Saturday, November 01, 2014

The Diversity in Romance Poster Girl

USA Today bestselling author Jeannie Lin is at the Pink Heart Society today, talking about what it's like to be the "Diversity in Romance Poster Girl".  

The Diversity in Romance Poster Girl.

Do you know what she looks like? She looks like this:

Four years later, she still looks like this. 

I feel a little bad because this post is very personal, and all about me, but it’s what’s on my mind right now when people ask me about diversity and I can’t shake it.

When my first book was coming out, I must say the buzz was shocking for a category book. At least to me. I was thrilled. I was touched. A lot of people were talking about it, and I wanted to reach out and hug every one of them. I know it’s so hard to get noticed, and I know that people were going out of their way to support me.

The Pink Heart Society was one of the blogs that picked up the story and even chose Butterfly Swords as a discussion book for the month. And I wholeheartedly thank you and have always had a soft spot for PHS because of it.

Which is why when asked to blog about diversity….again….I didn’t try to slink out the back door and bury my head in the sand. It’s what I always get asked to blog about, to the point where I fear sounding like a broken record.

When people bring up how romance novels aren’t very diverse, I hear—But look at Jeannie Lin! Things are getting better. The market is opening up.

My ears perk up. I love that my name gets mentioned at all. I hope someone sees that mention and tries my books. I hope they tell their friends…

But one Jeannie Lin does not a diverse market make.

I know I’m not the only one in this position, but ten of us doesn’t a diverse market make.

I’ve discussed this before, but I don’t think being different or diverse is an overwhelming selling point for a book. Sure there are readers who do seek out diversity, but I feel that market gets tapped out pretty quickly and it’s a thin market. The reason is the term “diverse” or “different” is really not very descriptive—other than saying, there’s not much out there like it. It says this book is set apart – but is it set apart in a good way? In a way that assures readers they’re going to get what they want when they pick it up?

People overwhelming read a romance for much stronger reasons – the story, the emotion, the conflict, the swoony satisfying ending. But when it comes to stories with non-mainstream cultures, the leading story is how different it is.

And it’s a killer.

Courtney Milan told me once that people tend to buy for the same, but remember for the different. Which is the exact OPPOSITE of how my stories are positioned. They’re presented as different with hopes that once people read them, they’ll be taken in by the universal love story and how accessible they are.

I still blog about writing Asian characters. I discuss my thoughts on where and how to fit into the market. I support the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement in YA and children’s books. I think there’s still a lot more that needs to be said about representation of non-white characters and culture in fiction. In mass-market genre fiction in particular, darn it! And I haven’t said all I’m going to say about it.

But do you know….and this hurts to admit…do you know I at times wonder if I should tone it down? Every time I signal boost about a diverse book or cheer when an Asian hunk is given a major role on television, I wonder if I’m further digging myself into this sub-niche? If people look at me and automatically say, her stories are not for me. Whether being the Diversity in Romance poster girl is hurting my image? If it’s led to very strong branding, but very weak sales.

I could adapt. I could reinvent myself and totally leave China behind. I can write another type of story that’s not so niched. It’s taken a lot for me to finally admit that to myself that I can do that. I don’t suck at this. Writers have to reinvent themselves all the time, and I’m not the first or the last.

But I don’t want to. And I’m scared to. And I’m NOT DONE YET.

I have no right to cry about being made an example of. I’m so strongly branded as that person. People would have never heard of me if I wasn’t a diversity poster girl. For my little debut book to still be talked about four years after release, that doesn’t suck. For an author having anyone know their name and being so supportive in mentioning it, that doesn’t suck. For people to still care about what I say once in a while, that’s a huge gift. But it’s bitter and sweet, I must admit.

So the solution for the question of diversity in romance? A hundred poster girls. A thousand poster girls. Until my stories are no longer super special snowflakes.

Or until they can be special for something else besides just being different.

USA Today bestselling author Jeannie Lin writes sweeping historical romances set in Tang Dynasty China. Her Opium War steampunk adventure series, The Gunpowder Chronicles, starts in 2014 with the release of Gunpowder Alchemy is available for pre-order now: 

Since her father’s execution eight years ago, Jin Soling kept her family from falling into poverty. But her meager savings are running out, leaving her with no choice but to sell the last of her father’s possessions—her last memento of him.

Only, while attempting to find a buyer, Soling is caught and brought before the Crown Prince. Unlike his father, the Emperor, the Prince knows that the only chance of expelling the English invaders is to once again unite China’s cleverest minds to create fantastic weapons. He also realizes that Soling is the one person who could convince her father’s former allies—many who have turned rebel—to once again work for the Empire. He promises to restore her family name if she’ll help him in his cause.

