An Open Letter to White, Straight, Able-bodied Romance Authors

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My esteemed colleagues,

We have a very long way to go.

Most of us say “Diversity in literature is really important,” and/or “I am not racist/ ableist/homophobic,” and/or “Of course, I would buy a romance novel by or about a person of color/gay or lesbian/disabled person.” But when was the last time you did?

When was the last time you bought a romance by an author, or about a character, with a different cultural, historical, or physical experience than your own? About a person with a different skin color, nationality, religion? About a gay man or lesbian or transgender person? When was the last time you bought a romance with a physically or mentally disadvantaged hero or heroine? A novel about people who live in the margins?

When was the last time you wrote one?

Women are overlooked in myriad areas of publishing—book contracts, sales, awards, reviews—but we are also the much greater portion of romance writers. Are we, as female authors who are often marginalized and maligned ourselves, really so callous as to assume people of color don’t have Happy Ever Afters? That LGBT romance is only about sex? That people with disabilities never fall in love? Or do we just not think about it?

This letter is not meant to encourage you to shoehorn a diverse character into a book that doesn’t need one, or write a book about diverse characters because it is a hot topic or because it feels like the right thing to do. One of the most wonderful things I have heard on this subject recently was: “I write characters who happen to be people of color. I don’t make a big deal about it.”

What I am proposing is that we don’t overlook characters with diverse experiences as we are writing. That we don’t miss them lurking in the shadows of our books. That we don’t push them aside because we don’t understand them. That we don’t dismiss a great idea because it is scary to be outside of our comfort zone, or because we are afraid to get something wrong.

But MOST IMPORTANT, I am proposing that we don’t overlook authors who are already doing it.

I am not saying a black person can’t write a book or have it published. I am not saying same-sex romance novels don’t exist. I am not saying a romance novel with an Indian heroine can’t become a bestseller (knock on wood). But these novels are shunted aside into the “African-American” or “Multicultural” or “LGBT” categories, which do not get as much attention as “Historical Romance” or “Regency Romance” or “Contemporary Romance,” overwhelmingly written by and about white people. And the more marginalized a book is on Amazon (and elsewhere), the less likely it is to be shown in the “People Also Buy” and “Recommended for You” sections. Front page of Amazon? Forget it.

I am not blaming or attacking, though to be sure, this topic almost always makes comfortable people suddenly uncomfortable. Yet, I think it worth the discomfort to have the conversation. This is a terribly important topic with enormous ramifications for groups that are already sidelined in so many ways. Are we okay with knowing that Vanessa Riley, Piper Huguley, Kianna Alexander, and Lena Hart have a harder time selling books than we do?

Do we, as romance writers, want to create one more place where it is harder to get ahead for a person of color than a white person?

  • I am guilty of overlooking diverse books, not out of malice, but simple inattention. I haven’t gone looking for them, because they are often hard to find.
  • I am guilty of assuming only white people read (and write) romance novels.
  • I am guilty of mentally labeling every historical with African-American characters “mainstream,” as though “romance” can’t be just as much a part of their experience as the historic hardships they faced.
  • I am guilty of using the hashtag #WeNeedDiverseRomance to promote my book before I knew the people who are doing the hard work to promote the subject matter.
  • I am guilty of asking my author friends who are people of color to educate me, rather than educating myself.
  • I will surely be guilty of causing unintentional offense, having now written a book with an Indian heroine.

So, to amend my own appalling oversights, I went looking for romance authors who are people of color or LGBT-identified or disabled and/or write romance novels about characters who are. In about an hour, I found more than sixty, and I am absolutely certain this is only a start.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I also found:

We Need Diverse Romance

https://www.facebook.com/DiverseBooks

@DiverseRomance

#WeNeedDiverseRomance

Buy a “WeNeedDiverseRomance” tee-shirt in black or white.

 

Women of Color in Romance

http://wocinromance.tumblr.com/%20

https://www.facebook.com/WOCInRomance

@WOCinRomance

#WOCinRomance

http://multiculturalromancewriters.com (Sortable author/book listings)

http://RomanceNovelsInColor.com (Book information and reviews)

http://www.RomanceSlamJam.org (African-American romance convention; home of the Emma Awards)

http://www.RainbowRomanceWriters.com (RWA Chapter for LGBT authors)

Romances with heroes or heroines with physical, mental, or emotional maladies

 

If you click on any of the links above, you may find a new romance author you will love or a way to support the cause of diverse romance. I did.

So, in closing, I ask every white, straight, able-bodied author who is reading this to:

  • Buy a book written by someone with a different historical, cultural, or physical experience than you.
  • Review a book written by someone with a different historical, cultural, or physical experience than you.
  • Recommend a book written by someone with a different historical, cultural, or physical experience than you.
  • Write a character with a different historical, cultural, or physical experience than you.

