Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Silent Roar

Fair warning: If you are looking for a measured think piece, do not pass go. Do not collect $200. Click that X box in the corner. This is a curse-laden rant. It is not nice or understanding.
The roar, this time at least, started a few months ago. I wholeheartedly volunteered to be a part of an event that would shine the spotlight on romance authors who write about or who are WOC, LGBTQ.

Sounds uplifting, right?

The whole movement of #weneeddiverseromance is about putting the money where your mouth is. Don't just say you want to read more books that features these characters. Buy, read, review and in general be inclusive. The authors and corresponding article would be featured on Kirkus.

FuckYesAwesome, right?

But about two weeks ago, I was informed the corresponding article would likely make my eye twitch, if not make me lose my shit on the Internet. I was braced and then I read the article. Let me highlight one part that I think best explains the trouble we're facing in romance:

Many of the diverse authors I’ve mentioned in my column, whose books I’d like to read, don’t have audio versions, so even when a friend gifts me with credits, I don’t have many diverse options.”

Now let me try and break it down for you in case you read that and go what's the problem? I don't see the problem. When it comes to diversity people are always making a mountain out of a molehill. She's not saying I can't read books with people of color because POC is so OTHER. She's not even saying diverse books aren't on my radar and I never read one. She comes across nice, right?

One: A person decided to put together an event that would showcase diversity in romance.

Two: This event was planned months in advance.

Three: Everyone is living a busy life, and their time is limited. So...understandable. BUT...

Four: And in all those months you couldn't manage to read ONE or listen to ONE, half a of ONE, a paragraph, a sentence...

Five: And in all the months ahead, you still might not read ONE or listen to ONE, half of ONE, a paragraph, a sentence....

Why should a person reading this article go out of their way to read a diverse romance when the writer of said article couldn't be bothered to do it? For an event she put together? Instead of a showcase, what the article becomes is Reasons Why I Don't Have Time To Read Diversely But Meybe You Should????

What was the purpose of writing anything about diversity in romance? Other than to get a pat on the back because it looks good.


This article and the responding one is why there's a roar within the romance industry. The roar is silent as fuck, because it seems the only people bothered by things like this live it every day. Let me explain. If it was some misogynistic blowhard saying romance is just ladygarden porn, my feed would be exploding. If it was about rape culture, I wouldn't be able to turn around without seeing this referenced. These are issues that are inclusive as horrible as that is. It doesn't matter what color you are or your sexual preference or if you are physically disabled.

But if it involves diversity it's practically so silent it's deafening. Or half-hearted hand waving.

Let me belabor my point with another list:

It's hard to find books that features diverse characters.
The ones I read were...not to my taste.
I like what I like. Why do I have to go out of my way to read books that aren't to my taste?
I'm afraid to write a person of color because I don't want to do it wrong.
I have written A person of color or someone from the LGBTQ community or here's my one story about that vet who lost his leg/arm/eye.
Aren't Interracial Romances about race? I just want a romance.
I don't think I could identify with the heroine or hero.
I have plenty of secondary characters that are not white or straight.
We are currently looking for more diverse authors and books. (Goes to their website and there's only one person of color on staff.)
I love Kimani Romance or THIS ONE BLACK/ASIAN/LATINO author!
I did read a book by an author of color and it didn't read authentic.
Being diverse is so politically correct right now.
I'm a nice person and I can't be racist.

Here's the thing, no one wants to think they are racist. No one wants to have that Come To Jesus moment where they see their actions or speech are actively participating in the systematic oppression of another.

Ask yourself the hard question, that some (I'm not naming names) won't: What are my reasons for not buying, reading or even sometimes reviewing books of people who don't look like me, sound like me, live lives that I don't lead?

If you start to make excuses for why you don't, you are actively participating in the systematic oppression of another. You can do that and be the nicest person. Nice isn't a shield. It is not a preventive measure for unconscious bias. It's unconscious, you don't even know you're doing it...Hence the Come To Jesus moment.

And just FYI: If you do not actively participate in oppressive behavior OR you've recently had your Come To Jesus moment about the serious lack of diversity in your reading choices, buying habits, hell your blog header or writing, please do not break off your arm to pat yourself on the back. This is equally as bad in my eyes. Being a decent human being is not about brownie points or career trajectory. But I get it. For some people not being an asshole deserves an award or a golf clap.

So...this post isn't for the clueless. This post is for you. The average every day you. IF YOU ARE A NICE PERSON, YOU. Even if you have talked to me personally, and I've let you know I adore you. 'Cause really if you love shenanigans and dick jokes like me, we can be online BFFs.

You are not shielded.

You still might be saying or doing something that is oppressive as fuck.

