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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. Jane
    Jun 21, 2012 @ 09:57:06

    @Anu – I see your point now. I guess it is a matter of perspective. In other words, I do see publishers as the gateway and the charge to be directed at publishers to publish more POC in mainstream books. You may be right in that inclusion of POC by the mainstream authors might do nothing. Certainly Brockmann’s inclusion of Alyssa (who I actually felt wasn’t really a very good POC; there was nothing authentically minority about her in the book) did not break down or open up a market for future POC books. That said, the utter failure of white mainstream authors to include a more diverse cultural group in their books is not something that we should ignore.

    What I took from the article and maybe it is my own reading lens through which I am filtering things. I’ve talked to Robin about this after I came back from BEA and the issue regarding the lack of good manuscripts being seen by publishers for POC books. Without betraying confidences, I have been told repeatedly by different editors that they just aren’t seeing good multicultural manuscripts and frankly, given the paucity of good writing in what has been published featuring POC characters, I can see where they are coming from. I keep trying IR/MOC books and many I don’t finish. The problem with reviewing them is not only forcing myself to finish bad books but also having a history of giving IR/MOC books bad grades so I just don’t finish them or review them. Maureen Smith, who is the one author I enjoy consistently out of the Kimani line, had a new book out earlier in the year and in the first chapter had what I felt were some unbelievable details about doctors and I thought that level of inaccuracy would drive me nuts. Should I have forced myself to finish and then rant about it? Maybe so but I thought I would wait until her next book came out and hope that it would suit me better.

    Loose Id, for example, has some terrible fetishizations of POC included in just the blurbs alone and I think to myself that I hardly want to pay $7.99 to be offended by a book. I’m anxiously awaiting the next Alisha Rai book and I was frustrated that she wrote the Persephone/Hades story instead of another hot contemp featuring POC characters.

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  2. Kelly
    Jun 21, 2012 @ 10:02:29

    These philosophical discussions blow my mind. I’m absorbing all this as a reader, not an author, so I’m going to veer off in a different direction by focusing on the end of Janet’s essay:

    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…..

    ….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.

    All the debate above is fascinating and absolutely needed on a macro level, but Janet’s main point of getting MC books into readers’ hands is getting overlooked. The fact that only a handful of READERS have commented on this post tells me that the discussion is still much too focused on authors and publishers. I love all of y’all, but I don’t see anyone asking readers like me – who actively seek out non-traditional romances – HOW we buy books.

    I say HOW – not who or when or why – because I realized as I was trolling around Amazon the other night that “Multicultural” does not appear as a sub-genre of Romance in the Kindle store. But it does appear as a sub-genre when browsing through the “print” side. The only reason I discovered this was because I was specifically looking to see how Jeannie Lin’s and Lena Matthew’s books were categorized.

    It was like finding a secret room full birthday presents – I spent hours in there, more than a little overwhelmed at the number of titles (2000+) that I have never seen before. So now I have five new MC/IR books in my TBR queue and about 57 new additions to my wishlist.

    I never would have come across any of these books via my usual lazy method of relying on the various Kindle book lists (bestsellers, coming soon, new releases). I’m hoping related authors and titles will start showing up in my recommendations, because I shouldn’t have to work that hard to find romances with non-white characters and non-traditional settings. I make an effort to go as deep into the Kindle store as I can to get to those unseen authors, but the sheer number of titles available make it increasingly unlikely that I’m going to find them.

    So apart from the extremely thorny issue of what publishers are accepting, what are they (and authors) doing to overcome the barriers to getting MC books into readers’ hands? Specifically, MINE?

    - Free or 99-cent ebook promotions. Cheap is good, free is better – especially for compulsive buyers like me. I rarely see MC/IR titles on the Top 100 free list for Kindle, and that’s my gateway to new-to-me authors. My very non-scientific survey of the MC-rom ebooks on Amazon and B&N.com showed average prices of $3.99-$6.99, and anything cheaper was a novella. That’s a big roadblock for me and for many ebook readers.

    But for the LOVE OF GOD, do NOT try to get me to download a free 20-page novella that’s Book 9.75 in the Whatever Series. Entice me with the top full-length title from each of your top authors for $2.99 or less, and I’ll be much more likely to buy.

    - GET RID OF DRM. I should italicize and underline that too. Make it easier for readers to share, dammit! I’d like to challenge any MC publisher – large or small – to have a “DRM Amnesty Week” (or month!) where all books purchased during that period would be DRM-free. Give existing readers discounts and help them spread the word.

    - Use as many formats and distribution channels as you possibly can. Sure, KDP royalties are tempting, but if you’re struggling to get your book noticed, why would you limit your audience? Similarly, until the format wars are over (or at least settled), there’s no excuse for not making the effort to give readers the format they need.

    - Whatever else it takes (ethically, of course) to get covers with non-white characters onto any kind of list. Giveaways, contests, blog hops and memes, whatever. Pimp your books. Whore your author self out. (But don’t whine about bad reviews.)

    Grassroots efforts can be very effective – but only if they’re truly a long-term, dedicated campaign to reach readers. Keep trying – readers like me are out there waiting. We just don’t know where to look.

    [I did email Amazon asking why there's a difference in sub-genres (for all books, not just romance) between ebooks and print books. The first reply was "I'm sorry, we'll have to look into your inquiry regarding the genres of the kindle book a little more deeply." I'll be very interested to hear what the answer will be.]

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  3. Andrea Harris
    Jun 21, 2012 @ 10:44:09

    You know what, I think I’ve hit on the perfect way for us white people to help POC with everything. I know that’s what we want to do, we want to help them run their lives, because We Care. Well here’s what I’ve come up with. It’s real easy, you won’t even have to left a privileged finger. It is this:

    SHUT UP.

    Really. Leave them alone. Leave everybody alone. Our advice is not needed or wanted. Our help is not needed or wanted. Our intruding ourselves and our worries and concerns into the lives and activities of others not like ourselves is not needed or wanted. We are not the center of the universe. All life does not depend on us to keep going. And also?

    We’ve done quite enough damage. We’ve “globalized” the world consciousness with our white, binary culture quite enough. Now everyone on the planet wants to be a Disney princess, GO US. And actually, really, go. We need to go. We need to go away. We need to stop inserting ourselves into every conversation, celebration, ceremony, funeral. Because it’s not about us. It’s not about how we can get into this without making people mad so we stay at the top forever and be the center of the universe for all time world without end amen.

    So we need to shut up. And get out of the way. But mostly: shut up.

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  4. Roslyn Holcomb
    Jun 21, 2012 @ 10:56:59

    I really don’t have anything and am glad that your technical problems have kept me from posting further. Frankly I find it hard to believe that the phrasing of “seasoned authors” along with the specific mentioning of Brockmann by name didn’t mean specifically what I took it to mean, that white authors should write more diverse characters in order to foster acceptance of the genre. However, but I will take you at your word even though mentioning Jackson and Jenkins who have each been writing multicultural characters for 20+ years makes no sense, but like I said, it’s more or less irrelevant at this point.

    As to Jane’s point about technical barriers you can rest assured that we’ve been bitching at Amazon since forever about the lack of a multicultural category in the Kindle store. Even worse, because of their funky algorithm none of my books at LI are listed in the African American category either. Apparently if you choose more than one category it affects your chance of making the bestseller list. Of course LI chooses Erotic Romance. That makes sense for them because after all, that’s what they do, but for readers specifically looking for AA or MC romances, it’s a problem. I stand a better chance of making the best-seller lists under MC or AA than under the erotic romance category. And, of course, best-seller lists mean more exposure. I just found out about this recently while reading a discussion on an author loop. I haven’t bothered to ask for a category change because my last book at LI came out last year, so it’s probably irrelevant, but might be important to others.

    With my self-published books I’ve placed them under the AA category and somehow they come under the multicultural category as well. I have no idea how that works.

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  5. Roslyn Holcomb
    Jun 21, 2012 @ 11:04:21

    Sorry, I just realized that the comments about technical issues came from Kelly, not Jane.

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  6. Janine
    Jun 21, 2012 @ 11:16:34

    @Ann Somerville:

    just as West Wing made the idea of a President of colour perfectly plausible and not scary to a large number of people

    I wonder if you may be thinking of the popular television show “24″ or the movie “Deep Impact,” in which Dennis Haysbert and Morgan Freeman respectively played US Presidents? Although President Bartlet on “The West Wing” was played by a POC actor (Martin Sheen, a Latino) the character himself was not a person of color, and the rest of the cast was white but for one actor in a minor recurring role (Dule Hill, whose character Charlie was an aide to the President who also dated his daughter). I’m not sure how many viewers are aware of Sheen’s ethnicity, either.

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  7. Victoria Dahl
    Jun 21, 2012 @ 11:33:11

    @Ann Somerville:

    I was irritated and I apologize. But one of the points you made was “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.” That doesn’t allow for the complexity of real life, and it doesn’t accomodate all the OTHER things we never write about in romance. And it doesn’t accomodate all the things I’d personally be terrified to take on. For example, writing a book with a native Chicagoan or New Yorker as the protag. I could research it. I could even move to one of those cities for a year, and I’d still never feel adequate. I feel *much* more fear as a writer at the idea of taking on a writing challenge like that than I ever would for, say, writing an AA hero or heroine. But that fear can’t be explained by racism or an inabiity to imagine a guy from Chicago in my bed, so a fear of writing certain settings or characters can’t be explained away as simple racism. And hey, I like to think it’s not laziness either.

    Yes, sometimes it’s about racism, sometimes it’s a lack of imagination, and most of the time it’s about a hundred things all mixed together.

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  8. Robin/Janet
    Jun 21, 2012 @ 11:56:26

    @Anu: First let me address the “solution” portion of your comment.

    When I first wrote and posted my piece, I simply titled it “cultivating tolerance.” When Jane (I assume) went in to LOL cat it, she added the later part, because, I’m assuming again, she wanted to make it less abstract (which is where I tend to lean) and more practical (which is where she tends to lean, which most of the time makes us a good balance). I decided not to change the title back, although I realized yesterday that I probably should have changed it to “a multicultural strategy.” Now it’s ultimately my responsibility for not changing the title again, but honestly, that’s how all that evolved. I never intended my post to offer One Way. My focus was on how to condition readers to buy and read more MC Romance, and I wanted to open up a discussion based on that possibility, because I’m frustrated with the focus on how readers won’t read MC Romance and how it’s never going to change. I think it CAN change (and ultimately I think it will change, but very slowly, at the rate things are going), and I think the key to changing it is to normalize MC Romance for readers. And I include readers of color in that. I have a friend who is AA who doesn’t read AA Romance, in part because a lot of it doesn’t represent her experience. She can’t be the only one for whom that’s true.

    Which brings me to the second part of your comment. Why, in a post that is focused entirely on diversifying the genre to match the population, would I be focused on white authors? I mean, if the status quo is white, and I wanted white authors to be king (or queen), why would I ever write this post? I’m not being sarcastic here — I’m simply trying to say that from my POV it’s totally illogical for me to focus a whole post on MC Romance and challenging the status quo if I wanted to let the status quo stand.

    In terms of the post itself and references to authors of color, I talk about the problem of separate shelving, which is primarily a problem for authors of color; I talk about the problem of publishers marketing MC Romance separately, which is primarily a problem for authors of color, and I indicate my belief that publishers must not segregate these books, either by marginalizing them or highlighting them as different. Because my focus is on readers, there is also going to be a focus on books. And I absolutely agree that more authors of color need to be encouraged to write MC Romance, and I also think that more experienced authors should be supporting this goal as part of leading the charge.

    When I indicated that I wanted experienced authors to lead the charge to write more status quo challenging Romance, I wasn’t thinking that most experienced authors are white, frankly. I do think that most experienced authors write white, but I have to tell you that I’m not really an author-focused person when it comes to reading books. Not to mention the fact that there are so many popular authors out there whose books I haven’t read, nor do I know what they’re specifically writing. I did know that Laurenston is AA, and obviously I know Brockmann is white, but there are so many cross-sub-genre pseuds and so many pseuds in general, that half the time I don’t know who is writing what and who is from what background. Authors of color are sometimes advertised as AOC, which is how I know a number of them as AOC. But for the most part I assume, quite frankly, that many POC authors are writing under Anglo sounding pseuds. Which is part of my particular thing — I want the focus to be on books, even though I know I have to incorporate the author part of the equation when it comes to MC Romance, which is one more reason I think the whole issue is so vexed — because there is a screwy “authentication” or “essentialization” process that occurs with authors of color that the genre does not demand of white authors (note my mention in the post of books shelved in different places based on their authors’ race). How many white authors are appropriating Scottish and Irish cultures or Native American cultures or US regional cultures without being asked if they’re from those places? It’s all effed up.

    I really think it’s a catch-22; if we promote white authors writing POC, we seem to be sending a message that AOC aren’t necessary or wanted. And if we focus on building AOC over white authors, we have the problem of differentiating authors and books again, which is what I think we need to move away from. I personally think we need to be all in or all out in terms of MC Romance. I want us to be all in, and I think the key to that is getting readers to buy and read more MC books. Which is why I focused my piece on that goal. Which is why I didn’t want to focus on the race of authors but on books. I understand the points you and Roslyn Holcomb and Las are making, and I don’t disagree with a lot of it. But in one of my rare streaks of pragmatism, I feel that if we are going to diversify the genre starting NOW, we need to be focused both on who is already writing in the genre and cultivating more authors who will write good MC books, including more talented authors of color — from those who are not yet published to those who are not trying to hide their race, or who have not felt welcomed into the writing community. But I also think we need to focus on readers, and on what is going to get more MC books into reader hands in the short and long-term. Does that translate into encouraging AOC over white authors to write POC? As we’ve seen in this thread, there’s not even universal agreement that MC Romance is desirable, or that a focus on readers is important, so clearly we need to take a few steps back to discuss the goals here, as well as potential strategies to reach those goals.

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  9. Janine
    Jun 21, 2012 @ 12:21:26

    @Lori:

    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! ;-)

    You’ve made fair points — I know I made an effort to seek out and review more MC/IR/POC books after the wonderful discussion with Handyhunter in 2009. I haven’t stopped reviewing them (Most recently I’ve been pimping Ben Aaronoitch’s wonderful UF series beginning with Midnight Riot, set in London and featuring a biracial police constable/apprentice wizard. I have no idea if Aaronovitch is POC himself; I don’t want to make assumptions), but I’ve reviewed less.

    Partly it’s because I’ve had the same problem Jane does — I’m a picky reader and finding books that satisfy me is tricky, especially when it comes to new-to-me authors. Part of it is that I’m not that drawn to straight contemporaries or category books, which are more prominent than other genres of MC books — so I rarely review these regardless of whether the author is POC or white.

    I would love to see more IR/MC in categories like historicals (Haven’t had that much luck with Beverly Jenkins but I’ll try her again. Jeannie Lin’s latest is on my kindle. But where are the other MC historical romance authors?), paranormal/UF (I read and review plenty of Nalini Singh, but again, I’m sure there are other good ones out there — the question is, how to find them?), and YA. I’ve had the best luck with YA and have favorably reviewed or posted about books by Dia Reeves, Neesha Meminger, Cindy Pon and Sherri L. Smith. I’m sad that the Diversity in YA blog is no longer updated — that was a great resource for me.

    Part of it is also that we don’t get many review submissions from POC authors. On rare occasion we get them, and I often download a kindle sample when that happens and try out the book, but the overwhelming number of books we are approached to review feature white characters on their covers and don’t mention a MC/IR aspect in the request. Maybe we have a reputation for being bigoted, and therefore the author of MC books choose to send their queries elsewhere, I don’t know — but it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    Another part of it is that as a reviewer I want to keep up with the books that get a lot of buzz, so I can be knowledgeable when discussions happen and also because, like every other reader, buzz gets my attention. I’m a slow reader and only read maybe a book a week (two if I’m really lucky) so these buzz-getting books may crowd out worthy books that have not gotten the same attention. It’s unfair and it sucks but it happens.

    All of this is not so much to make excuses, but to explain how the unfair situation comes about.

    Thank you for your challenge. I had already resolved to try and do better when the BEA thread discussion took place, and am currently reading Suleikha Snyder’s Spice and Smoke, but I’ll take your request to heart. It’s a fair criticism and one I appreciate.

