Elizabeth: A Diverse Reader’s Perspective

These last few Wednesdays I’ve been running a series talking about diversity in romance writing/publishing.  In the Diversity Spotlight post I noted that, despite a focus on increasing diversity in romance fiction in recent years, the number of books published by diverse writers (aka PoC) has actually decreased.  In the Diversity Reading List post I suggested some authors and books to consider when looking for that next book to read, both to broaden your diverse reading horizons and to support diverse authors.

This week we’re looking at things from a reader’s perspective.  My friend Beverly (who just happens to be my boss) is a huge romance fan.  As a diverse individual herself, I thought it would be interesting to get her perspective on diversity in romance writing today.

So, without further ado, let’s get started.

I started reading romance fiction when I was about ten and my local librarian, Ms. Cook, finally let me choose a book from the “Grown-Up” section of the library.  The book was “The Lark Shall Sing” by Elizabeth Cadell and I’ve been a fan ever since.  What got you started reading romance novels?

My dad was in the Army.  He was sent to Germany for three years when I was eight.  Our family accompanied him and we all lived on this small military base in the back of beyond.  This was in the prehistoric days before satellites beamed American television shows across the ocean, so entertainment was 1) endless comic books from the base store, 2) the radio show Gunsmoke which came on every Sunday night, and 3) Harlequin romance novels.  In those days love interests held hands, kissed, maybe shared adjoining hotel rooms.  Pretty tame stuff!  But I was eight, and I was hooked.

Do you primarily read stories written by or featuring PoC or do you make your reading choices based on the story?

I’m a Harlequin Presents junkie.  Every month, I buy all eight new books.  I’m pretty agnostic about story plot line!

I take it you’re a fan of “alpha males, decadent glamour and jet-set lifestyles . . . where sinfully tempting heroes ignite a fierce and wickedly irresistible passion” then. 😊  Who are some of your favorite authors and why?

I love Carole Mortimer, who began writing for Harlequin in 1978.  I have probably read every book she has ever written.   Same with Anne Mather/Caroline Fleming and Charlotte Lamb.  My sister, who is also an unapologetic Harlequin addict, still has one of the first books written by Anne Mather.

While all the Harlequins are formulaic—girl meets boy; a horrible, painful misunderstanding throws a wrench in their relationship; they separate to lick their wounds; some magical breakthrough occurs; they reunite and go on to live happily ever after—writers like Mortimer and Mather create enough of an interesting plot with a genteel British twist that you still read the book all the way through.

So, let’s talk about diversity.  Do you have any story pet-peeves and/or things you’d like to see more of in romance stories?

As an African American romance reader, I struggle with most of the books that target black women readers.  I find the dialog simplistic and even condescending.  Plots often don’t have the kind of subtle twists that keep me engaged.  I also find that these books don’t have the “fairy tale” or ‘the you too can be abducted by a rogue dashing prince” aspirational, escapism quality that, I believe, transcends race.  Look at Meghan Markle, the bi-racial actress, yoga-lover, who just married a royal!  What a gift to black romance writers!

You’ve mentioned that you’re planning on writing your own romance, what made you decide to do that and what type of romance are you planning to write?

For all the reasons above!  My sister and I collectively have nearly 100 years of history as Harlequin readers.  She and I have discussed starting our own line of romance novels, targeting black, professional women who love good writing, and strong plots.  We would wrap it all up in the rich fabric of being black. I will soon have a lot more time, and my colleague, Elizabeth, has challenged me to use that time to write the book already, damn it!

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Thanks so much for taking time to talk with us today, Beverly.  I for one can’t wait for you and your sister to stop discussing, get writing, and start publishing your stories.  I may not be a black professional woman, but I definitely like good writing and strong plots.

Jeanne: Your Empathy Quotient

Emotions Revealed coverI’ve always figured the trait a writer needs the most in order to craft compelling, believable characters is empathy.

Dictionary.com defines empathy as “the psychological identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.”

We’ve all known highly empathetic people in our lives, people who seem to have a knack for reading other people’s faces/body language/tone of voice and knowing what those people are feeling without having to be told.

I’ve never been one of them.  Continue reading

Eight Ladies and the GDPR

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The Eight Ladies — Jilly, Justine, Elizabeth, Kay, Michille, Nancy, Michaeline, and Jeanne Continue reading

Jilly: Did You Watch the Royal Wedding? Why?

I’m writing this post on Saturday morning. I plan to be finished around 11.30am UK time. Then I’ll grab a cup of coffee, fire up the BBC’s live streaming and watch Meghan Markle marry Prince Harry and become Duchess of Sussex.

According to the BBC television commentators, the global audience for Harry and Meghan’s happy day may be more than a billion people.

