Joan Sweeney, a former writer and editor at the Los Angeles Times who went on to publish Regency romance novels under the pseudonym Marlene Suson, has died. She was 68.
Sweeney died Saturday at her home in Manhattan Beach. She had suffered for several years from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease, a degenerative disease of the nerve cells that control muscular movement.
Sweeney -- as Suson -- churned out 17 of her meticulously researched page-turners in as many years. In addition to the United States, her books were popular in Britain and were translated into several foreign languages. The books sold as many as 100,000 copies each.
Sweeney often was as amused as her newspaper colleagues by the titles and provocative book covers chosen by her publishers, Avon and later Fawcett. Nevertheless, she dedicated such books as "Devil's Bargain," "Midnight Bride" and its sequel "Midnight Lord," "The Lily and the Hawk" and "Scarlet Lady" to much-loved relatives and friends. She signed her books with a flourishing "Marlene Suson" signature, and conducted workshops and talked with groups of prospective romance writers.
"I chose Regency romances," she once said, "because I could have fun with it."
Set in England, her books dealt with the arch customs and social climbing of a striated society from 1811 to 1820, the period in which George, Prince of Wales, served as regent while his father, King George III, was incarcerated with mental illness. Marriage in the era usually was an economic arrangement involving fortunes and titles, but Sweeney made sure her protagonists also fell in love, even if it took months or years after the wedding vows.
She was a voracious reader, and her detailed research enabled her to accurately describe period clothing, furniture and mores. Her books earned praise from better-known writers of the romance genre, including Amanda Quick, who said Sweeney's work was "sure to go straight to the heart," and Elizabeth Lowell, who termed her writing "warm, witty, wonderful."
Born in Miles City, Mont., the elder of two daughters of a railroad man, Sweeney grew up there and in Butte, Mont. She earned her bachelor's degree at the University of Washington in Seattle in only three years -- unable, she said, to afford a fourth year.
She began her journalism career working for magazines in New York City before moving to Los Angeles in the early 1960s. She worked as a reporter for the United Press International wire service and as a producer for what was then KNXT-TV Channel 2.
When Sweeney was hired by The Times in 1971, she was one of only three women covering breaking news. Her general assignment stories over the years ranged from the Long Beach man who sailed aloft in a lawn chair from his backyard to improvements in earthquake safety 10 years after the 1971 Sylmar earthquake.
Sweeney also served as an assistant metropolitan editor in charge of weekend coverage. An avid skier, she contributed a skiing column to the sports section for several seasons.
She left The Times to become a full-time novelist in 1984 after helping cover the Olympic Games in Los Angeles.
Sweeney is survived by a sister, Kathy Heron of Great Falls, Va. A memorial service is being planned.
Donations in her name may be made to the ALS Assn., 27001 Agoura Road, Suite 150, Calabasas Hills, CA 91301.