Author Spotlight: Johanna Lindsey

johanna lindsey
Johanna Lindsey

A Historical Romance Favorite

I still mourn the passing of a romance-genre great, Johanna Lindsey. Lindsey holds a special place in my heart, more so than any other historical romance author.

Oddly enough, the first Lindsey I read was not a historical romance but her science-fantasy romance, Warrior’s Woman. I vividly recall June 1990, as this was four months into my introduction to the romance genre. I loved Tedra and her kickass attitude, Martha’s irreverent humor, Challen’s stoic nature–which broke only when he thought his kerima was dying–and the steamy love scenes!

After that, her books became an addiction for me.

warrior's Woman
Warrior’s Woman, Johanna Lindsey, Avon. 1990, Elaine Duillo cover art

It’s no wonder that her publishers labeled her with the motto “Everyone Loves a Lindsey.” She reached the #1 position on the New York Times Best Seller list with Defy Not the HeartAngel, and others. Lindsey sold over 60 million copies of her approximately 56 published romance novels. Her works were translated into at least a dozen different languages.

Life, Love, Family, & Career

Lindsey was born Johanna Helen Howard on March 10, 1952, in Frankfurt, Germany, to Edwin Dennis Howard, a soldier in the U.S. Army, and his wife, Wanda Lindsey (nee Castle). After her father died in 1964, Lindsey and her mother settled in Hawaii, as her father had always dreamed of doing.

While still attending high school, at the age of 18, Lindsey met her one true love, Ralph Bruce Lindsey. They married soon after. The couple had three sons: Alfred, Joseph, and Garret. Lindsey would lovingly dedicate many of her books to her family members.

captive bride
Captive Bride, Johanna Lindsey, Avon, 1977, Robert McGinnis cover art

Lindsey’s first historical romance, Captive Bride, an homage to E.M. Hull’s The Sheik, was published in 1977 by Avon. It was a smash sensation, and Lindsey quickly followed up her desert fantasy with a pirate and then a Viking romance, A Pirate’s Love and Fires of Winter.

“I started writing as a hobby,” she once said. “I never thought of being a writer when I was young. Now I wouldn’t want to do anything else.”

Every single one of her books made it to the bestseller lists.

Sadly, Lindsey’s husband died tragically young in 1994. After Ralph’s passing, Lindsey moved to Maine to be closer to her sons.

More changes were to follow. In 2001, after producing 37 books with Avon for over 24 years, Lindsey switched over to big-name publisher Simon & Schuster.

Johhana lindsey & Tom E Huff Browne Popular Culture Library @ BGSU
Johanna Lindsey and Tom Huff (Jennifer Wilde)

Old School Bodice Ripper Legend

Although insular, shy, and sometimes reclusive, Lindsey was a champion of the romance industry. She always respected the writers who came before her. When asked who her favorite authors were, she responded: “Kathleen Woodwiss and Rosemary Rogers, who started this wonderful genre.”

As the years passed, however, some would deride the “bodice rippers” that had revolutionized the romance world. Lindsey, like all authors, had her detractors. The beautiful painted covers of her books would be dismissed as “gaudy” by those who felt the images of naked men and women with heaving breasts somehow diminished the romance genre.

Her novels have also been attacked for being “problematic,” which can mean many things to many people.

But, despite the naysayers, Lindsey has her staunch defenders. “Johanna’s strong, feminist heroines were revolutionaries in their own right — fighting for partnership, respect, and happily ever after,” author Sarah McLean has said. “These were heroines who captained their own fate… They lived fearlessly, fought passionately, and loved with abandon… And they inspired millions of us to do the same.”

The Lindsey Cover: A Thing of Beauty

A Lindsey cover was a thing of wonder. The talented artist Robert McGinnis painted the covers of 13 of her books. The first two, Captive Bride and A Pirate’s Love, were tame compared to the “naked man” phase that started with Fires of Winter.

fires of winter
Fires of Winter, Robert McGinnis cover art

Some of her book covers were quite racy and controversial. As a result, many booksellers refused to sell Tender is the Storm. So to cover up the hero’s rear, stickers were provided by the publisher. Further printings would have the cover emblazoned with a golden starburst.

tender is the storm mcginnis
Tender is the Storm, Johanna Lindsey, Avon, 1985, Robert McGinnis cover art

A Gentle Feuding was not released in the U.S. in its original form, where the hero Jamie is fully naked. However, other nations were not so censorious.

Gentle Feuding spanish cover
Una dulce enemistad, Spanish language version of A Gentle feuding
a gentle feuding johanna lindsey
A Gentle Feuding, Johanna Lindsey, Avon, 1984, Robert McGinnis cover art

With the release of Hearts Aflame, the sequel to Fires of Winter, Lindsey’s cover artist changed from McGinnis to Elaine Duillo. Duillo famously used Fabio Lanzoni as the male cover model for many of Lindsey’s books.

johanna lindsey hearts-aflame-duillo
Hearts Aflame, Johanna Lindsey, Avon, 1987, Elaine Duillo cover art, cover model Fabio

Starting with Once a Princess, Lindsey’s books would have stepback covers. Duillo would get a little more graphic with her work, as she did for the interior of Man of My Dreams.

man of my dreams
Stepback interior, Man of My Dreams, Johanna Lindsey, Avon, 1992, Elaine Duillo cover art, cover model Fabio

Farewell to Johanna

In 1994, 24 years into their marriage, Lindsey’s husband, Ralph, passed away at the young age of 45. Johanna outlived him by another quarter of a decade. She never remarried. Somehow, her books were never quite the same after his death.

After Johanna left Avon for Simon & Schuster, her books were tamer, with less dominant heroes. She consequently changed into a different type of romance author for a different era.

Despite the transformations in her career and craft, Johanna had millions of devoted fans who loved her works. I will always be one of them.

Near the end of her life, Lindsey moved from Maine to reside in Nashua, New Hampshire. On October 27, 2019, she passed away at the age of 67 due to lung cancer. Lindsey left behind three sons, several grandchildren, and millions who cherish her memory.

Her final book, Temptation’s Darling, was released in July 2019.

temptations darling
Temptation’s Darling

Readers all throughout the world have fond memories of Johanna Lindsey’s amazing escapist romances. Hopefully, today’s readers will embrace the escapism that provided joy to prior generations.

For more information about Johanna Lindsey and for reviews of her books, visit our Johanna Lindsey Page.

Your Opinion

Are you a fan of Johanna Lindsey’s books? If so, what are your favorites? Please drop a comment, and let’s talk romance.

Please Drop a Comment and Let's Talk Romance!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.