Friday, September 20, 2013

Natural hair versus non-natural hair for AA females in romance books and the perception of AA female romance heroines

I can say that creating an African-American female heroine with hair that is not silky, straight and hanging to her butt, was a necessary decision for me to make in creating an AA female heroine. Whatever your ethnicity as a reader, you may ask, "What's the big deal?" The big deal is that there is still a standard of universality expected in a romance heroine. Especially when said heroine is not White. She's got to appeal to ALL readers. But the hard truth is, if you write niche romance, like I do, there is nothing run-of-the-mill about writing its heroines. I may sound like a broken record but major, traditional, established publishing houses DO NOT promote or scout out romances with non-Caucasian heroines. Yes, I know traditional publishing houses do not promote their authors very much period but writers of ethnic romance are really treated like the ugly stepchild. So if an author of ethnic/IR romance actually makes it past the scrutiny and "helpful criticism" of a gate-keeping editor and jumps through hoops and gets picked up by a big house, it's safe to say that the author's heroine has been watered down to be acceptable to the masses. Note: I don't know how she did it, but my fav author, the late L. A. Banks was able to craft truly ethnic females and amass a large audience. Her multicultural heriones stayed themselves and made her writing full and rich. But in general, most Black romance heroines found in the stories released by the big houses tend to be Caucasian chicks wrapped in chocolate shells. Harsh but true. Why is that? Because the traditional publisher will always hold up the low payout balance sheet for those romances and say that there is "no sizable audience for that kind of romance." Whoa! WTF does that mean? My take: publisher is saying that for whatever reason, the masses (i.e. the Caucasian female reader) didn't buy this book. And the publisher will use low rate of return for their effort as proof that the masses are not interested in reading multicultural/ IR romances. It is a double-edged sword. I've heard it all before: the Caucasian female reader will not buy a book with a heroine to which she cannot connect. The catch-22 of that scenario is that few, quality IR/multicultural stories are bought by traditional pubs to even be in the running to compete for "the masses" attention. I know that there are specific presses that print stories with multicultural characters. I say, "Thank God!" or our stories would never see the light of day. The unbelievable color politics in romance publishing is annoying. Funny, I don't recall any publisher asking non-Caucasian readers if they were able to relate to the chicks in all those England-based and Scotland-based historicals. Funny, I was able to connect to all those heroines with their upturned noses and flowing locks. I bought a shitload of those historicals with heroines named Bronwyn and Abigail, etc., who didn't even have a Black maid, which for a historical was a tad incorrect. People of color were servants in European households. But, hey I'm clouding the issue. The "Outlander" series is/was my favorite! Had no problem enjoying them. Hear that Big Six!

Anyway back to the natural hair theme. I,  unwittingly or defiantly, write African-American female characters without weaves, wigs or relaxed hair. And without any apologies. My heroine, Tina, sports twist-outs, coils, wash-n-gos and headwraps. And her lover loves it because it's her. Her goddaughter, Spechelle, who is a straight-edger, wears a natural fade. Their acquaintances or lovers may be of any color but these ladies stand strong in their own identity. Personally, I picked natural hair for them because the paranormal life-or-death story they are in warrants that they be ready to run for their lives or stand and fight for their lives at a moment's notice. You can't do that if your weave needs to be re-threaded or you're worrying about when you can get that relaxer touched up or if you are fretting that your wig may be knocked off your head as you flee.

I owe being able to write what I want, how I want, to my publisher, Extasy Books, a growing medium-sized press in Canada that appreciates the different and the daring in addition to making a profit. Wake up, American publishers! This is a diverse nation. Reflect it!

I wear my hair natural but I am not a natural hair Nazi. I've had relaxed hair in the past but never anything sew-in or detachable. The realization of something extra melded or glued to me always creeped me out because all I could envision would be the diaster of doing double duty: maintaining my real hair and maintaining the fake hair. No thanks. That is why my female characters stay with what is true and stay as close to themselves as possible.  A theme that is very crucial in my series.

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