Friday, January 28, 2005

Idaho author romances Sun Valley

Chapter One hosts book signing event

Express Staff Writer

Author Rachel Gibson appears at Chapter One on Sunday.

Who would have ever thought Idaho might be the source for some of the funniest romance books ever written? Rachel Gibson, a native of Boise, is the author of eight successful contemporary romance novels. Most of her stories take place in fictional Idaho towns.

Gibson is appearing 4 to 6 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 30 at Chapter One Bookstore in Ketchum, where she'll be signing her latest book "The Trouble with Valentine's Day." The tale begins its man-and-woman, cat-and-mouse play on Valentine's Day in Sun Valley at the Duchin Room and proceeds to a place very similar to Redfish Lake with a bit of Stanley thrown in.

Valentine's Day, as we are all aware, can be a major drag if one is alone, especially in a festive nightspot filled with adoring couples smugly drinking champagne while toasting their fortune.

Our stunning red haired heroine is not one of these people. Instead, she's alone, snowed in and then summarily rejected by a miserable, former hockey player, who's gorgeous—natch. As a set up there is only one place to go.

Gibson's books are not just great yarns, they're giggle inducing and rather sexy. And they get noticed. For instance, her first book published in 1998, "Simply Irresistible" was one of Romance Writer's of America's Top Ten Favorite Books, a National Reader's Choice Award, and was named to Amazon,com's top 50 list. Her last book, "Daisy's Back In Town," made the Borders Best of 2004 list, received a starred review in Publisher's Weekly, and was honored with an Editors' Fiction Pick for February 2004. It also was on the New York Times extended list for two weeks.

How did this happen to a nice girl from Boise?

"As a child I had a hard time reading, eventually we found out it was dyslexia," she said. "Then in my 20s I started really devouring books. One a day."

Married to her high school sweetheart, she was already having children. "My husband used to travel a lot. I'd read 'Gone With The Wind' but I didn't like the ending."

So she did what anyone with babies and a teeny typewriter would do. She rewrote Margaret Mitchell's classic romance in 300 pages, albeit with a new ending.

"It didn't resemble it when it was done. Scarlett was a better mother, and they had different names. I put it away and started to write contemporary stories."

She met writers through a local chapter of Romance Writers of America, which has a membership of over 9,000, who gave her tips on the business.

"I never thought I'd do it until I actually did it," she laughs.

She finished and completed four books before selling her first book, though after her success her third and fourth tries were eventually published.

In 2000, "True Confessions" won the Rita Award from the Romance Writers of America that is given to books considered excellent in each romance genre.

Gibson is happy with her contemporary romance niche. "The only limits are maybe the perception that people have of romances," Gibson said.

Indeed, romances are not just historical bodice rippers with heroines either too nice to be believed (or liked) and men who are either scoundrels or aristocrats. According to Romance Writers of America sub genres include contemporary romance, historical romance, inspiration romance, paranormal romance, regency romance, romantic suspense and time travel romance. These novels account for 55 percent of popular paperback sales, and are read by 51 million people each year.

"The straight romance genre is by definition character driven, contemporary but not bodice rippers," Gibson said. Nevertheless, she adds, "Sexual tension is very important. It drives the relationship forward, when people fall in love there are physical elements after all."

Usually this means young folks who're just discovering the turmoil and joy that accompanies falling in love.

However, Gibson has a plan. "As I get older I may shift focus to people who're not in their 20s or 30s." In fact, she's already doing that. In "The Trouble with Valentine's Day," her protagonists are both in their mid-30s and have a fair amount of experience. But they aren't the only ones. The story also features an older couple, she in her 60s, he in his 70s, who also get bitten by the love bug.

"Romance has always had a place in history, all through history there are great examples. The best example is Shakespeare," she says. "For a long time romance followed a predictable outline, heroines were nice and sweet, or Scarlett O'Hara types, women we can't really relate to. We wouldn't want to hang out with them."

As a requisite for sticking with a story it's a good point.

Gibson writes about real women having extraordinary experiences, to be sure, but in real settings and with real problems. "If you can relate to a book it's because there's a nugget of truth in the characters. Cute perky has never been me."

Since Gibson's kids are now older and moving on to college and independent lives, she's aware her immediate relation to young love is in the past. So, perhaps it's time to move on and let her characters be grown-ups. Fortunately, Gibson is a natural and finds stories in her everyday life.

"Writers are basically sponges. We absorb from one side and squeeze out on the other."

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