EVEN ME AS A PERSON OF COLOR, I CAN BE ACTIVELY PARTICIPATING IN SOMEONE ELSE'S OPPRESSION. May not feel like it some days, but I have privilege. I'm heterosexual. The only people who have come close to calling me an abomination are folks who dare to knock on my door Saturday morning (before coffee) with a pamphlet. I can have unconscious bias about Koreans, Latinos, homosexuals. I'm not sure if anyone would call me nice, but do you see my point? How can you demand a seat at the table when on your way there, you are tripping other people to get to your seat?

So...reviewers, bloggers: Take a look at the books you've read and reviewed. No. Seriously. More times than I can count, I have looked at a review site, and page after page I don't see one chocolate drop. Or any drop of anything other than mainstream.

Peeps: Take a look at the books you've bought AND shared on your social media. No, really. Stop and think. When someone is looking for contemporary romances that feature diverse characters do you have a long list? Awesome.

When someone asks for contemporary romance recommendations, are you including those same books? Or leaving them out because “diverse” wasn't stated?

Take a longer minute if you need to.

THIS POST IS ESPECIALLY FOR YOU.

And in case you're getting defensive, about to type a fuck you Melissa Blue, and you can suck it hard. Take another minute, and really think do I want to be a part of the problem? Even in ways that doesn't make me evil but thoughtless? Why would you want to be thoughtless? Why would you want your peer to feel like they are working in a hostile environment? Where they have no voice? Outside of readers, in this industry, you are the greatest ally.

Lastly, agents, editors, publishers: If you do a call for diverse romance novels, you should know people like me might take a look at your staff. If you believe in diversity in romance, why doesn't your staff roster show it? Otherwise, I think you're full of shit. And if you can pass that sniff test, (not likely) and you point me to your dedicated line to African Americans. Awesome. But when I look at your marketing campaign, year after year, the only thing you really do say to sell books...Hey, Black Peoples! Not Secret Baby Romance. Friends to Lovers Romance. Alphas Who Kidnap Their Heroines.

Just black peoples in romances....

THIS POST IS ESPECIALLY FOR YOU.

So TL;DR: Romance industry get your shit together. Stop looking to the people you are oppressing to help you stop oppressing them. Like Glenda would say, the power was within you the whole fucking time. (Paraphrased Glenda.) Show some goddamn initiative if you really want to be inclusive. And if you can, be a great ally in both your words and actions.


41 comments:

Kristan Higgins said...

Thanks for this post, Melissa. It's given me a lot to think about.

Rachelle Ayala said...

I've written quite a few diverse romances in the past. Hidden Under Her Heart [biracial + everything else], Knowing Vera [disabled hero], Taming Romeo [Filipino], Claiming Carlos [Filipino], Roaring Hot [Japanese-Greek], Whole Latte Love [Chinese-American], Played by Love [Korean male], Playing the Rookie [Korean male]. Lately, I've been writing mainstream so I can build my career. You hit a lot of roadblocks with writing what you know, in my case, my culture, where people accuse me of stereotyping when I'm only portraying life as I know it. But I'm not giving up. Thanks for the article and encouragement.

Melissa Blue said...

@Kristan, I'm glad it did. We can do so much better.

Melissa Blue said...

@Rachelle "But I'm not giving up. Thanks for the article and encouragement." Never give up. And you're welcome.

Kelsey Jordan said...

So my "response" is more of an agreement and will likely end up a s a blog post. I will say this, my personal experience is when I write characters, I write characters. I don't care what their race is (most are supernatural--born not made--in nature anyway) because they tell me.

I do recognize that for whatever reason a vast majority of my heroes are white in skin tone, but again, nobody is human. also, I am aware of the old excuse of "well they aren't human so why does it matter?" I know it matters. Try as I might, but whenever I try to "recolor" (or make any changes beyond editing) in the world my characters have given me, the story falls to shit. Complete and utter shit. I tried before in my first vampire novel (all of them were POC from the start) I changed something seemingly innocuous. I have three freaking 3-inch binders with their story because my changes turned the entire thing (a series) to shit. Its a one day book now.
As for the POC thing, I've talked to you before about it and my personal struggles with it in writing.

I will say this, I read good books. That is my primary criteria, covers that make me say "gimme" being second. Writers who are POC are littered throughout my Kindle, but I can always do better--do more. Being conscious of my bias is a start. I'm going to try.

Melissa Blue said...

I feel some kind of way about the my muse won't let me. Even though I have derailed plots because I absolutely needed X. But what is so difficult in writing someone in or outside of your race, sexual orientation or physical disabilities? If you have the imagination to write supernatural beings...

My only advice would be to find someone to perv on, like seriously perv on. If Google released your search history, you'd end up in jail. The inspiration will follow.

But, yeah. The first step is being aware of your bias. The second step is doing something about it.

Kelsey Jordan said...

I don't think it's really a problem being able to do so, as much as in my world it literally does not matter. Species matter, but skin color doesn't. Now that is in this series. They don't care much for humans and their opinions about race to even mention it. Their culture is that of the Lycan, nothing more. Again, this is the problem with this world.
As for sexual orientation/physical disabilities? I haven't gotten to those books yet, but they are in the wings on my long list of WIPs.

