Friday, December 18, 2015

Brown Like Me-What Diversity In Romance Means To Me


On Monday I had the privilege of guest blogging over at Musings of A Romance Junkie's blog. Patrice is an awesome blogger who a unique and distinctive voice. She focuses on romance reads that feature black women as the heroine. I head over to her blog every Monday to check out her Monday Musings and she always delivers a musing on a topic that is timely and thought provoking. Patrice's book reviews are always entertaining and she holds no punches. If you haven't checked her out yet you really should! I wanted to share here a version of what I shared on Monday. Feel free to comment on what diversity means to you, what got you hooked on romance in general, or simply leave your thoughts on the whole thing!


Brown Like Me

There is a lot of debate lately surrounding diversity in romance. The discussions about what constitutes diversity and how it can be positively promoted has become lively, to say the least. I am a woman of a certain age and I have been a romance fan since I discovered Kathleen Woodiwiss in high school. I was quickly swept away by historical bodice ripper type romances and loved every minute of it. I also read Science Fiction and Fantasy so I was never in fear of not having something good to read. But what I didn't have was lots of choices in my favorite genres that feature women of color. In the late 80's there weren't a ton of romance books that featured women who were brown like me. 

In the 1990's there were authors like Tina Ansa, Terry McMillan, E. Lynn Harris, Bebe Moore Campbell, and Connie Briscoe who were all representing African American love, family dynamics, and community issues in their writing. These are all wonderful authors who wrote stories that made you loose yourself within the pages and feel satisfied when you finished them. But they aren't romance writers per se. Their stories often dealt with love but they were definitely more literary works, not the smutty goodness that I wanted. If I wanted to read ROMANCES about women who were brown my options were limited. So, while I continued to read their work I also kept eating up romances and Sci-Fi/Fantasy as well. 

 I will be the first to admit that I was oblivious for a long time when it came to the women who were blazing a path of their own into what I consider true romance writing. You know what I mean! The stories that makes your pulse race and wonder when the hell your husband/significant other will get home!

When I first started my blog in August of 2013 I had just discovered IR romance and I couldn't believe what all was out there that I had been missing! It was like a whole new world had opened up to me. A world were AA women were admired, lusted after, and most of all loved and cherished by the men that were pursuing them. I remember thinking to myself "When the heck did this happen?" Well, it happened while I was stubbornly refusing to buy an eReader. While I was still clinging to my physical books there were courageous, audacious, and fabulous African American women who had decided that they were tired of not seeing themselves reflected in romance novels. These amazing women had decided that since they weren't getting the romances that they wanted for themselves from main stream publishers that they would write, publish, and promote their own damn stories! WOW! I was like a kid in a candy store and couldn't find and read these books fast enough.

My first IR read was Dmitry's Closet by Latrivia S. Nelson. I LOVED it! Even with the obvious editing issues I ate that sucker up and couldn't read through the series fast enough and was anxiously awaiting each new book that came out. A strong dominant man with a Russian accent? Sign me up, baby cakes! I soon discovered Sienna Mynx, Tiffany Ashley, Theodora Taylor, Stormie Kent, and Mercedes Keys. These women were not only writing romances featuring AA women, but they were giving us sexy as hell leading men, hot and erotic love scenes, and stories that I wanted to read over and over again. Each of these women gave me something that I loved in the mainstream romances but they featured women who were brown like me. Mynx gave me a mafia series that I am to this day still addicted to. Ashley gave me a contemporary romance that proved that love can be found in the most unexpected circumstances. Taylor gave me a bad ass shape shifting Viking who traveled through time (YES-TIME TRAVEL!) to find his fated mate-can you say 'nerd girl fantasy come true"? Kent gave me a dose of fantasy with an alien race that rivaled any Viking AND space travel. Be still my heart! And finally, Keys-she gave me a long running family saga that made me break almost every rule that I set down for myself when it came to eBooks.

