When Muriel Jensen wrote her first Harlequin novel, she left out a few crucial scenes.

An editor quickly prompted the required plot curves.

"Their love must be consummated twice by chapter six," the editor wrote of Jensen's hero and heroine in "Winter's Bounty."

Jensen set her first novel in Astoria, where she and her husband own a Victorian house. She is one of several published romance writers on the North Coast. Area residents Cheryl Holt, Joan Overfield and Birdie Etchison all have their steamy scenes on the shelves for $5 to $10.

"The Pacific Northwest is rich with romance writers," said Trudy Doolittle, owner of Seaside bookstore A Whale of a Tale.

Doolittle hosted a book-signing Saturday for Astoria resident Jensen and Ocean Park, Wash., resident Etchison. Harlequin recently released "Man with a Miracle" as part of Jensen's Men of Maple Hill series. Etchison writes "inspirational" romance, for a Christian publishing company, Heartsong. She recently released "Oregon," a collection of novellas.

Most romance writers are older than 35, but write about women at least a decade younger, Doolittle said.

"We want our heroines young," she said. "But we give them more knowledge, more guts and more stamina than a young lady has."

Older writers have more experience and can build more complex characters, she said. Many writers are already employed as professional women - lawyers, pilots, teachers.

Seaside resident Cheryl Holt was a prosecutor in Denver, Colo., before she had children and found herself with time to write a book. Holt tried for two years before she was published in 2000. Her eighth book, "Absolute Pleasure," an erotic historical set in the early 1800s, will hit the shelves in February.

Seaside resident Joan Overfield worked at a 9-1-1 dispatch center in Spokane, Wash., before her romances were published. Some 25 books later, she is working on a contract. Her last book, "The Shadowing," was released in February.

Doolittle was an accountant when she began writing romance. Her work is published in an anthology of short stories.

Professional women make up a large portion of the demographic, she said.

"Out in the work world, many women don't have any relationships," Doolittle said. "It's kind of like a fantasy for them."

But the fantasy has a formula. Most romances begin with a strong hero and heroine engaged in some conflict and grow throughout the novel. The conflict must be based on opposing goals more than opposing morals, Doolittle said.

A romance can be made out of any current event. Conservationists and farmers on the Klamath River are ripe for a romantic plucking.

"What if I make the farmer a woman who's trying to save her family farm and the man, the hero - his goal is trying to save the fish," she said.

The romance ensues as the couple bumps - oup! - into each other while both are skinny dipping in the river, and, all the sudden, the fish aren't the only things spawning.

"The last piece of the formula is that there has to be commitment in the end," she said. "If the guy dies in the end, it's not a romance."

A new romance line at Harlequin has been bending the happy ending formula, Jensen said, but primarily the ending must be a happy one, Jensen said. She's been reading romance since high school, and typically, stories end with commitment.

Jensen, 57, wrote her first novel on a steno pad while managing a bookstore in the 1980s. She had been working on book projects since she was in high school.

"Every day before school, the other kids would gather around my desk because I had a novel I was serializing," she said.

In those days, romances "never got beyond the bedroom door." Author Kathleen E. Woodiwiss advanced the plot in 1977 by releasing a best-selling historical romance "Shanna," with the latest titillation - bedroom scenes.

When Jensen rewrote "Winter's Bounty," which ventured into the bedroom, she said she "just plunged in." Her husband, Ron Jensen, a former newspaper editor and artist, edited her stories.

"Can you really write that?" he asked her with a gasp.

Some 80 books later, Jensen still strives to perfect her love scenes in writing.

"It's kind of exciting to do it as descriptively as possible without using crass terms," she said.

In Holt's erotic romances, she goes into more detail, but always maintains a solid love story, she said.

Her stories are set in the early 19th century and usually involve a struggle between lovers of different classes in England.

"I write Cinderella for grown-up women," she said.

Etchison, who writes for Heartsong book club, said her stories usually include references to Christianity and steam doesn't rise from her pages.

"There are just good squeaky clean stories," she said.

Romances tend to be categorized very specifically so readers can buy exactly what they want, said Doolittle, who carries 328 romance titles at A Whale of a Tale.

Holt said she's received responses from readers in Poland and Pakistan. Jensen said one reader sent her a favorite cross-stitch pattern, when she learned they enjoyed the same hobby.

Another woman wrote, "You're in the bathtub with me every night at 8 o'clock."


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