Diversity in SF and Romance

There's an interesting discussion going on over at Dear Author about cultural appropriation in the romance genre. On the heels of Racefail 09 which happened over in the SF genre, it's quite refreshing to read another call to action for more diverse characters.

The comments didn't take long to be derailed but some of it got back on track to talk about the issue at hand. Most particularly depressing was author Jade Lee's experience at Harlequin which ended up in having to use the pen name of Kathy Lyons because Jade Lee was "tainted as too Asian".

I've heard of many authors who have had a hard time selling diverse stories and characters to New York. Many mainstream agents and authors say they "can't connect to" or "sell" stories that feature characters of color and it's a shame because that's shutting down not only a demographic but also a new voice.

Science fiction had their own situation earlier this year. For a rundown check out Fan History's thread on the subject with a compilation of many links. http://www.fanhistory.com/wiki/Race_Fail_2009

After reading the sad display of ignorance from many of the authors who seem perfectly clueless, I had to yank a lot of titles and authors from my list. It was sad to read such disparaging remarks to people aimed at me as if I was subhuman and just plain stupid. Not only have I removed authors, I've also removed a major sci-fi publishing company from my submission list due to the crazy postings of the editors in charge there.

Science fiction has always been my greatest love along with fantasy because of how open to discussions of diversity and humanity can be acknowledged there. I've been on an X-Men kick for the past few days, even watching the old 90s show, and it was awesome to see again because these discussions need to be out in the open. The speculative genre is ripe for this because SF has always had a history of being able to discuss matters in a context that mirrored our own via an allegory. I'm glad RaceFail 09 happened because the after effects are still being talked about in the open and many authors and readers are forced to look at the situation.

Now it's romance's turn.

I haven't been reading romance as long as some of my romance fan friends but I have enjoyed the genre recently because I've found some great stories there. A romance blog named Dear Author recently had a guest blogger by pen name of "Handy Hunter" wrote an awesome post ab0ut the lack of diversity in romance today. Naturally in these discussions I expect tons of derailment and posters being on the defense to prove that the poster is wrong wrong wrong! but there are a good amount of posts that stay on topic and actually have a discussion about the problematic things brought up. Check out the full post here: http://dearauthor.com/wordpress/2009/10/27/a-special-guest-post-on-cultural-appropriation-by-handyhunter

Many of the authors in the posts who have tried to sell diverse stories to NY are not surprising but still disheartening. Mainstream publishing is a big giant lead by corporations and the media who have a certain point of view and believe they are right in that point of view no matter what.

That's why I love the smaller press and e presses. I've had much fortune being able to place my books and stories with some great editors who are open to stories with voices and characters of color that aren't shown in the typical fashion. For instance, I love interracial romance and stories that feature IR couples in suspense, futuristic and other settings and genres. I write about that and I've been fortunate enough to have a diverse readership who enjoy my stories. I try to buy the same to support the authors who are also writing such stories. It does get disheartening when I can't find such stories or authors but the more I dig, the more I find some great recs.

Eirelander Publishing, the new publisher I just signed with recently, is blowing me out of the water. Some of my fellow author friends have books coming out within the sci-fi romance genre with interracial couples, characters of color and such diversity that it makes me want to sing. Plus these are amazing stories! Our editor, Lee, is all about story and world building with strong, complex characters so I know there are going to be some strong stuff coming out.

Already on the list are Annie Nicholas' Red Dawn and Sandra Sookoo's Blink, both sci-fi romances with diverse characters/main characters of color and/or IR couples at the forefront; A Feast of Shadows, my dystopia sci-fi with romantic elements featuring a Native American/Egyptian heroine and a Chinese hero; there's also a paranormal erotic romance by Charisma Knight called Soul Seduction featuring an IR couple. Author Aasiyah Qamar's recent release Light My World takes place on the western coast of Mauritius, a multicultural island with a really rich history. Check out the making of the story: http://aasiyah-nolwynn.webs.com/makingoflightmyworld.htm

The good news is that the publishing industry is changing in so many ways that we can't imagine. With the advent and rise of digital publishing, self-publishing and publishing in the new media, many more authors are having their stories told. Just this week two more small presses geared toward speculative fiction popped up. I was so excited because many of the small presses are geared toward romance, erotica or horror. It's great to see more publishers focusing on science fiction and fantasy. The obstacles and walls that keep just a few voices and authors past its gates are shutting down as we speak. It may be a scary time for readers who want some kind of screening system for their work but if Philip Roth is correct about the novel being only for a core niche group (which is a bit scary in itself), there won't be much to worry about.