Dawn Montgomery said...

And...I love you so hard. <3 <3 <3 <3

Milinda said...

I love you!

Incy Black said...

FFS, Mel, you made me think... And realise that while I don't (consciously) suppress diversity, neither do I do one damm thing to advance it. I thought myself blind to all things diverse, now I realise I was just plain ignorant. WILL try to do better. (You did this, me trying).

Anonymous said...

The one thing that has always struck me about the romance community was how it never questioned or thought about the marginalization and segregation--and often, just plain absence--of AOC.

RWA was founded by a powerful black editor who has an award named after her!

(This kind of erasure and historical amnesia is the most troubling for me, but I digress.)

Signal boosting diverse authors is as easy as publishing a box set; including their books in your weekly freebie/cheap reads newsletter; following them on Twitter and engaging in conversation; talking about their work by trope/yummy hero/great heroine/hot sex scenes/funny dialogue...not "look guys, a diverse romance!".

Oh, and most importantly, making space for readers of color in this conversation. It's annoyed me for a while how this topic seems to center around the same circles of readers/authors reading diverse romance. As though the readers who were squeeing over Beverly Jenkins looong before you decided to try to diversify your reading don't exist. I'd really love to hear their voices in the romance community as opposed to the conversation continuing to be framed around those those worrying about how/where to begin diversifying their reading choices.

+ Evangeline

Melissa Blue said...

@Kelsey "I don't think it's really a problem being able to do so, as much as in my world it literally does not matter."

If you've written it that way, sure it's believeable. And in today's climate most people won't blink. There are romance series where an entire football team is white. The entire roster. We all know that shit is so far from reality.

"They don't care much for humans and their opinions about race to even mention it. Their culture is that of the Lycan, nothing more."

I think something here is getting lost in translation. Race being an issue is one thing. I barely touch on the deeper issues of race in my interracial romances. Like with your books, my characters don't too much care. But the world they live in is still colorful, cultures are still being blended. No one is being an ass about it.

So do you see the problem of having an all white cast of characters? If racial differences doesn't matter, the only true barrier is Lycan DNA then the logical leap would be then there wouldn't be an all white cast, right? The issues would lie in who will be top dog? Not, will I be accepted into this pact because I'm X?

And PNR more than any genre deals with racial issues. Vampires hate Lycans. Why? Because...that's a racial issue wrapped in fangs and fur.

But the world is nothing but Caucasian people?

So in short, if it doesn't matter then why is it so difficult to add a colorful cast? The barrier isn't in the story. It's the author, you in this case, deciding not to write a colorful cast. I'm not saying this to put your back up or shame in any way. Just to make you think: Why can't I? Do I want to? What are the benefits of making my world inclusive? Obvs. that's up to you what you do.

"As for sexual orientation/physical disabilities? I haven't gotten to those books yet, but they are in the wings on my long list of WIPs."

I am a fan of plot bunnies. I often think taking the bigger risks often comes when you've told the initial stories you really wanted to tell.

So think about it. I think you might find the only thing really hold you back is fear. We all feel it. Hell, I write Scotsmen. I am just waiting for Scotland to ban me and my writing. lol

Melissa Blue said...

@Dawn Right back at you. <3

Melissa Blue said...

@The Other Ms. Blue <3

Melissa Blue said...

@Incy "FFS, Mel, you made me think... And realise that while I don't (consciously) suppress diversity, neither do I do one damm thing to advance it."

And I honestly think that's all the difference in the world. It's the purpose of my post and the source of my anger. Clueless people will be clueless. No point in wasting my breath. But I believe there are way more people like you and I. We are aware of the importance of diversity in not just romance but in the world. What are we doing about it? How often are we being inclusive so that it does make a difference? How vocal are we?

The goal is to make diversity a non-issue in a way. It doesn't need to be stated, because if it's a good book, we will buy the shit out of it and tell all our friends to do the same. At least that's the end goal for me.

"(You did this, me trying)."

:) I try.

Melissa Blue said...

@Evangeline "The one thing that has always struck me about the romance community was how it never questioned or thought about the marginalization and segregation--and often, just plain absence--of AOC."

Because racism is systematic. You don't notice the walls around you until they start to crumble.


"RWA was founded by a powerful black editor who has an award named after her!

(This kind of erasure and historical amnesia is the most troubling for me, but I digress.)"

Do digress. I still remember when I first learned this romance factoid. I was thrilled. Then sad because come on romance industry.

"Signal boosting diverse authors is as easy as publishing a box set; including their books in your weekly freebie/cheap reads newsletter; following them on Twitter and engaging in conversation; talking about their work by trope/yummy hero/great heroine/hot sex scenes/funny dialogue...not "look guys, a diverse romance!"."

