No man had ever seized her like that before. No man had ever taken her mouth so voluptuously into his. No man had forced himself into her arms so brutally. Yet he'd made her feel like a delicate flower closing against a strong wind, and while she'd quivered in his arms, a warm sensation washed through her body . . . and suddenly she felt like a flower opening.
What man could be responsible for this florid flummery?
"They're no dumber than TV," says Tom Kuncl, 42-year-old publisher of "Rhapsody Romances," the 99-cent, breathless new photomagazines that landed on Washington newsstands this week. "They're not bubblegum, but they're not 'Sophie's Choice' either."
Kuncl is a former executive editor of the National Enquirer whose main contribution to journalism so far has been publishing a photograph of Elvis Presley in his coffin. Now he's papering supermarkets and convenience stores across the country this month with 2 million copies of his full-length, full-color novel-in-a-magazine ("a bright new idea that's easy to love"), hoping to cash in on the current bodice-ripper boom by combining the literary impact of a gothic romance with the visual assault of a soap opera.
"I think it fulfills an expectation created by television," he says. "People are used to a visual story. I suppose it's a concession to McLuhanism."
Every month, Kuncl's Valueback Publishing, Inc. will introduce two new titles. This month, it's "Sands of Desire" and "Dream Weaver." The latter is a heart-tugging tale of a young weaver from West Virginia (Rebecca of Sunneybrook Farm?) who goes to New York, immediately falls in love with a young designer (Calvin Klein?), is taken under the wing of a famous fashion doyenne (Diana Vreeland?), has her pictures taken for Elegance magazine (Vogue?) by a hot-shot photographer (Avedon?) and remains a virgin until her wedding day. The action takes place within a span of three days. Any resemblance to real life is largely coincidental.
"Sure they're fantasies, but in our mind they're attainable fantasies," says Kuncl, warding off any possible charges for possession of good taste. Aren't they love comics for the Stove-Top Stuffing set? "I think they have a little more literary pretension than that," he says. Aren't they dumber than Doris Day on a good day? "I will concede to some ludicrousness," he says. "They're a yard short of parody. But a lot more people are reading romances than are reading Joyce Carol Oates."
Serious books by noted authors "may look good on the coffee table," says Kuncl. "But that's not what they read." By "they" the publisher is referring to his targeted audience: women from a lower than average socio-economic group, aged 18 to 55, with a high-school education. "What do they say? Never underestimate the taste of the public?" Kuncl concludes.
The stories are illustrated with full-color pictures and, according to a press release, shot in exotic locations with "the latest fashions and hair styles." The haute couture fashions for "Dream Weaver" were furnished by J.C. Penney. Men's formal wear for "A Time for Ecstasy" courtesy of Bill's Tuxedo Rentals, West Palm Beach. The art in both magazines looks like it was shot in the same "exotic" Palm Beach house.
Kuncl's backers for the $1.5-million publishing venture are various investors, he says, including syndicated health columnist Dr. Neil Solomon. If all goes well, Kuncl plans to increase the press run from 500,000 to one million copies. He also plans to up the mass circulation 50,000-word novellas to five titles each month, and says he will market them in 15 foreign countries. "We're all panderers," Kuncl says. "The lowest common denominator is a lot larger than you think."
"I think friends of my mother will buy them," says Martha Moffett, a mild-mannered researcher for the National Enquirer who was paid $3,000 to write "Dream Weaver." Because Moffett sees herself as a serious writer, she used the pseudonym "Jane Rochester." As any romance junkie knows, Jane Rochester is Jane Eyre's married name.
"That's right!" Moffett exclaims. "It took me longer to think of that name than to write the book."
Moffett says it took her eight weeks to finish "Dream Weaver," working nights and weekends with a standard romance formula as her guide.
He drew back for a moment, uttered "Ahhhh," as if savoring nectar, kissed her lightly, tasted her lips, tasted her eyelids, tangled his hands in her hair.
"It's very funny. They tell you exactly how far you can go," Moffett says. "You can use descriptive words above the waist, but not below. You can use explicit terms like leg, breast or arm, but no clinical terms."
"Well, like genitalia."
In a passionate scene. Moffett says, "For a man you can refer to his 'hard maleness.'"
There are also guidelines for The Other Woman, who must be "terribly well-groomed" and The Confidante, who may be "a friend, older woman, aunt or cook," according to Moffett.
The heroine, of course, must be A Virgin.
"I'm already writing another one," says Moffett. "It's set on a safari."
Why does she do it? Is it a burning desire to see her fantasies come to life? A hopeless case of Barbara Cartland envy?
"It's to pay the tuition bills," she says. "I've got three kids to raise."