Saying and/or doing nothing on this topic is a vote against diverse authors and characters, when most of us believe that diversity in romance novels is important and there isn’t enough of it.

Where do you truly fall on this issue? What message do you want to send to other writers—and readers—who are different from you? How important is diversity to you? And what will you do about it today?

 

Sincerely,

Mariana Gabrielle/Mari ChristieMarianaGabrielle

[White] Author of Regency romance

www.MarianaGabrielle.com

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Full permission is granted, without limitation, to repost, reblog, share, and otherwise distribute this material in its entirety.

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68 thoughts on “An Open Letter to White, Straight, Able-bodied Romance Authors

  1. May I add some names?
    Patricia Sergeant, for one. http://www.patriciasargeant.com/home.html
    Mary Balogh has always featured disabled characters. Her Survivors Club Septet focused on them. http://www.marybalogh.com/books.html
    Carla Kelly often writes cultural diversity. http://www.carlakellyauthor.com/books_historical.html

    Those are among my favorites. I’m one of those that hesitates to step into an area I don’t personally experience. However, I live in a multi-ethnic family and among multicultural neighbors. I grew up under the cloud of PTSD. How hard should it be?

    Liked by 4 people

    • Now I think of it, several authors have written of deaf heroines: Laura Landon’s Silent Revenge, Tessa Dare’s Three Nights With a Scoundrel, and Stella Knight’s The Parfit Knight. And the heroine in Susan Spencer Paul’s Beguiled is mute, with many thinking her deaf.

      I recently read Saved by a Siren by Abigail Graves, in which the heroine is blind. The author included several interesting ways that her heroine listened so that she could “see.”

      Angelina Jameson’s recent release, A Lady’s Addiction, has an alcoholic heroine. While not a disability in the strictest of terms, that’s certainly unique in premise.

      Liked by 3 people

      • I’m not an adherent of the “write what you know” camp (blasphemy to some, I know), but you must *research* what you don’t know.

        Thanks for your list! I’m probably the only person historically-inclined who’s never read Flowers From the Storm (blasphemy #2 for this comment).

        Like

  2. I am a writer who is disabled. I have a black heroine in one series. I write about characters with disabilities, including a blind heroine and a major secondary character. I have Jewish characters [which really took some research] in a book I’m about to publish, I have been writing gypsy characters, I have black characters in books in the planning stage. I even have a Scottish hero who is ginger, and nobody can deny that THAT is a matter of discrimination. So far as I am concerned, bringing in people of slightly less ‘standard’ background is a perfectly natural thing reflecting life and society. [And occasionally a chance to make a hidden dig at modern day attitudes]. I don’t write much about gay couples other than those of alternative preference drifting through the pages as I don’t feel like bombarding my sensitive gay friends with questions. I don’t see that there should need to be a hashtag to promote what is perfectly natural. I don’t believe in positive discrimination because diversity should arise naturally. I can’t understand what the problem is, unless people are too lazy to research a character who demands to be different. And it’s surely the demands of the characters that drive every writer?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your insights, Sarah. I sometimes think our ignorance of things is not so much purposeful as, such as you intimated, lazy complacency.

      Like

      • Laziness is the one thing that never discriminates. We all suffer from it, whatever our creed or colour or state of health… like greed and a dislike of paying taxes, it’s universal. I’m not sure if that’s heartening or depressing….

        Like

  3. My next steampunk release is about a half-Indian woman who leaves England partly to learn about the other half of her heritage. She’s been an important character in the rest of the series as well, along with a lesbian mentor character, great-aunt Dorothy. In other books I’ve written mixed race characters, overweight, disabled (blind, burn-scarred, several wounded soldiers.) I have written gay romance, as well as menage. I tend not to think about it much–I just write the characters because the world is full of different people. Of course in paranormal romance, which is most of my work, it’s more about species vs, species, so skin color or religion seem pretty minor differences compared to say, coming from different worlds.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Exactly: “I tend not to think about it much-I just write the characters because the world s full of different people.” (And I can’t wait for your new steampunk!)

      Like

  4. Elizabeth Cole has written several Regency novellas that feature disabled characters. One that I’ve read features a blind heroine, and another features a disabled veteran who lost a leg. Very well written stories and definitely worth checking out!

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Thank you for including me on this list and mentioning the site Romance Novels in Color, which I co-manage with some amazing authors. The hashtag #WeNeedDiverseBooks is great, but diverse books are already out there – written, available, and ready to be read. I hope this post will encourage readers to #TryDiverseBooks. 🙂

    Have a great day!

