Kathleen E. Woodiwiss, a pioneer of the modern historical romance novel marked by strong heroines, detailed period settings and steamy sex scenes, has died, her family and publisher said Tuesday. She was 68.
Woodiwiss, whose first book “The Flame and the Flower” became an instant best seller in 1972, died Friday of cancer at a hospital in Princeton, Minn., said her son, Sean Woodiwiss.
Her editor for the past 13 years, Carrie Feron, called Woodiwiss “the founding mother of the historical romance genre.” Feron, vice president and editorial director of William Morrow and Avon Books, said her work harkened back to classical authors such as Jane Austen and inspired a new generation of romance writers.
Woodiwiss published 13 novels over the past 35 years, and all made The New York Times list of best sellers, her publisher said in a statement announcing her death. Her books focused on the relationship between a helpless heroine and the hero who rescued her, featured longer plots, controversial situations and characters, and impassioned sex scenes.
Nicole Kennedy, spokeswoman for the Romance Writers of America, agreed that Woodiwiss “revolutionized” the romance novel. Before Woodiwiss started turning out thick novels in the 600-page range, most romance novels were much shorter and simpler, she said.
“She came along with a story in a longer, book-length novel and really dealt with the relationship of the couple, from their first meeting to falling in love and ending up happily ever after,” Kennedy said from Dallas, where the association will pay tribute to Woodiwiss on Saturday night during its annual national conference.
Woodiwiss received a lifetime achievement award from the Romance Writers of America in 1988. Kennedy said most romance writers today would credit Woodiwiss’ books with getting them hooked.
Woodiwiss was born Kathleen Erin Hogg in 1939 in Alexandria, La. She met her husband, Ross Woodiwiss, at a sock hop when she was 16 and he was an Air Force lieutenant. His Air Force career took them to Japan and, eventually, Minneapolis. Ross Woodiwiss died in 1996.
Sean Woodiwiss said his mother had battled carcinoid cancer for a couple years and thought she had it beat until it came back. Nonetheless, he said, she remained determined and finished her final book, “Everlasting,” which will be published in October.
She is survived by Sean Woodiwiss and his family; another son, Heath Woodiwiss; and two sisters. Another son, Dorren Woodiwiss, died last month.