When the first Stephanie Plum novel, One for the Money, was released to much acclaim among the chickliterati in 1994, I was gifted with a copy by a friend very dedicated to that particular genre.
“It’s by this new author,” she told me, arriving at my door and brandishing the book, triumphant. “Kind of a crime caper, but very funny, and with romance thrown in as well.”
“Janet Evanovich,” I smiled knowingly, noting the author’s name. Whereupon I went to my bookshelf, and came back with nine slim paperbacks. “You mean her?” I asked sweetly, and handed over my stack of zealously-located, jealously-guarded and much-dogeared pulp romance novels by that very same author.
“Uh…” she replied. “I… guess.”
You know that feeling of smug superiority you get when you knew of and liked something that has since become popular before anyone else had even heard of it—like having seen a Grammy-winning singer when they were just playing local bars, or having watched an indie movie at an art house cinema before it got an Oscar nod?
That is how I felt right then. ’Cause of Loveswept.
I remember that I was thirteen when I read my first Loveswept. I was a category romance junkie at the time, ploughing my way through the spinning rack of Harlequins and Candlelights at my local library, and spending my pocket money on Sweet Dreams and Mills and Boon Medicals at every thrift store in town. I was always on the lookout for new imprints, and it was with my very first foray into the Lovesweptian oeuvre that I realized I had come upon something very, very special.
The book was called Raven on the Wing, it was by Kay Hooper, and it was simply awesome. Kay Hooper instantly became my new favorite romance novelist, and I immediately sought out another of her works, before long encountering one called Zach’s Law. When I subsequently realized that both were part of a series, entitled Hagen Strikes Again, I set myself to track them all down; there ended up being ten Hagen books in all, and years later when I could at last claim them all as my own, it felt like I had achieved a major victory. Man, I loved those books! Indeed, still do.
Telling of an (often tangentially) inter-related group of covert operatives working under the aegis of the inscrutable Hagen, and who successively find smart, witty and necessarily attractive mates for themselves while on assignment for their puckish boss—hence the sobriquet—this was the first romance series I’d ever read, wherein each secondary character in a novel could potentially be a breakout star of a forthcoming sequel. It’s common now, especially among paranormal romance authors, but this method of storytelling was something of a revelation to my teenage self.
And thus was my deep, unwavering devotion to the many unique splendors of this one particular romance line born.
What made, and still makes, Loveswept’s output different was its often humorous sensibility, and its relentlessly modern outlook. These heroines were no simpering misses, no big-eyed, eighteen year-old virgins with submissive demeanors and limited vocational training. (Although, okay, quite a few of them were virgins.) Often you would find adventure and mystery within these pages, but just as often there would be a quiet little domestic drama, and yet one fuelled by witty dialogue and an often blinding originality. At times, yes, royalty and captains of industry. And true, everyone was smart, and interesting, and hot. So far, so category romance novel. But so, too, were they frequently at a life crossroads, or cripplingly shy, or maddeningly self-flagellating. Occasionally they were valiant single mothers or struggling Ph.D. students. There was one where the heroine was a truck driver. Another, where she was a stuntwoman.
How cool is that?
Time was when I collected the things like other girls collected rock band posters; any church fete or second-hand bookstore or garage sale I came across, I would scour for Loveswepts. (This was, of course, before eBay; how easy the kids of today have such things!) I, in my completist mania, managed to fill shelf after shelf, carrying a list with me at all times detailing which numbers I had yet to track down, and very often I would delve into my extensive collection to reread my favorites, of which there were many, most of them produced by authors who have gone on to become luminaries of the genre.
In addition to the aforementioned Evanovich and Hooper, just look at the distinguished roster of Loveswept alumna: Sandra Brown, Lori Copeland, Jennifer Crusie, Tami Hoag, Carla Neggers, Erica Spindler, Charlotte Hughes, Nancy Holder, and Carole Nelson Douglas, among many others. (Holder is probably better known for her often Buffy-related media tie-in work and YA paranormals nowadays, and Douglas is a mystery and Urban Fantasy writer par excellence whose work only dabbles in the romantic, but still.) Fayrene Preston’s is not a name much known in the wider world of romance novels, but her Loveswept work—which ran to 42 novels—was eternally awesome, as was that of Joan Elliott Pickart, who holds the current record for most Loveswept titles, at 47. Third on that list comes Iris Johansen, whose elaborate Sedikhan series ran to 18 books, and who wrote 34 Loveswepts total.
And is coming back for a thirty-fifth.
Yes, when Random House announced last month that their Loveswept imprint would return, in digital format, with releases beginning this August, I was filled with an indescribable joy. When they further announced that one of the eight books they will be debut is slated to be an original title by Johansen... well, I could not have been happier. How very… respectful, I thought to myself.
Loveswept first opened its doors—and our hearts—with #1 Heaven’s Price by Sandra Brown in 1983, and published its last title, #912 The Price by Fayrene Preston, in January of 1999. (And yes, I own them both.) In the twelve years since, I have scarcely looked at a new category romance—and certainly not one that wasn’t a Regency. But when Loveswept returns in digital form, you can bet I will be first in line to download their new output. They plan to reissue a number of earlier titles as well, which means maybe I can finally manage to see out a decades-long odyssey of reading every book this particular line. (I only have about fifty to go.)
Because, to this day, I just love me some Loveswept. And, as is the case with any properly-executed category romance tale of true love, my steadfast adoration is at last being rewarded.
Rachel Hyland is the Editor in Chief of Geek Speak Magazine.