Thursday, December 4, 2008

the ugly trooth

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The above has nothing to do with the below, except for the reminder that we're all human beings sharing the same planet.

I know that as a new black author, I sure as heck am not going to be writing black characters. Why? Because I want to get paid. I want my books to sell, not sit on the shelf looking "ethnic" while middle-america picks up the book next to mine on the shelf. I live in fear of the black couple clinch on my cover, because it seems to guarantee low sales.

Now, this is now an Obama-nation, things could be different. But methinks it takes a while for The Industry to catch up. I am planning an interracial romance in the future- but that's after publication. In fact, if things work out in reality like I'm thinking of them in my head - it will be my 5th book.

There's always blog talk somewhere about the lack of color on the shelves of the Romance aisle. And there are always a lot of well-meaning people --both reviewer and commenter-- saying they would read black authors and would buy black authors, but as a reader I haven't seen a greatly increased presence of black covers on the shelves, and I certainly haven't seen an increase of black characters in the books I read.

It's always a treat for me to find a character of color as the heroine (or hero) of a book. Even better when the author treats the character like a 3-D person with hopes and dreams and flaws. Let me see 'em, warts and all. In the past, if you had a character of color in the book it was almost always the all-wise best friend. She was beautiful with enviable "coffee colored skin", had a fantastic relationship, always gave sage advice, was never frazzled and was basically an angel walking this earth. How many people do you know like that? No wonder black characters got a reputation as unrelatable.

Now, just as a numbers game, I would have to assume that most of these characters were written by white folks. White folks who, for too long, have been caught between a rock and a hard place. They want to show they're not racist by including characters that look more like the world they live in - but they don't want to offend any readers of color by making assumptions. So they just leach their character of anything interesting put a bright, shiny lacquer on the character and push them out the door.

There are a couple of authors who have managed to sidestep that trap - at least in the recent books of their's that I read. Feehan in both her Dark and her Game series (I haven't read the other ones), Foster with her UFC guys and Kenyon has included a few in the Dark-Hunter series. They write their characters of color like any other character. I would like to think that many other authors have done so as well, but they're not coming to mind right now, and as someone who would notice that, it makes me think that the message is slow in coming.

One of the blogs I was reading talked about how a heroine that doesn't reflect *you* takes you out of the fantasy inherent in romances. That is to say, white women have never been black, so how could they relate to the bizarre and unknowable world of the black woman? It's a cop out. After all, they relate to the princesses and duchesses of historicals, they relate to the barbarians and highlanders of Ye Olde Scottlande. They relate to the male lead they have never been and they understand the motivations of the evildoers and murderers they have never been either (okay, that's just an assumption, but you have to give me that one).

I get it. I get the cop out. And I understand it - you know why? Because I don't read historicals. I used to - when I was wee. I worked my way through some fabolous bodice rippers, but then I grew up, and I started to get a grasp on history. And I looked in the mirror. The history that these authors are writing about, that place in time, those people... they would have wiped their feet on me. I'm a black woman. I can't lose myself in that past. If I was transported back to those 'merry' times I would be whipped and told I was only fit to empty chamber pots. No, seriously. So I don't pick up historicals, but that's okay cuz they seem to sell well without my dollar anyway.

I give big, BIG points to Harlequin for having black folks out and proud on the covers of their series. No need to be scared dear reader, it's just a black man. Then I read one of the books and wanted to rip the author's head off for falling into the same leached-of-personality trap for her heroine. Worse, it was a black author. Worse than that, it was one of those publishing house sponsored series with multiple authors. Whoever thought of this concept should be shot. But wait, that's not what I'm talking about now. I'm talking about the world of romance looking more like the real world, on the outside at least.

That is all.

Currently reading: Talk Nerdy To Me

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