forming, you know, romance reader clubs; you know, all of these things, and it, it’s really interesting, and then on 300 there’s a lovely convention memories from Phoenix 1989.

Sarah: Oh, goodness.

Steve: [Laughs] But these, these are sort of scattered throughout the book, and they’re, they’re fun, weird little time capsules of, of a very specific moment.

Sarah: And that was one of the other elements of Kathryn Falk’s work was making authors into celebrities.

Steve: Yes, absolutely.

Sarah: Very invested in that.

Steve: Yeah, she helped make Janet Dailey an even bigger name.

Sarah: Yep.

Steve: You know, Jennifer Wilde/Tom Huff had sort of passed his prime in a lot of ways when RT started, but she helped sort of get his books back in the mainstream –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Steve: – and yeah, she played a big role in all of that, especially with, like, Kathleen Woodiwiss again, you know, sort of rejuvenating her career in the ‘80s –

Sarah: Yeah.

Steve: – as she sort of came back to the, the bodice ripper. And then, you know, in the midst of all these ads, so, like I said, there’s not a lot of publisher ads, except on 338.

Sarah: Yeah.

Steve: There’s an ad for Loveswept –

Sarah: This is amazing.

Steve: – where you can get a makeup case with a mirror that lights up.

Sarah: What could be more useful than a makeup case with a mirror that lights up?

Steve: Exactly! Why not? Just for trying Loveswept.

Sarah: Wow.

Steve: [Laughs] And, you know, there’s a whole history of these. Like, Harlequin kind of kicked it off in the ‘70s, so, like, there’s bookmarks and ceramic figurines and –

Sarah: Oh yeah.

Steve: – the paperback book covers? Do you remember those? So you didn’t have to show people you were reading a bodice ripper?

Sarah: This Loveswept ad is kind of amazing just for the pricing.

Steve: Mm-hmm.

Sarah: >> Send me my free exclusive title Larger Than Life and my first six books to preview free for fifteen days. If I decide to keep them, I’ll pay just two dollars and nine cents per book, plus shipping and handling, and sales tax in Illinois and New York. And please get me my free makeup case upon receipt of payment.

Six titles at $2.09 a book plus shipping and handling.

Steve: Mm-hmm.

Sarah: You’re still under – [laughs] – probably under twenty dollars.

Steve: Yeah, absolutely.

Sarah: Awww! What a, what a, what a bygone time.

Steve: [Laughs]

Sarah: And then, of course, there’s page 341, which is my, one of my favorite things about romance as a fandom: there is always this low-key messaging that, And you’re going to write one someday, right?

Steve: Yeah.

Sarah: That you’re going to –

Steve: There –

Sarah: – join this club of writers.

Steve: There has always been a multilevel marketing aspect of romance –

Sarah: Yep.

Steve: – where, like, I could do it! So can you! And you’ll buy my book.

Sarah: It really is an MLM, yep.

Steve: Yeah. You’ll buy my book about writing a romance, which Kathryn wrote –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Steve: – several times over.

Sarah: Did she ever actually write a romance? Like, did she know what she was talking about? I don’t know if she knows what she’s talking about there, but okay.

Steve: I don’t think she ever published one, to be honest. She wrote books about dollhouses.

Sarah: As you do.

Steve: That, that I know. As you do.

Sarah: This is –

Steve: That was, like, her early thing.

Sarah: See, we should all be independently wealthy and obsessed with things.

Steve: [Laughs] I think her husband was obsessed with pinball machines? Is that right?

Sarah: Think so, yeah.

Steve: I think that was, yeah.

Sarah: That rings a bell.

Steve: Everybody needs their something, you know?

Sarah: Look, you’ve got to have your thing.

Steve: I, no, no shade.

Sarah: You’ve got to have your thing.

Steve: Yeah.

Sarah: So here’s a list of all the, all publishers and agents. Oh my God, agents. Wow.

Steve: Yeah, and with the agents, it lists some of their, their clients, as well.

Sarah: Yep. Yep.

Steve: But yeah, so you have, again, addresses. On 342 there’s a great ad for the Elaine Davie Literary Agency.

Sarah: Oh, I love it! She’s on the phone! I’ve seen that picture a thousand times.

Steve: She’s on the phone! Yeah.

Sarah: Yep.

Steve: Like, she works for you! Yeah, so –

Sarah: We accept queries. I’m taking one on the phone right now.

Steve: [Laughs] And then it gets into this weird, like, back-and-forth of there’s a page on 345 of book promotion tips.

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Steve: And then on 346 it’s hardcovers that you can buy to read that Severn House was, did a whole line of books that Kathryn selected to be pub-, republished as hardcovers –

Sarah: Wow.

Steve: – that were sold sort of through RT. I forget exactly what the, what the deal was. But then on 347 is reference books for the author, so the, it’s this back-and-forth of, like, you should really be taking in this message that you should be a romance author.

Sarah: Mm-hmm. And look, we’re going to tell you how to email your – email, ha – write letters to your favorite romance author, so you’re going to become friends, and then you’re going to be successful!

Steve: Right, exactly.

Sarah: So I always ask this question: what books are you reading that you want to tell people about?

Steve: So I have actually, I’ve been on a bit of a, a, a journey across genres lately.

Sarah: Ooh!

Steve: So I’m currently reading the audiobook 2022 Marple Collection?

Sarah: Oooh.

Steve: Which was twelve new retellings of, of Miss Marple.

Sarah: Yes!

Steve: Alyssa Cole did one.

