Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

Inclusion and Mistakes v. Homogeny and Accuracy

Sarah Wendell and I had a lively debate via email on the topic of inclusion or getting it right.  The Mahajara’s Mistress by Susan Stephens recently reviewed at Smart Bitches features a heroine who has an eye patch due to the loss of an eye and is scarred in her face.  She dresses like a pirate and works at a trendy hair salon in Monaco.  The disfigurement is largely an accessory and not well integrated into the heroine’s character arc.  I felt that the inclusion of disfigured heroines, even when poorly done, was a step forward.  Sarah disagreed. With Sarah’s permission, I have excerpted some of our email exchanges (and yes, I write the briefest emails of all time):

Jane:  There is another HP featuring a heroine who has a prosthetic leg and I confess that I was really disappointed that there wasn’t some discussion about her shyness in taking off her clothes, in showing her leg to her partner.

I mean, in comparison to the lovely breast cancer story by Karina Bliss, there is no comparison, but I give kudos to Harlequin for allowing these characters to exist, even in their meringue like forms.

Sarah:   I can’t give credit for the attempt when the attempt is so shallow and poorly done. You can’t give a character a disability or difference that is so profound and treat it as if it’s haircolor. It’s like all the characters we were discussing before, J, that have coffee-variation colored skin. Does the darkness of their skin affect them or permeate their existence in noticeable ways? No? Then what’s the point of giving a difference from the established Caucasian heteronorm if the difference makes no difference?

Jane:  No, you have a good point, but I think I want to have more inclusion, even in these fits and starts than no inclusion at all.  But I think that describing people with coffee colored skin is tired and old.   So I’m less irritated by the inclusion of a character of color but by the use of food to describe them.

Sarah:   I think what this comes down to is what I think of as the two styles of making change: you can storm the castle and demand change, or you can sneak in the back and change from within. Usually I advocate for the former for a mess of reasons but in this case, the “fits and starts” don’t work for me as a reader and I want to storm the castle. I can’t give any credit to anyone for publishing a half-assed character with a disability or disfigurement.

What bothers me about the fits and starts and the way in which “different” characters are included is when that inclusion is so shallow, the disability or difference is an accessory that can be turned on and off or used for pathos when the scene demands and forgotten otherwise. That’s not how it works. For example, contrast Mia in “Maharaja’s Mistress” to the Karina Bliss character who had a mastectomy without reconstruction. That character’s loss of her breasts was felt in so many small ways, and affected so many parts of how that character felt about herself as a female, as a sexual being, and as a daughter (esp since her mom’s mental health was failing at the same time). Mia, from MM, had an eyepatch. Sometimes it had sequins. She was embarrassed about how she looked. That’s about it.

I do not mean to sound strident here, but there are so many times when I read a review of a romance and see readers say, in effect, “I had NO IDEA there were characters like me in romances,” whether it’s Asperger’s or post-mastectomy. The example you gave of the character having one limb missing and using a prosthesis yet having no shame or embarrassment about showing her body to her partner – that’s just insulting to the reader who has that or similar experience. To treat a major difference like a decoration demeans the experience of people who do have that difference.

So the inclusion makes me want to storm the castle and demand characters who are different from the established Caucasian able-bodied norm and whose differences are at the very least realistic. As a reader, I find it insulting to be told that something so major as a loss of an eye or a leg is no big deal when the characters get naked. There’s a lot of things the mighty wang can do, but growing another eyeball surely isn’t one of them.

Jane: I’m thinking about paranormals and where there is a distinct lack of cultural representation. The homogeny amongst angels and demons being all white is incredible so any inclusion of non white characters as the protags is a bonus for me.

To expand on my thoughts, the norm in romance is white anglo saxon, even in paranormal books we have angels describing other people of color as “exotic” or the only non white people are the bad guys.  In a paranormal world, how is it possible that all these beings: valkryies, vampires, werewolves, angels, demons, fae, etc. are white or European, mostly western European?  It’s not that I don’t think authors shouldn’t make every attempt to “get it right” (see infra, contemporroneous and mistorical discussions).  I do. I think that when you are writing about anything, whether it is women having a career, or characters having a disability, or being of a different race, that authors should do their utmost to get it right because it is respectful and shows thoughtfulness on the part of the author.

It’s that in the romance genre, we are reading a largely homogenous group of people regardless of the sub-genre which would allow for more freedom such as paranormals or contemporaries and perhaps I would give more latitude to authors trying to be more inclusive of differing races, religions, and abilities.  I was thinking about holiday stories recently and how almost all of them seem to celebrate Christmas.  Where is Hanukkah? or Kwanzaa?

We would love to hear what you have to say.  More inclusion even if the authors are flubbing it up right and left or getting it right even if it means more homogeny?

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

149 Comments

  1. Selene
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 04:21:02

    I think it’s always good characterization to follow through on some character-detail into every aspect on the character’s life.

    OTOH, do the effects always have to be negative? I can also find it refreshing that a character belongs to a minority (in however way you define it) and no big deal is made of it–the character is accepted as she or he is.

    E.g., one of my own pet peeves–heroines who don’t want children. On the one hand, I like novels where this is a stumbleblock that’s overcome (NOT by having the heroine have a baby!). On the other hand, I like novels where the heroine doesn’t want children and this is dealt with as a perfectly acceptable, normal choice.

    Or another issue–overweight heroines. Does it always have to be a major worry for the heroine? Doesn’t it send more of a message if no big deal is made of it, and the heroine is confident in her own body and sexuality?

    Selene

  2. library addict
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 04:43:46

    @Selene:

    OTOH, do the effects always have to be negative? I can also find it refreshing that a character belongs to a minority (in however way you define it) and no big deal is made of it–the character is accepted as she or he is.

    THIS!

    I think in the above example maybe the heroine would be nervous about showing the hero her prosthetic leg to the hero and her feelings about it should have been addressed in some way in the story. But I get tired of the message that if a character has a handicap they aren’t somehow whole or well-adjusted about it. Not that I don’t think coming to terms with a handicap, such as losing a limb or their eyesight or something, can’t make for a good story. But people with handicaps in real life do lead full and interesting lives which don’t revolve around the fact they are handicapped.

    As an example Gabe in Cindy Gerard’s BOI series lost his lower leg in Show No Mercy and part of the book is his coming to terms with that. But in subsequent books when it’s mentioned he has a prosthetic leg it’s only in passing. It’s not the made out to be a central part of his character.

    I think my feelings fall in the middle. While I’m all for storming the castle as Sarah says, I do think credit should be given to authors who try to incorporate some diversity in their books. But that doesn’t mean they get a free pass if they do so in a way that takes readers out of the story because the attempt is so clumsy.

  3. Fangsforthefantasy
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 05:54:53

    What an interesting discussion. I am one of the co-owners of the site Fangs for the Fantasy where we take an intersectional social justice approach to urban fantasy. I think it is worth noting that erasure is it’s own kind of fail and so to give inclusion points simply because an author has decided to throw in a raced character, or a disabled character etc., only to engage in another fail as far as representation goes does not feel right to me.

    Flawed representation prove that the neither the author, or their editor cared enough to learn about historically oppressed people and that is most certainly a sign of their privilege. It is insulting.

    I do however think that it is worth noting that some representation is just so downright awful, that it would be better to be erased because it is actually painful to read and it perpetuates harmful tropes that are then internalized as normal to the reader.

    A lot of the harmful tropes are simply explained away by the woo or magic in urban fantasy. Sometimes it’s a matter that the relationship that is the focus consists of a heterosexual one with no mention of any GLBT characters, thus normalizing the idea that every one in the story is het. Sometimes it’s the idea that the het relationships are sexy and fun, while the GLBT ones either don’t have the same level of commitment, or they present the relationship in a way that imposes gender on the couple to mimic het relationships.

    That’s just a few examples of GLBT fails. With race there are a slew that authors regularly engage in and yet believe that just because they have a person of colour or someone who is mixed race that they have done something positive.

    I don’t think that what we need is erasure, but authors should be held accountable. As consumers we need to make them aware that we deserve a cast of characters that is fully realized and represents the full spectrum of human experience.

  4. Bronte
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 06:08:40

    @Selene: I can only speak for myself but as someone who is overweight when I get naked with someone for the first time its a big issue for me. No matter how much someone tells me I’m beautiful I still worry about judgement. Now it may be that thats the same for everyone (normal weight, underweight or overweight), that we all have worries and concerns however if I read a book where the heroine was overweight and didn’t have concerns about how she was viewed that would pull me out of the story big time. I appreciate what you say about having confidence in yourself and I wish that was me but its not!

    Personally I think I’m with Sarah on this. If its going to be included it needs to be done well. Just to touch on the skin colour issue I think Nalini Singh does a great of job of representing heroes and heroines from many different ethnic backgrounds. Anne Stuart also has had several asian heroes. On the overweight heroine side I thought Lori Fosters Never too much and Sherilyn Kenyon’s Night Play were also books that were really well done. But I actually can’t think of a single book where a hero/heroine had a significant physical disability that didn’t either a) magically resolve with the power of love or b) magically fade out of the story by the end of the book. Maybe I’m being too harsh but I think its something but is poorly represented in romance. And yes, I would love to see different religions/cultures be represented in romance novels.

  5. Julia Broadbooks
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 06:50:50

    I would definitely prefer to see a variety of characters in romance. Even if they are poorly represented, I find that preferable – and more representative of my world.

  6. Christine M.
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 06:54:49

    But why should they systematically make a case out of it? My cousin was born with an incomplete right arm/forearm/hand. She has a prosthetic that she wears on occasion but her arm’s never bothered her. I myself am overweight and it’s never bothered me to get naked in front of someone. I mean, by the time we’re about to get naked, the guy is already aware of what I weight and how I look. If he wasn’t into me, I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t have made it to the bedroom.

    So yeah, basically, I don’t think the author should *always* make an issue of these situations. Sometimes yes (e.g. cancer happens it’s sudden and violent and it sucks and there are sequels), but sometimes no (someone born with a ‘defect’). Also, do all non caucasians have race issues to deal with? It never occured to me, but maybe I’m just naïve.

  7. Ros
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 07:24:02

    I think the basic problem is that when there are so few stories which feature a particular kind of character, it’s impossible for there to be a balance. So every reader who identifies with the character will hope for their experiences to be reflected and inevitably some will be disappointed.

    For instance, I’m fat. I would love to see more books with fat heroines that have a body positive attitude. I can’t bear books where the heroine is constantly worrying about her weight or dieting or whatever. But for some readers, it would feel unrealistic to have a fat heroine who wasn’t worrying about those things. The problem is that with so few books featuring fat heroines, we’re all going to be disappointed and those few books will be held to impossible standards.

    A long while back I had a First Page Saturday here which was roundly condemned. It featured a black heroine. What was interesting to me was how it felt that page was held to much higher standards than a previous first page of mine featuring a white heroine. There were, I agree, several serious problems with the page, but a lot of the discussion was about the portrayal of the black character. Some of the commenters felt that she fell into stereotypes, others that she wasn’t typical enough. Some thought I hadn’t understood African-American culture well enough, despite the fact that the character was actually Afro-Caribbean British. And so on. It felt like I had to make this one character represent all of black culture whilst avoiding all stereotypes.

    So mostly, I’m with Jane. More non-standard characters, even if some of them are done badly, because that’s the only way that we’ll get the diversity of characters across the genre as a whole.

    Also, the only prosthesis book I’ve read is Fearless Maverick by Robyn Grady and I thought she handled the issue really well.

  8. Cathy KJ
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 07:32:10

    Evie Byrne (I think) wrote a character in one of her novellas that had significant heart issues, which were helped but not cured when she was made a vampire. It’s been a while since I read the story, but I remember it as handling the heroine’s health issues in a positive way.

    I agree, also, with the comment about the overwhelming whiteness of the paranormal world. Surely there are some paranormal people somewhere else on the planet.

  9. Julia Broadbooks
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 07:32:30

    @Ros: I find that very true. The very paucity of minority characters burdens the few that are out there with unrealistic expectations to represent an entire race or other group of people instead of simply being that one heroine who happens to be black.

  10. Fangsforthefantasy
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 07:42:20

    @Ros @ Julia

    Oh dear what a solid round of White Woman’s problems. Just accept the fact that the characters were devoid of any good cultural markers and employed tropes rather than dealing with the authenticity of life of the woman of the African Diaspora.

    Also just because a person is not Black does not mean that they don’t have to negotiate White Supremacy. I actually find the assertion racist and insulting. It serves as evidence that you have no business commenting on the whether or not the representation is valid if you don’t know this very basic fact.

  11. Las
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 07:43:15

    If I had to choose I’d much rather a book ignore whatever issues a character’s race/weight/disability/etc. causes than to address them and get it wrong. Not that ignoring the issues is a good thing, but it’s better than going all After School Special on the readers, especially when the author is basing her characterizations on inaccurate or incomplete information.

  12. Keishon
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 07:52:23

    My philosophy in life is: do it right or don’t do it at all. (rephrased)

  13. Courtney Milan
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 07:57:30

    @Christine M.: Also, do all non caucasians have race issues to deal with? It never occured to me, but maybe I’m just naïve.

    …It’s not that.

    Caucasians have “race issues” to deal with. It’s just that most of the race issues that Caucasians deal with are largely invisible, because they consist of things that aren’t happening to them.

    If you don’t unpack the invisible things that aren’t happening to you, you may not realize how much of an effect these things actually have on your life. And so if you portray a person of color/a gay man/whatever as someone for whom these “issues” are invisible, it can be deeply problematic because it comes off as denying the existence of the world people actually live in, where those things are very much not invisible.

    As a straight person, I never have to worry that if I show evidence of the attraction I feel–even so much as a flirtatious smile–someone will drag me out back and beat me to death. I don’t even think about it most of the time. That doesn’t mean I don’t deal with “heterosexism issues.”

    I do. All the time. I benefit from them every day of my life.

  14. Jane
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 08:13:15

    @Courtney Milan: It took me about 35 years before I learned how to apply eye makeup. Most East Asian women don’t have folds in their eyes and every makeup magazine and instruction manual on applying makeup to the eyes is for women with folds. I finally had another Asian woman at a makeup store show me how it should be done. There was another article I read once about Shu Umera eyelash curlers were the best for Asian eyes because they are designed to be more elongated and less rounded. This is a very simple example of how I have “race issues”.

  15. Suze
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 08:19:50

    Oh dear what a solid round of White Woman’s problems.

    you have no business commenting

    Overt hostility and telling people to leave the conversation doesn’t make you the champion of any cause. It can, in fact, polarize others against a position by making the place you stand look inhospitable.

