“With my life comes my heart, yours now to crush or cherish as you will. It is my hope you will have a care in keeping both.”
KEEPER OF THE HEART
Everyone Loves a Lindsey
A Historical Romance Favorite
Johanna Lindsey holds a special place in my heart, more so than any other historical romance author. But, oddly enough, the first Lindsey I read was not a historical romance, but her 1990 science-fantasy romance, Warrior’s Woman. After that, I was hooked.
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 Heart, Angel, and others. Lindsey sold over 60 million copies of her approximately 56 published books, her works translated into at least a dozen other languages.
Why were her books so popular? For me, it’s the way her heroes could be so standoffish or even cruel when they were obviously crazy about the heroine. Even though he’s pursuing her, the hero can’t even admit to himself how he truly feels. It’s an old idea, like a boy pulling a girl’s pigtails in the inkwell because he has a crush on her and can’t find a way to express it properly, so it works for a love story.
Her heroines might be an acquired taste. When I was a teen I found their spunky, proud, determined attitudes endearing and inspiring. Although now I like my heroines to be a bit more nuanced, to this day I can re-read those books that are about as old as I am and still enjoy them like I did the first time around.
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). Like many military families, they often moved around from place to place. After her father died in 1964, Lindsey and her mother settled in the state of Hawaii, as her father had always dreamed of doing.
At the age of 18, while still in high school, Johanna married her one true love, Ralph Bruce Lindsey. Johanna briefly worked as a secretary before having children and becoming a stay-at-home wife and mother. The couple had three sons: Alfred, Joseph, and Garret. Many of Lindsey’s books would be lovingly dedicated to her family members.
Her first historical romance, Captive Bride, an homage to E.M. Hull’s The Sheik, was published in 1977 by Avon. “I started writing as a hobby,” she was quoted as saying. “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. For many years, she consistently released two books annually. In the late 1990s, her books would first be released as a hardcover edition before publication a year later as a paperback.
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 when in 2001, after producing 37 books with Avon over a period of 24 years, Lindsey switched over to big-name publisher Simon & Schuster.
Old School Bodice Ripper Legend
Although insular and sometimes reclusive, Lindsey was a champion for the romance genre and always respected the ones who came before her. When asked who her favorite authors were, she said in response: “Kathleen Woodwiss and Rosemary Rogers, who started this wonderful genre.”
As times changed, however, some would deride the “bodice rippers” that had revolutionized the romance industry. 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 naked men and women with heaving breasts somehow diminished the romance genre. Although Johanna Lindsey’s works can never be mistaken for literary fiction, they were unapologetically simple and fun.
Not Acceptable in This Day and Age?
Naysayers can argue the flaws of her writing skills. Still, it pains me when I hear contemporary romance readers disparage Lindsey’s romances as “problematic” or “promoting rape culture” with factual certitude when that sentiment is mere opinion. A Johanna Lindsey romance was escapism in its purest form. She could take readers away to a desert oasis, a Norwegian fjord, to the rugged frontiers of the American West, or the halls of Regency-era England, having them indulge in romantic fantasies about a gorgeous hero who was drawn obsessively to a woman who demanded love, commitment, and respect above all else.
Thankfully, not all modern readers see Lindsey’s books in a negative light. “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.”
My Love for Lindseys
My first Lindsey historicals after reading Warrior’s Woman were Secret Fire and then Captive Bride. In both books, the handsome hero kidnaps the object of his desire, the heroine, only to have it turn on him when he falls in love with her. The heroines are unwilling to be used as mistresses and demand what any woman of their times would want: marriage, but more importantly, love and respect.
Perhaps if I had been an older, more “sophisticated” reader when I read my first Lindsey, I’d feel differently about her, but as it is, for a long time, she was my favorite author and I cherish those memories of joy her books brought to me. Even at times when I thought I was done reading the romance genre, whenever a new Lindsey was released, I’d be there to purchase it. That is until I got too overloaded with studies in high school and had no time or appreciation anymore for any fun reading.
I’d return to romances a few years later and, by then, Lindsey had reached elite author status, with her books published to hardcover. Unfortunately, while hardcovers are great books to put on a keeper shelf and impress other people with, they’re no fun for reading historical romance, a niche category that, like pulp fiction, was meant for brightly covered paperbacks.
The Lindsey Cover: Part One
A Lindsey cover was a thing of wonder. While Robert McGinnis painted the covers of her first two books, Captive Bride and A Pirate’s Love, they were tame compared to the “naked man” phase that started with Fires of Winter, where initially the cover presented both the hero and heroine in the nude. McGinnis was forced to place clothing on the image of Brenna, whose body lay between Garrick’s bare thighs.
They grew even more controversial with Tender is the Storm. Some booksellers refused to sell Tender is the Storm as it was, so stickers were provided to cover the hero’s rear. My own copy was second printing that had a golden starburst covering Lucas’ behind and whatever he’s doing to Sharisse’s breasts!
A Gentle Feuding wasn’t even released in the US in its original form, although I did find a Spanish-language copy where our hero Jamie is fully naked. Look at his butt:
The Lindsey Cover: Part Two
Then with Hearts Aflame, the sequel to Fires of Winter, her covers changed. Artist Elaine Duillo began to paint them often using Fabio Lanzoni as the male cover model. Yes, it was Johanna Lindsey and Elaine Duillo who made Fabio famous, not the other way around.
Love Only Once, the first in Lindsey’s enormously popular Malory series originally had a McGinnis cover, and was re-released with a Duillo cover. I used to own a copy of the book with Duillo’s artwork, but, alas, that novel and probably 500-600 other books were lost in the “great purge” when I moved out of my parents’ house. Fortuitously, I did find the artwork for Duillo’s version to compare it to McGinnis’s. Which one do you prefer? In my opinion, Duillo’s looks too Victorian. McGinnis captured the Regency era aesthetics better:
Favorite Johanna Lindsey Novels
So many of her works are 5-star reads for me. Gentle Rogue, The Magic of You, Secret Fire, A Heart So Wild, Defy Not the Heart, Savage Thunder, So Speaks the Heart, Prisoner of My Desire, Heart of Thunder, and many more are keepers.
Who am I kidding? I own every Lindsey paperback she wrote in the 20th century.
Changing Times and Farewell
However, sad to say, I was not as enamored with her later works as I had been with the books she released in her first twenty years as an author. From time to time, I would purchase one as an e-book, but something special was missing from them. After the year 2000’s tepid offering, The Heir, I found Lindsey had fallen off my automatic must-buy list.
Lindsey’s husband Ralph passed away 24 years into their marriage, with Johanna outliving him by another quarter of a decade. She never remarried. I don’t know if the change in her writing could be attributed wholly to it, but her books were never quite the same after his death. Especially after she left Avon for Simon & Schuster, it seemed as if some of the magic in her writing had waned. Lindsey was a different writer for a different age, but she still had millions of fans who loved her. I would always be one of them.
Lindsey moved from her long-time home of Hawaii to Maine before going on to reside in Nashua, New Hampshire. It was there where she passed away at the age of 67 on October 27, 2019, due to lung cancer. Johanna Lindsey left behind three sons, several grandchildren, and legions of readers who cherish her memory.