Today, as I continue my alphabet blog entries, I’d like to talk about a topic that is often discussed among African-American authors but not so much among writers in general. Why do some non-black readers think our romance novels are different?
Here are some of the misconceptions as I see them:
· Since 1981, the romance readers have been influenced by the Romance Readers of America. Until recently, the recommendations of RWA carried a lot of weight when it came to buying choices for a large portion of romance readers. But considering that only two or three African-American authors have ever won their top awards in the history of the organization, many of these readers have never even heard of even the most successful black authors.
· Black isn’t synonymous with urban. The majority of African-American romance authors do NOT write urban or street lit. Unfortunately, all many readers know about black people is what they see on television or on the news, which does NOT represent the vast majority of black people in this country.
· In relation to the urban misconception, I believe readers that are unfamiliar with black romance often imagine the stories are filled with language they won’t understand. In contemporary African-American romance there might be some colloquial slang, but not enough to confuse the reader, and so many of our colloquialisms have been borrowed by pop culture and are familiar to everyone. For instance, if a character is talking about his “ride,” anyone living in the US knows he is speaking about his car. Or, if a female character mentions getting the tracks in her weave tightened, now lots of Caucasian women can relate.
· Most authors write what they know. I, for example, was born and raised in small town suburbia and have never lived in an urban area. Therefore, my characters are predominantly what used to be called “middle class” and professional people. Of course, I always throw in a few filthy rich characters or a couple of down and outers just to make things interesting.
The main characters are not hustlers, drug dealers, pimps or prostitutes and neither are the characters in the black romances I've read.
In Have You Seen Her? Marcia/Dani is a wealthy socialite. Taylor is a nightclub bouncer.
The ensemble case in Hot Fun in the Summertime includes a romance author J, an actor, an accountant, a real estate agent, two college professors, a cosmetologist and a hip-hop video dancer.
Hollywood Swinging follows two of the characters from Hot Fun, but the other characters in the story are a community activist, a pro football player and a fashion model.
In I Can’t Get Next to You, Tamyra is a college student who works by day in Sears and by night as an exotic dancer. Rick is an attorney.
In Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing, Dee is an interior designer. Her husband, Michael owns a jazz supper club.
In You Make Me Feel Brand New, Jan is a personal chef and Mac is a sport agent.
I am very thankful that my books have received across-the-board acceptance from readers. Indie readers seem to be more open-minded when it comes to their book choices. The novels they select do not need to have the blessing of RWA, or won a Rita or a Golden Heart award. In fact, readers that buy indie romances seem to be more influenced by price more than any other factor. They don’t seem to care about the race of either the author or the characters. These readers are simply looking for good stories.
If you’re reading this post and you’ve never read a romance written by a black author, I encourage you to try one today. Here is a partial list of some of the best African-American romance and women’s fiction authors:
Angelia Vernon Menchan
Yours truly, of course! JDelaney Diamond
Pamela Kay Brown
Kimberly T. Matthews