Make room for daddy

June 18, 1993|By Tim Warren | Tim Warren,Book Editor

There's a certain kind of guy out there who drives a woman wild. He's tall, good-looking and, man, is he built. His penetrating eyes make knees quiver; his kisses ignite fires of unquenchable passion.

And when he really wants to jump-start her heart, he:

* Changes the baby's diapers.

* Takes little Suzie to ballet class.

* Cleans up spills with a smile.

All of this may come as startling news for men who figured that sexiness in a marriage disappeared about the time that mortgages, out-of-shape bodies and soccer practices came along. But editors and writers at romance novel publishing houses insist the contrary is true. They're finding that formula-feeding studmuffins drive readers straight to the bedroom to do what people in romance novels are supposed to do.

According to Anne Canadeo, a senior editor at the romance-novel giant Silhouette Books, "Women love a big, brawny, handsome guy who is cradling the baby and also is madly in love with the mother."

This affection for husband-hunks is reflected in sales of romance novels with a modern sensibility. In a twist on the traditional sexist romance novel -- studly, aloof guy seduces virginal-but-eventually-willing young thing -- major romance publishers have developed imprints in which the protagonist is a decent -- but ever-so-virile and lusty -- father type. While publishers would not release specific figures, Ms. Canadeo says they're "strongly successful. I expect many more of these books to be done in the future."

The reason? Ms. Canadeo says it's because "today's masculine ideal is this strong yet very caring man. He's not this distant, aloof, brooding man who can't verbalize his feelings and must be approached with trepidation by the woman."

That last description, of course, characterizes the hero of thousands of romance novels. But though publishers still churn out romance novels for readers who want stories of desperate love on wind-swept Dartmoor, more and more there is an audience for romances less fantastical and more -- well, realistic.

Thus, the emergence of such romance series as Bantam's "Loveswept" and Harlequin's "SuperRomance," each of which was begun in 1980 and reflects societal changes of the past two decades, particularly the women's movement and attitudes about raising children.

It was only natural that female readers -- who comprise "99.999 percent of our audience," according to Ms. Canadeo -- would request a different kind of romance.

"Our books are geared toward women between the ages of 25 and 49," says Marsha Zinberg, a senior editor of the "SuperRomance" series, which puts out 48 novels a year. "Many of them are college-educated, own their own homes, and work outside their own homes. They like to read -- mainstream fiction, mysteries -- and come to our books when they want a certain kind of read. These women are bright and on top of things."

These readers, she says, "want more and more of a focus on the family. Readers warm to this theme particularly because it reflects more on their life."

Take the most recent offerings in the Loveswept line. Six Loveswept books are published each month on a specific theme. In the past, they've been about "Dangerous Men" or "Men in Uniform," but for July it's "Only Daddy."

The covers feature not hairy-chested lotharios or brooding Italian counts with smoldering looks, but dads tussling with obviously adoring tots, or maybe tenderly cuddling a baby.

And the blurb on the inside cover of each book breathlessly informs the reader:

"July belongs to ONLY DADDY -- and six magnificent heroes who discover romance, family style! Whether he's a confirmed bachelor or a single father, a small-town rancher or a big-city cop, each of these men can't resist the pitter-patter of little feet. And when he falls under the spell of that special woman's charms, he'll stop at nothing to claim her as a partner in parenting and passion. . . ."

His biological clock?

Over at Harlequin Books, the publisher that, to many readers, is synonymous with romance novels, a hot entry for July is "Man, Woman and Child." It seems our "hero" hears his biological clock ticking and desperately wants a child. He even sells his most reluctant wife on the idea by offering to raise the child himself -- and he does so when Mom decides to split. When little Junior keeps Dad up with a nasty case of night-time squalling, a helpful female neighbor comes through with an anti-colic remedy. It's love at first burp.

At Silhouette Books, an imprint of Harlequin that publishes more than 300 romance novels a year, the book-a-month "Fabulous Fathers" series is an up-and-coming property. It was launched in January with "Emmett," about a single father in Texas who can't control his rambunctious brood till he meets Melody, a woman with a past. On the covers of these books, the selling point is not ripped bodices but bonding -- and just kids and dads, with nary a woman in sight. The logo for "Fabulous Fathers" includes, yes, a safety pin drawn through the words.

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