Hard Facts about Being an African American Romance Writer

I read an article today that resonates so well with my writing journey that I have to share it, vlog it, and just sit on it for a moment.

It’s a #Longread from the Guardian title “Fifty Shade of White: the long fight against racism in romance novels“. The writer of this piece, Lois Beckett, dives right into the past and current issues with romance writers of color; it’s hard to break through when the industry is slow to see that change it needs.

As it stands, when it comes to the Rita Award, one of the most prestigious awards in the romance industry given by RWA (Romance Writers of America), there has never been a black winner, like ever. The first official RWA meeting occurred Dec. 1980 – yep not one winner for the past 40 years. But to be honest, as a black woman, I’m not shocked. I grew up watching black romance books being separated from all the others to fall into an Urban Romance category. Segregation comes in many forms, and that my friend, is one of them. I remember never being able to find them, they were always tucked somewhere in the back, as if a white woman with a flowing dress falling off of her shoulders with a guy raising her leg was so much more sophisticated than a black woman’s eyes or lips.

It was then that I picked up my first Zane book and got lost between the pages. Her words reminded me that the black POV of love and lust were different but still viable for all that read it. Zane inspired me to write my own romance stories, using imagery and words that resonated with my generation and my friends. She gave me the courage to go about this writing journey in my own way.

Fast forward to now, as I continue to push my own voice through my writing and pitch an African American romance, women’s fiction, upmarket/commercial erotic fiction book (it may fall into to some other categories but I didn’t want to go overboard), I’m wondering if there will be a delay in understanding the worth and message behind my words. My romance looks and reads differently, but it feels as good as other romance stories. Can a predominately white industry recognize its value? It’s in Beckett’s article that I find some hope that it will. I just pray that it’s sooner than later…I’m so ready to take this passion on full-time.

Here’s an excerpt from Beckett’s article:

For all this diversity of genre, the romance industry itself has remained overwhelming white, as have the industry’s most prestigious awards ceremony, the Ritas, which are presented each year by the RWA. Just like the Oscars in film, a Rita award is the highest honour a romance author can receive, and winning can mean not only higher sales, but also lasting recognition from peers. And just like the Oscars, the Ritas have become the centre of controversy over unacknowledged racism and bias in the judging process.

Last year, however, many observers felt that this was sure to change. One of the standout novels of 2017 had been Alyssa Cole’s An Extraordinary Union, an interracial romance set during the civil war. The book had already won a number of awards and made multiple best-of-the-year lists.

When the Rita awards finalists were announced in March 2018, An Extraordinary Union was nowhere to be seen. A novel rated exceptional by critics had been not even been deemed as noteworthy by an anonymous judging panel of Cole’s fellow romance writers. The books that had beat Cole as finalists in the best short historical romance category were all by white women, all but one set in 19th-century Britain, featuring white women who fall in love with aristocrats. The heroes were, respectively, one “rogue”, two dukes, two lords and an earl.

What followed, on Twitter, was an outpouring of grief and frustration from black authors and other authors of colour, describing the racism they had faced again and again in the romance industry. They talked about white editors assuming black writers were aspiring authors, even after they had published dozens of books; about white authors getting up from a table at the annual conference when a black author came to sit down; about constant questions from editors and agents about whether black or Asian or Spanish-speaking characters could really be “relatable” enough.

Then, of course, there were the readers. “People say: ‘Well, I can’t relate,’” Jenkins told NPR a few years ago, after watching white readers simply walk past her table at a book signing. “You can relate to shapeshifters, you can relate to vampires, you can relate to werewolves, but you can’t relate to a story written by and about black Americans?”

Read the full article.

 

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#12DaysofaShortStory Challenge – Day 11

Photo by Volkan Olmez on Unsplash

I know, I know, I’m behind but honestly I was definitely being a bit ambitious when I thought I could do this twelve days consecutively. But I’m giving you the next to last day right now so I hope you’re not too disappointed. Day 11 is below and Day 12 is on the way…don’t forget to check up on Day 1-10 here.

The Season for Living: Part XI

The phone rings for the tenth time. I’ve tried to call back three times with no luck. I’m no longer worried, I’m frantic.  

There was one other time that he didn’t pick up but he called back right after he missed the call. It’s been at least ten minutes, which really feels like sixty minutes.  

I put the phone down and pace. Pace to the kitchen. Pace to the front door. Pace back to the kitchen. My phone rings. I grab it and it almost slips out my sweaty hands.  

Shit its mom. Not right now mom. I hit decline and send a text of “I’ll call you right.” 

I don’t feel bad about it because I need him to call me back. I’ve got to keep my line clear. Hopefully he wasn’t calling while she was. I’ll call again.  

It rings four more times and his voicemail picks up. This time, I have to leave a message. 

“Cade, it’s me. Please call me back asap. I’m so damn worried. I hope you’re okay. You have to be okay. I need you to be okay…because…I…I love you too. I’m not saying that because you said it. I’m saying it because now I know it. I’ve been thinking and thinking and I know that we’re different. I know that the way I love you is different from any other man that I’ve ever loved. It’s deeper than the love I have for my best girlfriend. Right now, I’m going nuts because I’ve finally figure it and now I can’t even get to you. I don’t even know if you’re okay.” My eyes fill with tears and I try to keep my voice calm.  

