No matter the genre or subject, every reader has her Absolute Favourite writers. The ones whose books she’ll charge the stores to get, and drop everything to read. Diving into those books is a particularly edifying treat, a gourmet of literary delight. But there’s more than one kind of favourite. Sometimes a reader wants plain and simple — sometimes the hankering for peanut butter wins out over a new gustatory adventure. Occasionally, you just want something comforting, familiar, and, though it may not be the fanciest item to ever hit the palate, a taste you know you’ll like.
That’s pretty much how I feel about Jayne Ann Krentz.
Jayne Ann Krentz did not set out to become a New York Times bestseller. She completed a B.A. in History, then a Master’s in Library Science. For a number of years she worked in academic and corporate libraries. While still employed as a librarian, she began to write, and eventually sold her first novel. More followed. Like many other writers who rose to prominence in the ‘80s, Jayne began her writing career with category books for Harlequin, Silhouette and several other series publishers.
Although her earliest category books are rife with the melodramatic tone of their time, they also contain the seeds of what made her so popular. Krentz’s heroines were reassuringly far from the Dynasty-esque ideal of their day. They were hard-working, though often a little scattered; they were striving for success rather than wallowing in it; they were friendly instead of gorgeous. It’s that last point, I think, that won the hearts of so many readers.
1979-89 was heady decade for the romance industry. Category publishing opportunities blossomed; sales began to soar across the genre; writers like Nora Roberts and Jude Devereaux became household names. But it wasn’t all fun and games. Harlequin and Silhouette were gearing up for a major battle, each trying to lock up as many rising stars as they could. Contracts often contained serious pitfalls for new writers; Jayne signed one which granted the publisher the exclusive right to her own name.
She racked up an impressive number of pseudonyms over the next ten years: Jayne Castle (her maiden name); Jayne Taylor; Jayne Bentley; Stephanie James (her brothers are Stephen and James); Amanda Glass. It was a hard lesson, but when contract term finally ran out, Krentz was a more enviable position. So many different identities gave her a chance to stretch a bit, and try new things. As Amanda Glass, she wrote several futuristic novels that were the first real paranormal romances. Unfortunately, as it turned out, they were ahead of their time by the better part of a decade. Jayne herself has said that they nearly killed her career.
Luckily, she had other names to fall back on. And she used them carefully and well. Finally able to use her own name again, she branched out into contemporary single title romances as Jayne Ann Krentz and began climbing the ranks. She traded melodrama (well, most of it) for adventure, but retained the cheerful, practical heroines so loved by her readers. In 1990, she began to write historical romances, under the name Amanda Quick. It was daring move: at that point, many historical writers were jumping ship for the booming contemporary field. But it worked. And the mid-90s she made another calculated risk, and tried paranormal romances again, this time under the name Jayne Castle. The Castle paranormals didn’t have nearly the same sales numbers as the Quick or the Krentz novels (even given that the cover read ‘Jayne Ann Krentz writing as Jayne Castle’), but they sold enough that Jayne, a lover of science fiction and fantasy, could continue to write them.
And continue she does, writing contemporary books as Krentz, historical novels as Quick, and paranormals – their time come at last – as Castle. To date, Krentz has written more than 120 novels. 32 of them have hit the NYT Bestseller list: both those numbers will have increased by the end of this year.
As a teen, I loved her futuristic romances. In my twenties, I most enjoyed her charming historicals. Today I find myself leaning towards her contemporaries. The writing is unadorned; the plots are linear; the characters are ordinary people doing the best they can. It is, in short, peanut butter at its finest: crunchy, both salty and sweet, and a thoroughly satisfying meal.
Chris Szego also has an inconquerable fondness for Beefaroni, but finds spray cheese frightening.
I’m curious: with all of her different genre approaches, does she focus more on particular themes in each, or is there a lot of similarity across her pseudonyms?
The latter. She tends to focus on the same themes regardless of which genre she’s writing in. Family, for instance. And learning to deal with failure – most of her heroines (and heroes, too) have had serious setbacks in their lives. They’ve lost jobs, or family; they have failed businesses or marriages in their pasts. But they keep trying new things, and they learn how to succeed.