Everything old is new again: An Open Letter to White, Straight, Able-bodied Romance Authors

Everything old is new again: An Open Letter to White, Straight, Able-bodied Romance Authors

On June 9, 2015, a fellow author asked if I would let her guest post one week. It’s a hot button topic, she said, but one that’s important, and needs to be brought out from behind the curtain and into the light.

I agreed. Wholeheartedly.

Now, approaching FOUR YEARS LATER, we’re no further along and, perhaps, at least in terms of the Romance Writers of America (RWA), we can see just how head-in-the-hole, status quo, we still are. The discussions on the author boards of RWA have been both educational and appalling, which is one reason why I approached Mari Anne Christie and asked if I could reblog her original letter. I also asked if I could add a few more authors I’ve discovered along my own path. She graciously gave her permission. Her original links will remain in green; mine will be in pink (and at the beginning of the list, because I’m too html-illiterate to figure out how to put mine at the end).

 

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.

And a special shout-out to CIMRWA, Cultural, Interracial, Multicultural Special Interest Chapter of Romance Writers of America, who fought ferociously for romance writers, period, when crap was hitting the fan at the end of December and January. Show some love to all their authors HERE (several are already mentioned above).

Also, the “only exclusively romance bookstore in the United States,” as they tout themselves, The Ripped Bodice has compiled The State of Racial Diversity in Romance Publishing Report for the past three years. It’s as eye-opening and gut-wrenching as you might expect. And you must read them. Also, shop The Ripped Bodice online, or visit them in Culver City the next time you’re in the City of Angels.

 

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,

Mari Anne ChristieMarianaGabrielle

[White] Author of Regency romance

www.mariannechristie.com

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

Keep Calm and Read This: Christmas Secrets by Donna Hatch

Keep Calm and Read This: Christmas Secrets by Donna Hatch

It’s Thanksgiving Day in the US and you need to treat yourself to a terrific book as a reward for the hours spent preparing, serving, and cleaning up after the holiday feast. Look no further than this week’s guest, bringing just the thing to present to give yourself for another holiday in the books. It’s a pleasure to welcome Donna Hatch to share with us what she’s learned about smooching under the yuletide greenery, and introduce us to her newest novel, Christmas Secrets.

Mistletoe Kisses

Is it just me, or does the image of sharing a long-awaited kiss underneath a mistletoe sprig create all kinds of delicious images? Mistletoe kissing is a time-honored tradition. Like many holiday customs, kissing under the mistletoe has pagan origins, and the custom has evolved over time. Most sources trace it back to ancient Scandinavia but it spread to England and much of Europe during the Middle Ages.

Probably because it was one of the few plants that stayed green during the winter, Celtic druids believed mistletoe contained magical properties of vitality. They seemed to have been oblivious to that fact that it is a parasitic plant that lives off trees. Apparently, they viewed mistletoe as the tree’s spirit revealing signs of life when the rest of the tree looked dead during winter. Also, oak mistletoe is rare compared to that found in fruit trees, so the druids believed mistletoe growing on oak trees was rare and more powerful. Since these druids thought mistletoe had life-giving powers, they conducted fertility and healing rituals underneath a bow of oak mistletoe for sick cattle and other animals.

People also looked to it for protection.

According to the Holiday Spot:

In the Middle Ages and later, branches of mistletoe were hung from ceilings to ward off evil spirits. In Europe they were placed over house and stable doors to prevent the entrance of witches. It was also believed that the oak mistletoe could extinguish fire. This was associated with an earlier belief that the mistletoe itself could come to the tree during a flash of lightning.

Eventually, a practice in Scandinavia developed for hostile parties to gather underneath mistletoe to negotiate peace. Even quarreling husbands and wives made up under the mistletoe, and kissed to seal their renewed love and commitment to their marriage. Other herbology claims mistletoe is both an aphrodisiac and an abortive plant, which might be why some of the earliest customs involved more than an innocent kiss. But we won’t go into that.

Over time, the custom of kissing moved indoors. Sometimes the ball or sprig of mistletoe was decorated with ribbons, holly, apples, oranges and other fruits. Some people hung mistletoe below figures of the infant Christ, Mary, and Joseph.

In some parts of Europe and Great Britain, arriving guests kissed their host’s hand under a sprig of mistletoe hung in a doorway. Eventually a custom sprang up to have maidens wait under the mistletoe in the hopes that a young man would kiss her with the expectation that he would marry her within a year. If she didn’t get kissed, she had little expectation of marrying that year, sorta like a marriage fortune teller.

A young man who kissed a girl under the sprig or bough of mistletoe traditionally plucked off one of the white berries. When all the berries were plucked, the kissing, at least while under the mistletoe, also ceased.

I often see people mistake mistletoe with holly. Mistletoe has soft, pale green smooth leaves and white berries. Holly has green, glossy, ragged-edged leaves and red berries.

By the Regency Era, the custom of mistletoe kissing no longer came with strings attached. It became an excuse for behavior not normally condoned among unmarried ladies and gentleman. Maidservants stood underneath a decorated ball of mistletoe in a doorway to indicate her willingness to kiss in exchanged for a coin.

In my newest novel, Christmas Secrets, an innocent mistletoe kiss leads to a startling realization.

A stolen Christmas kiss leaves them bewildered and breathless.

A charming rogue-turned-vicar, Will wants to prove that he left his rakish days behind him, but an accidental kiss changes all his plans. His secret could bring them together…or divide them forever.

Holly has two Christmas wishes this year; finally earn her mother’s approval by gaining the notice of a handsome earl, and learn the identity of the stranger who gave her a heart-shattering kiss…even if that stranger is the resident Christmas ghost.

Christmas Secrets is available now – get your copy right now!

 

 

Best-selling author, Donna Hatch, is a hopeless romantic and adventurer at heart, the force that drove her to write and publish twenty historical romance titles, including the award-winning “Rogue Hearts Series.”  She is a multi-award winner, a sought-after workshop presenter, and juggles multiple volunteer positions as well as her six (yes, that is 6) children. Also a music lover, she sings and plays the harp, and loves to ballroom dance. Donna and her family recently transplanted from her native Arizona to the Pacific Northwest where she and her husband of over twenty years are living proof that there really is a happily ever after.

Find Donna Hatch online at:

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And always remember to #ReadARegency!

 

Sources: