In 1997, Patricia Rosemoor went to Cook County Jail. She says she’ll never forget the 12-foot fences topped with razor wire, the sniper towers, the metal detectors, the long lines of people waiting to be processed, and the din of the inmates in the two-story cell blocks. “It left me with the impression I would never want to be there as an inmate in my entire life.”

Rosemoor, who makes her living writing romance novels, visited the jail to get “a little texture” for After the Dark, a Chicago-based tale about a spunky young heroine who saves a man unjustly accused of murdering his girlfriend. The experience was all in a day’s work for Rosemoor, who always researches her stories firsthand.

Research for 53 novels has taken her to the banks of the Chicago River, to the sleep clinic at Rush-Presbyterian-Saint Luke’s Medical Center, and to neighborhoods like Wicker Park and Ravenswood Manor, but as Rosemoor says, “The big city is not necessarily what readers want. I prefer to write about different settings.”

That’s when she gets to conduct her favorite type of on-site research: the out-of-town kind. She’s ridden an airboat and learned about gigging for frogs in the Florida Everglades, roamed with mustangs in South Dakota, and tracked wolves on a nature preserve in Wisconsin. For a three-volume rancher series to be released by Harlequin in March–Heart of a Lawman, The Lone Wolf’s Child, and A Rancher’s Vow, Rosemoor herded cattle in New Mexico. She also rode in a truck at full speed over a bridge that crossed a steep canyon. “The boards were breaking in back of us as we were going over it. I had to use that!”

During most of the 80s Rosemoor–which is a pen name–worked as a television production supervisor at Harper College and wrote romances on the side. By 1987 she had written five and received the Romance Writers of America Golden Heart Award for best young-adult novel by an unpublished author. She had signed a contract with Dell, but she was still wary of losing the security of a full-time job with benefits. “I kept asking for something like a short-term leave of absence, then a long-term, or an assurance that I could have my job back. They cut the strings completely.”

The contract with Dell fell through, but Rosemoor kept pitching ideas and eventually signed on with Harlequin. About half of the titles she’s produced for the company are of a genre called “romance intrigue.” Many contain some sort of murder plot, kidnapping, or blackmail mystery that a hero and heroine must work together to solve.

After 17 years of writing about three books a year, Rosemoor can joke about the plot formulas. “There’s the big family saga, the marriage of convenience, or the secret baby plot. The hero comes back, not knowing he’s fathered a child. The story’s usually based on a hero that nobody could depend on. And he’s got to prove himself.”

The change and proving of character among Rosemoor’s heroes and heroines can make or break a book, she says. “That’s why it’s important to have conflict–especially inner conflict.”

As is to be expected, the heroes are “ruggedly handsome” if not “drop-dead gorgeous.” With names like Chase and Flint, they have no trouble igniting “forbidden fires.” But the heroines themselves are more lifelike. With cropped red hair, Nicky Keating of After the Dark is tenacious, even a bit overbearing, and she displays a robust appetite for food. She’s no wilting lily, as she demonstrates in this scene:

The bedside lamp was on the lowest setting. Expecting Flint would be naked under the covers, Nicky was relieved to find him dressed in a T-shirt and the pants he’d been wearing when she’d bailed him out of jail. Even so, tying him up was no impersonal task. She had to sit on the edge of the bed, her hip touching his, and try to ignore the sensual images that immediately crowded her mind.

As she wrapped the first piece of folded material around Flint’s right wrist, Nicky thought about how vulnerable he would be with both hands secured.

She could do anything to him she liked . . .

Rosemoor will discuss her research and writing techniques at 6:30 this Tuesday at the Chicago Public Library’s Lincoln Belmont branch, 1655 W. Melrose (312-744-0166). It’s free.

–Susan DeGrane

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Eugene Zakusilo.