A little over a week ago, almost 30 African-American romance authors attended a weekend retreat so we could focus on improving our craft and work together to bring our readers more of the swoons and stories they deserve. I was still flying high on all the feel good feels from that experience until this morning, when I read the Rape Disguised As Romance post
They tell us, “There’s no audience for your stories.” And still we write.
They tell us, “We’ll publish you but we won’t promote you because we don’t know how to market those books.” And still we write.
They tell us, “We’re not going to review you on our blogs or in our publications because you write those stories.” And still we write.
They tell us, “We’re not going to represent you at our agencies because those stories aren’t quality.” And still we write.
They tell us, “We’re not going to offer you a contract because they last time we published that one book with Black characters it didn’t sell.” And still we write.
They tell us, “I won’t read Black romance because I can’t relate to those characters.” (This from Black romance readers, not just mainstream ones.) And still we write…
This is what we African-American Romance authors have to deal with to get our stories out into the world. And now, in one of our few Black Girl safe spaces, our “geek” gets accused of promoting rape because of what some Caucasian women wrote almost 40 years ago. And still we…
At this point why should we bother?
“I never thought I had to fight in my own house!” – Miss Sophia, The Color Purple
Every day, every hashtag it seems, numerous Black Romance writers speak up in support of whatever Blerd Twitter is in an uproar about. We too know what it’s like to be “othered”. On any given day, you’ll see Farrah Rochon, Kwana Jackson, Shelly Ellis, Piper Huguley and others chiming in. But today we log on to this?
WTF, TaLynn? Black Girl Nerds, you’re not gonna insist that she name names before publishing that? (For the record: I stan for BGN founder Jamie. Daily. I still stan for Jamie. But, that’s not going to stop me from calling her out to do better.)
Then come to find out that the author of the critique seems to have missed the scores of African-American romance novels depicting healthy, sex-positive relationships that have been published since at least 1994. Yes, TaLynn, in your comments and update, you erased us.
You’ve read that many historical romance novels seemed to have yet missed the boat of African-American historical romance wonderfulness that is Beverly Jenkins? And, more recently, her heirs apparent Piper Huguley, Kianna Alexander, Vanessa Riley. Really? Get thee a copy of Topaz or Indigo immediately.
(Speaking of African-American history, did you know that a major player behind the change that made romance novels more sex-positive, starting in the 1980s, was an African-American editor named Vivian Stephens?)
Every month, Harlequin imprint Kimani Press publishes 4 new African-American titles. And before them there was Arabesque and still is Dafina/Kensington cranking out new African-American romance titles. EVERY. MONTH. And then there’s awesome newer digital imprints, like my publisher Entangled Publishing, who help our books see the light of day too.
Check it, I’m totally there with you, TaLynn. Yes, the romance industry had a sexual violence problem back in the 1970s and 1980s. (The first time I ever saw the word “rape” was in the Danielle Steele book Full Circle that I, uh, “borrowed”, from my mother.) Yes, you might even see an uptick of questionable consensual sex in “romance” novels recently. But with today’s technology, anybody can tag their self-published book as “Romance” on Amazon, unchecked, just because they know that tag will help them sell more books. Look at the submission guidelines for the big traditional romance publishers. They specifically say “No rape. No incest.” Romance reader stans do not tolerate that. Hell, I was shocked at the level of scrutiny that my novella received for safe sex practices in its GoodReads reviews.
And, I am completely with you on your complaint about the unrealistic portrayals of the aftermath of sexual trauma. That applies to all of media in general. But, it especially pisses me off in romance novels because it is produced by other women. We should know better. What are the stats now for women who experience some form of sexual assault now? 1 in 3? That means, if you haven’t experienced yourself, someone you care about has. Do better, Romancelandia.
Every time I read about a post-miscarriage heroine immediately moving on with her life, I call “BULLSHIT”. It took me 3 years afterward to feel “normal” again. I think the last stat I saw for pregnancy loss was 50%. I find these portrayals insulting. Enough of us women have experienced it to know better.
Readers, please please please, tell that author and that publisher if you see something in a book that isn’t cool. And, please please please, let us know the types of stories you want, but don’t see enough of. Use Twitter. “They” are watching.
Today’s post does not help us help you find more of the stories you seem to crave and deserve by rehashing this outdated argument about the romance genre. The findings from a recent Pew study imply that African-American women with at least some college education are the demographic most likely to read a book. Today, it seemed like that demographic couldn’t wait to join the co-sign chorus about those books.
Reading those comments felt like a jab in the center of my chest. Maybe what “they” tell us is right. Perhaps there really isn’t a place for the books that I love to read and write.
Where to find more of the books you’re looking for:
Shades of Romance Magazine www.sormag.com
Romance Slam Jam Conference www.romanceslamjamconference.org
Feel free to list other sex-positive romance outlets in the comments.
Kaia Danielle writes contemporary romance, historical romance, women’s fiction and a graphic novel that is resisting the revision process. Her short stories have appeared in several national magazines and an anthology. She is an alumnae of the VONA writing workshop. Originally from New Jersey, she now calls coastal Georgia home. You can find her tweeting about being a Jersey Girl in South Georgia, her foodie adventures and popular culture in general on her @kaiawrites handle.