You guys, I love this post. I’m so so happy that I decided to go ahead and celebrate the Smithsonian Heritage Months again this year, but even more, that I have such wonderful guests participating! There are so many amazing, vibrant women in the romance community. I like to feature them regularly, but there’s just something about the Heritage Months that makes it that much more special to me. Today we have Grace Callaway, as you see, and I hope you’ll read on!
Hello, Grace Callaway here, and I’m delighted to be a guest on Limecello’s blog. In celebration of APAHM, I’d like to reflect upon my own journey as a writer of steamy historical romances. The relationship of my ethnic identity (Asian Canadian) to my stories might not be readily apparent, yet the more I pondered the connection, the more I realized that my cultural background has a deep, inherent impact on the kind of stories I write and am interested in.
A friend of mine once told me that all writers have core themes that they return to over and again; it makes sense that our culturally-embedded formative experiences would shape those themes. When I examined the gestalt of my work, I began to see some of my personal motifs emerging.
For starters, I have a great love for the cultural misfit, the hero or heroine who doesn’t quite fit in. I think that this is partly why I’m fascinated by the Regency and Victorian eras, when moral codes and taboos were more absolute, and violations could lead to serious consequences. The arcs of my characters often explore how they balance the desires of self with the stringent expectations of larger society.
For example, a spirited merchant’s daughter wants to have adventures rather than marry well. A gentleman longs to prizefight rather than run his father’s shipping empire. A country spinster discovers that she has a taste for sleuthing and wants to (gasp) work as a female investigator.
These are, in many ways, stories of acculturation. The characters struggle and grow as they negotiate their identity, beliefs, and desires with the larger context in which they live. As the child of immigrants who didn’t speak English and knew little about Western culture before they arrived in Canada, such journeys resonate deeply with me. Growing up as second generation Chinese Canadian, I’ve experienced some of the tensions and rewards of straddling different cultures.
Sometimes it was hard: having stricter curfews and parental expectations than most of my friends. Getting disastrous haircuts from stylists who didn’t know what to do with my thick Asian hair (and, no, the answer was not a spiral perm). Sometimes it was great: knowing a second language, watching awesome historical Cantonese dramas about kung-fu fighting female heroines, and eating dim sum on a regular basis.
I love underdogs and quirky characters, people who discover the courage to march to the beat of their own drum (or at least to improvise every now and again). They’re everywhere in my stories. And they all get happy endings.
Another beloved trope of mine is rags-to-riches. My characters struggle and work hard to achieve their successes. A boy wrongly sentenced to a prison hulk survives to become a powerful gaming hell owner. A shop girl endures her parent’s criticism and scorn before recognizing her true capabilities. An impoverished Thames River policeman struggles to make ends meet for his family before finding the courage to open an investigative agency of his own.
Again, this is a theme from my own life. I’ve witnessed my own parents’ journey as immigrants: traveling to a new world, starting from scratch and overcoming prejudices to create their own success. Hard work, sacrifice, and perseverance—these are values that they’ve passed onto me… although I suspect they didn’t think I’d apply them to a career in romance writing.
But that’s a story for another time.
A final theme in my books is the value of sexual empowerment. In my stories, the romantic journey includes the intimate physical aspect of relationships: my characters fall in love mind, soul, and body. I find this particularly intriguing to write about in historical eras when female sexuality was severely controlled and restricted by social mores.
Writing about healthy, consensual, and loving sexuality is important to me because in my own life there have often been silences on this topic. Because of both my cultural background and gender, I think, sexuality was simply not discussed—or, if it was, it was done so in a negative or distorted manner. Even now, I get feedback from well-meaning people in my life that I shouldn’t include sex in my books. I grieve this because, in my opinion, the body is not cut off from the rest of human experience; like our mind and spirit, it can be a source of joy, fantasy, and discovery—if not burdened by stigma and shame.
Last year I made the decision to transition from my career as a psychologist to that of a full-time romance writer. It wasn’t an easy choice, but one that I don’t regret. I feel privileged to be a part of an empowering community of women giving voice to their diverse stories and have met some of my dearest friends—fellow readers and writers—in this profession. Their journeys inspire my own, and I look forward to many shared adventures to come.
Well, I feel like anything else I say just will be … inane :X but I’m curious. Do you have something you identify with in particular? Have you ever had an epiphany in an introspective moment? (Thanks so much for sharing with us, Grace!)