In my blog hopping I'm finding a lot of wonderful reads based on recommendations alone. Even though romance and science fiction haven't been quite diverse as it could be, the Young Adult genre has been much more open thanks to blogs like Color Online, Reading in Color and YA author Justine Larbalestier's blog where they all chat about books that feature characters of color at the forefront.

Things may seem quite hopeless at times and I can see how young authors who want to write diverse characters or characters of color that reflect themselves may want to give up. But don't. Even if you can't get into NY, there's a ton of smaller presses who are open to taking a risk in releases the stories. The only other obstacles are getting readers who aren't used to or seek out such books because they are comfortable reading about their experiences and culture. Discussions like this help ease those folks on in and open their eyes to other stories in the world. We may have to work extra hard at getting books in those people's hands but at least a dialogue is going on to show that more diversity and representation for people of color are necessary, especially in this day and age with more multicultural families and couples rising.

If you're new to my blog, feel free to hang around a bit. I interview a host of authors with some great books and I currently have a bunch of great books in my reading pile that feature tons of characters from different cultures and backgrounds that I'm happy to post about. I'm also at work on an essay for a current academic romance journal on IR and its reflections on contemporary society.


Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for the information. It's overwhelming to know that a lot of new writers are blossoming these days. For sure, its diversity will produce interesting and valuable insights. Keep on writing!

Rae Lori said...

My pleasure writersdepot! And thanks for stopping by. :-)

I so agree! I'm so jazzed to see all the great voices that will be coming up. :-D

Sandra Sookoo said...

Rock on, Rae! My own marriage is IR so I know where you're coming from. Thanks for the shout out! :-)

A. Simmons said...

That race fail thread is crazy. I don't spend much time considering the artificial construction of race when I choose what I read. I tire of the argument that a particular ethnicity won't sell because of such and such. It will sell if it is a well-written story that readers will enjoy with well-developed characters that people can identify and empathize with. The ethnicity of the writer is irrelevant. And continuing the belief that certain ethnicities won't sell is much like believing that blacks can't play professional sports because of intelligence or something of the like. It's only true if you use artificial barriers to make it true such as refusing to publish a great story because of the ethnicity of the main characters or the author.

Look at a book like Tad William's Otherland that uses main characters of an ethnicity other than white. It doesn't hurt that story at all.

Alot of folks are relying on old conventions that no longer hold true. Most modern sci fi and fantasy fans are completely used to people of other ethnicities and could care less about skin color for the most part. It's mostly older folks raised during a time when racism was an accepted norm that keep parroting aphorisms that no longer hold water.

What tiresome talk that is. I won't boycott authors for stating their individual beliefs unless I find they are funneling money to the KKK or what not. If you did not read a certain author's books because of individual racial beliefs, you would not read any literature prior to last decade or so from white authors. If that's the plan, I don't agree with it.

I don't like racism. But you don't encourage change by boycotting those with very minor misunderstandings about race that stem from lack of experience and an upbringing they had nothing to do with. Many whites are raised with misconceptions about race, so are many blacks and other ethnicities.

Some of it is based in the kind of raw racism you see in the south and some the liberal racism you see in academia where blacks are viewed as lesser people due to victimization and genetics beyond their control. I don't know which kind of racist is worse, but the stupid direct racists from the south are easier to see than the well-spoken, rationalized white academic racism you see from all to many white liberals.

I'll be happy when many of the older folks that have strange racial beliefs die off on both sides. Their bickering is tiresome. I hope the younger generation that is much more accustomed to interacting with people of other ethnicities progresses past the strange racial behavior. I mean that for all ethnicities.

This post is already too long. But that kind of race talk raises my ire. What a waste of time it is to believe in race and it has slowed down human cultural development for untold generations and yet it has all been a gigantic waste of human mental resources.

Rae Lori said...

Very cool! My pleasure, Sandi! :-D

Rae Lori said...

Thanks for the comment and for dropping by A. Simmons.

It'd be great if we can say that race doesn't matter in conventions but unfortunately that's not the world nor the reality any of us live in. I once wanted to hold hands and pretend we're all one race: human! but that doesn't really acknowledge each person as a whole. I don't really buy the colorblind argument because, hello, of course people see color id you can see people. Why not celebrate it?

