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Tuesday News: Book Talk Nation bungles diversity, reflections on The Thorn...

Kristan Higgins Tackles the Lack of Diversity in Romance - Although this was originally a Book Talk Nation link, after some Twitter feedback, BTN (wisely) pulled the post. If you want to see a screen cap, you can find one here. Another white author is credited for “diversifying” the Romance genre. Suleikha Snyder’s most excellent comment pretty much sums up why this is wrong and bad.

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For A Sheltered Teen, ‘Thorn Birds’ Was A Much-Needed Eye-Opener – Therese Walsh’s essay about how The Thorn Birds had a lasting influence on her. Although she was initially attracted to the book for the sex (and a comment from her former English teacher takes on a bitter irony), that’s not what kept her reading. An interesting, thoughtful piece about the unexpected, unpredictable, and important ways in which books matter.

I felt the book like I’d felt no other book before it, and I still have in my possession the paper I presented for that class. The themes of commitment and obligation as they related to love, family and even religion resonated keenly with me. I wrote about all the ironies, like the way Ralph’s commitment to God waned and perhaps morphed into obligation when he fell in love with Meggie, or the way Meggie remained committed to Ralph despite her marriage to another — a marriage that, soon after the honeymoon, seemed reduced to obligation.–NPR

It’s not only adults who need comfort reading – According to a study focused on what English children are reading, by the time they reach year seven, they are reading at a level that is a year below their age. While many things in this article deserve closer consideration (not the least of which is that comfort reading is regressive), not everyone is convinced this study heralds a crisis in British literacy:

According to the report’s author, Professor Keith Topping, this is a “matter for alarm”. According to Philip Pullman, speaking on Radio 4 on Wednesday, there’s not much need for panic. “Isn’t it only the natural thing to do? You go from being a big child in a small school to a very small child in a very big school. There’s all sorts of new anxieties, new people to meet, thousands of new things to do – so isn’t it natural you turn back to the things you felt safe with when you were younger? I remember doing that myself,” said Pullman. “I am a bit puzzled why there’s all this anxiety, that they’re not reading for pleasure, that they’re reading the wrong books. Well, no, it’s not the wrong book. If the child is enjoying it, it’s the right book.” –Guardian

Teju Cole: By the Book – I enjoy these “by the book” interviews and think this one is definitely worth passing on to the Dear Author readership. Teju Cole, art historian, writer, and photographer, talks about poetry, writers he loves, and his belief that the novel is “overrated.” Although I disagree with that last assertion, I loved his answer about what books he hasn’t read and found his comments about Twitter provocatively compelling:.

You’ve got an active Twitter account going. Does it influence your thinking or writing process?

I suppose it must. It’s such a combative place at times that it makes me less worried about putting ideas out into the world. You realize that anything you have to say is going to annoy some stranger, so you might as well speak your mind. But being active on Twitter also means that the literary part of my brain — the part that tries to make good sentences — is engaged all the time. My memory is worse than it was a few years ago, but I hope that my ability to write a good sentence has improved. –NYTimes

isn't sure if she's an average Romance reader, or even an average reader, but a reader she is, enjoying everything from literary fiction to philosophy to history to poetry. Historical Romance was her first love within the genre, but she's fickle and easily seduced by the promise of a good read. She approaches every book with the same hope: that she will be filled from the inside out with something awesome that she didnʼt know, didnʼt think about, or didnʼt feel until that moment. And she's always looking for the next mind-blowing read, so feel free to share any suggestions!

52 Comments

  1. wikkidsexycool
    Mar 11, 2014 @ 09:58:39

    Wow. The title of the BTN post . . . all I can say is thank goodness it was pulled. And “handles multiculturalism with a light touch” makes me smh. At this rate, books like Showboat with the passing for white Julie character who marries a white man and Peola, from the novel Imitation of Life would be downright groundbreaking if released today.

    Even the cover of Waiting for You reflects the norm in romance, where the models are generally white and attractive. I’m sure this is a well written romance and one many readers will be able to relate to. But I truly hope the twitter conversation is also taken to heart.

    Thanks for posting this Janet.

  2. Jane
    Mar 11, 2014 @ 10:05:42

    When I saw this link last night I just shook my head. Higgins work is often regressive and to think that she was going to be the voice of multiculturalism in romance based on an Irish character and a biracial character makes me, well, not nice things.

  3. Ridley
    Mar 11, 2014 @ 12:09:08

    I created a text copy of the post on Pastebin for people who can’t use a screenshot.

    That post was such a failure. Between holding up a half-Puerto Rican hero as some sort of challenge to mostly white mainstream romance and crediting my open letter post with starting a discussion about diversity in romance, they couldn’t have been more clueless.

  4. Robin/Janet
    Mar 11, 2014 @ 12:13:37

    @Ridley: Your Pastebin document is actually the document that the main link goes to. I included the screenshot so that people could see the original if they wanted.

  5. Ridley
    Mar 11, 2014 @ 12:14:07

    Haha, you linked to that pastebin. I’ll blame the cold medicine for missing that.

  6. Robin/Janet
    Mar 11, 2014 @ 12:16:44

    @Ridley: LOL, it’s okay. This way people have double the opportunity to link to it.

  7. Laura Jardine
    Mar 11, 2014 @ 12:43:30

    I often like Kristan Higgins. I think because All I Ever Wanted was one of the first romances I read, and the first one I really enjoyed, I’ll always have a soft spot for her. However, her handling of certain issues in the past couple books has made me rather uncomfortable. So I am a bit worried about how she will handle a biracial character…this whole “handles multiculturalism with a light touch” business…

    Yes, that BTN article was a fail.

  8. Eliza Evans
    Mar 11, 2014 @ 13:06:57

    Though Higgins has in the past written some of my favorite romances, I was very put off by a scene in The Best Man that seemed only to be in the narrative to mock a trans character. (The heroine’s father was internet dating, he meets a woman for dinner, everyone chortles merrily because dear old dad is too stupid to realize that his date was a man. Even though of course she wasn’t. The character was presented as having transitioned.)

  9. P. J. Dean
    Mar 11, 2014 @ 14:14:36

    “The Thornbirds”, both the book and the mini-series made me cry and I don’t cry at fake stuff easily but boy, oh, boy…I lost it for that book and TV show. Probably having been raised Catholic and having had a few parish priests who served our parish who were were hotties squared (we silly girls used to called the handsome ones, “Fathers-What-A-Waste”), yeah I was influenced.