  16. Ros
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 08:27:36

    @Keishon, I think my philosophy in life is mostly try, fail, fail better next time. And in an area like this where we’re talking about shifting an entire genre from its focus on one narrow part of the population to a wider representation across all boundaries – class, size, race etc, I’m very much of the opinion that it’s not going to happen without some failures along the way. Which doesn’t mean we shouldn’t point out the failures and learn from them. I think it does mean that failures still need to be recognised as attempts and not be beaten back so hard that no one ever tries again. It would be fabulous if every author always got it right. It’s not going to happen. But I’d rather they tried and sometimes got it right and the whole genre moved forward, than not trying at all and nothing ever changing.

  17. Brie
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 08:31:55

    One of my favorite books that use the scared heroine trope is Barefoot in the Grass by Judith Arnold. The heroine had a double mastectomy and is very self-conscious about it, but no only that, when she finally manages to talk to the hero he actually freaks out about it and it takes him some time to get used to it. It was kind of painful to read but it was realistic as well, I understood where he was coming from and his reaction was realistic. I want to read more books like that, where the character’s issues ARE issues, and not just gimmicks to move the nonexistent plot forward.

  18. Alex
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 08:43:27

    @Suze,@Suze: Wow, I so agree with you. >8(

    I actually had to read her comment and Ros and Julia’s several times because I figured there was something I was missing. There was no way, I thought, she could be that overtly condescending and hostile from Ros and Julia for their comments.

    Speaking as an Indian (no I’m not saying Native American – I hate that term), I’m really sick of writers who dance around our real issues like alcoholism, the dwindling numbers of full blooded Indians (this is a big concern with members of my family) and the high instances of drugs that are pretty rampant.

    Also, we’re not all gd wolves. We don’t all walk on a spiritual plane. I know very few who have any sort of ghostly interactions. And my skin is NOT FREAKING THE COLOR OF WINE! >>>8(

  19. Jennifer
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 09:02:40

    @Ros

    I like your stance. Pillorying a author for conscientiously trying and slipping will only scare other conscientious authors away from trying in the future. However, it won’t scare away the authors who don’t care in the first place.

    How do you tell if an author doesn’t care to be representative or is conscientiously learning, I don’t know.

  20. Ros
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 09:04:13

    @Jennifer: I don’t know how you tell, except that those who are trying and learning will hopefully do better over time.

  21. Tamara Hogan
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 09:09:03

    I disagree with Sarah on the following point:

    The example you gave of the character having one limb missing and using a prosthesis yet having no shame or embarrassment about showing her body to her partner – that’s just insulting to the reader who has that or similar experience. To treat a major difference like a decoration demeans the experience of people who do have that difference.

    But what if the “major difference” simply ISN’T a huge issue for the character one is writing about? Why must any fictional character with an “issue” represent any one else who might have the same, or a similar, issue? I think a bit of homogeny might be creeping into our well-intentioned arguments against homogeny. ;-)

  22. Jane
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 09:16:22

    @Tamara Hogan: Because I think no matter how well adjusted you are, showing your naked body to someone who you are just having a fling with can be difficult for even women with the most perfect bodies. I’ve read numerous scenes where women think about their extra weight or even their stretch marks, yet a woman with a prosthesis about to have sex with a guy she barely knows who is a physically perfect specimen? A guy who is well known for dating other perfect specimens? What was troubling in that book was that the prosthesis is never mentioned at all during love making, not impeding her ability to lie down or maneuver into any sexual position. I.e., why have her have a prosthesis if she is going to be written as if it doesn’t exist?

  23. Annabel
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 09:22:56

    Even in this thread one can sense it would be really difficult to “get inclusion right” when so many have such strong, specific feelings about what is genuine, what is the real experience of any given group. (As with the many varying experiences of overweight people who have posted)

    So I have to agree with Jane. Accepting an author’s good faith effort to write inclusively–unless the attempt is obviously offensive–seems like the best way to embolden *other* authors to try to write inclusively.

    After all, even within a small and specific minority group, all types of people and personalities will make up that group.

  24. Tina
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 09:33:51

    So what exactly is ‘getting it wrong?’ The character with a prosthetic who isn’t at all uncomfortable with her body is nor more wrong than the one who is.

    What it sounds like to me is that there is some sweet-spot in representing the non-whiter hetero norm that people want to get to so that no one can be upset with the representation. Unfortunately, I don’t believe that is possible. No matter what/who you write about you are going to get it right for some people and get it tragically wrong for others.

    Now, mind you I am not talking about specific cultural actions — such as the way a particular culture observes a religion or a particular norm or belief system specific to that group is represented — because those can get wrong on a very basic fact level.

    But when speaking about how people act, interact, feel within the broader society, I don’t know that you can pin down something that ‘all do’. But I think the solution is as Ros says, to just write, succeed or fail. If you do fail then learn more and write it better next time.

    Shelly Luarenston manages to write a wide variety of racial characters who simply are who they are without it being a major thing. It helps that their personalities are larger than their physical characteristics. But I do admit, I love the fact that she includes POC in her novels as both heroines & continuing supporting characters.

  25. Isobel Carr
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 09:49:29

    @Alex:

    Speaking as an Indian (no I’m not saying Native American – I hate that term),

    So funny, because as a Native American, I hate being called an Indian (I am not from the Asian subcontinent, thankyouverymuch). Thus proving in two short comments that you just can’t win.

    And on the prosthesis front, one of my best friends in college lost her lower leg the summer between junior and senior year. Lisa was FIERCE about it. Love me, get over it. I can’t imagine her being worried or reticent about it under any circumstances, so an amputee heroine who didn’t obsess about hers wouldn’t phase me at all (in fact, if it was made into a major issue, I’d likely have a problem with that depiction and put the book aside, as “issue” books often annoy me).

  26. dick
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 09:49:32

    Why must romance fiction be inclusive?

  27. Isobel Carr
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 09:51:08

    Oh, and I want Jane to show me how to apply eye makeup, because I totally got the Epicanthic fold, and I’ve never been able to make eye makeup look right!

  28. Jane
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 09:55:55

    @Isobel Carr Maybe if the character had been written as FIERCE about it but she wasn’t. She initially was very hesitant in the book and conscious about her prosthesis. always wore long pants, frex. So yeah, I expected some agnst when she took off her clothes.

  29. Fangsforthefantasy
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 10:17:31

    @suze Wait, did you just give the one argument to a Black woman? Wrong,wrong wrong, I have the right and the will to call out racism using any language I see fit. If they’re offended to damn bad. It’s harder to live with racism than being called a racist.

    @dick said Why must romance fiction be inclusive? and to that I must add, what a fitting name. Books need to be inclusive because historically marginalized people exist, and we deserve to be represented and to take up space. Honestly, one sentence, so much fail.

  30. Ridley
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 10:25:25

    @dick: I think the better question is: Why shouldn’t it be?

    @Fangsforthefantasy: You can use whatever language you want, but you can’t expect to be taken seriously or argued with in good faith if you’re calling people names and telling them to shut up.

    Besides, I’m the troll here. Get off my damn lawn.

  31. Christine M.
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 10:33:18

    @Ridley: Thanks for the laugh, Ridley. :) And be careful, she’s on the good path to pull the rug from beneath you. *winks*

  32. Isobel Carr
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 10:39:53

    @Jane: Inconsistent characterization is a problem, regardless of what the writer and their character is being inconsistent about. You’d think the editor would have flagged that?

  33. Jane
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 10:41:57

    @Isobel Carr: Maybe not, but I think it goes to the core of Sarah and my dispute. Is it better to have an inconsistent or inaccurate or even weak representation of an “other” or none at all. I think that there are comments here that are persuasive on both sides.

  34. Janine
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 10:44:12

    I guess for me it all depends on the portrayal. Speaking as a Jewish woman, I don’t mind if authors don’t get Jewish characters 100% right, and have sometimes loved books that rang false to me on that front. I can appreciate the inclusion even when it’s not perfect or when the author’s ignorance shows.

    But when the portrayal feels offensive in its outright anti-semitism (Georgette Heyer I’m looking at you) it can feel personally hurtful. And then it’s not even about forgiving or not forgiving the author, but rather about whether I want to put myself at risk of feeling that hurt again, by picking up another of the author’s books. Most of the time I would much rather not.

    BTW, I would much rather read a Passover book than a Hanukkah book! Right there, just that one choice, would make it feel more authentic to me!

  35. Maili
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 11:02:05

    FWIW, I quite liked Meljean Brook’s response to my question: “Why aren’t many other mainstream Steampunk books more racially diverse and LGBT-friendly like your Iron Seas series?”

    @dick:

    Why must romance fiction be inclusive?

    Because some of us are thoroughly bored with the Romance genre’s continual glorification of colonialism the default hogging the limelight.

  36. Ridley
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 11:04:54

    Anyways, I’ve decided there are three possible outcomes when an author includes an “other” character:

    - It ends up only being a surface difference
    - It’s part of a meaningful look at the ways privilege affects us
    - It’s appropriated to tell a morality play/add emphasis to the “normal” character’s arc/generate cheap angst

    I’m fine with the first two, but the last one sets my hair on fire. Unfortunately, it’s extremely common, maybe even the majority.

    I’m okay with the surface difference because it’s inoffensive. I think it’s generally lazy characterization, but it’s pretty much the definition of inclusive in that it shows someone different who’s also the same as everyone else. For all the approach lacks in depth or meaning, it does completely avoid appropriation or lecture.

    I prefer the second option. I don’t want a thorough unpacking of privilege or anything like that, but I do like to see the little things that continually impress upon people that they’re “other.” It provides richer characterization and creates a more realistic setting. I don’t want hair-pulling angst so much as just to see a wheelchair user roll her eyes at a waitress asking her friend what she wants to eat instead of asking her directly.

    The third one is just offensive. That describes stories like The Help, where the black maids seemed to exist to illustrate the white girl’s character growth, or Justine Davis’ The Morning Side Of Dawn, where disability was used to define the able-bodied characters’ goodness or lack thereof. It’s so offensive to me because it goes beyond ignoring the difference to blatantly hijacking it to tell a story about the mainstream. It makes the “others” an accessory rather than a person. Maybe it’s just me, but I’d rather be invisible than be a prop.

  37. FD
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 11:38:05

    @Ridley: Yes, this. I mean, I do get narked when I can only get category one, but I’d so much rather have one than three.

  38. Alex
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 11:42:24

    @Isobel Carr:

    “Thus proving in two short comments that you just can’t win.”

    LOL I know what you mean. It’s totally true. But that’s the point I’m hoping will come across in this thread. You can’t please everyone and some people are going to be offended by representations of their people and some are going to love it.

    THere’s a lot of discussion and it seems like everything else in books, it’s subjective. For everyone complaining about the lack of people of color in books, but then complaining about the representation when they do. If I was a Caucasian author, I would be very hesitant to write about anyone of color just for the reasons above.

    Here is the second problem with this call for minority characters and such: It’s obvious not a booming market. It should be, but it isn’t. Otherwise publishing houses would be reaching out for more. And that’s a reader’s fault as much as an author’s and publisher’s.

    To add to an already huge problem, people like Little Miss “WHite Women’s Problems” spewing out her acid at the author who did write a woman of color… Well,that wouldn’t make me want to delve into the uncertain waters of race.

    On a whole, I think that as you said, Isobel, it doesn’t seem like an author can win. Even I’m guilty if getting ticked off at Indian representation when I should be supportive of authors who give us a voice.

  39. Tamara Hogan
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 11:44:43

    One example I can think of which might better illustrate my perspective on this subject is the 2010 release by Toni Blake, Whisper Falls. In this book, Tessa, the heroine, has Crohn’s Disease. I also have Crohn’s Disease, so my immediate reaction was, “A heroine with Crohn’s Disease! Represent!” But while it was a thrill for me to see a chronically ill heroine in a romance novel – we exist, we live, we love – I had absolutely no expectation that Tessa’s individual experiences would reflect my own. There is no valid, monolithic experience of chronic illness that fits us all. We are individuals as much as we fit any particular demographic group, and our emotional makeup, life experience and disease processes can vary so, so radically.

  40. Jane
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 11:50:11

    @Alex This “I can’t win for losing so I’m not even going to try” actually pisses me off more than anything. Why not make some attempts to be inclusive? It’s not like white people are the only people who read romance. Maybe a lot of non whites don’t read it because there is no representation? Clearly people aren’t turned off by the POC in Nalini Singh’s books. I think it’s obvious when authors are sincere and try even if they get it wrong at different points. In Pamela Clare’s Naked Edge, for example, the heroine is half Navajo. I know that some of the details she included aren’t exactly right but it was also clear from the text that she was writing to honor the Navajo tradition and culture.

    The idea that an author simply won’t include it for fear of criticism is weak.

  41. Alex
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 12:11:38

    @Jane: It might be weak to you, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Also, I don’t think it’s an invalid excuse. There are literally two sides to that story.

    Take for instance the m/m romance writers. How many gay men were frustrated, angry and up in arms about women writing gay male romance a few years ago? Even when a large portion of that market wasn’t erotica. Even when a large portion of it was showing the unfairness of gay oppression. Gay men were angry. I read story after story of non-erotic m/m romances who treated the characters with care and consideration. It didn’t make it any less offensive to a vast amount of gay men. They were offended because it was women writing it. And I saw their point – to a point.

    And /my/ point (I know, I know, i took forever to get here – it’s a fault of mine (as is interrupting myself)) is that some authors might not only be afraid backlash, but of offending a large portion of minority groups no matter how well intentioned, researched and portrayed.

    Just sayin’.

  42. Faye
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 12:13:45

    One thing I would worry about if I were writing books with characters who had heritages different from my own would be a fear of appropriating their experience for my own goals. I’ve had Native friends who found that behavior very bothersome.

    Honestly, as a reader what I’d most like is an inclusive Romancelandia that is contributed to by an inclusive authorship. I’d rather read about a Pakistani heroine written by a Pakistani author. Even writing something like that makes me a bit uncomfortable, for fear of offending someone unintentionally.

    For those of us who aren’t thoroughly schooled in issues of marginalized communities, it can sometimes be hard to sort through what is well-researched and truly inclusive, and what is window dressing. That’s obviously part of a bigger problem, but it certainly helps to have other readers who can personally respond to these characterizations and help frame the discussion.

  43. Las
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 12:17:27

    @Jane: But isn’t expecting all people with prosthetic limbs to feel self-conscious about it also problematic? It’s saying that a particular group is monolithic in their experience, and while that might fit an “outsider’s” idea of how that group is supposed to feel and behave, it doesn’t make it an accurate portrayal.

    This is a big reason why I’m wary of white authors writing POC characters. I’m not against it, and I certainly don’t mean to discourage white writers from including POCs in their book, but what I’ve seen most often–when the author makes the character’s race/ethnicity a part of the story–is that the author seems to go down a list, checking off whatever qualities “X” is supposed to have. A POC writer can do that and it’s fine, because I’m not about to question someone else’s experience just because they don’t mirror mine, but when a white writer does it, it bugs. Which is why I’d rather not see those issues addressed at all…unless the writer is really knowledgeable about a particular culture (and not just book-knowledge).

    It really is an interesting question.

  44. Suleikha Snyder
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 12:18:48

    Does the darkness of their skin affect them or permeate their existence in noticeable ways? No? Then what’s the point of giving a difference from the established Caucasian heteronorm if the difference makes no difference?

    I don’t know about anyone else, but it’s not like I walk around on a daily basis going, “Oh, crap, I’m brown! This makes a difference in my life!” Yes, I’m aware that I’m Not White. But does it “permeate my life” in a way that affects my hourly, minutely, functionality? No. Does that mean my experience as a person who doesn’t fall under the “established Caucasian heteronorm” is an invalid one?

    A heroine or hero being a minority or living with a disfigurement (which are two very different things) is living their life. Sure, there are moments where what color you are, or the eyepatch that you have, are relevant. But I don’t think an author has a responsibility to insert self-awareness of Otherness into their texts just so the reader feels comfortable with that Otherness.

    Just as it’s not an author’s responsibility to write Caucasian characters with a constant awareness of their white privilege.

    Most of my characters are Asian Indian, and they just are. They put their pants one leg at a time just like everybody else. Why do I want readers to care…? Because they’re people with stories to tell!

  45. Michelle
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 12:23:19

    @Maili
    Interesting you commenting on the Iron Duke, Fangsforthefantasy doesn’t share your opinion,it didn’t get a glowing review.

  46. Las
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 12:25:55

    @Jane:

    This “I can’t win for losing so I’m not even going to try” actually pisses me off more than anything. Why not make some attempts to be inclusive? It’s not like white people are the only people who read romance.

    Thank you! It’s like we’re supposed to be so grateful that authors include us in their books that we can’t point out any problems. To hell with that. Criticizing an author’s portrayal of a particular minority group isn’t saying that that author is a bad person. Why not take the criticism, learn from it, and try to do better next time?

  47. Kate Pearce
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 12:27:43

    Fascinating discussion.
    -Over the years I’ve had several readers ask me if I could include people of color in my historical Regencies and I have to admit, I was reluctant because a) I didn’t want to get it wrong and b) my racial experience as a British person is different to an American persons where most of my readership is. But I decided to do the research, and found out that there was a thriving community of Africans in London during my time period, so I was able to integrate a character into my series and understand where he came from and his experiences, which were quite different to an African Americans experience due to the slavery issue. And he fits in perfectly with the rest of the unconventional odd bods in my series, so I’m glad I tried, even if readers don’t think I got it quite right.

    Second point. I have a kid with cerebral palsy, he was born that way and we’ve had to deal with a whole crap load of prejudices about him just because he is physically less able than most people. But to us, he’s just our kid, and we love him, wonky walking and all, so if I wrote a character like him, I’d probably not feel like making a big deal out of his disability, because for us and for him, that is the norm.

  48. Ridley
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 12:37:53

    The example you gave of the character having one limb missing and using a prosthesis yet having no shame or embarrassment about showing her body to her partner – that’s just insulting to the reader who has that or similar experience.

    I don’t see why this is so unbelievable. What’s so hard to imagine about someone feeling they have nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about over something out of their control? Why is the only acceptable disability narrative one of angst and self-consciousness?

    This is why I like points one and two on my list. They allow for a wide range of experiences. Accuracy isn’t pegged to a certain reaction. Just so long as you’re not appropriating other people’s stories to emphasize your own, I’m content.

  49. Nikki
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 12:40:47

    I think it is important to get the characterization right for the individual character. Consistency is crucial within the characterization. If you have a breast cancer survivor post-mastectomy, you have multiple options to approach. If she is scarred and feels strange or abnormal, stick with it, don’t start out strong and gloss over it later. If she survived and wants to focus on the other aspects of her life without the experience being front and center constantly, stick with it and explain any changes.

    I participated in a cultural competency seminar a few weeks ago that was very different from others I had attended in the past. It showed that personal views color our outlook and behavior and also pointed out that privilege was something that exists across racial, ethnic, and economic status. So how many of the objections come out because we expect a person to be a certain way?

    I didn’t read Ros’ First Page but I wonder if the bigger issues are related to the audience. I get irritated being lumped in as African-American when I identify as Nigerian. There is a different cultural background and heritage. One of the reasons why I do not read African-American romances is that I just don’t have context. I read them sometimes when I look for a new book and think, what is this and who are these people. I think I know 1-2 authors in the genre that I am willing to read because their characters fall within my worldview. For someone else, those authors I like are writing inaccurately.

    I think we have a many harmful tropes in the genre that as readers complain or explain their frustrations – authors will be able to respond to change and improve them. While characters who fit the caucasian norm are still dominant, we have come a long way in the last few years. Every now and then I read and think to myself, wow, 10 years ago, no one would even have published this and I feel better about where we are going.

  50. Ridley
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 12:45:11

    @Kate Pearce: OMG! Please write a book with a character who has CP! I’d buy that in a heartbeat, especially considering your NBD shrug. There’s such a dearth of healthy disabled characters in fiction.

  51. thetroubleis
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 12:49:58

    Wow, the idea of not even trying because you might mess up saddens me and pisses me off. You know what I’m pretty sure is more harmful than getting the side eye for race!fail? Actually dealing with systemic racism. There’s a reason there is an actual term known as White Women’s Tears. It’s a classic derailing tactic for the privilege to make an instance of oppression committed about their feelings instead of the actual oppression. It’s not helpful and honestly, if harsh words brought on by living in a society that thinks you’re less than human make someone give up on being an ally, they probably weren’t an ally to begin with.

    Romance should be inclusive because love is inclusive. Even Black, pansexual, adoptees with disabling mental illnesses like me fall in love. Why shouldn’t there be romances with a heroine who uses a service dog to help deal with her fibro and falls in love with the lady who works at her favorite book store? What’s wrong with a book about an autistic man of color meeting the love of his love at a party he’s dragged to? Why can’t the vampire hunting heroine be Asian? Why can’t a hero be a wheelchair user who happens to solve crimes? How about a genderqueer werewolf dealing with a pack structure that tries to box hir in based on the gender ze was assigned?

    It’s not like there is an actual brigade of people who are going to come and beat you up if you commit fail. I know I mess up, it’s what humans do. You just have to try to fail better.

    Also, I’d love it if portrayals of people with some of my conditions weren’t always what seems to be the pitying imaginings of abled people. I don’t actually hate having bipolar disorder, ADHD, dyspraxia, etc, or using a service dog. There are things about those conditions which I find less than fun, but I don’t hate them. Some of the times I like about them are likely things others hate and a lot of things I dislike have to do with other people being terrible excuses for human beings. I know a hive mind of marginalized thought would make things easier for authors, but it sure would make boring books and a very boring world.

    I personally am much more willing to give the benefit of the doubt to an author who tries, but I find it perfectly understandable that not everyone is willing to do so. Because regardless of the author’s intent a slap in the face is still slap in the face, even if they were going for a handshake. Intent isn’t magic.

    ETA: Having dyspraxia means that on occasion I make some odd typos. Combined with my use of a speech to text program, there may be some oddness in this comment. I apologize for the inconvenience.

  52. Fangsforthefantasy
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 13:20:37

    @Alex
    THere’s a lot of discussion and it seems like everything else in books, it’s subjective. For everyone complaining about the lack of people of color in books, but then complaining about the representation when they do. If I was a Caucasian author, I would be very hesitant to write about anyone of color just for the reasons above.

    Here is the second problem with this call for minority characters and such: It’s obvious not a booming market. It should be, but it isn’t. Otherwise publishing houses would be reaching out for more. And that’s a reader’s fault as much as an author’s and publisher’s.

    Oh dear, what’s a white writer to do. Look, writing a good book takes research. It really isn’t that hard because marginalized people have been writing about their experiences forever. Need to include a gay character – yeah a little trip to a few GLBT blogs would probably be informative. Need to write a character of colour, guess what POC have been writing blogs for quite some time that are full of information. The author doesn’t even have to leave their home to do research.

    Also, how can you possibly claim that the market has no room for this when publishing is a gatekeeping industry. With exception of going the self publish ebook route, an author must obtain a publishing deal and an agent. Just like every other social institution, publishing is made up of dominant bodies of course there is going to be a bias in their favor. How can you say that something isn’t marketable when it hasn’t been given a chance?

  53. Fangsforthefantasy
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 13:24:52

    @Maili
    FWIW, I quite liked Meljean Brook’s response to my question: “Why aren’t many other mainstream Steampunk books more racially diverse and LGBT-friendly like your Iron Seas series?”

    This is yet another example of inclusion not being a good thing. You are aware that Meljean actually had her protagonist praise the closet as a good thing and something to be envied right? How the hell is that a good representation. Furthermore, he is also petrified of heights after an escape with the Iron Duke – of course, despite going through the same thing, the manly Rhys is not similarly afflicted with actually vomiting from fear.

  54. Lynne Connolly
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 13:40:41

    I agree with Isobel. Consistency of character is vital to believability.
    As writers, we’re told to “write what you know.” That’s either doing the research, or knowing it anyway. Race issues are particularly difficult, because it’s so hard to know every little bit of what it’s like.
    I was brought up in a multi-racial society, but it was a specific one. Not all multi-racial societies are the same (I know, it’s obvious, but sometimes you wouldn’t think so). In my case, I was brought up with people of Indian origin who were expelled from Uganda. Since I went to school and shared experiences with the children of these people, I feel reasonably confident writing stories with characters of that racial group. And characters who are second, third, fourth etc generation British or American.
    But I also write about Hungarians, French people, Italians, because I’m European and I know it fairly well. Is that wrong? How do I stop myself making mistakes? My answer is beta readers. I try to find someone who at least lives in the country or shares experiences with the character I’m writing about. One person’s experience might not be another’s, but at least I’ve tried.
    Disabilities – I have an on-off disability (a rare form of arthritis called Behcet’s) and I’ve had experiences that I can write about. I know what it’s like to live with it, and the people who ignore it are the people who have the hardest time. You learn to cope, build in time to manage your condition (for instance, when I go to a big conference, I make sure I have the right meds and insurance, and give myself a week off afterwards, with no important appointments or deadlines). So your life has built-in components another might not have to consider. But there’s a difference between coping and constantly harping on it.
    I read the Robyn Grady book and enjoyed it, but I did think that the heroine’s disability was treated a trifle flippantly, particularly since it had stopped an important part of her life.
    Finally, if you’ve read this far, may I mention a series from Ellora’s Cave? My contribution, “Strangers No More” came out last week. We took the theme of cosmetic surgery, but not the fake-boobs-botox version. We felt that constantly reading about women who have gone under the knife as the villains of romance novels (fake boobs=Teh Ebul) was denigrating in a subtle way to women who choose to have surgery, for whatever reason. And a little tired with women who look after themselves being thrown over in favour of the fresh, ‘unspoiled’ virgin. So we decided to tackle the subject, and I hope doing justice to our characters.
    I don’t usually do this on blog posts, but the series is an effort to address a problem mentioned in this piece.

  55. Emily
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 13:58:41

    First of all I am writing this today because I am sitting in the cafe at Barnes and Noble becuase we have no power at home haven’t since Saturday.
    @Jane
    Christmas is not necessarily a religious holiday, not in America. I have plenty of friends who don’t believe in God let alone the birth of savior. These friends and their parents do like the tradition of the tree, family gathering, giving gifts and sharing memories. In my opinion unless there is refrence to the Nativity or church I don’t consider celebrating Christmas makes you any religion. (I actually had Jewish friends who celebrated christmas and Hannukah)

    Kwanzaa is also not a religious holiday. Mostly books and tv often get this wrong. Many people who celebrate Kwanzaa also celebrate Christmas. It was holiday that started in the 70′s to for people of African descent to celebrate their black heritage. It may be based on African holiday, but the American version is mainly secular. Many people celebrate both Christmas and Kwanzaa. Celebrating Kwanzaa says nothing about your religious beliefs. This is a holiday that is very misunderstood, and not well depicted. I want to see this holiday portrayed more, but in ways that are accurate. Mostly its used to say “Hey I am showing that I believe in diversity.”

    I wouldn’t mind more Jewish character celebrating Hannunkah. I wouldn’t mind more characters of any religion celebrating their holidays in the appropriate monthes(meaning Christmas books are sold in December; if the main holiday is in September then put the book in September.). I would like to see people of all races celebrate Christmas. In some books it seems like only white people are celebrating Christmas. The reality is people of all races are allowed, entitled, and invited to celebrate Christmas. I would like to see books that reflect all of this.

  56. Tamara Hogan
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 14:02:46

    fangsforthefantasysaid:

    You are aware that Meljean actually had her protagonist praise the closet as a good thing and something to be envied right? How the hell is that a good representation.

    I know dozens of gay people who make the same choice for themselves – today – for their own individual reasons, which are not mine to question.

    Are you arguing that authors are under an obligation to ensure that minority characters exhibit only ‘good’ or postive character traits?

  57. Isobel Carr
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 14:14:24

    @Jane:

    Is it better to have an inconsistent or inaccurate or even weak representation of an “other” or none at all.

    Reminds me of the debate in historicals surrounding great stories that have historically inaccurate and impossible plots (as in LEGALLY impossible). Some readers and authors believe that story trumps, others feel that if you can’t make your vision of the story work within a historic framework, it’s a failure as a historical romance at a very basic and insurmountable level.

    @Alex:

    If I was a Caucasian author, I would be very hesitant to write about anyone of color just for the reasons above.

    Even as a half-NA woman I’m hesitant to take on OTHER minority characters. I have a black French character in my current series and I REALLY want to write his story. I seeded him in there on purpose because I got obsessed a while back with the history of free blacks in England and France during my period. Had a long talk with Beverley Jenkins about how much crap I might catch as a non-black person for writing his book, and we both believe the answer is “a lot”. Still planning on doing it though (hoping Jenkins will give me a cove quote I can duck behind, LOL!).

    And I never said “don’t try”, nor did I mean that. Sorry if that wasn’t clear. I meant be prepared to get called on the carpet and understand that you’ll never get it “right” for everyone.

  58. Isobel Carr
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 14:17:10

    cover quote. *sigh* edit function not showing up for me today.

  59. Alex
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 14:19:22

    @Fangsforthefantasy: Wow. Way to read what I said without comprehending my words. I did not say “Also, how can you possibly claim that the market has no room for this when publishing is a gatekeeping industry.” I said it isn’t a /booming market/. I said that readers aren’t purchasing books with women of color or men of color on the cover in GREAT quantities. I said they SHOULD, but they DON’T.

    And I’m hoping this was just trolling:
    “Oh dear, what’s a white writer to do. Look, writing a good book takes research. It really isn’t that hard because marginalized people have been writing about their experiences forever. Need to include a gay character – yeah a little trip to a few GLBT blogs would probably be informative.”

    >8( Do you honestly think “Oh, I’ll read a few blogs and capture the experience of being gay day in a few words.” >>8(

    You’re insulting and very tunnel-viewed with your “white writer” and “White women’s problems”. This isn’t about white writers out of their element. It’s about all writers. As an Indian. I wouldn’t presume to have the same experiences as a black woman or a latina woman. Two different worlds. But there are plenty of POC whose main characters are Caucasian. That is just as much of a problem.

