Tuesday, April 24, 2012

B is for Black

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:

Traditionally published:

Beverly Jenkins
Ann Christopher
Bettye Griffin
Brenda Jackson
Kayla Perrin
Farrah Rochon
Shirley Hailstock
Michelle Monkou
Wayne Jordan
Adrianne Byrd
Angelia Vernon Menchan
Marissa Monteilh
Donna Hill

Indie authors:

Yours truly, of course! J
Delaney Diamond
Ednah Walters
Pamela Kay Brown
Kimberly T. Matthews
Elise Marion
Nana Malone
Candace Shaw
Chanta Rand
Benjamin Jones
Yvette Hines
Toye Brown
Kianna Alexander
Sharon Cooper


Pj Schott said...

Your characters are diverse and fascinating. I lived in Montgomery, AL in the mid 50s. Better than a college course in race relations. I was an odd little child and fortunately my parents told me nothing about politics and social situations such as this. I still laugh at my take on the whole scene, although I didn't think it was very funny at the time.

Candace Shaw said...

Thank you for listing me. I feel so special! I agree that authors tend to write what they know/environment. Majority of my characters are college educated professionals, upper middle class, etc. Someone this weekend asked me was my book an urban fiction because it was set in Memphis? I said no. Its a contemporary romance and the heroine just graduated from medical school and her parents are doctors. I guess the person thought that wasn't possible in Memphis, but it is.

Sharon Cunningham Cooper said...

Nice post...and so true! When I look for something to read, I'm looking for a story that will entertain me, or just take me away from my day-to-day life. It doesn't matter what nationality the characters are. My own characters tend to be African American or Multi-racial, and all are middle to upper class.

BTW, thanks for the shout out! I'm proud to be amongst so many talented Indie authors!

LM Preston said...

I love finding out about new authors and supporting Indie's.

Miss Crystal said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Chicki said...

Thanks, PJ. I'm so glad I didn't grow up in the south back then...

That's crazy, Candace! I believe every author has the right to write whatever they want, but those of us who write romance need to make it clear that our books aren't urban/ghetto lit.

Welcome to the club, Sharon!

Elise Marion said...

Thanks for including me Chicki! I will be sharing this blog post with my readers. I write about people from all walks of life (black, white, hispanic, etc.) I grew up in a military town and diversity and interracial love are normal and accepted for the most part. I love that my readers love ALL of my books and don't just pick and choose the ones that fit what they see in the mirror.

I'd also like to say thanks for pointing out that we are not all writing 'street lit' or what my friend Benjamin Jones likes to call 'hoodmance'. I grew up in the suburbs too, and don't know anything about the hood. I'd never be so presumptuous as to try to write about a place I've never been.

Kim said...

Great post, Chicki! It's important to remind people that we can write about black or multiracial characters without it having to be "thug love"--and I have to say I hate anything glorifying thugs.

Much more interested in writing and reading about characters who are from all walks of life and who aren't walking-talking stereotypes. :)

Delaney Diamond said...

The themes in romance novels with black and other ethnic characters are the same as romance novels with majority characters. It's all about the love and romance.

You don't have to look like the characters to understand what they're going through. That's one of the messages I try to get across in my monthly column Love & Romance in Color. I see more and more people recognizing that, which I think is exciting.

Great post, and thanks for the shout out!

Alisha said...

Great blog post, Chicki! Don't get me started on the problems at RWA! Grrrrrrr! I still think you're a total genius for having song titles as your book titles!!! Brilliant! And romance is romance..I love all of it! Thanks for listing the authors. Jotting them down for when I go buy more books. Have a blessed day!

Chicki said...

Thanks for dropping in, ladies!

Elise, I write about locations I've never been all the time, and I research carefully, but if I tried to write street lit, I know it wouldn't come across as authentic.

Kim, the closest I got to "thug love" was Dani and Taylor in Have You Seen Her, and I couldn't write Taylor as a stereotype. He was too unique and too special.

You are so right, Delaney! I'm posting a link to your column for anyone that's interested: http://delaneydiamond.com/2011/09/28/love-and-romance-in-color-hispanice-heritage-month/

LM and Alisha, thanks for checking out some new authors!

Raynetta J Stocks said...

I think it's unfortunate that "African-American" or "Urban" are even categories. Clearly, there's a market for it, and brilliant authors like Sistah Souljah do well. But if an African-American author writes about a group of Caucasians in white collar America, that book would still be found in the African-American section. Too often the name or face on the book is more important than the story being told. That's a little saddening for me :-(

Delaney Diamond said...

Thanks for sharing the link to my column, Chicki!

CC MacKenzie said...

This is really interesting, Chicki because they were was a post about this on Teach Me Tonight about the Maisey Yates book 'The Highest Price to Pay' with a gorgeous black Billionaire Alpha which I enjoyed. http://teachmetonight.blogspot.co.uk/2011/08/spot-difference.html Where they discuss the lack of black alpha males in M&B. But they actually have their own category where I've read The Husband She Couldn't Forget by Carmen Green which I enjoyed.

And, of course, I've read your Hot Fun In the Summertime which I loved. To me it doesn't matter about the colour/creed of the protagonists, to me it's all about the writing and the characterisations. Thank you for drawing my attention to other great authors. I'll be checking them out!

PatriciaW said...

Great post. I'm working on a similarly themed article for a writer's ezine. The whole Black is urban, urban is black thing gets me. There are white authors of urban fantasy just as there are Black authors of suburban, small town romance, as you point out.

Chicki said...

This is one of the reasons I decided to only publish e-books, Raynetta. There is no such thing as e-book segregation. :)

You're welcome, Delaney.

CC, I was curious whether or not the same issue exists in the U.K. The problem is perpetrated by publishers. As I mentioned above to Raynetta, with e-books, the author does the categorization of the book not the publisher, which eliminates all that nonsense.

beverly said...

Your post is a breath of fresh air. Thanks! And thanks for putting me on your list. Af/Am readers read EVERYTHING and all things from regency romance to historicals to horror to fantasy, to all genres in between and beyond.

Christine said...

Hi Chicki,

Here race doesn't matter in literature. In fact it's against the law for it to matter. Bonnie Greer is an institution and is revered in this country for example. We have black Lords etc and Baroness Amos was in Syria recently. So we have plenty of writers who write literary fiction of all creeds.

Since I write contemporary romance and blood suckers, I must say I don't see many black published romance authors. However, there were plenty of young black/asian girls trying their hand at the genre which is great.During the Mills & Boon New Voices competition last year they were a wee bit diffident about putting themselves out there and commenting, but once they realised they were welcomed with open arms there's been no stopping them. And that made me a very happy bunny. We have the same issues with poverty/slums (we call them sink estates)just on a smaller scale.

I write pure escapism, with wealthy alphas and spunky heroines who bring them to their knees. Always like to see a man on his knees, ahem. My goal is purely to entertain a reader for a few hours, for them to forget the tough times in their own lives, to relax and have a good time. I see absolutely no reason why a black/asian writer can't do the same. Nana Malone is rocking the indie world at the moment.

Kimberly Matthews-Hooker said...

Well said Chicki! This is a much needed post, and I am tweeting it.

I got an interesting 5-star review to my anthology Bubblin' Brown Sugar the other day that speaks to the expectation of non-black readers of black writing:

This anthology of prose and poetry was really wonderful and I was very impressed by it. Actually, it wasn't until I read You Are Married Now by Anthony Beedles and saw the line about jumping the broomstick that I even realized that the author was Black and it took reading Invisible Brother by Stacy Woods to be sure that all the works were by Black authors. I think that says a lot for the universality of love and the high quality of the writing that a Jewish woman like myself could identify so much with the feelings that were expressed across ethnic, gender, racial, and generational lines. I enjoyed reading Bubblin' Brown Sugar very much and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to spend some time reading about love.

She mentioned "the high quality of writing" - which made me think had she known the majority of contributors were black,she would have expected less. Hmmm.

Chicki said...

Patricia, I'm looking forward to reading your article. Make sure you post the link on Facebook & Twitter.

Beverly (that's Ms. Jenkins if you're nasty) :) Thank you so much for taking the time to visit here. It's an honor.

Christine, it's always interesting to hear about how the industry works over there.

Kimberly, that's a great letter, but I understand what you mean about her statement. Sigh ...

Chanta said...

Thanks for the shout-out, Chicki.

I absolutely LOVE this post. And I will have to agree with the smart, savvy, Delaney Diamond - It's all about love and romance. I think there is a false perception that black characters have a different experience when it comes to love.

No matter what color we are, all women have experienced heartbreak, passion, lust, and romance (If you haven't, you need to read some of the authors on this list!)

Black books are no different than non-Black books. It's much the same as a Spanish telnovela compared to an American day-time soap opera. The drama is still there - it's just in Spanish! And by the way, those are some darned good stories on Telemundo.

I hope this post opens the eyes of others who would not normally be drawn to a "Black" romance. With the growing presence of hiphop, the increasing number of interracial relationships, and the development of a global culture, we've morphed into a huge melting pot - Can anything be solely claimed by the Black race anymore? Well, maybe Al Sharpton. But we'll take him. It's all good.

Angelia said...

Great article and thanks for including me! I'm also an indie gril.

Lilly Gayle said...

GREAT blog! I've never understood the African American romance category. Seriously, romance is romance. Are we supposed to care what color the characters are? An African American author in my local RWA chapter writes antibellum romance with African American characters and editors and agents reject her because they don't know how to market her wonderful stories. Why? Did black people not fall in love before and during the Civil War? IMHO, I can't think of a greater conflict than two slaves from two different plantations falling in love. Or a black woman and a white man. Doesn't anyone remember Queen? Or Roots? Or North and South? There were several romance in those stories. I also remember Julie Garwood's One Red Rose, the 4th book in her Roses series that featured Adam, the black brother. It was a fabulous romance, but I don't remember anywhere in the book where either the hero or the heroine were describe as having anything more than dark hair and eyes. It was as if she felt white people wouldn't read her book if she described black characters. Is that sad or what?

Chanta said...

Lily, North and South is one of my absolute FAVORITE movies - and it's because of the romances involved. Thank you for mentioning that. And I think I've read just about every Julie Garwood romance out there. I remember One Red Rose. I never stopped to think about why the characters were described that way. It might have been Julie's decision. It might have been the publisher's. I hope conversations like this will eliminate the need to "disguise" characters in this manner.

bettye griffin said...

Very meaningful post, Chicki, and so well said. I don't have a thing to add...except that I would probably belong in the "formerly traditionally published and now indie author" column, LOL!

Chicki said...

I just LOVE everyone's comments!

Quote: "Can anything be solely claimed by the Black race anymore? Well, maybe Al Sharpton. But we'll take him. It's all good."

ROTFL, Chanta!

Quote: "Did black people not fall in love before and during the Civil War?"

I adore your insight, Lilly!

Bettye and Angelia, I never thought I'd see the day when authors would proudly stand up and say, "I'm self-published!" Oh, happy day! :)

Benjamin Jones said...

I feel honored to have been listed. *pulls out my awards speech* LOL

In all honesty, I do appreciate it. I wanted to write something different and I hope that people enjoy and appreciate it.