Web Exclusives: Alumni Spotlight

Nancy Herkness '79's second novel, Shower of Stars, is due out next July.

November 19, 2003:

Love, death, and more love
Nancy Herkness '79 writes her first romance novel

Comfortably ensconced on the living room sofa of her gracious Glen Ridge, New Jersey, house, Nancy Herkness '79 smiles about how she "took a nice, comfortable suburban life and destroyed it." Luckily for Herkness's neighbors, that life belongs to Kate Chilton, the heroine of A Bridge to Love, Herkness's recently published romance novel, released by Berkeley in August.

Herkness is not the first Princetonian to publish a romance novel, but she may be the first to put her real name on the cover. An English major who wrote a creative thesis under the direction of poet Maxine Kumin, Herkness finds nothing odd about making her professional debut in the genre she calls the "Rodney Dangerfield of the literary world."

A Bridge to Love delves into the emotions and daily life of Kate Chilton, a recently widowed soccer mom who makes a devastating discovery about her marriage and her husband — an affair he had during their marriage — when it is no longer possible to fix it or confront him. To begin to restore her self-confidence, Kate engineers a one-night stand with Randall Johnson, a Princeton alumnus she meets at a Princeton alumni picnic. The plan seems to work, until she realizes that omitting the gentleman's feelings from her calculations will make the next year of her life very . . . interesting.

Herkness says that she never had the urge to write literary fiction, though she enjoys reading it. Her grandmother was a fan of Georgette Heyer's Regency romances, and passed along her copies to Herkness. The stories "appealed to me because of their happy endings." Romance is the "genre of optimism, and that's why I like it," Herkness explains.

So do 51 million other North American readers, who snap up the 2,000 plus romance titles published each year. Romance fiction may be the Rodney Dangerfield of literature, but it is also the Bill Gates, accounting for almost 36 percent of popular fiction sales.

Herkness's path to A Bridge to Love began at Princeton, when she and classmate Julia Rabkin tried to coauthor a romance novel. Twenty-five or so years later, after working as a shoe buyer and a systems analyst, Herkness now writes full-time. A second novel, Shower of Stars, will be published by Berkeley next July, and a third, as-yet untitled romance is in the works. She has no plans to publish what she calls her "learning novel," written 14 years ago. Herkness calls that early effort "sweet, but dated"; after not finding a publisher for it, she realized she had to learn more about what romance readers and publishers were looking for. That research gave her "the nerve to open the bedroom door," and reviews have praised A Bridge to Love's "story of sexual tension and passion."

Herkness writes very specific love scenes because she wants the reader to know "exactly what's going on in the moment." Conveying those details without being graphic is a challenge she enjoys. She adds that her husband, Jeff Theodorou, is happy when she is working on a love scene, "because it does put you in a certain mood." To read one of those scenes, head for your neighborhood bookstore and look for A Bridge to Love under the Hs. "Bookstores shelve romance alphabetically by last name," Herkness explains. "I didn't want to be down at the bottom of the shelf with the Ts. I wanted to be up there with Georgette Heyer!"

(For more reviews of Bridge and information about Herkness's current projects, visit www.nancyherkness.com.) Marianne Eismann '79 reads historical romances in New Jersey.