Sarah: Yep.

Steve: There’s a bunch of, you know, other authors of, like, sci-fi and mystery, and it’s, it’s a really, it’s a fun read?

I also just recently read John Hodgman’s Vacationland?

Sarah: Ooh!

Steve: Which is a memoir that is written by a man in his mid 40s who’s from New England and moves to a place that is more reticent than the place he grew up in, which feels like it was written for me?

Sarah: [Laughs]

Steve: So it, it really resonated with me? [Laughs] He’s writing about Maine, but I’m in Ohio, so it’s, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s an interesting, interesting read.

And then I have Ms. Bev’s most recent one, Beverly Jenkins’ Christmas book. I am like halfway through.

Sarah: It’s one of the Blessings, right?

Steve: A Christmas to Remember.

Sarah: It’s one of the –

Steve: Yeah, A Christmas to Remember.

Sarah: Yes. And it’s got a gorgeous, like stupid gorgeous cover.

Steve: It’s delightful. It’s, it’s, you know, not strictly romance, obviously –

Sarah: Yeah.

Steve: – like the rest of that series, but it’s, it’s delightful, and I always, I love reading Bev’s writing. And –

Sarah: Yeah, she described those books as the ones I give to the ladies at church.

Steve: [Laughs] Yeah!

Sarah: Church ladies.

Steve: Exactly, exactly. So yeah, so I’m, I’ve really been spreading out. I’ve been reading a lot, a lot of Doctor Who novels lately, which was fun to go back to the David Tennant era especially.

Sarah: Oh yeah.

Steve: So yeah! So I’ve actually not been reading that much romance, but I’m sort of going into a research project right now where I’m going to dig into some older books and –

Sarah: It happens!

Steve: – and that will be fun.

Sarah: Also, I find that the genre does things where it, it embraces a trend, and I’m like, Oh, this one’s not for me. I’ll wait till the next one.

Steve: Yeah.

Sarah: Like, I don’t –

Steve: Yeah.

Sarah: – I’m not big into, like, big, angsty, big emotional trauma stories? I didn’t like it in New Adult, I didn’t like it in paranormal, I don’t like it now, but, like, it, it’ll change again, and then I’ll come back!

Steve: Yeah, and, and I tend to read backwards anyway –

Sarah: Oh yeah.

Steve: – so I’m, you know, because I’m looking mostly at the history of the genre, I’m mostly reading older –

Sarah: Yeah.

Steve: – sometimes much older books.

Sarah: Yeah.

Steve: So I’m, I’m very rarely, like, up on the new things, unless it’s like an Olivia Dade, which I’m always into –

Sarah: Oh yeah.

Steve: – and, and books like that. But yeah. Usually it’s, it’s much older Harlequins and Signets and all those bizarre –

Sarah: Older ones.

Steve: – bizarre old books.

Sarah: The ones that get yellow and crispy.

Steve: Yes! Or, unless they have a red edge –

Sarah: Ooh, then that’s –

Steve: – or a blue edge.

Sarah: A blue edge. That’ll be, that’ll, that’ll come off on your hands really nicely.

Steve: Yes! It’s –

Sarah: RT Magazine, I need gloves when I start scanning them. They are very, very shed-y.

Steve: Yeah. Yeah.

Sarah: So thank you for taking me on this tour of the Romance Reader’s Handbook. This has been very fun!

Steve: Hey!

Sarah: Where can people –

Steve: Thank you for having me!

Sarah: – find you if you wish to be found?

Steve: So as I said, you can find me at romancehistory.com, where I write sort of short essays about authors, about trends, about books I’m sort of squeeing about. Reference books: I did a whole series on reference books. I am on Bluesky right now mostly as @stegan.bluesky, S-T-E-G-A-N dot Bluesky –

Sarah: Yep!

Steve: – whatever that is. Whatever that…

Sarah: I talk to you there.

Steve: Also on Instagram as @romancehistorian, and who knows where else in the near future?

Sarah: There’ll be another one.

Steve: Yes.

Sarah: Thank you, Steve! This has been delightful! Thank you so much!

Steve: Yeah, thank you so much for having me!


Sarah: And that brings us to the end of this week’s episode. Thank you so much to Steve Ammidown for reaching out to me and saying, Hey, you want to do an episode about this weird book? And to which I said, Yes! Yes, I do! I always love to do weird episodes about weird books. You can find a copy of the Romance Reader’s Handbook. Pretty often they’re used, they are mostly in used bookstores like Alibris or eBay. You can usually find a copy. It’s a really interesting artifact, but like I said in the intro, I scanned the pages we talked about so you can have a look at the PDF. It is at smartbitchestrashybooks.com/podcast under episode 618.

I will also have links to as many of the books that we talked about as we can find. Some of them will be out of print or very difficult to find, but you can also find that in the show notes, and you know where that is. I won’t repeat the URL. You know where we are. You know what we’re doing on the internet.

As always, I end with a terrible joke. This week’s joke comes from Bull, and I love this joke. Are you ready?

If the mantis are always praying, what is their faith?

Give up? If praying mantises are always praying, what is their faith?

Well, it varies. They’re all in sects.

[Laughs] That is a deeply nerdy bad joke, and I love it so much. Thank you, Bull! Insects!

On behalf of everyone here, we wish you the very best of reading. Have a great weekend, and we will see you back here next week.

Smart Podcast, Trashy Books is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. You can find more outstanding podcasts to subscribe to at frolic.media/podcasts.

[end of music]

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