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  10. Roslyn Holcomb
    Jun 21, 2012 @ 12:22:42

    @Kelly, you might also want even more books for your multicultural TBR pile, you might want to check out the Swirl Awards, which is a contest for multicultural books. http://www.swirlawards.com/

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  11. Robin/Janet
    Jun 21, 2012 @ 12:23:16

    @Las: The first think I thought of when I read your comment was Dijmon Hounsou and Amistad. And then a whole bunch of Will Smith, Jamie Foxx, and Samuel Jackson movies. The second thing I thought of was how I am so damn frustrated with “gatekeepers” making these pronouncements. I mean, here’s the thing: how much of that cycle is actually creating the very phenomenon it’s asserting by keeping more of these types of film out of the mainstream?

    You know, one of the mainstream cable movie channels (AMC or MGM, I can’t remember which now) is celebrating GLBT month. How long ago was it that such a thing would be unthinkable for a stodgy old dog in the industry like that? But I think the success of shows like The L Word and the more routine incorporation of GLBT characters into mainstream television has changed things. It’s not impossible to cultivate tolerance — unless, that is, the people standing in decision making positions keep making decisions that work against this goal. As I said above, I do think this is all going to change, especially with the profound diversification occurring via globalization (in the US, our fastest growing population — Latino/Hispanic — is still statistically very young, so we’re not going to see the balance of power shift for a while, I don’t think), but I think it can change more rapidly if we actually look around at how people are living — and in so many, many cases — thriving and embracing a multicultural reality. In other words, why are we so apt to always believe the judgment of people who were so sure that (the white patriarchal imperialist fantasy) John Carter would score at the box office?

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  12. Janine
    Jun 21, 2012 @ 12:33:23

    @Anu: To answer your question, I think even Nalini Singh can break more ground. Raphael and Elena, the couple at the center of her Guild Hunter series, are white, so the next time she starts a series that follows the same couple, I would love to see at least one of the couple be a person of color.

    Brenda Jackson should be commended, but publishers need to support more POC authors and help them reach bestselling status, and I read Robin’s post as saying that as well. There needs to be a stronger push from everyone across the board (including us reviewers) to present these books to readers.

    With all the bean counting in the industry, I’m doubtful that will happen quickly, but then I think the publishing industry sabotages itself on a regular basis (look at the agency pricing fiasco). I read Robin’s post as calling on everyone across the board to do their part.

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  13. Sunita
    Jun 21, 2012 @ 12:44:14

    @Anu: I am sorry that my example came across as snark-tastic and hyperbolic. That was not my intention at all.

    If you want me to explain what I was trying to do with it, I’d be happy to talk about it further via email. If not, that’s fine too.

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  14. Violetta Vane
    Jun 21, 2012 @ 13:13:25

    @Roslyn Holcomb: @Roslyn Holcomb: I DID NOT KNOW ABOUT THE SWIRL AWARDS. THIS IS AWESOME. Sorry about the all caps, folks—I just got a bit excited there. It looks like I’m too late for 2011-2012, but I volunteered for judging for the next round.

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  15. Kelly
    Jun 21, 2012 @ 13:22:32

    @Roslyn Holcomb:

    …you might want to check out the Swirl Awards…

    Thanks! But I think I’ll wait until I get home from work. Or maybe wait until payday….

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  16. Roslyn Holcomb
    Jun 21, 2012 @ 13:29:32

    @Violetta Vane, I know. I’ve been so giddy with excitement I’ve already completed my ballots. It’s too cool.

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  17. Elisabeth Roseland
    Jun 21, 2012 @ 14:35:05

    Wow, this is a fantastic discussion, and I hesitate to step my toe in here because I am a new author in the romance genre, but there were a few things that I wanted to comment upon.

    First, in the discussion of publishers taking a risk on books that feature POC as main characters, I think that we really have to highlight that this is primarily a problem with the big NYC publishing houses (and I’m including Harlequin here even though they operate a bit differently). The fact of the matter is that NYC pubs are reluctant to take a risk on *anything*–and the result is that we see a constant regurgitation of the same trends/themes/characters/tropes until we all get sick of them and a new trend pops up. How many times have you read about agents rejecting well-written manuscripts because they didn’t know how to sell them? This is a problem across the board for any writer who wants to write a text that falls outside of what the publishers think the market will bear, and this includes MC/IR romances.

    Second, in light of this, the e-pub first houses like Carina and Loose-ID (who have already been mentioned) along with Samhain, Elora’s Cave, and others have stepped up to fill in the gaping hole left by NYC’s refusal to change. Way upthread someone questioned whether Carina’s call for MC stories is sincere because the pub still does not publish a large variety of MC romances. I absolutely believe it is sincere, and the sole reason we don’t see a plethora of these stories is simply a numbers game. On average, the respectable e-pub first houses publish less than 10% of all submissions, and this number includes already established writers. Because not all authors are writing MC/IR romances (and I won’t get into who can write them–white authors or authors of color), I can imagine that maybe what? 10? 20? stories out of 100 are MC/IR? If they are only accepting the best 10% overall, perhaps only 1 or 2 of those manuscripts are accepted. Writing is hard. Writing something publishable is even harder. Writing something publishable with POC as the main characters that gets accepted by an e-pub that is actively looking for MC/IR romances is an uphill battle just because that is the nature of the beast.

    I’m intimately familiar with the struggles because as I mentioned, I’m a new romance author. I wrote a novel featuring AA and queer main characters and subbed to Carina, and guess what? It got rejected. I, in no way, took this to mean that Carina was not really interested in books with POC/queer main characters. I took this to mean that my book was not right for them or perhaps not ready to be published at all. So I picked myself up, tried again, wrote something else, and subbed to Samhain. And guess what? They accepted it. So now, I’ve got a series coming out next year with Samhain that features AA main and secondary characters in all of the books. When my editor first emailed me with the acceptance, she stated that she (a white woman) really connected to my black characters and found my black hero to be sexy. She also said that IR books do very well at Samhain, so I should also consider including an IR romance in the future, which I did (the second and third books are IR romances bw/wm and ww/bm).

    I say all this to illustrate that all is not lost. There is a market for MC/IR books. The e-pubs do want them and are publishing them. My editor’s acquisitions are 1/3 multicultural and 1/3 M/M because she finds those stories to be sexy and engaging and knows that others will, too. Violetta and Heidi’s books are great examples of interesting MC narratives that are engaging and complex, and they create characters of color who are interesting and nuanced. And they are published by the e-pubs.

    I know I’m going a little long here, but I just have to make one more point. Upthread, there was an insinuation that black authors need to hide their race in order to be successful and for a white audience to read their books. As an AA woman, I find this notion to be absolutely horrifying. It smacks of a reconceived, 21st century version of “passing,” and it is something that I would never participate in. I don’t doubt that it’s true that some readers are prejudiced against books because of the race of the author. We see this all the time when dealing with the sex of an author. Heck, one of my very good friends won’t read novels written by men because she “just knows” that she won’t like them. The way we combat this, however, is not by conceding to this audience by hiding a crucial part of ourselves (and I’m including sexuality in this), but by just being who we are and by writing our truths. If the audience comes and they love it, that’s great. If they dismiss you out of hand because of something you can not change, then good riddance to them. At least you are remain true to who you are.

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  18. Las
    Jun 21, 2012 @ 14:49:15

    @Robin/Janet:

    The first think I thought of when I read your comment was Dijmon Hounsou and Amistad. And then a whole bunch of Will Smith, Jamie Foxx, and Samuel Jackson movies.

    Heh, I had originally put “Don’t mention Will Smith” in parenthesis when I posted and then thought better of it. He’s pretty much the exception that proves the rule, and there a lot of analysis out there of his work, how he markets himself, and how his choices of non-controversial roles is a big part of his success among white audiences. I love Will Smith, but his success doesn’t isn’t some mark of progress in Hollywood when it comes to race. He’s actually another example of POC needing to be packaged a certain way for white audiences to find them acceptable.

    Amistad wasn’t exactly a huge box office hit if I recall correctly, even though, as a Spielberg film, it was heavily promoted. And let’s not forget that it had Matthew McConaughey and Anthony Hopkins as the obligatory white heroes. Samuel L. Jackson is popular, but what leading roles has he played? Jamie Foxx did Ray and…that’s about it as far as movie success.

    As I said above, I do think this is all going to change, especially with the profound diversification occurring via globalization

    ( This is a whole other topic that would require hundreds of comments to discuss, but) I’m not so sure about that. There will be some change sure, but when it comes to increasing numbers and visibility of POCs, specifically non-black POCs, what seems to be happening is that they tend to…not identify, exactly, but I can’t think of a better word, with whiteness. Other commenters have mentioned that AA’s seem to be the only built-in audience for Black characters, while other POC groups aren’t an automatic fanbase for books with POC characters. I’ve been thinking about that since reading the original post, about how all POC are being lumped together in this discussion about MC books and that’s a mistake, not just because each race and ethnicity is distinct, but because, in the US (can’t speak about other countries) anti-black racism is particularly widespread, even and maybe especially among non-black POCs. Immigrants (and I say this as a child of immigrants) figure out pretty quickly the lay of the land, and they know that their best chance of success is to strive to be more “white” and make sure they aren’t associated with Black Americans. It’s no wonder to me that non-black POCs will more readily read books without POC characters and not necessarily look for books that feature them. And it’s also no wonder that Roslyn’s experiences seem to be very different from the non-black POC authors that have commented here.

    This is a hugely complex issue and I know I’m not doing it justice, but it’s been on the back of my mind throughout this whole discussion and I wanted to put it out there.

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  19. Victoria Dahl
    Jun 21, 2012 @ 14:52:08

    @Elisabeth Roseland:

    I think yours is a very welcome toe, so I’m glad you posted. Your story is significant, because e-books are changing everything about romance selection for readers. E-books (and self-publishing) have already changed the demand for sensuality levels, historical settings, sexual orientation of main characters, and acceptance of HEAs that feature more than two partners. And I’m pretty damn sure there are a lot more multi-cultural romances available from e-presses than from traditional. All good news and serious progress for romance. (And I apologize if this was already addressed. I read through some of the comments quickly.)

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  20. Victoria Dahl
    Jun 21, 2012 @ 15:19:31

    @Ann Somerville:

    Ann, I’ve been pondering what you said about your experience in fan fiction, etc., because I don’t have any knowledge of that world, so I didn’t have an immediate reaction. What you said about reactions to characters of color is interesting and disturbing. It’s not something we would be aware of in traditional publishing, becuase we don’t get those kind of real-time comments. We are only aware of reactions in terms of sales numbers, which is a murkier issue.

    But I hope things are beginning to change. Or I’m a Pollyanna. Personally, I’ve only written one major African American character, and she generated the most requests for more story that I’ve ever received. She wasn’t the heroine’s best friend, she wasn’t fun and light, and she was in a very difficult place in her life during the story. But people wanted to know more. They wanted to see her happy ending. Maybe I should honor that by carving out time to write her story, even though my schedule always seems impossible.

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  21. cleo
    Jun 21, 2012 @ 17:38:16

    @Isobel Carr: I have a question that I hope isn’t too nosy or naive – I’d really like to know more about why you write white characters (it’s not clear from your comment if you only write white characters or not). Is it that the stories you want to write work better with white main characters or something else?

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  22. Nikki
    Jun 21, 2012 @ 17:44:24

    @Jane: The issue of bad manuscripts is utterly true. Many of the books available fail on several fronts. Either the plot is too thin to hold air, the characters action make no sense, or the grammar and spelling errors are egregious. It is hard to rationalize spending $4-6 on badly written work or extremely short stories just because someone is bringing diversity. My sister who recently purchased a Kindle Fire constantly bemoans to me the lack of well-written IR romance that does not involve the paranormal. I have referred her to varying authors, but considering the way we consume books, the selection remains limited.

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  23. Anu
    Jun 21, 2012 @ 18:09:04

    @Jane:

    I have been told repeatedly by different editors that they just aren’t seeing good multicultural manuscripts and frankly, given the paucity of good writing in what has been published featuring POC characters, I can see where they are coming from.

    I’m frustrated by the AA lines too, but I ascribed that to my general dislike of categories. Jeannie Lin also discussed the lack of good manuscripts. Don’t categories often function as a sort of, um, minor league for authors to develop craft and voice? (Apologies to category readers!) If guidelines for AA lines are as restrictive as it seems, could that limit AA authors’ development relative to their general cat counterparts? And what about access to writing contests, etc?

    I’m anxiously awaiting the next Alisha Rai book and I was frustrated that she wrote the Persephone/Hades story instead of another hot contemp featuring POC characters.

    and @Janine:

    I think even Nalini Singh can break more ground. Raphael and Elena, the couple at the center of her Guild Hunter series, are white, so the next time she starts a series that follows the same couple, I would love to see at least one of the couple be a person of color.

    Well, this is an MC story vs. author thing. On the one hand, it’s cool to have POC authors in the pool. On the other hand, they may not want to be pigeonholed into writing *only* POC characters.

    See, the problem with authors in general is that they want to decide what to write rather than leaving it to readers. Which is, of course, always the *wrong* choice. :p

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  24. Jill Sorenson
    Jun 21, 2012 @ 18:12:19

    @Victoria Dahl: I loved that character.

    I feel like Harlequin is taking some criticism here (from me also) even though they publish more MC romance than anyone else, as Jeannie Lin pointed out. I loved Butterfly Swords. I’ve never read a book set in that time period, or with a white hero as a racial outcast. It blew me away.

    I’d like to see a broader range of ethnicities and more authentic cultural representations, but there seems to be a huge market for “guilty pleasure” escape fantasies right now, maybe more so than ever. Do readers want real and authentic, or are they enjoying books about billionaires and virgins?

    I hope that Harlequin and other publishers continue to take risks on more authentic types of MC romance, because representations will get better and more people (especially POC) will read MC romance. We live in an increasingly MC society, so it makes sense that readers will become more comfortable and seek out books that reflect their friends/family/world.

    Maybe we should call on YA to take the charge, eh? Because I do see this as a generational issue to some extent. YA readers are transitioning from Twilight to PNR. It would be nice if they transitioned from MC YA to MC romance!

    Thanks for the great topic & discussion.

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  25. Anu
    Jun 21, 2012 @ 18:15:10

    @Robin/Janet:

    I’m simply trying to say that from my POV it’s totally illogical for me to focus a whole post on MC Romance and challenging the status quo if I wanted to let the status quo stand.

    It seems to me that the logic of your strategy (I won’t use the word “solution”) leaves the focus on white authors. Later in your post, you mention authors who “write white” (as in writing only white characters?) and that many POC authors are writing under anglo pseudonyms. I’m not familiar with these ideas, and I don’t know how to think of them. My general impression is that white authors dominate the genre and its subs outside of MC/IR/AA – if that’s not the case, then I think that turns upside down how many of us have been talking about the issue in this thread. Jane, for example, refers to the failure of “white mainstream authors” as something that cannot be ignored – why would the failures of these authors in particular require attention if the racial breakdown were more diverse?

    In terms of the post itself and references to authors of color, I talk about the problem of separate shelving, which is primarily a problem for authors of color; I talk about the problem of publishers marketing MC Romance separately, which is primarily a problem for authors of color, and I indicate my belief that publishers must not segregate these books, either by marginalizing them or highlighting them as different.

    You’re right – I was fixated on problems I perceive with the “lead-the-charge” strategy to the detriment of your other suggestions.

    As we’ve seen in this thread, there’s not even universal agreement that MC Romance is desirable, or that a focus on readers is important, so clearly we need to take a few steps back to discuss the goals here, as well as potential strategies to reach those goals.

    OK – in an effort to move forward pragmatically, what steps would you like to see in service of a “lead the charge” strategy?

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  26. Jane
    Jun 21, 2012 @ 18:17:03

    @Anu – I have some hopes that Harlequin’s 2012writing contest will yield some differing results. It is a global contest. Also the runner up of the India Mills & Boon contest will be released in the UK in August and the US in November.

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  27. Anu
    Jun 21, 2012 @ 18:20:37

    @Violetta Vane:
    Whoa, I’m very sorry for assuming your ethnicity. Did not mean to offend.

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  28. Ann Somerville
    Jun 21, 2012 @ 18:20:45

    “I wonder if you may be thinking of the popular television show “24? or the movie “Deep Impact,” in which Dennis Haysbert and Morgan Freeman respectively played US Presidents”

    No, I was thinking of the fact that Aaron Sorkin based Matt Santos on Barack Obama:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matt_Santos

    Although you’re correct that the two examples you mention were also part of the ‘normalisation’ process. Ideation is a very powerful thing, and once people learn to imagine, they learn to accept, and no longer to fear.

