How Kathleen Woodiwiss Changed Romance

By Carmen Comment

One need only read the tributes paid to romance author Kathleen Woodiwiss, who died yesterday at the age of 68, to get an inkling of the impact her work had on readers. “Meeting Ms. Woodwiss [sic] in Houston and hearing her speak was a pleasure. She was such a sweet person and she made immeasurable contribution to the romance industry,” wrote Carolyn Smith of Weatherford, TX. “It is through her work that I fell in love with historical romance and because of her I write the same,” commented Melissa G. of Murfeesboro, TN. Sarah Wendell of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books noted that “without her work, the genre we both love wouldn’t be what it is today”, and at the Goddess Blogs, Karen Hawkins was effusive in praising the work of a woman she never had a chance to meet. Woodiwiss’s fellow Avon author Teresa Medeiros summed up the appeal of Woodiwiss’s controversial but landmark debut novel, THE FLAME AND THE FLOWER:

Whether you love The Flame and the Flower or hate it, we’re still talking about it thirty years later. How many other romances will be able to make that claim? As I turned the last page of the book with a wistful sigh, I was humbled all over again by what a tremendous debt of gratitude we all owe Kathleen E. Woodiwiss. Brandon Birmingham and Heather Simmons are truly the grandparents of all the historical heroes and heroines who came after them. At the end of the book, Kathleen E. Woodiwiss shouldn’t have written The End, but The Beginning.

Woodiwiss’s passing comes only a few days before the Romance Writers of America hosts its annual convention, which starts tomorrow and runs through Saturday at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Dallas. It remains to be seen whether RWA will have any sort of official tribute, as the convention plans its program months in advance, but there’s little doubt Woodiwiss, and her influence, will be on the minds of many over the course of the week.

When Woodiwiss’s death first hit the internet in the form of an announcement from her youngest son Heath, his message seemed to intimate that Avon, which published all of her work in paperback or hardcover format, was a source of stress for the dying author. As the claim propagated throughout the romance world, it seemed a good idea to turn to Avon executive editor Carrie Feron, Woodiwiss’s editor for the last thirteen years, to set the record straight. “I admired Kathleen so much, and it’s unbelievable that she is gone,” she said by email this morning. “The Woodiwiss family is under a lot of stress right now. Kathleen’s middle son [Dorren] died on June 17th and her death quickly followed.” Feron elaborates further in eloquent fashion in a message posted to the Avon Authors website, where she reveals her “long history with Kathleen Woodiwiss; longer than she ever really understood” after devouring THE FLAME AND THE FLOWER as a 12-year-old and then following a path that would lead her through several jobs to Avon. “The time has whistled by for Kathleen far too quickly , but I will never ever forget her. Nor will I ever forget how she shaped my life and my career.”