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Some men lurk behind romance covers

By FRANK SPOTNITZ, UPI Feature Writer

NEW YORK -- It can be a lonely job, but Roy Sorrels doesn't mind it.

At the recent 'Romantic Times Booklovers Convention,' only a handful of dedicated men could be found among the 500 women who convened to discuss what makes a good romance novel -- and a good romance novelist's career -- tick.

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Few of those men were writers or publishers. Most were simply the husbands of women whose names may be unknown to the general public but are burned into the memories of avid romance-novel readers, who consume as much as a book a day.

Introduce Sorrels to his readers, and they will draw a blank. Introduce him under his pen name of Anna McClure, and they are likely to remember him as the author of 'Chansons D'Amour' or 'Passion's Hue.'

Sorrels is part of the not-so-secret fraternity of male writers who have assumed a female alter-ego in order to be published in the female-dominated field of romantic writing. No one is quite sure why, but a man writing such a book under a masculine name simply isn't done, perhaps because a man might be perceived as intruding on the field of a woman's fantasy.

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Kathryn Falk, editor of the Romantic Times and organizer of the convention, said the pen names are used despite the fact readers often discover the true identity of a book's author. By that time, they're probably comfortable with him, she said.

Sorrels had been a freelance magazine writer, actor and college teacher before he turned to writing romance novels in 1983. He had been inspired to enter the field by his wife, Donna Meyer, who writes romances under the name of Megan Daniel.

'We started writing, not because we had something profound to say, but because we wanted a portable lifestyle, so we can spend a few months traveling every year,' Sorrels said.

He fired off a first novel and it was accepted by New American Library, which in turn signed Sorrels to write two more. He now has three romance novels under his belt, one book for teenagers, two murder mysteries and a third, titled 'The Leading Cause of Death in Pigeons,' nearly completed.

Looking at the women around the room, many of them dressed in the type of fluffy gown depicted on romance-novel covers, Sorrels said he did not mind being one of the few men in the company of these women.

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'I love it,' he said, smiling gently. 'I don't feel isolated and lonely. There's some very creative people here, and I can relate to that.'

He chose the name Anna McClure in honor of his great-grandmother, Alice Jane McClure. Alice Jane was too long, so he chose Anna. There was never any debate about whether he'd use his real name.

'None of the (romance) series books are ever written with a male byline,' he said. 'I think you'd have to ask an editor what the reasons are.'

For a man to write a book that ignites a woman's fantasies is not as difficult a task as one might think, Sorrels said.

'It's just trying to get a feeling for what women would find romantic and sensual and stimulating -- it's not all that different from what I find romantic and stimulating,' he said.

'Part of the reason these books don't appeal to men is that men don't give them a try. I think men don't try them for the same reason some men don't eat quiche.'

He admits to not reading romance novels, either, unless they're written by his wife. 'But I have no contempt for them,' he said. 'They're just not my cup of tea.'

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Sorrels, who prefers writing mysteries, said women are traditionally more open than men to indulging in fantasy and emotion. But to dismiss romance novels as daydreams in print is too simple, he said.

'It's not entirely fantasy. The women who read these incorporate the books into their lives. It's a sort of role model,' he said.

That's why he's not surprised by a recent Psychology Today survey finding women who read romance novels make love 74 percent more often than women who don't and are 'more satisfied with sex' than non-readers.

'They just remind us all that romance is possible,' Sorrels said.

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