“Please call me back now. I love you. I need to know that you will be okay…for us.” 

“Your message has been accepted.” And then the phone hangs up. I hate when voicemails cut me off but I’m not sure I had much more to say.  

My heart was in my throat and my stomach turned tighter than a coiled rope. I pace to the door and look out. I would give anything to see him walk up. I can’t lose him now.  

To be continued tomorrow…

#12DaysofaShortStory Challenge – Day 6

We’ve hit an important part of the short story. Let me know what you think so far. Oh, and if you missed yesterday’s post, check it out here.

The Season for Living: Part VI

“Cade, are you there?” For a moment, I thought about if he wasn’t on the other line. What if his phone called me back but he was in a criminal fight for his life?  

“Yeah, I’m here.” I was glad that I was wrong. Then silence. A calming silence. It was like we wanted to hear each other breathe to know that we were really alright. I’d be lying if I said this was the first time I thought about “what if” in Cade’s career.  

I knew how ridiculous the world could be. We all know how reckless people think police officers are but Cade was the swan of the bunch. He held his own with the community and everyone respected him for it. He gave respect to earn respect, even to the grimiest, drug-ridden lost soul. He was just different.  

So different that I couldn’t image my life without him. 

He broke the silence with beautiful words. “I love you.” 

I couldn’t fill the silence yet, so I just let him continue.  

“I had to just say it. When I got off the phone, I couldn’t focus on helping my guy. I just kept thinking. Did she get it? Did she finally get it? And something spoke to me and said no.” 

“You’re right.” I chuckled but not at his gesture at his accuracy of the situation. I had to explain myself before he took it the wrong way.  

“I thought this whole time you were talking about Angie.” 

“Angie. The fuck…no. She’s cute but her personality is trash.” 

“Touche’.” I hadn’t even gotten that far in my analysis to breakdown her character.  

“I don’t need you to say it back though.” 

Shit, I didn’t say it back, but why not? I do love him. But I wonder if it’s the same way.  

“I mean I do too but are you talking about on the friend front or the more than friend side.” 

“Were you listening to me at all?” His aggression sort of pissed me off. I’m just trying to get some clarity. “I love you like wanting to be in a relationship with you. Like wanting to be near you, or even better, to kiss those lips.” I couldn’t be mad anymore.  

“But when…and how Cade?” I could probably figure it out but I needed to hear more before I put my heart out there.  

To be continued tomorrow…

#12DaysofaShortStory Challenge – Day 5

Photo by Aaron Wilson on Unsplash

I’ve hit Day 5 of my challenge! FYI, today’s post has explicit language. I’ll rate this one PG-13. Wait…if you missed Day 4, go catch up here.

The Season for Living: Part V

DeDe use to run track in high school and apparently at 26 she still has it. I could tell she was at a job when she started explaining herself.

“This bitch was all up on my man at the Winter Eve Ball so I had to slap the fuck out of her. No let me correct that—I had to slap her for wanting to fuck.” DeDe was breathing normal again. I guess she made it to a safe place.  

DeDe was one of those friends I couldn’t let go no matter how much of the hood she brings to an event. She’s real, she’s loud and she’s got my back. And I have hers but not in the fight. I don’t fight. I’ll have the bail money and lawyer ready though. 

“I told you to stop giving that girl all that energy.” Margo was a constant topic in our conversations. She was the side chick that enjoyed being a side chick even if her duties weren’t needed any more.  

“I know, I know girl. But I’m so tired of her. She just won’t go away.” DeDe’s right. For some reason—probably the same reason as DeDe—Margo just won’t let Sean go. I would never tell DeDe this since thots and side chicks aren’t supposed to have real feelings but they both love him.  DeDe just won his heart in the end. 

And there it is. Another scary moment in love. You can’t stop who you love and you can stop others from loving who you love too.  

“Look DeDe, y’all have come a long way and you’re going to have to move forward. Stop looking back or you will miss what’s in front of you.” Her silence meant that she was absorbing my words. She’s a great listener but it’s usually always after the fact.  

My line begins to beep. Shit, it’s Cade. I didn’t notice that he hung up but I had to finish our conversation. 

“Hey, are you good now?” 

“Yeah…I’m good.” The calm was over her. “I’m about to call an Uber to get me home. I don’t even know where I’m right now.” 

“Okay but call or text me when you get home. Are you coming over for dinner tomorrow?” 

“You know I’m there. Boobs, Bourbon and blunt in hand.” 

“See you tomorrow babe.”  

DeDe is a really beautiful person. She loves so hard and she forgives to keep that love going. She’s dedicated to her heart and lives for each loving moment. Each kiss, each touch, each possibility that he was her forever love. I admire her so much that I envy her. She’s a true romantic at heart. Maybe I should follow my own advice: stop looking back. I’ve got to stop trying to avoid past mistakes by not even trying again at love. Maybe I was like Cade. Maybe the man of my dreams was right under my nose.  

My line clicked again. Damn I forgot to click over.  

“Cade…” 

To be continued tomorrow…