The bottom line for me was that I just wanted to see a wide range of AA women as the main focus of romances. I wanted the women to run the gamut. Short, tall, thin, and thick with every shade of brown that we come in. I don't care if she wears a weave, rocks an afro, or has kinky curly hair that defies gravity. I know women who fit all of these descriptions and with IR romances I was getting that. I had found a treasure trove of stories highlighting women who are brown like me. I wanted to share my finds with as many people as possible.

So why am I now frustrated and getting cranky when there are more romances featuring AA women than ever now? Well, it's because it seems as though things don't feel enjoyable and supportive right now. If you claim to support diversity in romance but do not go far enough for some then you are not diverse enough. There is a niche for just about everything but not every niche will fit everywhere. There's no need for anyone to say that someone's support in promoting diversity isn't sufficient. For me, the whole point of diversity is to have choices. Authors writing and presenting their truths and readers having the opportunity to experience them or not according to their own proclivities is my most basic definition of diversity.

I am a woman of a certain age and I remember when we didn't have this bounty of diversity to enjoy. I remember when there weren't a large number of books that featured AA women in erotica, paranormal, fantasy, and contemporary romances. Yes, we still have a long way to go for our AA writers to reach the level of success that many of their counterparts are experiencing. I'm trying to do my part through my blog and trying to leave reviews as often as possible. However, the negativity that is floating through this diverse community that I so enjoy is disheartening. There are writers who have or are considering giving up, there are fans who are disheartened, and bloggers who are thinking of shutting down.

I love a bargain, but I am more than willing to pay a fair price for a well written and professionally edited story. But now independent authors are faced with mass theft of their intellectual property by corrupt people who steal their work and put them on sites for people to download for free. Not cool at all. Fans attacking other readers and authors. General ugliness surrounding reviews. What the what?! Come on now, we are better than that. If I enjoyed your product you better believe I'll leave you a positive review so that others will know the joy you brought me. With that being said, I also say if I didn't enjoy the read. I try never to be disrespectful so I don't appreciate being called on the carpet because of that either. I am proud to say that in my experience it has NEVER been from an author but other readers who can be not so nice. Kindness, consideration, and respecting the fact that everyone's opinion is valid may go a long way in keeping our community going.

Shaming for not being diverse enough isn't helpful either and doesn't promote productive dialogue. It motivates defensiveness at being accused of not being open enough to differences. Anyone who even remotely follows my reading habits knows that I read very eclectically. I consider myself lucky to enjoy a wide range of reading, but I am old enough and have read enough to know what I won't enjoy. I venture outside of my comfort zone every once in a while and find new likes, and dislikes, that way. I have my own personal baseline and I know what it is. If that's too rigid for some-well, that's okay too. Just because I choose not to read something doesn't mean that I won't support and celebrate the fact that it is available for others to enjoy. Preference does not, in my opinion, equal prejudice.

I'm hearing a lot of "we need people to celebrate diversity". What I, and some other bloggers, are thinking is "what do you think we are doing over here?" What I am really hearing is that they are wanting to be recognized on bigger platforms. I understand that. Get your product out there and hope for as much exposure as you can get. But we are out here beating the drums for authors who write for us. I'm small potatoes in the blogging world but I hope that my support of diversity, whether it is seen as enough or not, helps to showcase the kind of romance that I enjoy and was so grateful to find. I'll keep buying, reading, and supporting diversity in romance!

Happy Reading!
Monica Reeds

2 comments:

  1. I woke up long ago to the fact that the Big 5 and their fans, followers, sycophants really do not want "our" voices heard. Unless those voices are to their liking. I felt so much better when I realized I was seeking recognition from a business that was truly not interested in me. I took my talent to a small press and if they ever choose not to publish me anymore, I'll go the self-publishing route.

    Ps you are not small potatoes!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks so much for stopping by PJ. It's awesome to see women pursuing there dreams and not taking no for an answer!

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