Hello dear friends and welcome to what I must reluctantly confess now is really and truly summer. I don’t know how that came to slither up on me but there it is. I’m now elbow deep in writing my current novella while little hidden closets of my brain cook up scenes for other stories that I have in the works while deadlines, they be looming.
I’m also busy getting ready for the big Romance Writers Of America National Conference this July where for the first time I’ll be participating in (see: shaking in my boots) a workshop with three of my friends and chapter mates the talented authors: Alyssa Cole, Falguni Kothari and Lena Hart. For our workshop, on Thursday July 23rd which is called: Multicultural Romance, When Keeping It Real Goes Wrong And How To Make It Right, we’ll be talking about quite a few topics one of which will be diversity in romance including the #WeNeedDiverseRomance hashtag.
I’ve also self-proclaimed July 23rd #WeNeedDiverseRomance Tee day at RWA so if you have your tee and are coming this would be the day to wear it and represent.
I started the #WeNeedDiverseRomance hashtag around 8 months ago to honor my dear Nana who had recently and very suddenly passed away. Nana was a huge influence on me becoming the romance writer I am today. I have strong memories of seeing her, after a long day of being a child caregiver for working Harlem mothers (a job she took on right after I was born and one she retired from after my own twins went off to pre-school), tiredly taking a moment for herself to relax with a Harlequin romance before she went to off bed. Nana was a veracious reader of romance, a lover of these books that took her far away from her day to day everyday, but in no way reflected the amazing woman she was or the incredibly hard working black women (and men) who went off to work and entrusted her with their precious children as they did so. It will be so hard to fight back tears as I go to the RWA literacy signing this year and for the first time since I’ve been a member I won’t have the assignment from Nana to go and get a signed Nora Roberts for her. She was such a huge Nora fan that Nora’s was the one book I HAD to get every year without fail.
That said it was due to Nana that as a preteen I picked up these books and like her was entranced with the love stories that took me away from my concrete jungle with their high level of love, emotion and passion even though I could never fully put myself in the shoes of the creamy skinned, blue eyed, blond heroines that the Greek tycoons fell for no matter how many times I put my tee shirt over my head and pretended it was my own flowing locks.
But it was what it was, and being lover of books, I read what was available in the genres I loved and that was women’s fiction and romance. Taking nothing away I still found many books, authors and stories I adored. It would be few and too far between, but I was thrilled when I found books like Terry McMillian’s Disappearing Acts and the iconic AA couple of Zora and Franklin who looked on the page like people I could possibly know or, hey, even maybe be one day, just way more passionate. I wanted more of these type of stories! And thankfully with that book’s success there was more. Many more, but sadly not nearly enough.
The #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag and movement has been making great strides since it was started and does so much for children’s literature discussion and I hope landscape and I’d love for that to continue into romance and all genres of literature. It saddens me so much when I see how disproportionate the bestseller lists are when it comes to authors of color. Now I’m not sure I know the fix to this problem as I don’t think there is one fix all as the problem has come from years and years of the “norm” being books by Caucasian writers and book by writers of color being labeled as other and shelved separately if picked up by a mainstream publisher. And if not picked up by a publisher then self-publishing being the other option for an author of color where discoverability is even more difficult. So with these obstacles I think the fix will take a not so subtle shift of the norm being truly diverse catalogs put out by publishers. And by diverse that means having more than 1 or 2 offerings by authors of color a month and consistently giving equal presence and retail marketing money to authors of color. That way when the public goes looking for their next read the offerings truly look like a rainbow and instead of the “right” choice being subliminally made for them.
It would be great to also address the lack POC staffing in publishing. Not to mention but to mention the fact that African American college educated women are the largest group of readers in the country so why not service them and stop leaving money on the table?
This year the need for the #WeNeedDiverseRomance hashtag and the movement has been brought home even more with what has been going on all over the country. From the awful police shootings and targeting of black men, women and children to the most recent horrific event in Charleston at Emanuel AME. How many times have we asked the question or shouted the rally call #BlackLivesMatter? How sad is it that we have to ask this question and remind people of this fact in the first place? But the truth is too often POC color are looked at as so called “thugs” before they are looked on as regular citizens with all the rights that come with that label. I think having more men and women of color lifted up as heroes and heroines from early on in literature is one way this perceptions can change. We can also go far with changing these perceptions on the big and small screen but that is a post for another day.
Sidebar: If you are looking for another great hashtag to follow please check out #WOCRomance and also check out Rebekah Weatherspoon’s @WOCInRomance on twitter and tumblr where she highlights new offerings from women of color in romance.
I’ve gone on long enough but I want to finish by saying that I know #WeNeedDiverseRomance will mean different things to different people and that is fine and as it should be. This post is about why I started the hashtag. Your perception is your reality as mine is mine. #WeNeedDiverseRomance is also shouting out to the persons with disabilities and the LGBTQ and transgender community. We are all here, all having been marginalized and all fighting the good fight for our truths to be told. I’m just the one here today rambling on about why I started the hashtag with a tweet on a day back when I was feeling low in my grief watching what was going on in the world and and missing my grandmother terribly. The response has been overwhelming and humbling and I’m honored that the hashtag still continues today and to that I say tweet on. Tweet on until the hashtag seems silly and redundant because we are truly equal and not segregated and all is well because finally well and truly do have Diverse Romance. Thank you.
Early tweets for #WeNeedDiverseRomance
Click the blow links to order your Tee!
