SALT LAKE CITY — “He climbed the ladder again and she did her best not to gawk through the fabric of the T-shirt he wore at the play of muscles in his shoulders and his back.”
That’s about as racy as it gets in RaeAnne Thayne’s new book, “Season of Wonder.” The Smithfield resident and longtime romance novelist admits, “They’re not the sexy books that people might think of with romance novels,” but that doesn’t seem to have slowed her career at all. Since her debut in 1995, Thayne has written more than 60 novels. Thayne visited the Deseret News offices to discuss her career, her personal life and the ways they impact one another.
“My prose is a little bit sparse compared to a lot of writers,” Thayne said. “I think that’s one of the things that my journalism helped me to do, is give sparse details and let the reader’s imagination do the rest.”
Before her literary career, Thayne was an editor at the Herald Journal in Logan. She often spent her days reading content that came over the news wire, deciding which to include and which to omit for the next day's paper.
“So it was depressing,” she recalled. “You think about all the dark and depressing things I had to read about. So I loved the idea that I could read something that was not that dark and depressing, and that I could also create something that was making people happy. What a great job, to make people happy for a living.”
She had dreamed of writing romance novels since her teenage years. While on maternity leave with her first child, Thayne gave it a go. The results were mixed.
“I look back and I just cringe,” she said. “The idea wasn’t strong, and the prose wasn’t. I didn’t know anything about writing fiction.”
After only a few chapters, Thayne abandoned the story and began writing another. That book, and the one that followed, got published — though by her own admission, “They’re not great either.” Part of her challenge was finding a distinctive tone and voice. In time, Thayne developed what she called a “sweet, small town contemporary” style. Though romance always plays a part, Thayne said her stories focus on communities where people really care for each other. Characters do volunteer work and bring meals to their neighbors.
“And I live in a community like that,” she explained. “And when people say, ‘Well, that’s not realistic,’ I say, ‘Well, you need to live in my life.’ We have been the recipients of so much care from our neighbors and our friends, so I know what it’s like to rely on a community. I feel like I can tell that story with authenticity.”
Thayne’s 21-year-old son Avery has cerebral palsy and requires total care. In her Smithfield community, she said, strangers will approach her at the grocery store and offer to help with her son, or to load her groceries for her.
Part of her career success, she said, might be the public’s collective desire for community connections in a social landscape that’s increasingly digital.
“I think they yearn for the age when you knew your neighbors and you cared about your neighbors, and you knew there were people you could count on,” she said.
Another big reason for Thayne’s success is the Amazon Kindle. Released in 2007, the e-reader spiked Thayne’s notoriety around 2010, when her publisher, Harlequin Enterprises, released free Kindle books from a number of its authors. Over the four years that Thayne’s book, “Dancing in the Moonlight,” was free on Kindle, she estimates it received approximately 2 million downloads. However, she said traditional paperback sales still comprise most of her business.
These days, Thayne said she hopes another revolution in story distribution — streaming video services — could aid her career. A number of her romance novelist friends, she said, have sold series rights to Netflix. Hallmark has also launched its own streaming service. Reading a Thayne book, the setting seems tailor-made for a Hallmark movie.
“Readers know what they’re going to get when they pick up my book,” she said. “They know it’s going to be a happy ending, they know it’s going to be sweet, warm, there’s going to be emotion, they’re going to cry, probably, at some point, they’ll laugh through several parts.”
Until Hallmark or Netflix comes calling, and probably long after, Thayne will continue writing.
“Every book is harder than the one before,” she said. “And you’d think that after 60 books you’d figure it out, but every book is honestly harder. I did every easy idea that I had in probably my first 20 or 30 books.”