    Liked by 4 people

  6. Sarina Bowen’s The Year We Fell Down features two recently handicapped characters (one temporarily, one permanently) trying to figure things out. New Adult. Came out last year.

    The book I happened to buy today isn’t straight: Lauren Gallagher’s On Your Knees, Mr. President. What it’s like to live a stressed mid-forties life.

    The most recently (re)read book with a non-white lead was Courtney Milan’s Trade Me, also New Adult Romance.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Courtney Milan also wrote Talk Sweetly to Me, which is a great historical with a black heroine. Really well done. OMG, did I actually leave her off this list? Bad Mari! That book helped me feel less afraid while writing mine. Courtney should be on the list, for sure.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I haven’t read Courtney’s historicals yet. I’ve bought them all, though.

        Here are some I’ve read and enjoyed (sorry, can’t sort through your list as well as my own library without going crazy):

        Non-white author or main character: Jackie Ashenden (some books), Nalini Singh, Sonali Dev, Ruby McNally (her most recent is billed as multicultural but I haven’t read it yet), and Jen Frederick.

        Non-straight books: Cat Grant, L. A. Witt (and some Lauren Gallagher), Aleksandr Voinov, Abigail Barnette (The Hook-Up), Bonnie Dee, Ana J. Phoenix, K. A. Mitchell, Lou Harper, KJ Charles, Amy Jo Cousins, and some Lexxie Couper.

        Non-Ablebodied books: It Takes Two by Erin Nicholas (fibromyalgia), Real (non-neurotypical) et seq by Katy Evans, Wounded Hearts by Jane Rylon (amputee). The last I haven’t read yet, and it sounds like an issue book. I’d rather we could move beyond issue books. That’s what I found so refreshing about Sarina Bowen’s The Year We Fell Down.

        I have more, just can’t find them in my library at the moment.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Another good list of authors – thanks Deirdre!

        And I agree about issue books. I’ve never really enjoyed them. I like character books. I like to see how characters move and grow with whatever “issues” they may have 🙂

        Like

      • I keep forgetting to add one of my absolute favorite historical romance authors (she wrote my forever book boyfriend), and the topic of issue books reminds me. The heroine of Lucinda Brant’s book, Dair Devil, has a disability, without it becoming an issue book. She is really the only one who sees it–the hero certainly doesn’t–which makes it so lovely at the end when she gets her HEA.

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  7. This is a wonderful post, and thank you for including me on your list. To clarify, I am white and not LGBT-identifying. I do write primarily gay/bisexual romance, some with POC main characters.

    A few other suggestions (diverse authors, and/or who write diverse characters): J.P. Barnaby, Posy Roberts, Pearl Love, Tempeste O’Riley, and Ryan Loveless.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Thanks for this post! Even as a black reader, I had been lazy about looking for stories that include people that look like ME, people that are different from the people I know, seeking out different stories. I was reaching for what was readily available instead of searching for something more representative of me. Until I stumbled upon a book by Farrah Rochon, I really had NO IDEA that there was a line of black romance novels (Kimani). And the more authors I meet, the more books I read, the more I uncover. Now I’m stressed out because I have a lifetime of reading to catch up to and I need to READ ALL THE THINGS!

    Liked by 3 people

    • My TBR pile grows mainly via the recommendations of friends and posts on social media by those that I follow (in addition to Amazon’s helpful marketing emails!). This post has definitely made me cast my reading net out further into the author pool.

      So many books – can we just set aside an extra day each week just for reading?!

      Like

  9. My co-writer and I are both queer women who write LGBTQ romance. Book 3 in one of our series is out tomorrow, and features gay, bisexual, and ace characters (there’s a trans woman who will be introduced in book 4); a hero with autism; multiple characters of color; and both monogamous and polyamorous relationships. While I go looking through this list for new to me authors, anyone who wants to visit us can find us at Avian30.com.

    Thank you for creating this list. I may be queer, but I need to read more diverse romance that doesn’t just reflect my experience. I’ll be taking your challenge too!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. A few gay authors of gay romance and other genres of gay fiction (full disclosure, I know most of these guys, so make of that what you will, they’re still wonderful authors):
    – Damon Suede
    – Brent D. Seth
    – DH Starr
    – Andrew Gray
    – Kage Alan
    – TJ Klune

    I’ve written gay male romance for over a decade, and let me tell you, it’s AWESOME to see people celebrating this corner of diversity instead of trying to say it’s not romance. Yes, I’m a straight white cis woman. Yes, I’ve heard ALL the “why” questions and all the reasons why I’m wrong and/or going to hell or whatnot. Screw that, I’ll write what I want. I’ve written lots of books with gay characters of color, also with female secondary characters both white and non-white, straight and not-straight. People are people. Everyone has an interesting story inside them. Why should any writer limit him or herself to one race, or sex, or gender, or orientation?

    Thank you for writing this post. I’ve loved reading through all the recommendations, and I’m looking forward to more 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  11. I’d just like to raise another issue – ageism. I write mm romance. I’ve written a series of three but the first has two MCs who are 60 years old – too old it seems. The second has an MC with a disability, the third a character in a wheelchair. I have mobility issues because of arthritis and I’m over 50 so have some understanding of the issues I write about. I love reading stories about all sorts of people. Variety is the spice of life.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. This is an inspiring post! All of my historical romance novels have a hero/heroine with some sort of diverse distinction. In my first novel, Pure of Heart, my heroine is a Frenchwoman with albinism – the secondary character is of Romani descent. My second book, Pure Temptation, is the story of that secondary Romani character. My third: a romance between a creole man and a quadroon during the early 1800s; fourth novel – War of 1812 soldier that lost his leg – and his will to live. And, I’ve written a YA mystery novel where one of the main characters is autistic. The reason I write novels with heroes and heroines such as these – my 17 year old son has autism. He’s shown me just how important diversity – and tolerance of others – is in the world:) Thanks for sharing this wonderful post! I’m reblogging on my own site auriajourdainromance.com – so important to share this message:D

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Hello Renée Reynolds,
    Thanks so much for mentioning me on your list. It’s great that you also mentioned Romance Novels in Color, of which I’m humbled to be part of as reviews coordinator. I’ll definitely be sharing this post.
    Regards always,
    Roxy Wilson

    Liked by 1 person

    • Roxy – I’m just the vessel for this post. Mariana Gabrielle is the author and was kind enough to let me be her host 🙂

      I’ve been a subscriber to Romance Novels in Color’s newsletter for a while now – you’ve got a great crew of reviewers!

      Like

  14. People are sharing the individual names of LGBTQ authors – but there is an entire industry, almost a parallel dimension when I speak to some straight romance writers or LGBTQ romance. Go to the publishers sites who carry these works so you can find ALL the authors, the incredibly diverse group of authors, who write LGBTQ Romance: Dreamspinner Press, Totally Bound, Amber Quill Press, Bold Strokes Books, Lethe Press, Manlove Romance, Less Than Three Press, Mischief Corner Books, Riptide Publishing, Wilde City Press, and so on.

    Entire Publishers, folks! Go look there!

    Liked by 2 people

  15. This is something I myself have been wanting to write a post about. I am a nonbinary panromantic demisexual who happens to be white. I have worked very hard to have as many diverse characters as I can in my writing. My current WIP is a steampunk and features mostly MOGAI and POC characters. One of the MC is gender-fluid and not white, the other is bi-sexual and suffers from depression and has attempted suicide.

    I’ve spent a lot of time researching and talking to other people to make sure I’m portraying things properly. Even though I myself am MOGAI I want to respect other people’s experiences.

    It’s frustrating to me though that even among the RWA the writers of MOGAI are separated into their own group. I’ve been searching for a group for writers who identify as MOGAI where we can discuss our own personal challenges, so far I’ve not found much.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Wonderful article! I truly believe that we, as authors, help to shape the world in which we live by what we choose to write. It’s frustrating that bookstores are constrained to put books in only one category–when if they were shelved everywhere they fit, they might find more readers.

    For your list, I might belong on it. I wrote a book where the heroine’s brother was mentally disabled. I wrote one where the heroine has a gay uncle. In both cases, those characters were integral to the story I wanted to tell. I’m also creating books for mentally disabled readers–but those aren’t romance novels.

    What we write matters. What we read matters.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Just love this post so much , I have bookmarked this so I can hopefully find everyone on this list 🙂 I would like to add Paulina Woods she does Paranormal and I have read her first book and I’m working on her second LOVE ! I have some others on my tbr and now will be adding more ! I love that we are getting more diverse books to read , I think it adds so much and I love it when the H/HH are not perfect it makes them more real to me.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. This article is brilliant.
    On the NewAdult Lit Chat on Thursday nights on Twitter, this subject comes up often, leading to a discussion of how we can be more inclusive in our writing, how showing all sides of humanity moves writing forward in history and sources to get inspiration, too. I have read, I have written, and I have published a m/m novel and the accomplishments, although special to me, means nothing when marginalization still happens. There is more to do.
    Thank you for being brave enough to put yourself out there. You touched my heart and my head. Not an easy feat. ❤ ~Jules

    Liked by 1 person

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