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.