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Alice Borchardt, 67; author wrote historical romance novels in second career after nursing

August 03, 2007|Mary Rourke | Times Staff Writer

Alice Borchardt, who began a second career writing historical romance novels after she worked as a nurse for many years, has died. She was 67.

Borchardt, the older sister of novelist Anne Rice, died July 24 at her home in Houston. The cause was cancer, her husband, Clifford, said Thursday.

"Alice loved to write," Anne Rice said in a statement to The Times. "She had a natural ear for beautiful language and was a natural storyteller."

Borchardt was in her mid-50s when the first of her seven novels was published. Her name is perhaps best known for her trilogy about werewolves in medieval Rome. In "The Silver Wolf," "Night of the Wolf" and "The Wolf King," the orphaned Regeane and the gladiator Maeniel both are part werewolf and part human. They contend with bullying chieftains, embattled emperors and supernatural interventions. The last book in the series was published in 2001.

Many reviews compared Borchardt with Rice. "She shares with her sister an ability to make a historical era come to life and a knack for placing sympathetic supernatural characters in them," wrote a critic for the Free Press of Ontario, Canada, in 1998.

Earlier in her literary career, Borchardt wrote more conventional historical romances. Her first novel, "Devoted" (1995), and its sequel, "Beguiled" (1997), are set in medieval France, where Owen, a powerful bishop, and Elin, a sorceress raised by Forest People, struggle to escape marauding Vikings.

"Devoted" belongs in the "heaving bosom, swollen manhood" tradition, wrote a reviewer for Booklist. The story is at its best in the "gut-roiling battle scenes," according to Publishers Weekly in 1995. "Beguiled" got similar reviews.

Borchardt was born Alice O'Brien in New Orleans on Oct. 6, 1939. She was one of five sisters. Her father, Howard, a postal worker, helped her apply for her first library card at age 7. "It was the best gift I ever received," Borchardt said in a 1999 interview with the Austin American-Statesman.

Her mother, Katherine, was a feminist who taught Alice to pursue her career goals.

The O'Brien family moved to Richardson, Texas, when Alice was a teenager. She began her nursing career in Houston, where she met and married her husband.

In addition to her husband and Rice, who lives in Rancho Mirage, Borchardt is survived by sisters Tamara Tinker of Daly City, Calif., Karen O'Brien and Micki Jenkins of Dallas. She is also survived by two nephews, Christopher T. Rice of Los Angeles and Daniel Tinker of Oakland.

After a 30-year career as a licensed vocational nurse, Borchardt faced staff reductions at the hospital where she worked.

"I prayed about it," she said in 1999. "The next day the idea for a short story came to me. A door opened, and I walked through it."

Rice encouraged Borchardt, helped her find an agent and wrote introductions to several of her books.

"We want to be the Bronte sisters," Rice said in a 1995 interview with the Houston Chronicle, referring to the sisters who wrote the gothic novels "Jane Eyre" and "Wuthering Heights." "We want to go down in history."

Contributions in Borchardt's name can be made to the American Cancer Society, P.O. Box 22718, Oklahoma City, OK 73123-1718. Details: www.americancancersociety.com.

mary.rourke@latimes.com

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