    This discussion could go on and on and round and round, but in the end a writer should just write what they want. I can hope that would be a POC or a handicapable person or whatever wishes that fulfilled my needs. But I’m not about to bully authors into including whatever idea of a minority I want. I’ll simply purchase the authors who capture what I want in a book. My money speaks for me in an industry where publishers care about dollars not minorities.

  60. Annabel
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 14:20:33

    Alex brought up a really salient point about the financials too. Books take a huge investment of time and effort from authors, so most authors write toward the largest (mainstream) audience and many are afraid of taking the financial risk of writing a less-relatable character.

    I remember being on an author chat at one of my publishers and everyone was enthusing about writing fem domme books and the EIC piped up and said, “Knock yourself out, but fem domme doesn’t sell anywhere near as well as male dom.”

    What does an author do then? Still write fem domme? Or write male dom and sell four or five times more books?

    With digital publishing it’s more feasible to release books for more focused audiences, but from the author’s perspective, it’s the same amount of work (or more, with the research needed) for what is likely to be less reward.

  61. Sarah
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 14:21:39

    I remain surprised that I have this storm-the-castle approach as I usually think steady but small changes are more permanent. It’s a difficult balance to strike, and I fully know it, between “being defined by your difference” (which, as many have pointed out, is not really tenable or even pleasant) and “fully rendering the effects of said difference.”

    As a reader, and I’m sure some disagree with me here, I want a major trait such as those we’ve discussed to be reflected as such, and not treated like an accessory that’s easily disregarded at one moment but of traumatic importance the next. But I don’t expect characters to be defined entirely by that one trait, either. I define myself by a lot of things – white lady, Jewish lady, mom lady, grumpy uncaffeinated lady, for example – and they each supercede the other depending on the moment. I don’t think that a variation from the norm of perfection needs to be ascendant over all other parts of a character’s personality all the time, but I do want some realism.

    One thing I loved about Clare’s portrayal of a half-Navajo character in “Naked Edge,” as Jane mentioned, is that even though being half-Navajo and active in her community was a major part of the character’s personality, it wasn’t the only thing notable about her. She was also brave, and a brilliant journalist, and tenacious. But the Navajo elements are interwoven with those other things in such a way that it made the portrayal memorable for me.

    And no, her skin wasn’t the color of wine. (Wouldn’t that be a pretty serious medical condition, white, red or rose?)

  62. Jane
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 14:28:58

    @Alex i think that there is a real problem with women posing as men profiting from solely writing m/m fiction no matter how “well intentions, researched, and portrayed.”

    And if it is an author’s intention to write to please everyone, that author is doomed to a) write totally flaccid material and/or b) suffer because no author writes a book that is universally accepted. Maybe accepted by many, but there are always people who criticize. That is the nature of having a consumable product. Don’t want to be criticized, don’t publish.

  63. Ridley
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 14:32:12

    @Alex:

    handicapable person

    Worst. /barf

  64. Sassy
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 14:45:28

    I’m a three-time cancer survivor, I’m blind, and I wear prosthetics, have brain damage, and it’s just me. It’s just life. But to someone who isn’t me, it’s not just life. It’s different, unfamiliar and perhaps intriguing. How do I do my makeup for a date? How do I know what my date looks like? Do I feel self-conscious and afraid when my brain damage asserts itself in the middle of a speech and I can’t talk for several minutes coherently? Yep. It’s my life, but
    not yours, and that’s what books are about to me. Learning new things. Experiencing things outside of our small bubbles. Yes, I get a kick out of watching how most writers and Hollywood tackle disabilities. But occasionally I see it done well, and I see people learn for the better. I am an author and I found my critique partner when she read an article on Smartbitches about my disability and had the courage to ask me questions so she could better write her own blind heroine in her book. I think acting like it doesn’t exist except as a method of pathos-inducing glitz is ridiculous. But overdoing it isn’t realistic. There were things Laurel (My critique partner) didn’t know, so she went out, found someone who did know and asked. That’s the right way to do it, IMO.

    I agree with both Sarah and Jane. I’m glad someone is putting us in books, yes, but dammit, do it right! Ask questions! Don’t be afraid of difference. Just because it’s hard for me to speak sometimes or because I walk with a Guide Dog at my side doesn’t mean I’ll bite your head off if you are an author and you genuinely want to know how my disability affects my life. Does it rule everything about me? Good heavens no. But does it impact me in ways you might not think about unless you’ve been through it? All the time. So if you’re going to write a disabled or minority character, get some courage, go out, do your homework, and write it right.

    And PS: There are Latino and black angels and demons in my writing, and I hope I’m part of opening that urban fantasy door. And let’s not forget that there are a lot of Asian urban fantasy heros and heroines out there.

  65. Jennifer
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 14:51:52

    @Jane:

    I think there’s a fair bit of grey area between not wanting to be criticized and not writing out of fear of being criticized. Should I ever have a novel published, I expect there will be people who don’t like it and people who criticize a mistake (small or big), whether I made it or not. I can know it’s going to happen, write to the best of my ability, experience, and research, and then prepare myself for the tomatoes.

    I don’t have to want the tomatoes; I just have to prepare for them.

  66. Tina
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 14:58:18

    Recently I read Good Girls Don’t by Victoria Dahl where a secondary character, Simone, was a black woman who had a very intriguing subplot in the book.

    There was no huge, big thing about her being black, she just was. But there were some nicely placed signifiers that made the character feel real. She was a female detective in a male dominated field, she was pregnant and she was black. Her subplot was about who was the father of her baby because she refused to disclose. At one point she even points out to her partner the lonely road she has being black, female and how highly placed she was in the dept. and the speculation surrounding her pregnancy. It was delivered matter-of-factly as something she’s aware of everyday but something he’s ignorant because of his white male privilege. This little bit of characterization wasn’t huge, it wasn’t a big deal, but it was nicely nuanced.

    The bottom line was, this character had a great story hook (so much so that I wished to read more about her), there wasn’t some big deal made about her ‘black experience’. Her difference was acknowledged, but not just because it was there, but rather how it placed her in the context of her position and how the other detectives regarded her.

    The thing that I also think this author got right, was the thing with Simone wasn’t just about (or really even about) race. It was also about her gender. Race doesn’t exist all by itself. It is usually bundled with issues of gender, class and access to education and opportunities. So POC in any books should be as different as their character needs dictate based on the these qualifiers.

  67. Alex
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 15:04:16

    @Ridley: My husband works exclusively with handicapable people and this is the term they prefer, thank you very much. It took me a while to get used to it, but once you get told off a few times, you tend to stop /barfing! >8(

    @Jane: “i think that there is a real problem with women posing as men profiting from solely writing m/m fiction no matter how “well intentions, researched, and portrayed.”

    I know which articles you’re referring to, but that isn’t what I meant at all. The women posing as men is reprehensible but the article to which I believe you’re referring, the big stink at the time, was by an author who gender identifies as MALE. I don’t think of him as pretending to be a man.

    I also wasn’t referring to this particular case. There is a lot of uproar about women writers writing m/m books in general. I have gay friends on both sides of the issue, but the majority doesn’t care. They did two years ago when the majority swang the other way. I since introduced them to some good m/m books and their tune has changed (thank you Shadow Of the Templar series <3).

    What I'm saying (and what Isobel pointed to above) is that people get very prickly when whites write black characters or straights write gays or men write women even. You realize there's women who get ticked off at men writing female characters.

    It's easy to point the finger at authors and tell them it's a copout not to write POC or handicapable characters or gay character when you're not the one taking the flak.

  68. Maili
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 15:06:30

    @Michelle:

    Interesting you commenting on the Iron Duke, Fangsforthefantasy doesn’t share your opinion,it didn’t get a glowing review.

    I’m not sure what you were referring to. The post I linked in my last response is to Meljean’s own post. I haven’t written a review of The Iron Duke anywhere nor have I expressed an opinion about The Iron Duke in Meljean’s post.

    @Fangsforthefantasy:

    This is yet another example of inclusion not being a good thing. You are aware that Meljean actually had her praise the closet as a good thing and something to be envied right? How the hell is that a good representation.

    I believe it’s a mistake to assume that a marginalised person would understand and empathise with all marginalised groups.

    I don’t like it, anyway, when an author makes a person of a margnalised group so understanding, so compassionate, so empathic, so wise, to the point where there’s a shining freaking halo over the person’s head. That’s just bullshit.

    It’s unfair and unjust, in fact, to expect a character like Mina to be a “good representation”. Who is she supposed to represent, anyway? Asian? White? British? English? Women? The Horde? Police inspectors? Victorians?

    In real life, a mixed race person doesn’t represent me nor do I, as a mixed race person, represent that mixed race person. Why should we, anyway, when white people aren’t even held accountable for other white people’s actions and comments? We each have a personality, values, ethics, beliefs and experiences of our own. We all deserve to be seen that way. So do characters in fiction.

    Back to your comment: I accepted Mina’s thought as part of her characterisation. I have to admit that I actually laughed when I read that line, because I did have that thought when I was growing up. It’s wrong, but it happened. I felt I could hide my disability, but not my face, so I was envious towards people who could hide anything they wanted. Misguided, but that’s the world I knew.

  69. Jane
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 15:10:55

    @Alex: I’m sorry but an author can write about things not within her realm of personal experience like athletes or police or lawyers or medical professionals but writing about race scares them? I agree with the poster upthread that there are plenty of ways to learn about people of color, disabled people, particularly on the internet and deciding not to write those characters because you afraid of criticism makes me concerned about the level of research an author is willing to do for their books.

    I am always looking for authors who are writing thoughtful books, those who are thinking about why they have included a particular type of character, why they are including a certain character trait. And in paranormals, more than any other sub genre, I am asking why in the world everyone is white.

    If an author says she can’t write POC or disabled characters because she is afraid, I begin to wonder about her commitment to the research part of her craft and how it affects her thoughtfulness in every aspect of her writing.

  70. Ridley
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 15:39:57

    @Alex: Good for them. It’s still an atrocious term. All these cutesy 1990′s era “PC” terms just annoy the shit out of me. It’s like people didn’t have the guts to stick to the accepted terms and meet the bias with a “you say that like it’s a bad thing.”

    Not only that, but “handicapable” feels like it says, “I can still do things! I still have value because I’m not useless.” What if you can’t do much? Do you have less value if you’re less capable?

    Nope. Barf city. Hate it.

  71. Jane
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 15:42:50

    @Alex Because I have to go and won’t be able to respond to comments for some time let me backtrack a little and say that I certainly don’t want authors who are afraid of writing POC and disabled because they are too “other” for the author writing about POC and disabled. So I guess, huzzah for recognizing one’s limits?

  72. Alex
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 15:44:46

    @Jane: I can understand how you might feel that way and I can see where you’re coming from. I’m just going to have to agree to disagree with you.

    I do not equate writing about a career with writing about a POC or a person with a disability. It’s not the same thing. It’s not even close. A career has rules, regulations, a standard by which most authors can research.

    While it is true that there are people within a career frustrated with writers who write about it incorrectly, that kind of mistake is easy to overlook.

    There was a discussion not long ago about writers who wrote certain professions pissing off the readers. In reading the responses to that, the majority of readers were ticked off by author’s representations of their CAREERS who were treating it incorrectly. Imagine the amount of backlash over RACE.

    Simply put, race, disability, gender identity, sexual orientation are things that aren’t easily researched by reading a few blogs. And people get a damn sight more angry over the incorrect representation of those than a teacher writing about a lawyer.

    We had this exact discussion on the-slash-pile not long ago (maybe six months ago?) It was the same problem : homogenized white characters. And there was a big post about it on another m/m website.

    One thing I think would help here, on your site, is why not have a devoted reviewer for just this genre? For just POC books. The idea is to get more readers to buy the books, thereby encouraging publishers to seek the authors of the same type. I do know that there have been a few books recently with handicapable and non-white protags, but an active reviewer with nothing but this particular genre could be a bigger push towards sales.

    It’s just a thought.

  73. Alex
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 15:50:37

    @Ridley: If it’s all teh same to you, I’ll just go by what they prefer. Thanks.

    Just like I prefer Indian because Native AMerican makes me lift my lip and go >8Z er… blergh.

    Just like my friend Paula who was born Paul prefers she rather than he.

    And I’d like to add that most of the people who prefer to use “PC” terms isn’t because they identify as that. As it was explained to me by one of the tetrapalegics my husband works with:

    “It isn’t about me being capable as a handicap person. When someone like /you/ says handicapable, it makes you look at /me/ differently. I already know I’m capable, I’m just wanting /you/ to acknowledge it rather than my disability.”

  74. Michelle
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 15:51:07

    @Maili, sorry I wasn’t clear. I just was commenting on the fact that you praised the Iron Duke for being inclusive-a “good” example, while Fangsforthefantasy’s review used the book as a very “bad” example of being inclusive/gave it a big fail. Just as others have said you won’t be able to please everyone. Some people will praise exactly what others complain about.

  75. Alisha Rai
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 15:52:39

    What an interesting discussion. I’ve been thinking about this a lot today, but I’m also short on sleep, so bear with me.

    IMHO, there seem to be about three different issues at play here: Inclusion with inconsistency, inclusion with objective inaccuracy, and inclusion with subjective inaccuracy.

    To, me, inclusion with inconsistency is a craft issue. No, you shouldn’t have a character who is shy about her body suddenly becoming a nudist with no prior warning. Likewise, I agree with you Sarah, when you say, “I want a major trait such as those we’ve discussed to be reflected as such, and not treated like an accessory that’s easily disregarded at one moment but of traumatic importance the next.” Characters should be internally consistent, unless the author can give a reason for them not to be.

    Inclusion with objective inaccuracies is problematic for me, especially when it’s gross and an inaccuracy that could be easily cured, i.e. Indian people wearing sarongs instead saris. If the mistake is one that is overt or offensive, or it’s clear to me that the author has just slapped in a stereotype with little thought, then I’ll probably toss the book.

    I think what’s getting conflated with these two is inclusion with subjective inaccuracy.

    Sarah said, “Does the darkness of their skin affect them or permeate their existence in noticeable ways? No? Then what’s the point of giving a difference from the established Caucasian heteronorm if the difference makes no difference?”

    Hmm. See, I think this is where I have a problem. What you see as a mistake is what another person might see as quite appropriate. Let’s take race, because that’s what was brought up here: Readers bring different expectations to the table. For some people, maybe their race isn’t something that affects them every single day of their life. Their culture is American, not whatever their parents may be…they may like the fact that for a specific character, race is simply a physical descriptor and little else.

    Others may desire for it to be more of an issue based on their life experiences and expectations. I’ve written both; it depends mainly on the characters and the story what route I’ll take. I couldn’t possibly make them all the same. My reality as an Indian American is vastly different to my friend’s or even cousin’s reality as an Indian-American. How can I expect every character of color that I write to treat their heritage and ancestry the same when people don’t?

    So, tl;dr, if it’s a matter of the last issue, no, I don’t think authors should err on the side of homogeneity. I actually get pulled out of books nowadays because I find myself pondering how characters exist in all white cities or play on all white football teams without stumbling across some minorities. To me…that’s not representative of reality.

  76. Ridley
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 16:08:34

    @Alex: Well “they” are not in this thread. I am, and that term is gross to this cripple. Adjust to your audience.

    Every time you write it, I want to ram your shins with my chair and yell “Bad patronizing internet commenter, BAD!”

  77. Ann Aguirre
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 16:10:05

    I agree with everything Alisha said.

    If I read about a Caucasian heroine, can I say she’s “done wrong” because she lives in Seattle, works as a bank manager, and has no children? That’s not my reality, but it doesn’t mean it’s invalid. There’s a difference between inaccurate research, internal inconsistency and “wrong” characterization.

  78. cleo
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 16:20:12

    Honestly, as a reader what I’d most like is an inclusive Romancelandia that is contributed to by an inclusive authorship. I’d rather read about a Pakistani heroine written by a Pakistani author.

    Well said Faye. That’s what I’d like to see too.

  79. Alex
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 16:36:26

    @Ridley: As lovely as that sounds – I do enjoy a good ramming now and again – I’ll pass just this once. But thanks. I will, however, remember to address anything directly to you as cripple or handicapped, since you prefer it.

    In general speaking, I’ll continue to use what has been corrected in my vocabulary by more than one person.

    Btw, you’ll notice I don’t use a lot of PC terms. That’s just one particular one where too many people have corrected me. It’s a permanent fixture of my language now.

    @Jane – “I certainly don’t want authors who are afraid of writing POC and disabled because they are too “other” for the author writing about POC and disabled. So I guess, huzzah for recognizing one’s limits?”

    I dunno if it’s fair to say that was a correct characterization of what I said. But perhaps it read that way?

    What I am saying is that authors don’t feel as if they have a RIGHT to portray POC or those with disabilities (better Ridley?) and that the community at large would be offended by them attempting it. THAT is the fear.

    I’ll use me as an example because I’ve complained about depictions of Indians in books. I will not, have not and will never read another effing book about Indians. Why? Because I’m sick of this weird spiritual plane that we’re all supposed to have visited. I’m sick of the whole reference to Running Bear and Shits in Woods or Big Penis Brave. Even authors who did a lot of research still don’t actually depict my ancestors in the way that I’ve come to know them. They either idealize their roles in history, or they create some weird spiritwalker. And why are we all wolves and cats? Where are the bears? WHat kind of authors haven’t effing seen how bears were part of Indian society? And hawks and deer and buffalo? All these shapeshifter Indians can only be wolves and cougars, wolves and mountain lions. >>>>8( It. Pisses. Me. Off.

    And it’s not like I don’t think the authors TRY. I just think that I have a very different view of what it’s like to be Indian. REALLY Indian. Especially HALF Indian- which is really the norm nowadays.

    For example: My mother is white. My grandmother on that side is German and I dunno what Scottish or something. One night I’m lying in her bed and she’s on the phone talking about a “dirty redskin”. I’m TWO FEET FROM HER. That’s my dad she was talking about. But she didn’t even THINK about that. And I don’t expect an author to know how it felt in that moment to have my own blood spout of a racist comment without even considering that I”M AN EFFING REDSKIN TOO. /I/ can’t even put into words what I felt. A series of emotions that, 30 years later, still rise up in my stomach.

    How can I expect any writer to understand a moment like that when they’re not a POC?

  80. John
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 16:38:45

    I think this argument is almost impossible to fully comprehend and resolve. So much of it is just a particular person’s perceptions on what seems to be politically correct, and to me that’s something that is completely beyond the realm of fixing or understanding.

    I tend to agree with Jane (and chances are these views are stated by other comment makers, too, but I want to at least state my reasoning here.)

    Inclusion, to me, is most important.

    Characterization is important.

    However, damn me if I ever make the assumption that someone has to live/experience life a particular way.

    The comments here alone are proof enough of that. People blatantly contradict each other on key opinions. Why, just above, Courtney discussed how being gay could effect one’s views on public displays of affection. I love Courtney to death, and for some that is a big deal, but if every author had to include that to make a “correct” gay character I’d smack them.

    I myself am gay and have no qualms with PDA. Over-PDA is another matter, but kissing a guy in public is nothing to me. I don’t ever fear for my life. I don’t live that way. I’m not that type of *person*. It’s my personality that changes that mindset, not the sexuality. I can’t speak for those of a different race, but if someone told me everyone of a certain race had to experience extreme racism/immersion with their culture/stereotypical “correct” personalities and actions…I’d think they were ridiculous.

    They key is that being gay changes who I am. Being Asian changes who Jane is. Those things are small, though. They effect my relationships and my views and my personality, but that doesn’t mean that they are a conflict or a centerpiece of my life. If anything, I think it’s a favor for authors to practice the art of a subtle minority character. Someone who is a person first, and the characterization is just so well done that it makes sense.

    Of course, that’s not going to happen. I think the biggest problem is that we all have a particular judgement or idea of what makes “sense” for a character, and we say that if a character acts out of our frame of mind it’s stupid or stereotypical or ridiculous. I’m not saying we are mistake free in how we characterize minorities, but I am saying that we are only making the issue worse by attempting to say that a character should think/feel a certain way because of something major in their life.

    I personally look out for the writing and the characterization. I think that tells me more than any preconceived ideas I have in relation to a racial/religious/sexual preconception.

    That got off topic. Apologies. At the end of the day, I support smart inclusion. Inclusion with good writing. I think that goes over more than “correct” inclusion, because “correct” inclusion doesn’t exist. Also, I think that all of the negativity we attach to the inclusion of minorities just makes it harder to write about them. When you take the risk of writing about something you don’t know with critics who are ready to find fault with it, you will not be inclined to go through with that risk.

  81. Ridley
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 17:21:13

    @John:

    Also, I think that all of the negativity we attach to the inclusion of minorities just makes it harder to write about them.

    Anything you write that isn’t autobiographical is an educated guess, at best. You will get things wrong and people will point those things out. Like Ros said, you just need to try and fail, then fail better next time.

    So long as you’re trying to write people who are different, rather than using symbolic archetypes as props in a story not actually about them, you’re writing in good faith. If you write a disabled heroine because you want to write something with a different perspective, you’re good. If you’re deciding to write a disabled heroine because you want to write a story about “love transcending boundaries,” or some other grand theme, then it’s bad author, no cookie.

    No one’s experience is universal within a group, as the Indian/Native American and handicapable/cripple posts illustrate, so there’s no right or wrong way to be. Sometimes otherness manifests in noticeable ways, and sometimes it doesn’t. As someone who’s gone from privileged to other, I can tell you that my life is not super different than it once was, beyond the mechanical obstacles. If you wrote a character like me – muscles too spastic and weak to walk, hands that can’t hold a pen or cut food, a lopsided smile and slurred speech, need help getting dressed – and then basically forgot all about the ramifications of these limitations beyond not going anywhere with stairs, that’s pretty much my life. What seems Earth-shattering to the able bodied – and I was a varsity athlete – kind of just isn’t. It’s sort of privileged, actually, to assume a minority person’s experience or outlook is necessarily deviant from the “norm.”

  82. Jill Sorenson
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 17:23:23

    @John: Well said. I like the idea of subtle characterizations and “smart inclusion.”

    I think Victoria Dahl did a nice job with the Simone character in Good Girls Don’t. Agree w/ Maili about Mina. I thought Brook handled the race issues well also.

    Wish I had more time to comment!

  83. Las
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 17:54:24

    @John: Also, I think that all of the negativity we attach to the inclusion of minorities just makes it harder to write about them.

    I find the idea that authors don’t write about minorities because of reader negativity absurd. I think that most writers who use that excuse either:

    a)don’t want to write about minorities anyway,

    b)want to include minorities for “flavor” without having to research or be in the least bit thoughtful,

    or c) are the same exact type of author who goes around making an ass of herself by calling bloggers “mean girls” for writing negative reviews of her books.

    For those who sincerely fear offending anyone–look, most people are reasonable and can tell when someone means well. Also, being told that you wrote something that’s offensive doesn’t mean that you’re being accused of being a racist/ableist/sexist/etc. You can’t please everyone. As this thread (among others right her on DA) demonstrates, no group is a monolith. Take the criticism of your work as more information to expand your knowledge of worlds you’re not a part of. And for the love of the Romance gods, don’t argue with people criticizing you, especially when these people are commenting on things that you have no personal experience of. Because THAT’S —ist.

  84. John
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 17:58:25

    @Ridley: Well said. I often feel that way. My mindset is subtly different from that of a straight person, but the assumption that everything becomes heightened and life shattering is ridiculous. Sure, sex is different and love is different – but it also isn’t. Writers have to know more than anything that they need to get the facts right, but anything beyond the facts – namely mindset and personality – doesn’t have a particular sweet spot or type that makes sense. Beyond the physical differences and the subtle differences, we are all people and who react and act based mainly on who we are, not what we are defined by.

    I know myself that the writing is in good will – and I’m glad that you are very open about agreeing with this. I know from reading your Goodreads reviews that you are a harsh critic of the writer who writes from the idea of privilege we’re discussing. The problem is that writers who may not take that viewpoint still get scared. Discussions like this help and harm – because while there are many of us who support a well-intended inclusion, the reality of it is that the bad apples and the resulting discussions tend to be scary.

    Still, I’m really glad that people are coming out of the woodwork to write more characters like this. The more we explore non-homogenous characters, the more we can learn and get a better diversity in the writing and reading communities.

  85. Alex
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 18:01:22

    @Ridley: My last response seems to have poofed. I’ll just answer this and say that as much as I love a good ramming, I’ll pass on the offer.

    And as there are more than just you reading this thread, I’ll stick with a term that other people have requested I use – a majority of other people. I will, however, use whichever term you prefer whenever addressing you directly.

    @Jane: I don’t think it was a fair characterization of what I was saying (the authors being afraid of ‘the other’). What I was saying was authors are afraid of /backlash/. There’s a significant difference in that, I think. No matter how well you try to depict a person of color or someone with a disability, there will always be a group of people who will throw tomatoes at your door and say you have no right to write about their culture. And I don’t mean a minority of tomato throwers, either.

  86. Alex
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 18:15:10

    There is a lot of this same discussion when discussing gay novels. One of the groups I belong to has this particular discussion more than once. It’s esp rampant in m/m romance. The discussions have been about how physical appearance, jobs and race/disability is severely lacking in gay literature:

    http://the-slash-pile.livejournal.com/360464.html – discussion about appearance (thin, fat, normal etc)

    http://the-slash-pile.livejournal.com/340208.html – discussion about non-generic jobs.

    http://the-slash-pile.livejournal.com/260778.html – Discussion diversity.

    Another discussion about m/m diversity: http://www.reviewsbyjessewave.com/2011/04/08/diversity-in-mm-romances-will-we-ever-get-there/

    There is obviously a serious lack in all communities of romance. Maybe we should discuss how to correct that? To me I just say /buy more diverse books/. That’s the easiest way to do it. Until readers start demanding it with their wallets to back them up, I think this discussion will just keep popping up.

  87. willaful
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 18:16:31

    @Selene: Selene, I was just thinking about all the HPs I’ve read in which a heroine has a scar or a slight limp and either every man she’s ever met (pre-hero) has reacted with horror and disgust, or else she thinks they will. The brouhaha they make over a minor imperfection, in a world filled with ordinary imperfect people, makes me crazy. So I agree that there’s something to be said for the casual approach.

  88. Sylvia Sybil
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 19:24:07

    Fangsforthefantasy et al,

    Re: Mina in The Iron Duke: she didn’t praise the creation of the closet, she praised the ability to use the closet. Big difference. The closet is a byproduct of a bigoted system that oppresses, injures, and (both in the story and in real life) kills. However, the closet is often necessary to survive that system. Are you really condemning Scarsdale for hiding his sexuality when he knows it could get him killed? Or Mina for wishing she could similarly hide the traits that routinely get her attacked in the streets? Are they as minorities required to be martyrs for the cause?

    As a queer, let me just say upfront that anyone, straight or queer, who tries to tell me that my use of the closet or my ability to use the closet are bad things or make me a bad person? That person will receive a verbal beatdown courtesy of yours truly. Because sometimes passing is a matter of safety and even survival, and I am the only person who gets to decide what risks I should take.

  89. Kaetrin
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 22:30:18

    Can someone tell me the name of the Karina Bliss novel referred to in the article? I’d like to read that one.

    As to the main issue, I think Jane and Sarah both have valid points. At the risk of sounding entirely too wishy washy, I think that just having the discussion is useful, even if there are no clear answers at the end of it. So, thank you, from me :)

  90. Jane
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 22:34:04

    @Kaetrin It’s Here Comes the Groom. Lovely friends to lovers story.

  91. Kaetrin
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 22:36:06

    Thx Jane. I will now see if it is already on my TBR or whether I need to go shopping! :)

  92. Lynn S.
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 22:49:37

    Having sawed into my finger while preparing a salad last night, I can attest that skin is painfully thin but on the complexion side of things, I don’t see how the coffeehouse vocabulary is any more or less offensive than the dairy aisle descriptors given to white characters, or the spice rack terminology meant to convey exoticism. Why no half-caf, greek yogurt, or roasted cumin love?

    And then there is Maharaja’s Mistress, the book with a John from Johnstonia hero, theme park heroine, throw-away gay character, and bizarrely bad sentence structure. I’m more with Sarah on this, but also think that anyone who takes this book seriously should have their elementary school diploma revoked.

    @dick: I guess the pith of the “it’s fiction” argument didn’t translate this time.

    A better question might be why isn’t there more inclusiveness on the authorial side of the equation thereby making the other question moot. I do know that putting white female authors in the position of mother to all isn’t a viable solution.

  93. Evangeline
    Nov 02, 2011 @ 05:59:44

    Speak of the devil. A part of Mindy Kaling’s interview with EW touches on this subject:

    I like that you incorporate your Indian heritage in your book, but it’s different from an ethnic coming of age kind of story. It both is and isn’t a central part of the book.
    There’s something really interesting that someone once said. I wish I knew who it was, but when you are an ethnic minority and doing something creative, there’s this tendency to either … you want to tell these stories that are really just Indian-centric, and I love Mira Nair’s movies, and Jhumpa Lahiri’s books and short stories are so great, I love them. I’m not even saying I have the ability to write like that, but … I wish I knew who coined this phrase, something like, “I neither rely on or deny being Indian.” That’s just sort of the way I go about it. If it comes into places because it’s funny, I’ll bring it up, but if it’s not, then I don’t. It’s weird because I think sometimes people do want you to tell this kind of Bend It Like Beckham story about how my parents never wanted me to be a writer, and you’re like, “No, they were fine.” They were more into success. They wanted to be able to brag about me, so whatever it was, I think that sometimes that doesn’t fulfill the expectations that some people have, knowing that I’m Indian.

  94. Maili
    Nov 02, 2011 @ 08:07:01

    @Michelle:

    @Maili, sorry I wasn’t clear. I just was commenting on the fact that you praised the Iron Duke for being inclusive-a “good” example, while Fangsforthefantasy’s review used the book as a very “bad” example of being inclusive/gave it a big fail. Just as others have said you won’t be able to please everyone. Some people will praise exactly what others complain about.

    Thank you for clarifying. Now it’s my turn to clarify: I was praising the Iron Seas series because almost every steampunk romance I read this year feature nothing but white, able-bodied and heterosexual characters.

    Since 1994, I tried to get historical romance authors to feature non-white characters, e.g. no “half-breeds” and certainly no mixed race characters (which I see as a lazy cop-out*), but time again and again, they mentioned readers’ resistance, historical accuracy, editors’ refusal, and more.

    “I could do it if it wasn’t for those,” most said. It didn’t matter that I offered valid sources that non white people existed in authors’ chosen period settings and locations. British non-white people on every level of the British society from the Tudors to the Edwardian era did exist, people. “Readers will slap the “Historical Inaccuracy” label on my book if I dared,” they insisted. And I believed them. Why shouldn’t I?

    I thought the rising popularity of gaslight fantasy romance, alternative reality romance and steampunk romance would give them the opportunity they claimed they wanted.

    Some of them did go on to write historical paranormal romances, alternate historical romances and steampunk romances, but they still made *all* their characters white, heterosexual and able-bodied, anyway. What excuse do they have now? I haven’t bothered asking again.

    I really don’t have the time for all “you can’t please everyone” crap. Every romance novel has its supporters and detractors. I honestly can’t think of *any* novel that’s universally and 100% loved or hated.

    There will always be someone who loves author’s portrayal of a marginalised character and someone who hates it. So what for the latter? The point is, they read the story. POC characters shouldn’t be held responsible, anyway.

    I’m tired of people blaming poor sales on POC characters when I don’t see anyone blaming poor sales on white characters. With white characters, poor sales may be because the hero is an ass or the heroine is TSTL, or the writing isn’t up to standards, or the plot doesn’t work. I don’t see similar comments about stories featuring POC characters. It’s always “It may be because she’s black” or “readers found Asian hero too passive”. That’s just bullshit, and unfair. It’s even more unfair when authors, editors or pubs use it as a barometer to determine whether it’s worth investing in more racially diverse romances.

    Basically, I really don’t have the time for authors who fret about being liked or seen in any way they fear when it’s good stories with memorable characters that they should thrive to write, and keep trying. If a story doesn’t need a POC, don’t include one. If it does, then include it without any fears. Every story deserves that respect.

    However, authors should think about expanding the limits of their imagination if none of their stories features a POC or anyone from a marginalised group. I *know* not all editors are barriers. They want good stories that can sell well. Naive or not, I believe that.

    As for the Iron Seas series, I don’t fully agree with Meljean’s portrayal of Mina and similar characters, but that doesn’t mean I feel she shouldn’t write any more. She should. Absolutely. Nor does it mean her portrayal is wrong. It isn’t. No different from Linda Howard’s portrayal of socialite Jane in Midnight Rainbow, Malinda Lo’s heroine Ash from Ash and all other authors’ portrayals of heroines.

    *note on mixed race characters as a lazy cop-out.

    As a mixed race person, I have mixed feelings (no pun intended) about mixed race characters. On one hand, I love it when there is one, but on the other hand, I feel distressed that it’s nowadays a code for “S/he’s half-white, so it’s okay!” and a short-cut for “an exotic-looking white person”.

    When we look at paranormal romances and contemporary romances, there are more mixed race characters than non white characters. I find that uncomfortable, especially those by authors who claim they support diversity.

    I feel portraying a mixed race character realistically and well is a lot harder than one could try with a white or non-white character, but the majority of authors seem to treat it as the easiest solution, and portray it accordingly. That’s not the world I know. And from what I see, it’s not the world other mixed race people know either.

    Basically, I feel mixed race characters shouldn’t be seen as a compromise or another vote for “See, diversity!”, but authors (and readers) seem to view them that way. Sometimes they will use that “S/he’s mixed race!” card when they’re questioned or confronted about the details of their mixed race characters, especially in cases of whitewashed covers or films (Holly Black, Suzanne Collins, et al). I find that frustrating because I don’t know any mixed race person who isn’t keenly aware of their racial heritage. How could they not when they’re asked “What are you?” almost every day? :P

  95. Junne
    Nov 02, 2011 @ 08:45:03

    As a reader who won’t read a book with anything other than a white heroine ( I don’t mind the hero’s race though, even though I’m not a fan of Asian heroes), maybe the authors and/or publishers have a point when they say these books sell poorly.

    Of course, this is just me, and I may be the exception.
    And that’s why I like the fact that with Harlequin for example, you pretty much know that outside of some specific lines ( Kimani for ex), you’re getting your standard white heroine.

    As for the whole “able-bodied” aspect, I don’t care if the H or h misses a limb or has brain issues as long as the romance works.

  96. Tamara
    Nov 02, 2011 @ 09:02:13

    @Maili
    There are quite a number of historical and steampunk romances featuring non-heterosexual characters; more this year than ever before, I think. If you’re having any difficulty finding them, I’d be happy to direct you to them.

  97. Monica
    Nov 02, 2011 @ 09:27:48

    @Junne You crack me up when you say you won’t read anything other than a white heroine, but then state ‘brain issues’ or a limbless heroine is okay as long as the romance works.

    “She’s stupid and has no arms or legs, but by golly, at least she’s white!”

    Now, that’s funny. Kudos for honesty.

  98. Las
    Nov 02, 2011 @ 09:33:24

    I actually don’t doubt the claim that minority h/h don’t sell. The online romance community has all kinds of great discussion on all sorts of topics, but that doesn’t seem to translate to real-life preferences. For all the justified mocking of HPs, for example, that crap still sells. And Romance really is white authors writing for a white audience, and that audience’s preference is what’s going determine what gets written and published. And while plenty of white women online claim that they want more diversity, I’d say most readers don’t. At least, not any kind of diversity that’s unfamiliar to them and might make them have to think about certain issues a little deeper. Which is why mixed race characters are more common…they’re white enough to be familiar, but still “exotic” (I fucking hate that word) enough to fool people into feeling they’re reading something different.

    Human beings just kind of suck that way.

  99. Jane
    Nov 02, 2011 @ 09:39:29

    @Las: I read a lot of HPs and I think that there is more diversity and chance taking in that line than in other lines or smaller epresses. This Bad Blood series, for example, featured a bollywood actress and spoke to the rituals of marriage, importance of family, etc. and there was another that featured a heroine with a prosthetic. So out of 8 books, 2 featured “other” heroines. That’s a pretty good stat for me.

    In the Kelly Hunter Bennett family stories, most take place in Asia. One features an Asian heroine. Another features an older wealthy woman.

    Anne MacAllister had a half Asian heroine in one of her books as well. (I do tend to seek these out and read them).

    Maisey Yates wrote a book featuring a black hero and a white heroine. The cover was gorgeous but I hear she did get quite a few people complaining about it. I haven’t read it because, sadly, Yates has never worked for me as an author.

    Harlequin has published Jeannie Lin and another author in Spice line re: Japanese characters (although I can’t remember her name and I didn’t love it. Thought it was pretty boring). And Jade Lee, although Lee didn’t sell very well for Harlequin.

  100. Monica
    Nov 02, 2011 @ 09:45:11

    @Las

    I agree. I’ve finally come to the same conclusion (it took years). There is a divide, and it’s the culture, not so much individuals, and it’s not going away.

    There is a demand for AA heroines by some AA women. If that’s what an author wants to write, we should write for our readership–and in this society, it is a different readership.

    If we want to truly be accepted by the other readership, we should downplay our race and write majority, or
    comfy ‘exotic’ mixed race characters. Some AA authors have done this well.

    My theory is Asian and East Indian characters would take a hit in romance sales, but be more accepted than AA characters. There seems to be an effort to get Asian character crossover to majority romance, which I think is a good thing. I personally like reading romance with different flavors. Some folks will only eat mashed potatoes and meat loaf, some people will try other cuisines.

  101. Jane
    Nov 02, 2011 @ 09:47:51

    @Alisha Rai: I think yours was the first book that described the heroine’s nipples as brown instead of pink. That small detail was meaningful for me.

  102. Teddypig
    Nov 02, 2011 @ 09:50:47

    @Ridley: I love you. I so love you.

  103. Las
    Nov 02, 2011 @ 10:09:42

    @Jane: I actually wasn’t talking about diversity when I mentioned HP’s. I wanted to make the point that many of these online discussions, as great as they are, don’t really seem to result in any changes…HP’s are widely mocked all over the blogoshere for their titles, plots and characterizations, but their seemingly obvious inferiority doesn’t affect their sales (I still read the occasional HP myself).

    But thanks for letting me know about those HP’s–they sound interesting.

    @Monica: I really think that the only way for a romance featuring an AA heroine to sell really well is if it’s written by a white, big-name author, the type who can write a refrigerator-repair manual and it will be an instant best-seller just because of the name. The readers will love it, and that will create a need for more, opening the door for POC authors and characters.

  104. Sunita
    Nov 02, 2011 @ 10:11:43

    @Monica: *faints away in happiness.*

    I was thinking as I read this thread, “I really miss Monica Jackson at times like this.” Other times too, FWIW.

    Nice to see you!

    Otherwise, what Maili said. And Ridley.

    Sarah and I jointly reviewed MJ Aedin’s Paper Planes, which features a protagonist with a prosthetic leg. I thought she did a terrific job of integrating the issues that could come up without hitting any of the buttons Ridley has pointed out in comments here and elsewhere.

  105. Sunita
    Nov 02, 2011 @ 10:15:35

    @Alisha Rai: For what it’s worth, I thought the way you incorporated the characters’ South Asian heritage in the two books I read last year was really well done. They were clearly South Asian, but it was who they were, not everything they were about.

  106. Sirius
    Nov 02, 2011 @ 10:16:58

    @Sunita: I thought M.Jules Aedin did a terrific job with the protagonist with prosthetic leg too in that book and that she just did a terrific job with that book, period. I refuse to believe that this book would have sold better (not that I know any sales numbers mind you) if it had all white twenty five year olds protagonists without any issues. She told a great story imo.

  107. Karenna Colcroft
    Nov 02, 2011 @ 10:24:32

    I agree that there should be more diversity in romance stories, because diversity exists in real life. For me as an author, it isn’t always easy to include, though. If I have an African-American character, or Latino/Latina, or any other race than Caucasian (which is what I am), I first of all may not be able to represent them accurately, because I don’t have experience of being any race other than Caucasian, and secondly, I struggle with how to identify them as another race. I don’t mention that my Caucasian characters have white skin, so I feel weird mentioning that my Latino pack alpha has brown skin. (Maybe I need to start saying that the Caucasians have white skin…) I try to have racially diverse characters in my books, and I write M/M as well as heterosexual romance, but I’m never quite sure if I’m doing it “right.”

  108. Monica
    Nov 02, 2011 @ 10:31:28

    @Las You said, “I really think that the only way for a romance featuring an AA heroine to sell really well is if it’s written by a white, big-name author…”

    I say, meh. Meh, I said.

    As for folks angsting over how to write characters of other races accurately, you generally can’t go wrong if you write humans. No other race has people who all do any certain sort of race thing. People are different, wildly different.

    My pet peeve is authors who write characters of a different race, and don’t appreciate their privilege in not being marginalized. I think they should express their appreciation and gratitude ad nauseum.

  109. Julia Broadbooks
    Nov 02, 2011 @ 10:32:04

    @Ridley: ” It’s sort of privileged, actually, to assume a minority person’s experience or outlook is necessarily deviant from the “norm.””

    That’s what I was trying to express so clumsily. I am very glad to see the end to the universal Gay Friend of the rom heroine who never seemed like anything more than a plot device, never a real character himself. It was a character that often felt flat, one dimensional and in the end unsatisfying.

    To take a perhaps less inflammatory example, I have several friends who are breast cancer survivors and have had a mastectomy. Most had reconstruction right after. A couple didn’t. The couple who didn’t couldn’t be more opposite in their feelings about it. One couldn’t discuss it without tears and did her best not to talk about it. The other simply chose not to have another surgery and doesn’t really care much at all. The interesting part of the story isn’t that they each lost a breast, but how they as individuals deal with their circumstances.

    I’ll confess that I was a bit surprised at the universal feeling that the genre is still so devoid of diversity. I don’t disagree with you at all. The UF series I’ve been reading right now all have ethnic characters (Mercy Thompson, Kate Daniels, and Wilks’ Magi books). I’ve also bought two HPs this year, a series I had considered quite conservative, with interracial relationships. I think I don’t read as widely as I thought.

  110. Suleikha Snyder
    Nov 02, 2011 @ 10:49:11

    I first of all may not be able to represent them accurately, because I don’t have experience of being any race other than Caucasian, and secondly, I struggle with how to identify them as another race.

    By the same token… does that mean authors of a different race or religion can’t write Caucasian Christian characters because they lack that experience? That readers of a different race or religion can’t connect to Caucasian Christian characters?

    I certainly think we’re supposed to. No publisher ever worries that South Asian Suleikha won’t relate to a white Duke and Duchess… they just want my money! And I don’t really understand why it’s taken for granted that everyone in the literary world can be the audience for an overarching white narrative while the reverse is somehow insurmountable.

    At the end of the day, the goal should be to just write about, and read about, rootworthy people.

    Personally, in my work, I don’t spend a lot of time waxing poetic about anybody’s skin color. If their racial or ethnic identity is important, it’s mentioned in other ways.

    Think about it: Do we walk around looking at people and classifying them by skin tone? “Oh, I just checked out that hottie… his skin was like the mocha latte I just picked up from Starbucks.” At best, you might think, “Oh, it’s a hot brown guy. Wonder where he’s from?” And if you were to engage said hot brown guy in conversation, would you go, “Hey, I just noticed you looked like a mocha latte. Where were your beans blended?” No! You’d find a way to discern where he’s from, through context or dialogue. And that’s the same approach a writer should aim for.

  111. willaful
    Nov 02, 2011 @ 10:53:00

    “I wanted to make the point that many of these online discussions, as great as they are, don’t really seem to result in any changes…HP’s are widely mocked all over the blogoshere for their titles, plots and characterizations, but their seemingly obvious inferiority doesn’t affect their sales (I still read the occasional HP myself). ”

    I’m not sure we can really expect discussions like this to affect publishers — but on the other hand, HPs have changed somewhat in recent years. If nothing else, all the commentary on the stupidity of the titles finally sunk in.

