September 11, 1978 12:00 PM

‘We have no plans for the money,’ Pat says. ‘I just want to keep my fat hands on some of it’

She had never seen a man with such a beautiful physique. Broad shoulders tapered down to a narrow waist and flanks. His legs were long, columnar and well muscled, and between his legs…

—From Love’s Avenging Heart, by Patricia Matthews

She was in a nightgown, the sheet held up over the swell of her breasts. She had loosened her hair for the night, a long, chestnut-colored fall to her shoulders. She had a heart-shaped face with bright blue eyes. Levi had caught glimpses of her in dishabille and knew that she had a full, voluptuous body.

—From The Power Seekers, by Clayton Matthews

Nobody is likely to confuse Clayton and Pat Matthews with the flamboyant characters always unbuttoning and unzipping each other in his and her novels. Clayton, 59, is wizened and balding. Patty, 51, has an earth-mother quality; she admits she’s always been “big.”

Nonetheless, between them the Matthewses have published more than 50 books and become the hottest couple in contemporary literature—paperback division anyway, where each has a current best-seller. Their total combined sales are over five million copies. Nor has the pressure of success or intramural competition prevented them from thoroughly enjoying their seven-year marriage, even if they do live in a nonromantic, middle-class Los Angeles neighborhood, far from the glittering palaces and stately gardens their books dwell on. “We’re not going to move to a mansion in Beverly Hills or Bel-Air,” Patty insists, though she herself has brought in $1.5 million or so from her current Love’s Daring Dream and the earlier Love Forever More, Love’s Avenging Heart and Love’s Wildest Promise. (Love’s Pagan Heart is due out this fall.)

As a girl, she attended the same Meglin School for toddler entertainers in Hollywood as Shirley Temple. Her parents were divorced when she was 4: “Daddy took Mother to court to get custody of my sister and me. It was difficult to prove a mother unfit in those days, but Daddy did it. He was a cop.” (Pat hasn’t seen or heard from her mother in 30 years.)

She never made it as a singer—”I had the talent; I just didn’t have the self-confidence”—and at 19 she married Marvin Briscoe, a mechanic. Inspired by a girlfriend who picked up extra money churning out confession magazine tearjerkers, Pat started writing in 1953. She sold her first poem to a Portland paper, the Oregonian, for $1 in 1956, her first short story to Escapade six months later. “We were terribly poor and needed every extra cent,” she recalls. Soon she had worse problems: She and Briscoe were divorced in 1961, which left her as main support of their two sons. She worked as a bookkeeper at a local department store and wrote mystery, science fiction and occult stories at night.

Her first novel was rejected by a publisher who suggested she give up writing altogether. In search of artistic guidance, in 1962 she joined a writers’ rap session led by Clayton (known as “Matt” to friends). He too had been a late starter, writing as an avocation before turning full-time author of mysteries and occult fiction only two years before.

He had been married for 15 years. But after he and Patty collaborated on a juvenile novel, Matt found himself, like Jeb in Love’s Wildest Promise, blurting out, “Do not play the role of coy maiden with me any longer, madam”—or words to that effect. “He did leave his wife to marry me,” Patty admits. “But I didn’t steal him away.”

After the divorce, Matt and Patty were married in 1971. He had grown up in east Texas, dropped out of junior college at 18 and then worked as a truck driver, surveyor, gas station attendant and carnival barker before settling in Los Angeles in 1947. He drove a Yellow cab there for 13 years while he tried to develop his writing. Now he is into six figures per book and faces a nice bonus from a TV miniseries of The Power Seekers, projected for fall 1979. The novel is a strident saga of an orphan who becomes the most powerful man in Texas.

Matt encouraged Patty’s literary efforts, but it was their agent, Jay Garon, who suggested in 1976 that she aim for the florid historical romance market opened up by fellow Californian Rosemary Rogers. Patty bought Rogers’ Sweet Savage Love. “It wasn’t the kind of book I normally read,” she says, “but I thought it would be fun to give it a try.” Seven months later the 501-page Love’s Avenging Heart was on the best-seller lists. There was a near-tragic edge to the moment, however. Just before the book came out Patty discovered a black mole on her chest that proved to be malignant. “I thought I was going to die,” Patty says, but no further complications have arisen since 1976 surgery.

“There’s a formula to my books,” Patty concedes without embarrassment. “You put your heroine up a tree and throw stones at her. Then you let her get out of the mess. And you have to have a strong villain—I learned that from Dickens. In the end she gets the man, the money and happiness.”

Patty travels 20,000 miles a year researching her period novels in libraries and historical societies. A practicing mystic, she’s a firm believer in reincarnation, astrology and numerology and is convinced that she is a witch. Her husband’s reaction: “All this witchcraft and ESP stuff is a bunch of hooey.” But they rarely argue—least of all about money. They have invested all their earnings in a corporation titled Pywacket Inc., after the family cat, and pay themselves identical salaries (they won’t say how much). Matt professes to be a relaxed man at his typewriter. “Writing isn’t hard at all,” he says. “Anyone who says it is makes me suspicious.” Their major literary problem, he says, is working together in a tiny office at home. “Every time she writes something she likes, she lets out this big sigh. It could drive a person nuts.”

They laugh. Clayton doesn’t hungrily eye Pat’s bodice. She doesn’t clutch him ever closer, driven by demons of lust. They sit comfortably on their living room sofa and think about Pywacket Inc.

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