I’d originally planned to do a reel or two on the Harlequin NASCAR line, a weird and under-remembered early 2000s partnership between two iconic brands. While your first instinct might be to think that this was some oddball attempt to woo male readers, it really seems to have been more synergistic than that; at the time NASCAR had a growing female fanbase who their studies showed were more likely to be readers than their male counterparts, and Harlequin had a readership who enjoyed new plots, not to mention their desire to sell more books. After a pair of Pamela Britton NASCAR themed books in 2005 sold well, the companies agreed to a more formal partnership in 2006, with NASCAR’s logo appearing on the covers, and book sales happening both on their website and at race events. The Harlequin NASCAR was in the mold of traditional Harlequin Romances, so closed doors and no drinking or drugs were the rule. The series lasted for about five years and 91 books, wrapping up in 2010.
And all that is fine and interesting, but it’s not why I’m here today. Scrolling through the list of authors, I came across a name I’d never seen before. Ken Casper was listed as the author of Speed Bumps, published in May 2007 and book 14 in the series. Regular readers will not be surprised to learn that I hit the brakes so hard I spun and the roof flaps deployed. To the best of my knowledge, male names had disappeared from Harlequin covers in 1959 with Edgar Wallace’s The Man at the Carlton, after which the publisher began its exclusive romance reprinting deal with Mills & Boon. Clearly more research was necessary!
According to his 2021 obituary, Ken Casper was a New York native whose Air Force career took him around the world until he finally settled in San Angelo, Texas. He retired from the Air Force in 1997 as a Colonel. In San Angelos, he tried his hand at writing a few years before retirement. He wrote that his critique partners challenged him to write a romance story, and when his early efforts earned him a prize, he submitted it to Harlequin. A Man Called Jesse was published as a Harlequin Superromance in October 1998. Like many of the men who’d written romance before him, Ken adopted a pen name (K.N. Casper) that didn’t immediately give away his gender.
Ken published 15 more Superromances between 1998 and 2005, many of which used his adopted home of Texas as a setting. With the publication of Speed Bumps in 2007, he switched to using his real name on his Harlequin titles, a practice that he used for the next 8 books with Harlequin as well as the 7 indie published romances and mysteries at the end of his career.
Ken Casper didn’t get rich off romance or sell millions of copies or get a book made into a movie. But like all category romance authors, he did the work and acknowledging that work matters. Since the 1990s, the romance community has often leaned on the idea that “romance is by women, for women”, but people like Ken Casper, David Wind, and Tom Huff serve as reminders that genre within the romance genre has always been more complicated than that.
I did make an Instagram reel about Ken Casper and not the NASCAR series, in the end. Enjoy, and give me a follow if you liked it!