  112. Maili
    Nov 02, 2011 @ 10:57:09

    @Las:

    Romance really is white authors writing for a white audience, and that audience’s preference is what’s going determine what gets written and published.

    a) What do you say to authors like Nalini Singh, Sherry Thomas, et al?

    b) where does it say that the majority of audience is white? RWA doesn’t even say. Whenever there are photos of a romance convention, I see readers of all races. I have no doubt that white readers were the majority twenty years ago, but I don’t think we can cling to that belief nowadays.

    c) when you say “audience’s preference”, which exactly are you talking about? Actual preference or choice? I read more romance novels featuring white characters than the rest because most times they were the only things available on shelves. I certainly was guilty of accepting white as the default. I was so used to it that I didn’t even notice that only non-white characters’ skin colours and “exotic facial features” were described. Even then, I clung to white characters because it was what I was used to. It’s a shame that it took my eldest son’s birth to shove me over that silly barrier. I don’t want him to grow up in a world where people still discriminate people by their appearance and treat them as “the others”, too.

    I’m well aware of an ongoing resistance from some quarters and I’m aware of other factors such as sales, but I believe the resistance is mostly done out of habit. So: More exposure -> familiarity -> acceptance. Hence, a constant need to keep calling for diversity in fiction. Romance has always been two steps behind the rest. It’s always whined how things were changing (digital, erotic romance, hero/ine types, tropes, styles, etc), but it accepts in the end, anyway.

  113. Maili
    Nov 02, 2011 @ 11:06:13

    @Suleikha Snyder:

    Think about it: Do we walk around looking at people and classifying them by skin tone? “Oh, I just checked out that hottie… his skin was like the mocha latte I just picked up from Starbucks.” At best, you might think, “Oh, it’s a hot brown guy. Wonder where he’s from?” And if you were to engage said hot brown guy in conversation, would you go, “Hey, I just noticed you looked like a mocha latte. Where were your beans blended?”

    I just spent the past minute clearing up my desk after – excuse the graphicness – spewing my drink. Thanks for giving me the biggest laugh of the day.

  114. Sirius
    Nov 02, 2011 @ 11:06:52

    @Maili: Completely agree about more exposure equals familiarity and acceptance. Again, I do not have any figures, sales or otherwise, but we talked and talked about lack of older, diverse characters in mm romance as well. While there is still a plenty, probably a majority still of the stories where the characters are hunky white 25 years old (and nothing wrong with it of course, if they are interesting characters), as one reader I definitely see more stories overall with the characters who are OMG in their forties, sometimes even fifties. Heck, I remember when characters in their midthirties were a rarity (eye roll). I also see more stories with the characters with disabilities, and with the characters who are not white. Of course not all of them were to my liking (how they are portrayed), but here I am just addressing the point that maybe writers did listen.

    Of course mm readership is much smaller overall, so maybe writers think that online discussions reflect larger percentage of readership, I have no idea.

    I want more characters who represent the world around me, personally, so I am actively looking for those stories.

  115. Suleikha Snyder
    Nov 02, 2011 @ 11:10:09

    @Maili: You’re very welcome! What can I say? Coffee, or any other beverage, is better used in a spit-take spew than as a descriptor. ;)

  116. Alisha Rai
    Nov 02, 2011 @ 12:07:54

    @Jane: Well, shoot, brown nipples need love too. Seriously, I’m humbled. You aren’t the only one to comment on that, and I’m quite thrilled such a small detail was noticed and appreciated.

    @Sunita: I’m so very happy to hear you say this. Thank you!

  117. Isabel C.
    Nov 02, 2011 @ 12:31:24

    Useful discussion–I’m going to have to keep many of these points in mind for the future!

    @Suleikha: ““Hey, I just noticed you looked like a mocha latte. Where were your beans blended?””

    Bwah! That or “Would you *like* your beans blended?” though that works better with the genders reversed. For values of “better” which may include porn-y sax music in the background.

  118. Suleikha Snyder
    Nov 02, 2011 @ 12:38:57

    And let’s not forget the coy follow-up: “Whip or no whip?”

  119. Ros
    Nov 02, 2011 @ 12:40:12

    @Jane: This right here strikes me as being the answer to the question of why the romance genre needs to be inclusive.

  120. Las
    Nov 02, 2011 @ 12:42:22

    @Maili:
    a) What do you say to authors like Nalini Singh, Sherry Thomas, et al?

    Well first, that they’re outliers. And second, Sherry Thomas’ name is Sherry Thomas, and she writes white characters; Nalini Singh does a great job in the diversity department, but I wonder if that would go over so well in terms of sales if she wrote contemporaries instead of paranormals. I’m not that optimistic. Could be that they’re both big enough names now that they could write whoever and whatever and still sell.

    b) where does it say that the majority of audience is white? RWA doesn’t even say.

    Eh, I don’t have the numbers, but I would be shocked if that weren’t the case. Romance is the biggest selling genre in fiction, no? And most of the authors are white. Who else is going to be the majority in North America? I would think that if it were POCs they’d be better represented among authors. And I find it…interesting, that RWA doesn’t mention racial/ethnic demographics at all.

    c) when you say “audience’s preference”, which exactly are you talking about? Actual preference or choice?

    I was thinking preference, but you’re right that that’s influenced by what’s available. I just can’t see most authors or publishers being willing to make the initial investment.

  121. Las
    Nov 02, 2011 @ 12:47:11

    @Monica:
    I say, meh. Meh, I said.

    Yeah, I’m with you on that. and everything else you posted.

  122. P. Kirby
    Nov 02, 2011 @ 13:25:36

    The heroine in my upcoming novel is multicultural (Asian/Indian/English). Her race, however, isn’t an issue in the plot. Instead, the discovery that she has an inconvenient magical power and wants nothing more than to be normal, drives the story.

    I didn’t, however, make her non-Anglo Saxon in some bid to be politically correct. I grew up in the desert southwest, a border town, in a cultural milieu which was often anything by “white.” I’m myself Hispanic (*Mexican). So it just feels natural to write Hispanic, Asian, etc. characters. My world is filled with Lopezes, Martinezes, Yazzies and Begays, so I populate my fictional worlds similarly. But,thus far, I haven’t used race as a primary plot point. It’s not that I think racism and cultural clashes don’t exist. It’s just that a multicultural world is such a norm (for me) that I don’t think that much about it.

    *I know that to some Mexican is “white,” but trust me, to a certain segment of the “white” population, we are anything but white.

  123. Lynne Connolly
    Nov 02, 2011 @ 14:41:18

    Have to say that some of my best sellers have heroes and/or heroines of either mixed race or a non-Caucasian race.
    “Cats’ Eyes,” for instance, features two Brazilian strippers (male), and while one is aristocratic Spanish, the other is native South American. The heroine, btw, is Norwegian.
    Is it because I do the research, or just because people like books about male strippers? (I had two wonderful beta readers for this one, who were fantastically patient with me).
    It’s a paranormal, so maybe that’s it? And I do like writing paranormal, because I can address questions about “difference” and bigotry without being offensive or without having to be really, really careful about pc-ness. Because vampires don’t exist. Neither do dragon shape-shifters. But if they did, people would resent and suspect them, wouldn’t they?
    I’ve had letters asking me to write stories about non-Caucasian characters featured in my books, Dunno, and as they say, your mileage may vary.

  124. Kym
    Nov 02, 2011 @ 17:11:37

    @dick:

    You have GOT to be joking, right? I’ll take your comment as such.

  125. Kym
    Nov 02, 2011 @ 17:31:03

    Conversations like this are on one hand hopeful, but on the other make me seriously face-palm. This is the 21st century and yet some of our notions about race haven’t quite caught up to the changing demographics of the world. Seriously, I just don’t see why crafting a multi-dimensional and nuanced character of another race is akin to a root canal with no novacaine, LOL.

    Getting it “right” simply means not naming the heroine ‘Tyesha’ and making her snap her neck back and forth. I mean, has anyone really looked at our elegant and uber-smart First Lady? Getting it “right” is understanding that there is diversity within all ethnic groups–we are not a one-size-fits-all community. Most importantly, authors who make an effort to try without falling back on stereotypes are rewarded. However,there will also be members of the community the author has written about who just will not accept it. And you knnow what, that’s okay and it’s no excuse to throw in the towel and continue the status quo. I see this with M/M romances. There are gay men who resent straight white female privilege co-opting their lives, and whether we like it or not, they have a valid point and authors should accept the crtiticism and make a point of being careful in depictions of gay men.

    Someone mentioned Shelley Laurenston. She’s one of the few paranormal writers I will buy without reservation because her contemporary paranormal worlds are not lily-white. They look like places where real people of different colors live and love. She does this well and for the life of me, I can’t see why other authors are not following her great example without tokenizing anyone. It’s one thing to set a contemporary paranormal in a place like Fargo (no offense to anyone who might live there, but let’s face it, what’s the diversity ratio), but a lot of paranormals are set in cosmopolitan cities and yet one wouldn’t know it from the serious dearth of ANY characters of color.

  126. JL
    Nov 02, 2011 @ 18:15:05

    One reason that I think authors get flack for including a POC regardless of how well (or not) they’re portrayed is because often times there is only one POC in the whole book. It becomes hard not to read more into that character than the author may have intended (i.e., is this a stereotype-laden character? Is it only surface portrayal of their ‘difference’? Etc.). In truth, there can’t be a good representation of diversity without actually diversity.

    That being said, I bought HelenKay Dimon’s Impulsive because it featured an Asian hero. I thought it was well done in that his heritage was part of his life amongst other things like being older than the heroine and a politician, but it was not the major part (though, again, that’s my uneducated perception). At one point the heroine makes a stupid, borderline racist comment, and it causes tension between the couple. Another interesting read was Heart of Stone by C.E. Murphy (urban fantasy). The heroine is African American, the hero is a pasty gargoyle. Race comes up but not in every action or incidence.

    I do find it interesting that issues of difference, at least as they pertain to race and culture, tend to not be dealt with much in UF and PR even though there are often POC characters if only because the mythology that the author creates tends to override real-life historical events and legacies. Not saying it’s a good or bad thing, but I’d love to hear some opinions on this.

  127. Kym
    Nov 02, 2011 @ 18:37:38

    If you ask most romance readers of color, especially those who are fans of contemporary interracial romance, racial differences are the one thing they DON’T like having harped on them (unless it’s in a historical context). For most, it’s an overused plot device. In most areas of the country, interracial relationships are simply a fact of life, and these couples are no different from any other. I should know considering I’m black and my significant other of ten years is Mexican. Our biggest issue is making game widows/widowers out of each other (sincce we’re both game geeks). The thing with paranormal is that it’s a genre that is so open and ready for more inclusion and yet commits endless FAIL, with a few notable exceptions.

    It’s not the “fear” of getting it right that some authors balk at. It’s perceived comments from members of the offended community that may bother them. They’re not used to having members of a marginalized group asserting their right to challenge privilege and it’s an uncomfortable place to be. Here’s the thing ladies and gentlemen: writers simply have to learn to DEAL with such criticism with grace and understanding. That’s often a lot easier said than done, LOL, because it’s easy to feel attacked. That’s honestly not the point of the exercise. More often than not, it’s to widen one’s vision and to see that what privilege indicates to you that a certain trope is perfectly okay, isn’t okay to others, i.e.the “magical person of color” who tutors/gives advice/gives some sort of talisman to the erstwhile white hero/heroine. A lot of fantasy readers hate this because it smacks of tokenism.

    I think as writers and readers,we’ve got to be more proactive about not accepting “white” as the default. This is an increasinly multicultural world and it’s also a much smaller world. The internet has really opened up the world and there’s just no excuse for people not to get to know and understand the nuances of various cultures. A black heroine is not some other species–she’s got hopes and dreams and passions just like the flaxen-haired wench types, LOL.

  128. Jill Sorenson
    Nov 02, 2011 @ 19:25:36

    @P. Kirby: This has been my experience living in San Diego. It’s a very diverse community. Most of the people I’m surrounded by every day aren’t white. Why would all of my characters be?

    I’ve been here most of my life and I’m pretty familiar with the Mexican culture, but I still get things wrong. I have to look up words and double check details. I know I miss accent marks a lot. So there is a bit more work to inclusion, even though I feel like I’ve done decades of research simply by being part of this community! But for me it feels natural, and I think it’s worth it. I especially appreciate it when readers say they notice or enjoy my setting and cultural details.

    It’s heartening, actually, to read so many comments in favor of more non-white characters and authors. Thank you.

  129. Merrian
    Nov 02, 2011 @ 21:49:24

    @ Ridley
    @ Alex
    @ Monica

    I heart everything that you said Ridley, regarding disability and it’s representation.

    I live with chronic illness and disability and have to say I abhor your use Alex, of ‘handicapable’ as a blanket identifier of people who are wildly diverse in their circumstances. It is increadibly reductive – as Ridley says do we matter only in terms of what we can or cannot do? Or is it an insistence that we are only valid as people if we are para-olympians. I think your insistence on imposing the term is an example of what the discussion has been about – the risks of using one example to stand for all and the power of privilege to enforce a standard view or representation of others.

    I don’t need to see my exact representation in a story to feel connected and understood as someone living with disability. Any story of cancer, deafness, limb loss, Cerebal Palsy, Cystic Fibrosis, etc told meaningfully and in consistence with the character’s arc shows that we are all with our varying illnesses and circumstnaces part of this world of relationship, love and possibility. There is a Self that we bring to our experience of illness and disability that shapes what it is for us. That Self is what the story is about not the disability – the disability shapes how the Self is present and active in the world that is all.

    I think my final point is that this is all about being seen as we are not because token’s are needed but as Monica says “you generally can’t go wrong if you write humans”.

    Amy Lane’s Promise Rock m/m series has heroes recovering from alcoholism, war wounds and PTSD, and living with HIV. These are great stories about people finding love and making families. These are stories about fallible humans finding the love and relationships we all long for. Are we not all fallible and imperfect whether we live with disabilities or not? At the moment the way disability is represented in the genre it is at times as if we are the only fallible and imperfect ones. That is what I would like to change.

  130. Ridley
    Nov 02, 2011 @ 23:23:10

    @Merrian: I think my favorite book with a disabled character was Simple Jess by Pamela Morsi. I thought it really nailed the essence of disability in that the impairment is less of an issue than the way people perceive you because of it. I loved how Jess just was. He knew he was “slow,” knew that was why people didn’t treat him like a man, and yet none of this altered his own self-perception. He knew their perception was their problem and just did his own thing. In the end, the romance was as ordinary as any other. They were just two people who made each other happier. Loving Jess didn’t make the heroine nobler, it only made her complete.

    It was a real rare bird. I rec it to everyone.

