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WORDS AND IMAGES : A Feisty Widow, a Dashing Hero : Santa Barbara in the 1870s provides the backdrop for the latest romance novel by Simi Valley's Margaret Brownley.

July 15, 1993|FRANCES HALPERN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Humor is the latest rage in romantic fiction and witty romance is what Margaret Brownley of Simi Valley has delivered in her latest novel "The Kissing Bandit." The British-born author has a degree in child education, a long list of credits in major magazines, and a passion for historical detail.

The book is set in Santa Barbara in the 1870s and a passage describing a stagecoach careening through the San Marcos Pass reminds us that some things don't change. The heroine is a feisty widow with two children. The hero is dashing and darkly handsome. The publisher is Topaz, a new imprint of New American Library.

The celebrity status achieved by model Steve Sandalis, the Topaz Man--whose face and muscular body appear on the covers of this line of romantic fiction--is a new phenomenon in romance publishing. Publishers of this genre are betting that women still secretly long for a dashing, mysterious gent to carry them off to exotic adventure or domestic bliss. Romance novels account for about 46% of all mass-market paperbacks sold in the United States. And so dozens of writers churn out thousands of romance novels every year for millions of readers.

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Carpinteria State Park Ranger Skip Chapin will present a program of campfire songs and stories for 6- to 12-year-olds at 3:30 p.m. Saturday in the Wright Library, 57 Day Road, Ventura. This free program is sponsored by the San Buenaventura Friends of the Library.

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It is always valuable to meet published authors and ask them how they do it. Mysteries to Die For Bookshop, 2940 Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks, continues to provide the opportunity. Timothy Hallinan will sign his new novel "Man With No Time" at 3 p.m. Saturday, and Marion Rosen, author of "Death By Education" will read from her latest novel "Don't Speak to Strangers" at 1 p.m. Sunday.

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Michael Silverblatt keeps literary conversation alive every Monday from 2 to 2:30 p.m. on KCRU Oxnard (89.1 FM). This week he talks with Australian Thomas Keneally about his latest novel, "Woman of the Inner Sea." I also recommend Keneally's "Schindler's List," a true tale of how a charismatic and rascally German Catholic made fools of the Gestapo and saved thousands of Polish Jews.

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Gospel Light Publications of Ventura has launched a national contest to discover and honor the Henrietta Mears Sunday School Teacher of the Year and two runners-up. The contest is also aimed at achieving recognition for the more than 5 million men and women who teach Sunday school by encouraging churches to observe an appreciation day the third Sunday in October. Entries must be received by Aug. 31. For detailed instructions on how to nominate your favorite teacher, send a SASE to Gospel Light, 2300 Knoll Dr., Ventura 93003 or call the contest hot line at 800-235-3415, Ext. 204.

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Facts from the past: On July 16, 1875, Egbert Starr Newbury was named postmaster of the first United States Post Office established in the Conejo Valley.

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