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Cultivating Tolerance: A multicultural solution

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Tolerance is one of those words that balances right on the line between positive and negative. We speak of tolerating something bad — that is, of enduring something we would otherwise like to avoid. In other contexts, we refer to tolerance as an aspirational value, as in racial tolerance, for example. This definitional dualism (or even duelism, perhaps), has always made me slightly intolerant of tolerance. However, I can’t think of a better word to describe the conditioning that I think occurs in the relationship between Romance fiction and its readers.

Let me give you two recent examples of this conditioning. One is nicely articulated in Sunita’s recent post on her personal blog regarding what she calls “the rise of the published first draft.” Sunita believes that a pressure to write more and faster has led to the professional publication and reader tolerance of books that are not polished in regard to conceptualization, writing, and editing:

 

After decades of reading genre fiction, literary fiction, and the classics, it’s obvious to me that genre writers are no less talented. Rather, they are writers who have chosen a genre that expects them to publish more quickly and more frequently. But we’ve taken “publish faster” to its extreme already. It scares me to think we’re trying to speed up the process beyond this point.

. . .

In the end, though, the burden of stopping this race to the bottom lies with readers. We’re the ones who buy the books, pay the publishers, and tell the authors how wonderful they are. If, as a reader, you’re willing to squee about a shapeless, under-written mass of book-like product, we’re all going to pay the much higher price of driving the carefully written and produced books out of the market.

 

The very next day, Jane posted a Dear Author column on BEA, in which she noted that

 

Harlequin would love to publish more multicultural books but haven’t received many manuscripts featuring characters of color. They really want to see those manuscripts. They indicated that Abby Green’s The Stolen Bride,featuring a Bollywood actress, was well received.

 

That comment initiated an interesting discussion on whether the mainstream of the genre’s readership welcomes multicultural Romances, with some anecdotal author evidence suggesting they do not, despite anecdotal reader evidence that they do.

In both cases, I would argue that there has been a conditioning of sorts that has, in one case, cultivated mainstream tolerance of lower production standards, and, in the other case, cultivated mainstream intolerance of certain characteristics in Romance protagonists and settings.

I realize that some might be critical of my decision to talk about production values and multicultural characters/settings in the same post, but I am doing so deliberately, not to diminish the importance of the second issue, but because what I want to offer as a strategy to combat the second issue is, I believe, better illustrated in tandem with the first.

Since I came into the online Romance community (about ten years ago), I have heard the complaints about editing errors and the declining quality of paper, ink, glue, and other elements of the published book. Over the past couple of years, though, and with the rise of digital books, those complaints have exponentially multiplied. Now, in addition to the original problems, readers are voicing frustration over scanning errors, missing pages, typographical and spelling errors, and beyond, to more substantive problems with story-editing, conceptualization, and mechanics of writing.

Tensions between voice, storytelling, and prose style are always going to produce arguments about whether a book is objectively “good” or not, but I don’t know if there’s much room for argument about the seeming ubiquity of production lapses (Carolyn Jewel has an interesting post about the digital formatting of her own books). And still, despite all the complaints, these books continue to sell, sometimes even at bestseller rates. In fact, one of the reasons I switched from MMPB to digital was the increasingly flimsy quality of paper books, and sometimes I feel like the joke is on me, because I think I’m buying even more books now.

But perhaps the fact that books continue to sell despite diminished production values is not so surprising when you consider the fact that these errors are so common now, especially for those of us reading digital books. Sure, there is still substantial variation among books and publishers, and it’s not impossible to find well-produced books. But when established publishing houses are implicated in the downward trend, readers are essentially being conditioned to tolerate lower production values through their persistent, extensive reproduction. I know this is true for me, because when I come across a book that is beautifully produced (e.g. Bancroft Press’s The Understory), I take note. It used to be the reverse, but despite my continued frustration over the scanning, typographical, and other production errors, I am becoming accustomed to them, to consider them the norm. And I wonder – with a significant amount of worry – if there will come a point when I will no longer notice them with the alacrity and indignation I do now.

I believe there has been a similar — but even longer-term — process of conditioning going on with multicultural Romances; namely, that the mainstream readership has been conditioned to see certain types of books as the norm. Now, let me say right here that I’m not arguing that there is a lack of prejudice against multicultural Romance. We have all seen reader comments indicating a discomfort with protagonists who are not white. However, we have seen reader comments in the other direction, as well, from those who desperately and vocally want more non-white protagonists in their Romance.

But even that desire does not preclude prejudice, because to some degree I would argue that we all prejudge the genre books we read, in part because so many of the tropes in Romance have become expected and familiar to us. And depending on the circumstances and the reader, something that readers perceive to be outside expectations can backfire. Whether a reader prejudges a book in a positive way and is then disappointed and gun shy, or whether a reader prejudges a book in a negative way and misses out on what would have been a positive reading experience, the end result appears to be the same: an unsold or poorly received book. When fewer, not more, books outside the norm enter the market, judgments are even more exaggerated and damning. And when some books are not even shelved or sold in the Romance section, based only on the race of the author and/or her characters, readers are being told that some books are different, that they are not like the others, which can lead to further marginalization.

One of the problems with reader conditioning, beyond the fact that readers may become intolerant, is that it often leads to an erroneous conclusion that what readers will tolerate is the same thing as what they want or what they will ultimately enjoy. In the case of production errors, I think this is obvious: just because readers tolerate certain errors does not mean they don’t want more. And in the case of those readers who do not pick up on every error, does anyone really believe they would complain upon receiving an outstandingly produced book? What are the downsides to sound grammar, editing, and formatting/printing?

In the case of protagonists and settings that fall outside the genre norm (and as many have pointed out, it’s not all multicultural protagonists and settings that lie outside the genre mainstream), the argument gets a bit more complicated, even though I think the principle is similar. There are, absolutely, readers who will remain intolerant to multicultural protagonists and settings. However, I emphatically believe that there are many readers in the mainstream who can be re-conditioned to embrace much more in the genre than they currently might. I think we see that on a small scale every time a book that is praised for being “new” takes off (catalyzing a bunch of copy-cats, of course). And in the same way that we see a diversity of opinions and desires in the online community, why should we assume that there is not such diversity in the offline sector of the Romance reading community? The impulse to characterize those readers as more socially conservative is, I think, a common error that perpetuates resistance to challenging the status quo.

In fact, I think you could argue that the digital divide, which is growing again and continues to privilege white folks with economic means, indicates that an even more diverse readership offline awaits a more diverse genre. Without a doubt, real world internationalization is creating more and more cultural overlap and integration, so beyond the economic possibilities for more multicultural Romance is the social good of evolving in the same direction as our inevitable globalization.

The question is, who should bear the burden of responsibility for this re-conditioning?

In the case of production values, I agree with Sunita that the burden is largely on readers; in this case, our tolerance sends a message to authors and publishers that we are fine with the status quo being set by those who produce books. Authors and publishers should bear part of the burden, but as long as they are saving/not losing money by lowering production standards, will they spontaneously embrace a higher standard?

In the case of multicultural Romance, however, I believe that the burden shifts toward authors and publishers. Yes, I know commercial fiction is about commerce. But given the profound diversity in the United States alone, shouldn’t the ultimate genre market be bigger than it is now? And yes, I know that authors have anecdotal evidence that multicultural Romances does not sell as robustly. Of course, we also have anecdotal evidence that a name that sounds ethnically different (Nalini Singh, for example) or the race of an author and her characters (e.g. Brenda Jackson) is not a bar to sales and popularity. And then there is the innate social good of diversifying the genre, a good that has facilitated every push for greater racial and cultural integration. It’s all about effecting a paradigm shift by reconditioning reader expectations, such that not only will current readers diversify their reading, but new readers can also pick up books that better represent their cultural identity.

For mainstream reconditioning to occur, however, more books that challenge the status quo have to be published, and they have to be published within the Romance mainstream. That authors like Suzanne Brockmann can sell non-white protagonists also suggests to me that popular, seasoned authors need to be leading the charge to write more books that challenge the status quo, because those authors’ fans are legion, and their inclination will most likely be to read those books. And publishers need to stand behind these books, as well – to market them as Romance, plain and simple, and to market them along with books that already have mainstream acceptance. And most important, these efforts cannot be a one-off; there must be a long-term, dedicated campaign to recondition the mainstream genre readership to regard multicultural Romance as normal, just as it is in our real life world beyond the books. There will always be books that don’t live up to reader expectations, that generate criticisms that they’re stereotyped or unrealistic. However, that issue is much more likely to sideline multicultural Romances when their representation in the genre is scarce.

I understand that this is a controversial proposition, but I think it is the only way to effect a necessary paradigm shift. Are there risks and short-term losses likely? Yes. And I don’t think anyone who does not aspire to diversifying the genre should feel obligated to write toward that end. At the same time, authors and publishers who do support that goal can materially and substantially contribute to the change, and in this case I believe they have much more power than readers to do so.

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!

333 Comments

  1. Jeannie Lin
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 05:43:30

    Bravo! The previous discussion here at DA also prompted me to think about this situation, not in terms of negativity, i.e. lamenting why multicultural romance books don’t sell as well as their counterparts, but a more constructive light — what are the obstacles to higher reader adoption and how can they be overcome?

    It really is, just as you say, the need for authors to write more books and the need for publishers to publish more books. The problem is — as mentioned in the previous thread — it’s “easier” for a publisher to be willing to absorb the cost, but for an author who is looking to make a living from their writing, it’s a harder challenge. But we can look up to authors like Singh and Brockman and Jackson and see that it is possible — if you’re AWESOME. The tough thing is that change is slow and publishing is moving so fast. There is better money to be had in non-niche markets, I will not lie. That being said, there are authors whose platforms are based on writing multicultural books, so in this case they’re already all-in. It’s not an option for me to write a Regency romance and “sell more”. :)

    If publishers say they’re open to multicultural stories, so why don’t we more of them see them? Well, I think we do see them and each time they’re pinpointed as a “Yay, something different” book.

    But why so few? I don’t believe publishers see a flood of high quality manuscripts with POC characters. Why not? Well, a bunch of reasons really. If it was a few, the problem would be a little easier to tackle.

    I do believe that most aspiring authors aren’t thinking money — they just want their stories out there. But even then, there is a lack of high-quality manuscripts with POC protagonists. I don’t think it’s mainly fear of writing non-white that prevents it. Like I said, I’m trying to look at this constructively.

    1) The first reason is that “multicultural romance” isn’t truly a sub-genre in itself. There are a few readers — and it seems they are the vocal online minority (more on this) — that specifically seek out POC books across genre and highlight them. (bless you) But overall, readers already have their preferences of genre – contemporary readers won’t necessarily cross genre lines just to see out a POC character. Then across different cultures, ethnicities and backgrounds: reading a Black or African-American character is not the same experience as reading an Indian or Southeast Asian character. So it’s illusory to group such books together in the same market or sub-genre. All of these books create a bunch of “micro sub-genres” in and of themselves. Really narrow niches — thus the difficulties for widening audience. Nailini Singh’s success with incorporating POC characters into her paranormals does not necessarily make the point of entry easier for a book in another genre.

    2) Authors are inspired by what they read. If there are not many POC characters and non-western settings out there, there’s no one to light that fire. In historical romance, just as an example, there are fabulous authors writing Regency and Victorian historicals to spark aspiring authors’ imaginations. There are movies to fill their creative wells.

    Speaking from personal experience, there’s no established nomenclature for the historical setting I write in. it’s hard to find people working on similar projects to bounce ideas off of and share research. A Regency author can hit a group like the Beau Monde and find a wealth of information quickly and a whole ballroom of like-minded individuals. All these things factor into why it’s harder to get a quality manuscript in front of an editor or agent – and only then to face the challenges of the market and the “hard-sell” mantra.

    3) Once you do get your foot in, there is still a lack of support in terms of read-alikes, blurbs, cross-promotion. Not because other authors are not well-meaning, just because the market is immature. It’s less likely for these authors to fit into an anthology with other big-name, bestselling authors, for example. I’ve jokingly complained that there’s no such thing as an “Other People’s Holidays” anthology. My editor and agent struggled with identifying authors who might be appropriate to blurb my books.

    If you go to Amazon, there are not similar books in the “Also boughts” to draw more of “your” readers to you. Mainly because the readership hasn’t been established yet.

    There will always be books that don’t live up to reader expectations, that generate criticisms that they’re stereotyped or unrealistic. However, that issue is much more likely to sideline multicultural Romances when their representation in the genre is scarce.

    Wholeheartedly agree. When there are so few representations, it’s easy to dismiss them as “stereotypical” characters because one character can only show so much. She or he can hardly be representative, yet people expect them to be. I’m kind of sad that the vast majority of strong Asian heroines I see in the market (fantasy more than romance) have to be sword-fighting. Yes, this may be hypocritical of me to say because a sword-fighting heroine is exactly how I entered the market. Sometimes you have to use familiar tropes and stereotypes to get your foot in – readers do pick up what is familiar. But in a way, you’re also contributing to the problem–until there’s a wide enough representation that single works will no longer be expected to speak for the whole market.

    We have all seen reader comments indicating a discomfort with protagonists who are not white. However, we have seen reader comments in the other direction, as well, from those who desperately and vocally want more non-white protagonists in their Romance.

    I would say that the internet has been very vocal about supporting POC romances whenever they arise. I pay a lot of attention to this. The blogosphere does put extra effort into highlighting these books. I know this only anecdotally: every time I have a new release, I do get some additional attention because it’s set in China. However, the blogosphere represents a very vocal minority — i.e. reviewers are willing (and usually must) read across many genres and thus it is natural for them to seek out POC characters cross-genre where the general romance readership may not. But this voice is important for reconditioning the readership – as Janet called it. Bloggers are investing in their time and the mentions serve to gradually pull in new readers who are at first skeptical.

    When fewer, not more, books outside the norm enter the market, judgments are even more exaggerated and damning. And when some books are not even shelved or sold in the Romance section, based only on the race of the author and/or her characters, readers are being told that some books are different, that they are not like the others, which can lead to further marginalization.

    “Readers being told the books are different” – therein lies the rub. “Othering” is a double-edged sword promotion-wise. It both draws attention to your book, but also presents a barrier for acceptance. The book gets promoted and read as an example of “something different” whereas to fully become successful, it has to get to the point where it’s mainstreamed and anyone would want to read it for the romance, regardless of the race of the characters. But the race of the characters is what makes it special and a unique reading experience….the argument can keep circling, but the point is there is a built-in obstacle here in the very thing that helps promote the books.

    Ugh…another long comment from Jeannie. So much to discuss in this post which was very thoughtful and provocative. I appreciate how the focus of the article tries to talk about market vs. race and also discusses possibilities for change constructively. Race can’t ever be taken out of the equation, nor should it be, but the idea that people (readers and booksellers) just won’t buy a book with a POC character is something that we as authors can’t combat. It frames the problem in a way that makes us powerless. I learned as a teacher — never frame the problem in a way that makes you powerless.

    The idea that the market is growing, but immature and that the readership is accepting and can gradually be built — that’s an optimistic idea. That’s something we can work with. I really do believe romance is the place to do it, that romance readers are more adventurous in many respects, and the genre itself has shown itself to be very flexible.

    Change is slow. Stay the course, if you can. If you can.

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  2. Suleikha Snyder
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 06:41:20

    these efforts cannot be a one-off; there must be a long-term, dedicated campaign to recondition the mainstream genre readership to regard multicultural Romance as normal, just as it is in our real life world beyond the books.

    Yes, yes, yes! This ties into Jeannie’s comment about Othering, but there’s definitely that push-pull between wanting to stand out because your book is outside the typical white hero/white heroine template but also wanting to fit right in because the love story of a brown guy and his lady is no less commonplace. I’m mostly drawn to Caucasian men. I don’t think I’ve had a moment where I stopped and thought, “Well, now, this isn’t a crush, it’s an interracial crush.” It’s just your story, and you live it. Or write it. Or read it.

    @Jeannie Lin: I’m firmly nodding my head along to your entire post.

    it has to get to the point where it’s mainstreamed and anyone would want to read it for the romance, regardless of the race of the characters.

    I think this is key, because it’s not like “traditional” romances are labeled as White People Books…and minority readers have been devouring them for years. No one stopped to ask me if I was going to relate to a bunch of English people in a Regency ballroom, if I was going to have post-colonial angst about it. They published it, I forked over my money, and there you have it. Publishers don’t sit around hoping someone brown is going to buy a romance about white characters. They just assume it. And I think until we get to the point where that assumption covers the entire spectrum of readers and character combinations, we’re going to keep having these sorts of discussions.

    Additionally, no joke, I would totally go in on an “Other People’s Holidays” anthology. Durga Puja, anyone?

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  3. Suleikha Snyder
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 06:43:12

    Aargh. Please forgive the lack of a closing italics tag in the previous comment. It’s early.

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  4. Nadia Lee
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 06:49:10

    What are the downsides to sound grammar, editing, and formatting/printing?

    Simple. Cost in money and time.

    Publishers (big, small, print, digital or DIY/self-pubbers) just do not believe that it’s wort their time or money to invest in editing, fixing grammatical errors and formating/printing. As you said, readers STILL buy even when the production value is poor, so it takes away motivation / incentive for publishers to do better.

    I was stunned when I went to Kyobo Books in Seoul and browsed books produced by Korean publishers and compared them to the ones by American publishers. Korean pubs use high quality paper, the kind you see on hardbacks or really nice trade paperbacks in America. Also the glue for binding is really high quality — you can tell by just glancing at it. You know that they won’t fall apart after a few readings or a few years of ownership.

    As a mattor of fact, I own three sets of used Korean trade paperback books published over thirty years ago. The pages have finally yellowed a bit, but the covers and binding? Rock solid. None of the copies contain typos or editing errors.

    OTOH — I have several MMPBs from NY pubs that are totally falling apart after a few reads. One in particular totally fell apart even before I finished reading it! Grr!

    I should note that the books in Korea cost more. About $10-12 per copy. But I wouldn’t mind paying that if I know I was getting a high quality item.

    Re: multicultural romance –

    Even if editors say they want MC stories, I’m not sure how effectively that is being communicated to writers. I’m just not getting any sense that agents are encouraging their clients to try MC, and from what I can tell, it’s harder to pitch to NY because it’s not mainstream enough. (Remember — agents need to sell to make $ since they don’t charge their clients otherwise.)

    It’s much easier to pitch a manuscript that’s just like what write, so it’s going to appeal to their audience.

    @Jeannie Lin: I find it intriguing that so many Asian heroines are sword fighters. I rarely see such female characters in dramas, shows, etc. produced in Asia.

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  5. Nadia Lee
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 06:51:34

    Ugh. I should’ve waited until tomorrow to post my comment since my brain’s too fried for decent proofing.

    The 3rd paragraph should read “Most publishers (big, small, print, digital or DIY/self-pubbers)…” not “Publishers (big, small, print, digital or DIY/self-pubbers).”

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  6. Violetta Vane
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 07:04:48

    Thanks for this thoughtful post… and thanks Jeannie Lin for the encouraging words! As a POC writer committed to writing MC/IR, any pep talk helps.

    I think that one common Either/Or dynamic mentioned in this post—inclusion or spotlighting—doesn’t have to be such a dichotomy. I know some authors and readers strongly support inclusion and have great reasons for doing so. But with inclusion as the only strategy, we have very few venues for promotion to try to reach a fragmented audience. Ideally, MC/IR romances can do both at the same time. For example, we’ve got a blog tour post booked on http://www.irmcbooks.com, which does an awesome service. Even though most of the books they post there in the releases section I’m never going to read because they’re not my thing, some I will, and it’s great they exist and are aggregating this information. With the continual evolution of internet cataloguing, books don’t have to live on only one bookshelf anymore, or be segregated! The #1 goal should be finding the audience, whether that’s through inclusion or spotlighting.

    I do have one negative thing to say. I think a lot of readers talk the talk and don’t walk the walk. They say they want better, different, but what they actually buy doesn’t back that up. It’s a tendency I recognize in myself sometimes, as a reader—stick with what’s safe. And authors are often guilty of the same when it comes to the books they talk about wanting to write. So when I hear “Why don’t MC books sell better when so many people say they want them?” that’s one of the first things I think, sadly.

    But like Jeannie Lin says, the only option is to have a positive outlook and take the long-term view. And it’s great being able to have open discussions about how to get there.

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  7. Jeannie Lin
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 07:19:39

    @Nadia Lee:

    I’m just not getting any sense that agents are encouraging their clients to try MC, and from what I can tell, it’s harder to pitch to NY because it’s not mainstream enough. (Remember — agents need to sell to make $ since they don’t charge their clients otherwise.)

    I absolutely agree. Looking for an agent to take on the risk and absorb the loss in $ is akin to looking to an author to do so. They don’t have the deep pockets that publishers do (and publishers’ pockets aren’t all that deep either, are they?). I don’t think agents are seeking and encouraging multicultural romance novels. Not because they are “eevil” and don’t believe a good book is a good book. They know what sells and they need to make money. The prospect of selling a MC book is risky and the ROI not high. I don’t believe the agents that passed on my books didn’t think it was good enough to sell. Let’s take “good enough” out of the equation. Were they going to sell my book in a 3 book, six figure deal? Highly unlikely. Better to spend the time and energy on a book and an author that has that potential. The only reason my agent chose to represent me was…heck, I don’t even know. Cause she’s crazy like a fox? Cause she has other authors to pay the bills?

    And re: swordwomen – The trope is actually fairly common in Chinese media. (With actually a whole long historical and literary tradition behind it) But the difference is you see a lot of other female characters as well.

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  8. Jayne
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 07:25:42

    @Suleikha Snyder: Fixed.

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  9. Nadia Lee
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 07:28:29

    @Jeannie Lin: Oh I didn’t mean to imply that agents or pubs are evil for not encouraging and/or throwing lots of $ at MC/IR stories. Everyone’s trying to make a buck.

    And writers are going to write something that they think they can make $ off of. You don’t see MC books sold at a big auction or per-empt. You do see some historicals set in England w/ dukes sell for big bucks though, so if your goal is to make enough $ from your writing to quit your day job, you’re most likely to go for historicals set in England w/ dukes, assuming that you don’t hate that particular type of romance.

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  10. Jayne
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 07:32:32

    @Suleikha Snyder:

    Additionally, no joke, I would totally go in on an “Other People’s Holidays” anthology. Durga Puja, anyone?

    Count me in as a reader.

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  11. Suleikha Snyder
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 07:33:06

    @Violetta Vane: I do have one negative thing to say. I think a lot of readers talk the talk and don’t walk the walk. They say they want better, different, but what they actually buy doesn’t back that up.

    I frequently feel the same way, that there’s a lot of wishin’ and hopin’ but not so much actual readin’. I don’t know if it’s Pollyanna optimism or sheer naivete, but I keep hoping that the market WILL see significant change, that maybe if diversity continues to be talked about, people will start voting with their wallets.

    @Jayne: Thanks! Much appreciated!

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  12. LisaCharlotte
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 07:33:57

    I’ve been reading romance since the late 70s. At this point in my life I read a lot less than I used to and almost exclusively in the romance genre. I find that other entertainment/hobbies severely cut into my reading. I also find it harder and harder to find books that leave me satisfied. My autobuys have essentially shrunk to Ilona Andrews. I can ignore typos and grammar issues. I cannot ignore weak storytelling. Books now feel too short with entirely too many detailed sex scenes for the length of book.

    Regarding POC characters. It seems every time a book with a POC character is discussed on blogs the author gets dinged for getting it wrong or insulting POC. I see it as a no win situation for authors.

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  13. Meri
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 07:48:01

    While I hope to see more multicultural characters and settings in general, I think what would be really helpful is if more high profile, established authors included them in their books. Assuming that this sort of change takes time and there is an element of risk involved, relatively successful authors are probably in a position where they are less likely to see their sales drop, and are more likely to have their books picked up by readers who might not actively seek out multicultural content. If someone with serious name recognition gets it right, it could have a huge effect.

    That’s not to say I wouldn’t pick up books by new-to-me authors whose work sounds interesting. But I don’t know if I (or other DA readers and posters) am particularly representative of most readers/consumers.