    “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. ”

    Mainstream culture doesn’t have a problem (or give a flying fuck) about misrepresenting all kinds of ordinary people from minorities, so while an author who created a hero as egregious as you describe might attract criticism from AA readers, the chances of (a) white readers noticing and (b) caring, are much smaller. So the risk to the author’s pocket isn’t very big even if they mess up big time. (This would be one of the benefits of privilege.)

    How much smaller is the risk if they take due care in writing about people of color? I’m sorry, this ‘risk’ argument is so nonsensical once you pull it apart that I refuse to accept as legitimate. Yes, you might screw up, and yes, you might get criticised. But as I’ve said before, the real shitstorms have erupted as a result of the *author’s* reaction to criticism, not the criticism itself. If the author is willing to try, and take her lumps if she gets it wrong, the risk is non-existant.

    And this is where more editors of colour, beta readers of colour etc can make a real difference because they can pick up the worst mistakes, and hopefully give white authors the confidence to branch out. Of course, they also boost the presence and visbility of authors of colour, so it’s a win-win.

    “Yes, sometimes it’s about racism, sometimes it’s a lack of imagination, and most of the time it’s about a hundred things all mixed together. ”

    Well, inasmuch as the fear is based on unconscious racism, then the writer has the power to challenge that within herself, doesn’t she? And I would argue that we have a duty to ourselves to do just that.

    “What you said about reactions to characters of color is interesting and disturbing. It’s not something we would be aware of in traditional publishing, becuase we don’t get those kind of real-time comments. ”

    What’s interesting – and appalling – is that even when the writers face no financial risk whatsoever (s they do in fanfiction), and there is considerable minority interest in characters of colour pairings, so many still choose to avoid writing about them, with the same tired excuses. Fanfiction is where writers should feel the most comfortable about taking risks with their writing, and yet race remains the risk they don’t want to take. (It doesn’t help that when blowups happen over bad writing using characters of colour and revolting author/fan reactions to that criticism, the blowups tend to be *huge*.)

    “Maybe I should honor that by carving out time to write her story, even though my schedule always seems impossible. ”

    I’m confident you would do a terrific job :)

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  29. Anu
    Jun 21, 2012 @ 18:30:15

    @Las @Janet/Robin:

    Have you heard about Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino’s new movie? It features Jamie Foxx as a slave trying to rescue his wife from a crazy plantation owner. This is the AV Club’s writeup:

    Bounty hunter Christoph Waltz promises to free Jamie Foxx’s permanently sneering slave and rescue his wife from swanning Southern plantation owner Leonardo DiCaprio, provided Foxx helps him spray the fields with redneck blood. The trailer’s rife with casually cool violence, James Brown-supplied swagger, and several lines that seem ready-made for quoting by both fans and the sort of people who think “reverse racism” is a thing. Should be fun!

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  30. Ridley
    Jun 21, 2012 @ 19:17:51

    @Anu:

    Don’t categories often function as a sort of, um, minor league for authors to develop craft and voice?

    Well, from this reader’s perspective, I don’t consider categories the “minor league.” I consider them shorter reads that lack the fluffy filler (and higher prices) of single-title books. The writing equals anything put out by the Big 6, they’re just shorter books.

    I consider Samhain/LooseId/Carina a sort of development league. The pattern seems to be to sell well there, then move on to a print publisher. Few authors stay at an epub for multiple series, but lots of authors write for Harlequin for years.

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  31. Shirin Dubbin
    Jun 21, 2012 @ 20:31:11

    Oops, I’m adding paragraph breaks…

    After two days, I’ve finally read all the comments on this discussion. There are so many topics I want to add my thoughts to that it’s difficult to pick a starting point.

    Multi-Culti as a Genre:
    I believe stories with POC protagonists should be categorized based on genre and sub-genre, but with a “multicultural” tag listed in the metadata. For example, the Vampire Huntress Legends by L.A. Banks and The Negotiator series by C.E. Murphy belong under the urban fantasy umbrella. Nalini Singh’s Archangels series and Lynn Viehl’s Darkyn series belong in PNR. Susan Brockmann’s Gone Too Far is romantic suspense, and Jeannie Lin writes historicals. This way POCs characters are not singled out as novelties but are easy to find for those seeking them out.

    The key thing, as I believe the OP suggests, is we need more POC antagonists—from everybody, in all of romance’s sub-genres. At one time cell phones were an anomaly. They were big and clunky with limited reception. I thought it was weird to carry one around with and I couldn’t see the value in it. Now they’re a part of global culture, I now understand how useful they are, and most of us can’t imagine life without them. This might be an oversimplification, but isn’t that what we’re seeking for POC characters? Make them widely available and plentiful enough that they become a part of romance culture at large.

    Getting It Wrong:
    I don’t care who writes POC characters as long as those characters are treated as full-bodied people. POCs are as varied in their personalities and backgrounds as white people. No matter what the portrayal of a personality is it can’t be wrong. Trust me, any Black American/Japanese/Indian/Brazilian/First Nations/Indonesian/Korean/Trinidadian character an author chooses to write has their real world counterparts.

    Year’s ago I saw a post on a loop where a white author asked how to write an authentic “black teenager’s” dialog. The question contains a basic fallacy. It should be closer to: How do I write an authentic black teenager with a Caribbean mother and Texan father, who grew up middle class, in a predominately white neighborhood? Or: How do I write an authentic black teenager who was raised solely by their grandmother in Brooklyn? What I’m saying is, socioeconomic, cultural, familial, and geographic details all determine whether a character of any heritage is authentic. Therefore you can, without doubts, get cultural aspects and traditions wrong—research must be done. Afterward, we authors can run wild.

    Here’s another thing, we must talk to people of that ethnicity to learn the little details that add realness. The thing I most appreciated about Christine Feehan’s portrayal of MaryAnn in Dark Possession was the description of the character’s hair going frizzy and turning into a ‘fro after spending time in jungle humidity. Mind you not all black people have the same hair texture, but I recognized this detail as authentic to a number of black women. It felt real. As Jane mentioned in a previous post, Asian women tend to have a different method of applying eye make-up because many don’t have the crease other ethnicities do. Those specifics make a difference.

    Publishers Don’t Really Want POC Characters:
    I can’t shed light on the big print houses, but I can speak about digital first and small press publishing from a personal perspective. Of the works I’ve sought publication for, all feature multicultural casts, and all have POC antagonists. Each of these stories has found homes with publishers. Carina Press accepted three, one of those a re-release. Entangled Publishing has two forthcoming, and Prime Books will publish one in print this fall.
    Digital publishers and small presses are actively acquiring stories with POC leads. I am not an aberration and I know many POC authors who are published consistently. I don’t have experience with the barriers at the NY print houses, but we’ve seen some troubling examples shared in this thread.

    My biggest problem in the past was in finding an audience. I can’t begin to tell you why. There are so many possibilities in the realm of contributing factors. Perhaps it was my voice, or the marketing, or the timing, my unknown status or my funny face… However, many POC authors sell well, therefore the audience is out there—a sizable and voracious audience—and I hope to sync up with them with my upcoming releases.

    Having said all of this, I come back to part of the original question. We’ve identified and argued over the barriers and who is best positioned to do it, but those things apparent/aside, how do we expand the existing audience and make POC characters a part of the mainstream? What are some real strategies authors, publishers, bloggers, and readers can employ?

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  32. Shirin Dubbin
    Jun 21, 2012 @ 20:32:59

    Also, here’s a very interesting article on how readers identify with POC and LGBT characters.

    http://www.salon.com/2012/05/17/can_you_identify/singleton/

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  33. Shirin Dubbin
    Jun 21, 2012 @ 20:49:28

    Cripes! I meant all my stories have POC protagonists. Not antagonists. Next time I’ll got with heroes and heroines.

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  34. Author On Vacation
    Jun 21, 2012 @ 21:13:35

    @Las: Sorry, but I consider authoring characters of multicultural heritage and characters of color the most unrewarding experience imaginable for the very reasons cited by some other authors, and I myself am of multicultural heritage. Accusations of racism abound, along with “misappropriation (of color, nationality, heritage)” and “being out of touch with what it really means to be *insert race/ethnic designation here.*” It’s disheartening, even though I think I understand why it happens.

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  35. Sunita
    Jun 21, 2012 @ 22:14:17

    @Ridley: I agree about Harlequin. I’ve read some exceptional writing in category romance over the years. There are plenty of authors there who could write non-category at a high level (and some of them do, in addition to writing for HMB).

    From what I can tell, you and I read overlapping but distinct subgenres from the ePubs. I put Carina at the top in terms of consistent quality (story quality, editing, and production). Samhain’s very best is comparable, but in my experience the average is lower. LooseId can be very good but it can also be pretty bad. The editing is more uneven. I’ve started looking at who edits the various authors I read at LooseId and picking up books based on that.

    After those three, except for some micropresses, I have found the quality to be consistently lower in the ones I’ve read. The big exceptions in those ePubs are authors who have their own editing procedures in place (you can tell because their books vary much less across publishers).

    The only issue I’d take with your “development league” description is that it implies a process of learning, training, and improvement. I don’t know how much of that takes place at the various ePubs. The stronger and more knowledgeable the editing process, the more development can occur.

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  36. Janine
    Jun 21, 2012 @ 22:29:43

    @Anu: I’m not suggesting Nalini Singh should write according to my prescriptions. You asked how I interpreted Robin’s op-ed piece and that was part of my answer.

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  37. Janine
    Jun 21, 2012 @ 22:54:20

    @Ann Somerville: Thanks for reminding me, I had forgotten about Jimmy Smits’ character on “The West Wing”. But now that you’ve jogged my memory, I recall he played a Congressman who was also a candidate for the presidency. Santos, his character, wasn’t elected President until the final episode of the series, though, and the show’s producer (not Sorkin, he was gone by then) actually planned to have Santos lose the election and have Alan Alda’s Republican character win. The final episode was rewritten at the eleventh hour after the actor who played Leo passed away as it was seen as too tragic for the Democrats to lose both the election and the VP candidate.

    I don’t believe “The West Wing” deserves much credit for preparing the country for Obama with Santos in 2004; “24″ broke that ground three years earlier. Dennis Haysbert’s character played both a Presidential candidate and later the President starting in 2001, and D.B. Woodside, played his brother (talk about an attractive black man!), who followed with his own presidency. I have ambivalent (to say the least) feelings about “24,” a show that glorified torture and vilified civil liberties, but it was way ahead of “The West Wing” when it comes to POC political leaders, and in this case that’s where the credit is due.

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  38. Ann Somerville
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 01:00:55

    @Janine:
    “I don’t believe “The West Wing” deserves much credit for preparing the country for Obama with Santos in 2004; “24? broke that ground three years earlier.”

    I’ve never watched ’24′ and Sorkin’s name was much bandied about during the run up to Barack Obama’s election and afterwards, which is why it came to me first. You may be right, but I see these things not as competing influences, but synergistic ones.

    Unlike one recent commenter here, I believe that people with any privilege regarding a minority have a moral duty to use that privilege to help that minority address the power imbalance. If an author is so thin-skinned the mere fear of being accused of getting it wrong or being racist will stop them including minority characters, then they’re probably too thin-skinned – or chickenshit – to be in the business.

    I would like to see *one* example from that recent commenter where a shitstorm erupted over issues of race or appropriation where the racism or apprpriation was not egregious *and* the author responded appropriately. Because I’ve seen a lot of shit storms, and I’ve never, ever seen a case where the real issue is the defensiveness of the privileged author, rather than the criticism from the minority readers.

    I’d also like to see *one* example where an author lost a contract because of actual minority (not imaginary minority criticism as in the case of the Jewel of Medina by Sherry Jones) criticism over non-egregious racism or appropriation.

    The example I linked in my first comment here was regarding a book by Elizabeth Moon, where the row erupted because Moon and Moon’s defenders lost their damn minds over criticism from a fanfiction author. The actual ‘criticism’ was because Moon holds herself up as the shining example on how to write minorities, yet managed to create images of racial subjugation too disturbing for that particular reader to cope with. That reader specifically said she wasn’t accusing Moon of racism – just of lack of awareness of how her imagery might cause troublesome reactions. Had Moon been able to walk the walk, not just talk the talk, the whole thing would had died in a couple of days, instead of being months of raging anger and fury and downright disgusting behaviour by white people.

    It appears it’s privilege, not conscience, that does make cowards of us all.

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  39. Fiona McGier
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 01:18:58

    I have close friends who are white, as I am, and close friends who are black. I have close friends who are Hispanic. I have written books with white heroines and black heroes, with black heroines and white heroes and with Hispanic heroes or heroines. While I don’t think that having friends makes me any kind of expert, I do feel able to imagine a character somewhat like people who are close friends of mine. As females we all share our longings for love. Men are remarkably similar despite any racial differences.

    I think we have progressed from the time when romance covers had to have white characters, despite what the book described them as, because publishers felt “it would sell better that way.” I’ve been lucky in that my publishers let me have input into what the covers look like, and the one book for me that has sold the most is the one with a white heroine and a black hero. Color me surprised! My free download book is about a black heroine and a Hispanic hero. Since that book is one of a series, I sure wish the many people who have downloaded the free book would buy even one of my other books in the series about a Hispanic family and their romances.

    Many self-published books are un-polished and un-edited. But many books even from New York publishers have typos and grammatical errors. As long as the book tells a good story that draws the reader in, I would hope that the color of the participants would matter less than the feelings their story generates in the reader. A well-written romance finds its own audience.

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  40. Janine
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 01:23:30

    @Ann Somerville: I don’t have time to reply at length at the moment, but Elizabeth Moon has said some hugely offensive things about Muslims. You can read some of them (I think the post may have been edited since I last read it) here.

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  41. Ann Somerville
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 01:33:37

    @Janine:

    That’s a horrible post for sure, but I’ve made a huge mistake. The author I should have referenced was Elizabeth *Bear*, not Elizabeth Moon. Sorry for the goof. I won’t apologise to Moon because…ick.

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  42. Robin/Janet
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 11:51:16

    @Anu: Jane, for example, refers to the failure of “white mainstream authors” as something that cannot be ignored – why would the failures of these authors in particular require attention if the racial breakdown were more diverse?

    I’m sorry Anu, but I’m not clear on what you’re asking here. If your issue is with Jane’s comment, then all I can say is that I think all authors, regardless of their race or cultural identity, have a role to play in diversifying the genre. But one of the reasons I was deliberate in trying not to racialize the issue in terms of authorial leadership, is that there IS so much complexity when it comes to the MC market (as young as it is), as witnessed by all the comments in this thread on who is, should, and shouldn’t write MC Rom.

    I can tell you, also, that I had several cases in mind as I wrote the post, namely comments from authors in the thread I referenced at the beginning of the OP on writing MC characters and settings. I do not know the race or cultural background of some of those authors, but I was saddened to see at least one author say she probably won’t write another MC because her pre-sales are poor for her upcoming MC. And I was also thinking about Jade Lee, who, btw, writes European historicals as Katherine Greyle (which may, actually, be her original author name), and who has announced that she will no longer be writing as Lee, after her editor called that name “tainted as Asian” — her new pseud will be “Kathy Lyons.” Then there is Sherry Thomas, who was born in China but whose name and books do not reflect that, and Kathleen Eagle, who, AFAIK, is not Native American, although her name suggests she is (I think her husband may be), and she writes about NA characters.
    So, yeah, I think it’s extremely complicated, not only in sussing out who identifies as what race and culture, but then in trying to parse out who is “authorized” to write what kind of characters. I am *extremely* uncomfortable with the idea of expecting authors of color to write POC, and in some of the arguments I see about privileging AOC in MC Rom, I can’t help but think that IS the expectation.

    I just want authors who have experience in the industry and a readership to be supportive of MC Romance, whether that means writing it themselves, encouraging MC submissions in contests, encouraging RWA to be more overtly nurturing of MC Romance, supporting authors who want to or do write MC, asking their editors, agents, and publishers to support it, etc. And in turn, I’d like to see more agents soliciting MC manuscripts and cultivating/supporting authors who want to write MC — ditto editors and publishers. As I said in my OP, it can’t be a one-book thing, either, because that still spells “different.” I think there needs to be systemic, long-term change (this is what we always say in educational reform, too, and I think the principles are similar), which is another reason I think it’s important not to alienate any race of authors who can be recruited to the cause.