But after the betrayal of her family all those years ago, Soling is unsure if she can trust anyone in the Forbidden City—even if her heart is longing to believe in the engineer with a hidden past who was once meant to be her husband…


To find out more about Jeannie, check out her website, her blog and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Friday Fun - This Is Halloween...

We're delighted to welcome Harlequin Nocturne author Michele Hauf to the Pink Heart Society, as she talks about being a paranormal author over Halloween.

Happy er…wait—I know it’s some special day today. Just give me a minute. It involves bats and ghosts, clowns and pumpkins, candy and spooks—right! Happy Halloween! 

Whew! I forget this day a lot because, well, I’m not much into Halloween.  And that confession always tends to surprise my readers.  I do write paranormal romance, after all.  Isn’t Halloween like, my big day?  Don’t I dress up and get into the mood of spooks and scares?  And why is that candy bowl suspiciously missing from beside my door?

I confess that Halloween probably doesn’t even make the top ten of my favorite holidays.  I’ve never been into it.  Sure, my mother made fabulously elaborate outfits (hand-sewn) for me and my brother when we were kids.  We walked the neighborhoods and collected our candy booty.  As a teen it was always fun to dress up and go out partying (no alcohol; sorry, I’m a teetotaler).  And when my kids were little I sent them out and did the obligatory handing-out-of-treats as well.  It is what is expected of you around this time of year.

But really?  I’d rather turn out all the lights, lock the front door, take my bowl of pumpkin seeds into the basement with me and watch Hocus Pocus.  (Okay, so I do have a favorite Halloween movie.)  I’m kind of over Halloween.  I don’t enjoy handing candy to kids.  (When I do hand out treats, it’s some kind of plastic toy, spider rings, bouncy balls, you know.)  And is it just me, or are the trick-or-treaters getting rather…tall, lately?  The holiday has become less for the little kids’ enjoyment.

But what are we really celebrating on Halloween anyway?  It’s the eve of All Saints Day, a day dedicated to remembering the dead.  (I do like that one.)  I’m not up on Samhain, but some celebrate that.  Whatever it is, it has morphed into a commercialized sugary-sweet means for zombie crawls, pumpkin smashes, and candybar pigouts.

I’m not trying to be a wet blanket about the holiday. I do love that some people embrace it with enthusiasm.  Some of the costumes are remarkable.  The parties can be fun with intricate yard decorations and spooky drinks and desserts.  And any holiday that reminds me to dig out Dracula and rewatch that can’t be all that bad, right?

So why, if I’m not into the holidays of spooks and paranormal creatures do I make a career out of writing about just such creatures?  I do adore any kind of creature who is not human.  Fangs, tails, or wings?  I’m there!  It adds that something extra to a story that I really crave.  But really, the stories are all about the hero and heroine and their relationship.  That is the core of any good paranormal story. Without the romance, it isn’t, well…a romance.  

But a romance with a werewolf adds that extra layer of mystery, tension, and wonder that I really enjoy reading about. And the vampire’s eternal curse that he must feed upon the one he loves to survive?  Classic.  So I’ll let everyone else do the candy and pumpkins.  I’ve got a date with a vampire today.  And maybe a faery.  Oh, and what about that sexy demon?  Hmm…witches anyone? 
My latest release is Ghost Wolf, which is about werewolves in Minnesota and features lots of snow and freezing temperatures that absolutely demand hot chocolate and snuggling.  It’s all about the romance, though. I promise!

What are your favourite Halloween rituals?  Are you dressing up for the holiday this year?

And do you have a favourite paranormal being?  Werewolves or vampires?  The fae or fallen angels?  Mermaids or witches?

To read more about Michele's books, stop by her website, follow her on Twitter and Facebook, as well as checking out her Pinterest and Tumblr.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Time Out Thursday - A South African Reading Adventure

Pink Heart Society columnist Joss Wood, is talking all about the fantastic writers who make up the South African romance writing community... 

On my short writing journey so far I have learnt so much but two things stand out. The first is that I’ve still have so much to learn— Louis l’Amour said, at the age of ninety, that he might be getting the hang of writing so I have a long way to go—and the other is that I’m am constantly surprised about how nice the romance writing community is.

From editors to agents, reviewers to readers and, especially, the romance authors, published and unpublished. I belong to three author loops and I bet if we put them all in a room they’d be friends in three seconds flat. Of course we talk about writing, the publishing industry and our careers on the loops but we get personal too. Like real friends we know when someone is sick, or feeling down, what is happening in their lives and their children’s lives. We’re friends, and I really believe that no one can have too many friends. And having friends who share your passion? Priceless.

Photo by the lovely Rebecca Crowley
This last weekend I was at the first conference for South African romance writers and while you might be more familiar with my US, Australia and British author friends, you might not have heard of some South African romance writers who rock.   I thought that I’d take a moment to introduce you to some of my home based friends who are brilliant authors as well.

Romy Sommer writes for Harper Impulse; check out her books To Catch A Star and Waking up In Vegas. She’s a marvellous romance writer with a stunning voice. Rae Rivers also writes for Harper Impulse and is the Cape Town author of The Keepers, a series of paranormal romances. She gave me a copy of Archer that I can’t wait to read.

The lovely Elsa Winckler writes for Escape Publishing and Marie Dry is published by Black Opal Books and her debut sci-fi romance, Alien Mine, is doing tremendously well. Rebecca Crowley saw the light and actually moved to South Africa—  smart girl!— and is published by Carina Press and Samhein Publishing.

Two authors who seriously impressed are Carlyle Labuschagne and Rachel Morgan. Carlyle is the author of the urban, sci-fi series Broken Trilogy. Her first young adult dystopian novel "The Broken Destiny" reached top 3 in its YA debut Category. The Sequel Evanescent won YATR literary award for best Sci-Fi book 2013 and was nominated for IRC best Indie Novel and Indie cover award 2014.  Rachel Morgan is probably our most successful self published author. She is the author of the bestselling Creepy Hollow series, and the light hearted contemporary romance Trouble series.

There are others— sorry, I wish I could list you all and I love you as much!—but maybe the authors listed above will be the start of your South African reading adventure. 

What books set in South Africa or written by South African authors would you recommend?  Leave recommendations in the comments below.

Oh, and BTW!, I have a Christmas story out at the moment. I am so lucky to be included in a anthology with Carole Mortimer and Maisey Yates—no pressure to bring my A-game ;-) ! 

The book is called Christmas with a Billionaire and my novella is A Diamond for Christmas. Find it, well…anywhere:

 Headstrong Riley's holiday run-in with hot gemstone tycoon James Moreau is unsettling to say the least. 

But she soon discovers that the only thing better than resisting temptation is finally giving in!

 To find out more about Joss, you can visit her website and follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Writer's Wednesday - The Importance of Diversity

We are super excited to welcome Maisey Yates to the Pink Heart Society, as she talks about interracial relationships and the importance of diversity in category romance...

My husband and I have been married for nine years. As love stories go ours is sweet, but not especially unique or dramatic.

We met at a church camp, but I was far too young for him and he has no memory of me. Then we started working together (yes, he was my boss) from there a friendship developed, and through that friendship came love. Nine years, three kids, and a lot of books later, I still think he’s the best.

Oh yes, and he's black and I'm white.

By and large we don't consider that a part of our narrative. Yes, we sometimes have to confront challenges that other couples don't. We have to make considerations when we think about where we might travel, or where we might move. We had to deal with a family member disapproving of our relationship. But it is not now, nor has it ever been, a large part of our love story.

That was the inspiration for me to write my book The Highest Price To Pay. I could find romances that featured interracial couples, but very few where race wasn't the topic. I never felt like that was reflective of my life. As I've often told people, our marriage is the same as anyone else's. He still has dirty socks, and I still have to wash them. (Although, truth be told, he does more laundry than I will ever do.)

I wanted to read a romance that reflected my experience.

I wrote The Highest Price to Pay and received great support from Harlequin. There were definitely some concerns, and some discussions on how to handle things on the marketing angle. That was both disheartening for me and unsurprising. Of course, we want to sell copies of the book. And unfortunately very often people will opt not to pick up a book because somehow the addition of a person of color, or the representation of an interracial couple puts them off, or makes the story seem "un-relatable."

Ultimately, the book came out in a two in one in the United States and the cover ended up not being an issue, the book sold quite well, and I have not yet received backlash from readers in the states. 

Upon release in the UK, however, I did receive an email from a book club (not a racist book club, they were very quick to clarify) who asked that I no longer write books about ‘these types of people’. I did not reply. I simply forwarded the email to my editor, and then asked on Twitter for people to email my publisher in support of the book. (They did. I was contacted by marketing the next day to ask what had happened because they received so many emails.)