    As for Ms. Higgins and her effort to add to the multicultural genre in romance…Well, what can I say? She’s a capable writer. If her effort is a hit, she’ll be praised as a “ground-breaking”, “innovative”, etc. And the acceptance of her work by “mainstream” readers will be seen as the touchstone for multicultural writing. No, her stuff being a hit will NOT open the gates to writers of color who have been doing this for more than a hot minute. It will close the doors to them, or at the very least, narrow the chances of more breaking through one. Their work won’t get considered by the Big Five because with writers like Ms. Higgins with a track record, or in house, what’s the point of looking outside when a company’s purposes can be served so well by a known few?

    And yes, that BTN post was a giant fail. Giant fail.

    What can writers of color do? What I do. Keep the faith, keep writing, do you and try not to notice too much.

  10. Emily
    Mar 11, 2014 @ 14:22:39

    I too had trouble finding the article and the comment in question. I agree with others opinions of Higgins. I don’t see it that far off to have white American (irish) and half-Puerto Rican hero.

    My favorite article was the comfort reading one. I agree with Phillip Pullman if the kids are enjoying it then maybe it’s not the right books.

  11. Emily
    Mar 11, 2014 @ 14:23:48

    I meant to type maybe if kids are enjoying the books, then they’re the right books.

  12. Amanda
    Mar 11, 2014 @ 15:25:40

    That pic brings back memories, my mom was a stickler for bedtimes when I was a kid but for whatever reason she let me stay up that week the Thorn Birds miniseries was on so I could watch it.

  13. mari
    Mar 11, 2014 @ 16:12:46

    So ok, the only people allowed to be diverse or write about diversity are “people of color.” Or good, liberal writers who have all the correct progressive opinions. Regressives need not apply. And if a straight man doesn’t want to date a transexual man the situation should never be used for laughs but an opportunity for the moral correction of the straight man, the reader, and indeed every character in the book. Got it. I am sure a book written like this would be very interesting indeed. *runs for the hills*

  14. Anna Richland
    Mar 11, 2014 @ 16:37:46

    So I have two distinct minds about this – or maybe six – in direct conflict! Imagine!

    One, yes, the article is really clueless – but I don’t blame KH for that b/c I doubt she had any control or input. So keep the blame fixed where it most likely belongs, which isn’t on her. Without reading the book yet, I can’t opine about HER writing, just about this particular promo (which was admittedly a fail … )

    That said, my “other hand” is that I believe both characters in Ms. Higgin’s new book ARE white, according to most measures. Aren’t people of Hispanic ethnicity considered to be racially white? Isn’t that why forms say “non-Hispanic white” sometimes? Gaaa. And seriously – HALF Puerto Rican? Unless there’s a real big plot point about his parents, why not just Puerto-Rican? It’s no big deal.

    But then I go to the third hand, which I wish I had in real life so I could type, drink coffee and match socks all at once, and I think … in the bigger picture, clueless promotion like this aside, how can a Caucasian writer create people of color main characters without blowback? How can they promote them? Must white writers promote books with POC MC’s without mentioning race AT ALL, just the plot? Is that holding them to a different standard than writers of color in book promotion? If so, why?

    If KH promotion had focused only on her plot and not mentioned race at all, would we be having a discussion about her book? (And does race/ethnicity play any role in the actual book?)

    It is not a theoretical question for me. I’ve been around this merry-go-round on this site’s comments a couple other times and haven’t really seen anyone w/good ideas on how it WORKS, only pointing out when/how it doesn’t … so my book #2 which is now locked down and finished w/copy edits is coming out in mid-October. The hero is Mexican-American, the heroine Korean-American. They even have a lengthy discussion about race at one point in the book … and I’m white. I wrote the book b/c these were the characters in my head – the hero is a secondary character from First to Burn. So the sidekick gets his own story b/c he Would Not Leave My Head, and he happened to be a POC b/c the army is not all-white (that’s one of my biggest beefs about a lot of military romance is the whiteness presented of a very not-white place, the army). But every time I read these discussions, I think … how the heck can I promote this book when the time comes? Do I just promote the story … SF sergeant’s mistaken engagement to marine biostatistician … without mentioning race at all? Obviously I can’t stop reviewers from mentioning it. What’s the best route for a white author who has POC MCs to take? I don’t accept that I can’t WRITE the story – anymore than I would say that an author of color wouldn’t be allowed to write a white character, or a man to write a woman, or a woman to write the Point of View of a man.

    But how does a white author avoid stepping in a pile of clueless like this?

  15. txvoodoo
    Mar 11, 2014 @ 16:47:01

    So writer gender-swaps West Side Story, making 1 of the characters bi-racial, and it’s groundbreaking? OK then.

    Also, the folks who do twitter well are those who can either summarize a complex thought in 140 characters, without being unintentionally offensive (something that can easily happen with multi-part tweets), or link to a longer form piece of writing well.

    It doesn’t HAVE to be combative. That’s a choice.

  16. Eliza Evans
    Mar 11, 2014 @ 17:21:01

    Mari, can you show me where I said a straight man has to date a transgender person? Because I didn’t. Mocking a trans woman (WOMAN) wasn’t necessary for anyone to get a HEA. There could have been any number of other character types in that date without punching down on trans folks for laughs.

  17. Heidi Belleau
    Mar 11, 2014 @ 17:50:07

    @Anna Richland:

    Why are the only two options here “act like you invented multicultural romance” and “whitewash your own book”?

    Write about POC. Do not hide the fact that they are POC. Just don’t act all white saviour about it and minimize/belittle/discredit the fact that POC authors and readers have been having this discussion and making these criticisms and trying to improve the whiteness of romance for far longer than you were even aware it was an issue.

    You can say “my book is about a Korean-American firefighter” without excessively patting yourself on the back about it. You can also make sure you are contributing positively to the genre BEYOND just Writing Your Own Multicultural Book by supporting/promoting the works of POC authors and listening to the concerns of POC readers. Basically, if you actually want to correct romance’s whiteness, you need to do a hell of a lot more than writing one biracial dude, so don’t jump the gun on congratulating yourself.

  18. Ridley
    Mar 11, 2014 @ 18:03:33

    For the record, I consider that post preposterous for insinuating that I, a white woman, started the discussion about romance needing to diversify and not, you know, all the authors and readers of color who have been talking about it for years. It also makes the ridiculous claim that a book with a half-Puerto Rican hero represents some sort of challenge to the status quo and that Higgins is “tackling diversity” with this book.

    My issue is not that Higgins wrote this book. It’s that the post wants to award her cookies for doing something lots of other authors have been doing for years.

  19. Sunita
    Mar 11, 2014 @ 18:04:42

    @Anna Richland:

    I believe both characters in Ms. Higgin’s new book ARE white, according to most measures. Aren’t people of Hispanic ethnicity considered to be racially white? Isn’t that why forms say “non-Hispanic white” sometimes?

    i’m not sure what “most measures” means here. Puerto Ricans can be white, black, or identify as an alternative racial category. The reason forms say “non-Hispanic white” is because that was the original US census term when they finally got around to creating categories that differentiated Latino/a from non-Latino/a white respondents. In the 2010 census there are two questions that everyone answers: (1) are you Hispanic Y/N; (2) Pick a racial category (from a fairly wide range). This allows respondents to separate race from language-based ethnicity.

    ETA: I’m a little surprised that you think that Hispanic=white, given you’ve created a Mexican-American character. There’s a lot of ethnic/racial variation within the Mexican-American (and Mexican) population, and race/color/class issues are pretty intertwined. And contested.

  20. Heidi Belleau
    Mar 11, 2014 @ 18:12:54

    Also I’ll note that I’ve written more multicultural romances than not, and I’ve yet to receive anything resembling “blowback” for it. I’ve received plenty of reasoned criticism of my characterization/portrayal of my POC characters, and I’m sure at least one POC reader has chosen not to read my books based on my race (which is fair enough). It certainly hasn’t affected my well-being, ability to interact in shared spaces, my monthly royalty earnings/sales, or my creative output. I can’t think of a single time I’ve seen a white author get a more impassioned response re: race when they haven’t 100% deserved it and maybe then some.

    So considering that, I’m boggled by posts like this where white authors often state that they’re afraid to write multicultural romance or POC characters. And then I wonder if for many white authors, that maybe that mildly negative or distrustful response I’ve experienced is all it takes for them to consider it not worth the “risk”.

  21. reader
    Mar 11, 2014 @ 18:12:55

    “No, her stuff being a hit will NOT open the gates to writers of color who have been doing this for more than a hot minute. It will close the doors to them, or at the very least, narrow the chances of more breaking through one.”

    So would you prefer that white writers not tackle IR romance? I’m not asking facetiously. I’m genuinely interested in knowing what you think. This reminds me a little of the reaction female authors of m/m romance receive, and it’s an understandable reaction. I’m just wondering what the solution is, or if there’s one.
    The backlash is discouraging (whether or not it should be.) I’ve had an idea for an IR, but have been shifting back and forth on whether to proceed with it, and my immediate reaction to your comment is to think I should step back and leave the field to POC writers (even though I’m a virtually unknown writer.)
    Whether or not that’s a correct response, it’s an instinctual one.

  22. Suleikha Snyder
    Mar 11, 2014 @ 18:27:11

    There’s no “backlash” against white authors writing MC/IR romance. No one is saying “Stop!” or “Don’t do it!” or “Only people of color should write people of color.” All we’re saying is to make room at the table, to acknowledge that romance IS diverse and becoming even MORE diverse and that’s not just because of white authors.

    Is it really that offensive and scary to ask writers to be thoughtful about what else is out there, mindful that they aren’t the “first” and “only” and to do their due diligence?

    If you’re in a “pile of clueless,” don’t be clueless. Be informed.

    And mari…? I’m sorry progressive books about minorities scare you so much. Please enjoy your time in the hills. May your stay be an extended one.

  23. Solace Ames
    Mar 11, 2014 @ 18:31:42

    I have a very simple answer as to “what the white writer should do.” Do what all writers do if they don’t feel confident with their own research. Hire a consultant.

    I have decades of lived experience as a racial minority in my country of citizenship, years of graduate-level study in cultural studies and critical race theory, multiple multicultural romance novels published, years of editing and beta experience, and have participated in racial analysis on group blogs since about 2006.

    People do it for stuff like BDSM and historical questions about what dead lord gets callled what. They should do it for race if they want someone to hold their hand. I don’t have enough time to do it for free, that’s for sure. Cheers!

  24. Anna Richland
    Mar 11, 2014 @ 18:34:43

    Oh Sunita, hand to my head – duh, yes, PR can be any race – absolutely – I guess I was thinking about the hero AS PICTURED on the cover photo. This is why I’m asking this type of thing …

    And I completely agree (as I think I said) that the promo was clueless. Seems as if the promo writer did a three minute internet search and encountered Ridley’s blog and springboarded from there to make it sound like Ridley invented a topic that’s been going around for a very very long time – I’m an RWA member and I certainly can’t remember how long ago I first heard the debates about shelving of print books that feature non-white characters, a huge topic all on its own that’s been talked about for decades, I think, and is only one of the many facets of this issue.

    Frankly, I’d like to see Sunita or Ridley ( or Jeannie Lin?) or all of you together submit an article or a dialogue or something to RWR – the Romance Writer’s Report, official magazine of RWA – about these issues – the presentation of POC in romance, by white authors, and the promotion of books featuring POC, and everything this blog goes into when the topic comes up. A heck of a lot of people are NOT reading these internet discussions here who should be. I remember the last one got into an interesting tangent about actors … wasn’t that from a Jeannie Lin thread?

    The topic is so big, from the history of non-white character romances in the industry to today, to promo that bugs the crap out of people, etc. … I wonder if it’s a multi-part series. The RWR seems to mostly include articles by writers, and I’d love to see more from readers and reviewers – b/c that’s who our audience is, not other authors. And you all have A LOT to say!

  25. Anna Richland
    Mar 11, 2014 @ 18:51:27

    And re the do your research/etc … I did, when writing. A lot. For all I know KH did too … she didn’t write the promo, she wrote the book, and this thread is really judging the promo, not the book, so we might all be wrong. I’m trying to judge the promo, which I rate as a fail, and withhold judgment on the book.

    I guess the heart of my questions – and I don’t want to come off as defensive or aggressive, but I actually would like to know – is kind of specific to promotion, b/c a lot of the threads on DA (not just this one) are written by people who have NOT read whatever book is being discussed. I will raise my hand and admit to being guilty of judging a book very negatively without reading it — the one about the Fla. school teacher and the sexual relationship with her pre-pubescent student that I completely excoriated, word unread, b/c the subject matter is like, you know, a freaking felony.

    So: how does a writer AVOID that? Write an awesome story is a great start, obviously, but assuming that a heck of a lot of people will make judgments on your book blurb, what gets stated in the blurb? In the case of my specific book, I can say the two MC’s names (Grace Kim and Reynaldo Cruz) and a lot of people will make assumptions and I don’t have to say anything about their race. Frankly, I think that’s an easy route for me and I hope that avoids consideration of my motives.

    These were just the people in my head. Quite possibly they were just the people in KH’s head too. But now b/c of a third party’s promotion, she’s got a problem she didn’t create or intend, or at least I assume so, b/c she’s a smart author. So … ?

  26. Suleikha Snyder
    Mar 11, 2014 @ 19:02:48

    @Anna Richland: If you get dinged for screwing up, judged by your blurb…well, suck it up. Honestly, it’s no different than if you were writing a medical romance or a legal romance and a doctor or lawyer get twigged by errors. Are you going to never write a profession you have no personal experience with? Never going to write a small town romance because you haven’t been to a small town? Not write about a hero driving a sports car because you can’t drive stick?

    We’re all authors. We all get called to the carpet about things we get wrong. Does that mean we pack it in and stop writing? No. We keep writing, keep trying to be better. I have not stopped writing white people because I ‘m not white, and I am not a Bollywood actor but I write about that, too.

    This defensive reaction every time this conversation comes up is part of the problem. Go on the offensive instead: Write the best book you can.

  27. Sunita
    Mar 11, 2014 @ 19:13:26

    @Anna Richland: I appreciate the vote of confidence, but speaking only for myself, I already attend plenty of conferences and write stuff in my own line of work, plus here at DA. Honestly, I don’t think it’s the readers’ job to explain how to write and market books with POC characters. Jeannie Lin has been on panels featuring related topics, I don’t know if it was at RWA or elsewhere, but they do happen, at least on those occasions RWA decides to accept them. And book promotion strategies are the last thing I want to think about.

    I think the best advice is for you to find a circle of people to give you feedback, a circle that includes people who have knowledge about the types of characters and contexts you’re creating. You can pay for a consultant, or you can trade expertise, or whatever works for you. Kati’s beta reader column shows that there are plenty of readers who want to give feedback.

    You’ve mentioned more than once that these characters come into your head and won’t leave. That may be why you write the characters, but that is pretty irrelevant to me when I’m reading the book. As a reader, I’m paying attention to the words on the page and the way the story works. Your *needing* to write the story is a different issue than (a) selling the story in a book for readers to purchase; and (b) how that story comes across to the people who read it. In the end, the people in your head are yours to deal with. The story becomes mine to deal with when I buy the book. If the people in your head show up as stereotypes and stay that way, and they read as insufficiently nuanced stereotypes to me, why you wrote the book is beside the point. All I care about is what I’m reading.

  28. Robin/Janet
    Mar 11, 2014 @ 19:36:49

    If the people in your head show up as stereotypes and stay that way, and they read as insufficiently nuanced stereotypes to me, why you wrote the book is beside the point. All I care about is what I’m reading.

    Especially since diversity in the real world is much more complicated than whether someone would be classified as Hispanic on the census. The great thing about fiction is that it provides an opportunity to contemplate an individual with a complex sense of identity, and build out on the basis of research and attention to the details.

    For example, not every person of “Hispanic” origin (as a Californian, I have a lot of issues with that term, but I’ll use it because it’s been introduced into the thread) refers to themselves the same way. In California, for example, we’ve got the representation of Latinos, Chicanos, and Mexican-Americans, among others. So how does an author decide? By figuring out where their character is from, with what culture, race, nation, language, and ethnicity they identify, and then doing the research to fill out the details. As you said, Sunita, some of that may come from beta or crit partner feedback. Some of it may come from visiting the place in question or from talking to residents or doing book research.

    There are myriad possibilities for an author to create an *individual* character that simultaneously has connections to real, identifiable communities. Not every character has to “represent” a particular cultural identity (and I’m using culture in the broad term here, as inclusive of race, nationality, language, region, gender, sexuality, etc.), but the less culturally realized characters are, the more likely they are to come off as stereotypes. At the same time, everyone has multiple facets to their personal identity, and not every thoughtfully rendered character is going to appeal to every reader.

  29. Anna Richland
    Mar 11, 2014 @ 20:14:45

    On the comment about being judged by blurb …

    We DON’T judge whether a writer got a profession or small town stuff right/wrong by the blurb. We can’t, or at least I don’t remember ever reading a blurb where I (as a former lawyer who grew up in a small town) could say that the author got a specific thing wrong from the blurb. I have been completely pissed by legal things I read in the book, of course, but can’t recall ever saying that a writer/non-lawyer should do more work about legal issues from only reading the BLURB. But that is what we’re doing about KH here. Again, I haven’t read the book. Have any of us?

    That is sort of where this topic is different from profession, etc. We’re all far more willing to make assumptions, lots of assumptions, from a blurb that touches on race/ethnicity than we would be on any other topic (except perhaps blurbs that raise injury/disability/body topics).

    Obviously, in many cases we can make those assumptions from a blurb. There are atrocious examples out there.

    But what can we assume from the following blurb?

    Is your first love worth a second chance…?

    Colleen O’Rourke is in love with love…just not when it comes to herself. Most nights, she can be found behind the bar at the Manningsport, New York, tavern she owns with her twin brother, doling out romantic advice to the lovelorn, mixing martinis and staying more or less happily single. See, ten years ago, Lucas Campbell broke her heart…an experience Colleen doesn’t want to have again, thanks. Since then, she’s been happy with a fling here and there, some elite-level flirting and playing matchmaker to her friends.

    But a family emergency has brought Lucas back to town, handsome as ever and still the only man who’s ever been able to crack her defenses. Seems like maybe they’ve got some unfinished business waiting for them—but to find out, Colleen has to let her guard down, or risk losing a second chance with the only man she’s ever loved.

    (end of blurb).

    Honestly, I can’t assume anything. Zip. And that is the blurb for the KH book under discussion.

    And FYI I completely agree w/the issues about ‘Hispanic’ as an overly-broad catch-all. But to have a discussion, we have to use some sort of words as a starting point, I guess. When speaking about a particular person – real or fictional – one can say something like “Mexican-American” or “Mexican heritage” but just as white or Caucasian doesn’t actually capture my specific Eastern European background/food/religion, I don’t know how to discuss a broad topic using granular specificity, but that doesn’t mean we should skip the broad discussion.

    An interesting discussion – but must quit in order to make dinner!

  30. sharon cullars
    Mar 11, 2014 @ 20:24:09

    this is similar to the fallout regarding the suzanne brochmann interview where she got accolades for writing diverse characters. the problem always seem to go back to how white writers can write POC characters which is a valid question. but what is usually missing from the discourse is how white readers will only read POC if the holder of the pen is white (and yes there are a few exceptions, but only exceptions).

    i think the demographic of the readers has to change before the industry changes. decades ago you would not see commercials featuring IR couples and now you have a few advertisers willing to piss off their more racist buyers to follow the burgeoning IR and multicultural demographics. publishers will have to be as brave, willing to be more progressive. i mean right now i know of one mainstream author who is a rabid birther to the point of being outright racist and she is one of the more popular writers with a wide readership. writers of color cannot overcome the racism that prevents readers from entertaining going outside their comfort zone or even considering the humanity of someone whose color is not their own. again, the bravery isn’t a white writer writing POC; the true bravery is readers imagining themselves as someone who does not share their culture or color but whose story is altogether human.

  31. Robin/Janet
    Mar 11, 2014 @ 20:31:38

    @Anna Richland: I have to tell you that I judge books based on blurbs all the time. In fact, I try not to read them, because they turn me off more than they interest me in a book.

    As to the question of Higgins’s book, specifically, I don’t see the criticism here as focused on her, but on the way Book Talk Nation credited her book with diversifying the Romance genre. That’s just insulting on so many levels, and I think that’s primarily what people are responding to. That said, I did read an excerpt from the book (http://www.kristanhiggins.com/KH-Waiting-On-You-B.html) and it contained a number of troubling elements, from slut-shaming a female character to descriptions of the hero as a “gypsy” (and someone who has read the book indicated that Higgins also uses “exotic” to describe the hero at once point, which is an automatic fail when it comes to representing POC with authentic respect and dignity). I’m not sure, based on all that, if I’m going to read the book in full. Higgins has a poor track record with me on issues of gender and sexuality, and so I’m concerned about how she’s going to handle issues of race, ethnicity, culture, etc. Could someone change my mind on that? Sure, if someone whose opinion I respect tells me that the book is not what the excerpt suggested it is.

    Still, I don’t blame Higgins for the post in BTN – what they did is on them, and it was really unfortunate. But the situation is exacerbated by the fact that the scenario Higgins has created is not, exactly, daring, on the diversity front, which may be why it feels like some of the criticism is spilling over onto her and her book.

  32. SAO
    Mar 11, 2014 @ 22:45:12

    Not exactly the hot topic of the thread, but kids are behind grade level at age 7!!! The Brits start Reception (kindergarten) at age 4 with a full school curriculum. Some kids just aren’t ready for school at 4.

    The Russians start school at age 7. They teach reading later than the Brits and, with the help of a more phonetic alphabet) kids jump in with much more complex words. What’s interesting to me is that those extra 3 years of schooling the Brits get, and the two years of schooling Americans get isn’t showing up by high school.

  33. Anna Richland
    Mar 11, 2014 @ 23:47:55

    Robin/Janet – I agree w/what you’re saying. Your last paragraph I think hits the nail on the head. Thanks for putting it so well.

    Now I really must get back to writing about a 1500 year old Viking thief. My beta reader says I don’t know him well enough, sigh, so enough procrastinating on dear author.

  34. Ros
    Mar 12, 2014 @ 05:12:56

    @SAO: No, it’s talking about year 7, where the kids are 11/12. They start in year 1 when they are 4 or 5. Year 7 is where most kids will have moved from their primary school to a secondary school.

  35. Anu
    Mar 12, 2014 @ 07:48:24

    Teju Cole’s By The Book is really good.

    I loved his response to the guilty pleasure question; the question itself invites condescension so I always appreciate when people reject it. And that poetry is his “deepest happiness” is a lovely phrase that very much resonates with me.

    I’d like him to elaborate on his statement that the “novel is
    overrated.” Something can be important and still be overrated. Technology is enabling other modes of storytelling – TV drama (“novelization of television”) Twitter shorts, graphic novels – and Cole is
    among those exploring the possibilities. I’m curious if that’s where he’s coming from, or if he’s got something else in mind.

  36. Anu
    Mar 12, 2014 @ 13:13:57

    In the last two days, DA’s daily news posts have highlighted two diversity-related items, the Book Talk Nation promotion of Kristin Higgins and the sheikh essay in the LA Times Review of Books. Both items focus on white women talking about (or gesturing toward) brown people as a means of talking about/promoting themselves.

    I did a search of DA’s folksonomy tags of “race,” “diversity,” “multicultural,” and “interracial.” The results consisted primarily of reviews (rightly so), but also brought up links to studies on race and culture, whitewashing of Veronica Roth’s characters, and the odd POC-in-the-news piece. The only directly relevant links I found from the last year were for a post on casual racism faced by AOC (9/9/2013), an article on Netflix diversity (12/10/2013), and a fantastic conversation between James Baldwin and Audre Lord in 1984 (1/28/2014).

    There might be other DA content, using other tags, that highlights authors and readers of colors discussing diversity, but then it’s a discoverability issue.

    Do these search results reflect the sparseness of discussions by authors and readers of colors? That hasn’t been my experience.

    Because while the sheikh essay is fine, it pairs quite well with this essay by Laila Lalami (published a week earlier on the same site) on Western depictions of Muslim women. And while Suleikha Snyder’s response to the BTN post is indeed excellent, she often blogs on her experiences in Writing While Brown, independent of the latest outrage.

    I’m not suggesting that DA must daily post a comprehensive list of conversations on race and culture. I understand that the news posts are just random items of interest that catch your attention. But as a popular website, how does DA view its coverage of POC perspectives, particularly when it holds up another site’s ignorance of the same?

    It seems to me when you include POC primarily in the context of white people, this thread is about what you get. The status quo: People of color as a backdrop to talk about white people.

  37. Janet
    Mar 12, 2014 @ 14:07:07

    @Anu:

    First of all, thank you for the Lala Lalami link. I often post stories that have been emailed to me, and I am not always good about investigating other stories from the same sources when I post them.

    As to your larger point, I went back through some of the news items I’ve assembled since I took over the task a few months ago, and here’s a partial list of items that concern artists of color:

    Just today, I posted an interview with Helen Oyeyemi on her new book, Boy, Snow, Bird

    http://dearauthor.com/features/industry-news/wednesday-news-anna-quindlen-on-happiness-more-ebook-data-another-study-on-reading-habits-and-a-revisioning-of-snow-white/#comments

    A story on an African-American owned publisher that — at least based on the website — appeared to be an independent (apparently it’s a subsidiary of Simon and Schuster, although that is nowhere on its website)

    http://dearauthor.com/features/industry-news/monday-news-bn-entertains-a-new-purchase-offer-alice-hoffman-talks-about-her-favorite-books-the-jenner-sisters-enter-the-ya-market-and-amtrak-creates-the-first-writers-residency-on-a-train/

    I intentionally featured an interracial cover for the upcoming Archie YA book:

    http://dearauthor.com/features/industry-news/friday-news-james-patterson-tries-to-save-indie-bookstores-bea-adds-more-self-publishing-content-archie-and-betty-enter-the-ya-market-and-nintendo-takes-aim-at-piracy/

    A great interview with Kenyan author Binyavanga Wainaina that also concerned issues of sexual identity:

    http://dearauthor.com/features/industry-news/monday-news-new-crowdsourced-teen-romance-imprint-penguin-india-pulls-the-hindus-an-interview-with-binyavanga-wainaina-and-an-update-on-the-bn-derivative-shareholder-suit/

    A Bell’s Whisky ad set in South Africa:

    http://dearauthor.com/features/industry-news/monday-news-sonys-future-focus-groups-and-creativity-copyright-v-revenge-porn-and-a-provocative-south-african-ad/

    An article on Zane. Unfortunately, it was not a happy article, but it did give a lot of good background on her career and her success, which I liked:

    http://dearauthor.com/features/industry-news/thursday-news-penguins-new-13-year-old-author-nyt-lament-on-ya-noisetrades-free-books-and-zanes-money-woes/

    An article on Duke Ellington and some interesting issues of intellectual property, influence, and sampling before people even really thought about all that:

    http://dearauthor.com/features/industry-news/wednesday-news-the-reputation-of-tattoos-librarythings-security-breach-adobes-drm-again-and-duke-ellingtons-compiling/

    An interview with Lebanese author Rabih Alameddine:

    http://dearauthor.com/features/industry-news/tuesday-news-rabih-alameddine-loves-his-characters-adobe-hates-you-tech-companies-love-transparency-sometimes-who-loves-a-stolen-book-and-when-loving-lasts-too-long/

    A conversation between James Baldwin and Audre Lorde:

    http://dearauthor.com/features/industry-news/tuesday-news-tarantino-sues-gawker-james-baldwin-and-audre-lorde-converse-digital-publishing-is-growing-in-india-successful-books-are-vivisected-and-more-questions-emerge-about-new-adobe-drm-stra/

    An announcement that Laverne Cox was having her memoir published:

    http://dearauthor.com/features/industry-news/monday-news-harlequin-to-publish-laverne-coxs-memoir-harpercollinss-adventure-with-big-data-amazon-starts-christian-imprint-judges-needed-for-readers-choice-award-and-great-costumes-from-game/

    An article on and interview with Qui Xialong, who writes detective fiction set in Shanghai:

    http://dearauthor.com/features/industry-news/tuesday-news-marvel-gets-rights-to-star-wars-zola-buys-bookish-qui-xialongs-shanghai-detective-fiction-non-standard-english-macmillan-buys-cookstr/

    I’ve also included posts on James McBride, Amiri Baraka (this one caused a discussion about whether Baraka, who had recently passed away, deserved to be recognized at DA), Arundhati Roy, and Alice Walker, among others.

    I’ve included the physical links so you can see how I’ve titled the stories. Unless the story is overtly or primarily about racial issues, I tend not to tag it that way. Should I? I don’t know. I don’t want to suggest that POC should be “tagged” with race. Consequently, I try to either tag or title the posts with the artists’ names, as part of a general practice. I’m certainly willing to consider tagging these posts more specifically, if that’s what readers want – I just don’t want to do it in a way where it looks like the DA equivalent of separate shelving, if that makes sense.

  38. Anna Richland
    Mar 12, 2014 @ 14:47:19

    Janet and Anu – Thanks for all the links – the Bell’s whiskey ad was like the good-book-tears, wasn’t it? Really, really good.

  39. wikkidsexycool
    Mar 12, 2014 @ 15:51:35

    Anu and Janet/Robin,

    I’d also like to thank you both for the links and insight you’ve provided.

  40. Anu
    Mar 12, 2014 @ 17:13:43

    @Janet:

    Thanks for the links. I noted the Baldwin/Lorde piece in my previous post – I love that entire conversation, and it was your link that brought it my attention.

    I’m not saying that DA never links to articles on POC; I know you do. And I don’t mean to suggest that if you don’t link to X (e.g. the Lalami piece), you’re diminishing POC’s voices.

    But the BTN dust-up is at least partly about ignorance of POC’s long history of conversations on race and culture, and it’s those conversations that I’m asking about. BTN is rightly denounced for not acknowledging them. But I don’t see Dear Author acknowledging them much either.

    For example: This is the Snyder post I meant to link to earlier. Here’s a post about HEAs for black h/h in the larger context of romance’s stepchild-edness in the publishing industry. This summarizes a cool Twitter chat on cross-cultural romance.

    In your intro comments to the Baldwin/Lorde link, you stated that, “We need more discussions like this posted online, and more exchanges of this caliber in general to be happening now, in 2014, in our shared cultural spaces.” I’m unclear on what kind of discussions you mean specifically – minorities talking with other minorities, gender discussions among minorities, minorities discussing dominant culture, all of the above, etc.

    But those broader conversations do exist online. Buzzfeed’s POC staff had a great convo on the fetishization of Lupita Nyong’o. This rather lazy piece on white belly dancers spurred a good roundtable with women from a variety of Muslim cultures who complicated Jarrar’s easy take on appropriation.

    Those are just the ones I know of – I’m definitely not holding up myself as an ideal. I can’t know all the convos going on, and I don’t expect DA or anyone else to, either. There is a ton of content coming out from POC culture-makers and -watchers.

    But if the question is: How could an industry site like BTN not know/acknowledge the conversations about diversity spurred by POC, among POC – well, judging by the overall lack of coverage of those voices here, I wouldn’t think Dear Author knows about them either.

  41. Shiloh Walker
    Mar 12, 2014 @ 22:06:00

    @Anna Richland:

    re:

    We DON’T judge whether a writer got a profession or small town stuff right/wrong by the blurb.

    Welll, now… that’s not entirely true.

    I do. If I see the book is about a nurse, a doctor, an EMT and I don’t know for certain the author is a nurse, a doctor, an EMT, I put the book back down.

    Why?

    Because unless you have experience in that field, very often you get it wrong…and it’s small things that talking to somebody like a nurse, a doctor or an EMT can help you with. Things like confidentiality-two nurses aren’t going to be sitting the breakroom talking about the sexy patient that was brought in for a gunshot wound. Or, if they do, they run they risk of losing their jobs, getting fined, and I believe it’s even possible to face jail time for violating privacy laws. Things like sex in a hospital…because no way, no how is a nurse, a doctor, an EMT worth their training ever going to do that-it’s an open invitation for the nastiest infections you can imaginable.

    But if you pick up a book with a nurse, a doctor or an EMT and these things are addressed, and the author isn’t a nurse, a doctor, an EMT, it’s entirely likely you’ll find this. I’ve read every one of these and I toss the book aside and never finish.

    These are avoidable mistakes, things that can be avoided just by having a friend in the field consult with you, or read the book as you go.

    About being white and writing POC, I’m white. I write POC in my books fairly often. When I first started doing it-the book was a romantic suspense and the heroine was half-black and I asked my sister-in-law, a black woman, if she’d mind if I bounced some Qs off her. I asked various things…one of them was something as simple as often did she wash her hair, and when she had plaits, how long was she able to keep them in. It’s been years ago and I can’t remember everything I asked, but I do remember that she didn’t mind answering these Qs and she actually seemed to appreciate the fact that I was trying to create a well-rounded character.

    I cannot write about a black woman’s experience and I don’t try.

    What I can do is write about a woman in love. I can write about a woman who faces adversity. I know what it’s like to face sexism. In this particular book, the woman was racing to help safe a child in danger, and as a mother, having my child in danger is my greatest fear…I drew on those connections and in the areas where I had no experience, I asked people I knew for their input. This is the same thing I did when I chose to write a book featuring a heroine who was blind. I spoke to a number of people who were blind, but online and in person, I went on walks with a couple of people who had guide dogs. I had a few friends who were blind read the book and help on the areas where I was failing and I changed the heroine’s occupation at the advice of one of the people I spoke with.

    Is this method foolproof? I’m sure it’s not. You’ll please some and you won’t please others. I had a lot of positive feedback over the book where the heroine was blind-and I do mean from readers who had vision impairments…and there was some that was negative. Oddly one negative comment was that the reader couldn’t believe that I’d written a chef who was blind because that just isn’t ‘believable’. The very next day, a reader emailed about how much she’d loved reading that book because her fiance was blind and he was a chef. That still, to this day, stands out just because of the irony.

    Another reader was extremely angry because she didn’t feel I’d accurately portrayed the relationship between the heroine and her guide dog, while others loved it. And I’m not talking about the viewpoints from sighted readers, well, with the exception of somebody who didn’t think it was believable that a blind woman could cook.

    When I write diverse characters, I try my best to create believable, real characters…the same way I do when write…well, being a guy. I’ve never been one of those but guys show up as leads in every book I write.

    I’ve received email from a number of women who upfront have told me things like I’m a black woman…I found your book XXX or XXX and I have to say, it’s great to read books about women who look like me.

    That makes me happy. My world isn’t white. I’m not married to a white man. One of my sisters-in-law isn’t white. The world around me isn’t white. If fiction is supposed to reflect the world around us, then why don’t we see more of the world that is around us?

    I’m not focusing on racial issues, because I have no experience there, but if a character comes into my head who isn’t white, I’m going to give that character a voice. If I’m in unfamiliar territory, then I’ll do what any writer should…research.

    I probably will mess up. But I’m not going to shy away from writing a character, either.

  42. Robin/Janet
    Mar 12, 2014 @ 22:46:47

    @Anu:

    In your intro comments to the Baldwin/Lorde link, you stated that, “We need more discussions like this posted online, and more exchanges of this caliber in general to be happening now, in 2014, in our shared cultural spaces.” I’m unclear on what kind of discussions you mean specifically – minorities talking with other minorities, gender discussions among minorities, minorities discussing dominant culture, all of the above, etc.

    I used the word caliber on purpose to denote quality and skill. That exchange was erudite, intellectually rich, socially relevant, passionately engaged, and yet mutually respectful.

    And I don’t mean to suggest that if you don’t link to X (e.g. the Lalami piece), you’re diminishing POC’s voices.

    I think that’s exactly what you’re saying. You don’t think we’re doing enough at Dear Author to cover POC voices. We’re making choices that you find inadequate or wrong. You accuse us outright of ignorance in regard to conversations among people of color about race and culture (not to mention SES, gender, art, nationality, etc.). I reference Jennifer DeVere Brody instead of that Buzzfeed piece on Lupita Nyong’o. I choose to post POC author interviews instead of that NPR Twitter chat. That’s not ignoring POC voices or being ignorant of what conversations are going on – it’s offering different POC voices and/or venues than perhaps you expect or want to see. And it still doesn’t excuse BTN or in any way make Dear Author a conspirator in their ignorance.

  43. Anu
    Mar 13, 2014 @ 14:40:56

    @Robin/Janet:

    I used the word caliber on purpose to denote quality and skill. That exchange was erudite, intellectually rich, socially relevant, passionately engaged, and yet mutually respectful.

    As that sentence is constructed in the 1/28/2014 post, the “caliber” clause doesn’t read as the most important part.

    We’re making choices that you find inadequate or wrong. You accuse us outright of ignorance in regard to conversations among people of color about race and culture (not to mention SES, gender, art, nationality, etc.).

    Yes, I find your choices inadequate. No, I don’t think they’re wrong. No, I’m not accusing you all of ignorance. I’m saying that the knowledge you have of those POC convos is not reflected on this site.

    I reference Jennifer DeVere Brody instead of that Buzzfeed piece on Lupita Nyong’o. I choose to post POC author interviews instead of that NPR Twitter chat. That’s not ignoring POC voices or being ignorant of what conversations are going on – it’s offering different POC voices and/or venues than perhaps you expect or want to see.

    I disagree. I’m focusing specifically on POC discussing diversity issues, not general inclusion of stories with or about them. I don’t dispute that DA posts about POC.

    But DA posts POC convos/POC perspectives about diversity issues primarily 1) in essays written by DA reviewers, and 2) when a white person does something.

    I go back to Suleikha Snyder. She writes often about multiculturalism, but the first time one of those writings is included on DA is when a white person/site messes up? (Based on a search of the names “Suleikha” and “Snyder.”) It’s not about Snyder in particular (I don’t know her at all); I would ask the same about Kaia Alderson if she was included in your write-up.

    And I go back to the sheikh piece. The lengthiest analyses of the sheikh genre on DA have been part of your captivity series last year and the LARB essay from Monday (based on a search of the terms “Muslim,” “Arab,” and “sheikh”). And yes, you brought up DeVere Brody, but only as an intro to the sheikh piece. Inclusion of the Lalami piece doesn’t substantively change that situation, so no: I don’t think my argument hinges on the “right” links.

    And it still doesn’t excuse BTN or in any way make Dear Author a conspirator in their ignorance.

    I don’t excuse BTN, I don’t care about BTN. I don’t know what a “conspirator in their ignorance” is.

    What I see is a connection between how BTN could credit a white blogger with “diversifying” the genre and the way diversity conversations are raised in general. I see that connection manifested on this site when POC voices on this topic are heard primarily in response to white voices. I think that contributes to a larger, systemic, unconscious problem of how (in)visible and (un)authoritative POC voices are perceived to be.

    I think the consequences of this systemic problem include 1) things like BTN’s ignorant promo, 2) comment threads that predictably focus on white authors and readers.

    I’m not saying that 1 and 2 happened because of DA or because of the problem I see. But I think both help enable an environment where such things happen.

    You don’t think we’re doing enough at Dear Author to cover POC voices.

    Do you?

  44. Jane
    Mar 13, 2014 @ 15:24:10

    @Anu: I don’t really understand what the point of your criticism is. You don’t like that we talk about POC in essay form? Um, other than the news (wherein we talk a lot about different POC things) and reviews (wherein we address POC if it is important in the review) that’s how we talk about things on Dear Author. In essay form. I don’t envision that we would change that. That’s just our thing.

    It’s great that you think that there are good discussions of POC/multiculturalism going on in other places on the net but this is a book blog and primarily we discuss books and issues arising out of books. You do realize that there are people of color, three in my last count, that blog for DA right? I mean…I guess if you want to whitewash Sunita, Jia and my race, that’s your prerogative. Maybe we aren’t the right color for you? In sum, I don’t really get your point.

  45. Anu
    Mar 13, 2014 @ 15:46:10

    Jane – I started to respond to your comment, but realized that I was simply repeating myself. More importantly, if you think I’m whitewashing, then I’m either bungling my arguments or I’m just on the wrong track. Either way, I’ll leave it be.

    I apologize to you, Sunita, and Jia for any whitewashing I’ve done.

  46. Sunita
    Mar 13, 2014 @ 20:10:30

    @Anu: I really have no idea how to respond to your comments. You don’t want JIa, Jane, and me to feel that you are whitewashing us, but either we’re not writing enough about POC discourse or what we’re writing is unsatisfactory in terms of quality to you.

    I’m sorry you feel that way. But I engage at DA as a romance novel reader above all. For me that naturally includes POC issues, but I tend to engage those through reviews, with the occasional POC-issue-focused essay. If I have to choose, timewise, between writing a review and writing an oped, the review will win 9 times out of 10. Because I’d rather write a review that encourages DA’s readership to pick up a book about or by POCs than write an op ed piece telling them to do so, or even writing a links post sending them to other people writing about why they should read the book.

    In the end, I think fiction readers are changed more by one book they read that resonates for them than by 100 essays on why reading books (POC or otherwise) is a good thing.

  47. Anu
    Mar 13, 2014 @ 23:29:24

    Sunita –

    I have a great deal of respect for you and am truly sorry for how my comments whitewashed your, Jia’s, and Jane’s work.

    If after three posts, all that people are left with are confusion and a belief that I’m whitewashing, further engagement from me probably won’t bring much clarity. As I said to Jane, I’m either wrong on the point or not articulating it well. Or both. And as Janet said to me, I may simply be dressing up dissatisfaction with DA, and it’s best to look elsewhere for whatever I think is missing.

  48. Robin/Janet
    Mar 13, 2014 @ 23:38:32

    @Anu:

    Do you?

    I don’t think Dear Author — as a Romance-focused book blog — is covering ANYTHING enough. That’s the difficulty with trying to cover so very many different issues and aspects of such a large genre. What I do know, though, is that we are conscious of the importance of including POC voices, and that we are doing so, even if it’s not in the way or to the extent you think we should.

  49. cleo
    Mar 14, 2014 @ 08:57:49

    @anu – fwiw, I read your comment as pointing out that the BTN article is a symptom of a systemic problem, not just the action of one clueless PR person, and also pointing out that DA participates in the same system.

  50. Anu
    Mar 16, 2014 @ 12:48:31

    @Robin/Janet:

    Fair enough.

  51. Anu
    Mar 16, 2014 @ 12:49:42

    @cleo:

    YES! This is it exactly. You put it so clearly and concisely. Thanks, Cleo, for finding the needle in the haystack I created.

  52. reader
    Apr 18, 2014 @ 12:07:19

    @reader:

    I’ve been thinking about this thread in the past couple of weeks and in re-reading it, I’ve realized how much my comment didn’t belong in this conversation. This isn’t remotely about what I, as a white writer, want to write or not write. I’m sorry for my thoughtless comment. I’d like to understand a lot more about this issue than I do. Thanks for spurring my awareness.

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