Kay: Learning from the Greats

Beverly Jenkins (Credit: HarperCollins/Sandra Vander Schaaf

As most of you know, several of the Ladies will be attending the RWA national conference in a couple of weeks, and we’ve been busy plotting out how we’ll schedule our time. I’ve just started to look at the workshops, and one that looks interesting to me is “Blending Brand and Platform,” which promises to discuss how to integrate “brands” and “platforms” with one’s writing to “develop readership and sales while pushing the boundaries of the romance genre.” Sounds complicated, right? The speakers include Alyssa Cole, Sonali Dev, Beverly Jenkins, and Alisha Rai.

Okay. I’m not at all sure I could tell you what a brand or a platform is, or how they differ, or how to integrate them with one’s writing. What I do know is that I’ve heard Beverly Jenkins speak before, and she’s terrific, so I’m hoping to have fun there and learn something, too. Also I’ve been feeling that Alyssa Cole, Sonali Dev, and Alisha Rai should be occupying prominent spaces in my TBR pile, so I’m looking forward to hearing what they have to say, too.

All these writers are well-known for developing stories that feature characters of color, and that’s another thing I’m not sure I know enough about. My planned three-book trilogy, of which I’ve just finished book two, has a secondary character who figures prominently in all three books. This character is a person of color, and I’m concerned that he’s sufficiently well-rounded that he doesn’t come across as a stereotype. I’ve recently read a few reviews of books where the reviewers felt this issue was insufficiently addressed, and I want to do the best I can for the people I invent.

Speaking to this issue, Beverly Jenkins recently gave an interview to Salon, where she asked why readers can relate to werewolves and vampires, but not people who are of a different race. Good question. To read the full interview, go here.

What about you? If you’re going to any conferences this summer, what do you want to get from them?

 

9 thoughts on “Kay: Learning from the Greats

  1. Beverly Jenkins is fantastic and I think you’re going to have a wonderful time! I’m quite jealous of all of you going. Will miss seeing you!

    As for me, I’ve been so far out of the writing game for the last two years that I’m literally (really, literally) starting over. Aside from keeping a few key details about Susannah and Nate’s story, it’s pretty much new from the ground up.

    I plan to workshop the story on a writer’s cruise I’m taking in mid-September. On board will be Lisa Cron of Story Genius fame (I’m using Story Genius to plot out this book), as well as Angela Ackerman, co-author of our favorite thesauruses…Emotion Thesaurus, Urban Setting Thesaurus, Rural Setting Thesaurus, etc. I’m really excited about what I’ll be learning, but I’m also thrilled that we’ll be stopping in Falmouth, Jamaica, which is an old Georgian town. Plenty of history there, and seeing as my second book in the planned series will take place there, a great chance to do some hands-on research.

    Aside from workshops and history-hunting on this cruise, I plan to be WRITING, sans kids and husband. Just little ol’ me! I hope to accomplish a lot. 🙂

    Have a fabulous time in Orlando!

  2. Your cruise sounds fantastic, Justine! There’s nothing like the stimulation of workshops to get the creative juices flowing, and the closed circuit of the ship—as well as the absence of family—should certainly jumpstart your writing. I’m sorry that you’re feeling that you basically have to start over with Nate and Susannah, but I think that probably happens to everyone at some point. Have a great time! And keep us posted on your thoughts and progress. Maybe next year we can all go.

  3. I’ve also been working on adding people of color to my very white books. I’m fortunate to have some black friends who have agreed to beta read and let me know if/where I got it wrong with my African American characters, so that helps with them. I have an Indian character in Girl’s Best Friend and I’m planning on reaching out to a former co-worker for a beta on her. That just leaves my Hispanic characters….and any other diversity I choose to write in the future.

    No disrespect to Beverly Jenkins, whom I also admire, but werewolve and shifters don’t leave you bad reviews if you screw up.

    • Ha! So true about the were’s and the shifters! I need to broaden my beta readership, that’s for sure. And yet, it feels to a certain extent that seeking racial balance among beta readers can perpetuate a racial divide, too—asking Persons of Color to approve of Characters of Color. What if a PoC dislikes a white character? We don’t ask men, necessarily, to give a stamp of approval to our heroes or secondary characters, or our villains, for that matter. It’s a complicated issue. I’d be most curious to learn what your beta readers think!

  4. A couple of years ago I went to a great RWA workshop with Beverly Jenkins and Brenda Jackson, talking about how to write multi-generational family sagas. They were brilliant. Must add this workshop to my 2017 schedule.

    Diversity v cultural appropriation is a sensitive subject. Ilona Andrews put up a blog post about it recently, also based on Beverly Jenkins’ Salon interview. Check it out (and the hundred or so comments) here: http://www.ilona-andrews.com/cultural-appropriation/

    • One thing I find interesting is that when you see a workshop by Beverly Jenkins and Brenda Jackson, you almost automatically think they’ll be talking about writing multi-racial stories, so when you see that they’re actually talking about multi-generational family sagas, it comes almost as a bit of a shock. That’s that ugly racial divide right there. Because of course they’re brilliant and can talk about anything—they don’t have to stick to the “race issues.” Going to read the post and comments right now!

  5. I’m thinking about how to diversify beta readers, too. There are great readers of any skin color, physical ability, height and culture — as well as other sorts of diversity. But it can be hard to convince them to spend time on your work — either I don’t know them well enough to ask, or I know them too well, and I don’t want them to label me as “that woman who keeps locking her hero in confined spaces”.

    I think it should work best if the person is a fellow writer, so one can “pay back” the favor (but I could be wrong). A fellow writer will also “speak the language” to some extent. But finding fellow writers can be such a delicate dance, especially if they are unpublished and shy like me . . . . I wish we could all wear an earring that identifies us as writers, so we could help each other out, LOL.

    • What a good idea! A writer’s earring, like maybe a teeny pencil! That would be fun.

      I suffer from the quality of being undiverse, but if you ever need a beta reader, I’m more than happy to step into the breach!

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