A billion? Why? Continue reading

Michaeline: A Review of Bujold’s New Novella (No Spoilers, Some Marketing Theories)

The Vorkosigan butterbugs in their radbug incarnation, glowing with radiation markers on their backs.

Lois McMaster Bujold’s “The Flowers of Vashnoi” came out on May 17, 2018! I’m not really a bug person, but boy, Ekaterin knows how to make a glorious bug! Art, science and passion is a winning combination for this heroine! (Image via Goodreads)

Lois McMaster Bujold’s newest novella, “The Flowers of Vashnoi” (with beautiful cover art by Ron Miller), came out on May 17 (Goodreads announcement), and it’s a good one. If you like Bujold, you will like this novella set in the Vorkosigan’s radioactive district, about four years after Ekaterin and Miles get married.

I really like the spirit of experimentation Lois puts into her self-published novels. She’s a pro, and writes well, and has apparently learned good lessons from her time with traditional publishers (I might be wrong: is it natural, or is it L’Oreal?). But now, she’s retired, and she’s been breaking some of the rules in order to tell the stories she wants to tell, without undue stress and story-bending to fit the rules of an outside publisher.

For example, this is women’s fiction. (We’re told over and over that women’s fiction doesn’t sell . . . and women’s science fiction? Not even a category. Chick Sci’ Lit? Chicka-Sicca-Fi Lit? Nobody’s labeled it as such.) This is totally Ekaterin’s story, and she isn’t some sweet young single fresh out of school. She’s in her mid-30s with three children, and a husband she loves to bits, but who gets slightly in the way at times. This is her project; she makes decisions as Lady Vorkosigan; and she shares the credit gracefully, but is the boss. Not exactly a common heroine in modern genre fiction.

It’s not a love story; it’s not an epic adventure. There are no demons or vampires or werewolves (although there is soupcon of Baba Yaga), but there are some cool bugs that turn widespread radiation into something that can be dealt with. (Not a spoiler: Bujold has been flirting with this since A Civil Campaign. We fans are very lucky to see it happen on the page.) A dash of love, a dash of horror, a dash of thrills.

It isn’t a book. It’s a novella, and runs about 20,000 words – so it’s a nice treat for the afternoon, as well. But “we all know” that publishers like books — and even more, they like series. The kind of thing that makes readers binge for the entire weekend or more.

What is “The Flowers of Vashnoi”, then? Continue reading

Elizabeth: Friday Story Time and Sprints

After 5 flights, 3 days of meetings, and more “talking to strangers” than I care to think about, this week is finally coming to a close.  Only one more black-tie event remaining and then I can call the weekend officially started.  It can’t be too soon for me; I have lots of “nothing” planned for the coming days.

This week’s travel did have its positive side.  I was in Minnesota, where I have some distant family members who I haven’t seen for years or rather decades, so it was nice to get a chance to visit.  The weather was beautiful and lilacs were blooming all over.  Their fragrance, like the accents of many I spoke with, brought happy memories of time spent in the area when I was a child to mind.  It was an unexpected bright spot for a trip that I hadn’t been looking forward to in the least.

Now that I’m back home, where overcast skies have replaced the clear blue ones that I left behind, it’s time for me to catch up on all the things that were put on hold while I was jet-setting around and talking to strangers.  First up on the list will be getting some words on the page.

Care to join me? Continue reading

Michille: Procrastibaking

procrastibakeI’ve written about procrastination before, but I stumbled on a New York Times article: Why Work When You Can Procrastibake? I do this on a fairly regular basis but I never knew it had a name. In fact, my husband, a college professor, is getting his second teaching award in 4 years and he firmly believes it’s because he feeds his kids the baked good that I procrastibake.

Julia Moskin defines procrastibaking as the practice of baking something completely unnecessary, with the intention of avoiding “real” work and believes it to be a surprisingly common habit. Apparently, not all procrastibakers bake alike. Some make long, slow recipes that break up the entire day, returning to their work in between steps. Others whip up something quick to attempt to get the creative juices flowing. One person quoted in the article makes macarons because they can take several days. Jeez, I don’t kid myself with something that complicated. I usually do cookies, cakes, or brownies.

Procrastibaking is a thriving hashtag on Instagram so of course, I had to break and check Instagram. And it’s true. But, it’s not all good. Tim Pychyl, a professor of psychology at Carleton University in Ottawa, says that procrastination is one of few situations in which people consistently make choices that are demonstrably bad. So I guess I can’t pass it off as being creative.

There was a quote from a romance writer, Mia Hopkins: “When I was schoolteacher, I used to procrastinate by reading and writing romances,” she said. “When I started writing romance full time, I had to find a new way to procrastinate.” Gotta love that.

What is your procrati-_________? Procratibaking, procrasticleaning, procrastisurfing (I’m also guilty of this)?