Janet Dailey, popular and prolific romance writer, dies at 69

December 21, 2013

Janet Dailey, a romance writer who featured everyday women in bodice-rippers that provided lusty escape for hundreds of millions of readers and made her one of the best-known authors of her genre, died Dec. 14 at her home in Branson, Mo. She was 69.

Her stepdaughter, Linda Scheibe, confirmed the death and said she did not yet know the cause.

Mrs. Dailey was described over the years as the best-selling female writer in America. According to various estimates, she enforced a writing quota of 10 pages per day to produce novels at a rate of about one per month, with an occasional work knocked out in just over a week and others taking longer.

The covers of her books featured chiseled or bare-chested men, lushly romantic portraits of feminine beauty and evocative scenes from secluded locales. Titles included “The Mating Season,” “The Bride of the Delta Queen,” “The Widow and the Wastrel,” “Separate Cabins,” “Terms of Surrender” and “Touch the Wind.” Mrs. Dailey’s final book, “Merry Christmas, Cowboy,” came out in September.

She said she didn’t reread her manuscripts after they were published. “I don’t have the Hemingway syndrome,” she told the Associated Press. “I’m not interested in writing the great American novel. The appeal of romance spans all generations.”


Janet Dailey and her husband in 1977. Mrs. Dailey, one of the top romance writers of her generation, died at 69. (Vanessa R. Barnes/The Washington Post)

The appeal of romance, as recounted by Mrs. Dailey, also spanned national boundaries. In 1986, the Chicago Tribune reported that her books sold in 90 countries at an estimated rate of 43,000 per day. Promotional items included sweatshirts with the phrase “Love Is a Dailey Affair.”

She distinguished herself from some other writers of her genre by placing at the center of her stories ordinary women — women, observers sometimes noted, not unlike herself before she achieved celebrity in the 1970s.

“I couldn’t stand writing about weak women,” she once said, according to the St. Petersburg Times. “My heroines say ‘No’ to men — when they want to.”

A former secretary, Mrs. Dailey had remarked to her husband that she could write romance novels like the ones she often read, if only she set her mind to it.

“What you expect of your husband is support,” Mrs. Dailey told the Tribune. “You expect him to say: ‘Of course, darling, I know you can write a book.’ And then you don’t have to . . . because he already knows you’re good.”

That was not, however, how she said her husband responded.

“He just turned to me one day and said: ‘Get up off your rear and write the book and shut up. If you’re gonna do it, fine; if not, quit talking about it.’ It made me mad, and I sat down to prove to him that I could write a book.”

She submitted her manuscript, “No Quarter Asked,” to the Canadian press Harlequin Books. The story of a city girl who finds work and love on a Western ranch, it was published in 1976 and reportedly sold more than 1 million copies.

Mrs. Dailey wrote more than 50 books for Harlequin, including the “Americana” series, with one novel set in each state of the union. Later in her career, she wrote dozens more books for other houses, including Silhouette Books and Pocket Books, and she became widely known for her Calder saga about a Montana ranching family.

Mrs. Dailey belonged to the community of romance writers belittled by buttoned-up critics and beloved by their legions of fans. She took pride in her measured depictions of the carnal act.

“I don’t get detailed,” she told an interviewer. “I get sensuous. I call it hard-core decency.”

Mrs. Dailey attracted controversy in 1997, when she was accused of plagiarizing passages from books by the romance novelist Nora Roberts. Mrs. Dailey admitted that she had borrowed from Roberts’s writing in two novels and said that it had happened during her husband’s treatment for cancer and other personal pressures. A lawsuit was settled out of court, and Mrs. Dailey continued her writing.

“My romance readers are like me,” she once told the New York Times. “They are work-oriented­ women who are under a great deal of stress. They are very involved — that’s why we run television commercials during the news hours — and they need an escape.’’

Janet Ann Haradon was born May 21, 1944, in Storm Lake, Iowa. Her father died when she was a girl, and her mother later married again.

“Some teachers wanted to get me a college scholarship, but I didn’t understand what college could do for me,” Mrs. Dailey said. “So I did what every red-blooded country girl wants to do. I went to the big city — Omaha.”

There, she found a secretarial job working for Bill Dailey, a construction company owner whom she described as “strong and gruff, older and wealthy — the only man I ever met who was smarter than me.” They married in the mid-1960s and later moved to Branson.

Her husband died in 2005.

Survivors include two stepchildren, Jim Dailey of Blue Eye, Mo., and Linda Scheibe of Hollister, Mo.; three sisters; four grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

Mrs. Dailey saw a purpose for her books beyond entertainment.

“I always tried to write a heroine who, if she was unhappy with her life, changed it,” she told the Tribune. “Because I firmly believe that if you’re unhappy with the way you’re living, don’t just sit there in misery, do something.

“I have often received letters from readers who say they’ve decided to finish their college education or that after 20 years of wanting to be a nurse they’re taking nursing training. Somehow these books have motivated them. That’s quite a compliment.”

Emily Langer is a reporter on The Washington Post’s obituaries desk. She has written about national and world leaders, celebrated figures in science and the arts, and heroes from all walks of life.
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