Ms. Lindsey was one of the most popular romance authors of her era, selling more than 60 million copies in at least 12 languages — a book every eight seconds, Avon calculated in 1993. She was also a pioneer of the modern historical romance novel, which originated with the hotblooded work of Kathleen E. Woodiwiss and Rosemary Rogers, only a few years before Ms. Lindsey made her debut at 25 with “Captive Bride” (1977).
“She’s one of the foundations of the genre,” romance novelist Beverly Jenkins said in a phone interview. “Most stories in mass-market fiction were male-centered. With Woodiwiss and Rogers and Lindsey, you had these female-centered stories with women who were bound and determined to set their own pace, to define love, to fracture what people associated women with.”
Ms. Lindsey, she added, “inspired thousands and thousands of women to write their own stories” and helped demonstrate “that love stories were valued, and that women were not just pawns or secondary characters, but could be the point of a book.”
Her novels were frequently described as fairy tales, happy-ending stories of heroines who travel halfway around the world and end up finding love, and sexual satisfaction to boot. Filled with witty banter and one-liners, many of her novels also featured arranged marriages, mistaken identities, kidnappings, abductions, overbearing family members and abusive lovers, with some scenes of outright rape.
In writing about enslaved or trapped women who fell in love with their captors, some of Ms. Lindsey’s admirers said, she was simply working within the conventions of her time, while also offering a critique of the patriarchy and of what it means to fall in love.
“She was trying to understand how you talk about women and female sexual pleasure,” said English professor Jayashree Kamble, a vice president of the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance. “Does it have to be through companionate marriage? Do you have to have an emotional connection with this particular person?”
“In Lindsey’s books,” she added, “there was something very joyful about sexuality.”
Johanna Helen Howard (some sources reverse her first and middle names) was born March 10, 1952, in Frankfurt, where her father served in the Army. The family lived in France for several years before moving to Hawaii, where Ms. Lindsey graduated from high school in Kailua, near Honolulu.
She worked in data processing before marrying Ralph Lindsey in 1970 and soon became engrossed in historical romances, sometimes reading one a night. After the birth of her second son, with her husband working nights and weekends as an estimator for a landscaping company, she began writing “Captive Bride.”
“I’d been thinking about a plot for one for a long time, but I was sure that somebody else would come out with it first,” she told the Honolulu Star-Bulletin in 1981. “ ‘Desert sheikh, romance, kidnapping’ — that’s about all I started with. The book wrote itself. . . . I just sat down one day and wrote the middle scene, the love scene in the tent. I amazed myself — I couldn’t stop writing.”
Ms. Lindsey’s later novels included “Gentle Rogue” (1990), a pirate yarn; “Warrior’s Woman” (1990), a science-fiction romance set on Kystran in 2139; and the 12-book Malory-Anderson Saga, which opened with “Love Only Once” (1985), about a “hot-tempered” Englishwoman abducted by a rogue. The series concluded in 2017 with “Beautiful Tempest,” involving a kidnapped debutante and Caribbean pirates.
By 1990, when Ms. Lindsey inked a 10-book contract with Avon, she was writing two books a year, and each of her previous 19 novels had sold at least 700,000 copies, according to a Times report. Her sales were buoyed in part by the novels’ eye-catching cover art, perhaps most notoriously on “Tender Is the Storm” (1985), which showed an apparently naked man, his crotch blocked from view by a swooning woman’s chest. “When a man’s passion explodes into violence,” read the tagline, “only a woman’s desire can turn it to love.”
Two years later, a golden-maned model named Fabio appeared on the cover of a romance novel for the first time, according to the feminist website Jezebel, for Ms. Lindsey’s Viking epic “Hearts Aflame.” To much of romancelandia’s horror, Ms. Lindsey and Fabio remained inextricably tied, as the model’s appearances on subsequent Lindsey covers seemed to eclipse the pathbreaking subject matter of their books’ contents.
“She defined Fabio, not the other way around,” said Jennifer Prokop, romance correspondent for Kirkus Reviews. Still, she added by phone, “Those covers had almost a gravitational force of their own.”
Ms. Lindsey’s husband died in 1994, and they had three sons. Complete information on survivors was not immediately available.
In 1981, Ms. Lindsey told the Star-Bulletin that she spent her days writing in bed, longhand in a spiral notebook, taking two hours off only to watch the soap operas “General Hospital” and “One Life to Live.”
“Since I was old enough to appreciate a good novel, I’ve been a romantic,” she told interviewer Kathryn Falk for the book “Love’s Leading Ladies.” “I enjoy happy-ending love stories more than any other type of reading. Romance is what comes out of me.”
“I would be literally lost,” she said, “if I had to give it up.”
Read more Washington Post obituaries