Steamboat Springs Veronica "Ronee" Blake has resurrected a dream she thought she had lost forever.
Blake's new historical romance novel, "Black Horse," has just been released by Dorchester Publishing Co. And Blake, the office manager for the Routt County Regional Planning Department, is off to Las Vegas next week for a pair of book signing events at Borders book stores.
"There was a long time there when I thought I'd blown it and it would never happen again," Blake said.
Beginning in 1986 with her first book, "Texas Rose," and continuing into the '90s, Blake produced a series of nine successful romance paperbacks, or bodice rippers, as they were once known, under a contract with the Zebra imprint of Kensington Publishing.
She actually had completed the manuscript for "Texas Rose" a decade before it published. Lacking moral support from friends and family, she had been hesitant to submit it to an agent or a publisher.
"I carried it around in the trunk of a car for 10 years," Blake said. "It got brake fluid spilled on it, and a friend retyped it for me. She had to use a magnifying glass. I'm like, 'You're wasting your time.'"
When she finally gathered the nerve to submit the painstakingly re-typed manuscript, both Dorchester and Zebra expressed tentative interest. But it was Zebra that first offered her a contract.
"Texas Rose," sold well and propelled her right into "Desperado Desire" and then another paperback, and then one after another.
Abruptly, during a tumultuous period in her personal life, Blake stepped back entirely from her writing career and put it on a shelf for 15 years.
Blake said her latest novel contains just one explicit love scene instead of the 11 that were found in her first book.
She's come to terms with the terror of putting down her own romantic fantasies in print.
"That's still hard for me after all these years," Blake said. "With the first book, I was nervous about what my parents would think. It is my own deepest fantasies. It sure isn't my real life - that's for certain."
"Black Horse" is an archetypal tale involving a white woman raised by the Ogallala Sioux nation who falls in love with a Sioux warrior. Meadow must resist the attempts by earnest white soldiers who strive to "rescue" her from Black Horse, the man she desires.
The prose is sometimes steamy: "Was there any warrior more handsome, more virile than the powerful young war chief bathing naked in the river? Meadow was certain she'd never forget the sight of his lean hips, his sinewed thighs and bronzed chest. He was all that a Sioux maiden could want in a mate :"
Blake understands this is not everyone's literary cup of tea. However, she knows her audience and how to hit the mark. She also takes the historical aspect of her books seriously and devotes a great deal of field research to each one. Fact checkers at Dorchester scrutinize every detail, she added.
"Romance novels are out-selling everything right now," Blake said. "It's easy reading, and it's always going to have a happy ending. I love what I write - every book is a part of me."
Blake is drawn to the theme of mixed marriages set in the Western frontier.
An earlier book with Zebra, "Apache Tigress," (the publisher wanted to title it Redskin Rapture, but Blake dissuaded them) portrayed a romance between a Mexican/Apache man and a Caucasian/Apache woman.
Blake has not heard directly from Native Americans about their feelings about how she portrays them in her romance novels. She points out that her ex-husband was a full-blooded Cherokee Indian.
"I imagine Native Americans don't particularly like it. I once tried to have a discussion with a Sioux man, and he was not interested in talking about it at all. I've never had any negative feedback (on that issue). I think I've been really sympathetic to Indians in my books."
Blake's next historic romance novel, "White Owl," will be set against the backdrop of the Meeker Massacre, a historic incident that took place along the White River in neighboring Rio Blanco County. In the new book, which is being considered by Dorchester, two Ute brothers, one the hero, and the other, a malevolent character, will be the source of tension in a love affair involving the hero and the daughter of a white settler.
"I get a lot of comments from women who have a fantasy about a strong, powerful warrior, yet a gentle lover," Blake said.
The hero in her books isn't always an Indian warrior. He could be a lawman, a bounty hunter or an outlaw. But he's always a rugged individualist - a rebel who is difficult for any woman to pin down. Inevitably, he will temporarily leave the female character in the book behind, often out a sense of what's best for her.
But in Veronica Blake's romance novels, the man who was so difficult to tame always returns to the arms of his lover.
Blake estimates that with first-edition print runs of 150,000 paperbacks selling out on each of nine novels, she has sold nearly 1.5 million copies in her career as a novelist. Alas, with royalties of 7 cents a copy during her career with Zebra, she never got rich.
"It's still my dream to become a full-time novelist," she said.