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!

# # #

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.

5 thoughts on “Elizabeth: A Diverse Reader’s Perspective

  1. I started reading the romance magazine, Heart’s Kiss, this week, and Issue 7 had a lot of diversity in it — racial, gender and some class. One thing that caught my eye is that the writer had previously published a story with Heart’s Kiss, but with a M/F couple. The editors found out that the story was originally an F/F couple, and ran the story again, but this time with the original genders restored. I haven’t had time to read the first-published one yet.

    But I think this does say that writers will write to what they thing The Market is. Beverly is so right that a lot of American romance won’t allow a PoC character to be “normal”. There’s always got to be an ethnic twist — which can be enlightening, fun or sobering, of course. But I haven’t come across so many stories that are just about a black woman or an Asian woman having fun. “How Stella Got Her Groove Back” might be one. And I’ve read a few Indian novels about Indians falling in love with Indians with mostly Indian characters in the background — those can let go a bit, and let the characters breathe as characters. But are they diverse? As a white woman, I find it a peek into a different monoculture.

    On the plane home this April, I saw five episodes of “Black’Ish” — which can be read as black issues. Every show did tackle an issue, but they weren’t necessarily black issues. Post partum depression, for example. That show was definitely a black show, but the issue is something that’s more than race. I really enjoyed the show, though, and I might get the DVDs when my current pile of To Be Watched goes down.

    As a writer, I’m not quite sure I’m doing the right thing by my characters. But, I try to let them lead normal lives, within the abnormal demands of fiction. No character is really allowed to live a normal life; it’s kind of boring to watch a teacher chase after kids and fight low-grade fights with co-workers, no matter what color or sexual preference the teacher is. A story needs high stakes and an abnormal situation . . . doesn’t it? (-: That may be my own preference, though. I often think a story can always be improved by a clone or a witch.

    • LOL, I guess I fail Jeanne’s empathy test. What I should have led with is, thanks for the fabulous interview with Beverly, and THEN I could have dived into my own thoughts on the matter. (-: Would love to be a beta reader, because it sounds like you have thought long and hard about the genre, and would have a fresh story to tell!

  2. Thanks for your perspective, Bev. You have a great resource in Elizabeth as you move forward with your writing career. Can’t wait to see your name on the spine of a book!

  3. Pingback: Elizabeth: Creating Diverse Characters – Eight Ladies Writing

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