Friday, June 17, 2016
“Mainstream” romance writer, do me a big, fat favor. Step away from writing the heroine of color in romance until you learn how. Please!
I have been sitting on this post for a bit because I wanted to be sure I was reading the signs correctly. I was, so here goes. As I’ve said before there is a huge tug of war going on in romance publishing over who gets a shot at having their spin on a diverse love story getting picked for publication by one of the Big 5. The war has gotten so testy that some "mainstream" writers have backed off and decided that it is not worth penning one because they’ve tried and have only had “nasty, harsh things” said about their efforts. YAWN. That’s the way of the world, ladies. You do not get a pat on the head and a Scooby snack because you turned Beryl into Anika to try and cash in on a market. Unless that was your sole reason for writing a diverse heroine. You wanted praise and bucks. Well, you get none from me for simply writing another human being. If your story wasn’t well-received it’s because your character sucked. Probably rang as hollow as an empty tin can and probably embodied every cliché known to mankind. She was probably “the help” or an “ex-druggie” or an “ex-hooker” or an “ex-something-or-other. A something-or-other that you have been brainwashed to think females of color are. So what better flip side of that path for a "mainstream"writer to mine for gold than to show a heroine of color struggling, fighting and scraping not to revert or go back to the ‘hood. Because everything she comes from has shaped her and is bad and she loathes it. Right? Um, er. Wrong. Now, let me clarify here and now. "Mainstream" writers can write POC however they want. What they need to know is they will not get cookies and milk and gold stars for it and that they will be called on it when it sucks. Just like all other writers. It does not make them immune to criticism because they “tried.”
So, when writing what is perceived as “other,” mainstreamers fall into two categories: the I-tried-and-I got-no-cookies faction (means no one gave them a key to the city even though RT Mag and their "mainstream" readers “loved” it) or the I’m-not-touching-it-with-a-ten-foot-pole faction. The latter cannot weather criticism of any kind and just say no.
But there is a new, intrepid "mainstream"romance writer who is willing to pen a heroine of color. In fact, this writer goes the extra mile. They aren’t just gonna give us a heroine of color. Naw. To make it easier to write her, they are making her a SELF-HATING heroine of color. Seems to me this new faction has found a way to embrace their latent bigotry by hiding behind a heroine who does not like herself because of what makes her “other.” I find this faction the most insulting. I have read a few books by "mainstream" authors who are following this blueprint. They are folks, who for the life of them, cannot pen a content, well-adjusted non-white female because they do NOT WANT TO or NOT KNOW HOW, or DO NOT BELIEVE such females exist. As I’ve said I’ve read a few of this type. It’s like these chicks are saying, “You are gonna complain when we write POC, so we are gonna really give you something to complain about." Well, the ones I read took top honors for that.
I will not name names but the one book that took the cake, the plate and the fork was a recent HARLEQUIN gem. Think of the huge market this trainwreck reached with its subtle message. Yeah, that’s right. When writing major dysfunction, go big or go home. Anyhoo, this little book had a mixed race heroine (Blk/Wht) passing for white (always easier to write because she can be skewed white and tiny bits of blackness can pop up when needed) , who was in love with her white boss and some added stuff about a black baby up for adoption. Well, this girl had a backstory only Iyanla could fix. Druggie home life, broken home, welfare office, foster homes, you get the picture. Everything Mrs. Middle America BELIEVES of urban folk to some degree. The only thing this author left out was the kitchen sink. It was like she’d discovered a textbook on what she THINKS black females lives are like. This heroine was effed up. She was the stock “tragic mulatto.” The only thing she didn’t do was hurl herself into a volcano or off a cliff. She’d fallen for the boss (a rich guy, of course) but was afraid to reveal her true background. This is where the hate comes in. She dislikes her black blood. Laments it for ruining her life because what if somebody found out. What the hell? I had to keep checking the calendar to see what effin year it was. I felt like it was 1950 and I was trapped in “IMITATION OF LIFE” or “PINKY.” The more I read, the more absurd it got. Don’t ask me where the baby fit in. All I know is it was not hers. I tried but I couldn’t hold out to the end. I suppose it had a HEA because the cover (and I can just imagine the buzz in the art dept. – “WE ARE SO PROGRESSIVE. LOOK AT US”) had the white boss man cradling the black baby. All I know is my head hurt from trying not to explode. I kept wondering, “And this oeuvre is for whom?” And then my inner voice said, “It’s NOT for YOU darling.’” The comment section to the review of this book on a popular blog confirmed my fear because this ish was a hit with the blog’s followers wanting to buy it. Shudder. Shudder.
A subset of this disturbing innovation is the heroine of color as beast of burden.
Another very popular mainstream author wrote a series in which 4 friends own a conglomerate and they all are doms. To be fair, things BDSM are not my cuppa. Had to let you know. In the series, each man gets his own book. One guy gets a black heroine. Both were soldiers. She gets deployed and gets messed up. I lost count of what all the writer piled on her. It was crazy. It was a laundry list of disabilities. The writer made this chick the mule of all mules. There wasn’t anything this heroine didn’t endure. Blinded, scarred, crippled, PTSD. What the hell! I thought, "Where is the hump on her back? Why not throw in a second head too?" Then we get this story where she needs a DOM to heal her because he loves her and doesn’t care what she looks like. Mainstream readers lurved it. UGH! Ok. Whatever. But why did this heroine out of all the others in the series get this contrived storyline? Why must the heroine of color go through the fire all the time? Why can’t she have a good time every once and a while? Why can’t she just be? Is it that hard to write? It must be. Especially when the writer doesn’t believe it.
God forbid this bullshit becomes a genre like New Adult. What would it be called? I cannot imagine. I got a name for it though, but it’s not for polite company.