Kathleen Gilles Seidel is breaking up with romance novels.
They will remain friends with benefits.
"I still read romances," she says. "I will continue to label myself as a romance writer, even if I'm not writing romances, because it's really fun to be a romance writer. We have really good parties, and we're really supportive of each other."
Seidel, a 1969 graduate of Lawrence High School, made a name for herself by writing 12 romance novels - including six with Harlequin - and winning every major romance book award at least once.
Now she wants to distance herself from that genre. Her first non-romance novel is "A Most Uncommon Degree of Popularity" (St. Martin's Press, $21.95), which tells about a mother's realization that her junior high daughter is one of the popular children at school.
She'll speak about the book and other parenting issues - especially those discussed in the Harry Potter series - at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vt.
"Part of me knew that as long as I wrote a book that had a strong love story in it, it would be published as a romance because you're published on your resume," Seidel says. "And increasingly, romance readers were getting a little disappointed because the books I wrote were so interested in other kinds of relationships.
"So I thought the best way to reach the kind of reader I'm now writing for was to write a book that couldn't possibly be published as a romance."
'Raise their eyebrows'
Seidel, who lives in Arlington, Va., didn't set out to be a romance novelist. She got a doctorate in English from Johns Hopkins University and figured she would teach for a living like her father, the late Kansas University chemistry professor Paul Gilles.
She says she's always dreamed and fantasized, and she later realized that her daydreaming could be turned into novels.
Seidel's mother, longtime Lawrence pediatrician Helen Gilles, says she got plenty of quizzing about why her daughter would choose a genre some consider smut.
"They raise their eyebrows," Helen Gilles says. "They can't understand why an intelligent person with a Ph.D. would write that."
Her response: "I just told them she's doing quite well."
But after writing romances for more than two decades, Seidel says she's ready for something else.
"I wouldn't quite say they were similar, it was just after 12 books I just kind of said all I had to say about people falling in love," she says. "Whereas I have more to say about people trying to stay in love or different kinds of relationships."
"A Most Uncommon Degree of Popularity" is based, in part, on her experiences with her younger daughter, who now is 18.
Seidel says she realized her daughter was popular while having coffee with several other parents at her daughter's private middle school.
"In most literature about middle-school social dynamics among girls, the point of view is always of the kids who are not popular, and all the parenting books tell you what to do if your child is not popular," Seidel says.
"While popular girls in middle school are developmentally a little more poised and confident than other middle school girls, they're still young, preteen and early teenage girls, and they're full of nerves and anxiety. Often the message these girls get is they cannot be unhappy, and they're not entitled to cry and be miserable because, after all, they're popular."
Seidel says she plans to write more books delving into relationships in the future. But they won't involve book covers with rippling muscles and ripped shirts.
"In some ways it's a new direction," she says. "But I'm still telling love stories. They're just not the courtship story."