And that's exactly what I'd love to see. A celebration of the diverse cultures, colors and backgrounds. Even though it's 2009, it's still very much 1950s society wise and especially in publishing, even though much of it is veiled just like you described in your example. It didn't change because of who's in charge. We readers AND authors to change that.

That's why a lot are not buying certain authors/publishers. Hey, it's their right after all, especially since times are so tight already. Writing in letters to mainstream publishers don't work but speaking with your dollars and not buying does. I prefer to support authors who are making an effort to change things (story wise and character) in the industry because that's the kind of future in publishing I'd rather see. The good news is more are popping up with the new media and I for one am pretty exciting to see what comes of it.

A. Simmons said...


The point I'm making is that race is an artificial construct. It is not real and never has been. It is something humans made up to describe humans different from themselves and attach negative and positive attributes to each group.

There is no such thing as a black or white person. Those are colors. Even the general use of African is a misnomer.

I'm not encouraging folks to hold hands. I want acknowledement of a foundational lie about race and differences between human beings.

We have spent countless mental resources building an enormous lie that has been perpetuated in American society from its inception that even now continues on all sides. Americans of African ancestry have developed an entire counter theory to Anglo supremacy. Both are ridiculous lies salted with some half-truths to give these beliefs credence.

I've met African folk from West Africa that speak French due to colonization. Yet folks from the Ivory Coast are nothing like say an African from Nigeria. Just like a Korean is not like a Japanese person.

There is an oversimplification of ethnicity in America that has to do with the artificial manner in which America built racial ideas. Separating people into black and white or Asian and Latin American, so that they could divide themselves and hold power over non-whites by galvanizing whites against non-whites. Thus we have a fractured America divided by artificial racial lines that must be slowly bred out of younger Americans if we ever want to see a unified and focused America.

It is an exercise in futility to separate Americans with prefix such as African-American or Asian-American. It does a serious disservice to this nation and its future peoples to encourage such divisions.

What should happen is a greater integration of the history of all Americans. At the moment American history taught in High Schools is focused mostly on the history of European peoples. Yet we have a great many people of other ethnicities that were a part of this nation early and helped to build it. Their road to America should be incorporated into the historical record to further invest peoples of ancestries other than European into the mainstream culture without devaluing the foundational values of our nation.

And reality is shaped by the will of people be they leaders or common folk. That is why we have the artificial construct of race to begin with, because a majority with power bought into the concept and used it for various purposes whether the nefarious purpose of racial oppression or a positive use such as racial unification against oppression. Yet both were working under false assumptions that haven't done much but foment negative racial ideals within the separated groups.

I'll stop there. But boy does the whole race thing get under my skin. I don't buy into it. To me folks of African ancestry raised in America are American. They have more in common with a fellow Anglo American than the do with an African. It would be nice if it is acknowledged.

It does not surprise me there are many in the publishing industry that buy into the same ideas about race and ethnicity you hear about in Hollywood. I guess it is par for the course in America. No matter what I'm told, I don't intend to participate in those ideas. I'll never look at someone's race as a factor for whether I read their books or whether I like a main character or not. If it's good, I'll read it. If it isn't a good book, I won't buy it. It should be that simple for everyone, though I doubt it is.

Rae Lori said...

A. Simmons, oh not at all! I didn't mean to imply that you were a "holding hands" type just that I, as many children in my day, were such a person but the world has a way of sadly trying to yank that innocence out. I love how kids, when left alone, just make friends with whoever will share their interest and attention. I once read somewhere that kids have to learn to lie. The recent balloon boy incident is a perfect example. Kids also are taught to hate or fear groups other than them. I'm holding on to a more optimistic future where differences won't matter in both children and adults.

I completely agree that race is a construct that's put into place to divide people and/or keep certain groups "in their place". I'd love to see all the prejudices and hang-ups about it disappear in my lifetime and we all celebrate our cultural diversity as was intended. Maybe it won't happen as a big change but on smaller interactions like you were describing, there's a definite possibility of making a difference a little bit at a time per person.

Plus, I'd also love to see more than European history taught in schools. As interesting as it is, there's a lot of historical info not shared from other groups. Thankfully there are a lot of book blogs now that have great influence, most are in the Young Adult sections like Color Online and Reading in Color and I try to recommend some reads on this blog anytime I find a goodie. Baby steps, I guess. :-)

Thank you for your post, A. Simmons. It's wonderfully put. :-)