P.S. I’ll always love you Nana and will forever thank you.
So I’m sitting in my car and waiting for the DD to get out of dance and I’m wondering what to blog about for today. Should I go with pictures of my Christmas tree? Yeah, that would be nice. Besides, I have been doing a decent job with posting nice sweet posts lately. I’m proud of myself especially with so much to be annoyed about with Tiger and all his tigresses on the prowl and all.
Image from here.
And then there was suddenly talk on the radio about Ashley Dupre getting her own advice column in the New York Post. You know Ashley? The hooker from the Governor Spitzer scandal. Now, I’m not normally one to knock anyone’s hustle, but please. There are folks laid off all over the place and I need a paying job bad (preferably one where I write, but reading would be good too) and she gets an advice column? Dang. Makes it hard to write about that Christmas tree.
Now so sorry for the bad transition but then I go decided to check twitter. Darn you tweets! There’s all this talk about this controversial PW cover. Hmm… At first I thought I hadn’t read the article. But guess what, I did. I just didn’t know it since they didn’t correlate. The article talked about the economy and the upcoming downward trends in publishing. Ok, sad, but tame.
The cover is a 1999 art piece by Lauren Kelly from the book Posing Beauty on the representation of African American beauty from 1890’s to the present. Which on its own looks like a pretty good book. But this for a PW cover on African American literature I think is a huge fail. You can read the senior news editor’s response over here at Galley Cat.
As I said in a blog comment, this just further widens the already segregated shelves. It’s a shame. As a Black writer writing multi-cultural romance and finding it so hard to break in and find a spot on the shelves this is upsetting. And I know some will say just lighten up, but no. Sorry.
An earlier agent that I had and later broke up with didn’t get my writing. He wanted me to make it more of what he considered urban. Spice up the language to I don’t know what, but I do know it was something I wasn’t and couldn’t do. Now I’m not saying this is the only reason I’m not published yet but it may be part of it. This not fitting into a preconceived box. Why do we have to fit these boxes?
All I wanted and all I can do is write what I feel and write what I live, which is a multi-cultural life. I’m a Black woman from New York now living as a sort of suburban failed housewife in a not at all black town just outside of New York.
I write books where the Black Women have White and Black friends or Asian or Hispanic friends because that’s just who she is. That is also me. And I’m starting to feel like I may never find a publishing home.
One of the best compliments that I ever got was from a good friend of mine and chic knitting buddy. Me: Black woman from Harlem. Her: Jewish woman from the Bronx. I had her read sample pages from a detective story idea that I have working on. I pitched it Lethal Weapon meets Thelma and Louise. There are two main characters one is Black and the other is White. Well, I was so thrilled when my friend told me that, one it was funny and sexy, but what she liked the best was that I just write real women and it didn’t matter what color they were because I showed real situations that all women could relate to.
That’s the problem I have with this cover. It somehow makes African-American writers different. Very different. Foreign even and therefore not the norm. It reinforces a stereotype that we need to drop. As art it’s beautiful, but as a message to the industry I think it says give these books their own section in the bookstore, if you buy them at all and pray a select few will wander over. I say it sets up failure.
If you look at my post below from yesterday you’ll see that I put two pretty hot guys up for my romance obsession, Denzel and Richard Armitage. Hot is hot. It really doesn’t have a color to most Black or White women for that matter and not so hot is, well, not. That’s just how it is.
It’s time to work on bridging this divide. Mixing up the shelves and just focusing on good books.
Oh and Christmas tree pics to come soon:-)
Yesterday the romance publishing world (or at least my little tweet corner of it) went into a bit of a tailspin with the announcement of Harlequin going into the self-publishing business with the launch of Harlequin Horizons (see site here). There were arguments a plenty and plenty more over if this was a good decision for Harlequin and if self publishing is a respected option at all for writers (Check out Smart Bitches post and comments here). Interesting on both sides but the initial anger is upsetting to me.
Now I’m not going to give an opinion, ok I’ll give something (I can’t resist). I’d like to be traditionally published. It’s a dream of mine. I’d love to be published by a house like Harlequin or Avon or Berkley I could go on and on here and I’m not ready to give up on that dream (some dark days maybe) despite many years of work, numerous manuscripts and countless rejections.
But let’s play What If for a moment here. What if you’ve been this close for so long and the playing field keeps getting smaller and smaller? Or what if what you write doesn’t fit into any box that said dream publisher is looking for? Or what if they already have your box ticked off? Maybe the slot is already filled for that African America romance or interracial romance or they don’t publish any of what you write. Then what? Do you keep submitting? Change what you write or take a chance on self publishing to get your work out there? Notice I’m not saying have fame or fortune here.
Now I know the argument of the good stories will someday get published and it’s just a matter of time. Or the one about the reason that most manuscripts get rejected is because they are not up to snuff and I do think that’s true for the most part. But I also think there are those few gems that may never get a chance because they don’t fit into any open box on that special given day when the stars align for subjective publishing dreams to come true.
Honestly, I don’t know my final thoughts on this. It makes my dreamy writer head spin but all that said. Here is my question for you:
Do you have an opinion on self/vanity published fiction books? Have you read any lately?
Please all you non-writers speak up. I want to hear from you too.
P.S. Update please go to Smart Bitches blog to read comment from Harlequin’s Malle on the subject here. I do think there are many sides to a story and breathing through is key.