SHHM Guest Caridad Pineiro On The Challenge of Being a Latina Writer

Hi friends! Today we have a really thoughtful and lovely post from Caridad Pineiro, a first time guest at ALBTALBS! 🙂 Not only that, but this is the last of Smithsonian Hispanic Heritage Month! (Yes, that is what the “SHHM” stands for in the title of all these posts, if you haven’t already figured that out 😛 ) I hope you enjoyed all the featured authors, and found some new to you authors that you’ll pick up! <3 

The Challenge In Being a Latina Writer

One Summer NightThere has been a lot of talk lately about the lack of diversity in the romance novel industry in part thanks to a survey done by The Ripped Bodice. The results of the survey indicated that only approximately 7.8% of novels were by “nonwhite authors” or “people of color.”

As a long time writer of novels with Latinas, it made me wonder where they put me in that survey since I’m a white Latina. It also made me wonder how they addressed the novels that I write where Latinas aren’t the main protagonists which led to my next thought: Do people think that as a Latina writer I should only write novels about Latinas?

That last question is one that has reared its head time and time again. I remember being asked that question at a Latina writers’ conference well over a decade ago. When I answered that I not only would, but already had written novels that did not have Latinas the person who asked the question became quite angry.

I guess that today some would frame that question in terms of cultural appropriation, especially if it was a “white” writer penning a tale about a “Latina” heroine. (Which again makes me wonder how some would define me.)

But what exactly is a “Latina” heroine? Is she defined solely by race? Latinas are a rainbow of races so I don’t think that’s how we should define her unless we want to exclude certain people.

We also know that culturally, Latinas are diverse. My experience as a Cuban in a non-ethnic enclave is way different than that of a Cuban growing up in Miami. Likewise, my Cuban heritage, which was influenced greatly by my Gallego grandparents, is both similar and dissimilar to that of my Mexican friends and yet, we all consider ourselves Latinas.

Which brings me back to what does a Latina writer write about? Is she limited to only writing stories about Latinas?

My answer is that writers should write the stories that are in their hearts. That’s what I did when I first set out to write my first novel. It was set in Cuba during the revolution and incorporated real life stories about my parents’ lives during those troubling times and after, when we were part of the Cuban diaspora to the United States.

I couldn’t sell that story to a publisher, but not because it was about Latinos, but because it wasn’t truly “historical” as defined by the industry. In fact, the editor who looked at that story at the time suggested I write “the next generation” of the original protagonists since she thought we could sell a contemporary and then do a “prequel” of sorts.

It never happened, mainly because my writing skills were not strong enough at that time.

I finally did sell a book in 1998 and it had “Latina” characters. That novel, Now and Always, actually helped launch the nation’s first Latino romance line: Encanto. I had another six books published by that line before it folded in 2001. There was just not a market for Latino romances apparently.

Now and Always

It took me nearly two years after the line folded to sell my next book to Harlequin. A book that featured a Latina heroine. My next two books for Harlequin likewise had a Latino hero and a mixed race heroine.

Over the next decade I wrote nearly two dozen books for Harlequin, many with diverse characters. That didn’t seem to matter to Harlequin readers, in fact, more than one commented on the fact that it was nice to see diverse heroines in the novels.

While I was writing for Harlequin I was asked to participate in a multi-author series where all the books were linked together. When I received the “bible” that laid out the various stories, I saw that one of the stories featured a Latina heroine. I thought, that’s the story my editor wants me to write, but it wasn’t. My editor didn’t see me as a Latina writer who only wrote stories about Latinas. To her, I was just a writer. The story I was asked to write was one that would work best with my writing strengths.

Which brings me back to that question: What should Latina writers write about?

I say everything and anything. In the nearly twenty years that I’ve been published, I’ve written all kinds of stories, many of which featured Latina characters, but some which didn’t. I wrote stories of my heart and I think that if you bring passion to your stories readers will see that passion and respond to it.

Write a good story and the readers will follow you anywhere. Whether the journey is to a Miami nightclub, a dusty cave in Mexico, or even a quaint town on the Jersey Shore, readers will take that trip with you.

So these are my questions! Are you Latina? Do you expect Latina authors to write Latina characters? Or feature them in every book? In general do you find yourself expecting certain things of authors – whether consciously or unconsciously? Do you read books with diverse characters? I’d love to hear about your reading habits – or if you even think about these things when choosing books!

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