  131. Tyg
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 03:58:26

    I don’t know how many here have read Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman (great book). His hero was black which not everyone noticed. I read somewhere that one of the things Neil did was always mark a white character as white, and otherwise let black be the default. I haven’t reread it to check that, but I think that’s a neat idea. Certainly I knew who was black and who was white.

    I would recommend it merely for Fat Charlie’s encounter with a dragon.

  132. Jane
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 08:02:17

    @JL: As I was thinking about this issue regarding POC and inclusion after reading everyone’s really thoughtful comments is that I don’t require a lot. For example, in a paranormal, authors have the ability to create any kind of color of people, set anywhere. I don’t necessarily think that the myths require a certain ethnic sensibility.

    As I stated previously, Alisha Rai’s Glutton for Pleasure features an Indian heroine, Devi Malik. Her name identifies her as “other” but so do a few characteristics, particularly her physical ones like her dark brown eyes, brown hair, and brown nipples.

    I recall reading about a character with stick straight black hair, pale coloring and I thought, hey, this chick could be Asian until I got to the green eyes. Then I thought, oh Welsh.

    When we talk about representation, it can be as simple as physical descriptors that allow others to see themselves in those books. Or at least see representatives of their race in their books. Maybe that is Ridley’s #1. Once you start having more individuals in books colored differently, we can move from there to more nuanced representations whose default background is not WASP.

  133. JL
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 11:49:32

    @Jane: Jane, that’s a really good point you bring up. I’m going to pick up Alisha’s Rai’s book just for the reasons you bring up.

    On the other hand, sometimes I wonder why authors need to over-describe their characters’ physical appearance at all. I was reading Jami Alden’s Beg for Mercy the other day and for some reason I assumed the hero was black and then way later he was described in a way that was probably more ‘white with a tan’ (my words, not the authors), which kind of ruined it for more. Well, the book was super-fantastic, but I had to skip any parts that described the hero after that. It didn’t make a lick of difference to the story what the hero looked like. In some ways it would just be more inclusive if we didn’t have to go to such lengths to describe the heroine’s ‘milky white skin’ or the hero’s ‘unearthly green eyes’ or whatever. Its like we assume a character can only be physically distinct and interesting if they’re white and have red hair and green eyes.

    As for paranormals, I tend to really appreciate when authors go outside of the European cannon for their mythologies (e.g., Ilona Andrews, Seanan McGuire).

    I wish we didn’t have to start slow, but I do believe that the more conversations we have like this and the more authors make the effort, even if they fail as Ros says, and then try to fail better next time, we’ll get there eventually.

  134. Nonny
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 18:25:47

    @Merrian

    Yeah, as another person with chronic illness/disabilities, there’s nothing that puts me on edge more than “handicapable.” I loathe the word. It comes across as smarmy and patronizing and condescending, and you know, I’d rather have someone flat out be offensive than make-believe sickly-sweet “aw look at the cripple, they can do stuff!”

    It’s one thing if another PWD uses the term, because they can self-identify as they please, but able-bodied people using it has become a red flag for me because almost everyone I’ve seen use it has had some really problematic views towards PWD.

  135. nasanta
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 21:45:18

    @Courtney Milan:

    Oh, bravo!

    That’s one of the things I had learned in one of my education classes. I wish that more people learn this as well.

    I had a young classmate who, as a general requirement, had to take a diversity class. She would complain to me that she hates how the talk was always about racism. My classmate was white, and I got the impression that she couldn’t relate to anything that was being said, and thought that the teacher was making a big deal out of nothing. I felt really offended, and tried to make her understand that learning about this is important, but I don’t think she heard me. She ended up dropping the class.

  136. nasanta
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 23:42:24

    Sorry for the double posting. I had just finished reading through the other comments.

    I think I fall in between Jane and Sarah’s way of thinking. I think because I’m so used to the “default white” that when I read a book, I don’t always think, “Hey, why isn’t there a single person of color around?” I think one of reasons for this is because a lot of the time, there is usually only ONE person of color, and when that happens, it makes me wonder whether the author did that to say, “See? I can do diverse” – and I hate that. I think I’d rather see an all-white cast than a token person of color. What I really appreciate about Nalini Singh’s works is that it feels normal to be a person of color in her worlds, and I think – it’s been a long while since I last read them – so probably do the worlds by Ursula LeGuin.

    It irks me when race or disability is treated half-heartedly or as if there was an easy fix to it. Christine Feehan had a Ghostwalker book about a hero who was disabled (significant leg(s) damage in an earlier book) and in a wheelchair. ******BELOW IS SPOILERISH FOR ONE OF THE BOOKS; DON’T REMEMBER TITLE******

    I thought that was pretty neat, but was disappointed when he, through some bionic whatever, managed to walk again towards the end. It felt like such a cop-out to me. What message does this send to us about those with disabilities or in wheelchairs/have prosthetics for one reason or another? They aren’t good enough partners/mates if they aren’t whole?

    ***END SPOILER***

    On the other hand, I kind of liked her heroine in Ruthless Game. She was Chinese-American. While I objected to her being described as “china doll”, it didn’t bother me that she sounded like any other of Feehan’s heroines – ‘American’ because that was basically what she was.

    But I *am* getting tired of seeing these oh-so diverse characters who are all somehow spiritually connected or spout wise sayings from their Native American or Japanese grandfather. It feels like stereotyping to me.

  137. Surf’s Up: Lazy Linking Post | Something More
    Nov 04, 2011 @ 00:14:31

    [...] plenty of incidences in which both readers and writers fail to live up to such a pact. But the recent discussion of “inclusion” at Dear Author, though it has some of the stuff you expect when topics of race, disability, and [...]

  138. J A
    Nov 04, 2011 @ 00:16:03

    @Las, “Who else is going to be the majority in North America?”

    Hispanics.

  139. Heather Massey
    Nov 04, 2011 @ 07:07:59

    After reading your post, I wanted to see how sci-fi romance was doing regarding POC (meaning non-alien humans). The results aren’t as great as I’d hoped for, but I crowdsourced a list of titles that feature POC:

    IN ENEMY HANDS; WAR GAMES; A PIRATE’S PASSION; COMBAT; PRIME SUSPECT; “On Bliss” – KS Augustin

    THIEF and the Onic Empire series – Anitra Lynn Mcleod

    THE IRON DUKE – Meljean Brook

    Various characters from Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling series

    QUEENIE’S BRIGADE – Heather Massey

    THE SPIRAL PATH – Lisa Paitz Spindler

    BLUE GALAXY – Diane Dooley

    COLD WARRIORS – Claire Dargin

    RAVYN’S AWAKENING – Sherri L. King

    Xenogenesis series by Octavia E. Butler

    COMPROMISED and PRIMAL (Bk 2 of her Lycan series) – Nathalie Gray

    If I learn of more titles, I’ll add them to my list.

  140. Las
    Nov 04, 2011 @ 07:19:37

    @J A: I’m sorry, I thought it was obvious that I meant, “Who else is going to be the majority of English language romance readers in North America?” You know, considering the context of the discussion and all.

    My mistake.

  141. Ridley
    Nov 04, 2011 @ 08:04:32

    @Nonny: I think people should just stick to the AP and APA approved “people with disablilities” unless they’re a club member themselves.

  142. Merrian
    Nov 04, 2011 @ 19:24:13

    @Nonny:

    Thinking about our reactions to ‘handicapable’….

    I think that I hate that it implies that we are broken which we are not. It also involves a denial of OUR reality of the way we experience the world through our bodies. By focussing on a single element and concept that means more to others who do not live as people with disabilities it erases us.

  143. Kym
    Nov 05, 2011 @ 17:13:36

    @Karenna Colcroft:

    *face-palm* Sorry, but I am so tired of this excuse. What do you mean about “getting it right”? We are not talking about alien biology here, but human freaking beings! Every time I read this from a white author, I start wondering if, as a woman of color, there’s something so unfathomable about me that it would be impossible for an author to write about me. PoC’s fall in love, eat, breathe, sleep, hope and dream the same as everyone else. Really. Granted, I’m speaking in terms of PoC’s in this country, but even so, the idea is to craft a nuanced, multidimensional character. I often tell writers, write a PoC character the way YOU’D want to be written about. You wouldn’t want someone to stereotype you as a white woman, so don’t do that to a PoC character.

    I live in L.A. which is about as ethnically diverse as a city can get. I’ve grown up around different groups all my life and have dated interracially for most of it. This is normal for me (as I think it should be for everyone, but that’s an entirely different topic, LOL). What’s “abnormal” is this continuance of some 1950′s status quo where PoC’s are conspicuously absent.

    As far as “getting it right”, that’s really just a cop-out. Yes, there may be a few readers who won’t like what you did no matter how well-crafted the character is. Unless you commit major fail like naming your only black character something like “Kanesha” and have her speaking “ebonics”, mosst readers are pretty open.

    I find it highly ironic that you write M/M romance, but you’re not male. Do you worry about getting them right? And does it bother you that some gay men out there do not like straight white women so-opting their lives and loves and being successful at it?

  144. Kym
    Nov 05, 2011 @ 17:50:42

    Seriously, I am just frustrated that in the year 2011 with a black man as president, we are still having this conversation. I really don’t understand why inclusion/diversity seems to be this immense hurdle that so many wring their hands over.

    I would love to talk with a PoC writer who agonizes about getting caucasian characters “right”, LOL.

  145. Anne
    Nov 05, 2011 @ 23:36:33

    @Alex: As Ridley, Merrian and Nonny have already pointed out, “They” prefer all kinds of different labels, thankyouverymuch. I, personally, prefer “people/person with disabilities” (or “disabled” if you must, or if I am self-identifying as such), and loathe “handicapable” with a fiery passion. “Handicapped”, too, for that matter.

  146. Alex
    Nov 06, 2011 @ 07:15:24

    @P. Kirby:

    *I know that to some Mexican is “white,” but trust me, to a certain segment of the “white” population, we are anything but white.

    Anyone who equates Mexican as white needs a slap to the head with a big giant stick. Have they not been watching the news? It’s actually one of the remaining open bigotry in the US – besides gay bashing.

    Mexicans, according to most Americans, are lazy, seeking to steal our jobs, only migrant workers, cut lawns, have no skills other than manual labor and are either gang members or illegal aliens.

    Seriously, Mexican people are so marginalized right now, it’s scary.

    @Anne: @Merrian @Ridley:

    Here we have the ultimate fear of every writer who pens a minority or disabled character. The difference of opinion and the anger and ire of a community of people.

    I can tell you at least seven different people over the years have asked me to use the word “handicapable”. It’s not a word I grew up with. It’s not a word I’m used to. It feels uncomfortable to use. It’s like Native American to me – it’s ucky. But, since I get in people’s faces about Native American, it’s only fair I listen to whoever asks me not to use it.

    Native American is a term given to Indians by the government. It’s their pat on the head. I’m INDIAN. Or even American Indian, if you prefer. Judging by my family, I’m not the minority who likes that term and hates the other. But I don’t care if people use Native American in books and on TV. Just when they address me, or my heritage. There are lots of us who do get pissed off about Native American, especially my grandparents. Who is in the right here? Those who like it or those who don’t? What do I tell a writer who’s penning a book and asking me about how to properly identify my people?

    Ridley? Merrian? Anne? WHat would you tell someone who was writing a book about a disabled person? Knowing that some people prefer handicapped, some prefer disabled, and some prefer handicapable?

    WHo is right? And how many people are going to get offended by the wrong word? Especially if the author has no disabilities?

  147. Maili
    Nov 06, 2011 @ 09:29:05

    @Alex: I prefer ‘people with disabilities’ (‘handicapable’ and ‘handicapped’ also repulse me), but I prefer people not to mention my disability without my say-so even more.

    I don’t like ‘people without disabilities’, only because it’s long and clumsy to type, but it’s universally accepted and regardless of my local area’s actual preference (from ‘crip’ to ‘disabled’), I use that, especially in a place I’m not familiar with, until I’m told otherwise.

    That’s the thing, you need to be flexible and aware of wherever you are. What works for one area might not work for the other area.

    In the US, ‘oriental’ is utterly unacceptable, but in the UK and some parts of HK, it’s still in use by all kinds including East Asian people themselves (older generations mostly, though).

    So when I’m on a US site like this one, I don’t use ‘oriental’ and when I’m on a HK site, I don’t react when one uses it. And when I’m with young British East Asian people, I don’t use it (they prefer ‘British’ and nothing else) and with older British East Asian people, I don’t react when they use it.

    Likewise with deaf people. Hearing impaired, hard of hearing, Deaf, deaf, profoundly deaf, oralist, deaf and dumb, person with hearing impairment, born-deaf, deafened, etc. I use all these when with certain peoples. Like so: Elderly people (with hearing loss) = hard of hearing. Middle-aged people (with hearing loss) = deafened. Social workers = hearing impaired. Sign language users (whether they’re deaf or not) = Deaf. Deaf people who prefer speech = partially deaf (even when they aren’t). Etc.

    How about professions and their appropriate job terms? Air hostess, air stewardess, flight attendant? It depends on their companies’ preferences. How about people of Northern Ireland? Irish or British? It depends on their political views and preferences.

    Like I say, you have to be flexible, adaptable and aware of where you are when among one of marginalised, national, professional or/and whatnot peoples.

  148. Ridley
    Nov 06, 2011 @ 16:36:32

    @Alex:

    WHat would you tell someone who was writing a book about a disabled person? Knowing that some people prefer handicapped, some prefer disabled, and some prefer handicapable?

    Like I said, I’d stick to AP or APA style, which calls for “people with disabilities.” When talking about disability in general or to disabled people you don’t know, that’s the accepted default term. Like anything else, you would of course adapt to whatever someone prefers to be called if you’re speaking to them directly.

    When writing from the disabled character’s POV you could use “crip,” “para,” “handicapable,” or the like to give a bit of the character’s personality. A mouthy realist like me is going to go by “cripple,” while a cheery optimist might go by “handicapable.” Only the old or clueless use “handicapped” when talking about people (and not parking), so that’s another cue or teaching moment there too.

    Native American vs. American Indian is sort of like Hispanic vs. Latino. It’s much squishier than “disabled.” Disabled is the clear default in most style guides, whereas the other two terms are more or less synonymous. AP prefers American Indian and Hispanic, but allows for the other terms, especially if that’s how an audience/subject prefers to be so named.

  149. Julia Broadbooks
    Nov 10, 2011 @ 14:09:53

    @Ridley: Thanks for comment about the AP guidelines. I wasn’t aware they addressed the topic. It seems those choices would be least likely to offend.

    @Kym: I’m not trying to resurrect a topic that has died, so much as thinking aloud. I think it’s the lack of minorities in romances that seems very odd to me. It does’t reflect my life and it doesn’t reflect the world I want to live in. But I’m not sure that being nervous of portraying a minority is racist, or at least not entirely. I worry about all sorts of details as a writer because as a reader when I spot those inaccuracies it really spoils the book for me. The reality of being a minority is such an intimate and intricate emotional truth it would be easy to hit the wrong note.

%d bloggers like this: