SBHM Feature: K. M. Jackson

My doves, as you see everything is happening – as usual – bass ackwards. Although considering the state of ALBTALBS, this is entirely normal? Anyway I had this grandiose idea of celebrating the Smithsonian Heritage Months at A Little Bit Tart, A Little Bit Sweet in 2014. But I didn’t want to really publicize it until it happened. Because it was my idea and I’m sick of people appropriating my shit. Anyway.

I believe I’ll be filling in posts and there will be all sorts of grandiose introductions, but not today. Because you know what? K. M. Jackson is awesome enough on her own, and needs no introduction. 😉 So let’s welcome her as she helps us celebrate Black History Month!

Also, I don’t have a closing, because this is a fabulous post and I think Ms. Jackson asks all the important questions, so let’s not end it with my inane chatter. I do really hope you’ll share your thoughts! 

People are people

K. M. JacksonThough I’m still a newly published author, having my first book, Through the Lens  published in 2012, I’ve been at this writing game for more years now than I care to acknowledge. Those dreams of making anyone’s “Talented 20’s or Thrilling 30 something’s” lists are now long gone and I’m more than happy to make it to anyone’s TBR pile. When I left fashion and settled into establishing writing as my career it was with the naïve notion of being some sort of everywoman’s writer. One that wasn’t pigeon-holed into the category of African-American Writer alone. Sure I am a writer and yes, I’m African-American and proud of it. The problem is and was that I could not get my head around the concept of my work being defined by my race.

How could that be when I was writing romance that just so happened to have African-American characters (and not exclusively mind you)? As I looked to my overflowing shelves of long loved fiction none of the books I had there were defined by the color of the writer. Why was it only the books by black writers that were separated and labeled as other? There is no tag for Caucasian Romance and of course there should not be. So I just wrote. I wrote my stories as they came to me and my characters as they spoke to me letting them tell the truth of the situation they were in. And in the naiveté of my creative haze I fancied myself as some sort of Helen Fielding/Jennifer Weiner/Terry McMillan/Jackie Collins hybrid. Spinning tales that would make people laugh, and cry and hopefully see a little bit of themselves in. What did I know?

Through the LensIt’s funny, we writers have always heard the advice of “write what you know” but in the case of writers of color I have to wonder if it’s “write what you know” or “write what you think we know”?

My first rude awaking came with obtaining an agent early in my career who took on a book of mine, which I came to learn would be categorized as an interracial romance about a paralegal who falls in love with the head partner’s son. I remember going to my first face to face meeting with my new agent, so thrilled to be stepping into this new chapter in my life, poised pen in hand ready to take notes on my work, only to have my heart plummet when he said he thought my writing was great, but he knew he’d have a hard time selling it since my characters weren’t black enough and couldn’t I make them “blacker”. *Cue record skip and rapid eye blink here*

Make them blacker? My characters were all from New York all they did was wear black. Oh but no. That was not what he wanted. He wanted something that could easily jump out when the first page was read. Something that said this character is black and make no mistake the author of this book is black too so there you have it–a double whammy. So what? Would sprinkling in Ebonics make this guy happy? Let him know right where to pitch it and if it gets a deal let the publisher know right where to shelve it. I left feeling so disheartened and wondering if I’d ever get published writing the way I write, just listening to the complex characters in my head no matter their ethnicity.

Well, I got rid of that agent and I kept writing. My way. And in a good old slap in the face to my hard headedness I kept getting lots of close but no cigar rejections. Now I’m not so big in this hard head to think those rejections were not all warranted. Sure in my ten plus years of getting rejections I’ve had a lot of work to do to get my writing up to publishable standards and still have tons to improve on. But since then I’ve published a trilogy with Crimson Romance, with my last book in my creative hearts series, Threads of Desire, just out this month, plus I’ve become a newly self-published author with my book Bounce.

Threads of Desire

Looking back at those close but no cigar rejections of the past I’ve had to wonder; the “not the right fit at this time”, “love your voice but this one just did not speak to me” and then the best, “but please do send me your next work”.  What was behind all of this? Was it just the work (ok some of that old stuff was a hot mess, so probably, yes) or was something else also at play? Again, maybe there just wasn’t a place on the shelf for my stories…

The silver living in this for authors of color like me is self-publishing. Many are doing very well.  Unfortunately we are still not noticed by main stream publishing but we are noticed by our readers who search the list and the categories, looking for a book that is a story about people and relationships, but one that speaks to the truly multi-cultural world we live in today. Do I hope mainstream publishing will stop looking at my work by where it can be placed on the shelf—yes.  But in the meantime I’m going to continue to write and push to reach my readers.

This brings me nearly to the end of my rambling and raises a series of questions for the group: Is there something wrong with the system of segregation that still exists in publishing? And does this system further take the end rewards for the author and the reader out of balance?

Oh and a sidebar question: (as I love them): Why for so many is it still a concerted effort to read books by authors of color when for many years it has not been an effort for readers of color to embrace books by writers of all races? (Personally, I think this goes back to the question of mainstream availability).

BounceAnd finally, will we ever get to the point in publishing where fiction writers are judged by their books first and not by the color of their authors? Luckily, though older, I’m still at heart that wide-eyed, hopeful, closet optimist who fell for novel writing hard, and I do think we will get to the point where all these questions will be moot. We’re in 2014 and love is love as people are people and good stories are just that, good stories.

Great. I really like the questions at the end. I think you come off well and it brings up some excellent points with the publishing industry. It makes you wonder how publishers are still getting away with this. And also, now that it’s harder to ‘shelve’ things on the internet in ways the publishing houses may have thought appropriate, will these boundaries in fiction finally disappear? Or will publishing houses, Amazon, etc… find a way to reinstate them?

K.M. Jackson’s Bio: A native New Yorker, K.M. Jackson spent ten years designing for various fashion houses before pursuing her dream of being a writer. She currently lives in a suburb of New York with her husband, twins, and a precocious terrier named Jack that keeps her on her toes.

Places to keep up with K.M. Jackson: website, Facebook, twitter

26 thoughts on “SBHM Feature: K. M. Jackson

    1. Nancy Loyan Schuemann

      You have stayed true to yourself and your novels. It is sad that we are in the 21st Century and people cannot look beyond race. As a white woman and author of a self-pubbed interracial romance, I can see where you are coming from. There are biases. Thank goodness for self-publishing where doors and be opened and explored.

  1. Limecello Post author

    Argh I had such brilliant thoughts then the little [black! XD] Princess Pup interrupted. Anyway… sad that race/ethnicity has to play such a part in being a headcase – and I mean that in the best way. To have to consider – is it me? And you know a) nobody will ever admit it b) sometimes it is and people won’t even know it in themselves!
    As for your sidebar … perhaps it’s like [*cringe* – another can of worms] Affirmative Action? It’s necessary. Is it a perfect system? … No – but it’s definitely important and better than nothing. Is this even making sense?
    Race is so … prevalent. In writing [fiction especially] it seems to be something that automatically pigeon holes you? I don’t know. Social experiments would be interesting, but who has the time to add that additional pain and effort?

    I really appreciate you sharing your thoughts! <3

    1. K.M. Jackson (@KwanaWrites)

      I didn’t think of affirmative action in fiction and it seems sad that it would have to even be thought of in this day and age. I do have to wonder if it is a case of something to consider when you look at who is in control at the top levels of the industry and who has the ultimate decision making buying power. I do not know the answers here I’m just an author and a reader asking the questions.

  2. Kimberly Farris

    To answer your sideline question, I think part of the issue stems from some people having a preconceived definition of what African-American fiction is. I remember when I started writing back in 2000 that Black fiction meant Street Lit or Women’s Fiction like Toni Morrison’s Beloved or The Color Purple by Alice Walker. There didn’t seem to be any middle ground and if there was it was very narrow.

    Another reason I think the segregation issue persists is due to African-American fiction being thought of and promoted as being different. Some readers (may) think they can’t relate to AA characters or their life. And publishers (may) think that only AA readers will read a romance with black characters.

    Thanks for a thought provoking read!

    1. gwen hayes (@gwenhayes)

      Also, from a marketing standpoint, there really are readers who only read AA fiction. You certainly want to appeal to a diverse market without alienating the core readers. And that makes it complex. For this human, though, it BOTHERS me to see book sections segregated by race. I can see how meta tags and keywords are important because there are readers who are drawn to certain things (tropes, archetypes, setting, and in this case, race)–but I don’t like separate shelving at all.

      And the fetishizing of interracial romance is also difficult. Why can’t love just be love?

      1. K.M. Jackson (@KwanaWrites)

        Thanks for chiming in Gwen. I hear you and you’re right. There are some core readers who only read AA just as there are those what only read detective stories and in a way I can understand the reason for keywords but I do think the problem has been one of publishing’s own making by segregating or labeling in the 1st place at least when it comes down to race. Of course the labels are necessary when you get down to genre.

  3. Elizabeth Meyette

    What a thought-provoking post, Kwana! You opened my eyes to an issue I never considered, and I thank you for that. You are so right – love is love and people are people and a good story is a good story – I don’t care if the author is striped or polka dot. Thank you for such an honest and eye-opening post.

  4. Brenna Chase

    Thought provoking post, Kwana. I can’t really add more than what’s already been said, but I hope one day soon publishers and readers will look at books by their genre and merits alone. Baby steps, I suppose, like with so much in our society. I remember the first time I read an African-American couple as the leads in a romance, in Julie Garwood’s Rose series. To me it was simply a romance with a hero and heroine I cared about. And it was the same with your Seduction’s Canvas.

    “My characters were all from New York all they did was wear black.” Now that made me smile because it’s something a friend from Brooklyn once told me.

  5. Pingback: Links: Thursday, February 13th | Love in the Margins

  6. Alexia Adams

    Hi Kwana,

    Thank you for this post, it was very interesting. I have a question for you. If you picked up a book with a black heroine (and I use the term black because my characters don’t tend to be American) and you saw the author was Caucasian, would you wonder if they were able to write the heroine’s part effectively?

    I tend to write mixed-race heroines as I love the juxtaposition divergent cultures create in an individual. However, I have now written my first story where the heroine is black, and I’m wondering at the reception I might get from the AA community. I am in an interracial marriage, my husband is black (from Britain) and my children are biracial (complete with nightmare hair). I feel I have a fair idea of some of the cultural differences, having been integrated into my husbands family. And in the end, aren’t we are all women looking for dignity, respect and love for who we are.

    Any thoughts?


    1. K.M. Jackson (@KwanaWrites)

      Hi Alexia. Thanks for your comment. I don’t believe a statement can be made such as a white author can’t write a black hero or heroine or vice versa. It’s all up to the sensitivity and talent of the writer. Sure in the hands of a talented and perceptive writer any character can be captured. The race of either should not matter.
      Now getting to the reception of the AA community, that I can’t speak to. I’m not one to speak for an entire race just as I can’t speak to how the reception will be from the publishing community. I will say in my opinion, historically the reception has not been equal in the publishing community when it comes to exposure and marketing for white vs. black authors. I do hope that changes in the future. Best of luck with your work.

  7. Irene Preston (@IrenePreston)

    OMG!! Make them blacker??????? Ack!! Sweetie, I love your romance. What does ‘blacker’ have to do with falling in love? I’m so sorry you had to go through that. When I read romance, I’m frequently confused about eye color, hair color, and (let’s face it) skin color. I mostly skim those bits. I’m going for the EMOTIONS. If you’ve got that, you’ve got me as a reader.

    BTW – BOUNCE is one of my favorite recent reads. With BOUNCE I think you’ve really, truly succeeded in writing a book that is for everyone. Does the issue of race come up? Yeah, but that’s not what the book is about. Anyone, *anyone* who is married with children can relate to BOUNCE. I identified with Sabrina in the first paragraph. First. Paragraph. Couldn’t put it down. Everyone go get the sample of BOUNCE on Amazon and see what I mean!


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