It’s Tuesday! Already! All this craziness! I hope you’ve been enjoying the ALBTALBS Black History/Heritage Month posts. I have. I also like to think they’ll garner more attention later, because I think a lot of being said here. It takes some time to think about it, process, and let everything sink in. I also want to thank all the authors who were willing to participate and step up. <3
Today, you see we have Sasha Devlin visiting. She’s a first timer to ALBTALBS, so everyone give her a warm welcome! And please remember, we’d love to hear your thoughts and response to the posts!
I wanted to call this post “The Struggle is REAL!” but then I realized I would have to reach through the monitor and shake myself so I simmered down.
But. I did struggle with this post and I knew I would. Talking about race is hard, especially when you’ve been conditioned not to discuss it.
I grew up in a smallish, Midwestern town. As a sick kid, I spent more time with books than I did with people, and that was fine by me. I came to romance books at an early age (11) and cut my teeth on Harlequin categories before moving on to sweeping historical romances with a few years firmly ensconced in romantic suspense.
My library had a pretty good catalog, all things considered, but the one constant through all those books were the race of the hero and heroine. Everyone was white. This was late 80s, early 90s and I heard that there was a lone Harlequin author who wrote black characters. But I could never find these books at the library or either of our book stores and I chalked it up to a myth. (I now know that Ms. Brenda Jackson is real and amazing).
During the mid-90s we got romances written by black authors but they were always HEAVY, ISSUE books. It was always something tragic – Belinda, the neurosurgeon was on her fourth miscarriage and her Day Trader husband, Marcus may or may not be having an affair with his personal assistant – no sign of humor, no accessible characters in sight.
I WANTED to want to read those books. Same with the interracial books which really broke my heart. As I was often the only black kid in my classes, my crushes were my white classmates, but I was afraid to admit that. A book that portrayed that in a positive light would have meant the world to me.
Didn’t happen. And worse, I felt guilty. There were books by black authors, featuring black and interracial couples and I wasn’t reading them. Did that mean I was ashamed of being black? Did I value white authors more? (Sidenote: I’m willing to bet money that no white reader has ever questioned her racial loyalty just because she didn’t want to read a book by a white author.)
Skip ahead to my college years when “street fiction” became a big deal and I gave up until I discovered ebooks (Thank the sweet baby Jesus in his golden-fleece diaper). But how does this affect the writing?
At the time of this post I have six published works and my couples are …all white. Most days I think about that, and I’m proud just to have published stories that I think are awesome. Others I give myself major side eye.
I can’t say that I want the White Default to change…while I continue to perpetuate it. Race for my characters isn’t premeditated. The characters come to me as they are, looking the way they do, speaking how they like.
But without getting too granola, I need to be the change I want to see in the publishing world. If I want more positive, fun, quirky, kick ass books that star non-white characters, I need to write them. And when I find them by other authors, I need to spread the word.
And clearly I need to have this discussion more often. So I don’t ramble 😉
BIO: I’m a Midwestern gal born and raised, and I currently live in Chicago. I’ve not yet found the villain who is using his time machine against me, but when I do, the battle will be epic.
I’ve been writing stories in my head for as long as I can remember, but only recently started putting words on the page. My current projects are firmly in the romance genre, with loads of sex and angst, but I know I can’t avoid those YA and Mystery plot bunnies forever.
When not reading or writing, I can be found lurking in yarn shops and book stores. You can also find me on Twitter as @SashaDevlin
LOL One can hope. Thank you.
Wonderful post Sasha & Thanks so much for writing it. I too know the feeling of being the only black kid in the class and having the same experiences with the books of the 80’s & the 90’s. I understand your being conflicted, but as you said the characters come to you and as a writer it’s story first. You have to write for your heart and speak for your characters. Oh and yeah I hang in yearn shops too. Twinsies! LOL.
*clings to you*
It’s an odd feeling and one that I know most of my other writer friends don’t run into. On one hand there’s the pull to be true to a story and its characters and while I’m writing,race isn’t even a factor. It’s only later as I edit that I go “heeeeeyyyy you did it again!”
It’s definitely something I’ll be thinking about moving forward.
And any fellow fiber fiend is a friend of mine.
Good for you!
Thank you! Writers often are in a bubble, and all kind words are welcome.
*hugs Sasha* I know how you feel. I had a bad moment when I realized that my male MCs are both mostly white-ish and most of my MC’s friends are white. Not sure that’s something I can fix because …that’s how the story came, but I had some sleepless moments wondering if I should have forcibly torqued it to make it work. At least I shifted the original setting from Euro-centric castles and royalty to dynastic China. That made me feel slightly less like I was white-washing myself.
*hugs* It’s not an easy thing when parts of the story and characters are firmly rooted in your mind and you think you SHOULD change it.. I have also had the thought of changing the characters’ ethnicity but ultimately didn’t because it felt like lying since the characters are real in my head.
But I’m happy that you found a comprise that worked for you!
Thanks for your honesty, Sasha. I’ve also questioned whether I was “selling out” by writing non-black heroines and heroes. But as it’s been mentioned, we have to write the stories and characters that come to us, as they come to us.
I thoroughly believe that. And it sometimes makes for awkward conversations, but I think those are necessary too.
Thanks for the comment and keep rockin!
Hi Sasha, thank you for your honesty. I know it wasn’t easy.
With that said, I hope what I’m about to say doesn’t come across as harsh (although I fear it will). I don’t buy the “characters come to me as they come” excuse. Maybe it’s because that’s not how my brain works.
It is a very conscientious decision on my part to write black characters. When I started writing a few years ago, I understood from the very beginning that I wanted to be the change that I wanted to see in the publishing world.
I am the writer. I decide who and what goes in my story.
No, I don’t think you hate yourself or that you should be forced to write something you don’t want to. It’s your book, not mine. However, I understand it more if/when a minority author says they write white people because white people sell and they want to sell books. That makes way more sense to my brain than the “characters come to me as they come” reasoning.
I wish you well in whatever and whoever you decide to write in the future.
I didn’t find your comment offensive. I’m quite used to people taking digs at me and your statement wasn’t anything like that. We have a difference of opinion related to our writing processes and that’s okay.
I will say that I didn’t make my characters white in hopes that would make them sell better. Where I tend to worry about content affecting selling is when I have moments like “Ok, the heroine almost cannibalized a toddler. Can I do that in a romance?” (FTR that book is still on the hard drive).
But that’s it’s own topic for a different day.
Thanks for the comment.
Thank you for your post, Sasha. I knew it’d be hard to be part of this and I really appreciate this. I think it’s nice for everyone talk these things through and realize even when we’re “all the same” [Americans and such] – we’re different, in the obvious, and not so obvious, and race can make people a total head case. And that’s just the simmering maybe 2% of your consciousness. (Speaking of granola … Heh. Proof positive I had many a “sensitivity training” session?)
I think what Kwana said in her post was huge too – beyond what you do, and what you want to do, there’s the market. So … that’s a whole other uncontrollable (and sadly often disappointing) factor.
But you rock on with your bad self and keep doing what you do! 🙂
I knew it wasn’t going to be a cakewalk but I’m glad I did it. Race makes people uncomfortable, but it’s definitely something that needs to be discussed. Thanks for having me, Lime and for hosting all the other posts too.
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This post is very confusing to me. I don’t care about the colors of your characters, but if you grew up wanting to read black romances, why would you choose not to write them? I’ve read your post twice and don’t understand the transition. I grew up reading romances and wanted black characters, so I wrote them. That’s confusing to me, but that’s okay.
The only true beef I have with your post is the notion of black romances being “issue books” and heavy, I have no idea where that mindset comes from. I’ve been reading them for twenty years, and have NEVER come across a black romance that sounds anything like the one you described. Perhaps you could share some title names? I can only think that perhaps you picked up street lit or maybe some other lit by accident. Black romances run the gamut just as white romances do. And they are no more issue laden than any other books. And considering that I’ve read everything from rape to serial killers in white romances something I’ve NEVER seen in a black romance, I’m not sure where this stereotype comes from.
Great post, Sasha. I think you should write whatever you feel comfortable with. I didn’t read your comments as saying that all black romances were/are about heavy issues, just the ones you came across at that time.
I recently read the first part of an IR series, Roommate Wanted by Nina Perez. I really liked the voice. I think we tend to write what we like to read, so seeking out voices/characters of color might help if you want to go that direction.