All of this. All of it. That simple. All the yeses.

"I'd really love to hear their voices in the romance community as opposed to the conversation continuing to be framed around those those worrying about how/where to begin diversifying their reading choices."

I would too. And usually those readers are rolling their eyes because everyone else on the late freight. Not only that being a reader of color or from a marginalized community they are already used to reading about people who are nothing like them. It's not that much of a leap or a fight. The book sounds good, they want to read it. Some may not signal boost but they are voting with their dollars.

Since I pretty much quoted your entire comment...lol You can say I agree wholeheartedly.

Devin said...

So Kelsey, if skin color doesn't matter, maybe you could show that on the page? Just mention it as if you would hair and eye color: this person has black skin, or brown, or white.

Because what I'm hearing you say is "skin color doesn't matter" and then you go on to explain how it matters so much that it breaks your whole story to include POC.

Do you think giving someone black skin makes them so fundamentally different that you have to rewrite the character? In a world where it supposably makes no difference? What???

Devin said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Kristan Higgins said...

Me again.

In every book I've written, there's a teeny bit of diversity in the secondary characters: gay or lesbian, POC, differently abled. My books are set in New England, not the most diverse part of the nation, and usually in small, rural towns. I've had one Latino hero, and to be honest, he was barely that, because I killed off his Puerto Rican mother and had him raised by his white dad. The reason I had him be Latino: crush on Latino actor. Shallow, but there it is.

This conversation makes me see I could do better. I've been thinking about this topic nonstop for the past few days, and I've forwarded this blog to my entire RWA chapter and a bunch of friends. I want to thank you (again) for pointing out some of the things I do without even realizing it.

Melissa Blue said...

@Kristan "The reason I had him be Latino: crush on Latino actor. Shallow, but there it is."

First, whenever I write an African American hero, doesn't matter the bevy of choices, I always imagine them to be Idris Elba. You will not be judged here for crushes or hero inspiration. Perv on.


"This conversation makes me see I could do better."

I had my own small epiphany when I decided I was going to write a Korean hero. I'm a POC. I should know the questions I should ask, the things to not say or have him do so I am portraying his character in a thoughtful way. In a fully-fleshed out he's a human, not a stereotype way. The book isn't out yet and I still worry about the choices I made.

I'm a POC and I'm not immune. Sometimes we need something to reminds us or open our eyes.

"I've been thinking about this topic nonstop for the past few days, and I've forwarded this blog to my entire RWA chapter and a bunch of friends."

I hope it is received with the same openness.

" I want to thank you (again) for pointing out some of the things I do without even realizing it."

Thank you for coming back and letting me how it was a point of change for you. I was angry and frustrated when I wrote it. My hope was that it would jolt at least one person. (And, ya know, not wake up to pitch forks in my feed.) So thank you for spreading the word and hopefully it will continue to jolt folks.

Rachelle Ayala said...

@Kristan, I love that book with Colleen and Lucas, and yes, I did realize there was a tenuous try for a Puerto Rican hero. If we can only get half, we'll take it. My Broken Build also has a Puerto Rican/Cajun heroine and yes, her mother was also dead before the story. Sometimes it's easier to take out the ethnicity factor because readers think it is distracting. For example, if you have them drinking coquito and eating pasteles and that's the ONLY thing you did for them being Puerto Rican it would come off kind of shallow, so it's better to mainstream them in terms of what they say and do. As for Dr. Chu, ahem, she was more a stereotype of a hyperactive Valley girl who happened to be Chinese American, and she did bring in a few moments of comic relief.

Anyway, I truly do like all your books and have seen you put in LGBT characters and others who are usually shunted aside. The biggest thing I see is that yes, there are POC and LGBT characters, but they are usually the side characters, or as my brother would say, they never get the girl or the guy. They're the intelligent friend, or the caring nanny, or the tough as nails badass or the clever sidekick. Lucas Campbell was a delicious hero and his Latin looks surely had a lot of appeal to him. You did blend in the story quite well with how his father tried to raise him by himself, and he did care deeply about his family the way we suppose he would.

Me? it's been the opposite. I jumped in gung-ho with my diverse cast of characters because it is my reality. I grew up in Los Angeles, lived in the International Living Center at Cornell, and then moved to the SF Bay area. My neighborhood is naturally diverse, so it's just a matter of observing what's around me and writing it.

Rachelle Ayala said...

@Melissa I look forward to your Korean character. I fully understand the extra care you have to take to make sure you have him portrayed in a fully-fleshed way. It makes things harder to try to make sure you're not stereotyping, but then any trait you give him, someone will say you're stereotyping. He likes rap music? Or he plays soccer? Whatever. Someone will say something, so you can't worry too much.

If I write all white people, I don't have to worry about whether this one is too evil, or that one is mean, or stupid, or gorgeous, or can't cook, or too smart, or too damaged, or any other number of things that my characters NEED to be for the story. They truly can be evil, deranged, angelic, idiotic, goofy, sharp, lustful, or lazy, and no one would criticize me.

