Kathleen E. Woodiwiss

Kathleen E. Woodiwiss


She was his; he was hers. The world could fall apart, and theyโ€™d still be one.


The Flame That Gave Flower to the Romance Genre

I have a horrible secret to confess. Although I love bodice rippers and old-school historicals, I have never finished a Woodiwiss novel. Why is this? I can’t really say, it may be my ADHD requires shorter paragraphs for me to pay attention, but I will keep on trying. I intend to rectify that by reading Shanna sometime soon and adding a book review to this site.

Kathleen E. Woodiss Early Life

The woman who would revolutionize a genre and sell millions of books, influencing hundreds, if not thousands of authors, came from humble beginnings. Kathleen Erin Hogg was born on June 3, 1939, in Alexandria, Louisiana, the youngest of eight children to a disabled World War I veteran and his wife. She was an imaginative child, creating her own stories that she would tell herself to help her fall asleep. Then, at the age of 12, her father died suddenly.

At 16, she met and instantly fell in love with an Airforce Lieutenant, Ross Eugene Woodiwiss, whom she would marry the next year in 1956 while still attending high school. She would graduate in 1957 and spend the next 40 years happily married, having children, and moving around the country before settling down in Minnesota.

The Flame and the Flower

In the early 1970s, she completed a 600-paged manuscript, which she submitted to various publishers, but was rejected for being too long. So rather than rewrite or edit the novel, she sent it to paperback publishers (whose standards were admittedly not discriminating).

The Flame and the Flower, the novel she had submitted, was quickly purchased by Avon. Editor Nancy Coffey was sure they had a hit on their hands and arranged an initial 500,000 print run. How right she would be.

Up until 1972, romance novels, whether Gothics, medical romances, romantic comics, or Mills and Boon/Harlequin would have fade to black love scenes, or at best were described in euphemistic terms, like Margaret Mitchell had done in Gone With the Wind to describe Rhett and Scarlett’s turbulent lovemaking after he carried her up the stairs. Of course, books were already published that described sex in detail, but they were not “polite” books for women and were usually considered obscene.

However, with the 1960s and 1970s seeing a radical transformation in how sexuality was addressed in media, the time was ripe for a change in the romance genre. The Flame and the Flower was revolutionary, featuring an epic historical romance with a purportedly strong heroine and had actual “graphic” sex scenes. The Flame and the Flower sold over 2.3 million copies in its first four-year run.

Superstar Author 

The success of her first book catapulted the humble Woodiwiss to stardom, as her next two books, The Wolf and the Dove and Shanna would also sell millions. Shanna was released in trade and hardcover editions and advertisement spots were shown on television, unheard of for a “mere” romance.

While Woodiwiss opened the door to bedroom scenes, she was certainly not the most explicit author in the romance genre. Rosemary Rogers would follow in her wake, with heroines who were more sexually active, had multiple partners, or were not virgins from the outset. Playboy’s Susan Johnson would take sex scenes even further, with her sex-hungry heroes, and she employed four-letter words as dirty talk, a far cry from Woodiwiss’ relatively sweet lovemaking scenes.

As Woodiwiss often took several years to write a novel, many new authors sprung up, some more prolific or successful than she. Nevertheless, every new Woodiwiss book was heralded as an event for Avon, who remained her only publisher throughout her career. They would be released in trade and hardcover before the mass market paperback editions.

Legacy and Death

Woodiwiss influenced generations of romance writers, from LaVyrle Spencer to Susan Elizabeth Phillips to Julia Quinn.

In her lifetime Woodiwiss published 12 novels, all bestsellers, with over 36 million books in print. Kathleen E. Woodiwiss was working on her final novel, Everlasting, when she succumbed to cancer in 2007, passing away at 68. Her husband predeceased her in 1996. Woodiwiss was survived by her loving children and grandchildren.

Buy Kathleen E. Woodiwiss Books at the Sweet Savage Flame Used Book Store:

Please drop a comment and let's talk romance!

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