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.

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

Elizabeth: Diversity Reading List

Last week I started a series of posts about diversity in romance writing/publishing (if you missed it, you can read it here).  In that 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.  The decrease seems to be driven, in part, because traditional publishers don’t think they can sell books by diverse authors and/or they don’t think there is an audience for those stories.

Since it has been noted that those in the traditional publishing industry continue to be predominately white, I’m not surprised that they may face some challenges when trying to sell books by diverse authors, but since a whopping 60% of the Top 10 Bestsellers at The Ripped Bodice bookstore in 2017 were written by PoC, the lack of an audience is hardly likely to be one of those challenges.

As you may have seen if you have been following politics much at all during the past few years, driving change can take consistent and persistent effort.  Perhaps if the issue is raised again and again and again, the needle will begin to move. Continue reading

Elizabeth: Spotlight on Diversity

May is Asian Pacific American Heritage month in the United States – commemorating both Japanese immigration and the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad – as well as Jewish American Heritage month – recognizing diverse Jewish contributions to American culture.  The month also includes the celebration of Cinco de Mayo – though I’m guessing a fair number of folks are a little hazy about what they’re actually celebrating there – and even a World Day for Cultural Diversity.    All of which made me think that maybe this would be a good time to talk a little about diversity in romance writing/publishing.

First, let’s start with some numbers.

It’s probably no surprise to anyone that, according to recent demographics posted over on the Romance Writers of America website, 82% of romance readers are female, or that 73% are white/Caucasian, but it may be more surprising to realize that 27% of readers are people of color (PoC).

Think about the books you’ve read recently.  Were 27% of the characters PoC?  How about the authors?  What about the individuals featured on the book covers? Continue reading