Romance This.

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*Photo by Eternity Philops. Face by Fiona.

I’m no good at the Twitters. Whether logging on as me or my straight, Harlequin novel writing alter-ego, I’m woefully out of my depth (i.e. don’t know what the hell I’m doing). But the discussions on there are relevant and touch both of my writing selves, so I’ve been trying a little harder to be less of a Twitter twit.

A few of the discussions taking place primarily on Twitter have been the disruptions to business as usual in the romance writing world over the last few days/weeks. Riptide Publishing and its blatant racist practices – no black people on the covers of our gay books, guys! – plus more and then the whole Romance Writers of America (RWA) foolishness – in their entire thirty something year history they’ve never awarded a black woman a Rita award despite the fact that yes, we do indeed write and read romance. And many of us are amazing at it. This bias is no surprise. Yes, we write about love, but we’re humans living and operating in a racist world. Romancelandia (queer and otherwise) is a reflection of our world. I mean, why should black books, black authors, or black love matter when, to many, black lives don’t?

A few years ago, I asked for beta readers for a re-issue of one of my previously published books. The woman who agreed to read for me confessed that in her thirty plus years of reading lesbian fiction, this was her first time picking up a book with black lesbian characters. She went as far as saying that she actually enjoyed the book. Her surprise was evident even in text. I didn’t bother asking why she never read any books by non-white women, and I would hazard a guess to say she’s never picked up another book by/about lesbians of color since then. The characters didn’t look like her, so she wasn’t interested in reading about their lives. Or their loves.

To me, it’s the same attitude that led a woman in one of my writing groups to dismiss my protagonist (black, sexually aggressive, mourning the loss of her brother to gun violence) as unrelatable when I and everyone else in the group was supposed to connect with her white female protagonist (a scientist living in the 18th century and struggling for autonomy in a world where feminism doesn’t exist) and do the work agreed upon by the group – critique essential parts of the story being discussed. She couldn’t relate to my character and so couldn’t offer any useful critique of my novel.

I get it. We live in our bubbles and we deal with what we choose to. And unless it relates to us, we as humans often don’t want to address or even look at the different biases around us. This reminds me of a scene in Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water when the white, gay male character insists on changing the TV channel showing black civil rights activists being assaulted with water hoses. This is “depressing” he says. He’d rather watch tap-dancing Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and Shirley Temple on his television and lust after a straight boy at his neighborhood bakery than face other people’s unpleasant realities.

*Wouldn’t it be amazing to see women wearing pink hats at a Black Lives Matter rally?

More eloquent people than I have talked about the –isms in the publishing industry. Pushing for the diversity of editors, publishers, agents behind the scenes while normalizing black and other POC faces on the covers of books in supermarkets and other stores. Inviting/daring those who’ve only read books about people like them to be part of the solution and broaden their reading selections (without being guided to by Oprah). We’re a long way from that ideal place of true inclusion, but I want the conversation to keep on going. I want awareness to keep growing so people will try and challenge their own biases and patterns of behavior. Shouldn’t the playing field be even for us all?

Sweet Covers (1)
Fiona is always writing something or other.  Check out her books HERE.
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15 comments

  1. I love your work Fiona. You keep doing you and I’ll keep reading what you write. Your words here are resounding and I’m off to share them far and wide.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Amen. Amen. Amen, Fiona.

    Some of us who used to search high and low for books whose characters were lesbians of color began writing such novels. And now, those of us who write about the lives of lesbians of color have to search for and then convince readers of all colors to take a look at our books. Although we do twice the work and receive one half of the recognition, some of us are pleased when we realize our books have touched the minds and hearts of an overlooked, under served readership. “It is Well With My Soul.”

    Thank you for writing this article, Fiona.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Thank you for reading it, Renee. I went back and forth on whether or not to write about this but then decided, since I haven’t been vocal on social media, to wrangle some of my thoughts and jot them down here. Navigating this business has been quite rocky at times and the issues working against authors of color – both as indie and traditionally published novelists – make the journey even more perilous. But onward!

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  4. And the same is true for disabled characters….doesn’t matter how good the book is or if it even wins an award…apparently people can’t quite relate and they don’t sell as well. Well I sure am not a Xena or Gabrielle look alike or some beautiful person….but not relating to the life of the rich and famous sure hasn’t stopped people from reading about those lives….You keep writing and maybe…I sure as hell hope that someday people will get an f’ing clue! A good story is a good story….course I want that story to have two women who fall in love and I don’t give a rip about anything else!

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    • Thanks for commenting, Annette! I completely agree.
      The point of reading for me is to slip into another world and appreciate its differences, whether to experience two men falling in love, cat people cleaning each other in outer space, or whatever else. Reading isn’t all about staying in my own skin, at least not all the time. But bias is also a thing so…

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  5. I love the entire conversation and that we’re having it out loud, rather than in small groups. Reading is THE great equalizer, a chance to step into someone else’s shoes (mind) and walk around a bit. I don’t understand anyone not reading a book because the character isn’t ‘like’ them. That’s the entire point, that good writing bridges differences and becomes universally relatable.

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    • Yes! So many of these conversations happen in private or isolated spaces – although the situation is known by most. I’m hoping these open discussions will lead to lasting and positive change.

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  6. The problem probably is that people, especially where it concerns romance, want to imagine themselves as the main character. They can generally imagine themselves as being prettier for instance, it’s an easy fantasy. Imagining status also is easy, so being wealthier, more successful, more respected in modern terms (even if it isn’t in the setting, it’s easy to be brave from a distance). Other things aren’t easy fantasies, such as being disabled for instance. Skin colour also is difficult, because our society imagines it to be something huge that determines everything about a person, which puts a greater distance between you and someone with another kind of pigmentation (no matter all the things that you have in common) than with someone living a thousand years in the past, in a society that is different in every possible way.

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  7. Thanks for the eloquent and moving commentary, Fiona! I ordered another book of yours after reading it. No one can deny the quality, quantity, and fabulous creativity of your writing. You’ll get lifetime achievement awards at 70–as if the romance establishment celebrated you all along. Meanwhile, assume people will catch up. Keep on leading and we’ll keep on reading!!!

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  8. Thank you for the article, Fiona! Donna Jay suggested your books to me & I have them in my tbr list! I look forward to reading them & like a lot of other readers, I like to immerse myself in stories where I can live in the characters world. I guess it will be interesting to see if this big ol’ Dyke can get immersed!!!!! 😳😜 Great blog entry, thanks again!

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  9. Thanks for reading! And thanks for putting my work on your list. My stories run the gamut, so I like to think there’s a little bit of something there for most. I’m looking forward to your feedback!

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