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  14. Jeannie Lin
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 08:11:47

    @Nadia Lee:

    @Jeannie Lin: Oh I didn’t mean to imply that agents or pubs are evil for not encouraging and/or throwing lots of $ at MC/IR stories. Everyone’s trying to make a buck.

    Oh no, those adds were completely me. I was more addressing the sometimes stated view that agents are narrow-minded gatekeepers. I totally agree with you that it’s really about business and money as you stated.

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  15. Las
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 08:27:52

    I tend to believe authors when they say that books featuring POC characters don’t sell as well. The online community likes to talk a lot about multiculturalism and production values, but all the talk doesn’t seem to translate into sales. POC characters don’t seem to sell outside of specific subgenres (like paranormals, and I have a particularly cynical theory as to why that is); and shitty production values don’t seem to negatively impact sales, in fact I think they might help (Hello, 50 Shades!). So while I, as a reader, am entirely frustrated with the state books and won’t tolerate certain things, I can well imagine that if I were an author or publisher/editor I might not do things all that differently. That said, while I consider sales a somewhat valid, though depressing, argument this: @LisaCharlotte:

    Regarding POC characters. It seems every time a book with a POC character is discussed on blogs the author gets dinged for getting it wrong or insulting POC. I see it as a no win situation for authors.

    is not. Frankly, if authors are going to use that as an excuse to not write POC characters at all, then they might as well use any negative review as an excuse to not write anything. Come on. Those criticisms are not personal, and authors should use those reviews as an incentive to do better, not get discouraged because they weren’t given an automatic A+ just for throwing us POC readers a bone.

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  16. Maili
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 08:29:17

    @LisaCharlotte:

    Regarding POC characters. It seems every time a book with a POC character is discussed on blogs the author gets dinged for getting it wrong or insulting POC. I see it as a no win situation for authors.

    ? What’s the difference between that and the authors who get dinged for getting some details of baseball, history or human body wrong?

    Pointing out a mistake doesn’t mean it should be taken as a negative criticism. It ought to be seen as a chance for author to get it right next time. It’s all part of an ongoing progress, surely?

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  17. Roslyn Holcomb
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 08:30:39

    I think genre readers are some of the most reluctant to embrace change. And amongst genre readers I think romance readers are the toughest of the lot. I’ve often wondered why, and I’ve finally concluded that the intimacy of romance, after all, we’re talking about the most fundamental of human emotions, love and lust, makes it subject to the bane of human existence, tribalism. We don’t care to read about those not like ourselves for the same reason we don’t choose to date/mate with those unlike ourselves.

    As for well-known or established authors breaking the stained glass ceiling so to speak? That’s already been done, and continues to be done, however, it doesn’t seem to broaden the readership of multi-cultural romance in general. Brockmann did it and continues to do so, but it doesn’t seem to have translated to greater popularity of the genre. We just have people defensively clinging to their love of Sam and Alyssa as demonstrative of their ability to embrace “the other.” Besides, readers seem to have no problem embracing multicultural romance as long as it’s written by white authors. It’s not the characters they’re rejecting, it’s the authors. So what we’ll wind up with is a cultural appropriation situation whereby the only authors who profit from the genre willbe white. That being the case frankly I’d prefer that they leave it alone.

    I suspect this is the issue the gay literary community faced with the rise of M/M books and I feel much the same way. The exploitation of the multicultural niche by white authors woukd in no way benefit multicultural authors, so I’m strongly opposed to it, however, I know that my objections will be ignored. There’s money there and as long as that’s the case, the exploitation will occur. Readers want multicultural books, as long as the authors are white.

    Am I the only one who knows in my gut that Shelly Laurenston would never have reached best-seller status had people known she is black? I, of course, knew it the minute I read one of her books. For whites, however, for whom whiteness is the default ethnicity, it was assumed she was white. And I, for one say kudos to her. At this point when writers come to me for advice I STRONGLY recommend that if they want to write multicultural they should dotheir damnedest to pass for white, or at least do “a Laurenston” as they will struggle tomake the bestseller’s list otherwise.

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  18. Maili
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 08:30:52

    @Las: Heh. You said it better than I ever could, re: authors getting dinged.

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  19. Las
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 08:34:56

    Ack, I really need an edit feature!

    @Meri:

    I think what would be really helpful is if more high profile, established authors included them in their books.

    I agree, and I’ve said it before. I don’t like that it’s true, but I really believe that the only way for POC characters to become accepted among mainstream romance readers is for a Big Name to write them.

    Ideally, diversity in romance would happen via more POC authors, and I’d like to hear what they have to say when it comes to their experiences with publishers. Because I find it hard to believe that Harlequin truly wants more multicultural books are is just not getting those manuscripts. Something’s fishy there.

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  20. Las
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 08:39:43

    @Roslyn Holcomb: I just want to cosign that comment.

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  21. Nadia Lee
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 08:48:17

    @Jeannie Lin: BTW – I agree w/ your comment on the other post about how you noticed that many Chinese readers won’t read books set in China written by non-Chinese or published in English or whatever because they can get the authentic experience by reading books in Chinese or written by Chinese authors.

    These days you can’t pay me to read romance novels set in Japan or Korea b/c I wasted way too much money trying to support them. I notice errors, and they ruin the story for me. If I really want my Japan or Korea fix, I turn to a few authors (none of them romance authors) I trust or watch J- or K-dramas.

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  22. Roslyn Holcomb
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 08:49:29

    @Las of course Harlequin is getting those books and rejecting them or worse automatically sending them to the Kimani editor even if the books don’t meet Kimani guidelines! Then the Kimani editor rejects them because they don’t meet their (very narrow) guidelines. Everybody knows that Harlequin isn’t interested in multicultural unless you write Kimani-style books. (This is not a knock against Kimani, I read and enjoy plenty of Kimani books, but they are a very specific taste. They’re more like categories a couple decades ago.)

    Multicultural books are also being rejected by agents who say, “We don’t know how to market this.” Or, “Can you prove this will sell?” So lots and I do mean LOTS of multicultural authors self-publish or give up altogether. I’ve been at this gig for a while, and have at least nominal contact with most of the multicultural authors out there. Most have submitted to Harlequin and all the mainstream publishers at least once. I myself ran the gauntlet many times before the reality if the situation hit me; I wasn’t being rejected for the quality of my writing, or even for the color of my characters, but because of MY color. For someone born in the Jim Crow south that’s simply intolerable.

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  23. Violetta Vane
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 08:49:42

    @Roslyn Holcomb: I don’t agree 100% with your argument, but I don’t have the necessary experience to argue against it, and thumbs up for making it here.

    @Las: Yessssssss. And on a practical level, when I read multicultural romances, I’m not looking for perfection, just a decent story. I’ve only DNF-ed one that I can remember, and that was for a character referred to as having a “chocolate gaze”, which was as much a sin against writing as it was a representation issue. (And I didn’t check or care about the race or ethnicity of the writer, I just couldn’t take the story seriously after that.)

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  24. Meri
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 08:55:28

    @Roslyn Holcomb:
    I don’t have much time to write this, so I hope I will be more or less articulate.

    I don’t think multicultural characters are all that common in the romance genre, and I don’t think it would be exploitation for non-POC authors to write characters of a different cultural background, so long as they do their research and get it right. To me, if mainstream authors are not making an effort to include more diverse characters in their books, it sends a message – unintentional, I imagine, but still there – that multicultural characters and their experiences just aren’t that interesting or worthy of attention in the genre. That’s problematic to say the least.

    I think the goal is not to create or strengthen a multicultural subgenre, but to make sure the genre as a whole is more multicultural and features a more diverse characters and experiences. And I hope (naively, perhaps) that this might benefit authors and readers, regardless of their ethnicity and cultural background.

    I miss the edit function that DA used to have.

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  25. Ridley
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 09:00:46

    @LisaCharlotte:

    Regarding POC characters. It seems every time a book with a POC character is discussed on blogs the author gets dinged for getting it wrong or insulting POC. I see it as a no win situation for authors.

    Other posters beat me to my first reaction to this statement, but my second reaction is that this is another problem romance has: not enough books by authors who are POC.

    While I want to see anything other than Romancelandia’s generic, white, middle-class norm, I really want to read books by those who live outside that norm. I’ll take a POC book written by a white author, figuring it’s better than nothing, but books with POC characters written by POC authors are what I really want to see more of.

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  26. Roslyn Holcomb
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 09:13:51

    @Meri, actually multicultural characters in romance are VERY common. I have a backlist full of them as do hundreds of authors I know personally. Dozens of them are released every month. Pretty much every publishing house has a line devoted exclusively to them Kimani, Dafina, arabesque, Love Spectrum. Each release four or five a month. The epubs do mulicultural. I did nine with Loose Id. Of course, they fly under the radar because for most romance readers if the author isn’t white they don’t exist. And the excuse that they’re in the African American section and thus unnoticed is no longer valid. Our books are on the sale page each week with all the other books at epubs. Am I surprised by this oversight? Of course not. I’ll never forget the time a VERY POPULAR reader blog lamented the lack of multicultural books even though they’d just snarked the cover of one the day before. What they meant, and what you meant was that there is a lack of multicultural characters written by white authors, and for that I say, Praise be to God. May such oversights continue.

    This post demonstrates exactly what I’m talking about. If white authors start wring multicultural books en masse it will simply lead to even fewer readers for those of us already in the genre because those authors will receive promo opportunities unheard of for black authors. There are blogs, review sites, etc… that cover multicultural romance, but if the author isn’t white or presumed to be white they get little notice from non-black readers.

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  27. dick
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 09:17:07

    I read mostly historicals because it has always seemed easier for me to accept the fantasy elements of romance fiction when the actions occur in a place and time different from my own, i.e. in what is essentially a different culture. Of course, that different culture in those historicals has a certain familiarity, because that different culture is a part of my past. And that familiarity, it seems to me, is one of the problems with getting wider acceptance of what the essay suggests is meant by multi-cultural. We read romance for its familiar pattern. In it, we expect to encounter what is familiar, not what is unusual or different or unfamiliar or perhaps exotic. It seems to me that the genre, by its very nature, lacks impetus towards the multi-culturalism the essay calls for.

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  28. SAO
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 09:18:18

    I’m with LisaCharlotte thinking that the risk of getting dinged for not getting your character right, or worse, appropriating an ethnic identity for crass commercial profit could easily make an author cautious.

    The result is secondary characters. I think the real solution is to recruit more multicultural authors and keep them out of ghettos like Kimani. Maybe Dear Author should start looking for and reviewing these novels. I’m interested in a good story, not characters with skin tone not too far from mine. That being said, I never browse in the African American section of a bookstore or in Kimani.

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  29. Suleikha Snyder
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 09:20:28

    @Roslyn Holcomb: Readers want multicultural books, as long as the authors are white. Oh, man, does this play into my deepest phobias about publishing multicultural fiction. I need to go rock back and forth in a corner for a bit.

    Regarding the overall non-POC writing POC debate…I feel like it boils down to the basic tenet of, “Write people like people.” With human wants, human desires, and every emotion in the spectrum that you would ascribe to a white character. It’s not rocket science. Yes, you should do cultural research and try to get those things correct, absolutely, but if you’re seeing your characters as people first, that will fall into line. The minute you start viewing them as a token minority, or an exotic, insert-your-animal-or-food-metaphor-here fetish object, you start to get it a little wrong. It’s not a no-win situation if you just…get it right.

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  30. Ros
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 09:23:07

    @Roslyn Holcomb: I honestly do not know what colour most of my favourite authors are. I’m not American, so I can’t decode any clues that there might be in names and bios, and there are very, very few authors who I would bother to look up a photo of. So, I’m slightly confused by your comment. Is there a romance community for black readers and/or authors that runs in parallel to that which is white/presumed-white? How does the colour/ethnicity of the author affect sales? I just don’t really know what you referring to.

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  31. Ridley
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 09:23:21

    @Roslyn Holcomb: Common, you say? Where do you or others go to discover new books, then? Whatever I’m doing doesn’t turn up books with multicultural characters by authors who are POC.

    I’ve tried a few Kimanis and they were meh. I didn’t like the Brenda Jackson Desire or Kimani books I read. Recommend a blog for me or a Goodreads user or group to shelf-trawl?

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  32. Sirius
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 09:27:47

    @Ros: Neither do I, but the disclaimer – I can speak only for mm romance , as mentioned previously I am not and never will be well read in het romance to argue these generalities. But in mm romance? Of course by now I had seen pictures of some of my favorite authors (if those pictures are true ones lol), but so many new authors are popping up every day or week and for the most of them I have no idea how they look. And I gobble up stories with diverse characters, having no clue how their authors look :)

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  33. Jeannie Lin
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 09:33:48

    @Meri:

    I think the goal is not to create or strengthen a multicultural subgenre, but to make sure the genre as a whole is more multicultural and features a more diverse characters and experiences. And I hope (naively, perhaps) that this might benefit authors and readers, regardless of their ethnicity and cultural background.

    Nicely said — and the hope is also that publishers will see there is financial gain in the long term in broadening their market.

    @Las:

    Because I find it hard to believe that Harlequin truly wants more multicultural books are is just not getting those manuscripts. Something’s fishy there.

    I think once a manuscript hits an editor’s desk, if it is high enough quality to go to acquisitions, it then hits the usual Profit and Loss analysis. Previous sales data? Hmm…non-existent or spotty. So POC books are an unknown and highly risky. Then once you try to shelve the book, booksellers are faced with the same lack of data — just a rocky road from start to finish. But I do feel there isn’t a flood of multicultural romance manuscripts going into the slush pile. My experience is anecdotal only — being around author-landia, the authors writing POC characters or more specifically in my case, Asian characters, start to band together. You don’t see a lot of them in comparison to all the other authors out there. And there’s a reason for it — it’s currently a very narrow niche. But as more authors emerge, more aspiring authors will jump on board. I would have never thought to write historicals set in China if I hadn’t happened across Jade Lee’s Tigress series. And I wasn’t even looking for Asian historical romances because I didn’t know they existed.

    On top of that, just hearing from editors in the ether that they don’t get many POC characters to reject to begin with. That doesn’t mean if you submit a POC manuscript, you’re in. Oh, hells no! :)

    Of the published authors in the Authors of Asian Novels group (which is not a romance specific group), three have sold to Harlequin. What does that mean? Absolutely nothing. Well, it does show that Harleuqin is taking some manuscripts and bringing them to market. I don’t want Harlequin to be the only one–they just have so many lines that there are more possibilities of finding some place to fit. And more, of course, would be nice. Vicki Essex’s next Superromance features an Asian heroine in a small town. I think it’s titled “Back to the Good Fortune Diner” and out in January 2013 according to her blog. I’m quite excited — the character seems to have an upbringing similar to mine.

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  34. Sirius
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 09:37:27

    @Roslyn Holcomb: I want the books with multicultural characters as long as it is the book that satisfies me. I loved “What binds us” by Larry Benjamen, where the author is black (as I discovered from the picture later on) – was depressed after reading it for a different reason but thought the book was amazing, but I loved “Somathestesia” (UGH, hope I did not butcher the spelling) by Ann Sommerville who as far as I know is not black (have not seen her picture either :)) just as much. Could that be that she made mistakes in portraying black character? I am sure it is quite possible and if it is so, I will listen and learn about it, but I thought the book was wonderful, so yes, I would love all authors to write as many multicultural characters as they can.

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  35. Sunita
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 09:38:04

    @SAO:

    I’m interested in a good story, not characters with skin tone not too far from mine. That being said, I never browse in the African American section of a bookstore or in Kimani.

    If the first sentence in this quote is accurate, why do you never browse AA? I honestly don’t understand this.

    I buy Kimani novels almost every month. They drive me crazy because the ONLY thing I know I’m getting is AA characters. The heat level can range from Sweet to Presents. The characters range from Mega-Billionaires to the Ordinary But Gorgeous Dude Next Door. There can be babies or no babies, big families or orphan heroes/heroines. It’s a crapshoot. I’ve learned there are some authors I like (e.g. Farrah Rochon), others I avoid. But it’s taken months of hit-and-miss buying to get to that point. Categories are not supposed to work that way. Lines are supposed to give readers signals about plot/character/setting/heat, not just the color of the characters’ skin. If someone reads by, say, trope or heat level, Kimani is going to frustrate them regularly.

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  36. Roslyn Holcomb
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 09:44:08

    @Ridley on Goodreads try Interracial Multicultural Romance Readers. http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/32045 and Fans of Interracial Romance http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/13439
    If you like paranormal try http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/32641

    The Fans of Interracial romance is more active, but the IMRR site maintains a very large database of interracial/multicultural books. Author Pat Cromwell maintains a database of interracial books releeased each week. http://www.patcromwell.com/

    If you want reviews check out OOSA, APOOO, RAWSISTAZ or SORMAG. Each has a site, and are very active on Facebook. None of them are romance exclusive, but they’re easy to search.

    And don’t worry, most of the posters on these sites are far more accommodating and welcoming than I am. I’m a crabby old broad unlikely to change my ways. The younguns are much nicer.

    @Ros, yes there is a romance community for multicultural reader/authors that is parallel to the white or mainstream one. After years of begging for acknowledgment or inclusion we simply created our own.

    @Sirius, I haven’t read much MM, so, off the top of my head I can’t tell you any black authors in the genre, but I’d be surprised if there aren’t at least a few.

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  37. Sirius
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 09:50:31

    @Roslyn Holcomb: I don’t doubt there are black authors in mm genre (I brought up one whom I accidentally learned that he is) and I think it is wonderful, I was saying that for me it really does not matter in terms of the quality books they write.

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  38. Ridley
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 09:56:00

    @Roslyn Holcomb:

    And don’t worry, most of the posters on these sites are far more accommodating and welcoming than I am. I’m a crabby old broad unlikely to change my ways. The younguns are much nicer.

    Good to know. You know me. I’ve a thin skin and scare easily. ;-)

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  39. Isobel Carr
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 09:58:15

    Many of the POC authors I know are writing Caucasian characters (Jade Lee, Grace Calloway, Shelly Laurenston, Nalini Singh [leads in her Archangel series], Sherry Thomas, Bella Andre, me). And I bet a lot of people have no IDEA about what any of our racial or ethnic backgrounds are unless our name spells it out (like Nalini and Jade).

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  40. Roslyn Holcomb
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 09:58:17

    Exactly Sunita, that’s the problem I find with Kimanis as well. That’s the issue with a “black section” period. Everything black, regardless of trope or heat level is thrown together with no guidelines whatever. It’s frustrating as hell. Readers read categories because they’re a known quantity, unfortunately that doesn’t happen when everything is based on race. I also understand the concern about readers preferences as well. They fear not being able to find their faves, which is a legitimate point. Why lose the protection of the niche to gain very few new readers?

    @Suleikha, sorry I missed your post. I think it’s crucial to come to the table knowing what you’re getting into. And keep in mind, I’m a natural pessimist. Just know there’s stupid shit out there so you don’t get slammed upside the head like I did.

    I don’t worry so much about white writers “getting it wrong,” unless they do something absolutely stupid, nearly as much as I worry about being elbowed out of the genre. Black readers have always read white authors, so that’s not unusual for us. Those of us who are older know there was no black genre fiction until the mid -90s. So it was read white or read nothing. However white people have endless choice. They could read a book a day and never encounter a non-white character or writer if that’s what they prefer. The imbalance is problematic to say the least.

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  41. Roslyn Holcomb
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 10:02:04

    Good to know. You know me. I’ve a thin skin and scare easily. ;-)

    *snicker* you’re lehendary for being a delicate flower.

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  42. Nadia Lee
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 10:14:46

    @Isobel Carr: In Jade’s case though, Lee isn’t necessarily an Asian name. Examples: Robert E. Lee. Rachel Lee.

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  43. Isobel Carr
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 10:21:54

    @Nadia Lee: For me “Jade” coupled with “Lee” is a clear indicator in a way that “Nadia” coupled with “Lee” isn’t. I grew up with a passel of “Lees” in Santa Cruz: big, blond, Caucasian Lees. Everyone in the Bay Area expects them to be Chinese. The stunned faces when a 6’4” towhead walks in the door can be pretty funny.

    I’m surprised to see that Beverly Jenkins doesn’t appear in the DA author cloud. She writes all kinds of subgenres, and I absolutely love her historicals (they’re really the only AA ones I know of).

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  44. Ren
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 10:26:43

    @Maili: There’s a great deal of difference between “the author didn’t get the location of the bathrooms at Wrigley Field right” and “the author is a racist exploiting a minority for personal profit.”

    Which is how that particular “criticism” tends to be stated, probably because it makes the person stating it feel like less of a racist for meaning “The author failed to satisfy my personal stereotype of what is [insert pertinent race/ethnicity/nationality] enough.”

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  45. Roslyn Holcomb
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 10:32:36

    @Jeannie Lin, that’s interesting to hear, especially since Asian books aren’t niched the way AA books are. I know Harlequin tried it with Hispanic books, but it didn’t fly. I vaguely remember an Asian line, but I don’t think it stuck around long enough to register. So they were forced to include those books in their general lines. In many ways I suspect AA authors are victims of our own success. I wonder if Kimani hadn’t succeeded would Harlequin have been forced to do the same for AA books.

    Does niching further the goal of multiculturalism or does it restrict it? Is multiculturalism even a goal and should it be? Some would say not so much, especially if it means white authors gaining access to black readers when there’s no reciprocal gain for black authors.

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  46. Anu
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 10:39:11

    I check out the “Contemporary” lists at Romance in Color for their release schedules and book summaries (http://romanceincolor.com/june2012.htm#CONTEMPORARY/SERIES_ROMANCE).

    More than half the releases are Harlequin or other series, and I just don’t do series lines as a rule (as opposed to author series which I’m fine with). Still, if a storyline in Dafina/Kimani/Arabesque peaks my interest, I’ll go with it.

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  47. Jamie Michele
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 10:46:50

    I recently sold two romantic suspenses to Kelli Martin at Montlake Romance. The second features a Chinese-Czechoslovakian heroine living in America. At no point has anyone — not my agent, Jill Marsal of Marsal Lyon Literary, nor my editor, who of course used to be Kimani’s senior editor — mentioned the heroine’s ethnicity. Her ethnic heritage matters greatly in the book, for it forms the base of her identity and figures strongly in her character arc as well as the actual plot of the novel.

    Has no one mentioned her ethnicity because I’m a white author, and as a white author, I get a pass? Or is it because she’s not wholly non-White? Does being only half-POC/half-White change things?

    Either way, it’s disturbing to think that I’ve been given any sort of pass, unless it’s a pass based on the growing acceptance of non-White characters in romance novels. That Kelli Martin purchased this book is, perhaps, no coincidence. I suspect that a woman who used to acquire for Kimani would be less likely than others to avoid buying a book because of a character’s ethnic origin.

    For better or for worse, I didn’t write this heroine as Chinese-Czechoslovakian to do anyone any favors. I wrote a non-White heroine because I don’t live in a White world, and I don’t want to write about one, either.

    But more importantly (for me), I wrote her that way because that’s who she is. For her to be anything else would have required me to write a different book.

    I’m sort of embarrassed to admit that despite my liberal education, it didn’t occur to me that I might be doing anything special by writing a non-White heroine until very recently — while reading these blogs, actually. I’ve been lurking, wondering if I’ve screwed up. I did the best that I could to write her authentically, as I do with all of my characters, but now I’m a little anxious that I’ll be subject to an additional level of scrutiny for having written a character outside of my own ethnicity. That wasn’t a risk I set out to take.

    I feel naive for not having thought about any of this before, but perhaps it was for the best. Would I have done it the same way, if I’d have known what I was doing? I can’t say, but I do know that I’m going to keep on writing people of color as lead protagonists in my novels.

    On another note, since there isn’t an Asian-American Romance sub-section in most bookstores, does writing an Asian or part-Asian character not raise as many eyebrows as writing a Black character would? Is there not the subsequent question of “where do we shelve this?” Or does my ethnicity — Scottish + Unknown White Origin — make that question moot?

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  48. Jamie Michele
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 10:55:02

    Ah, based on @Roslyn Holcomb’s comments above (which were written as I composed my own initial reply), I believe the answers to my final questions are all yes. Asian characters do not force editors and booksellers to think about shelving a book in the AA section, but then again, as a White author, I’m not sure that I’d EVER get shelved there, even if I wrote a novel populated entirely with Black people.

    This reminds me of the time I tried to find Irene Hannon’s “Heroes of Quantico” books at Barnes & Noble. Searched high and low in the Romance section, only to eventually find them waaaaaay across the store in the Christian/Inspirational section, with all the non-fiction and Bibles. I’d never have found them if I hadn’t gone looking for them, as I do not normally frequent that section.

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  49. Jeannie Lin
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 10:57:03

    I don’t like the thought that if white authors wrote multicultural books, then they would sell. Or the thought that white authors would be taking away sales from POC authors. I mean, it’s something that I can’t offer evidence to contradict other than what readers here have said — that they’re looking at the story not the author. It’s just a sentiment that so completely pits “us” against “them” and seems to me, counterproductive.

    I know there was backlash against “Memoirs of a Geisha” – huge mega-bestseller and written by a Caucasian male. I understand how many readers felt the Japanese culture was appropriated and fetishized. I didn’t get that from reading the book, but that doesn’t mean these were not valid criticisms. These could be valid criticisms and it could still be a very good book that hooked a lot of readers. I did wonder if the backlash was due to the fact that the author was white and it seemed unfair if that was the case. We see similar criticisms with “The Help” as well, which I haven’t read so I can’t comment on it.

    The biggest selling Asian fantasy books are from white authors — but that doesn’t mean to me that only white authors will sell. I don’t want to take away from the storytelling success of authors like GGK and Allison Goodman. These authors have spent time building their craft as well as their following. And I do feel that the success of their books in the market do help to open it up to similar stories by authors of any race.

    But I do understand where these comments are coming from and that they are not wholly unfounded. I just don’t adopt them into my mode of operation because it gives me nowhere to go or build from. If I believe that this is a true obstacle, then it is an insurmountable one.

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  50. Heidi Belleau
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 10:57:51

    @Ren:

    Wait wait wait, just so we’re seeing eye-to-eye here.

    “I’m a member of X culture/ethnicity and this is inaccurate to my lived experience.” in your head translates to, “This doesn’t fit my ‘personal stereotype’ of [my own race/ethnicity]“?

    Or are we talking about readers being (supposedly) angry when an IR/MC romance doesn’t fit current racist stereotypes, Like say calling an author racist because they wrote a romance where an Asian character is bad at math?

    I’m having a hard time believing you meant he latter, at this point, which really makes me wonder.

    Either way, I hardly see how it matters. It’s a fair distinction that there is an important difference between making a factual error in a historical and making an error of representation when writing outside your own ethnicity.

    However, if the droves of straight people who write M/M despite gay men calling them out for X Y Z is any indication, people of a privilege on the whole have absolutely no problem writing things and getting them wrong and being criticized… just so long as they really want to write that thing in the first place. All the gay men in the world couldn’t stop the M/M genre. People want to write it, so they will.

    So knowing that, I find it really hard to accept the idea that there are just thousands of white authors all desperate to write POC characters but too afraid of criticism to give it a go. I mean, I’m sure there are some considerate people saying “I really don’t want to do this wrong so I’m not sure if I want to do it at all.” But I’m guessing those people are vastly outnumbered by people using these accusations of racism as a scapegoat.

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  51. Roslyn Holcomb
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 10:58:53

    @Jamie Michele, as a white author you fall under the Brockmann/Patterson rule: Regardless of the color of your characters your books will never be placed in the Negro ghetto, nor, would they, regardless of content, be shuffled off to a niche line. As for it not occurring to you that it might be an issue, why would it? That’s skin privilege #1, never having to think about race unless you want to.

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  52. Jeannie Lin
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 11:05:10

    @Roslyn Holcomb:

    In many ways I suspect AA authors are victims of our own success. I wonder if Kimani hadn’t succeeded would Harlequin have been forced to do the same for AA books.

    This is a very good point. It also goes to show that all MC books can’t be spoken of in the same context. They share some commonalities in the market, but also have huge differences. On one hand, Harlequin and other publishers have identified a readership for AA romances. That’s not a bad thing. On the other hand, while strengthening that readership, it prevents AA romances from being mainstreamed. It’s the marketing as “other” strategy that I mentioned, both a blessing and a curse.

    The market for Asian romances is so small, or rather non-existent, that the books do float in the mainstream. They are recognized for having Asian protags, but not classified as strictly Asian books. I think this translates to less distinctive pigeon-holing but also less sales. People don’t know where to find them because no such sub-genre really exists.

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  53. Roslyn Holcomb
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 11:13:10

    @Jeannie Lin, I can’t speak for books featuring Asian characters, but we’ve seen time and again the way books with POC are embraced by white readers only when they have a white author. The Help was a major hit with a multi million dollar movie deal. Just off the top of my head I can name a dozen black authors who’ve written the same story and only gotten crickets in response. And that’s only this year’s example.

    It’s the same way with movies. It’s almost impossible to get a story with a multicultural cast greenlighted unless it has a white protagonist. Which is how we wound up with the Navajo codetalker movie starring Nicholas Cage!

    In the romance genre we’ve seen multicultural books by white or presumed to be white authors like Brockmann and Laurenston, while known to be black authors are still languishing in the Negro ghetto. Readers have been very clear in saying that they “can’t relate” to books by black author. What they mean is they fear being confronted with race or racism. They assume that if it’s written by a white author they won’t have to deal with that, or at least it’ll be put in such a way that they on’t see themselves. Much as it was done in The Help where the racist were so over the top it was easy to dismiss them.

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  54. Las
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 11:18:34

    @Jeannie Lin:

    I don’t like the thought that if white authors wrote multicultural books, then they would sell. Or the thought that white authors would be taking away sales from POC authors. I mean, it’s something that I can’t offer evidence to contradict other than what readers here have said — that they’re looking at the story not the author. It’s just a sentiment that so completely pits “us” against “them” and seems to me, counterproductive.

    First, I think it’s a huge mistake to look at what the online Romance community is saying as representative of Romance readers as a whole (and that goes for pretty much every other online community). I mean, judging by online readers, one would expect Harlequin Presents to have gone out of business decades ago.

    Second, it’s not counterproductive if it’s true, and I don’t think we help matters by ignoring the obvious. I don’t have any philosophical objections to white authors writing POC characters at all, but until we live in a world where POC–particularly black–authors have the same publishing and marketing opportunities as white authors, and where white readers don’t show a marked preference for reading POC characters written by white authors, it’s always going to be problematic.

    You mention The Help (alternate title: White People Solve Racism) and Memoirs of a Geisha–the criticisms against both those books are valid. Judging by what sells, white readers only want diversity if it’s made palatable by someone who looks like them. It’s why people love quoting Tim Wise when it comes to white privilege…he says nothing that POCs haven’t been saying forever, but now that a white man is saying those things, white people are willing to listen. Wise isn’t wrong for saying it, but his fans need to ask themselves why they’re willing to listen to him.

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  55. Anu
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 11:18:54

    @Jeannie Lin:

    I think Asian romances have another leg up over AA romances in that we can be exoticized *into* visibility, if that makes sense. The exoticization opens space for us to exist in white (mainstream) culture but I think Black people are deemed Other in a way that writes them *out* of mainstream culture.

    People are curious about my foods, holidays, clothing, romantic relationships, etc. in ways that open conversations (“I loved Monsoon Wedding!” “samosas are awesome!”) and invite me in.

    I don’t see that happen often with African-Americans.

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  56. Laura Vivanco
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 11:21:58

    @Roslyn Holcomb:

    Asian books aren’t niched the way AA books are. I know Harlequin tried it with Hispanic books, but it didn’t fly. I vaguely remember an Asian line, but I don’t think it stuck around long enough to register. So they were forced to include those books in their general lines. In many ways I suspect AA authors are victims of our own success. I wonder if Kimani hadn’t succeeded would Harlequin have been forced to do the same for AA books.

    Harlequin occasionally published AA romances “in their general lines” before “Kimani Press was formed by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd. in December 2005, with the purchase of the Arabesque, Sepia and New Spirit imprints from BET Books” (AALBC).

    According to the Romance Wiki:

    A Strong And Tender Thread [1983] was the first African-American title published by any Harlequin imprint, although it was written by a caucasian author who originally wrote the characters as caucasian. As Kathleen Gilles Seidel explained in an interview, Harlequin American Romance senior editor Vivian Stephens wanted to publish books with African-American characters, but wasn’t receiving any submissions, so she asked Weger to change her characters. The first African-American romance written by an African-American author came the next year, with Sandra Kitt’s Adam And Eva.

    Is Brenda Jackson only writing for Kimani now that Harlequin has an AA imprint? I don’t tend to follow the Desires, but in the UK she’s got a Desire out in July (Bachelor Unleashed). It looks as though in the US it was published as a Kimani.

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  57. Roslyn Holcomb
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 11:33:54

    The market for Asian romances is so small, or rather non-existent, that the books do float in the mainstream. They are recognized for having Asian protags, but not classified as strictly Asian books. I think this translates to less distinctive pigeon-holing but also less sales. People don’t know where to find thembecause no such sub-genre really exists.

    This is what I’ve always suspected the niche is both a blessing and a curse. It also hearkens back to what you said about sales data, and why having white authors write POC characters can be dangerous. Asian books aren’t niched, but might have fewer sales because your built-in readers, Asians, might not be able to find them. Now, compare that to the situation white authors are in, especially a best selling one. Her books will receive greater attention simply because she’s already well-known. Her sales will automatically be higher than yours. But will publishers take that into account when it comes to buying a multicultural book? Or will they try to duplicate as many factors that led to the success of that book? I think we all know that publihers are in the monkey see, monkey do business. White authors will be geenlighted, but POC? not so much.

    The success of those authors will be used as a means test against us, just as they do now. ” Brockmann got a bestseller with an IR couple, if you can’t you must be a subpar author.” (Yeah, I’ve actually heard that.)

    And I agree that you can’t lump the issues of all multicultural authors together. Black authors have to overcome the assumption that our books are sub-standard. I don’t think Asian authors have to deal with that one, but you have your own hurdles as well.

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  58. Anu
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 11:34:36

    @Suleikha Snyder:

    Additionally, no joke, I would totally go in on an “Other People’s Holidays” anthology. Durga Puja, anyone?

    Is that Navratri? I would TOTALLY buy that!!

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  59. Roslyn Holcomb
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 11:40:49

    @Laura Vivanco, Brenda Jackson’s books do sometimes appear in the mainstream line, but I think she’s the only one. I buy multiples when they do, as do many of my friends. We want to let Harlequin know that we will buy outside the niche. I would be interested to know what the numbers are like when they do. I know fashion magazines state unequivocally that they lose sales big time when they put a black woman on the cover. Does this translate to romance? Dunno, but I fear it might.

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  60. Suleikha Snyder
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 11:43:27

    @Anu: It’s specifically during the fall Navratri. Durga Puja ends with Vijayadashami/Dussehra. A big to-do in Bengal! But, of course, there’s always Holi and Diwali, too! Imagine the shenanigans a hero and heroine could get up to with colored powder or in a circle of brightly lit lamps…

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  61. Ridley
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 11:47:41

    @Roslyn Holcomb: There was an SSE a couple years ago with a black couple in it. I didn’t buy it because 1. I’ve never ever liked an SSE and 2. it had the amnesia trope, which I hate even more than secret baby. “The Husband She Couldn’t Forget” might’ve been the title.

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  62. Jamie Michele
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 11:49:40

    @Roslyn Holcomb, absolutely agreed that my white privilege is showing, and thank you for pointing it out. That I wrote an Asian-White character and didn’t consider the ramifications isn’t “Look at how enlightened I am! I didn’t even think about race!” but rather “Look at how White I am! I didn’t *have* to think about race!”

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  63. Sunita
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 11:52:11

    @Ridley: There is a Cheryl St. John contemporary with an IR couple (white woman, black man) from a couple of years back in one of the Silhouette lines. I enjoyed it, but it has a sperm-bank-mixup plot that might be on the no-way list for some readers.

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  64. Laura Vivanco
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 11:54:30

    @Ridley: I couldn’t remember the title until you mentioned it, but I’ve checked now and it was written by Carmen Green. Janine reviewed it here at DA, having

    made a mental note to myself to purchase it, partly because I want to encourage more diversity in the genre, and buying a Silhouette Special Edition that features African American protagonists is a good way to do that, and partly because I have a soft spot for amnesia stories.

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  65. Maili
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 11:55:59

    @Ren:

    There’s a great deal of difference between “the author didn’t get the location of the bathrooms at Wrigley Field right” and “the author is a racist exploiting a minority for personal profit.”

    Of course there’s a difference. I meant in term of authors handling readers’ responses to the details. Honestly, I’m scratching my head over your decision to take it to the level of “a racist exploiting a minority for personal profit”. Where did that come from? I wasn’t even thinking racism when I wrote my response. In any case, all creators – regardless of media they use to express their creations – exploit all sorts for various reasons including money.

    It doesn’t bother me, to be honest. What I do care about is how they depict, represent or describe people and cultures of the world (white people included). I certainly don’t mean POC can’t be baddies or that they have to be perfect. I’m talking about those who rely on stereotypes or certain types as a short-cut. Quite a few HQN and contemporary authors seem to adore the ‘sassy, sexy and wise-cracking black best friend’ type and so they use this, often without fleshing her out. A bit of variety or a deeper characterisation would be appreciated.

    Which is how that particular “criticism” tends to be stated, probably because it makes the person stating it feel like less of a racist for meaning “The author failed to satisfy my personal stereotype of what is [insert pertinent race/ethnicity/nationality] enough.”

    I honestly don’t know what to make of that. Especially when I know people who pointed out mistakes tend to focus on fighting against stereotypes and/or appropriation. Sorry for being so dense, but I don’t understand what you’re saying.

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  66. Anu
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 11:56:35

    @Suleikha Snyder:

    It’s specifically during the fall Navratri. Durga Puja ends with Vijayadashami/Dussehra. A big to-do in Bengal! But, of course, there’s always Holi and Diwali, too! Imagine the shenanigans a hero and heroine could get up to with colored powder or in a circle of brightly lit lamps…

    I thought Bengalis referred to the whole of Navratri as Durga Puja. For us Telugus, it’s Durga Puja, Lakshmi Puja, and finish with Saraswati Puja. I love Navratri, and I’m determined that this year, I will learn to do the rituals on my own rather than just show up at the temple for Dassehra (and then only because my mom reminded me lol).

    But yeah, Holi or Diwali would be much more accessible in a romance, as well as just deliciously romantic. I beg you write this!

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  67. Sunita
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 11:59:53

    @Suleikha Snyder: @Anu: I vote for an anthology where the biggest holiday in each region is featured. You could have Holi, Durga Puja, Ganesh Chaturthi, etc.

    Of course, if a publisher did one of these, all the Indians would be mixed-race. Or the beloved object would be Not Indian. *sigh*

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  68. Jeannie Lin
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 12:01:21

    @Roslyn Holcomb: You and @Las both bring up good points which were also highlighted by Jamie’s comments. If white authors can sell stories that POC authors can’t — is this a problem that can be addressed with what Janet/Robin Reader was proposing? More of everyone writing everything until general acceptance broadens? Or does it truly exacerbate the problem when a white author can find success writing POC characters when an author of that race/ethnicity cannot?

    And the white savior issue — ugh — a whole other can of worms.

    I don’t wish to sweep the issue under the rug in my comments of the idea that white authors sell and POC authors don’t being counter-productive. I’m trying to frame the issue in ways that I as an author can take and do something with. There are a lot of issues and a lot of the posts about multicultural books tend to highlight the problems — i.e. Why are there not more non-white people on YA covers? It is good to keep on pointing out issues. It’s also good to be angry — if there’s something productive that can come from it. That’s why I appreciate posts like this one that try to tackle from the angle of what can be done other than just ranting because I do enough ranting of my own. :)

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  69. Janine
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 12:09:46

    @Ridley: I reviewed The Husband She Couldn’t Forget a while back. The treatement of amnesia was very fresh — the hero had a brain injury/disability that was treated in a realistic manner and affected his sense of direction and other factors besides his memory.

    He was a sweet and lovable hero but I felt ambivalent about the book because of the heroine’s actions. As his (occupational) therapist, she should have quit her job due to their relationship. She acted unethically and this wasn’t addressed strongly enough in the book to satisfy me.

    Still, the book was worth reading and I encourage you to read it if the amnesia is what’s stopping you. This was not the kind of amnesia one usually sees in the romance genre.

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  70. Suleikha Snyder
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 12:10:33

    @Anu: Yeah “Durga Puja” is sort of the Bengali catch-all for that entire period of celebration. When I lived with my family, we’d do Saraswati Puja in February, Durga Puja in the fall and any number of rituals in between! Last year, I spent Kali Puja with cousins, and that was a blast.

    @Sunita: That anthology idea sounds brilliant! Sadly, you’re probably right about the makeup of the cast of characters. Everybody would be an exotic “half,” and there would probably need to be a blonde in a sari on the cover. (Not that I don’t adore all the sari-wearing American aunties who’ve celebrated festivals with us over the years — because I absolutely do!)

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  71. Roslyn Holcomb
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 12:12:14

    @Jeannie Lin, I agree wholeheartedly, and i don’t want to be the “Negative Nellie.” White authors writing POC is going to happen regardless of what I, or anybody else thinks of it. For one thing, this country is becoming increasingly multicultural. Multicultural marriages are becoming more commonplace. I think I read somewhere that 25% of white people in this country now have a black relative. I read somewhere else just today that Asians are now the largest percentage of immigrants coming to this country. The generations coming up are also more open minded, or at least I hope so! I just want it to be understood that while multiculturalism can be a blessing, it, much like niche marketing can also be a curse. I don’t know if there are any “solutions” so to speak, aside for continuing to do what I’ve always done; write the best book I can, promote the hell out of it, and pray that it sells.

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  72. Meri
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 12:24:08

    @Roslyn Holcomb:
    I meant that if you look at the more visible parts of the genre – big publishers, high profile authors – there aren’t a lot of authors writing multicultural characters and diverse settings. I agree that a lot of authors who *do* write the sort of books we’re discussing here are under the radar for most readers and that this is a problem.

    @Ros:
    I’m not American, either, and I don’t always know if an author is African-American, or a member of another minority. And while my country has its own divisions and tensions, they are different from the ones Americans might experience.

    Personally, when I try a new author, I am interested in whether the book sounds like it would appeal to me. That’s it. I can’t browse in physical bookstores, I don’t see author photos unless I get the book (often not then, either, since I switched to e-reading), and most of the reviews I read do not mention the author’s cultural background or ethnicity. It’s not necessarily something I can guess, unless the name makes it really obvious.

    @Jeannie Lin:
    It also goes to show that all MC books can’t be spoken of in the same context.
    Absolutely – and I’m not sure there is one solution to making multicultural books more visible and more successful. There are different issues and barriers that affect authors who write different types of multicultural books and characters, and dealing with these barriers would require different strategies.

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  73. Leela
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 12:25:17

    Okay, I’ve got to say it: it strikes me as a massive irony that this post (and its attendant awesome conversation) comes with a “related posts” list that includes a First Page story whose major critique-replies (outside of the usual “go away and practice writing more”) come across as severe dislike of anything that sounds too foreign. Many of the reviewers, as I recall, seemed pretty definite that they were simply uninterested anything that required stepping outside the white-Anglo box.

    I’m aware that’s as anecdotal as anything else (what agents want, what publishers want, what authors think everyone wants), but still. That particular post made an impression on me, because it starkly highlighted the difference between what many readers say they want, versus their reaction when actually presented with it. And it told me that if I ever wish to publish, I should call the love interest a suitably-Anglo name like John, and set the story in Nebraska, or some other equally white-dominated locale.

    (Which is really a pity, because when I grow up, I want to be Jeannie Lin. Failing that, I plan to someday trap Ms. Lin in a small room and talk her into tackling the Ming Dynasty next. I mean, Tang’s great and all, but what about the Liao? I’ll see your Liao and raise you a Southern Song. Please?)

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  74. Jane
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 12:27:02

    @Roslyn Holcomb – I completely disagree with you. Readers will be harmed if there is some unspoken prohibition about what color you have to be in order to write certain books. Maybe there is some fear that minorities won’t have “shelf space” if more white authors write books about minorities, but that’s not what we should be advocating as readers.

    As readers, we need a diversity in content and it doesn’t matter who it is writing it. I’ll take it from a martian if she is good at writing it.

    Let me address the Kimani line for a moment. The Kimani line a) has no consistency in the brand; b) there is a wide range of explicitness although most of it trends toward the Harlequin Romance instead of the Harlequin Blaze. Only a couple of authors (Maureen Smith and Brenda Jackson) write really steamy stories. No surprise, but those are two of the most successful writers. and c) many, many of the stories are quite tedious and dull and their non success with mainstream readers may have a lot to do with that.

    I know I try many of them and can hardly get through the first chapter. (And that is true for me for other lines for Harlequin as well).

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  75. Jeannie Lin
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 12:36:48

    @Roslyn Holcomb:
    I absolutely see your point — and am thinking of the issues in a way I hadn’t thought of before. How these pinpoint examples — Brockman does it, why can’t you — can be a case of one step forward, two steps back. This is a very valid counterpoint to the proposal that big name authors lead the charge. Their successes will seem like the exception and not the norm.

    Your example of Tim Wise reminded me of a comment that John Howard Griffin, author of Black Like Me, made in his book. He stated that since he wrote the book and had the experience of changing his skin, now people mistake him for an expert on what it mean to be black. Ironically, white people would defer to him as the authority even when there were black people involved in the conversation. Yes, he does have a unique perspective, but he himself admits it does not make him an authority. Does this phenomenon translate to trusting a white author to tell a MC story better than an MC author? It must. So I do take your comments to heart with new eyes.

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  76. Anu
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 12:40:44

    In the BEA post that spurred that last discussion on non-white romance, a Carina Press editor commented on how they much WANT to acquire more romances featuring non-white h/h. But Roslyn Holcomb’s comments suggest that publishers’ doors are closed to AA authors; it seemed like e-publishers might offer AA romances an out from the Kimani/Dafina/Arabesque ghetto, but it hasn’t happened. Now, no publisher will say anything other than that they’re always open to a good romance. But that Carina editor said something when she didn’t have to – so that brings two questions to mind:

    1) Why if presses like Carina practically beg for non-white romances do we see so few?

    2) What is the disconnect? Are publishers just talking out of both sides of their mouths?

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  77. Jeannie Lin
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 12:42:08

    @Leela: Did you say Liao? Like for reals? You aren’t a sock-puppet for someone else I know, are you? I do have a short coming out set on the Khitan steppe — but sorry, it’s still Tang era.

    And Ming Dynasty? I’m sorry. That would never sell. ;)

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  78. Roslyn Holcomb
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 12:44:52

    @Jane, it’s a given that you don’t care what happens to multicultural authors, but surely you don’t expect me as a multicultural author to embrace that which might in fact be my own doom? I happen to think we multicultural authors bring something to the table that white authors cannot, but, of course, you, the reader, are the final arbiter of that. It does beg the question though, if you don’t care about the voice of the person creating the characters what would be the purpose of multiculturalism in the first place? An opportunity for white authors and readers to get their “diversity” badge? We’ve seen time and again in this country how ” inclusiveness” is often detrimental to minority groups. Now, as a reader blog I get that you don’t care about that. Apparently “multiculturalism” is welcome even if it means that actual POC are erased from their own stories. And now we see why The Help was such a hit.

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  79. Jane
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 12:56:57

    @Roslyn Holcomb: Your comment presumes binary results. Non POC authors rise must necessarily mean POC authors are “erased from their own stories.” I disagree with your conclusion and your insulting statements that I don’t care about multicultural authors.

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  80. Seressia Glass
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 12:59:11

    There’s not much I can add to this discussion, but I’m nodding in agreement to everything Roslyn said.

    I remember pitching Shadowchasers, my UF series with POC (he’s Nubian, she’s African and something else). I got a lot of “we don’t know how to market this.” Same when I pitched my “seven pyschic sisters. One big headache” to a Harlequin editor (and the “I don’t know how black people will react to ‘woo-woo’ stuff.”) Or hey, my AA historical idea got the “Beverly Jenkins already has the AA historical market tied up.”

    It’s not from lack of trying. It’s from tried, passed, now moving on. Of course, it could also be that my ideas suck. ;-)

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  81. Anu
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 13:00:15

    @Suleikha: Navratri throughout the year? Sounds like a blast. Well, for you North Indians anyway – I always complain that the while the Northies get to party and dance, us Southies just sit and pray all day;)

    @Sunita @Suleikha:

    I love the anthology idea! Yeah, it wouldn’t do great mainstream business here, but why not as a niche product? Remember that movie, American Desi, in the ’90s? Or how about all the Bollywood movies created and marketed specifically to NRIs? If we can watch two Bollywood Indians fall in love over 3+ hours on a movie screen, why not two Desis in a romance novel?

    Tangentially, do either of you know what the romance market is like within India? Again, it seems like a country that could invent the Bollywood romance would eat up Harlequins with Indian h/h.

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  82. Cassie Knight
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 13:01:51

    @Nadia Lee

    Publishers (big, small, print, digital or DIY/self-pubbers) just do not believe that it’s wort their time or money to invest in editing, fixing grammatical errors and formating/printing. As you said, readers STILL buy even when the production value is poor, so it takes away motivation / incentive for publishers to do better.

    I totally disagree with the first part. I work as an editor for three digital publishers and know a bunch others and not a single one of them feels it’s not worth their time or effort. In fact, they take great pride in what they do and the process to get their books up and as perfect as they can be, can be arduous. Your brush is too wide and it’s not fair to color all publishers with the same brush of a few.

    It’s a reader’s fault for snapping up poorly written, edited and formatted books and degrading the value of published books. It’s such a sad state of affairs and makes me weep for the future. But again, I don’t think it takes away from the motivation to do a good job for the majority of publishers.

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  83. Moriah Jovan
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 13:04:54

    @Seressia Glass:

    got a lot of “we don’t know how to market this.”

    I got a lot of that, too. With five novels. BEFORE I started writing niche-specific. I know scads of excellent non-POC writers who get that. That’s not a racial thing. It’s a “I might be able to make money off you but I don’t care enough to try to figure out how” thing.

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  84. Seressia Glass
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 13:08:38

    @Moriah Jovan:

    Ah. Then maybe I’ll whitewash my characters, adopt a nom de plume and resubmit. That might just work!

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  85. Moriah Jovan
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 13:10:55

    @Seressia Glass:

    I think you misunderstood me. Badly.

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  86. Seressia Glass
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 13:14:43

    Sorry that was me being snarky. Of course it wasn’t a racial thing for your stories. My proposals were my takes on stories I’d seen being published before. I just had POC as the main characters. So that was my impression of the “I don’t know how to market this paranormal, this historical, this contemporary comedy, etc…”. Your experience was different, and I respect that.

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  87. Maili
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 13:16:15

    Gatekeepers of the Romance genre rejected erotic romance and so, authors and readers went down the digital /self-publishing / small press route. Now erotic romance is very much part of the genre. Similar things happened — including erotica, vampire romance, shifter romance, non-traditional settings, non-traditional professions, BDSM and so on.

    So I assumed the same thing would happen to multicultural romance when authors made announcements they aimed to publish through that route. This was roughly six or seven years ago. So when I returned three years ago, I was surprised to see it still hasn’t made a breakthrough. Why?

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  88. Las
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 13:16:57

    @Anu:

    1) Why if presses like Carina practically beg for non-white romances do we see so few?

    They’re either flat-out lying, or they only want non-white romances in theory but when they get those manuscripts there’s always something “wrong,” like they don’t know how to market them or whatever. Kind of like how readers say they want well-edited books, but it’s the unedited crap that makes all the bestsellers lists.

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  89. Suleikha Snyder
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 13:18:43

    @Anu: HA. We Easties (or the West Bengalis, as it were) just sit around and TALK about praying all day…and then eat the prasad!

    If we can watch two Bollywood Indians fall in love over 3+ hours on a movie screen, why not two Desis in a romance novel?

    That’s pretty much my philosophy and why I’m writing Bollywood-themed, and also interracial Desi, romance. Will it do well? I don’t know! I’m still figuring that one out. Sunita is more versed on the market in India than I am, and I know it’s been talked about in past DA posts, but the overall takeaway seems to be that Indian readers in India prefer romances about non-Indians. There have been Indian-targeted romance lines, but they haven’t really gained much traction.

    I honestly have to hope that romances with Indian people, BY Indian people, DO have an audience…and that’s mostly because, while growing up, it’s what I myself wished existed.

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  90. Sunita
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 13:22:17

    @Roslyn Holcomb: The price for POC authors to write about more than POC characters has always been that non-POC writers get to write about POC characters. In other words, for everyone to write about everyone, it has to go both ways.

    Maybe you, as a POC author writing about POC characters, don’t care about the POC authors who want to write about people outside their ethnic group. I don’t know. But I do care about those authors, and positions like yours make it harder for them to write what they want.

    As an author, you have every right to put your bottom line first, second, or wherever you want to rank it. As a POC reader and supporter of POC authors, I have the right to work toward the right for all POC authors to write whatever they want.

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  91. Laura Vivanco
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 13:23:18

    @Seressia Glass:

    my AA historical idea got the “Beverly Jenkins already has the AA historical market tied up.”

    Hmm. So the AA historical market is (a) tiny and (b) reads very, very, very slowly? How on earth can one author “tie up” a whole market? I suppose what they mean is “we couldn’t market you as ‘the AA historical romance author’ because there’s already one of those.” It seems to me that way of thinking is really insulting to you, Beverly Jenkins, and her readers, because it would seem to imply that success in the AA historical market has to do with being first into the niche, not with how good the writing is.

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  92. Robin/Janet
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 13:24:24

    @Suleikha Snyder and @Violetta Vane: As I said in my post, I do think there is some prejudice, and not just of the ‘I don’t want to read about colored folks’ type. Readers can be like authors and publishers in this way — they try one book with POC protags, don’t like it, and avoid others. Which is easy to do these days, given the overwhelming whiteness (and the problematic politics of sheiks and Indian braves) of the genre. But there is also the issue of consistent quality in storytelling, totally separate from racial issues. All genres have a substantial portion of their offerings ring in at mediocre or worse. I do not think of MC as a subgenre, although it has been niched, so it is still viewed as distinct in some ways. And like the genre in general, there is inconsistent quality in the books. I suspect that some of us are reading more MC than it might appear to others, but we’re not advertising it when they’re meh or dnf’s, in the same way we don’t necessarily talk about any books that end up that way for us.

    @Roslyn Holcomb: Just out of curiosity, what do you think of Brenda Jackson’s success? IIRC she recently made the NYT Bestseller list again.

    @Jeannie Lin: I think one of the problems with Memoirs of a Geisha was that it was written by a white MALE, and because it’s a book about patriarchy as much as race and culture, that really amplified the backlash. However, I tend to think of these books as door-openers, and as that door gets pushed more and more open, more, not fewer, authors of different racial and cultural backgrounds can move through. Of course, I tend to look at this from a reader’s perspective, and as someone who has worked on educational equity issues in higher education for more than 15 years, so I feel passionately that diversifying the genre is a good thing for everyone. In the short term, there will likely be growing pains and issues and unintended consequences to deal with, but the current situation just seems so much more problematic to me, in terms of how non-white characters and settings are portrayed in the genre, how readers are de facto segregated, and how authors of color are welcomed, supported, and marketed.

    As for authors of color “passing” or not revealing their race, I’m not convinced readers embrace them because they think they’re white. In fact, I almost used Laurenston as an example in my post, but because she does not advertise her race, I chose not to. However, why can it not be the case that because her race isn’t made a big deal of — because she’s not shelved separately or marketed separately or held out as separate from the mainstream genre in any way — that her books are simply being read on their own terms. She writes heroines of color, from different racial backgrounds, so I suspect readers could think she comes from a variety of backgrounds herself. IF, in fact, that is of concern to readers. Which goes back to the question of whether there is active resistance to POC in the mainstream readership or a more passive gravitation toward what looks — and is marketed as — familiar. I think there’s much more of the latter than the former, not only in genre readers, but in people generally.

    @Isobel Carr: I have tried a couple of Jenkins’s books, and so far they just have not clicked for me. I want to like them more, because her settings are so fabulous and her characters interesting, but one issue I’ve had with them is a seeming lack of conflict. However, you remind me that I need to try again with her.

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  93. Moriah Jovan
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 13:26:03

    @Seressia Glass: Seressia, my only point was that there are themes, motifs, characterizations (unlikable heroine? GTFO), topics (when was the last time you saw religion even mentioned in a non-inspy romance, much less being part of the main characters’ lives?) that are well written but get passed on every day. It is PROBABLE that your characters being POC is the reason it was deemed “I don’t know how to market it,” but that was for your story. Me? I happen to have one too many heroines who are “interesting, but unrelatable.” Caucasian, interesting, but ultimately unrelatable. “Can you make her a vampire or something?” Fuck, no, I’m not going to make her a vampire to justify her personality. “I wouldn’t want to be friends with this heroine.” WTF? Do you REALLY have to be friends? By extension, do you REALLY have to be white?

    Apparently, a heroine must be both white and BFF-able. And oh, she can’t have a faith, either. Or certain occupations. The list, it grows.

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  94. Violetta Vane
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 13:26:31

    I always feel pretty low after reading all the barriers to POC writers writing POC characters so I’m going to try to cheer myself up by listing positive things to do:

    Writers: Support other writers, even if you don’t normally read their stuff. This doesn’t mean mindless boosterism, but be available to give newer ones tips about writing, editing, publishers, promotion, etc. Tell each other about opportunities. Do group blogs and guest posting.

    Readers: Follow up words with actions by pledging to make a certain percentage of your purchases MC/IR books. If it sucks, wait a while, then try again.

    Bloggers: pledge to review a certain number of MC/IR books. Again, honest reviews, not mindless boosterism.

    That’s what I have, off the top of my head.

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  95. Sunita
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 13:27:45

    @Suleikha Snyder: From what I can tell, browsing bookstores over the years, M&B still sells well. Historical saga/romances sell well (by non-Indians and Indians). The English-language bookstores aren’t a perfect barometer because they are geared to both locals and tourists. If you go by the old private lending libraries (which are sadly disappearing), the hot books were M&B, Heyer, bonkbusters from England, and some historical romance. Probably a mirror of British romance more than American.

    The paucity of Indian romances that mirror M&B or historical romances makes me think there’s not that much supply or demand. M&B has only released two Indian-set and Indian-written books in its local line so far (that I know of) and the Kama Kahani books seem to have stopped at half a dozen or less.

    I honestly don’t know what sells in the vernacular languages. There might be the equivalents there, but I haven’t looked. I’d only be able to tell about Hindi and Gujarati anyway.

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  96. Moriah Jovan
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 13:29:37

    And oh, my previous comment is not to mitigate or negate the topic at hand; it’s that “I don’t know how to market this” is too broad to be applicable to the more focused conversation.

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  97. Violetta Vane
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 13:32:37

    @Las and Anu:

    As I’ve said before on the similar thread, Heidi and I have an MC m/m romance/urban fantasy coming from Carina this August called The Druid Stone. And it’s not being marketed specifically as an MC—that’s just one of the elements—but Carina is very positive about it. And the cover wasn’t whitewashed.
    http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13751785-the-druid-stone

    Sorry in advance for promoting like this, but unless someone at DA tells me its tacky, I’ll drop a brief mention whenever that Carina-specific question comes up.

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  98. Heidi Belleau
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 13:34:44

    @Anu:

    Honestly, as a Carina author, I wouldn’t argue they really ARE begging. I don’t mean to insult them as a press. I’m absolutely psyched to be working with them, and the romance my co-author and I are publishing with them is an IR/MC, so obviously they are taking MC stuff and giving it a fair shake. There was absolutely no hesitance on their part to take our book on.

    However, I’d compare them to Loose Id, who I’m also working with. Leaving aside EVERYTHING ELSE but the way they solicit IR/MC submissions, I think Loose Id comes closer to “begging” than Carina does. If you look at Carina’s submission guidelines, MC/IR isn’t discouraged, but it’s also not specifically mentioned as something they’re looking for, say the way they specifically mention they are looking for stories featuring rescue animals. Now, if I actively search the Carina blog, I do find several editors specifying that they are looking for IR/MC stories, but you have to search for it. Which, of course, you should be doing anyway because I think an author submitting anywhere should be looking into a press pretty thoroughly which include the press blog. But I think Carina definitely could be doing more on its end.

    Compare that to Loose Id, whose submissions page explicitly mentions, multiple times, that they are looking for IR/MC stories. It’s the very first thing listed after the introductory description of the press and then, again, under the Specific Guidelines, where they go into detail on their expectations of IR/MC stories. There’s no doubt about what they want and how they want it.

    So you know, I do think there is room for improvement from Carina on this specific front. I don’t think they’re necessarily “speaking out of both sides of their mouths” or anything so dishonest as that, but yeah. I think if they want more IR/MC submissions, this is something they should be looking at.

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  99. Jeannie Lin
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 13:48:19

    @Maili:

    So I assumed the same thing would happen to multicultural romance when authors made announcements they aimed to publish through that route. This was roughly six or seven years ago. So when I returned three years ago, I was surprised to see it still hasn’t made a breakthrough. Why?

    I think the difference is that erotic romance constitutes a specific sub-genre.

    Multicultural books are spread out all over the spectrum — it’s harder to pin down a specific readership and market to that readership. Or in the case of AA romance, it’s tightly niched which I think presents other problems for widespread adoption.

    I think Beverly Jenkins wrote up a commentary on her self-publishing journey and she mentioned that part of her success relied on writing in a popular sub-genre, not a niche. The same challenges for finding the multicultural market are ten-fold in the small press/e-pub arena. Especially when there’s less promotion and smaller distribution. Now what about self-pub? Again, with a poorly defined market, how will people discover your books? What keywords or categories will lead people to you? Who are the read-alikes and “also boughts” that will help drive readers to your book?

    @Robin/Janet: I also see these books as “door openers”. I see more representation as a good thing, tropes and stereotypes included. Familiarity is a powerful thing. The only way the picture will ever round out is if there are a lot of varied depictions of POC characters from every angle.

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  100. Jeannie Lin
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 13:50:55

    Darn it….too many Beverly’s. I meant “Beverly Kendall” talked about not writing in a niche genre, not Beverly Jenkins.

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  101. Roslyn Holcomb
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 14:01:44

    Maybe there is some fear that minorities won’t have “shelf space” if more white authors write books about minorities, but that’s not what we should be advocating as readers.

    I’m sorry you find your own words insulting but I don’t know how else to interpret this comment. Especially when you followed it by saying you don’t care if the books are written by Martians. Personally I do think it’s detrimental to romance in general if multiculturalism is filtered through white eyes.

    As for assuming binary results, of course I do, why wouldn’t I? We have an embarrassment of examples of just that. I would have to be an idiot and totally ignorant of the history of this country to not be concerned.

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  102. Janet
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 14:03:35

    @Jeannie Lin: Yes. That you were inspired by Jade Lee is proof of that for me, because she’s an author whose books I’ve had some substantial issues with, and yet I’m very happy she served as inspiration for other authors wanting to write outside the white box.

    Diversity is always going to be an imperfect thing, and even among groups that constitute political minorities (I distinguish this term, because, for example, Latinos will soon be the statistical majority in California, even though they remain less socially and politically powerful than whites), there will be disagreement and even division. However, as the US, in particular, becomes more internationalized, I just think it’s undesirable and untenable to keep to the status quo.

    Janet Webb tweeted this article by David Wiegand on diversity in television, and I have to agree with his statement here:

    Simplistic though it may seem, consider why this is important. Is it just because it’s the right thing to do? That’s one good reason, of course, but there are practical motivations for TV to step into the 21st century as well – millions of them, in fact. To begin with, if the nation’s population is increasingly diverse, doesn’t it make sense that more people might watch TV if the casts in otherwise good shows reflected them and their lives? For a lot of reasons, television can’t afford to lose more viewers. The medium has already been affected by the viral explosion of information and entertainment sources through the culture. Shouldn’t television want to keep the eyes it still has and perhaps attract more?

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  103. Anu
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 14:14:13

    @Jeannie Lin:

    I also see these books as “door openers”. I see more representation as a good thing, tropes and stereotypes included. Familiarity is a powerful thing. The only way the picture will ever round out is if there are a lot of varied depictions of POC characters from every angle

    Has this ever actually been true in reality? I cannot think of one arena in which this has happened. I would dearly love to hear of examples in which white artists – not just romance authors but any and all genres of creativity – working in non-white milieus has lifted up non-white people in those milieus.

    Did The Wire open the doors for nuanced urban dramas from a black perspective? Should I expect to see more India-based Western films a la’ Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire? Do you think publishers are scouting around for the stories of Southern black maids written by those maids thanks to The Help?

    It seems like something people want to believe, but I’m deeply skeptical.

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  104. Jane
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 14:14:20

    @Roslyn Holcomb: I’m sorry you are twisting my words around to suit your own purposes. Saying I care about diversity for readers isn’t binary. Maybe it is to you but it isn’t in actuality.

    Your position is your position but to preach it as universal truth is misleading and harmful.

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  105. Roslyn Holcomb
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 14:14:30

    @Jeannie Lin: in the African American community we have an expression, “The white man’s ice is colder.” I’m pretty sure it’s a Malcolm X quote, but I could be wrong. Generally we use it amongst ourselves to talk about the preference amongst blacks after segregation to patronize white businesses. Of course, the same phenomenon exists in the general population. There is a general assumption amongst many, including some blacks, that whiteness is superior.

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  106. Roslyn Holcomb
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 14:19:32

    @Maili: Erotic romance, MM etc… don’t violate the tribalism. These genres are still overwhelmingly white.

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  107. Roslyn Holcomb
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 14:23:28

    @Jane: How did I twist your words Jane? Did you or did you not say that it’s not a reader’s concern and should not be important to readers? Did you not say that you didn’t care if Martians wrote the books? So how the hell is someone supposed to read that and conclude that you also give a damn about multicultural authors? The cognitive dissonance is just astounding. As for my comments being damaging, who are they damaging to? Multicultural authors who run the risk of being whitewashed, or at best having their stories told only by white authors? What’s more damaging than that?

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  108. Isobel Carr
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 14:26:22

    @Robin/Janet: Have you tried INDIGO? It was just released as an eBook. If you don’t like that one, you just don’t click with her voice.

    @Suleikha Snyder: OMG, how much do I want that book/series? Like A LOT A LOT A LOT!!!

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  109. Roslyn Holcomb
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 14:27:48

    @Sunita: Sunita, I’ve read your post several times and maybe I’m just tired, but I don’t get your point. I’ve said repeatedly that I don’t have the power to keep white authors from writing multicultural characters, but I’m certainly leery of it because of past history. As for the notion of quid pro quo, we get to write them so they get to write us, that assumes a level playing field that does not, and probably will not exist in this country. Most Americans, including black ones, will read a white author, assuming they have an interest in what they’ve written. As a black author I come to the table knowing that everything I write, everything I say is filtered through my race. That gives white authors an unfair advantage that precludes any type of even exchange. All things being equal would be great, if all things WERE equal.

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  110. Roslyn Holcomb
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 14:30:17

    @Laura Vivanco: The sad thing about that is, Beverly Jenkins is a lovely person who encourages and supports historical authors in an incredibly generous way. She is one of my fave people in the universe. I did two historicals with Loose Id, and received a wonderful note from her.

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  111. Jane
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 14:31:17

    @Las – I don’t think that they are lying. I think we are seeing a couple of things. First, the POC market for writing is immature. For instance, in the Mills&Boon India arm, they are running contests for writers. There just isn’t the cultural of writing that type of book there but it will grow with the market. (I mean, you can hardly say that Mills & Boon India is lying about wanting India writers writing stories that appeal to its Indian population). Because there isn’t much success in POC, even POC authors shy away from writing those stories, but the more POC becomes a success, the more robust the writing market will be.

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  112. Roslyn Holcomb
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 14:32:49

    @Heidi Belleau: Loose Id is very receptive to multicultural authors. They’re a very comfortable house to write for. I introduced two multicultural authors to them, and they published both multiple times. I’ve never submitted anything to Carina, so can’t really speak to their receptiveness.

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  113. Jeannie Lin
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 14:36:36

    @Anu: Does the success of an author like James Clavell mean years later a little romance author named Jeannie Lin gets a chance? James Clavell writes non-romance set in another era. Other than a few commenters reaching out to connect saying “I haven’t read anything set in Asia except for James Clavell”, it’s also what made my agent take a second look at me. She loved reading James Clavell and something about my manuscript tapped into that love for her.

    Did the doors get flung wide open? Would be nice, but you’re right. That wasn’t the case. Maybe the connection is more akin to the beat of a butterfly’s wings. I see those possibilities for such connections as helpful. Perhaps it’s too ephemeral to quantify. It’s also helpful to be able to compare to some other books out there. If Guy Gavriel Kay’s Under Heaven or Goodman’s Eona had been out before Butterfly Swords, I would have definitely used them as reference works when agents asked for similar works. I think Mary Jo Putney’s China Bride increased the chances that historical readers had read an Asian heroine. Jade Lee’s books too. It’s all little, little steps and I think it’s all helpful.

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  114. Roslyn Holcomb
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 14:36:53

    @Robin/Janet: I’m not sure what you’re asking. What do I think of Brenda Jackson? I think she’s amazing and has worked her ass off to get where she is. She’s also one of the most generous authors I’ve ever met and I adore her. I assume you’re pointing her out as a multicultural author who has made the bestseller list, and I have to ask the question, Why is there only one and why did it take nearly twenty years?

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  115. Suleikha Snyder
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 14:50:33

    @Isobel Carr: I’m not sure if you meant the holiday anthology we were joking about or my Bollywood books but, just in case, the first of the latter does exist: Spice and Smoke. I won’t over-sell it to anyone as some great milestone in multicultural erotic romance, but it’s all about brown people falling in love, and I learned a lot while writing it! Plus, I just have a ball writing in this universe.

    Samhain’s actually been super supportive of me writing multicultural. My cover is gorgeous and culturally appropriate, and I didn’t have to strip out too much of the Hindi dialogue or Indian pop culture references.

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  116. Laura Vivanco
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 14:52:47

    @Roslyn Holcomb:

    The sad thing about that is, Beverly Jenkins is a lovely person who encourages and supports historical authors in an incredibly generous way.

    There was a really interesting interview with her at the Popular Romance Project and she did come across as someone who would love to see other authors joining her in writing historical romances about African-Americans. I’m thinking in particular of the part of the interview where she says that

    in spite of all of the Jim Crow and the discrimination, we still built colleges, we still had birthdays, we still loved, we still got married, we still had children. So those are the kinds of things that I think have been missing from the African American experience, as told by the larger media. Okay? It’s like the African Americans, we came here as slaves, we were freed in 1865, and then it was like the Borg took us from the planet for another 150 years, and then we are suddenly discovered again, rioting in Watts in ’65. So you’ve got that whole century where there’s nothing. So it seems like that it’s been my ministry—tap, tap, tap on the shoulder—to do that, to bring that 19th century to life in a way that people can access it, people can be proud of who they were, and still see the struggle in a real light—you know, a real light, so that it’s not glossed over.

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  117. Isobel Carr
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 15:04:07

    @Suleikha Snyder: Both actually, but I’ll settle for what I can get. Thanks!

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  118. Janet
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 15:06:20

    @Roslyn Holcomb: The reason I asked is that I read your previous comments as insisting that the only way an AA author can make it in mainstream genre sales is by hiding her race. But neither Jenkins nor Jackson has done so. And it struck me that maybe there are strategies for success on the part of other authors in the paths both those authors have taken.

    I don’t know if you (and anyone else reading this) are familiar with the work of University of Pennsylvania Professor Shaun Harper, but he has been studying black male student success in higher education. As I’m sure you know, of all minority students, black males have the lowest rates of persistence to and through college, and Harper felt that the prevailing research paradigm — which he calls a “deficit” model, because it focuses on the obstacles and the negative influences and the problems — was flawed. Instead, he interviewed more than 200 young black men who successfully graduated from college and found that there were strong similarities in their stories, and especially in the factors that resulted in their success (among which were goal-oriented parents, same-race peer leaders in college, and an often white female primary or secondary school teacher who took a special interest in their academic success and persistence, encouraging and supporting them). Harper’s idea is that if we can see what makes some students successful, we can help more of those who are not.

    Now I get the sense from your comments that you are not keen on further integration of the genre, that you are concerned that you and other AA authors will be “elbowed out” by white authors writing POC characters, and I understand your concern there, especially given the fight you and other AA authors have had to get and remain published. I think that more will ultimately mean more for everyone (the rising tide lifts all boats theory), and on that we may just have to agree to disagree.

    However, for those who are looking to build diversity of both authors and books, maybe there are ways to replicate some of the circumstances that have led authors like Jackson and Jenkins (and Morrison, Walker, et al) to crossover success.

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  119. Leela
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 15:15:14

    @Jeannie Lin: I am not a sockpuppet! *shakes fist*

    Yes, Liao. Combination of things (but mostly related to the opening of trade, if temporarily). Though a Han/Khanite would be a cross-cultural I’d totally get behind. And yeah, the Ming is well, the Ming as long as you’re on land, but at sea, there were pirates! And merchant-pirates! And merchants who pirated while no one was looking! (Zheng clan!) Who doesn’t love pirates, after all? Someone’s got to do something about this overwhelming impression that the only pirates ever were in Jamaica or along the coast of Africa, or wherever they were in the golden age of privateering. Thus, I nominate you, Ms Lin. I’m willing to accept a Han/Khanite short to tide me over, but remember: pirates!

    Also, introduce me to whomever you think I am, and we will create our own “Convince Ms Lin to Write More Dynasties” club. *tips hat* With pirates!

    More seriously: this is one way to expand readers within a genre. Find a niche they love (ie stories of the high seas) and move the location. It’s pirates, just pirates… somewhere else! Me, I love intricate political machinations in stories with double-crossing and whatnot, and that got me into reading non-Anglo characters/settings because what I really wanted was more double-crossing. The setting was secondary, in a way. Not to belittle the place/characters, only that I love the trope most, which means I have to go all over the place to find it. Honestly, if I read one more drawing-room novel of British nobility sniping at each other, I’ll hurt something… but take the same concept/premise and put it in the courts of Thailand, or India, or Ethiopia, and I’m there.

    So for me, at least, when it comes to pimping (non-Anglo-culture) books amongst my friends, it’s finding a trope, not genre, and amping that. Hurt/comfort, double-crossing spies, pirates, whatever: “you’ve read it all and run out of stories to read, so try this one, it’s just set in a different place, it’s like your favorite story, made new!” If I ran the world of marketing, I wouldn’t say, “oh, to market this, we must have a whole batch of similar Tang-based romance heroines to compare it to.” I’d say, “find me another heroine in a best-seller who’s a nobody but trying to pretend as nobility, who ends up falling in love with her instructor.” It’s the whole “If you liked Buffy, you’ll love Dante!” syndrome.

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  120. Sunita
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 15:30:47

    @Roslyn Holcomb: I am not talking about level playing fields or even exchanges or quid pro quo. I’m talking about the historical and contemporary reality that POC writers are expected to write about POC issues and characters. When the door opened for POC writers in mainstream fiction and non-fiction (and in the white-dominated academy, for that matter), it was assumed that a lot of those writers would write about their experience. They were assigned the role of cultural transmitters. Many embraced that role because it dovetailed with what they wanted to do.

    It was MUCH harder for POC writers who didn’t want to write about their own groups’ experiences. And one of the arguments that makes it more difficult to break through that constraint is the idea that POC writers are the only ones who have the right to write about POC issues. If it is their job and their calling to write about themselves, then people start to think that (a) no one else can write about POC issues; and (b) POC writers can’t write about anything else. We all agree that (b) is false. I maintain that (a) is false. Of course non-POC people aren’t going to write about POC issues the same way. But that doesn’t mean what they write is a priori illegitimate. The proof is in the writing, and we can’t see it until it’s written.

    The writer I loathed most when I was in my teens and 20s was James Michener. I thought he was a parasite more than a writer, sucking up other peoples’ history to write bestsellers and make a ton of money. And the writer I loved most in my 20s was Paul Scott. A white Brit who spent a grand total of 4 years in India wrote one of the best series of novels on 20thC India I’ve ever read.

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  121. Jeannie Lin
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 15:31:08

    @Janet:

    Harper felt that the prevailing research paradigm — which he calls a “deficit” model, because it focuses on the obstacles and the negative influences and the problems — was flawed.

    “Deficit model”: Thank you! You are speaking my language and I couldn’t access this part of my vocabulary.

    This is what I meant by framing the problem to look at ways and methods of succeeding vs. obstacles. Looking at what’s working versus what concentrating on what’s not. In teaching, the deficit model concentrated on what students lacked and why they didn’t succeed. Yet this way of thinking seemed to doom the student to failure – you are already starting out by framing them in terms of being deficient and lacking. Then your approach becomes ways to make up for this deficit. I find the rallying cry for people to “buy more books with POC characters even if they suck” to be aimed towards this way of thinking. Don’t get me wrong, I would like people to buy more books with POC characters and I do it too. And it must help – readers do vote with their dollars. But does it mean that the readership is really growing when these charity purchases are made? An author can’t sustain a career on well-meaning purchases if no one is actually reading those books and spreading the word of mouth about the stories on their own merits.

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  122. SAO
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 15:33:54

    @Sunita

    There are a ton of comments and you may not wade down to read this, but why don’t I browse Kimani? I guess because it seems aimed at someone other than me and I don’t spend all that much time browsing. And I guess I assumed that if the unifying theme was the color of the main chars, it would be frustrating to find something that interests me, which your comment has confirmed. I don’t spend a lot of time browsing complete unknowns.

    Maybe it’s like vegetarian restaurants. I have no problem eating vegetarian food. It’s usually tasty and sometimes fantastic. I make vegan meals periodically, but I have a bias against vegetarian restaurants because it seems like their raison d’etre is limiting choice based on a criteria that’s not important to me and I don’t value.

    If it ever crossed my radar that a great author wrote for Kimani, I’d look for those books. Or if some reliable source suggested it was a good source of great books, I’d go there.

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  123. Heidi Belleau
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 15:35:34

    @Roslyn Holcomb:

    Loose Id has been fantastic on that front, yes. Our other novel was happily accepted at Carina, but we purposely shopped this one to Loose Id first and exclusively because we liked their open, stated dedication to growing IR/MC as a genre of romance. It was very appealing to know that in accepting our novel, they wouldn’t be “overlooking” the races of our characters, but instead would be purchasing it partially BECAUSE of their race (the rest is all on the shoulders of how good or bad our writing is LOL). But I think publishers who are looking to go beyond that homogeneity of whiteness would do well to have a look at how Loose Id is doing things.

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  124. Jeannie Lin
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 15:38:04

    @Leela: Sorry, I didn’t mean to call you a sock puppet. I’ve found one other person interested in the Khitans and the Liao Dynasty. What are the chances that there would be three? :)

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  125. Janet
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 15:43:08

    @Jeannie Lin: Another thing I wanted to point out about Harper’s study (and you can download a copy by Googling “Black Student Success in Higher Education”) is that some of his primary findings go against prevailing statistical wisdom. For example, for the vast majority of students, the level of parental education and earnings will predict their success in college; the more college the parents have, the more likely the children are to pursue and succeed in higher education. And since educational levels still correlate strongly with lifetime earning potentials, it’s a critical factor. However, for the students Harper interviewed, more than half of them came from homes where the parents had no college education or at the very least no bachelor’s degree, and more than half of them also came from low-income households. So sometimes strategies need to be tailored for different cohorts, and that tailoring may involve something counterintuitive. So maybe it’s time for some in depth case studies of successful authors of color?

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  126. Sunita
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 15:43:11

    @SAO: Thanks for responding. One of the things that most infuriates me about Kimani as a separate line is that it reinforces the attitude you expressed, that you’re not part of the audience.

    My experience with Kimani is that it works like every other Harlequin line: there are authors and tropes that work for me and recur, and authors and tropes that don’t. Some months there are no books for me, other months there are several.

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  127. MaryK
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 15:50:51

    @Roslyn Holcomb: WTH, way to insult us white men. And that’s in aid of encouraging us to read books by black authors? [As an aside, maybe they patronized white businesses because it's something they weren't able to do before. What a waste to fight for the right to do something and then to not do it.] If white authors write black characters, it’s exploitation. Black characters by black authors for black readers. But it’s racism if white readers don’t seek out and read black characters legitimately written by black authors. Color me a confused and ticked reader.

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  128. Jeannie Lin
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 16:03:19

    @Janet:

    Interesting — regarding the differing factors of success for minority students as well as wider implications for publishing/marketing. In general, it seems traditional publishing and marketing hasn’t looked carefully into non-traditional markets.

    When teaching Chemistry, we found that minority students (and maybe all students, but I wouldn’t know because I only taught in South Central) were more successful in collaborative group situations. But the traditional setup of the classroom discourages the sharing of answers and promotes more individual learning. So you have to rework expectations and how things are set up to find a way to allow for success.

    I remember a remark I heard at conference about how Spanish language romance readers tend to take a book and share it with everyone in their entire family and also all their friends. The same book got passed along many, many more times than for mainstream readers. So the extent of lending is far greater than that of an English language romance book. This had a negative impact on the traditional sales model. But what if you tried to think on how the propensity of Latino readers to share books could be a promotional asset instead of dismissing it as a negative?

    As you can see, my mind wanders quite a bit. I’m enjoying the discussion on all fronts.

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  129. MaryK
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 16:04:50

    PS – Isn’t reading for skin color exoticizing or am I even more confused than I thought?

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  130. willaful
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 16:07:12

    “For mainstream reconditioning to occur, however, more books that challenge the status quo have to be published, and they have to be published within the Romance mainstream. ”

    This is exactly what happened with YA literature with gay characters. When well-known mainstream authors and publishers started putting out books with gay main characters about 15-20 years ago, the floodgates opened. There had been some good books from specialty publishers, but most readers would never see them. We needed to have books that bookstores would stock and libraries would buy.

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  131. Ridley
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 16:43:42

    @MaryK: Can’t be any more exoticizing than seeking out Christian or small-town romances, can it? What has you so defensive?

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  132. Roslyn Holcomb
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 16:46:33

    @Sunita, I’m still not sure what this has to do with what I’m saying. I am not questioning whether white authors could or should write multicultural books. They can and do, and certainly I don’t have the power to stop them. My question is with OP’s assertion that this should be encouraged as a means to expand the genre. I think the notion is pecious on its face for all the reasons I’ve previously stated. I don’t give a care who writes what, I do however have a problem with the notion that whites publishing multicultural books will benefit the genre. This is only if you don’t care who writes those books. Which, as I said before, defeats he purpose of having multicultural books in the irst place. As I understood it, multiculturalism is about hearing from other cultures from those in that culture. There is nothing new about hearing about ither cultures through white eyes, that’s SOP.

    That is not to say that minoities can only write about minorities, or that whites can’t write about “others.” However, the notion that having white people write POC will benefit the genre is problematic.

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  133. Roslyn Holcomb
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 16:50:45

    @MaryK, I think you have a basic misunderstanding of the Civil Rights movement. I have no real interest in enlightening you, but black people didn’t fight and die for the right to patronize white businesses. We fought and died for an end to the dehumanization of Jim Crow and the assumption that black people are subpar.

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  134. Roslyn Holcomb
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 16:56:38

    Trust me Janet, I have studied and will continue to study successful black authors, and I certainly didn’t mean to imply that a black author can only be successful if she hides her race. My point is that race is, and continues to be a barrier. Is it an insurmountable one? Nope, as the examples you’ve given demonstrate. Howver, I think it’s disingenuous to suggest that a black author and a white author have access to the same reader base. And that’s what this is all about.

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  135. Ridley
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 16:57:33

    @Roslyn Holcomb: This is a non sequitur, but your comment reminds me of the time I overheard my degenerate neighbor explaining the civil rights movement: “The blacks in the South got all riled up n’ shit and fought the man for the right to be Caucasian.”

    I think that line made so many spin in their graves that gravity went wonky for a bit.

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  136. MaryK
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 16:57:56

    @Ridley: Well, I don’t know. I’m pretty sure there have been other op eds against readers exoticizing characters who are different from them. I have a hard time seeing multicultural as a subgenre. I divide subgenres by themes not by skin color.

    I’m just feeling very pissy today, and I’m not in the mood to be told what I can read or how I have to read it.

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  137. Ridley
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 17:02:27

    @MaryK:

    I’m not in the mood to be told what I can read or how I have to read it.

    And that happened when?

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  138. Jane
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 17:18:37

    @Roslyn you said “I am not questioning whether white authors could or should write multicultural books.”

    Let’s quote some of your own words back to you.

    Personally I do think it’s detrimental to romance in general if multiculturalism is filtered through white eyes.

    and

    Multicultural authors who run the risk of being whitewashed, or at best having their stories told only by white authors? What’s more damaging than that?

    and

    What they meant, and what you meant was that there is a lack of multicultural characters written by white authors, and for that I say, Praise be to God. May such oversights continue.

    and

    So what we’ll wind up with is a cultural appropriation situation whereby the only authors who profit from the genre willbe white. That being the case frankly I’d prefer that they leave it alone.

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  139. Jane
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 17:26:18

    @Ridley – I think @MaryK is referring to Holcomb’s claim that white readers only embrace white authors when it comes to race but I could be wrong.

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  140. MaryK
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 17:35:12

    @Ridley: According to the tenor of most of these comments, to be a good reader, I’m supposed to be seeking out books with characters who are different from me regardless of my personal preferences in theme, setting or writing style. And I’m also supposed to be ferreting out the skin color of the authors I read so as to keep a proper balance. No wait, I’ve already done the ferreting and have been deliberately filtering out multicultural authors so what I’m supposed to be doing now is redressing the balance. It’s all about the author, and I’m not properly self-effacing.

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  141. Cervenka
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 17:39:12

    @Jeannie Lin: Your comment about whites deferring to another white man even in the presence of black people strikes a chord with me. This happens frequently in spaces where m/m and GLBT authors overlap: the straight writers ask each other questions while completely ignoring the presence of the GLBT folk, who likely have valuable insight and experience that is arguably more relevant than what a straight person will say. Sorry for the derail!

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  142. Las
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 17:43:07

    @Anu:

    I would dearly love to hear of examples in which white artists – not just romance authors but any and all genres of creativity – working in non-white milieus has lifted up non-white people in those milieus.

    I was just going to mention other entertainment media…you put much better than I would have. I’m thinking of music, specifically, and how white artists become huge in genres started by others, and how white people were completely oblivious or outright dismissive of those genres until a white artist presented it to them.

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  143. Roslyn Holcomb
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 17:49:47

    Yep, Jane, those are my words alright. Now, show me where I said white authors shouldn’t write multicultural books. Criticizing them for doing so, and dismissing the notion of “the great white hope” saving multicultural rimance is not the same as saying they shouldn’t write it. Write whatever you like, just don’t expect to be welcomed like Tarzan saving the dakies from their own jungle.

    As for white readers only embracing white authors on race, presumably I’m not the only one who believes that. After all, isn’t that the thesis of this blog post? That white readers will embrace multicultural stories when they’re written by whites? So it’s not my theory, though I heartily endorse it, it’s the theory of the OP.

    @MaryK, personally I don’t give a damn what you do. I’m an old hand at this discusdion and gave up on the notion of “white readers embracing multiculturalism” a long time ago. Thus, your belief that you’re being pressured to do anything certainly didn’t come from me.

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  144. ms bookjunkie
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 17:58:22

    Fascinating discussion.

    Butting in to point out that part of Brockmann’s success with MC/IR relationships might be due to the fact that she wrote them in a series. We were familiar with the characters by the time their romance came along—or, in the case of Sam and Alyssa, the story arc was spread over several books—so we wanted to see them to get their HEA and the color of their skin/ethnicity didn’t matter. (Heck, my least favorite Troubleshooters book was the one where the three ex-Agency agents went undercover as relief workers to The Pit. Who the heck were these strangers and why was I being subjected to their story?)

    But maybe that’s just me. I am admittedly a series ho.

    Carry on.

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  145. Roslyn Holcomb
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 17:59:26

    @Cervenka, your point is a good one, especially in light of the posters who talk about the inclusion of gay characters and the popularity of MM romance. Those books, written as they primarily are, by het women, are an object lesson in what I’m talking about. Did this lead to readers flocking to bookstores to seek out gay books written by actal gays, or are those books still marginalized? I think we all know the answer to that question. The feminist author bell hooks refers to this as “eating the other,” and it’s commonplace in this country.

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  146. Jeannie Lin
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 18:10:06

    @MaryK:
    I felt that that gist of Janet’s post was that if POC characters were included by big name authors as just a matter of course, then it wouldn’t be so much an issue of readers seeking out books for POCs but that POCs would start to just become part of the norm. Asking readers to seek out POC books and support them is really not realistic to how people read.

    In terms of yours and @Leela’s comment that genres should be based on trope rather than the splitting out of a multicultural sub-genre, I think this would be a good step. It would be nice for books with POC characters to show up in recommendations for non-POC themes: i.e. pirates & intrigue as Leela mentioned.

    I think this is why we see POC characters more often in paranormal romances. The draw is to the paranormal worldbuilding. It could be that way for other genres too, but it would take a shift in the way we currently think of these books, how we promote, how we classify and recommend.

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  147. Nikki
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 18:12:01

    My tolerance for errors and mistakes only extends to the first couple of books. If the author or publisher persists in putting out something that is less than adequate I stop buying. I admit that authors I still choose as an autobuy will have errors in their books but usually they are either extremely minor spelling or phrase errors or very major printing catastrophes that need to be dealt with. If you have a bad story and you have egregious errors I will not waste my money.

    As for POC I am actually really confused by some of Ms. Holcomb’s comments. I have tried AA authors and not been able to get through their books because they depend on a base caricature or expected familiarity with a type of character or lifestyle. I don’t know the southern church style well for example so if you cannot bring me to understand this character you are not writing outside of a tiny niche. The people who will read and enjoy that character are going to be the ones who read that book. On the other hand, I didn’t realize that one of Ms. Laurenston’s main female characters was actually black until half-way through the book, despite the cover, which I looked at before I started reading. The reason why was because I was more enthralled in her as a character than the color of her skin. I knew who she was because I could get her interests and wants. If an author wants their stuff to appeal I think they need to write a well-developed story that can stand against those things. The POC authors that I have read and continue to enjoy have characters who just happen to be people of color. If your person is Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Ghanian, whatever, it is about the way you paint that character when I read.

    So as a reader I say, bring on the POC. If you are white and writing, I say go for it. I want to hear how you describe them, if you are black, write what you need to, etc. The complaint I give most often is usually when someone is a roughly sketched out character without filling them in. It is the complaint I have about J. R. Ward’s female characters and why I stopped reading the series. At some point, I get bored because they are not enough to hold my interest.

    One thing that was mentioned above is the gateway book. I think that for those of us who have been reading a long time there has been a change over the last decade. I know when I first started to read, PNR was not at all successful. There were a few authors who wrote a couple of books but they opened the doors to successes like Christine Feehan who pushed the boundaries out more as well. I also remember when EC started and getting books form there because people were writing what I wanted but couldn’t get in the mainstream. Its been almost 10 years and we see the boundaries being pushed more and more. There is more heat in mainstream novels, there are different subgenres getting their time in the sun. So, perhaps as people keep chipping and pushing you will see more POC as side characters and main characters but fully developed. I don’t want just the sassy black friend, clearly she must have a life of her own so can I get hints of a 3D person not just 2D. I might ask you for book two about that friend.

    Janet’s comment about Harper’s study is an excellent example of a fallacy that I think we fall into in multiple arenas. We look at why there is a failure and try to shore up that dam instead of looking at success. I would say the Harper example applies to me as well. My parents as new immigrants had no understanding of how things worked and I know to this day that one of the reasons I am where I am is that a white female teacher (not even my teacher) identified and reached out to my parents when I was in kindergarten. That experience was a benefit to my siblings and others that my parents met along the way. So one person’s effort lead to success for a much larger group. Instead of focusing on why some authors of colors do not succeed or trying to hide behind a false defense such as “she would not have been a success if they knew she was black,” we need to look at what made things happen and how to replicate that as often as possible. If certain POC authors are successful we need to look at the commonalities and then build on that for the success of others. I loved L. A. Banks and Laurenston for different reasons. In the same aspect that I didn’t like Ms. Glass’ first Shadowchasers book because I didn’t like the main characters and it was not a skin color issue. But much like Ilona Andrews books I might look at book 3 and discover I like her books.

    Also Jeannie Lin, if you write that book (series) I am willing to buy it. :)

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  148. Lori S.
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 18:14:36

    Funny, I’ve never picked up a book because of the author’s skin color. I usually don’t even look at the author photo, because I could care less what the author looks like. All I care about is whether the premise interests me, and if the sample makes me want to read more. So the assertion that I’ll only buy books written by white people is not only false, but incredibly insulting.

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  149. Sienna
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 18:15:31

    Rarely do I read Dear Author but as a author of multicultural/ir romance, when I heard this discussion had sprung up I had to follow the link to see how the topic would be addressed. I saw the beating you took years ago Roslyn when you addressed this with the readers at Smart Bitches, so I was interested in the way the blog would handle your POV (which mirrors my own) when you spoke up. Glad to see this has been a very well discussed topic with much less cattiness (except from jane of course). Bravo to you for saying the ‘uncomfortable’ thing and holding your ground. Bravo to most of you for engaging the same way. I have to run and bathe the kids but this was a good read! :-)

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  150. Leela
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 18:17:23

    @Las: going on the post’s overall trend of trying to find/see the positive, I’d say there’s another way to cast that. (Note: I’m aware I’m carting along my own suitcase o’ privilege that I’m still unpacking, so YMMV.) And that’s that we look to familiar names/faces to be trendsetters.

    ie, I had heard or overheard various African bands while living in a major city, but it wasn’t until Paul Simon toured with Ladysmith Black Mambazo that I got a formal introduction. That was the gateway, and now I have a wide range of African music, some modern, some traditional. But Simon was the trendsetter. Do I trust him because he’s white? Does that make him more accessible? Maybe. Privilege might be blinding me to being able to answer that accurately. But did I love his music, enough to pay attention when he (or Sting, or Peter Gabriel, or M.I.A) incorporated new musicians into his lineup? Definitely.

    The same goes for authors. If Shelly Laurenston posted that she’d found an author from, say, Peru, who had kickass heroines who’d go drinking any day with Laurenston’s own creations, I’d be there in a heartbeat. If Nora Roberts gave a glowing review to an unknown-to-me author from Korea, I would get the book and read. If Lilith Saintcrow announced that if I love her work, I’ll love this story set in Borneo… hell, yeah, I’d pay attention. I’m not saying I’d keep reading (the book or music has to stand on its own merits), but having someone whose work I trust/like, point me in the direction of more goodness… I can’t say that’s a bad thing.

    Is there privilege in this? Absolutely. The vast majority of authors, from what I’ve seen, have been assisted by their privilege (or, like Laurenston, just never breathe a word of being otherwise). They/we get a bigger megaphone by default, thanks to that. But why not use that as a power for good? And it’s true that I’d want to find new authors of all cultural stripes on my own, but failing that, if someone else introduces me to them, this can be a springboard.

    There are dangers, certainly, like the risk that what a white author recommends would/might not be as accurate or true to the original culture, or that the person recommending has already censored out other stories that didn’t mesh with their spoken or unspoken biases. All the same, like Paul Simon giving a worldwide stage to Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the introduction has to start somewhere. It’s up to we readers what we do from there, but for that, well. To recommend means to do what you can, and all I’m saying is that a positive look on this is to encourage big-megaphone-holders to do what they can.

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  151. Ann Somerville
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 19:15:16

    Comment 17, Rosalyn said:

    “I suspect this is the issue the gay literary community faced with the rise of M/M books and I feel much the same way. ”

    The gay literary certainly did express a good deal of resentment over the intrusion of straight writers, but some genre commercial gay presses have grabbed onto the shirttails of m/m successes with both hands, I guess with the reasoning that if you can’t beat them, join them. There have been winners and losers among gay male writers – slots at presses have gone to straight women, which arguably reduce opportunity for gay men, but the overall popularity of m/m has increased readership for gay male authored books. The argument in the GLBT community on this has raged for some time, and is complicated by the fact that a number of successful m/m authors are queer women, who don’t see writing m/m as appropriation at all.

    Comment 50. Heidi wrote “people of a privilege on the whole have absolutely no problem writing things and getting them wrong and being criticized… just so long as they really want to write that thing in the first place. All the gay men in the world couldn’t stop the M/M genre. People want to write it, so they will. ”

    Spot on. The whole point of privilege is that we can brush aside the concerns of minorities, and many m/m readers and writers have done that with gusto. Making that easier is the background of slash and fandom, where anything goes (ironically, writing Characters of Colour is just as unpopular in fandom as it is in the real world – with the same pathetic excuses of unrelatability – and Writers of Colour get just as much shit there as they do in Romancelandia.)

    White ladies have no problem objectifying hot white guys, and nothing’s going to stop them writing erotic material about them under the guise of romance. A lot of white ladies don’t find black men as attractive, so suddenly, it’s ‘too hard’ to write believable POC, and they’re ‘afraid’ of being called racist. Never mind that the only controversies about racism in fandom (such as this one) or in real life publishing haven’t been so much because a writer gets details wrong, but because when this is pointed out, the writer/writer’s fans go batshit trying to prove that of *course* they’re not racist, and how dare anyone accuse them of something so *awful*, even when the original comments made no accusation of racism whatsoever.

    Comment 12. LisaCharlotte said: “It seems every time a book with a POC character is discussed on blogs the author gets dinged for getting it wrong or insulting POC. I see it as a no win situation for authors.”

    ‘Every time’? Really? Somehow I think that’s wrong.

    And as Maili says, readers criticise all kinds of errors, so why is pointing out mistakes about race and ethnicity so much more hurtful? Authors have a duty when writing about marginalised groups to do their very best to at least do no harm, and hopefully present a reasonably accurate portrayal of those group members.

    The problem is that a PoC will say “you know, that dialogue’s a little stereotyped”, and the white author will hear “RACIST! SHUN HER! KILL THE RACIST BITCH!” And everything goes to hell. Seen it repeatedly in discussions on Romance blogs and in fandom.

    If an author is going to venture into unknown territory, then instead of firing a shotgun at anyone with more experience offering them help, they should welcome the guiding hand. Sure, it’s embarrassing to have one’s ignorance revealed, but I always believe it’s more embarrassing to leave that ignorance uncorrected.

    Comment 34. Sirius said “Ann Sommerville [sic] who as far as I know is not black”

    I’m not black, and I’m not gay either. I *am* aware that gives me a huge amount of unearned privilege.

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  152. Ann Somerville
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 19:22:22

    @MaryK:
    “According to the tenor of most of these comments, to be a good reader, I’m supposed to be seeking out books with characters who are different from me regardless of my personal preferences in theme, setting or writing style.”

    You know, this is a good example of the hyperdefensiveness I described in my previous comment. You’re reading what you expect to read from authors of colour, rather than what they’re saying.

    It never ends well.

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  153. Ann Somerville
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 19:30:55

    @Sienna:
    “I saw the beating you took years ago Roslyn when you addressed this with the readers at Smart Bitches”

    I take you mean this discussion:
    http://smartbitchestrashybooks.com/blog/race-and-loving-in-romance

    Not an edifying spectacle. Based on more recent discussions of race and Romance, I don’t think the community has moved on much.

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  154. Crista
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 19:36:46

    As a person of mixed race, this has been a fascinating discussion to read because it makes me question my own reading choices and why I read what I read. I tend to gravitate to what is “familiar” to me personally and I admit I’m hesitant to pick up something that challenges my comfort zone. That being said, this conversation has encouraged me to push my boundaries, reading-wise, and try something new.

    As an author, I try to incorporate POC in my novels, but I will point out two things that have become apparent to me so far in my career.
    #1 – My novels with IR couples tend to be my poorest sellers, and I don’t know if it’s because of the story itself or because of it contains an IR couple. I’ve always assumed it was because the story never clicked with readers.
    #2 – And as much as I try to incorporate POC in my writing, there are some places I fear to tread because I worry I’ll get it wrong, offend someone, or be accused of furthering a stereotype.

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  155. Pharmer
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 19:42:36

    Starting with an apology – I haven’t had time to read all of the previous posts so if I am covering a point that has already been made, I apologize.

    I’m from New Zealand – am I the only one looking at Harlequin’s AA submissions / writing guidelines and gob smacked at how racially f**ked up they are?

    Spot the difference:

    Harlequin Kimani Romance:
    “…Our memorable characters work through compelling emotional conflicts on their way to committed and satisfying relationships, loving unions that last a lifetime.” (Must end in committed lifelong relationship is mentioned no less than three times in the guidelines.)

    Compare this with the guidelines for Harlequin Romance, American Romance, Super Romance, etc. No mention of lifelong commitment required between the characters.

    Arabesque Romance:
    “…The hero and heroine should be single—recently divorced (not just separated), widowed or coming out of a relationship. They should not be sexually or emotionally involved with anyone else at the beginning of the novel. Ideally, the heroine should not be pregnant before marriage. Some story lines do allow for premarital conception, as long as the couple eventually marries. The hero and heroine should exhibit good character and not be dishonest, unethical or otherwise morally corrupt.”

    Can anyone show me where this is spelt out for any other Harlequin Romance lines? Oh that’s right. It’s already allowed in other lines – just not in African American lines, thank you.

    But wait, it gets better: Harlequins submission guidelines for teen stories.

    “Harlequin Teen is…fresh, authentic teen fiction featuring extraordinary characters and extraordinary stories set in contemporary, paranormal, fantasy, science-fiction and historical worlds. Harlequin Teen is dedicated to publishing unique, memorable young-adult fiction. Stories with the unforgettable romance, characters and atmosphere of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight saga, the witty humor of Meg Cabot’s Princess Diaries novels, the edgy emotion of Jay Asher’s Th1rteen R3asons Why, the thrilling danger of Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games, the futuristic world-building of Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies, and the power of Marcus Zusak’sThe Book Thief are examples of the range and depth of projects that we’re seeking…”

    Compare with Kimani Tru.

    “…For so long there has been an absence of books that speak directly to young African Americans between the ages of 14–20. Most young African Americans are reading material that may be too mature, sexually explicit or violent—content that is, for the most part, inappropriate for teens.”

    Really? And they know this how?

    “…Kimani TRU stories will explore various subjects, including teenage sexual activity, drug use, anti-achievement peer pressure, growing up in a single-parent home as well as the usual teenage angst that is part of any coming-of-age story for African Americans…so that young African-American men and women can understand life’s consequences and make wiser choices in their own lives.”

    o-O Say what?

    “…In general, the main female character should lead a normal teenage lifestyle, but at some point in the story, she should have to grapple with a serious issue. For example, the heroine’s best friend, who is being raised by her single mother along with other siblings, finds out she is pregnant and is considering having an abortion because she doesn’t want to end up like her mother.”

    Can you believe this condescending bullshit? Yes, I’m paraphrasing Harlequin a lot – to save space.

    To write for Harlequin’s AA lines, it seems you’ve got to write some stereotypical escaping-the-ghetto story or you’ve got to have characters who are morally outstanding. That’s insulting.

    That’s how it looks from here.

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  156. Anu
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 19:47:19

    @Jeannie Lin:

    Did the doors get flung wide open? Would be nice, but you’re right. That wasn’t the case. Maybe the connection is more akin to the beat of a butterfly’s wings. I see those possibilities for such connections as helpful. Perhaps it’s too ephemeral to quantify. It’s also helpful to be able to compare to some other books out there. If Guy Gavriel Kay’s Under Heaven or Goodman’s Eona had been out before Butterfly Swords, I would have definitely used them as reference works when agents asked for similar works. I think Mary Jo Putney’s China Bride increased the chances that historical readers had read an Asian heroine. Jade Lee’s books too. It’s all little, little steps and I think it’s all helpful.

    So…not a door then but a window, that’s closed most of the time but gets opened every few years or so because breezes…feel good once in a while? That’s a much more modest claim than doors being opened by white authors who could open up the market for their POC counterparts.

    I mean, it seems like the examples you’ve given are so diffuse – yes, certainly anything could be an inspiration for anything else, and it’s nice that POC authors can inspired by and build on works by white authors and that white authors can be inspired by non-Western spaces and peoples. Such a virtuous cycle is fundamental to creativity and innovation, and I’m glad that it is possible at all.

    It just seems like those who are talking about doors opening, markets maturing, and rising tides lifting all boats – there is something so airy and late-night-dorm-session-y about y’all’s frames – especially in the face of the concrete reality that Roslyn Holcomb is describing. Like, AA authors were there at the inception of RWA – what market are you waiting to mature or the doors to be opened? Asian romance? Sure, I think that’s just getting started, and it’s an exciting space. But this argument seems stale in the context of black romances.

    I mean, is it really unrealistic for a black artist to be suspicious about cultural appropriation?? In this country?? Man, do I have to bring up Elvis??

    But you are arguing against the empirical evidence of more than a century of appropriation implicit in Holcomb’s comments with…the fact that it sometimes works out for a POC author.

    And yet you’re right – it *is* helpful, because any help or inspiration that a writer gets to become the writer they want to be and tell the stories they want is good and right. I am glad you and others have had the opportunities you’ve had and that you’ll hopefully be able to pay them forward. But it’s certainly less than what I feel are the large claims being made against Roslyn Holcomb.

    The idea of white writers writing non-white people or locales or stories is not new and not revolutionary and has not in fact redounded to the benefit of any substantive numbers of POC authors.

    That doesn’t mean that white authors shouldn’t write whatever they want, however they want to – they absolutely should. But I don’t think the case has been made that it benefits POC authors.

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  157. Elyse Mady
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 20:02:46

    @Las:
    I write for Carina and while I haven’t written any MC stories, I’m going to come to their defense. You seem to think that there’s a…conspiracy…may be too strong a word but a concerted effort of their parts to deny IR/MC writers a platform or recognition or readership. That despite their explicit request, they still intend to somehow repress authors writing characters whose profiles are outside the mainstream.

    I can’t speak about other publishers but I have loved writing for them over the past two and a half years and the variety of books that they offer is really astounding. My latest novel is a Regency novel centred around a true life gay sodomy trial. No balls. No dukes. Nobody sets foot in Almack’s. But lots of homophobia and threats of capital punishment, just to lighten things up and make the HEA that much, well, happier. Do you know what a traditional publisher would have said if I’d proposed this book to them? They would have been laughing so hard they would have expected *me* to slam the door on my own behind. The editorial staff at Carina loved it though, supported it and championed it and it’s gone on to some truly glowing reviews. But I wrote it knowing that for many people, it wouldn’t be their brand of Regency story and that’s OK. I wrote it because I thought it was a compelling story and that genre fiction is lively enough to support a whole range of viewpoints, none of which take from the others but instead add to the complexity and the readers’ experiences.

    If Angela and her editors say they’re looking for MC/IR protagonists, then that’s what they mean. I think you are doing a disservice to those newer channels looking to redress what have been long standing imbalances by immediately assuming ill-will. Does romance need more nuanced characters with a diversity of cultural backgrounds, sexual orientations and physical appearance? You’re darn tooting it does. It’s not going to happen overnight but I live in hope that all of us in the romance community – writers, readers and publishers – will help to bring it about.

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  158. Anu
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 20:05:29

    Whoa, Roslyn Holcomb, I just saw all the comments regarding your damaging and harmful comments! I had no idea that your personal opinions as expressed in the comments section of an Internet site were so powerful. Why are you wasting your writing romance novels??

    Come sit next to me – there are some people in my life that I dislike. If I tell you what to say, will you please write out the words for me? Make sure that you write them in the most damaging and harmful way possible (use bold-face for turbo-charged destruction).

    …and my snark is becoming uncontrollable – that’s all for the interwebs tonight. I’ll return when I can be presentable again.

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  159. Las
    Jun 20, 2012 @ 13:09:05

    @Leela:

    And that’s that we look to familiar names/faces to be trendsetters.

    I don’t doubt that’s been the case for you and many others, but I think it’s fairly obviously that that’s not what happens as a general rule, just looking at the numbers. It’s why I find a lot of the comments by individuals stating that they don’t look at race when reading romance and that their publishers are wonderful and really want to publish mc stories, etc. kind of irksome. I’m sure most people really believe what they’re saying, but those comments are still dismissive of the larger issue, and they derail the discussion. Because what these individuals are (I’m going to assume unintentionally) saying is that since they, personally don’t think or act a certain way then the concerns many of us have must not be that big a deal.

    @Elyse Mady:

    You seem to think that there’s a…conspiracy…may be too strong a word but a concerted effort of their parts to deny IR/MC writers a platform or recognition or readership. That despite their explicit request, they still intend to somehow repress authors writing characters whose profiles are outside the mainstream.

    I have no idea where you got that. I’m going to suggest you read Ann Sommerville’s comment about hypersensitivity really carefully.

    No, I don’t think there’s any conspiracy. I do think that a) as a general rule, anything said by a business trying to get me to spend my money on them is to be taken with huge grains of salt; and b)sure, maybe the powers that be at Carina want more mc submissions, but I think it’s a safe bet that they might subconsciously judge those submissions differently, which is why they’re not getting published (just like readers judge those books differently and then tell themselves that it’s something else, not race, that didn’t work for them); or maybe they’re not getting many submissions because POC authors have had experiences with them that made them decide not to bother; or a whole bunch of other possibilities. Because no matter how many publishers claim they want more mc submissions, and no matter how many readers claim they want to read those stories, I’m going to go by the numbers. And I’m most definitely going to give more weight to the experiences of POC authors over anyone else’s on this issue.

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  160. Sunita
    Jun 20, 2012 @ 13:30:14

    @Anu: I don’t have any examples off the top of my head for the beneficial effect of white authors writing about POC on POC authors’s fortunes. But there are plenty of examples from music.

    You brought up Elvis. No question that Elvis appropriated black musical culture and made money and fame by bringing it into the mainstream. In the same way, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, and many other extremely white rock musicians worshipped American blues artists. And, of course, white American rock promoters appropriated Motown.

    But one of the consequences of that appropriation was that fans of white musicians became curious about black music and went to those original influences to listen to them. And they bought that original music. Stevie Wonder started out as Little Stevie, singing Motown pop classics like “Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday.” He turned into the musician who recorded great rock albums like Innversions and Songs in the Key of Life. He might have been the same musician without the exposure, but he wouldn’t have had the same audience, made the same money, or commanded the same artistic influence without that majority audience.
    Ditto for Buddy Guy & Muddy Waters.

    There is no American social movement, including the civil rights movement, that has succeeded without majority support. That’s an inevitable aspect of being a minority group. You need the majority to achieve major goals. Every social movement theorist will tell you that, from the political scientist Charles Hamilton (who was an ally of Stokely Carmichael) onward.

    Will everyone from the minority succeed when the majority swoops in? No. But some members of the majority will succeed at a far greater level, and leave a greater overall impact within and outside their community, than they would have if the walled garden had never been breached.

    You seem to be saying that the gains for whose who benefit are on balance less important than the losses of those who are squeezed out. I take your point, but I don’t see how that’s your or my calculation to make, or any single individual’s right to impose. I certainly don’t want to be the one to tell Buddy Guy that he should still be at the Checkerboard on 47th in Chicago, hoping to break even, rather than the extremely successful musician and entrepreneur he has become.

    One important difference is that the white musicians I’ve discussed have explicitly pointed fans toward their musical influences. If non-POC authors did more of that, it would be a big step forward. But that’s a separate issue.

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  161. P. Kirby
    Jun 20, 2012 @ 14:06:38

    @Violetta Vane: My experience with Carina has been very positive, but my one quibble is that my heroine, who is far from fair-skinned, is downright pasty on my cover. I don’t think it was intentional. My heroine is Asian but her race isn’t a main plot point. Nevertheless, I still look a my cover and think, “Who the heck is that white woman?”

    I’m Hispanic (Mexican), but my current WIP is first where I have an Hispanic protagonist. Hispanic characters are always present as secondary characters in my stories, but I think subconsciously, I’ve avoided writing them as protagonists because I felt like there would be an expectation that the story would be suffused with Mexican/Latino culture. I.e., if you’re a Mexican writer, all your stuff should read like Rudolfo Anaya. Not that that would be a bad thing. But I just don’t write that “ethnic.” Despite growing up on the Texas/Mexico border, my writer’s voice is predominantly Anglo.

    But…with my Anglo surname nobody knows my ethnicity anyway.

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  162. Victoria Dahl
    Jun 20, 2012 @ 14:26:49

    White ladies have no problem objectifying hot white guys, and nothing’s going to stop them writing erotic material about them under the guise of romance. A lot of white ladies don’t find black men as attractive, so suddenly, it’s ‘too hard’ to write believable POC, and they’re ‘afraid’ of being called racist.

    This actually strikes me as a fantastic example of blindly assigning motivation to writers, something that i’ve seen done to many in regards to portrayals of POC. It shouldn’t necessarily be scary, but it can be hurtful in ways that surpass “getting the details wrong.”

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  163. Jane
    Jun 20, 2012 @ 15:06:11

    @Pharmer: That may explain the religious over tones to the characters in the Kimani line. How is Maureen Smith getting away with her books!!

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  164. Jane
    Jun 20, 2012 @ 15:08:25

    @Roslyn Holcomb: Actually, your m/m example isn’t a terribly good one because it is prevalent in the m/m industry for female authors to fake male identities in order to claim authenticity. There are a number of fake male pseudonyms or the use of letters instead of full first names in order to sell themselves as an authentic voice in the industry.

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  165. Jane
    Jun 20, 2012 @ 15:11:36

    @Anu: Really? Let me snark back with what was actually said. I said that stating a position as having binary results when that isn’t true is harmful. I think I am the only one that used the term “harmful” so your snark isn’t fact based and is a wholly inaccurate exaggeration of the comments here.

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  166. Jane
    Jun 20, 2012 @ 15:22:18

    @ Las / @Anu or anyone – what is the benefit of telling white authors not to write POC because the dangers of misappropriation of color are simply too strong? How does that benefit readers? The genre or even POC authors?

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  167. Kris Bock
    Jun 20, 2012 @ 15:41:22

    Great post. Encouraging readers to appreciate reading about multicultural characters should start in childhood. I just came across this blog post on “The Birthday Party Pledge – a new initiative to encourage the giving and reading of kid and teen books with Characters of Color”:
    http://scbwi.blogspot.com/2012/06/birthday-party-pledge-new-initiative-to.html

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  168. Las
    Jun 20, 2012 @ 16:00:03

    @Jane: I don’t know, I really don’t have a solid criticism of the practice, it just…feels wrong?, somehow, when we’re talking about the Big Picture as opposed to individual cases.* I think I said this already, but if we had good representation in publishing, with POC authors (as well as editors and others in the industry) and characters being commonplace, then white authors writing POC characters wouldn’t even register with me (YMMV, of course).

    *And that applies to this whole discussion, and really any discussion on race and racism anywhere, and people seem to not understand that. When we’re discussing these things, we’re talking about the systems in place and all their inherent problems, we’re not attacking individuals. So when I and others (I don’t know about this particular discussion, but generally) criticize certain practices, we’re not saying that every individual is automatically wrong. Saying that white authors writing POC characters is problematic because of the way this industry currently treats mc stories and POC authors is not a condemnation of every individual author who writes POC characters, it’s a criticism of the current system.

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  169. Robin/Janet
    Jun 20, 2012 @ 16:10:11

    @Jeannie Lin: Are you familiar with Cathy Davidson and HASTAC? Davidson, a Duke English professor (her literary work the cultural history of reading, especially women reading, is incredibly good and relevant to current academic analyses of genre Romance, as well) who has been doing research on learning in the digital age, tweeted an article on peer learning recently that might interest you: http://dmlcentral.net/blog/howard-rheingold/toward-peeragogy#.T8uKxRHEuek.twitter

    I also highly recommend following Davidson and/or HASTAC on Twitter if you’re interested in these issues (as I obviously am, lol).

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  170. Maili
    Jun 20, 2012 @ 16:23:48

    @Sunita & all: The problem with that is, it all took place between 1930s and 1970s (side note: ironically or not, Eric Clapton was the main reason why Rock Against Racism was launched) because – as you say – the majority was overwhelmingly white.

    That’s not the case today. The US majority today is still white, but at only 53%. This includes a population that self-identifies as Hispanic. During the 1930s/1960s, it was at something like 65%? This comprised non-Hispanic white people only. It “decreased” every year since then (I still think ‘decrease’ is inappropriate as I think ‘dilute’ is more accurate), especially after each Alien-related act was ruled unlawful.

    But – I know you (Sunita & all) already know this, but I still want to remind, anyway – it’s also important to point out that there was legally-sanctioned discrimination during that time and before, which denied a huge number of minorities the opportunity to express – and earn a living from – their skills and talents through various means including the arts and entertainment.

    Simply put, white creators only had to deal with judgements of their skills/talents while POC had to deal with judgements of their skills/talents, nationwide racial discrimination and lack of – or few – legal rights. So in this case, it’d make sense for some to rely on white creators to expose their works to the public on the nationwide platform. Unfair, but one had to make do with whatever would be possible.

    Hugely problematic if we continue to allow that to happen today. I feel if we did allow that, we’re allowing the legacy – of accepting a white representative as a solution – to stay alive. That’s not something we quite want to teach our children to accept as the norm, surely? So I think we should consider other solutions. Otherwise that solution will still be the only solution for the next fifty years or so.

    My view is that editors and publishers should at least make an effort to invest in writers of colour and books that feature POC (regardless of authors’ race). It’d be financially beneficial to them in the long run, too.

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  171. Robin/Janet
    Jun 20, 2012 @ 16:56:55

    @Anu: I’ve been trying to understand what, precisely, you’re objecting to, and I’m thinking the answer might be in this statement:

    It just seems like those who are talking about doors opening, markets maturing, and rising tides lifting all boats – there is something so airy and late-night-dorm-session-y about y’all’s frames – especially in the face of the concrete reality that Roslyn Holcomb is describing. Like, AA authors were there at the inception of RWA – what market are you waiting to mature or the doors to be opened? Asian romance? Sure, I think that’s just getting started, and it’s an exciting space. But this argument seems stale in the context of black romances. (emphasis mine)

    There has been a fair amount of slippage in this conversation between AA Romance and multicultural Romance, and I include myself in that. Putting aside the fact that the “concrete reality” discussion is not settled among AA Romance authors (or AA authors in general), and putting aside the fact that we can never dispute the fact that all of us experience things as “concrete reality” in our own lives, I was deliberate in my post (and in my thinking about this issue) to make MC a broad category, in part because there has been such a black/white division in so many of these discussions, despite the fact that the relevance of the topic goes far beyond (although I am not trying to say the AA Rom issue is irrelevant, only that it’s not the whole of the issue, IMO).

    Before I return to that issue of broadness, I do want to respond to your comments re. the relationship between white and POC voices. In reference to Arthur Golden, who was mentioned earlier, one discernible outcome of the publication of Memoirs of a Geisha is that the woman on which his book was based had her memoirs recognized by a much broader audience. As Sunita pointed out, that’s a screwed up reality (and I’ll go back to that issue in a little bit), but it did, indeed, work that way. In fact, several memoirs of former Geishas were published in the post-Memoir period, and even though the cultural context is different, I think Memoirs brought more mainstream attention to Lisa See’s Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. Also, in literary fiction, there is a much more intertwined relationship between majority and minority voices, between social movements and literary moments, and between different cohorts of minority voices, even more so in African American fiction, with its historical connection to the white-mediated slave narrative (and the ways that narrative form is echoed in books like I know Why the Caged Bird Sings and Beloved), although the cumulative effects of the various civil rights movements also played a role in the development of a strong collection of emerging AA voices in the 70s and 80s. Of course, the fact that Toni Morrison was a literary editor during that period is also of no small importance. And there are even players in the mix like Hugh Hefner, who was, among other things, a substantial promoter of black artists — in his clubs, on his television show, in his magazine, etc. In fact, Alex Haley got his start conducting and writing interviews for Playboy, of, among others, Miles Davis.

    All of which is a long-winded way of saying that the relationship between white and POC artists is complicated and enmeshed. There are, most definitely, issues of appropriation and supplantation/displacement, but there are also positive effects for artists of color, as Sunita pointed out (and of course, white privilege accrues to white artists, a power imbalance that persists). What I was trying to look at in my post was strategies for increasing the diversity of the genre and its readership. Which I think has to be a multi-layered effort, one layer of which is the door-opening potential of white authors (and when I referred to “seasoned authors” in my post, I did not mean that to equal white authors, since there are authors from different backgrounds successfully working in the genre).

    Are there concerns re. appropriation? Yes. Which is why I think there needs to be other things in place. Marketing, for example, via publishers. As I said in my post, I think it’s crucial for publishers to stand behind MC books, and to give them the kind of marketing support they do white-authored and populated books. I read somewhere (it was a while ago, when I was thinking about this topic, so I cannot remember the source), that one of the reasons The Help became so popular was that it got more marketing than a similar, earlier book written by an African American author. There is also this study (although it’s in the UK, I think it’s easily translatable to a US context), that indicates marketing is critical for getting MC literature read and circulated: https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:y2dK6y2HiGsJ:www.ifla.org/files/hq/papers/ifla76/133-birdi-en.pdf+we+are+here+because+you+were+there+study&hl=en&gl=us&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEESgbR1-gKT7BKhG4YxtglDyXexQVRJUXyr7HqyhCgWNNUqWvnUhEBwG_nonn1l8tlA99Ik6cw8RIOOVkQYeLwmR93FacHiNoW0KMSxHf8ADUajFxDxFl0OpoZRR7NuiVRvoH0-20&sig=AHIEtbSh4-VMCY0M_X6wjRGxNjUbEh7a7Q (it’s also a downloadable PDF).

    I realize that some (including you, perhaps) will argue that diversifying the genre is not desirable or possible. I obviously disagree, and one reason I disagree is that I see the current generation of college students and the very different orientation they have to racial issues than, well, even students ten years ago. In some ways I think they are leaps and bounds ahead, in other ways, not so much. But I definitely think there is a growing market there of readers who are more open to and interested in MC fiction (and not just literary fiction, which has embraced diversity as a value in and of itself, thus having a more robust breadth of diversity among authors and books). And I see diversification as a positive social value, despite all its complications (because resisting or denying diversity isn’t working all that well, either). And I also think the financial incentive is there for publishers, if they can catch up to the reality of a diverse population.

    Will there be problems along the way? Absolutely. Will change happen slowly. I think history proves that sad fact. And will there be disagreement about how things should and shouldn’t be done. Obviously. But what I wanted to do was try to start a conversation about how change might be cultivated, deliberately and systematically. I don’t regret the direction the comments took, because it’s been a very interesting and enlightening discussion for everyone, I think. However, I definitely think that no change will occur if we keep focusing on what hasn’t worked, which is, for me, at least, an unsatisfactory outcome.

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  172. Jane
    Jun 20, 2012 @ 17:10:52

    @Las – I think that there is a big difference between arguing that appropriation exists and white authors should not write POC characters because appropriation exists.

    I do think that there are slow changes happening in the industry with the embrace of Jeannie Lin’s books, the rise of POC characters in paranormals written by POC author Nalini Singh and non POC authors like Meljean Brook and Christine Feehan, the use of interracial couples on the most popular Harlequin line (Mills & Boon), and placing POC on the cover of mainstream books such as was done with the Intrigue by Kerry Connor.

    Building diversity within the genre is a multi level approach. When I say a rising tide lifts all boats, here’s what I envision. I believe that only a small percentage of anything is any good. Thus, when there is a tiny pool of people writing POC characters only an even tinier pool is going to be any good which in turn leads to an even tinier pool actually buying books. So increase the number and variety of POC books out there and the number of good books grows which creates more demand. The greater demand there is for diversity of characters, the more authors will flock to write that stuff. POC authors will be uniquely suited to write an authentic voice for those POC characters leading to even more diversity and more good stuff.

    I think more diversity in the color of the characters in books is a good thing because beyond appropriation it can help normalize equality in just appearance. By that I mean, girls with brown nipples (thank you Alisha Rai) can see their beauty being praised as well as girls with milk white skin and rosy nipples. I am willing to accept appropriation at some level to see an increase in diversity available for readers. But I think the more POC readers that are drawn to romance, the greater the demand will be for authentic voices which is a) why we readers should never settle and still criticize but b) encourage everyone to write POC characters because some non POC writers do damn good jobs of portraying POC characters (ie. Meljean Brook).

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  173. Ros
    Jun 20, 2012 @ 17:11:18

    I’ve been thinking about this post and the discussion on and off all day, and it does seem to me that there are two quite distinct issues, one of which is primarily a US-only issue and one which affects the romance genre more widely. The first is representation of black authors. I am pretty shocked at some of the things I’ve learned from this discussion about the way black romance authors are treated and the way their books are shelved and marketed in the US. I honestly don’t think the same is true in the UK. It also doesn’t seem to be true of other ethnic minorities in the US. So, while I don’t want to diminish the significance of that issue, it’s far from being the only issue with respect to multicultural romance.

    The issue which the original post raised is the one which as a non-American and a romance reader and writer, is most interesting to me, that of representation of different ethnic groups within romance books. I read romances set in the UK, in various European countries, in Australia and NZ, occasionally in the US and South America. In all of those places, some more than others, there are multicultural communities. In London, there are dozens and dozens of languages spoken. There are huge Asian (mostly meaning Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi) communities, African, Afro-Caribbean and Eastern European communities, and lots of other smaller communities. I lived in an area with more Cypriots than there are in Cyprus, for instance. I would like to see more romances which reflect this sort of multi-culturalism. If you’ve been at a school where most of your fellow pupils have a different first language, there are naturally going to be friendships and relationships which cross the cultural boundaries. I don’t think an author has to be part of one of those minority groups to observe and write about people who are, and the way that the different groups interact. You just have to live amongst them and be observant and imaginative.

    I do think that authors could do better here, and I include myself in that. It’s all to easy to fall back on the same characters again and again, the ones who inhabit the same tiny slice of the world. Instead, it would be fabulous to start showing more and more chunks of the fully multicultural world we live in – one that isn’t just about blacks and whites, but knows that there is a difference between Punjabi Sikhs and Pakistani Muslims, for instance.

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  174. Robin/Janet
    Jun 20, 2012 @ 17:16:48

    @Maili: My view is that editors and publishers should at least make an effort to invest in writers of colour and books that feature POC (regardless of authors’ race). It’d be financially beneficial to them in the long run, too.

    I totally agree.

    You know, I realize now that I made a mistake in my post by using the word “seasoned” and not mentioning a longer list of authors (since I had already mentioned Singh and Jackson, I made an incorrect assumption that my meaning was clear). I think seasoned was read as code for “white,” when it was really code for, well, experienced and popular (authors even like Tess Gerritsen, who has spoken at RWA), authors who have substantial readerships. I don’t think you can deny that these authors have power in the publishing industry and they can even stand as champions for authors of color, which I think is another way that doors can be opened for more authors and characters of color. One problem, I think, is, as Jane and Jeannie Lin said, that the MC Romance market is “immature.” It’s young, and I think it needs deliberate and deliberative support to grow. Which makes me think: okay, where is the power and how can it be harnessed to grow the market? I apologize if that part of my post got us stuck on this White writers are The Way thing (which I don’t think anyone was arguing, actually), but it was certainly not what I meant (and I’m not even going to blame my beta readers for not making me change it, lol).

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  175. Anu
    Jun 20, 2012 @ 17:17:15

    Sunita, thanks, I think I’m finally getting clear on what you all are saying. I think in some ways, I’ve been wrong in my comments, and in others ways, we’re talking past each other. It seems to me the argument is 1) “multicultural romance” from author vs. reader perspective, and 2) priorities for how to tackle relative lack of MC presence. Let me try to broach 2) in this post, and I’ll try to get to the rest in a post later tonight.

    So what I get from your post that the OP solution is an allies argument. Is that right? Like Will and Grace begot Modern Family’s Cam and Mitchell who begot the upcoming The New Normal? Extremely simplistic and crude, I know, but there’s a clear trajectory of acceptance and normalization within the culture.

    As a selfish reader out to maximize my own reading experience, right now, I’m more interested in POC authors telling their/our stories than in white writers being persuaded to incorporate POC characters into their stories. That is not to say that white writers shouldn’t write POC . More power to Suzanne Brockman and Meredith Duran and Violetta Vane and Heidi Belleau and every other author fighting to expand the kinds of stories she can tell. Right now, as far as activism with my money, I’m just more invested elsewhere, because, right now that’s where my reading preferences are, and that’s also where I think the most work needs to be done.

    It’s not the *only* work (I disagree with Roslyn Holcomb that it’s a binary choice) – just the more important in terms of the choices presented by the OP. Let me correct myself – the OP did not actually present choices of action but one Solution. That is, that the problem of POC absence in romance is solved by talking to white authors. That’s it. We should create a safe space for already successful white authors to feel comfortable writing POC. So the Solution itself writes POC authors out of the picture.

    This reminds me of a big to-do earlier in the spring over the HBO show Girls. It was written, directed, and starred in by Lena Dunham, a 20-something wunderkind of the indie film scene. The critics started hyping the show long before it aired as finally the authentically female-centric show television has been waiting for. When it aired, Girls was ripped for a variety of reasons (none having to do with the quality – it’s a good show), one of them being the ultra-white cast set in Brooklyn, of all places to be so whitewashed: How are there no POC in these girls’ lives? Yet another white-centric show in NYC. Etc. etc. Dunham acknowledged the problem, said that she was uneasy about writing POC that she couldn’t do justice too, and, in the end, added Community’s Danny Glover to the second season cast. So now, a white show has been convinced into involving a character whose existence wasn’t a part of the story Dunham wants to tell or thinks she knows. She has a lot of credibility as far as storytelling, but there is a question over whether this move does the double whammy of compromising her vision *and* presenting a token character. We’ll see – everyone is hoping for good things to happen.

    My favorite reaction to the whole controversy, though, comes from Atlantic Monthly editor Ta-Nehisi Coates, really one of the best public intellectuals going today (http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2012/04/girls-through-the-veil/256154/) :

    There has been a lot of talk, this week about Lena Dunham’s responsibility, but significantly less about the the people who sign her checks. My question is not “Why are there no black women on Girls,” but “How many black show-runners are employed by HBO?” This is about systemic change, not individual attacks.

    It is not so wrong to craft an exclusively white world–certainly a significant portion of America lives in one. What is wrong is for power-brokers to pretend that no other worlds exists. Across the country there are black writers and black directors toiling to bring those worlds to the screen. If HBO does not see fit to have a relationship with those writers, then those of us concerned should assess our relationship with HBO.

    And now comes the part where I must be self-serving. While we are making our complaints to HBO–and it is wholly right that we do–we should take a moment to survey other fields, and other stories. With some regularity, black writers are now producing high quality fiction which reflects the texture and depth of our experience. If you can’t find yourself on HBO, perhaps you can in Mat Johnson, Danielle Evans, ZZ Packer or Victor Lavalle. We fight for that ideal world where we represent across genres. But even as we expand our territory, we really should support the gains we’ve made.

    If there is work to be done, I would rather support the work out there right now. There are works being written, created, produced, and distributed by POC right now – Issa Rae’s Awkward Black Girl (which EVERYBODY should watch!!), or (ugh) Shonda Rhimes. Rae and Rhimes have the most diverse casts I’ve seen, and they didn’t need a sustained campaign to make it so – let’s support *that* mentality and let that convince white authors.

    If there is work to be done, I would rather prioritize the structural and systemic forces that may be hindering more POC work from breaking through – why *are* Dafina’s guidelines so ridiculous and therefore limiting to the types/quality of stories AA authors can tell in that line? How many POC editors are in the general romance pubs rather than restricted to MC lines? And I continue to ask: why the disconnect b/w the seeming openness of pubs to MC stories/authors and the continued relative absence of both? (Altho thank you to the authors who responded).

    That’s a difference in priorities and I don’t think that Roslyn Holcomb as an author nor I as a reader need to apologize for it.

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  176. Robin/Janet
    Jun 20, 2012 @ 17:26:29

    the OP did not actually present choices of action but one Solution. That is, that the problem of POC absence in romance is solved by talking to white authors. That’s it.

    No, it did not. I explained this in my comment to Maili, but I’m going to do it again: I said SEASONED AND EXPERIENCED authors, not WHITE AUTHORS. And what’s so damn funny (not really) about this, is that I used that word because I didn’t want to start a flamefest over the issue of immaturity in the POC market. So the joke’s on me for trying not to insult people on ANOTHER issue. However, I really do take exception to the insistence that I said something I absolutely did not say. Brenda Jackson and Nalini Singh are seasoned writers, as well. I had already mentioned them. Brockmann just happened to be a writer who came to mind as one who had very successfully sold characters of color. Looking back, it was a mistake not to be more explicit or extensive with the examples, but I still did not say or mean “white authors are The Way.” Nor will I even touch the racial politics of why my comment was taken that way.

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  177. Jane
    Jun 20, 2012 @ 17:30:39

    @Anu: If the thrust of the post is as you described, I would totally agree with your position.

    That is, that the problem of POC absence in romance is solved by talking to white authors. That’s it. We should create a safe space for already successful white authors to feel comfortable writing POC. So the Solution itself writes POC authors out of the picture.

    But I don’t get where you see that in the OP?

    For mainstream reconditioning to occur, however, more books that challenge the status quo have to be published, and they have to be published within the Romance mainstream.

    I took this to mean that publishers need to stop putting POC in just marginalized spaces like the Kimani line or Dafina but broadly marketed toward the mainstream as Singh and Brook are doing (I know Feehan does as well but I have no idea how she treats them as I don’t read it). I think with the rise of contemporary that we need to have some POC on the covers of these straight contemporaries. Francis Ray has that. Rochelle Alers does not although she is writing about AA characters, her covers are geared toward the Debbie Macomber crowd so they are garden covers to convey the cozy feel I guess.

    A couple of years ago, Beth Kery wrote about a POC couple and had a POC couple on the cover. (Paradise Rules). We just need more of these and I don’t care who they come from, but they need to come.

    When I had the opportunity to speak with Harlequin, I explained how I felt Kimani was marketed to a very niche group of readers and that I appreciated the inclusion of POC on the main lines and that I wanted more of that. We actually talked about how on HGTV you see every type of couple out there – gay, lesbian, mixed race, white and they all need homes. There are universal stories that have universal, mainstream appeal and they need to publish those stories.

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  178. Janine
    Jun 20, 2012 @ 17:33:54

    @Anu:

    Let me correct myself – the OP did not actually present choices of action but one Solution. That is, that the problem of POC absence in romance is solved by talking to white authors. That’s it. We should create a safe space for already successful white authors to feel comfortable writing POC. So the Solution itself writes POC authors out of the picture.

    I’ve enjoyed a lot of your posts and have quite a bit of respect for you but I’m honestly bewildered by this assertion. Where in the original post do you see this “Solution” proposed?

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  179. Janine
    Jun 20, 2012 @ 17:36:26

    Sorry cross posted!

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  180. Sunita
    Jun 20, 2012 @ 17:45:54

    @Maili: I am definitely not arguing that appropriation was OK pre-Civil Rights Act. I am also talking descriptively rather than normatively. That is, I am arguing that appropriation is inevitable to some degree until whites are not only not a majority, but not the dominant elite (more on that in a minute). We have some control over how much, and what its effects are. But we’re not eradicating it any time soon.

    First, I would disagree that we can relegate the bulk of the white appropriation of black music to before 1965, which is when the legal environment changed substantially. Certainly there was a great deal in the 1950s and early 1960s. But the British Invasion occurs during and after the passage and implementation of the most important legislation. Even if we agree that there is a time lag, Led Zeppelin, which was terrible about giving credit, was stealing black music in the 1970s. And the resurgence of blues came well after that, in the mid- to late 1980s. And we haven’t even started on reggae appropriation.

    So the legal argument doesn’t quite work, in terms of the timeline. The legal rights story is complicated anyway, since there were legal wrangles between members of the same racial/ethnic group, not only across them.

    Even if I grant you that, however, I disagree that white dominance is going to go away very quickly. The current non-Hispanic white percentage of the population (2010 census) is 63 percent (the under-18 population is 53 percent). In 1980, which is the first year for which the Hispanic category was broken out in the census, the non-Hispanic white population was 80 percent. It’s dropping, and it will decline more quickly in the coming decades, but it’s still pretty high.

    And when you take into account who is most likely to vote, those with economic and political privileges, etc., the majority-group advantages are even higher. In voting, for example, the wave of anti-immigrant laws have depressed political participation among Hispanics even more than previously. The DREAM Act policy change may alleviate some of that, but not all.

    I feel if we did allow that, we’re allowing the legacy – of accepting a white representative as a solution – to stay alive. That’s not something we quite want to teach our children to accept as the norm, surely?

    I agree, but that wasn’t my point in the first place. I’m not talking about white representatives as the norm. I’m talking about treating as legitimate non-POC authors writing about POC issues, and POC in one group writing about non-POC and other-POC-group issues.

    Right now it is perceived to be very difficult for black authors to write outside AA-centric lines. I think that if you want to get anywhere with the argument that they should be able to write whatever they want, wherever they want (and that matters a lot to me), then you have to allow non-POC writers to write about POC issues. I am certainly not saying that white authors should be the norm or seen as the primary representatives. But there’s space between “primary representative” and “don’t write about POC characters.” That’s the space I want to encourage.

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  181. Sunita
    Jun 20, 2012 @ 18:10:54

    @Anu: I would say “strange bedfellows” rather than allies. It’s not as if most minority group members love the fact that they frequently have to rely on majority support to achieve their aims, it’s just a condition they deal with. But yeah, Will and Grace –> Modern Family, etc., although that completely elides the whole who-gets-to-represent-me question. On TV and in a lot of romance, heteronormative is the way to go.

    I agree that Ta-Nehisi Coates is a terrific cultural critic (everyone on Twitter should follow him), and I think he and you raise a very important point about showrunners, editors, and other people in positions of authority. I have found it fascinating, in this discussion, that the issue of POC editors and publishers has been left largely untouched. The criticism of Carina and the elevation of LooseId is also odd to me. I’ve been reading blurbs and ARCs from both of those ePubs (as well as several others) for years now, and there are regular examples of ethnic fetishization and appropriation in the releases of publishers who are very vocal about their inclusiveness.

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  182. Robin/Janet
    Jun 20, 2012 @ 18:19:21

    @Sunita: Although it may not be proper, I tend to subsume editors under the publisher umbrella. However, someone in the thread mentioned agents, which I had not even considered. There are definitely so many players that could be mobilized for change, and it may be that a grassroots approach would work best. I’m not sure, because there seem to be issues up and down the tiers of power and influence.

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  183. Las
    Jun 20, 2012 @ 18:52:03

    Was just going to link to TNC–everyone needs to read him.

    @Robin/Janet:

    that one of the reasons The Help became so popular was that it got more marketing than a similar, earlier book written by an African American author.

    No doubt marketing’s important, but I’m not willing to give readers/movie audiences that much credit, though I’d love to be proven wrong.

    Have you heard about Danny Glover’s struggle to get a film about Haiti’s independence financed? Every single producer in the US and across Europe all said the same thing: white audiences will not see a movie without a white hero. The film’s finally being made…it’d be interesting to see how the move is marketed, and, if marketed extensively, how it will do with white audiences.

    @Jane: I do agree that it’d be a good thing for white authors to write POC characters, just because I see that as the only way that white readers will truly accept POC characters. My issue with the practice is that I really hate that that’s the case. It’s so incredibly frustrating that people won’t read characters that look different from them unless it’s presented by an author who does, it’s so fucked up that deep or not-so-deep down that’s how people think. Most of the time I can be all, “it is what is” about it, because ultimately I just want results–I don’t think this is a problem that’s ever truly going to be fixed, because humanity just sucks that way, but I’ll take whatever tiny improvements I can get–but that doesn’t mean I’m going to ignore how messed up it is that that’s what we need to do to get any “progress.”

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  184. Ann Somerville
    Jun 20, 2012 @ 19:00:51

    @Las:
    “Every single producer in the US and across Europe all said the same thing: white audiences will not see a movie without a white hero. ”

    Unless of course, it’s a hero played by Denzel Washington – or previously, Sidney Poitier.

    It’s not so much that you can’t have *any* black leads, it’s that there’s only room in the imagination of the money guys for *one* black lead. So if someone’s filling the slot, that means there’s no need for another one.

    And of course, should that black actor screw up by being in a film that doesn’t make money, then that means black actors are box office poison (because one actor carries the entire film, don’tcha know).

    I hope Danny Glover – another fabulous, talented actor – will have a huge success with his movie.

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  185. Ann Somerville
    Jun 20, 2012 @ 19:29:37

    Jim Hines has just posted about a new show (I think?) called Bunheads, and the creator being asked about its entirely white cast:

    http://jimhines.livejournal.com/637856.html

    The creator talked about “how she had to find dancers who could also act, and she didn’t have a lot of time, and “I don’t do message shows. I don’t give a shit who you learn your life from.”

    Hines responds to this:

    I’m singling her out because the attitude and response here are so common. How many times have we seen authors and editors challenged for their lack of diversity, only to have them reply, “I refuse to bow to the bullies of the PC movement” or “I don’t believe every story has to be a Lesson about diversity” or “I have too much integrity to change my story just to meet your arbitrary quotas.”

    He also says he objects “to whitewashed stories because they’re dishonest”. And that’s the nub of why diversity in Romance and all cultural representations is important. White Christians are a minority globally, and even in America. Yet they dominate western culture as if they’re the default.

    It’s the Buffy The Vampire Slayer thing again – where that great liberal feminist [/sarcasm] genius Joss Whedon apparently didn’t notice that California has a large PoC population and made his cast almost entirely white for all seven seasons.

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  186. Ridley
    Jun 21, 2012 @ 00:23:37

    @Ann Somerville:

    It’s the Buffy The Vampire Slayer thing again – where that great liberal feminist [/sarcasm] genius Joss Whedon apparently didn’t notice that California has a large PoC population and made his cast almost entirely white for all seven seasons.

    While it’s not an all-white cast, I did think it was weird how Firefly, which is set in a future where the culture is said to be a mix of American and Chinese and where the dialog incorporates bits of Chinese, lacks any Asians in major roles. That didn’t make sense to me.