So... now you see the dilemma on writing POC or LGBT characters who might have these traits, but immediately, because they are POC/LGBT people jump all over you because you are portraying them in a "bad light." I have tire-tracks over my back for this. A friend of mine was upset because my Filipina character, Vera, sleeps around. Others felt my Carina, who is a serious business student who doesn't have time for fun, is stereotyped. Well, no one has said anything about crazy Choco because she's a busybody big sister, but someone was also upset that Lucas Knight was only half-black [biracial]. And then, his sister wasn't portrayed all that great because her role was to slump at his apartment and cause trouble for him.

Now you see the handcuffs that impede a writer from adding diversity to her story? That and the fact the books don't sell as well as the ones with the mainstream characters front and center, and it makes a hard proposition to keep going.

What I'm doing next is to start a series with mainstream characters, and then introduce the POC characters with them later on getting prime billing. Maybe this will pull readers in, sort of like the pot boiling a frog theory. To be fair, the ladies in my reader's club love every story, diverse or not, so there are a segment of awesome readers who will read with an open mind, and those readers are the bomb! Which means I should develop a thicker skin and realize whatever I do, someone will say I'm stereotyping or putting POC in a bad light, and once there are many, many books with all sorts of characters, maybe people won't be so sensitive anymore--that their one X character turned out to be the villain.

Evangeline Holland said...

(I had to post under anonymous last night because my browser had me logged into my real life account!)

@Melissa: "Do digress. I still remember when I first learned this romance factoid. I was thrilled. Then sad because come on romance industry."

I don't even remember when I learned about Vivian Stephens, but when I did, I was like...wait...what?

You mean to tell me there was a black woman with that much of an impact on the genre, but the only pioneers discussed in Romance history are Kathleen E. Woodiwess and whomever was the Avon editor who plucked her novel out of the slush pile?

You mean to tell me that many can say whom the RITA Award is named after, but it's difficult to even find a photograph of Stephens on any official RWA media?

Then there's that article in Black Enterprise about how many black women editors created the romance genre as we know it.

Like...what?

It just boggles the mind that Stephens, Flournoy, et al were there in prominent, visible leadership positions, but the invisibility and erasure of WOC in the genre was never, ever questioned.

Melissa Blue said...

@Rachelle "Sometimes it's easier to take out the ethnicity factor because readers think it is distracting."

I think when you do this specifically so it will go over well, it does the reader and you a disservice. But I do agree for some things, if you're not going to make it intregral to the character or plot then maybe it shouldn't be there. *Then again, realistically, I've seen people carry on traditions or still like things they grew up with in their culture even if they are not fully immersed in it anymore. Best example I can think of is a Mexican American who may not give their daughter a quinceaƱera, but make tamales or some other traditional dish at holidays.

" I look forward to your Korean character. I fully understand the extra care you have to take to make sure you have him portrayed in a fully-fleshed way. It makes things harder to try to make sure you're not stereotyping, but then any trait you give him, someone will say you're stereotyping. He likes rap music? Or he plays soccer? Whatever. Someone will say something, so you can't worry too much."

More so I know what it feels like to read a character who in theory looks like me, but makes me cringe. The ground I stand on is that I wrote a fully-fleshed out character. Be it a bad guy, good guy, comic relief or just in general the troll of the book. :)

"That and the fact the books don't sell as well as the ones with the mainstream characters front and center, and it makes a hard proposition to keep going."

And this I will wholeheartedly say is false. The readers are there. I have experienced it firsthand many times. Are their hurdles that don't exist for mainstream only authors, yes. THis is a false narrative I wish would die. Does mainstream romances have a different audience? I would say yes. Mostly because there are too many people who will ONLY read mainstream.

"...once there are many, many books with all sorts of characters, maybe people won't be so sensitive anymore--that their one X character turned out to be the villain."

Believe it or not, I think TV is paving the way for this inclusion more so than books right now. We have shows like Scandal, Sleepy Hollow, Mindy Project, a lot of shows on CW where there are leads or characters who get a lot screen time who are every shade, any orientation. We need to catch up. And that's a good thing.

Melissa Blue said...

@Evagenline "I don't even remember when I learned about Vivian Stephens, but when I did, I was like...wait...what?"

After your comment, I went to do more digging. There was very little out there when I found out she was African American, a big time editor and a founder of RWA, which is a big deal within itself. Not only is she one of the main reasons why I can write African American characters and it's not brand new, but I currently work as a virtual assistant for one of the authors she discovered. Talk about coming full circle, and how much someone you never met can influence your life.

"You mean to tell me there was a black woman with that much of an impact on the genre, but the only pioneers discussed in Romance history are Kathleen E. Woodiwess and whomever was the Avon editor who plucked her novel out of the slush pile?"

PREACH! Like seriously. Do you know how hard I had to search even now, 2016? I went to RWA's website. Her involement reads almost like a throwaway comment. Oh, and there's an award named after her but no explanation why other than she wasn't a writer. (To give some credit it seems it's really hard to earn the award as in you need to live up to her standards.)

But you really don't hear about her when people talk about pioneers in a genre that is the epitome of the feminist credo.

"Then there's that article in Black Enterprise about how many black women editors created the romance genre as we know it."

YES. That's where I found a chunk of the information. And this here: http://www.zoominfo.com/p/Vivian-Stephens/32814789 a list in which her name was invoked. Should be so much more. So much more.

"It just boggles the mind that Stephens, Flournoy, et al were there in prominent, visible leadership positions, but the invisibility and erasure of WOC in the genre was never, ever questioned."

You're going to inspire a whole other post. lol Or maybe you should write that one. The problem is so...ugh. All I can really say is that in 2008, I believe, I went to my first RWA event. Green as green can be. The big names had lines that blocked other people's table, but I just walked up to Francis Ray. Didn't have a book to sign. Nothing. I just wanted to tell her how much I loved Fallen Angel. She not only gave me writing advice, but career advice as a African American writer (not to forget she talked about getting prime store placement and how she didn't ask but demanded it which was a lesson within itself) and even sent me to another young author's table to get some more advice. She knew what I was in for and I had no clue. I wish I could thank her now.

The moral is, how often is her name or Brenda's or Beverly's is brought up when people talk about pioneers in romance? Writing in an genre where people think you don't even have an audience and again and again you prove that shit to be so false...they should get more than a footnote. They shouldn't just be brought up when talking about diversity. Hell, I would think Brenda Jackson would be the go-to when anyone talks about how to build a career on series.

How rich would the history of romance be if we were simply inclusive? How proud would we be to write in a genre forged mostly by women and for women, if we included every single obstacle all of us faced and still we triumphed? Ignoring how diverse we are does us no favors.

Thank you so much for digressing.

Aarati said...

I think the society that is present today is being reflected in the books out there. I for one am proud of myself, because I have read diverse romances. I've read African-American books
(though they were part of my syllabus, I was lucky enough to find them enjoyable and read more books by the same authors.), I've even read FF and MM books (I may not have reviewed then, but then again I haven't reviewed lots of other books too) I don't mind widening my horizons. At the end of the day black, white, brown (being an Indian, I am relegated to this category), we are all human beings. We breathe the same air, we bleed red and live on the same fricking planet. So why people discriminate is something I can't comprehend. Behaving like a decent human being is not much to ask, is it? When we can raise dogs and cats and even snakes and lions and tigers as pets, why can't we accept people as just that. People, not colored or white or gay or transgenders. And this phenomena is not limited to the romance books. What we see in the romance community is just a reflection of the society, which unfortunately is more a wild animal than human.

Well I'm glad someone had the guts to speak up! Kudos for that Melissa Blue.

Christine said...

We are all made of star stuff. Thank you for this post.

Melissa Blue said...

"I think the society that is present today is being reflected in the books out there."

More than it used to, absolutely. I think the self-publishing boom did a lot of great things for fiction in general.

"So why people discriminate is something I can't comprehend. Behaving like a decent human being is not much to ask, is it?"

It is not. I was talking to my friend last night and she said we can get hung up on all the differences. We often forget or don't realize how much alike we really are. I think we do. I just want to be able to celebrate the differences.

"And this phenomena is not limited to the romance books."

It is not. I'm not trying to change the world, but if I can have my corner of it be a little more awesome then I'm all for it.

Melissa Blue said...

@Christine "We are all made of star stuff."

I just posted a Neil video on my FB. We are. And it's okay that we're different too and that's the point for me.

A.M. Bookdragon said...

I care not the race of characters, especially if race is treated as a non issue. Meaning the focus of the book is not the race of the character (s), rather race is just a part of the character. Katie Reus did this wonderfully in two books in her Red Stone Security Series. A brother and sister whose backstory includes a mother was Jamaican and father disowned by his family for their interracial relationship. Yet this was just mentioned as a part of the tale it was not the focus. I can not think of the book, a recent read though, with a hero of Asian descent whose nationality is just a slice of the picture the author draws was also greatly enjoyed. Moreover, I adored the late Francis Ray because her books were simply romances in my eyes. What I dislike are books written around the premise of racial tension. Which is why there are some IR authors I avoid. Other IR authors do a beautiful job of writing a conflict that is not centered around the race of the characters and I gladly settle in for a good read with them.

That being said, we all have a right to read what appeals most to us. In my case I am not at all interested in MCC, paranormal,YA, BSDM, LBGTQ or must vehemently books where sex IS the plot. I read books that sizzle and books with nothing more than kissing with equal enjoyment if the relationship is done well.

The same way I am not a reader of YA, MCC, BSDM, paranormal sub-genres is the same way I am not into LBGTQ. Does this make me anti-gay, I do not think so. I read romance as a fantasy escape, and none of these sub-genres are my choice of escapes. I applaud and support all author's. I also never judge anyone for what their reading tastes are. I also refuse to apologize for my own reading choices. I learned to stop apologizing for my reading choices from the romance community and feel a certain irony that this same community is not judging the reading habits with in its self, on BOTH sides it seems by your post.


So while I absolutely agree with your post; diversity is a wonderful thing and the mainstream publishing houses should expand to be inclusive to all readers. By being inclusive to all readers, you than become inclusive to authors and genres - as the popularity of genres in the self publishing market has made so abundantly clear. I disagree with a little of your tone. Reader shaming is reader shaming and you practically said the only reason readers don't read the more diverse sub-genres is due to racism and homophobia. Perhaps the cause is a lack of reader identification, something outside of their fantasies? I believe in embracing the various choices that are available to all readers is a valid and worthy pursuit. Just as I acknowledge that what a reader chooses to spend their money on is not a social commentary, but a personal choice.

Holley Trent said...

I don't think at any point Mel professed that readers should seek out books for their social commentary about racial tension or any other thing. Mel doesn't write those. I don't know many authors of romance who DO.

What's she's talking about is scenarios such as readers choosing NOT to try a book because there's a person of color on the cover, or because the author's Amazon profile image shows they're obviously not white. Readers make judgments about the contents of books without knowing a thing about that individual author's style or tone. Too often, authors of color get their works put into boxes even before a reader looks at page one.

Ambrielle Kirk said...

No where in Melissa’s post did I get the feeling that she was saying that “the only reason readers don't read the more diverse sub-genres is due to racism and homophobia”. In fact, in the top of the post it clearly states that this is about spotlighting more romance authors who write diversely. I’ve been reading “romance” diversely for decades now and I can’t recall any of the books where the one and only conflict was “racial tension”. There is so much more to making relationships work than overcoming “racial tension” about the relationship.

One of the points- and a valid point- of this blog post is that books that obviously feature a POC as the main character aren’t books that necessarily need to be shoved on the “black people” shelf. They are romances, first. Therefore, if I go to a mainstream contemporary romance blog looking for a book with a trope such as “friends to lovers”, I shouldn’t see a dozen titles and all of them are nothing but white bread (no wheat - or not one drop of chocolate, as Mel stated). We don’t love differently because of skin color or gender.

Melissa Blue said...

@Bookdragon

"That being said, we all have a right to read what appeals most to us."

You do.

"In my case I am not at all interested in MCC, paranormal,YA, BSDM, LBGTQ or must vehemently books where sex IS the plot."

Let me stop you here. LBGTQ is not a genre. Contemporary romance is a genre. Paranormal is a genre. Homosexuals, bisexuals, gays, trans and queer people are not a genre. So you are not at all interested in reading about romances, no matter the genre, that features homosexuals, bisexuals, gays, trans and queer people. That is your right.

"The same way I am not a reader of YA, MCC, BSDM, paranormal sub-genres is the same way I am not into LBGTQ. Does this make me anti-gay, I do not think so. I read romance as a fantasy escape, and none of these sub-genres are my choice of escapes."

I'll repeat, stories that features LGBTQ characters is not a genre, niche or theme. These characters can be featured in historicals, contemporaries, paranormals. Something about LGBTQ characters ruins the fantasy and escape of romance for you. That is your right to not read LGBTQ characters in any genre because for you it does not provide the fantasy and escape you are looking for.

"I also never judge anyone for what their reading tastes are. I also refuse to apologize for my own reading choices."

I did not ask anyone to apologize but to think about their reading choices. To consider the idea that their reading habits, no matter the reasons, contribute to systematic oppression of another. If you were to replace LGBTQ with almost anything else maybe the point would be clearer.

"The same way I am not a reader of YA, MCC, BSDM, paranormal sub-genres is the same way I am not into African American romances. Does this make me anti-black, I do not think so. I read romance as a fantasy escape, and none of these sub-genres are my choice of escapes."

"The same way I am not a reader of YA, MCC, BSDM, paranormal sub-genres is the same way I am not into Caucasian romances. Does this make me anti-white, I do not think so. I read romance as a fantasy escape, and none of these sub-genres are my choice of escapes."

I would hope you would say the above, or even read it now, and have a momentary pause at how that sounds. I would hope you dig deeper and question what could be an unconscious bias. If the reason holding you back is that you can't find sweet LGBTQ romances then I would ask someone to give you recommendations on sweet LGBTQ romances as long as it's not YA, MCC, BDSM or paranormal.

"I learned to stop apologizing for my reading choices from the romance community and feel a certain irony that this same community is not judging the reading habits with in its self, on BOTH sides it seems by your post."

Again, I don't want an apology. I want people to stop and think about the larger scale of their actions, of what they are saying to a part of the romance community not with their words but with their actions.

1/2

Melissa Blue said...

2/2

"I disagree with a little of your tone."

What tone is acceptable when talking about racism? Who should I have gone to make sure my tone wouldn't upset anyone or make them uncomfortable? The most important question: Does tone at all change the intent or the meaning of the post?

If not, then I'm not sure why tone is brought up other than to dictate how I should have felt while I wrote it. Or to have used a tone that would make the reader more comfortable. Subjects like racism, rape are not comfortable subjects. Tone does not matter. I could have whispered it softly. I didn't. So not sure what you hoped to convey to critique my tone. But again it is your right to say you disagree with my tone.

"Reader shaming is reader shaming and you practically said the only reason readers don't read the more diverse sub-genres is due to racism and homophobia."

I'm not practically saying readers who don't read more diversely is due to racism or homophobia. I am saying directly, with forceful intent, members of the LGBTQ community, African Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanics, Latinos, etc. ARE NOT GENRES. They are people. In this sense, they are characters. If you do not want to read a book solely because the character is Hispanic, Latino or gay is actively participating in the systematic oppression of another. That is when it stops being a matter of taste. Being able to say it is a matter of taste makes people comfortable. The idea that you are participating in something that you normally would not do is uncomfortable.

"Perhaps the cause is a lack of reader identification, something outside of their fantasies?"

I think of reader identification is "I can see myself in you." If the buck literally stops at you look nothing like me, that's a problem. You don't share the same traditions or culture guide posts as I...that's a problem. Because once you dig underneath all those layers at the core everyone wants to be loved. They wanted to be accepted. Their fantasy might include a CEO, a rancher, a playboy and to simply say because the romance features X ethnicity, sexual orientation, or is not able bodied then the fantasy is invalid? Because the CEO is homosexual then it's not a billionaire romance anymore?

"I believe in embracing the various choices that are available to all readers is a valid and worthy pursuit. Just as I acknowledge that what a reader chooses to spend their money on is not a social commentary, but a personal choice."

What you choose to read is a personal choice. But that choice does not mean it is not a social commentary. Or your personal choice does not effect anyone but you. The book industry does not happen in a vacuum. Now a person may not like what the social comment is, that doesn't make it any less true. You can love what you read, because no one is saying you have to stop. You can continue to read what you prefer to read, because there isn't any social justice fairy who forces books onto your ereader. You don't have to defend your choices either. You don't have to feel an ounce of shame for what you read. That is your right, your choice. No one can take that from you.

Doesn't mean the books you consistently choose to read, purchase and share (and that makes you happy i.e. your corner of the world feels like a better place--the reason why most of us read), is not actively participating in the systematic oppression of another. These two things can exist on the same plane. Not a comfortable one.

Either way, happy reading.

Melissa Blue said...

@Holley

"I don't think at any point Mel professed that readers should seek out books for their social commentary about racial tension or any other thing. Mel doesn't write those."

I did not and I do not. I write erotic romance. That's about as social as I get.

" Readers make judgments about the contents of books without knowing a thing about that individual author's style or tone. Too often, authors of color get their works put into boxes even before a reader looks at page one."

THIS.

Melissa Blue said...

@Kirk

" I’ve been reading “romance” diversely for decades now and I can’t recall any of the books where the one and only conflict was “racial tension”. There is so much more to making relationships work than overcoming “racial tension” about the relationship."

And that's the assumption that makes me twitch. Just because a book features a non-Caucasian, non-straight, able bodied character, the book is automatically deemed an "issue" book. Therefore only Caucasian authors are "safe" to read.

And even if you don't buy into that narrative, how often are you actively showing that with your actions?

That's the point of the post. And it's not just limited to reading. Writing, reviewing, showcasing, etc.

beverly said...

And to quote myself for the umpteenth time - You can relate to werewolves, vampires, shapeshifters and all the rest, but you can't relate to romances by and about POC?! I call bullshit!

Melissa Blue said...

Ms. Beverly (if I am assuming right) I am honored.

And yes and more yes and all the yes. I think I'm just confused. People are saying to read more, write more, take chances, have fun and share with your group of friends. Read, write share all the books and have fun. Find/tell stories that resonate as widely as possible. And people are going NO and here are my reasons for not doing exactly what I already love to do.
*blank stare*

Cece Writer said...

What Ambrielle and Holly said. And as Melissa's critique partner, I can tell you that her books do not in any way spotlight racial issues or racial tension. They spotlight romance. I could say more but I'd basically be echoing everything everyone else has said -- and probably said better.

Jackie C. Horne said...

Thanks, Melissa, for writing this column. Very important points, especially for white readers like me.

Melissa Blue said...

@Jackie, thank you for stopping by and commenting. Hopefully you'll find some new and awesome authors to glom.

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