" 'Oh, Halley,' he groaned, reaching out and pulling her into his arms . . . 'You are so beautiful to me. You have this very quiet and self-contained kind of beauty,' he told her, covering her face with kisses. . ."
Got the picture?
If not, don't worry. It's on page 3, a photograph of two south Florida models in fashions by J.C. Penney portraying Halley and Gabriel. ("Could her love survive the fears that beset him?")
The pictures are just one of the services brought to you by the publishers of Rhapsody Romances -- a hybrid that reads like a book but looks like a Sunday newspaper magazine, that will be on sale in 7-Elevens and book stores for 99 (count 'em -- 99) cents and that may or may not have full-page ads, depending on whether the publishers decide they destroy the romantic mood.
Valueback Publishing Inc., producer of Rhapsody Romances, will lunge, plunge and otherwise throw itself into the booming market for not-too-taxing romantic novels Oct. 6, when it sends the company's first two titles to the nation's newsstands.
Half a million copies of "Dream Weaver" and "Sands of Desire," their 50,000 words laced with photographs to take the strain off readers' imaginations, will hit magazine counters with a thud that may ring in the ears of publishers of more easily recognized books.
"We've taken the novel and changed the format and put a hell of a price on it," said Mike Walker, a former senior editor at the National Enquirer who supervised production of the new product. "There's a market for romance."
Walker said he and Tom Kuncl, former executive editor of the Enquirer who supervised the tabloid's coverage of Elvis Presley's death, hope to win readers by undercutting rapidly rising paperback book prices and taking advantage of cost savings from large press runs. Walker and Kuncl founded Valueback.
Romances account for approximately 40 percent of the book market, said Walker. In the long run the publishers plan a full line of photo-illustrated, tabloid-sized books, including lots of one-time books celebrating events such as royal weddings.
But for now they will stick with romance. "We knew romance novels were red-hot items," said Walker. "Besides, if anything lends itself to illustration, it's romance."
The photos, the models and the storyline are all squeaky clean. Halley, whose hair is blond, whose waist is slender, whose eye are large and bright and who appears to wear underwear under her underwear and nightclothes in the photos, succumbs to Gabriel's offer of marriage and pledges to retain her virginity until after the ceremony.
Not that she isn't tempted by Gabriel, whose eyes -- even when "alight with bad temper" -- are as blue as hyacinths.
"In this day and age I don't think there is anyone who hasn't heard that women don't really like graphic sex," said Walker. "The books are about romance, not sex. Secondly, I wouldn't want to do it myself. I have kids," said Walker.
Kuncl (who "concepted" the product, according to a press release) and Walker left the National Enquirer in January and quickly raised the $1.5 million they needed for their new venture. They also quickly found a national distributor, Select Magazines Inc., which could deliver the romances to the 40,000 stores that have already signed up to carry them.
Besides 7-Elevens, chains such as Walgreens, U-Totem, Stop & Go and P. Dalton will carry Rhapsody Romances. "We haven't got Safeway yet. That's the big one," Walker said.
Whether the romances come laden with commercials has not yet been resolved, he said. "Obviously this is a book, not a periodical. We don't want to be breaking the mood." The compromise is to try out full-page advertisements in one of the romances and leave them out of the other. "Sands of Desire" is uninterrupted, but "Dream Weaver" carries a cigarette ad and a message from Zsa Zsa Gabor to "every woman who dreads lines and wrinkles."
Reader reaction will help resolve the debate, Walker said. If advertising is accepted, it will be for women's products and will include no unromantic ads for items such as "trusses, bust developers or cockroach traps."
The publishers will bring out two romances a month for three months, following the introduction of Rhapsody Romances. In February, they hope to increase the press run and number of books, perhaps bringing out six new titles a month. "The economy is in tabloid printing, but to get the economies you need a good high run," Walker said. They hope to increase the press run from half a million to a million.
The romances are expected to have a shelf life of about 30 days. Although printed on higher-quality paper than the tabloids, the books are rather perishable, said Walker. "They may start to flop over."
Walker and Kuncl predict that the first two titles will sell out. They have already been approached by other publishers, including one who may be interested in reprinting the best sellers in a somewhat more permanent form, Walker said.
"It's the dream of every newspaperman to bring out something of your own, and we're proud of how we executed it."