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  187. Fiona McGier
    Jun 21, 2012 @ 00:44:33

    Considering how quickly the USA is turning into a POC nation, I don’t think we have the time and luxury to blather about how and why the white folks are the norm. It’s changing faster than we can keep up and the wise writer/publisher will take heed and respond accordingly. My husband is convinced this will be a non-issue in the future, because while he and I were raised by white parents who were as color-blind as you could be in 1960s suburbia, our children live what we were taught: people are the same, color doesn’t matter, and you fall in love with the person, not the color. I taught our kids that Mildred and Richard Loving’s case against the State of Mississippi took from 1955 when they got married, until 1967 when the Supreme Court finally threw out the last laws banning inter-racial marriage as illegal and an crime against God. Sound familiar? In Mildred’s last public statement before her death last year she compared the struggle she had lived through with the gay marriage issue. She said that no one has the right to tell you who you can and can’t fall in love with. Marriage is a commitment between two people, not something that you can control with laws. I just hope that the romance world heeds the message of inclusion that is being thrust upon the USA whether or not it’s willing. Less white people means less skin cancer. I, for one, am all for that!

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  188. Ann Somerville
    Jun 21, 2012 @ 00:50:31

    @Ridley:

    “I did think it was weird”

    Weird’s one word for it. ‘Ignorant and privileged’ is another. But though it bothered people that Asians were excluded from both of Whedon’s big TV series, based on the reactions of fans to the inclusion of actors of colour actually playing characters of colour in The Hunger Games (specifically the character of Rue), it’s likely someone at the Whedon level or above said, “Ya know? Fuck it. Diversity won’t get us bigger audiences, and may even lose us viewers. Let’s not bother.” Which is a calculation that a lot of publishers have been making, and where this discussion began.

    It also brings me in a roundabout way to addressing Victoria Dahl’s accusation:
    “This actually strikes me as a fantastic example of blindly assigning motivation to writers, something that i’ve seen done to many in regards to portrayals of POC.”

    Well, how do you explain it, Victoria? If you take fandom, writers are willing to write gay people, aliens, military personnel, police officers, lawyers, doctors and a zillion other occupations and backgrounds, even people with disabilities – and are willing to get it wrong because omigod sexxytimes. The need to slash overcomes every other hurdle.

    But the *second* a character played by a person of colour becomes a potential slash item, the excuses rain forth – “Oh, I don’t want to get it wrong”, “I don’t know how black people think”, “that character is sooo boring” (this is often said for a character with a fascinating back story and considerable screen presence, yet a white character who literally appears for 30 seconds in one episode has whole *archives* of fanfic devoted to him paired with other characters). “I just don’t find him attractive, personally” (of an actor who works as a model for a living and is one of the most stunningly beautiful men on the planet, when a pudgy, balding, middle aged bloke in the same fandom is apparently so sexy women faint in his presence.)

    How do you explain that there is considerably less slash or romantic fanfic devoted to characters of colour in every fandom, regardless of the prominence or complexity of those characters?

    How come that Romance writers will happily write about medieval England and Scotland, about gay relationships, about military personnel, NASCAR racers, cowboys, and sheiks (who are of course terribly liberal), and not get too worked up about the possibilty of getting it wrong, but the second anyone asks, “Why not write about African American characters?”, they freeze up and panic about making mistakes? Why is the activation energy there to carry writers past their comfort zone for NASCAR racers, but not AA basketball players?

    The capacity for research, the blogs, the assistance is there for writers for AA characters, for other non-white characters, as much as it is for an unfamiliar profession or country or history. But writers don’t want to make that effort.

    Victoria, it’s either racism, or it’s a failure of imagination because the writer can’t personally imagine the Character of Color in a romantic situation. If you prefer to call it racism, go ahead. It’s likely to be unconcious racism, but setting a bar for the inclusion of CoC that white characters don’t have to cross, can’t really be called anything else, can it?

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  189. Victoria Dahl
    Jun 21, 2012 @ 01:32:43

    @Ann Somerville:

    Because I’m not pretending that race is anything but fraught in this country. Do people feel sensitive about race? Yes. Not just romance writers. Not just writers. Not just white people. Is this reality a wonderful thing? Clearly not. But let’s not pretend we don’t live in a world where motivations are assigned to people who DO write multicultural stories, just as you’re taking the opportunity to assign your cut-and-dried motivation to people who haven’t.

    And your assertion that it can ONLY be individual racism on the part of the writer or an inability to conceive of a POC as sexy denies the existence of all the people I know who are POC, are in relationships with a person of color, or have children who are people of color…and who write white characters.

    Is it *systemic* racism? Oh, I’m sure. But to blithely claim that white women who don’t write POC heroes choose not to because they don’t find men of color *attractive*? That’s a fascinating leap.

    If it’s such an easy, simple explanation, why are we having such a long discussion of it on this blog? The answer is in. Ann has explained it. White romance writers don’t find men of color attractive.

    The truth is that it *is* complicated, here and in every other place in this world. And the topic is worthy of this long discussion and, hopefully, many more to come.

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  190. Ann Somerville
    Jun 21, 2012 @ 01:58:15

    @Victoria Dahl:

    your assertion that it can ONLY be individual racism on the part of the writer or an inability to conceive of a POC as sexy

    What I actually wrote was:

    White ladies have no problem objectifying hot white guys, and nothing’s going to stop them writing erotic material about them under the guise of romance. A lot of white ladies don’t find black men as attractive, so suddenly, it’s ‘too hard’ to write believable POC, and they’re ‘afraid’ of being called racist

    [emphasis mine]

    Is it the whole story? Of course not. Some writers are going with what’s easily marketable. Others are sticking to familiarity, not just one race. But when one actually sees readers saying they can’t ‘connect’ to black characters, and fanwriters calling non-white characters boring and not ‘hot’ – and this isn’t just a small number of individuals but pervasive throughout many fandoms and genres – how do you explain it?

    Okay, it’s not that they don’t find black men hot. It’s that they don’t think black men are ‘romantic’? Is that better for you?

    “it *is* complicated, here and in every other place in this world.”

    So how do you explain it? You’re cranky at me for daring to look at what I’ve read and noted in many venues and kinds of writing, and coming up with what looks like the bleeding obvious, but you don’t have an explanation to counter it with.

    I’ll offer you an example from a different kind of diversity – the comparative lack of f/f romance books with m/m books. Over and over, readers explain very simply that they aren’t, as (mostly) straight women, interested in reading romance between people they have no sexual interest in. Over and over, m/m authors have gone on record saying they write m/m because one guy is hot, two guys must be hotter. So in the field of gay romance, authorial sexual preference is considered a perfectly good reason why the writer chooses to write about gay men and not gay women.

    Do some straight women write f/f? Yes. Do some lesbians write m/m? Yes (especially in fandom) Do some straight and gay women write both kinds? Yes. But *overwhelmingly* writers are choosing to write romance about people they would choose to be romantically or sexually attracted to. I don’t see why it’s so controversial or wrong of me to extrapolate that this is also the case when it comes to ethnicity.

    Seems to me that unless people of colour, especially men of colour, are presented and seen as desirable and romantic protagonists, all the handwringing in the world won’t change the number of stories featuring them, or the number of readers who avoid covers showing them because they can’t ‘connect’.

    It’s not conscious racism that white writers feel more attuned to white characters. But it’s still racism, and like all unconscious bigotry, it should be challenged. Apart from anything else, writers should constantly challenge themselves as to *why* they feel they can’t write X. It’s part of growth as an author.

    Your country does have a particularly charged history regarding African Americans. But that doesn’t really explain the lack of characters of colours from other backgrounds, and it doesn’t explain the general whitewashing of western culture in other countries either.

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  191. Victoria Dahl
    Jun 21, 2012 @ 02:19:16

    I absolutely agree that much of it has to do with racism, both systemic and individual. Some on the part of authors, some on readers, some on industry folk and a lot of it is just fear-based. But not all of it. It is NOT that simple.

    Okay, it’s not that they don’t find black men hot. It’s that they don’t think black men are ‘romantic’? Is that better for you?

    Nope. Not cute.

    I’ve never written about a 5’7″ Irish American guy who’s the same height as the heroine, nor will I likely ever write that. In fact, I’ve never read about that hero, though I’m sure *someone* has written that story. But 99.99% of the stories? No. So please be sure to keep it quiet that I’m not attracted to my husband and I don’t consider him a romantic figure.

    Do I think being a man who’s not tall is comparable to being a POC? No way. Absolutely not. The point is that there is a lot in romance that people don’t write because they don’t consider it marketable and it won’t make a profit. Multicultural romances have all those restrictions PLUS issues of personal and societal racism.

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  192. Ann Somerville
    Jun 21, 2012 @ 02:32:57

    @Victoria Dahl:

    “Nope. Not cute. ”

    Honestly, I’m not trying to be ‘cute’. I’m trying to put my thoughts in words that won’t antagonise you. Clearly I’m failing, and I apologise, as I’m not trying to make you angry.

    “Multicultural romances have all those restrictions PLUS issues of personal and societal racism. ”

    I don’t think I’m disagreeing with you. What I am trying to explain, at least in my own head, why white writers are willing to take chances in so many other directions, but not on race – even in genres like m/m where writing outside the norm isn’t penalised, Characters of Colour aren’t at all common.

    I mean, readers bitch about redheaded characters – but authors write them. Authors write short characters too, and people read them. Jane just reviewed a book with the most obnoxiously misognistic hero I could ever hope never to meet, and it’s got its defenders. Hell, I wrote a book about a 4 metre high alien protag with wings, black skin, white fur and fangs, and it’s sold as well as my other Samhain offerings!

    If these books can be marketed, if they can be written, what’s stopping white authors pushing the envelope on characters of colour?

    You keep saying it’s not the simple, and I agree with you. But I still believe that the personal barrier is the one to overcome. If authors see CoC as sexy/romantic/interesting to write, they will make them sexy/romantic/interesting to read. The readers will follow.

    There’s a lot of other problems to solve, and in America the ghettoisation of AA books is probably the very worst, but readers can’t come to love books about people of colour if there isn’t a broad, well-written choice presented as absolutely normal and wonderful – the way that sheiks, dukes, and people who live in McMansions are.

    Just FYI, the two actors I referenced in my previous comment are:

    [apparently hotter than hot]
    http://osuniverse.homestead.com/SG1/Atlantis/DavidHewlett/david-hewlett.jpg

    [apparently just boring and not sexy at all]
    http://urie.files.wordpress.com/2007/08/jasonmomoa.jpg

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  193. Victoria Dahl
    Jun 21, 2012 @ 02:39:57

    @Ann Somerville:

    A lot of white ladies don’t find black men as attractive, so suddenly, it’s ‘too hard’ to write believable POC, and they’re ‘afraid’ of being called racist.

    I’ll set aside my own personal experience, but…considering the number of men and women i’ve known who have dealt with issues of race in relationships, I don’t think it’s okay to dismiss these fears. Of doing something wrong. Of offending the loved ones of someone you’re dating. Of not knowing something and making a misstep. Of looking stupid or insensitive. Those fears are real, in real life and in writing, whether you’re white or not. Hell, they’re even real when you’re dealing with a portrayal of someone in your OWN micro-culture (is that a thing?), as many writers have found out. And in real life, there aren’t usually 50,000 people watching. So yes, it can be scary. In the same way I reacted with utter fear when my editor asked if I would consider setting a story in Chicago. The very idea scared the hell out of me.

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  194. Ann Somerville
    Jun 21, 2012 @ 03:05:57

    [as I explained, my reply to your previous is caught in moderation because of the links]
    @Victoria Dahl:

    “The very idea scared the hell out of me. ”

    Yes, I totally understand that. Which is why, even writing gay or bi men, I tend to avoid writing about the gay subculture because there are nuances I just will not get, and frankly, what I know of it is pretty laden with things I have trouble dealing with (like rampant misogyny.) More importantly, there are people who can document that culture in fiction and non-fiction much better than I could ever dream to.

    But plenty of gay men don’t buy into the subculture, and I reckon I can write about people live ordinary lives and happen to be gay as well as any gay bloke. So that’s what I do.

    When I wrote a near-contemporary AA character, I did the same thing. I knew I hadn’t a hope of writing about a black neighbourhood or catching the nuances of what it’s like to be black in America, so I did what they do on TV cop shows – wrote a character who happened to be black but who was most importantly a cop and team player. It’s bland, and probably unconvincing, but it’s one way of getting past that fear of fucking up.

    And it’s not like it’s not possible to find black readers or black authors to help you out – especially someone like youwith your success and reach. Being stuck in Australia with a very small number of readers and limited social contacts, I find all kinds of things hard to get help on. But I doubt someone of your stature would have that.

    Fear is natural. But authors should be able to work around that. It’s what we do. And mostly we do do it – except on this one topic. We need to find the courage to leap across that bar.

    Of course this doesn’t do a damn thing to address the problems authors of colour have in getting contracts and readers, and fighting perceptions by white readers that books about people of colour aren’t for them. But I strongly believe in the power of normalisation – just as West Wing made the idea of a President of colour perfectly plausible and not scary to a large number of people (just as a black President can make it perfectly okay for black people to back marriage equality), and positive representations of gay people in the media has made homophobia less acceptable, I believe positive representations of people of colour in the mainstream (yes, by white creators) work towards breaking down fear of the unknown. That should, I truly hope, go some way to making it easier for authors of colour to sell stories from their own backgrounds, if that’s what they want to do.

    It’s only part of the solution. But it’s worth attempting.

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  195. Violetta Vane
    Jun 21, 2012 @ 07:20:27

    @Anu:
    I’m all for expanding stories I can tell, but I’m, umm, not like Suzanne Brockman. I’m a very new writer writing in a very small corner of the genre and I’m Japanese-American, although I don’t write Japanese-American main characters (yet).

    @P. Kirby:
    I’ll check out your book! And you put your finger on a big problem for POC writers. We don’t have much positive external incentive to write stories that match our ethnicities. 1) when we do, we get weird, strict authenticity expectations 2) we get pigeon-holed as ethnic literature, whereas if we told a similar story with white characters, the story would be regarded as universal and 3) white writers who write the same story get back pats for “stretching”, while we don’t (I don’t resent them for it or think they should stop doing it, but it is a structural issue) 4) we don’t get as much attention as when we write white characters, and we find writing white characters very easy, usually, because that’s what we’re used to reading already. 5) except AA romance, we don’t have an organized POC audience waiting for us; the audience is fragmented and hard to get to.

    So there are many, many reasons we might decide to write white main characters. Sometimes that’s the story we want to tell; we have a positive reason to do it. And other times there are negative reasons pushing us away from POC characters.

    @Sunita: I think the difference with Loose Id is that they’ve been in business a long time for an e-publisher, and over that time they’ve published lots of POC writers, and lots of MC romances specifically listed as such. Are many of those stories crap, and super-fetishistic? I’m sure they are. I’ve read good ones and bad ones. But there are a lot of them.

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  196. Lori
    Jun 21, 2012 @ 07:35:59

    I’m glad to see the discussion here about IR/MC books. I was excited to see such books being reviewed for a short time here at DA because I thought it would reach an audience that usually don’t know or check for MC books. Then it stopped and the site returned to showcasing mainstream (okay, white) books except for the occasional Jeannie Lin (who I love), Jade Lee or Desi themed book. Many readers today follow review sites as well as friend recommendations for books to check out and I see the comments here eager to read a book that has either been rated favorably or bashed extensively. I would love to see more IR/MC books reviewed her but the last few times the discussion was had here, things changed…for a minute.

    Thus I fear after all this back and forth discussion, things will be business as usual only to revive this topic another few years down the line (HandyHunter’s awesome post featuring cultural apropriation was in 2009!). Sure the US is becoming more POC but that hasn’t stopped networks from showcasing whites and catering to such audiences with the occasional POC thrown in for measure. And I see the same in books.

    I’ve come across oodles of great IR/MC reads and have shouted to high heaven about how wonderful they are but I’m but a small voice in the small corner of the internet. Sites like DA and SB can make a difference if they want to make that effort instead of a few posts about MC books every few years. I’m grateful for these types of posts because it gets the chatter going. Although those who are staunch in their refusal to read MC/IR books probably will remain steadfast in that thinking–but some do change and have their eyes open if a good read is recommended to them.

    So I issue a challenge for DA, SB and other big romance sites to start showcasing more MC/IR books and reviews. Even if there has to be another J added to the mix of reviewers to specifically review these titles, all the better. Double dare challenge for more books that feature AA female leads! ;-)

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  197. Jill Sorenson
    Jun 21, 2012 @ 08:27:35

    I couldn’t access this thread all day yesterday so I wrote a response on my blog.

    http://jillsorenson.com/blog/2012/06/20/multiculturalism-romance/

    Robin/Janet, I never thought you meant that white authors should lead the charge. We have many successful AoC in romance and assuming that race precludes success is insulting. Is it an additional barrier? Absolutely, as Roslyn has pointed out.

    My post discusses white privilege (I have it) and the idea of a “built-in” mulitcultural audience (don’t have it).

    One of the key issues I’m grappling with is that readers have said that they don’t look for authentic representations in romance. They don’t expect it, because they’ve been burned too many times, or they don’t even want it. An Asian woman just commented on my blog that she prefers to read non-Asian romance. My feeling is that AA romance has a core audience of AA readers. I don’t know if that is true of all multicultural romance–our core audience is mostly white, I think. So it does present a marketing challenge.

    The other day I picked up a Harlequin category romance in the same line I write for. It had a hot cover, and the hero was Native American. When he meets the heroine at the airport, he thinks she’s staring at him because he’s not white.
    She says, “Are you…”
    And he finishes: “Yep. I’m an Indian.”

    Uh, what? This was a contemporary romance, a new release! If this is what readers expect when they pick up a multicultural romance, god help us all.

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  198. SAO
    Jun 21, 2012 @ 08:37:05

    @ Ann S.

    “How come that Romance writers will happily write about medieval England and Scotland, about gay relationships, about military personnel, NASCAR racers, cowboys, and sheiks (who are of course terribly liberal), and not get too worked up about the possibilty of getting it wrong?”

    Because the women who want to read about Medieval English or Scottish heros, NASCAR racers, cowboys, and liberal sheiks wouldn’t know an authentic one if you wrote it. They want more of a certain type of Romancelandia hero. You know, the world where Greek Billionaires are never, ever short, fat, balding, farting jerks. I’d bet that you write a hot African-American hero and you attract women who know lots of African-Americans pretty well and who might be offended if Romancelandia created a black hero who was as far from a real (but attractive and heroic) black man as a Romancelandia sheik is from your average sheik.

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  199. Anu
    Jun 21, 2012 @ 09:42:10

    @Sunita: Sunita:

    There is no American social movement, including the civil rights movement, that has succeeded without majority support. That’s an inevitable aspect of being a minority group. You need the majority to achieve major goals. Every social movement theorist will tell you that, from the political scientist Charles Hamilton (who was an ally of Stokely Carmichael) onward.

    These movements were about empowering minorities by changing the systems and structures that held back those groups – it was to enable “Do For Self.” It wasn’t that whites helped you vote by voting themselves but that they joined *you* where you were, in your own cause because they recognized the legitimacy of the grievances. They helped to remove barriers – poll tests, unequal pay, etc. – that limited the choices that you as a minority could make.

    In that sense, doesn’t it suggest that energy is better spent directly supporting POC authors – buy the books! – or working to remove barriers immediately in their way to gaining a wider audience – RH #17 describes a specific barrier at the editorial level?

    But one of the consequences of that appropriation was that fans of white musicians became curious about black music and went to those original influences to listen to them. And they bought that original music. Stevie Wonder started out as Little Stevie, singing Motown pop classics like “Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday.” He turned into the musician who recorded great rock albums like Innversions and Songs in the Key of Life. He might have been the same musician without the exposure, but he wouldn’t have had the same audience, made the same money, or commanded the same artistic influence without that majority audience. Ditto for Buddy Guy & Muddy Waters.

    Okay, I think it’s sinking in what you and Jeannie Lin are saying. But this reads as too hazy an area on which to pin an advocacy agenda, which is what I take the OP to be laying out. The OP makes a specific argument: we should concentrate on popular authors because increased presence of POC characters in their books will “recondition the mainstream genre readership to regard multicultural Romance as normal.” Using your example, I translate that into something like, broadly stated, Stevie Wonder gained a wider market for his own music because the Rolling Stones, say, were influenced by his sound. The Stones (helped to) normalize his sound to an audience that may not have known how to receive it otherwise. Is that right? Because that is how specific the OP claim seems to me.

    But I don’t know that lines can be drawn so explicitly lines be drawn so clearly from Musician A to Musician B. There are a myriad of factors for how Stevie Wonder rose, and what makes me uncomfortable is that one factor – rock musicians/majority groups – seems to be privileged at the expense of myriad others like markets or music industry’s infrastructure opening up in response to an overall change in race relations. And you want to focus a campaign around that one factor. Artistic influence and modelling of types and stories is good in and of itself – I have no argument with that That doesn’t mean that it’s a substantive enough place to locate advocacy efforts.

    On the flip side, the counter argument – that when mainstream artists borrow from black cultural products, this has not actually expanded the market for black artists themselves – I can see that my view is too simplistic and frankly uninformed. Whatever the problems of appropriation, the argument against it also tries to draw a straight line that can’t hold. Appropriation in and of itself isn’t the problem to confront or avoid.

    Still, I think RH pointed to an important distinction between how authors and readers might view MC romance. Multicultural romance from the reader’s side (more books! new characters!) doesn’t necessarily track with MC authors’ interests (more published MC authors!). Does multicultural romance mean MC characters or non-white authors or both? You can have tons of sheikhs and Greek tycoons floating around but where are the Arab or Greek women writing those stories? Or what about those POC who don’t want to be limited to writing in their culture? How do these issues intersect with the notion of encouraging the best and the brightest to write more-different?

    It’s not the reader’s job to care, but I don’t blame an author for asking what benefits her. I think it’s valid to determine that the real problem to tackle is not the supply of stories but the make-up of storytellers.

    So, in the context of advocacy efforts, I still think the “lead-the-charge” proposal is a lower priority.

    @Jane @Sunita

    I take your point, but I don’t see how that’s your or my calculation to make, or any single individual’s right to impose. I certainly don’t want to be the one to tell Buddy Guy that he should still be at the Checkerboard on 47th in Chicago, hoping to break even, rather than the extremely successful musician and entrepreneur he has become.

    Snark-tastically hyperbolic. Typing thoughts in a comments section is to put Buddy Guy in the corner? More generally in this thread – to say that I or RH or Las are “disallowing,” “imposing,” “harming,” “damaging” – what POWAH we have! And how lame that I used mine to stop some dude from going into a bar. Sunita, I assure you that when I get superpowers, I will wield them much more imaginatively (like Pinky-and-the-Brain-level imaginative).

    To write something down is not to implement it. Why take it there when we’re all simply discussing an issue? We are talking about where to direct advocacy efforts – not world domination: It’s a convo about where to spend time and money in service of results that are – well, at least better than what we have. That doesn’t even rise to level to doing anything much less actively harming people. Even if RH saw danger/binary choice/whatever where others don’t – she’s one random person making an argument! If just that could cause such damage to readers or writers – well, there are bigger problems in the community then.

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  200. Anu
    Jun 21, 2012 @ 09:44:54

    @Robin/Janet

    Wow, you’re right, I totally did that. My apologies – I made an unsupported assumption. I think the phrasing and placement – Brockmann in the same sentence as “popular, seasoned authors,” while Jackson and Singh were placed together in the previous paragraph as multicultural authors – in a post about bringing MC romance into the mainstream or publishing it *as* mainstream – spurred a the leap. I didn’t do a close reading like I just described, but I think that’s the leap I made on a subconscious level. I didn’t even think to ask for clarification before diving in head first, and that is so important in hot-button discussions such as this. And yup, I understand what those assumptions imply.

    @Robin/Janet @Jane @Janine
    So then, a bunch of questions. From the OP:

    That authors like Suzanne Brockmann can sell non-white protagonists also suggests to me that popular, seasoned authors need to be leading the charge to write more books that challenge the status quo, because those authors’ fans are legion, and their inclination will most likely be to read those books.

    Brenda Jackson and Nalini Singh already write POC characters while being popular and seasoned authors. Don’t most popular POC authors already include POC characters/storylines in their books? So then, who should lead the charge in challenging the status quo that isn’t already? I’m not asking for specific names but…wouldn’t most of those names be white? And if so, why then doesn’t your solution come down to convincing white authors to write POC characters?

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