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  43. Robin/Janet
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 12:13:45

    @Las: Oh, I think Smith is extremely important to this conversation, because my whole argument is for reconditioning audiences/readerships to not see race as an insurmountable barrier to understanding or empathy or identification. And the fact that he portrayed Ali demonstrates to me, at least, that it’s not all about making him seem more “white,” just like Denzel Washington’s portrayal of Malcom X. But take Samuel L. Jackson in Snakes on A Plane or The Negotiator; in both films he plays an officer of the law AND the hero of the film. In The Negotiator, in fact, he is framed as a corrupt cop by a bunch of white cops, and there is no question of the audience’s identification and empathy for his character as he fights to clear his name (where another white guy, Kevin Spacey, plays second fiddle to Jackson’s incredibly charismatic character). Also, to go back to Dijmon Hounsou for a minute (and Amistad was a box office success, btw, which is why it came to mind), that role was his star-making turn, and for a character who didn’t even speak English.

    I understand the concern about forgetting or diminishing the power of racism, especially in the US, but on the flip side, I think it can be very dangerous to make race and racism so overwhelmingly powerful that no POC can overcome its diminishing effects. That, for me, is double disempowerment of political minorities (it’s one of the reasons I’ve always had issues with some strains of New Historicism), albeit inadvertent, or at least not deliberate. While we need to be vigilant about the construction of whiteness and its institutional power, at the same time I think we need to acknowledge and encourage change as a way to build on it and continue to foster a more equitable distribution of social, political, and economic power.

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  44. Victoria Dahl
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 13:08:21

    @Ann Somerville:

    This certainly wasn’t a shitstorm, but this recent DA review and the comments were very focused on the hero’s color and whether he was portrayed correctly or incorrectly and whether mixed-raced characters are a pass or a token or maybe just not racey enough? I know I thought of it when I was writing my current hero whose mother is Mexican American and whose father is white.

    http://dearauthor.com/book-reviews/d-plain-reviews/review-nightfall-by-ellen-connor/

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  45. Victoria Dahl
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 13:34:54

    Speaking only for myself, I think the issue of fear comes down to ownership. I write books with very sexual heroines. Sex is sex for them, it’s not love. I don’t find that controversial, but apparently some people do. It comes up in reviews and on discussion boards, but the nastiest stuff comes in email form. Judgements about me and my morals and what I’m teaching women and how un-Christian I am. There’s also some “that’s not how real women feel,” “A man must have written this because it’s some sort of gross male fantasy,” and a lot of “the hero deserved someone better than that [slut/whore/trollop].”

    But none of that fazes me. I don’t feel like I’m doing something wrong. I know I didn’t fail in my research. I know I didn’t screw up and portray my heroine insensitively. Because I OWN that issue. It’s mine. You can’t tell me I got something wrong, even if it’s not your experience. Your feelings or beliefs or experiences don’t trump mine on this issue. Ever.

    But if I were, for example, writing a book about a woman from Belgium who’s wrestling with religious conflict, and I got emails and reviews and nasty comments telling me how wrong and hurtful I was… I would feel like shit. Because what the hell do I know? I must have screwed up. I must have done it wrong. I fucking *betrayed* people with an incorrect portrayal.

    Now maybe that’s ridiculous. Maybe I shouldn’t feel that way. Maybe I should take more chances, but Jesus, I feel like I’m taking chances with issues of sex and class and female caregiver identity. Aren’t I? So maybe the progressive thing isn’t to dismiss fears and demand bravery, but to talk openly about the issue from all sides and how we can all do our parts in opening up the market. How writers can deal with that fear and readers can be more open.

    Aside from that, there is a real entrenchment in romance, that has nothing to do with race. Historicals set outside the British Isles aren’t welcome. No one wants to read pre-19th century or post-19th century. People read Greek tycoons but won’t read rock stars. So I suspect a (much smaller) part of the multi-cultural issue is with this weird rut we settle into as readers. I don’t know what that is.

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  46. Shirin Dubbin
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 16:02:55

    One of the key components in dispelling the fear mentioned above is to remove the idea of otherness and with it the tendency to make multicultural characters synonymous with “issues.”

    Multicultural = Issues
    Am I the only one troubled by the Amy Sherman-Palladino quote, up stream? When asked about the lack of diversity on her show, Bunheads, she said, “I don’t do message shows. I don’t give a shit who you learn your life from.” If I understand her, the mere inclusion of POC cast members means there must be a message attached. Have POCs become the new Aesop’s Fables–modern anthropomorphized animals dispensing life lessons with interesting accents and weird foodstuffs?

    The idea that characters of color don’t simply live their lives, albeit with challenges (who doesn’t face challenges?), is madness. The inference Amy Sherman-Palladino could neither find a single ballet dancer/actress of ANY brown ethnicity, nor write them without turning her show into an After School Special is ridiculous. Give us a break, lady. I’d have been happy had she said she picked the best actresses for the roles. But perhaps that’s not true.

    Multicultural = Other
    On to otherness, we authors continuously write characters with experiences we have no personal baselines for. Anytime we diverge from what we know we take a chance at getting it wrong, and certainly we don’t suppose our experiences with certain life events or backgrounds are identical to everyone who has gone through the same.

    We as, predominantly female, romance authors write men with impunity, never once considering we might get it wrong. Although very few of us have ever actually been men. We’ve never had an erection. Those of us who are heterosexual have never fallen in love with a woman. Yet we write these things everyday, and we pat each other on the back for how well we do it.

    We’ll also write serial killers. No problem. We bring werewolves and two-thousand-year-old preternaturals to life. Easy-peasy. We fast forward to dystopian futures. That’s how we roll. We write women who look nothing like us, come from different backgrounds, have suffered different trials, and whose personalities wouldn’t suit us. Yet, at the mention of writing women who’s cultural heritage is evident in their appearance, many of us freeze up.

    Why? Could it be a POC character may have suffered racism? Well, one could extrapolate personal experiences with misogyny or any type of discrimination to get an understanding of what that might be like. Authors certainly know how to inflate the pain of slicing a finger into the agony of a gunshot wound–most times without ever having been shot. Some feel there’s an insurmountable cultural divide between themselves and POC characters. Yet they’ll happily write an old money Russian character, even though they were reared in the American middle class.

    The WHY, I believe, is in the idea of otherness, in thinking a Black-British, Chinese, Lakota, Panamanian, or Persian woman is unlike you, is somehow alien, even though our womanhood alone connects us more than any experience we’ve had being a man or a werewolf.

    I have Japanese, white, and Indian friends with whom I share more in common than some black women, and vice versa. I have no compunction in writing a white woman, but I do not see them as alien or different from myself either. Are there differences? Certainly, but many factors other than/including race factor in to those differences.

    Fear of Getting Reamed by Readers
    Well, that’s a day that ends in Y. We writers are going to get reamed no matter what we write. Sometimes for junk we didn’t write. I once got a 1-star review under the accusation of cultural appropriation and lack of research. When I cited my research as a point of reference the reviewer removed her comments and left me with the 1-star. Oh well. Getting reamed for a portrayal of a POC isn’t any different from getting kicked in the figurative short and curlies due to an over sexualized, TSTL, or anti-feminist character. That’s the writer’s life.

    Perhaps to get over the fear of exploring multicultural characters one only needs to envision a core character, afterward adding culture and experience as accents, or seasoning, to the mix. I suspect that’s how most of us do it anyway.

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  47. Victoria Dahl
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 17:00:29

    Shoot. I just lost a long comment. Trying again.
    @Shirin Dubbin:

    But I’m not saying that someone who’s not exactly ME is foreign. Do I think people who live in Chicago are mysterious and exotic and unknowable and Other? Heh. No. I just don’t think I could do that story justice.

    Let me put it another way. Would you feel comfortable writing a story set in Japan with Japanese characters? Or what about a story set in Japan with characters of Korean heritage? They’re just people, after all. You should be qualified. Would you take that on?

    Now, I’m using an extreme example to make the point that we are all working on a continuum of comfort here. Let’s not pretend otherwise. PLEASE, let’s not pretend otherwise.

    And I don’t think my Mexican-American neighbor is completely unknowable to me because his parents speak Spanish. We live in the same neighborhood. Our kids go to the same school. In many ways, we are living the same story. Except in the ways that we aren’t. But I can get to know his story. I could absolutely take that on with some confidence. I can ask what it was like to move to Utah from Mexico. And I can ask how it was different for his friend from Guatemala *because I know enough to ask.* And I also understand that his story is VERY different from my friend whose family moved from Mexico to Southern California four generations ago. Most importantly, I understand that my neighbor’s story is not even the same as his brother’s, because they are two different people who, even with the same heritage, and even in the same family, have had a different experience. (Sorry, I’m going deep.)

    But, all that said, I feel that i have a starting point for writing a character who has a lot in common with my neighbor. And I certainly have a starting point in my life for writing a white guy from Colorado, even though I’ve never had a penis. But do I have a solid starting point for writing a Native American hero from rural Washington, for example? It would take me a looong time to feel I’d done him justice. But not as much time as it would take to write a Korean man living in Japan.

    I just believe we have to have this discussion honestly. And I don’t think we can start from the point of envisioning a human being and adding some seasoning to the mix. That’s exactly what readers complain about. It’s not seasoning. It’s a lifetime AND a whole history that I may not (or may) know enough about. As opposed to, say, finding out enough about firefighters to take that on and not hurt anyone. Because that’s the thing. I might not just *get it wrong.* I might be genuinely *hurtful.*

    And please believe I’m not arguing against trying. In fact, I am trying! ;-) I just want to speak honestly about it, because there’s a difference between doing it and doing it *well.* Such a huuuuuge difference. One that some people aren’t even aware of, sadly.

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  48. Victoria Dahl
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 17:27:28

    I think my comment is in moderation right now, but i wanted to clarify that all of my comments are speaking to writing a hero/heroine from their own POV, not writing secondary characters.

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  49. Cervenka
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 17:30:06

    @Shirin Dubbin: Something to keep in mind is that some forms of discrimination are overt: it’s generally easy to identify a woman, for example, or someone who is obviously a POC. What is far more insidious is dealing with casual, everyday discrimination when you are perceived as being a person who benefits from certain privilege, yet you don’t. For example, a feminine lesbian, who unintentionally–and often unwillingly–”passes” for straight, or someone who is not obviously a POC. There are certain experiences that can be extrapolated, but there are some that cannot. The important thing is to be sensitive about this and to try to be genuine in the portrayal of these characters.

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  50. Sunita
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 17:31:51

    @Victoria Dahl: Our overeager spam filter snatched it away. It’s up now.

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  51. Victoria Dahl
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 17:36:27

    @Sunita:

    Thanks, Sunita. And hey! Snatched is one of my favorite words. ;-)

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  52. Victoria Dahl
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 18:03:31

    Btw, i don’t know why it’s more hurtful to be attacked or criticized in some ways more than it is in others. I have no idea. Though I’d imagine it’s the same way that being called some foul names is worse than being called others. Telling someone they shouldn’t be hurt by it doesn’t make it not hurt. If it did, this would be a much easier life for all of us.

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  53. Ann Somerville
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 18:39:03

    @Victoria Dahl:

    this recent DA review and the comments were very focused on the hero’s color and whether he was portrayed correctly or incorrectly and whether mixed-raced characters are a pass or a token or maybe just not racey enough?

    211 words out of a 1293 word review, and 4 comments out of 29, can’t remotely be described as ‘very focused on the hero’s color’.

    And let’s just look at how “Accusations of racism abound”- as the above anonymous commentator described them – in this review. January’s comment in its entirety regarding the character of colour:

    The little description we are given of him is that his hair and his skin are dark due to the fact that he is clearly mixed race. At this point, I turned my book over.

    One of these things is not like the other. And that sucks, but I know it is not the author’s fault. So I keep reading…and then felt a twinge of concern. When his race does come up, it’s in a negative context. Let me show you a few quotes.
    “When the dark man comes for you, don’t be afraid.”
    This is part of the prophecy that Jenna’s father left for her. I cringed. The dark man??? What does his race have to do with the prophecy? Why can’t it just be ‘When the stranger comes for you, don’t be afraid?’
    But it gets better/worse.
    “I never knew my folks and grew up in foster care,” he said, his throat tight. “A lot of being smacked around, but not a lot of supervision. I knocked off my first convenience store when I was fourteen.”
    I just don’t know what to think. Now not only is he the ‘dark man’, he is a criminal brought up in foster homes. You want a clichéd mixed-race hero? Here you go.

    Wow. Burn. Obviously the author is being slammed for getting it wrong…no, wait, she’s been slammed for lazy writing!

    Okay, what about commenter McVane (who’s mixed race herself and who has made some very forthright statements on DA about the subject)

    Gah. This growing trend of mixed race characters are making me feel uncomfortable. Especially when a mixed race character is clearly used as a compromise, an exotic touch, or the lite edition of tokenism (“See, see! Proof I’m a supporter of diversity!”). Same with cinema.

    It may explain why there are some growing resentment towards mixed race people from quarters. For many mixed race people, it’s becoming a pig-in-the-middle situation with no way out.

    Yeah, she’s really letting the author have it with both barrels for fucking up the racial aspects…wait, no, she’s making a fairly restrained comment on lazy writing again.

    And that’s it? That’s the worst example you could find of what apparently makes “authoring characters of multicultural heritage and characters of color the most unrewarding experience imaginable” according to the ‘multicultural’ vacant author? When the one-star reviews at Goodreads and Amazon don’t even *mention* the ‘mixed race’ (mixed what races, pray?) issue?

    I’m going to call this another example of exaggerated anxiety syndrome. Whenever there is a racefail issue, dozens of white authors come out and wring their hands and say that PoC “won’t allow” them to write CoC, and yet the actual numbers of PoC who’ve ever said anything remotely like this are tiny, and certainly not influential. What many more PoC have asked for is that white authors not do what Ellen Connor did in Nightfall: don’t tokenize, don’t be lazy. And don’t use CoC just to give a message – the way gay people are often used in movies and TV (when they’re not being used for cheap laughs).

    I’ve written a number of CoC protags. I’ve never once had anyone PoC complain about my doing so. The *closest* I’ve come was a white reader saying that ‘Devlin’ wasn’t ‘unusual’ enough a name for an AA man of his age. At which, I simply boggled, and moved on.

    I’ve had more damn complaints about my portrayls of BDSM than of PoC.

    You also wrote:

    Telling someone they shouldn’t be hurt by it doesn’t make it not hurt. If it did, this would be a much easier life for all of us.

    I can’t help but think you are descending into special pleading here, Victoria, and running a little too close to privileging your ‘hurt’ over the hurt of authors of colour being unable to market their books to white audiences, or people of colour unable to routinely see characters like themselves in romance books or other genre fiction. I appreciate that you are trying to write more CoC, but you are heavily insulated by white privilege from any real consequences from screwing up in doing so, and the imaginary consequences far outweigh any actual problems you will face.

    The vacant author has not, surprise surprise, offered a single link or example to support her remarks, so I am going to state bluntly that she’s making shit up. Again.

    When writing Characters of Colour, white authors have much more to fear from readers when they are lousy at their craft than for simply writing outside their race. It’s more than time to call bullshit on this ‘risk’.

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  54. Ann Somerville
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 18:44:11

    @Shirin Dubbin:

    The WHY, I believe, is in the idea of otherness, in thinking a Black-British, Chinese, Lakota, Panamanian, or Persian woman is unlike you, is somehow alien, even though our womanhood alone connects us more than any experience we’ve had being a man or a werewolf.

    I’d be a little cautious making statements like this because western feminism has a long and ignoble history of racism, and in dismissing black and brown women’s concerns where race and gender intersect. There is almost no issue affecting women – be it reproductive and general health, access to jobs, wealth, social misogyny or whatever – which is not heavily exacerbated by racial issues.

    So while it’s useful to use gender as a point of commonality when writing about women of a different race from your own, the racial aspects of their lives shouldn’t be dismissed or minimized, otherwise it’s just another form of erasure.

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  55. Victoria Dahl
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 19:07:32

    @Ann Somerville:

    No, I actually didn’t say any of those things you named. In fact, I said it wasn’t a shitstorm. Though I admit I considered taking out “very focused” in my sentence, and then was just lazy. I figured you’d pick up on that, and you’re right. I guess I’d argue that if you looked at the negative comments only, it’s a higher percentage, but who cares. You’re right that it wasn’t an attack, but I didn’t frame it as such or didn’t mean to. I should have framed the example more carefully, but I was being quick, as I said.

    I didn’t cry or wring my hands about that review, here or in real life. But the reason I thought of it is because in some of the comments here, there are pleas to just treat characters of color like anyone else. They’re people. They have unique experiences. (All true.) But in the reivew (or comments. Sorry, i can’t look again right now) it was brought up that the author didn’t focus *enough* on the hero’s race. I suppose you could say it’s lazy writing. Or it could be that was the way the character was supposed to be. Why is it lazy writing? Also, the assumption that “the dark man” referred to his skin… Was that lazy writing or lazy reading? Regardless, I thought of it because of the contradictions in…advice? Philosphy? And more another assertion that it’s more complicated than simple. It wasn’t a cry for mercy and I don’t think I phrased it that way.

    And yes, i was aware that Maili left that comment, and I know from previous conversations and round-face wars that she is not a white american woman. I wasn’t damning her for saying it, I was saying that it stuck with me and weighed on me. Perhaps as it should have?

    And no… my comment about “saying things shouldn’t be hurtful doesn’t make them less hurtful” wasn’t directed at protecting poor little old me. I’m okay. My thought was that we’ve all been told that at one point or another. About sexism and racism and every other prejudice. And there’s that one thing your partner says to you when you’re fighting that shouldn’t be any more hurtful than somethign else but it *is.* Hell, I’m not even saying “it shouldn’t be more hurtful” isn’t TRUE sometimes. But the feeling should be examined, because denying it doesn’t allow for progress in any situation. Isn’t that true? Maybe I’m being too therapuetic here, but when a person says they’re intimidated by something or afraid to address it, I don’t think the conversation that moves it forward is “No, you’re not.”

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  56. Victoria Dahl
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 19:15:43

    @Ann Somerville:

    Wait. Were you calling me the vacant author who’s making shit up?

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  57. Ann Somerville
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 19:19:46

    @Victoria Dahl:

    “No, I actually didn’t say any of those things you named.”

    I very carefully attributed remarks not made by you, to the people who made them. However, you answered a challenge made in response to another commentator’s egregiously stupid remarks, and so I have answered both you and that person in my reply.

    “I guess I’d argue that if you looked at the negative comments only, it’s a higher percentage, but who cares. ”

    Look, this is nonsense. There were *4* comments out of 29 which remotely discussed race in any way whatsoever. How you can assume that the other negative comments which *do not in anyway mention race* are also ‘focused’ on race, I have no idea.

    “It wasn’t a cry for mercy and I don’t think I phrased it that way.”

    Please tell me where I used the expression ‘cry for mercy’.

    “I don’t think the conversation that moves it forward is “No, you’re not.””

    Yes, sometimes it does move it forward. Because if the author is so afraid of the slightest criticism over their handling of race, if they are blowing up criticism of other authors’ handling of race out of all proportion, if other authors are promoting fear, uncertainty and dismay by making exaggerated, unsupported claims that

    authoring characters of multicultural heritage and characters of color the most unrewarding experience imaginable…. Accusations of racism abound, along with “misappropriation (of color, nationality, heritage)” and “being out of touch with what it really means to be *insert race/ethnic designation here.*”

    Apparently with the explicit intent of dissuading other authors from even *trying* to write CoC….

    Then the appropriate response is not, “yes, we feel your pain, we acknowledge your pain, your pain is real” but

    “get the fuck over yourself.”

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  58. Ann Somerville
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 19:21:28

    @Victoria Dahl:

    the vacant anonymous and dishonest author is the one perpetually on vacation, who commented at no. 234.

    Not you.

    Seriously, i’m never that oblique!

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  59. Jane
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 19:23:41

    I want to enjoy my evening of reading and not watch the comments like a hawk for fear they devolve into something unsavory so I’m just going to interject this now in hopes that all commenters be courteous.

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  60. Author On Vacation
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 19:25:19

    @Shirin Dubbin:

    Getting reamed for a portrayal of a POC isn’t any different from getting kicked in the figurative short and curlies due to an over sexualized, TSTL, or anti-feminist character. That’s the writer’s life.

    I respectfully disagree. So far as I know, no one ever reams out an author (of any heritage) for misappropriating a white person, or misrepresenting “the white experience,” or any equivalent related to being white.

    Comparing an author/author’s work receiving negative criticism because a character is TSTL, oversexed/undersexed, etc. to an author/author’s work receiving negative criticism because a character isn’t “genuinely *insert race/ethnicity designation here*” isn’t credible.

    For better or worse, many readers appear to harbor unique expectations of works portraying characters of color that simply have no equivalent in works portraying white characters. It may extend from a reader’s desire to connect or identify with the character of color. I’m sure there are other factors and I don’t presume to criticize any of them. It’s just not something with which I wish to be burdened during the creative process. I don’t blame other authors if they harbor similar feelings.

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  61. Victoria Dahl
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 19:28:03

    @Ann Somerville:

    “Seriously, i’m never that oblique!”

    Clearly my brain is.

    Then the appropriate response is not, “yes, we feel your pain, we acknowledge your pain, your pain is real” but

    “get the fuck over yourself.”

    Well, I guess the only appropriate response that invites is…Done and done.

    And Jane, I swear I was going to be courteous even before your comment! Promise. ;-)

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  62. Ann Somerville
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 19:31:40

    @Victoria Dahl:

    “I swear I was going to be courteous even before your comment! Promise. ;-) ”

    I somehow doubt Jane was ever worried about you, Victoria :)

    And please don’t take my remarks personally, for they’re not aimed at you. The ‘gtfoy’ comment is really directed at my fellow white authors who seem to have a million excuses not to write CoC. You’ve already said you do and will continue to do so, despite your anxieties, and to that I can only say, ‘Brava!’

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  63. Imani
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 19:40:12

    Very sorry I’m so late to the discussion. In response to reader comments I’ve seen about having distaste for deliberately looking for non-white authors because for them the story was all…I say as a black reader that strategy does not work if you wish to support non-white authors in anyway.

    I used to have the same attitude when I was younger. I hated when anyone suggested or recommended anything to me once they tied it into my race (even if the item might have been something I’d enjoy). I, too, just wanted a good book, stuff the race bit. I also worried that black books would inevitably include some angle having to do with racism/slavery and, frankly, I got enough of that from everywhere else.

    The problem with “just wanting a good story” was that every single major commercial medium out there–in Jamaica, then Canada where I lived for a while–offered good white stories. All the time. Television, newspapers, movies, internet: white stories dominated. I was a rabid reader before I hit high school so that even though the curriculum introduced me to Caribbean classics my preferences had taken root. I enjoyed them well enough but I saw them as “school books” rather than the sort of fare I’d look for in my spare time.

    The inevitable effect of not seeing other stories much encouraged me to build the idea in my head that the non-white novels must not be very good. I loved romance from a teeny bopper. I tried an AA romance but didn’t enjoy it much and didn’t bother to seek out more because it was so easy to revert to my normal Nora Roberts and Linda Howard fare.

    It took a move to a white dominant country (where my race stood out far more than in my Carib isle home), a more mature college mind :D, and an increased interest in all things literary (blogs, newspaper book sections, lit journals etc), that made me seek out POC authors. You have to look, y’all. If you wait for serendipity the odds are highly highly stacked against you, regardless of what statistics may say about changing racial demographics.

    And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with deliberately looking! There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging that one may have been conditioned a certain way and to take more control one has to switch gears sometimes. I think some of us rebel at the idea that we are not in complete control of our preferences, that we are susceptible to outside influence (beyond family or something similarly benign) and don’t wish to be “told what to read”. If you’re going to engage with the issue of POC authors then you have to acknowledge that you’re in a system that, for whatever reason, does not make that any kind of priority and move accordingly.

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  64. Ann Somerville
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 19:45:09

    Just to make it crystal clear that I am not aiming my criticism at Victoria specifically (I’m only using her comments to make a broader point), I will say that I have been aware of white writers claiming to be so hurt by and afraid of PoC criticism that they abandon all attempts to write CoC since Racefail ’09 (isn’t it sad that there have been so many of the damn things that you can’t just say ‘Racefail’?)

    These two links are from that particular blowup over Elizabeth Bear’s book which I mentioned above:

    http://ktempest.livejournal.com/365999.html (read the post by David Levine that she links first, to know what she’s responding to)

    http://nihilistic-kid.livejournal.com/1256858.html

    I will say that during Racefail ’09 I read hundreds of posts on both sides about this issue and not *one* by a PoC said that white people should not write PoC because they mess it up. Not a single one, during a months and months’ long, extremely bitter and toxic fight between white authors, PoC critics, and PoC and white defenders of either side.

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  65. Jill Sorenson
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 19:53:43

    @Victoria Dahl: I read this comment and wanted to respond, but had promised to take my kids to the movies. Sat there thinking about it the whole time. And now that I’ve come back, I see that others have already said some of the things I was mulling over.

    First, I think you do well at everything you tackle. Were you worried about getting bdsm wrong? Because I loved your story and read a lot of praise about how authentic it was. And you’re obviously not that scared to write people of color, because you’ve already done it and done it well. I agree with your next comment about degrees of difficulty and familiarity. I’m comfortable writing Mexican-American characters because I know a lot about that culture.

    I understand the fear of getting things wrong. I’m afraid to even comment in threads like this for fear of offending someone. But why is this fear so inhibiting compared to others? Authors get all sorts of things wrong. Authentic portrayals are important, and difficult, not impossible. I agree that we shouldn’t add characters of random ethnicities we aren’t familiar with to our stories just to be policitally correct or fulfill the PoC requirement. But I’m frustrated by how easily this “fear of getting it wrong” is preventing authors from trying.

    What’s going to happen? We get it wrong. We learn something. We try again, or not.

    Romance is criticized for being predominately white, but I don’t see individual books or authors called out for creating all-white casts the way movies and television are. And yes, characters of color are often called “token.” I’m not saying there should be more token characters, but that the fear of getting it wrong seems to be stronger than the fear of being recognized for writing all-white. There is no stigma attached to the second, not in romance.

    I’m sure you get a lot more reader mail than I do, but I’ll just share this with you. I’ve never had a hate letter. No one has ever complained about my non-white characters or told me I’ve gotten a single thing wrong. They don’t praise me or tell me I’ve gotten things right in this area, either. So my readers don’t know, don’t notice, or don’t want to criticize me because my efforts are sincere.

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  66. Shirin Dubbin
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 20:00:18

    @Victoria Dahl:
    Ah, Victoria, I didn’t mean to imply that a person’s life experiences are seasoning. It bother’s me what I wrote comes off that way. Respect for each of our journeys is what lead me to participate in this discussion. What I am saying is characters are built by blending elements together. We generally start with an archetype and keep adding things to the mix until we come up with a full character.

    My comment and question boils down to: Why is writing a POC character so much more daunting when most authors are unafraid to attempt characters of every other type?” For me, what is most hurtful is the idea I am so different and so other that a character like me should not be attempted, or that someone can’t identify, first, with my humanity. Or that the inclusion of POC characters must come with an issue to justify their presence. Stereotypes are also hurtful, but if we stop thinking of people as this kind or that kind it gets harder to fall into the trap of stereotypes.

    I appreciate this discourse because as we each contribute it gives us a fuller picture of the problems, possible means to overcome them, and what drawbacks to look out for in attempting to change things. I think most of us endeavor to write our stories well, and we’re definitely not always going to get it “right” but in trying to get it I think we move forward.

    I’m mortified that authors have had to change their names/adopt less ethnically “tainted” pen names or hide their heritage in order to sell more books. And I believe a greater presence of multicultural characters throughout will help to remedy this by helping to remove the sense of otherness I mentioned. Is this the only solution, or even a good one? We’ll have to wait and see but I did want to contribute something in the way of moving past the fear.

    Perhaps my thoughts are idealistic, but we fiction authors deal greatly in idealism. We often take those hard topics, those hard to like or difficult to create characters and distill to make them easier to discuss or to inspire a new way of thinking. I’m hoping we can figure out how to inspire new ways of thinking about multicultural characters.

    Okay, that was all over the place but it’s such a complex issue–my thoughts are multitiered.

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  67. Author on Vacation
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 20:01:24

    @Victoria Dahl:

    Btw, i don’t know why it’s more hurtful to be attacked or criticized in some ways more than it is in others. I have no idea. Though I’d imagine it’s the same way that being called some foul names is worse than being called others. Telling someone they shouldn’t be hurt by it doesn’t make it not hurt. If it did, this would be a much easier life for all of us.

    Thank you for posting this.

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  68. Shirin Dubbin
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 20:09:44

    @Ann Somerville:

    Ann, I completely agree. But my point was not to dismiss racism or any of the issues of discrimination any of us face. I’d hoped to offer an alternate viewpoint and a possible means to dispel the fear many of the comments outlined about the creation of multicultural characters. We’ve talked a great deal about the barriers. I’d also like to discuss ways to remove them.

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  69. Robin/Janet
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 20:13:27

    @Shirin Dubbin:

    My comment and question boils down to: Why is writing a POC character so much more daunting when most authors are unafraid to attempt characters of every other type?” For me, what is most hurtful is the idea I am so different and so other that a character like me should not be attempted, or that someone can’t identify, first, with my humanity. Or that the inclusion of POC characters must come with an issue to justify their presence. Stereotypes are also hurtful, but if we stop thinking of people as this kind or that kind it gets harder to fall into the trap of stereotypes.

    I don’t have anything to add here; I just wanted to isolate and highlight this part of your comment, because I think it’s a really important point that I hope catalyzes further discussion and a lot of thought.

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  70. Shirin Dubbin
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 20:14:01

    @Cervenka:
    Thank you. Your thoughts are definitely something I’m going to think about in the creation of my characters and mention when I have this conversation again. And I so agree with this, “The important thing is to be sensitive about this and to try to be genuine in the portrayal of these characters.”

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  71. Shirin Dubbin
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 20:21:36

    @Victoria Dahl:

    I’m not saying we shouldn’t be hurt by those criticisms. How could we not? That’s why I compared the experience to being kicked in the privates. I’m saying that hurt is part of what we accept when we become authors, the same way we accept bad reviews will come our way. I don’t think criticism is a reason not to try. I’m not saying you said that. That’s my own statement. I’ve heard of authors getting horribly insulting letters about the most inane things, but we don’t stop writing or trying new ideas because of them.

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  72. Author on Vacation
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 20:35:35

    @Shirin Dubbin:

    I’ve heard of authors getting horribly insulting letters about the most inane things, but we don’t stop writing or trying new ideas because of them.

    Unless we want to.

    You don’t seem to take that into consideration, that authors are imbued with artistic talent and artistic freedom to create works the authors themselves enjoy and find appealing.

    An author who dislikes authoring contemporary thrillers usually would not face criticism for only authoring romantic comedies.

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  73. Violetta Vane
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 20:48:45

    @Imani:

    I just wanted to thank you for sharing your perspective. As an author writing MC characters I’m very much on the look out as to how to meet readers in the middle. Maybe they’re not looking for these stories at all, or actively looking, like you are, or passively looking… any way at all, I want to reach them. And I understand how difficult and humiliating the process you’re talking about can be. Thank you again.

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  74. Shirin Dubbin
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 20:58:11

    @Author on Vacation:

    “You don’t seem to take that into consideration, that authors are imbued with artistic talent and artistic freedom to create works the authors themselves enjoy and find appealing.

    An author who dislikes authoring contemporary thrillers usually would not face criticism for only authoring romantic comedies”

    You’ll get no argument about that from me. An author absolutely should write the genres and characters they want to write, and follow their artistic passions. To that end, my comments were meant to help take a bit of the pressure off those who want to write POC characters but are afraid or even a little hesitant.

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  75. Victoria Dahl
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 21:01:41

    @Jill Sorenson:

    First, I think you do well at everything you tackle. Were you worried about getting bdsm wrong?

    First of all, thank you so much, Jill. That means a lot coming from someone whose writing I admire like crazy. Second, OHMYGOD, YES, I was terrifed about the BDSM story. I would never have even tried it except I’d already introduced the story in Talk Me Down, with no plans to write it. I felt like a fraud, like I was going to screw it all up. I started researching like crazy, and then realized people in the 19th century wouldn’t know anything about boundaries and rules, etc.

    But thank you for bringing this up, because it’s such a good point. I would never have written a BDSM story, because I didn’t feel any ownership of that. I didn’t want to dishonor it or screw anything up. And when I finally read Sarah’s review, I cried. I was so relieved, and it was so rewarding. That’s a lesson, isn’t it?

    but that the fear of getting it wrong seems to be stronger than the fear of being recognized for writing all-white. There is no stigma attached to the second, not in romance.

    An amazing truth. Thank you for saying it so simply.

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  76. Violetta Vane
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 21:02:59

    @Shirin Dubbin:

    I couldn’t agree more! If the thought of writing POC fills someone with such visceral terror, they probably shouldn’t attempt it. Unless it’s 1920 and they’re H.P. Lovecraft.

    I agree with pretty much all your other comments, too :-D

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  77. Shirin Dubbin
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 21:08:30

    @Jill Sorenson:

    Such a great way of putting it!

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  78. Victoria Dahl
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 21:11:32

    @Shirin Dubbin:

    “Ah, Victoria, I didn’t mean to imply that a person’s life experiences are seasoning. It bother’s me what I wrote comes off that way.”

    And I’m sorry if I misinterpreted!

    Why is writing a POC character so much more daunting when most authors are unafraid to attempt characters of every other type?” For me, what is most hurtful is the idea I am so different and so other that a character like me should not be attempted, or that someone can’t identify, first, with my humanity.

    Thank you for explaining it so beautifully. I’ve never been in the position of being a fan of a genre that didn’t at least seem to include People Like Me. Be it romance or television shows or sci-fi or comic books. I can’t imagine the…frustration and hurt and outrage.

    I’m thankful for this discussion.

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  79. Shirin Dubbin
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 21:14:16

    @Violetta Vane:
    [fist bump!] ^_^ And so true regarding Lovecraft…

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  80. Shirin Dubbin
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 21:16:24

    @Victoria Dahl:

    I’m grateful for it too! Thank you for being so open and sharing your thoughts. I learned a great deal from this conversation.

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  81. Victoria Dahl
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 22:20:52

    @Shirin Dubbin:

    Yes! As Jill said above, it can sometimes be daunting to enter into a big (in depth & importance) discussion like this, but there are obviously rewards in the conversation.

    And btw, did not mean to classify you as a “fan of romance” regarding your comment, as opposed to also being an author. But what your words triggered for me was, not an awareness that it’s hurtful…that’s obvious to all, I’d hope… But the memory of all the thousands of hours I spent reading romance when I was young, and all the thousands of books, and how it never occurred to me to wonder what that experience would be like for a young girl who didn’t see anyone who looked like her in the stories.

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  82. Author On Vacation
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 23:41:42

    @Shirin Dubbin:

    We’ll also write serial killers. No problem. We bring werewolves and two-thousand-year-old preternaturals to life. Easy-peasy. We fast forward to dystopian futures. That’s how we roll. We write women who look nothing like us, come from different backgrounds, have suffered different trials, and whose personalities wouldn’t suit us. Yet, at the mention of writing women who’s cultural heritage is evident in their appearance, many of us freeze up.

    Why? Could it be a POC character may have suffered racism?

    I doubt it. A person does not have to be a POC to experience racism. A white person can also be subject to racism.

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  83. Ann Somerville
    Jun 23, 2012 @ 00:53:51

  84. Las
    Jun 23, 2012 @ 08:59:15

    Gah, my WiFi flipped out for a few seconds and I lost my comment. The condensed version:

    @Anne Somerville:

    Because if the author is so afraid of the slightest criticism over their handling of race, if they are blowing up criticism of other authors’ handling of race out of all proportion, if other authors are promoting fear, uncertainty and dismay by making exaggerated, unsupported claims that […]
    Apparently with the explicit intent of dissuading other authors from even *trying* to write CoC….
    Then the appropriate response is not, “yes, we feel your pain, we acknowledge your pain, your pain is real” but
    “get the fuck over yourself.”

    I just wanted to quote this for the absolute truth of that statement. I believe and respect authors who choose not to write POC characters because in their experience those books don’t sell—that makes sense. But not writing those characters because any criticism hurts their feelings—and I’m sure there are genuinely hurtful comments made, because, hello internet—just sounds like authors are missing the point of those criticisms. They’re not about making them feel guilty, and when they respond that way they’re implying, at least to me, that they’re not trying to learn.

    This reminds me of Jay Smooth’s “How to Tell People They Sound Racist video:”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b0Ti-gkJiXc

    He talks about the difference between the “What they did” conversation and “What they are” conversation.

    @Author on Vacation: Are you saying that authors get criticisms for not writing POC characters? I’m not talking these types of discussions where we’re talking about the industry as a whole (because those are not a call out to individuals and I really wish people would stop getting defensive when we’re talking about these things), I mean are individual authors regularly getting letters, emails, etc., calling them out for never writing POC characters? Because I’m going to have to see that with my own eyes to believe it. The only way I can imagine that being true is if we’re talking authors who write US sports romances and not have single POC player in the teams, and that would be totally deserved, because the only sport where that would make any sense is hockey.

    And no, white people can’t be victims of racism.

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  85. Ridley
    Jun 23, 2012 @ 12:04:15

    @Las:

    The only way I can imagine that being true is if we’re talking authors who write US sports romances and not have single POC player in the teams, and that would be totally deserved, because the only sport where that would make any sense is hockey.

    Even that’s changing. #1 pick in the draft last night was a Muslim Tatar and the Bruins drafted a black goalie with their 1st round pick. P.K. Subban, Dustin Byfuglien and Evander Kane are all star players. An all-white hockey team isn’t the eyebrow-raising stretch an all-white basketball team is, true, but times are changing.

    And as for @Author On Vacation‘s “A white person can also be subject to racism,” I’d like to answer “Not in the Western world, they can’t.” But I don’t like to feed the trolls.

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  86. Meri
    Jun 23, 2012 @ 12:44:36

    @Las:
    To this day I wonder why SEP couldn’t have made the Chicago Stars more diverse.

    I agree that white people probably don’t have to face racism in western countries. However, there are white people who may face other forms of prejudice and discrimination, such as antisemitism and Islamophobia. And to link this with the original topic – I believe Jews and Muslims (of the non fantasy Sheikh version) may be even less likely to appear in romance novels than POC. The lack of diversity in the genre is apparent in many ways, I’m afraid.

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  87. Danielle
    Jun 23, 2012 @ 13:46:22

    @Ridley: Are the Tatars of eastern and north-eastern Europe and Russia considered PoC? I always thought of Tatarism as a cultural and/or religious distinction only. In most cases I could not tell Tatars apart, merely by looking I mean, from anyone else inhabiting these regions.

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  88. wikkidsexycool
    Jun 23, 2012 @ 14:24:12

    Very good discussion, even the clashing points of view.
    Before I get sidetracked I just wanted to point out that Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott had Rebecca, the Jewish businessman’s beautiful daughter. It was action/romance written in 1820 and is a classic. When it was filmed by Hollwood in the 1950s Elizabeth Taylor portrayed Rebecca. A very chaste love triangle developed between Lady Rowena, Ivanhoe and Rebecca. I’m just noting this off the top of my head. Its been awhile since I saw the film on cable.

    I can’t find enough novels from many of the current best selling authors which describe a black female as “beautiful” or who’d pair their popular Alpha males with them in PNR. That’s why GA Aiken (Shelly L) is an autobuy for me.

    I’m stoked that Walking Dead will have Michonne, and Glee is in talks with Jessica Sanchez.

    Plus I decided to start writing my own ebooks, though I’m new to it all. That’s why I’m glad to see the various links and resources listed here by Roslyn Holcomb and others.

    I would like to add that while ebooks written by POC may be considered a “niche” audience at least the books are now more readily available by browsing the internet.

    Here are a few articles that encourage discussion and may useful:

    http://www.theatlanticwire.com/entertainment/2012/04/ongoing-problem-race-y/51574/

    http://sarahockler.com/2012/04/30/race-in-ya-lit-wake-up-smell-the-coffee-colored-skin-white-authors/

    http://blogs.publishersweekly.com/blogs/shelftalker/?p=700 (this article is from 2010)

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  89. AQ
    Jun 23, 2012 @ 17:06:18

    Sorry, I have not gone through the 288 comments of this post so I apologize if this was already answered.

    In the case of multicultural Romance, however, I believe that the burden shifts toward authors and publishers.

    Dear Author is one of the biggest romance reader review sites with an international following made of up of readers, authors, publishers, agents, etc., as well as a mainstream media/professional publisher presence via quotes, conferences, panels, etc.

    What portion of responsibility does Dear Author have for promoting multiculturalism to its community when it comes to reviews, book promotions, interviews, etc?

    Regarding Dear Author’s stats: What is the percentage of multicultural romance novels compared to the percentages for ‘mainstream’ romances? Do those numbers change when young adult, science fiction/fantasy, film reviews are added to the mix? What about special promos? interviews? etc.?

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  90. reader
    Jun 23, 2012 @ 17:22:03

    Author Rob Thurman writes excellent urban fantasies that feature as much diversity among the human characters as the vast array of mythical creatures; and that’s a big part of the charm of her stories. I don’t think she gets enough credit for it. Highly recommend her work.

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  91. Cervenka
    Jun 23, 2012 @ 17:42:53

    @Ridley: Absolutely, they can. There are places in the Western world where a white kid is a minority and will face bullying and discrimination from the other kids. This is not hypothetical for me: I’ve experienced it, in a setting where whites are not the dominant culture (I went to middle school in a small town in Hawaii), and where I was routinely harassed for my “otherness”. How is this not racism?

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  92. Ann Somerville
    Jun 23, 2012 @ 19:02:06

    @Cervenka:

    There are places in the Western world where a white kid is a minority and will face bullying and discrimination from the other kids.

    Oy. First of all, Cervanka, I’m sorry you were harassed as a child. I’m sure that was hugely distressing.

    However, there’s a huge difference between individual meanness and racism. Racism is prejudice *plus* power, just as sexism is.

    Let me give you an example which you may recognise. It’s common in discussions about rape or sexual harrassment, where women are talking about their experiences, for those women to say that because of those experiences and a lifetime of exposure to rape culture (not to mention warnings from other women about the danger from men), that they have to assume that all strange men are potential attackers and modify their behaviour accordingly.

    Very often a man will come in and chide those women for their sexism and ‘misandry’. He will not listen to women telling him that it’s not him as a person that leads to an assumption that men are potential attackers, but the male-dominated society as a whole. He can’t or won’t understand that institutionalised male power and attitudes mean women know they have less power, and must therefore protect themselves as best they can.

    Now to your experiences. I’m sure those kids did pick on you because you were different, because kids do that.

    But as a white person, did your race mean you had disadvantages throughout your life? Did you have a harder time getting jobs? Getting into College? Do police officers routinely stop your car while you’re driving for no reason? Do security officers follow you around stores while you are shopping?

    Are more 10% of your fellow white people in prison? Have you been refused service in a bar or entrance to a club because you’re white, while black people go in ahead of you? Is your life expectancy lower because you’re white?

    Are most of your elected representatives regardless of level white, or black? Do you go into films and mostly see people like you, or people who are black or brown, on the screen?

    Can you imagine being a white author and being told that your book is ‘hard to market’ as a result? Or including white characters is likely to lead to a decrease in sales?

    To take some examples from the news – if George Zimmerman had been black and Trayvon Martin Hispanic, do you think Zimmerman would have been let go without charge? Do you think he would have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from white supremacists?

    If Karen Klein’s bullies had been black, would they now be looking at suspension and psychological counselling, or would they be in custody? If Karen Klein had been black, would anyone have raised a cent for her?

    There’s a document by Peggy McIntosh called “Unpacking the invisble knapsack” which is a PDF document and readily found by Google. It’s a very useful introduction to racism and what it really means, and why white people should stop labelling individual acts of unkindness as racism.

    Racism is a complicated subject, so it’s not surprising that you find it confusing. It’s also easy for white people to use charges of ‘reverse racism’ to derail conversations which aren’t going the way they want them to. I know you’re not doing that, but someone else here is. It’s a very common tactic.

    I’m sure that the authors and readers of colour who came to this discussion about how we as white authors and readers and reviewers could address concerns about access and availability, will be unsurprised that yet again the talk has turn to the incredible pain suffered by white women. I apologise for allowing the troll to get her mite of attention, but I felt Cervanka, unlike the troll, was speaking without malice.

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  93. Michelle
    Jun 23, 2012 @ 19:32:23

    I think some people confuse “bigotry” vs “racism”. I think Cervenka was the victim of bigotry not racism.

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  94. Author on Vacation
    Jun 23, 2012 @ 20:49:53

    @Las:

    Are you saying that authors get criticisms for not writing POC characters? …I mean are individual authors regularly getting letters, emails, etc., calling them out for never writing POC characters?

    I make no such claim, but IMHO it’s unimportant whether the criticism is expressed via individual bullying or bullying the writing community in a more generalized way. It isn’t that I feel people who’d like more multicultural characters and characters of color should not have them. I would like all readers to have access to works most appealing to them.

    And no, white people can’t be victims of racism.

    </@Ridley: blockquote>

    And as for @Author On Vacation‘s “A white person can also be subject to racism,” I’d like to answer “Not in the Western world, they can’t.”

    Racism refers to “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produced an inherent superiority of a particular race.”

    Stupid is colorless. There are stupids in every “race” (a social construction with negligible biological evidence to define it) who embrace supremacist idealogy and who do not hesitate to practice racial discrimination against “races” deemed inferior.

    Whites are certainly victims of discrimination and racism.

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  95. Ann Somerville
    Jun 23, 2012 @ 21:18:58

    “Whites are certainly victims of discrimination and racism. ”

    Since our permanently vacationing ‘multicultural’ author (hint, girl – having an Italian grandmother doesn’t mean you’re not white) can’t lower herself to provide, ya know, actual links or examples for her ridiculous assertions of unfact, let me help out with the kinds of things white people have offered up as examples of ‘reverse racism’ (this is all from googling that phrase):

    1. The absence of a ‘White American Students Organization’ at a college campus

    2. Immigration policy allowing non-whites into Australia, which is “discriminatory against local people and their traditional way of life, their values and their rights. It is a form of ‘cultural treason’ against the incumbent population.”

    3. Arresting (eventually) George Zimmerman for killing a black kid

    4. Employing cheap Asian immigrant workers and mistreating them by denying them their labour rights, instead of hiring white people at a higher wage.

    5. “the trolley business in Shopping Centers has been *totally* taken over by Indians; the majority of workers at MacDonalds are not white: more and more Tazi drivers are… you guessed it. etc…..”

    6. The University of Minnesota – Duluth (UMD) sponsoring an ad-campaign designed to achieve “racial justice” by raising awareness of “white privilege.”

    7. Roland Martin tweeting claiming racism “is in the DNA” of America [Black people discussing racism is always racist - if you're Rush Limbaugh]

    8. A white worker overhears “An African American co-worker was telling few Hispanic co-workers a story about how her and her friends were overlooked while shopping at Coach, “because the clerk was only paying attention to the (mouths the word “white” while my back was turned) girls. She goes on the explain that they left the store and called to complain that they were ignored because of their race.” The person telling the story says “I was the only white person there (and not part of the conversation) and I would never have been telling a story if the reverse was true, so was this racism in the workplace? I surely felt uncomfortable. ”

    9. Talk of establishing an Aboriginal political party to contest the next election in an Australian state, because there’s no such thing as an ‘all white Australian’ political party

    10. A black British MP tweeting “White people love playing ‘divide & rule”

    Other examples I’ve seen in such discussions – scholarships offered to black students at historically black universities, the fact that Asians are so good at maths, President Obama offering his sympathies to the parents of Trayvon Martin and on the death of Whitney Houston (while apparently ignoring the death of a white guy from the Beastie Boys), the fact white people get told off for saying the N word and portraying President Obama as a witch doctor and his wife as a chimpanzee.

    Oh yes, it’s so *hard* being a white person these days. Shockingly difficult.

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  96. Cervenka
    Jun 23, 2012 @ 22:09:14

    @Ann Somerville: Life in a small town on one of Hawaii’s outer islands a few decades ago: White folk didn’t have power there–socially or politically. All of the local officials, whether elected or simply in positions of authority (i.e., school administrators, law enforcement, etc.) were POC (Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander, Asian) with the possible exception of those who were descended from Portuguese settlers. All of the movies that showed in the nearest theater were Asian films, usually martial arts movies, usually with English subtitles. And yes, if I as a white author tried to get the local bookstore to stock my books, there’s a good chance I would have been told there was no audience for it. I got most of my books via inter-library loan, because most of the kinds of books I wanted to read weren’t available locally.

    Did my race mean I had disadvantages there? Yes. One example: word problems based on the dominant culture that made no sense to me lowered my grades in math, and similar problems with unfamiliar vocabulary affected my schoolwork in almost every subject for my entire first school year.

    Part of the reason we moved back to the mainland was the racial-based harassment my sister and I endured, not to mention the complete distrust my mother had to deal with as a pediatrician in a rural, traditional area where much of the work involved visiting children in their homes. As it happens, I’m also queer, so I do know something of the difference between bigotry (which I experience on a near-daily basis) and racism (which I have experienced neither before nor since I lived in Hawaii).

    I’ll admit that mine is a unique experience, Hawaii being a blend of East and West, but the fact remains: in the Western world, it is possible for a white person to experience racism–or at least it was when I was a school kid. And I think it’s a bit presumptuous to tell me how I should interpret what I experienced.

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  97. Ann Somerville
    Jun 23, 2012 @ 22:43:45

    @Cervenka:

    All of the local officials, whether elected or simply in positions of authority (i.e., school administrators, law enforcement, etc.) were POC (Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander, Asian) with the possible exception of those who were descended from Portuguese settlers. All of the movies that showed in the nearest theater were Asian films, usually martial arts movies, usually with English subtitles. And yes, if I as a white author tried to get the local bookstore to stock my books, there’s a good chance I would have been told there was no audience for it.

    So, what you’re telling me is that your unique experience and situation in a brown-person-dominated culture a very long time ago, means that there is no racism in America? And you, as a white person, find nothing I mentioned pertinent to your life now?

    You think that being theoretically unable to sell your books in a local setting somehow equates to a general problem for white authors? Tell me, Cervenka – how many white authors in America face the problem you claim you *might* have had in your remote Hawaiian island?

    The population sounds as if it was almost entirely non-white, so it’s not surprising the local movie houses showed movies appealing to that population.

    According to Wikipedia, “Whites (non-Hispanic and Hispanic) made up 79.8% or 75% of the American population in 2008.” So you would assume that to match what happened in Hawaii, a non-white, non-Hispanic movie goer could expect to see 25% of non-white, non-Hispanic cast members in films, and go into a book store and find 25% of books featuring non-white, non-Hispanic characters, or by non-white, non-Hispanic authors.

    That’s not even remotely the case.

    When I visit suburbs in Brisbane with large numbers of Vietnamese or Chinese or Indian residents, the dvd shops there sell nothing but Vietnamese or Chinese or Indian movies.

    Do you really think that means that I, as a white person, am denied fictional representation through the rest of Brisbane?

    “Did my race mean I had disadvantages there? Yes”

    What you’re describing is nothing to do with race! It’s the same issue as most people dealing with a second language at school face. You’re an immigrant in that situation. You were able to move to another part of the *same* country and immediately remove all the disadvantages of your ‘race’. Do you think that Portguese language speakers from Hawaii could move to Virginia and do that? Or move to any other state in your country and not be at a disadvantage?

    Moreover, I doubt the ‘disadvantage’ of being white followed you all through your school career, and into your employment.

    “the complete distrust my mother had to deal with as a pediatrician in a rural, traditional area where much of the work involved visiting children in their homes”

    And you can’t imagine why black women might have the slightest distrust of white doctors, can you? I mean, since white doctors have such a sterling reputation when it comes to black healthcare? Just because white doctors have been behind things like the removal of mixed race children from black mothers, and have been found to be institutionally racist in Australia, Britain and America, there’s no reason why these black families shouldn’t have been completely trusting and welcoming to your mother, is there?

    “I think it’s a bit presumptuous to tell me how I should interpret what I experienced.”

    You know what? I’m just going to stop assuming people who come up with bullshit assertions in these discussions are acting from good will or simple ignorance.

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  98. Ridley
    Jun 23, 2012 @ 22:49:29

    @Cervenka: Well, then I’d say that’s the exception that proves the rule.

    ReplyReply

  99. Cervenka
    Jun 23, 2012 @ 23:02:56

    @Ridley: That’s kind of what I was getting at. It’s rare, but it IS possible. Thank you for keeping an open mind.

    ReplyReply

  100. Author on Vacation
    Jun 23, 2012 @ 23:06:18

    @Cervenka:

    I think it’s a bit presumptuous to tell me how I should interpret what I experienced.

    You are absolutely valid and justified in feeling this way. One of the biggest flaws in the “whites can’t suffer racism” diatribe is its own conflict. Essentially, the ideology requires a sane person to accept that: Group A’s suffering related to racism and racial discrimination is ultra-significant and deserving of the profoundest respect, concern, attention, and empathy and Group B’s suffering related to racism and racial discrimination doesn’t count because Group B has Band-Aids to more or less match their skin tone.

    Either everybody matters, or nobody matters. Hateful acts, criminal or non-criminal, are hateful acts and they are dysfunctional and damaging to the individual experiencing them and to society as a whole.

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  101. Cervenka
    Jun 23, 2012 @ 23:21:15

    @Author on Vacation: Thank you for this response.

    As I got a bit older, and after many conversations with my sister and my parents, I found that I was grateful for having that experience because it was a valuable lesson, made even more so precisely because it was so easy for us to get away from it.

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  102. Ann Somerville
    Jun 24, 2012 @ 01:53:18

    @Author on Vacation:

    Hateful acts, criminal or non-criminal, are hateful acts and they are dysfunctional and damaging to the individual experiencing them and to society as a whole.

    I’m sure Vincent Chin would agree with you, if racists hadn’t, ya know, murdered him 30 years ago for walking while Asian.

    Your sanctimonious crap would be a lot more convincing if you didn’t characterise asking authors to think about writing more Characters of Colour as “bullying the writing community”. I’m sure in your eyes, being asked to look at what you write is just the same as being beaten to death by a baseball bat, but actually, AoV, I can say with 100% certainty that no person of colour is clamouring for you to write about non-white characters – or about anything at all.

    Because if there’s one thing worse than people of your ethnicity/gender/sexuality not being written about, it’s having people of your ethnicity/gender/sexuality by authors with zero sensitivity or understanding.

    No one cares what you write about, honestly. There are plenty of people who can make a stab at writing diversity without bitching about being bullied over it.

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  103. Andrea Harris
    Jun 24, 2012 @ 09:16:08

    You know what, when I was in second grade for a number of reasons I went to a school in an African-American neighborhood. I was the only white student. I experienced, not so much bullying but the usual treatment a kid from another neighborhood and looking identifiably different would get, which mostly meant being ignored.

    Also, I grew up in Miami, Florida, a city with a large Hispanic population. I grew used to hearing more Spanish than English around me, sometimes being the only Anglo (white, English-speaking) person in the room. By the time I moved away Miami had become known as a major center of Latin-American culture. There were a lot of people “in power” who were not Anglos.

    But you know what? None of that mattered. None of that was any kind of “reverse racism.” I’d leave my all-black school and go to my almost all-white (my sister, adopted like me, was a Native American) family. Cubans divided themselves, or did when I was a kid, into “black” and “white” just like Americans do, and yes for the same reasons (legacy of slavery). And most of the Cuban-Americans in power are the white ones, like Marco Rubio. White people still run most things, the way they always have done. Being uncomfortable or feeling out of place is not the same as experiencing cultural and institutional racism, and by the way it interests me as a white person to see how another white person obviously feels entitled to never have to feel uncomfortable or out of place in any situation.

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  104. Shirin Dubbin
    Jun 24, 2012 @ 10:37:51

    @Victoria Dahl:

    And btw, did not mean to classify you as a “fan of romance” regarding your comment, as opposed to also being an author. But what your words triggered for me was, not an awareness that it’s hurtful…that’s obvious to all, I’d hope… But the memory of all the thousands of hours I spent reading romance when I was young, and all the thousands of books, and how it never occurred to me to wonder what that experience would be like for a young girl who didn’t see anyone who looked like her in the stories.

    I understood! I’m so glad you highlighted that point. And I am definitely a fan of romance. I think that’s what lead me to write it before diving into my other love, speculative fiction. When I was younger I read historical romance exclusively–you’re chatting with Johanna Lindsey junkie #1. But, as you said, the characters didn’t look like me and I often wished some of them did. Years later, I did a shimmy in the bookstore when I discovered Beverly Jenkins. Thank you, Beverly!

    Years earlier, before my introduction to romance, Virginia Hamilton, and Wendy & Richard Pini lifted my imagination and my sense of self in the literary world. Arilla Sun Down, by Hamilton, is still a favorite, and I wrote the following about my discovery of the Pini’s Elfquest series:

    “…when [a friend] placed a fiery, illustrated tome into my—far less calloused—hands I knew it was going to be great. Flipping it over I saw… Brown people! Brown people in multiple shades with varying hair textures. Yea! Brown people who looked like me, like people I know, like people I love. Wow. And there was more, a woman had drawn this work of glossy pulchritude. Never mind that I couldn’t pronounce her last name Piney, Peenee. It didn’t matter. I’d known for years that women wrote books, took photographs, painted; but I had never seen them draw like this. Draw like me. Draw me.

    In Elfquest a brown woman is the heroine in both the adventure and romantic sense. The cast is also multicultural, which reflected the world I lived in more closely than the other fantasy I read at the time.

    One of the most important things we can take from this conversation is how much seeing yourself “positively” reflected in the arts matters to a group in their formative years. Can you imagine what it meant to black girls to read about a character as heroic as Rue in the Hunger Games, and how much more it would mean if a similar character survived +grin+ and was the heroine of her own bestselling/breakout series? Look at what Avatar the Last Airbender means to Asian kids, and how crushing it was when Hollywood chose an almost exclusively white cast for their adaptation. Women like us read a lot of romance when we were young. I’m guessing you, like me, were probably what our parents called too young. Yet somehow romance had and has a huge effect on its readers and likely influences the way we expect to be loved. That’s powerful!

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  105. Author on Vacation
    Jun 24, 2012 @ 12:28:57

    @Cervenka:

    Thank you for this response…I was grateful for having that experience because it was a valuable lesson, made even more so precisely because it was so easy for us to get away from it.

    You’re welcome, Cervenka. : ) I truly hope the natural beauty and uniqueness of living in Hawaii lent you its magic and that your memories of that beautiful region contain more good than bad.

    I agree that negative life experiences are quite valuable in shaping a person’s character and influencing his/her behavior. I think my own life experiences as a person of multicultural heritage have blessed me with greater tolerance of all my peers when they express prejudices associated with race. I understand just how “plastic” and nonsensical prejudices can be.

    Your phrase, “it was so easy to get away from it” caught my attention. Many well-intentioned people have attempted to explain to me I have not experienced “real racism” because my general appearance is a “luxury” and affords me “privilege” because my coloring and features aren’t so “obviously” ethnic, non-white, etc..

    Here are just some of my life experiences as a multicultural female domiciled in a multicultural, coastal region in the U.S.:

    (CAUTION: lengthy read — feel free to skim or skip)

    1. In early childhood, my siblings and I were harrassed and bullied at school because of our race. We were told our “kind” was unwelcome at the school. School officials turned a blind eye to the abuse and only intervened if we defended ourselves in physical confrontations, and then we were reprimanded and punnished, not our tormenters. My family moved to a new school district out of honest fear for our safety.

    2. In middle school, a few friends among my peer group were “not allowed” to visit me and socialize with me and my family at our home. I’m not kidding, if it was my birthday and I had a birthday party, their parents would drive them to my house to drop off a gift, but they were not permitted to stay, have cake and ice cream, and hang out. In some cases, I was welcome in their homes, in other cases not. This happened way closer to 2000 than to 1950.

    3. As a small child, I have experienced suspicious police officers stopping my adult relatives and questionning them about my identity and appearance.

    4. I am always quite candid about my heritage and background. I’ve invited friends to visit my folks with me for a cookout or other event. After attending, my well-intentioned friends say things like, “When you said you were of (my racial/ethic) background I thought you meant something more distant. I would never have GUESSED these people were your family!” These are nice people who consider their words a compliment.

    5. I have had (again, well-intentioned) co-workers and colleagues advise me against wearing particular colors, styles of clothing, and hairstyles “because (I) look more ethnic when (I) wear them.” I have no interest whatsoever in concealing who I am.

    6. People I scarcely know (or do not know at all) have approached me to ask, “What are you? Where are you from?” I was born and raised in the region in which I currently live.

    7. My Dating Experience From Hell: I went out with a man who expressed vicious racist viewpoints towards my race. I informed him, quiet and tactfully, of my heritage. Instead of apologizing, he was more annoyed and exasperrated with me for “fooling” him than he was embarrassed or ashamed of his own simple-mindedness and hatred.

    I also dated a guy in high school and walked in on him arguing with his mother on the phone about my race: “She’s not *racial slur,* her mama’s part *racial slur* but she’s white.”

    8. Some of my own relatives have mocked or teased me because I do not look like them, calling me names like “kitten lips” or cheerfully advising me I’ve got “too much *racist slur for white* in (me.)” My former husband (also biracial) sometimes called me “white girl” and it was clearly meant to be derogatory, not affectionate.

    9. Other friends and relatives have praised my looks via directly associating them with my multicultural heritage rather than with my human uniqueness. One friend once said, “When we were kids, my mom always said you were the most beautiful of us all (because of my ethnic appearance.)” Another friend, a pro photographer, recently said, “You’re gorgeous when you wear powder and red lipstick, you look like a geisha.”

    10. In the workplace, I’ve dealt with all manner of xenophobia. I’ve attempted to assist clients who ignore my efforts and flatly ask, “Where’s (my black coworker)?” Some don’t even remember my coworker’s name, they just ask, “Where’s the black woman?”

    11. I’ve brought relatives to office get-togethers where families are welcome. Colleagues, educated, nice, people, have blatantly stared and asked rudely, “THAT is your AUNT? (or uncle, cousin, grandmother, etc..) I’d just introduced the person and indicated his/her relationship to me.

    12. I have received countless lectures from different people explaining to me why I am “not really” (white, non-white, biracial, etc.) I have had people of every racial classification insist I am a specific race or I am not a specific race. I’ve heard every crackpot argument imaginable and not a single convincing scrap of evidence to prove one way or another “what I really am/am not.” Their reasons vary from “You look more white than anything else, therefore you’re white” to “It makes no sense for you to relate to and identify with your other heritages, you live in America and English is your primary language.”

    13. I am a member of a large, multicultural family. We are literally every color imaginable. If we go out to eat, people stare at us. Sometimes they are curious. Other times they are blatantly rude. I once saw several men whose appearances fit the “white redneck” stereotype glare at me in disgust when I kissed my very dark-complexioned uncle and his children good-bye after meeting them in a public place. The sad irony is that if these nincompoops were aware of my blood ties to my uncle they would screech in protest if I kissed a white man. (NOTE: I have no idea if the rude, redneck-esque men were racial supremacists, I made a snap judgment based upon their hostile postures and expressions.)

    14. Shopping for cosmetics is a drag, especially for foundation and powder products. It’s challenging for all consumers, of course, to get the best foundation match for their skintones, but how many consumers have to argue with the sales clerk about what their skintone actually is? Salespeople inevitably attempt to sell me colors darker than my actual complexion, they apply it to my face, and then can’t understand why it doesn’t look right. I think they’re seeking to match the warmth of my skintone rather than its actual shade.

    Like other discriminatory situations I’ve faced in life, the sales clerks don’t accept responsibility for their errors; instead, they come across as slightly miffed at me (for being “different” or “other” and thus making their jobs more challenging.) HOW DARE I show up at their counter with ultra-fair, olive skin and match better to the fair ivory foundation than the medium beige foundation?

    15. Finally, I believe I may have faced racial discrimination in my publishing career. The epublisher who accepted my first manuscript, a co-authored novel, requested photos from me and my co-author (a white female.)

    The co-author’s photo was posted with the co-author’s bio on the epublisher’s website, mine wasn’t. I sent the photo a second time, thinking perhaps it had not been sent successfully. To this day, my photo, a professional standard headshot, remains unposted. Maybe I looked “too ethnic” in the photo. *shrugs* Who knows?

    ANYWAY, back to your comment concerning escaping an environment toxified by racism… The bottom line is there is no escape for someone like me. No matter where I am or what I do, there is always the chance someone will perceive me as “different” and not hesitate to treat me differently because of it without compunction or apology.

    There’s even a sound argument the discrimination I’ve experienced is more insidious than discrimination experienced by more “obvious” racial groups because its application is so erratic and inconsistent.

    Somewhere in my life, there will always be someone who will think I am white/too white/not white/not white enough. There will always be someone uncomfortable with me because I do not “fit” their perceptions of race. There will always be someone who believes I benefit from my appearance, resent me as “privileged” or “uppity,” and loudly dismiss any notion I have ever suffered genuine negative effects related to racism, colorism, and/or racial hatred.