What's the point of the story? There are obstacles to writing diverse characters and romance. It isn't a nonissue yet. You will have to contend with stores being afraid to stock books, out of concern for sales. 

You will probably have to contend with the odd ugly letter, and hideously unaware review that says grossly offensive things about interracial relationships "turning the readers stomach." (This happened to Jules Bennet in a review for her novella in the Animal Attraction anthology. I stumbled onto that review and let me tell youit turned MY stomach.)

But, even since I wrote that first book back in 2011 things have changed. This is where this becomes a difficult post to write, because even as I single out examples of diversity in romance, it's very clear that these are exceptions, and not the rule. It's very clear that diversity in romance, in mainstream publishing, is relatively rare. It reminds me a lot of that Joss Whedon quote. So, why do you write these strong female characters? Because you're still asking me that question

As long as it's necessary to do posts on diversity and romance, it's clear that we haven't quite arrived where we need to. I write diverse characters because it reflects my life. We are an interracial couple, our children are mixed race. That, to me, is normal. That is what my life looks like.

I write diverse characters because I believe everyone deserves to see themselves reflected in a book. I write them because it reflects my life. I believe that we are all people who fall in love, who carry baggage from our pasts, who say wonderful things, and hurtful things. As idealistic as it sounds we are all the same. I will keep writing diverse characters until it's no longer remarkable in any way. Until we dont look at people who come from different backgrounds and think their stories are un-relatable.  

On a positive note we are seeing more and more diversity in category romance. Soliders Rescue Mission by Cindy Dees is a wonderful example of that, and of representation of that on the cover. ( I LOVE this cover.) By and large I feel covers are getting a bit less coy, the content of category romance has often been more diverse than their packaging.

I was extremely pleased with the cover of my book Heir to a Dark Inheritance, which has an Indian heroine. I fell at the cover representation was very well done. Likewise, I have an Arabic heroine in my November presents To Defy A Sheikh, and I was thrilled with the representation of both characters on the cover. 

And Im personally seeing that readers are willing to pick up my books, no matter the ethnic background of the characters. I get far more positive letters than negative. In fact, I havent gotten one since that wonderful tome from the Not Racist Book club.

I hope thats a sign that things are changing, and will continue to change.

In terms of content I'm going to list a few more examples of diversity and category romance from the past couple of years. In the comments, I would invite you to leave any that you know about that I might have missed.

There are lines dedicated to diversity and to focusing on people of color, but there are also writers bringing diversity into other lines, which is the focus of this list. (Also, Im shamelessly includingwell, myself, because I know about my books. So easy.)

Rodeo Dreams by Sarah M Anderson
Partner in Crime by Jules Bennett in the Animal Attraction Anthology
Whatthe Greek Wants Most by Maya Blake (not yet released)
An Heir to Bind Them by Dani Collins
The Most Expensive Lie of All by Michelle Conder
Protecting the Desert Heir by Caitlin Crews (not yet released)
Captive But Forbidden by Lynn Raye Harris
The Secret Affair and Bachelor Undone by Brenda Jackson (available for pre-order)
The Dragon and the Pearl by Jeannie Lin
My Fair Concubine by Jeannie Lin
Butterfly Swords by Jeannie Lin
The Sword Dancer by Jeannie Lin
Going the Distance by Meg Maguire
Monsoon Wedding Fever by Shoma Narayanan
His Wife for One Night by Molly OKeefe
The Man to Be Reckoned With by Tara Pammi (available for pre-order)
Marriage on the Rebound by Michelle Reid (this one might be tricky to find)
His Uptown Girl by Liz Talley
Breaking All Her Rules by Maisey Yates
The Highest Price to Pay by Maisey Yates
Snowed in With Her Boss by Maisey Yates in the Christmas With a Billionaire Anthology
To Defy a Sheikh by Maisey Yates

Maisey's latest story, Snowed in With Her Boss, has an interracial couple and can be found in the Christmas with a Billionaire Anthology:

Dutiful Amelia is stranded on Christmas Eve.  (Bad).  She's at a five-star Aspen resort.  (Good!)

She's posing as her handsome boss's girlfriend.  (So bad it's good!)  But is she pretending...or practicing with Luc Chevalier? 

To find out more about Maisey, check out her website and blog, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
Dutiful Amelia is stranded on Christmas Eve. (Bad.) She's at a five-star Aspen resort. (Good!) She's posing as her handsome boss's girlfriend. (So bad it's good!) But is she pretending…or practicing with Luc Chevalier? - See more at: