Novelist offers a different slant on bodice-rippers

May 08, 1994|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Sun Staff Writer

Just as Shakespeare suggested, first she killed off the lawyers.

But Rhonda Harding Pollero's works are not of the Shakespearean class. The Pasadena resident writes romance novels -- contemporary romance suspenses.

Her second Harlequin novel, "Stolen Memories," just hit the bookshelves; a third is due out in the fall. The mammoth publishing company plans to reissue her first book, "Legal Tender," in an overseas edition and translate it into as many as 25 languages. Ms. Pollero also has a contract for a four-book Harlequin series that will debut in July 1995.

The former paralegal -- she quit in August -- says she has no illusions that the $2.99, 256-page paperbacks she writes for the Harlequin Intrigue line are more than escapist fantasy.

"It's commercial fiction, it's not literary fiction. I don't think it pretends to be something it isn't," she said. "Do I think sitcoms are funny? Yes. Do I think they are great drama? No."

Her nom de plume is Kelsey Roberts, which Harlequin chose, she said. Most romance authors write under a pseudonym.

At 34, she is one of a legion of Maryland romance writers, nearly all women. It took 10 years of trying before she got published. Whenever her ego swells, she said, her husband, Bob, puts the books in a different perspective.

"My husband always tells me, remember, in three months this will be a nickel at a garage sale," she said.

The stories are populated by concupiscent characters, Barbie-doll-figured women consumed with desire for self-assured men they aren't sure they can trust. Much as Ms. Pollero loves other romance books -- she can't remember a time when she didn't read them -- she found she couldn't write one without thickening the plot with a few slayings. She said the female leads have careers because "obviously I believe in love, but you also have to have a life."

The torrid tales describe more sexual tension than sexual activity. But her son Kyle, 8, will not be permitted to do more than glance at the covers until he is 16.

The covers differ substantially from those on the exotic romance novels that are often set in the 1800s or in distant places. For example, "Stolen Memories" has the face of country singer Dwight Yokum on the cover, as opposed to other romance fantasies wrapped in photos of half-clad men and sketches of well-endowed women.

Her books are not mainstream fiction.

"My biggest vision is to write mainstream romantic suspense. I would love someday to write mainstream fiction like that," she said, pointing to a John Grisham novel. "But I always wanted to be a writer, and even if I never have one of those published, I will have achieved my dream of being a writer."

She is up by 5 a.m. and fuels herself with two pots of coffee. Once her husband and son leave, she heads upstairs to her office. She tries to write at least three days a week.

"I turn the computer on at 8. I usually have it off by 1:30. And that's a chapter," she said. "I don't do drafts. I write it, I correct it, I print it, I run it off."

It takes about 2 1/2 months to finish a book.

"I leave it for a week, then I go back and reread it," she said.

Corrections are minimal, mostly for consistency. Harlequin editors may suggest changes, generally adding description, she said.

The idealist side of her wants to revise every line, but the practical side knows that's not how prolific romance writers are made. And if you want romance writing to be a living, you have to be prolific, she said. Though she has received advances, she has yet to see a royalty statement.

"I know I'm a perfectionist really, but you don't want your works to be published posthumously," Ms. Pollero said.

She tries not to work after Kyle is home from school. She has other responsibilities, too, such as coordinating the Writers' Workshop at Anne Arundel Community College.

"Aside from writing [titillating] phrases . . . I have to drive car pool. My son is in Catholic school," she said.

"People think you're either someone who sits around drinking champagne all day and all your clothes have ostrich feathers, or that you're some isolated, overweight lady who can exist only through fantasy," Ms. Pollero said. "But I'm more like a housewife."

But one who does her homework. While people, her father included, commonly ask how she knew how to write "all that sex stuff," nobody asks where she learned about murder. She praised the patience of Baltimore City police officers and area coroners who explained the intricacies of killings. After speaking with Anne Arundel County officers about the how-tos of homicide, she noticed police cruisers driving by her home for the next few days.

And she is finding out about Montana, the setting for her next book.

"I've never set foot in the state. But the Chamber of Commerce is very nice; sent me all this stuff," Ms. Pollero said.

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