    I am uninterested in arguing with hate-filled people as to whose problems matter most. As far as I’m concerned, everybody matters. I have experienced racism from every race due to their perceptions of me being “not like them” so I am 100% confident no race goes unscathed in these negative, socially harmful experiences. I don’t have the time of day to give to people who insist specific races (or perceived races) are the only ones who “count.” Either we all count or nobody counts. If my experiences don’t matter and I’m deemed to have suffered no genuine harm, the same applies to everybody else.

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  106. wikkidsexycool
    Jun 24, 2012 @ 13:07:53

    If this link has already been posted I apologize. The Nation.com has included a study that lends itself to this discussion:

    http://www.thenation.com/blog/167590/race-millenials-and-reverse-discrimination

    Also, this link may be of interest:
    http://www.coloringbetween.blogspot.com/2012/04/when-we-dont-talk-about-race-with.html

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  107. Ridley
    Jun 24, 2012 @ 14:10:19

    @Author on Vacation: Seriously: get your own damn blog. This thread is about ways to grow the multicultural romance market. It’s not the Author On Vacation’s Life Story thread.

    Stop derailing the conversation.

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  108. Author on Vacation
    Jun 24, 2012 @ 14:35:46

    @Ridley:

    Hello, Ridley.

    My apologies. I did post a warning concerning my previous post’s length. Please do not feel obligated to read anything I post if you do not like it. I disregard post/ers I deem undproductive, too.

    I agree the thread is “sprawling” a bit and should return closer to topic. In an attempt to right the ship, I’d like to offer that the way to encourage growth in the multicultural romance market is the same way you encourage growth in any other endeavor. Creating and nurturing an environment that makes the effort more rewarding will attract the talent and the effort.

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  109. Ridley
    Jun 24, 2012 @ 15:03:19

    @Author on Vacation:

    I did post a warning concerning my previous post’s length.

    So? Does that make your self-centered derailing any less offensive? If you said, “I’m about to let loose a juicy, rank fart, so cover your nose if you don’t want to smell it,” would that make you any less socially inept of a dinner guest?

    Go concern troll some people who give a shit.

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  110. Author on Vacation
    Jun 24, 2012 @ 15:19:13

    @Ridley:

    I defer to your superior knowledge and experience in all matters concerning offensive behavior.

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  111. Author on Vacation
    Jun 24, 2012 @ 15:53:51

    @AQ:

    What portion of responsibility does Dear Author have for promoting multiculturalism to its community when it comes to reviews, book promotions, interviews, etc?

    In all fairness, I think Dear Author attempts to review books featuring multicultural characters, relationships, and settings.

    I remember D.A. reviewed a novel concerning an A.A. heroine visiting a soccer tournament abroad and falling for one (or maybe 2?) of the players. It erupted into drama when the author responded to the unfavorable review and reproached D.A. for the review and for “never reviewing multicultural books.”

    In a way, I suppose D.A. is as much a victim of racial paranoia as any other entity. I imagine it’s less stressful for D.A. (or any reviewer) to review works without interracial or multicultural romance without concern one might be perceived as prejudiced toward IR/MC characters or romance.

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  112. Ann Somerville
    Jun 24, 2012 @ 22:58:48

    I imagine it’s less stressful for D.A. (or any reviewer) to review works without interracial or multicultural romance without concern one might be perceived as prejudiced toward IR/MC characters or romance.

    That’s where you’re going? After grandly announcing that authors should avoid writing about people like you, patting privileged little chits on the head and telling them that it’s okay to feel oppressed while white, then boring the crap out of everyone with a biography which politeness tells me should be accepted at face value but my gut tells me could be as imaginary as your glittering publishing career….

    You’re going to claim that a blog owned by a Japanese-American, and which has at least two non-white reviewers, is going to give a fying fluck about being “perceived as prejudiced toward IR/MC characters or romance.”

    Seriously?

    I’d have to compliment you on the size of your ovaries, if it wasn’t for the fact you hide behind your anonymity to hurl your rocks, and make so many incredible (in the most literal sense), inflammatory and unsupported statements that nothing you say can be taken without whole mountains’s worth of Himalayan salt.

    If you really are interracial, then I feel sorry for you. People who are the victims of racism and yet promote it as Michelle Malkin does, are truly messed up. Even if you made up or exaggerrated your bio for verisimiltude (which I can’t tell of course, but it’s not my fault if you give me serious AJ LLewellyn vibes), you’re still messed up.

    To drag the train back onto the track after this incredible derailing, my personal resolve is to do what I’ve always done (even though my writing has sadly sputtered just about to standstill) – write multiracial characters, note multiracial characters in books I review and make an effort to review those I read by authors of colour, and look out books in the genres I like that have diverse casts. It’s a very small contribution, and black authors like Roslyn Holcomb writing in America clearly face difficulties above and beyond what other non-white writers may face, but change is possible from a cumulation of small things, as well as a few momentous events.

    Maybe next time this topic comes up on DA, it won’t be drowned by “white women’s tears”. I’ve yet to see multiracial anything discussed outside blogs run by and frequented by a majority of non-white readers and writers which isn’t derailed that way, but maybe one day.

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  113. Ann Somerville
    Jun 25, 2012 @ 02:00:03

    Apologies to Jane on that last comment – I misidentified her ethnicity. Sorry (and god knows where I misremembered that from.)

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  114. Lynn Emery
    Jun 25, 2012 @ 08:51:43

    I recently presented a workshop on Black women and depression. During my research I found a study that showed white people will reject a book if they see or know ahead of time that a Black person is a character/author. Non-anecdotal evidence. However, we’ve seen time and time again that white authors do super well even writing main characters who are POC. Put those two together and what I’ve experienced for 15 years is confirmed.

    Jane, I disagree that whoever writes POC characters doesn’t matter because of the “greater good” theory. That simply continues to reinforce that writers who are POC are assumed not to be as good at writing/crafting stories.

    I no longer write romance, but paranormal thrillers and mysteries (though love love stories are part of the stories). I still read romance, but admit I’m heavily reading mystery and thrillers.

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  115. Robin/Janet
    Jun 25, 2012 @ 16:52:16

    @Lynn Emery: Do you have the author(s) and/or title of that study handy?

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  116. Lynn Emery
    Jun 25, 2012 @ 17:19:23

    No, I didn’t use it in my workshop because it wasn’t on the topic of depression. So I didn’t print it out with the other material I did use. I’d have to back track topics I searched. I’ll look for it.

    I’m a licensed clinical social worker, my other career.

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  117. Robin/Janet
    Jun 25, 2012 @ 17:27:39

    @Lynn Emery: It would be great (and I’m sure a lot of others are interested, too) if you could post the info here when/if you find it. Thank you in advance!

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  118. Author on Vacation
    Jun 25, 2012 @ 17:51:22

    @Lynn Emery:

    During my research I found a study that showed white people will reject a book if they see or know ahead of time that a Black person is a character/author.

    Can you share more information about this study?

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  119. Lynn Emery
    Jun 25, 2012 @ 17:59:48

    Here is one study- about readers “losing themselves in fiction”, my mistake. This wasn’t about buying books, but not identifying with those considered not like them. My mistake. I think it does apply, and seems to suppot that if you have black people on the cover and the picture of a black author, then readers assume the characters won’t be like them.

    http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/exptaking.htm

    There are many others that show the hurdles writers (books, television shows) face because of negative views about people seen as “other”.

    I also think that seeing that the author is white would help white readers think they could more easily “relate” to the fictional world/characters.

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  120. Robin/Janet
    Jun 25, 2012 @ 19:45:00

    @Lynn Emery: Thank you!

    For anyone who is interested, the name of the study is “Changing Beliefs and Behavior Through Experience-Taking,” by Geoff Kaufman and Lisa Libby, and it was just published in the latest issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2012, Vol. 103, No. 1, 1–19. You will probably need access to a university library or database to download the full study.

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  121. Sunita
    Jun 25, 2012 @ 20:38:33

    @Lynn Emery: I saw the stories about this article as well, when the OSU publicity release came out. I actually spent some time thinking through what the results might mean for romance writers and readers, but it was difficult to do without seeing the research.

    The journal issue is out now, but you either have to buy the individual article or get subscription access. I was able to get the pdf through our university library subscription. I have read through the article once, and obviously fairly quickly.

    This is a complicated article. There are 6 different experiments, each with 2-3 different treatments. I’m not even going to begin to try and analyze all the results. The first three experiments measure the relationship between subjects’ self-consciousness, introversion/extroversion, and ability to “experience-take.” Self-consciousness (in the sense of having high self-awareness) is manipulated because it is seen as key to how much a reader can engage in experience-taking.

    There are three experiments designed to measure identity issues as part of experience-taking: (1) group identity and attachment as measured through university affiliation (the subjects are undergraduates); (2) stereotyping about homosexuality by straight males; (3) stereotyping about African-Americans by white males and females. The group identity experiment seemed the weakest to me, in terms of being generalizable to other types of identity issues.

    This is an ambitious study and there’s a lot of worthwhile material here for future research and for extensions of the design. But I disagree that it has much to say about what we have been discussing. There is nothing in the design to allow us to infer anything about whether these subjects would pick up a particular book or author in the first place, since there is no choice element. The study is strictly about pre- and post-test attitudes about reader attitudes toward characters, with the test manipulating the point at which orientation and race traits are introduced.

    The study finds that if the orientation, race, or group attachment traits are introduced late in the story rather than early, the subjects engage in experience-taking reading, identify more with the character, and/or were less likely to explain the characters’ actions through stereotypes.

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  122. Lynn Emery
    Jun 25, 2012 @ 20:49:01

    No prob. I think either this study, or another one (I read so many doing research), stated that if readers didn’t know the character was “different” before reading, white readers were more likely to identify with them (view them positively or keep reading) vs. than if they knew beforehand.

    Then there are multiple studies that show photos of Blacks with the same/matching expressions as whites are more often described as “angry”, “dangerous” and other negative labels. This is true for children and adults.

    I rarely get into discussions on the race aspect of the book biz. Why? At times these have become heated exchanges with charges of black authors being paranoid, whiners, making excuses because we’re not talented, etc. All may be true in some cases LOL. But there is so much research literature documenting how race makes a difference in choices of products, social relationships, etc. that I think it’s pointless to argue. Readers open to books based on the story and who aren’t affected by my photo, may give my books a try. Those who aren’t open after they see my author photo, or figure out the characters are diverse (black, white, Asian and Latino) won’t bother reading the book blurb.

    It is what it is.

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  123. Sunita
    Jun 25, 2012 @ 20:59:15

    @Lynn Emery: It will not surprise you to learn that the race story treatment had the character engaging in “hostile” acts. Not violence, just somewhat belligerent or insensitive behavior.

    Ohio State has a lot of really interesting experimental work on race and gender. This is basically a priming study, but there are also political psychologists who are working to isolate the subtle effects of different types of racial cues in elections, campaign materials, and the like, on both blacks and whites.

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  124. Author on Vacation
    Jun 25, 2012 @ 21:36:47

    @Lynn Emery:

    Readers open to books based on the story and who aren’t affected by my photo, may give my books a try. Those who aren’t open after they see my author photo, or figure out the characters are diverse (black, white, Asian and Latino) won’t bother reading the book blurb.

    FWIW, Lynne, I’ve been chatting with members of my book club about the topic. Some of them are quite surprised and say they don’t even know the races of many of their favorite authors.

    I’ve bought thousands of books in my lifetime and I can honestly say I don’t know (or care about) the race/ethnicities of the authors except for the “superstar authors” like Stephen King, Anne Rice, Rowling, etc.

    One person in my club did say she “dislikes how all the books written by black authors are all organized in a separate section of the bookstore” and considers that “racist.” This is an older lady, I don’t know how her age and life experiences shape that opinion.

    There’s a weird irony to this entire discussion. I can’t help wondering if people would turn down “The Three Musketeers” if they knew it wasn’t authored by a white person.

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  125. wikkidsexycool
    Jun 25, 2012 @ 22:31:19

    Hi Lynn,

    I saw a special on CNN that was something like what you talked about, but I recall reading this article which had a very interesting study on race:
    http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2009/09/04/see-baby-discriminate.html

    I hope its okay to post an excerpt, and I realize it isn’t exactly that’s being discussed here:

    “It was no surprise that in a liberal city like Austin, every parent was a welcoming multiculturalist, embracing diversity. But according to Vittrup’s entry surveys, hardly any of these white parents had ever talked to their children directly about race. They might have asserted vague principles—like “Everybody’s equal” or “God made all of us” or “Under the skin, we’re all the same”—but they’d almost never called attention to racial differences.

    They wanted their children to grow up colorblind. But Vittrup’s first test of the kids revealed they weren’t colorblind at all. Asked how many white people are mean, these children commonly answered, “Almost none.” Asked how many blacks are mean, many answered, “Some,” or “A lot.” Even kids who attended diverse schools answered the questions this way.

    More disturbing, Vittrup also asked all the kids a very blunt question: “Do your parents like black people?” Fourteen percent said outright, “No, my parents don’t like black people”; 38 percent of the kids answered, “I don’t know.” In this supposed race-free vacuum being created by parents, kids were left to improvise their own conclusions—many of which would be abhorrent to their parents.

    Vittrup hoped the families she’d instructed to talk about race would follow through. After watching the videos, the families returned to the Children’s Research Lab for retesting. To Vittrup’s complete surprise, the three groups of children were statistically the same—none, as a group, had budged very much in their racial attitudes. At first glance, the study was a failure.

    Combing through the parents’ study diaries, Vittrup realized why. Diary after diary revealed that the parents barely mentioned the checklist items. Many just couldn’t talk about race, and they quickly reverted to the vague “Everybody’s equal” phrasing.

    Of all those Vittrup told to talk openly about interracial friendship, only six families managed to actually do so. And, for all six, their children dramatically improved their racial attitudes in a single week. Talking about race was clearly key. Reflecting later about the study, Vittrup said, “A lot of parents came to me afterwards and admitted they just didn’t know what to say to their kids, and they didn’t want the wrong thing coming out of the mouth of their kids.”

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  126. Lynn Emery
    Jun 26, 2012 @ 07:07:16

    @Author on Vacation:

    Right, your book club members aren’t the readers I was referring to, bless ‘em! Say “Hi” for me, and tell about my books LOL

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  127. Lynn Emery
    Jun 26, 2012 @ 07:12:10

    @wikkidsexycool:

    What I didn’t say clearly is that all these studies should be taken as a body of evidence. I mean, if white authors writing black protags and characters benefitted black authors why are we still talking about this as an issue? Because nothing has changed. And none of these studies have implications for how people buy books? Or to be more specific, the romance buying world is somehow different? That’s not logical IMO.

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  128. Author on Vacation
    Jun 26, 2012 @ 12:34:51

    @Lynn Emery: @Lynn Emery:

    I’m investigating some of your books right now. I adore Louisiana settings. : )

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  129. Robin/Janet
    Jun 26, 2012 @ 16:50:16

    Someone forwarded me this article by Angela Hunt at Jezebel on the diversity of children’s and teen’s television programming, and I thought it was worth passing on: http://jezebel.com/5912440/an-oasis-of-racially-diverse-television-is-right-under-our-noses

    Among other things, it points out the long-time diversity of children’s programming like Sesame Street and the Electric Company, but Hunt also makes some points I find especially relevant to the discussions at hand:

    The majority of live-action sitcoms made for the 7-14 year old audience are never going to win Emmy awards. The pre-teen and teen storylines are predictable and banal, the acting often abysmal and the writers clearly “phone in” their scripts. However, the shows are marketed to a mainstream audience and there are quite a few shows that feature black or biracial girls as leads and they typically shy away from stereotypes or eye-rolling tropes. These are roles that could be written for any girl and though most of the stories are about middle class kids, they have universal appeal in their themes of acceptance, friendship, honesty, family and teamwork.

    While shows made for kids 7-14 are hardly big financial or artistic draws, I have a theory about why they are sociologically important: If this generation of kids regularly watch and enjoy shows that feature multi-ethnic casts, that center around girls of color that are universally accepted in their worlds as intelligent, funny, talented and beautiful, then when they are adults who earn and spend their own money on films, they will happily pay to see these same and other actresses of color on the big screen.

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  130. Lynn Emery
    Jun 26, 2012 @ 17:51:55

    @Lynn Emery:

    Thank you!

    ReplyReply

  131. Link Roundup: Race in Romance | Read React Review
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  133. Why Do IR Readers Want “Mainstream” Authors to Write IR? | the one who writes
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