Podcast Transcript 94: An Interview with Farrah Rochon

Here is a text transcript of DBSA 94. An Interview with Farrah Rochon. You can listen to the mp3 here, or you can read on! 

This podcast transcript was handcrafted by Garlic Knitter with the finest of alphabet letters. Many thanks.

 Here are the books we discuss:

DVD The Sapphires Book Rochelle Alers Haven Creek Book Brenda Jackson Irresistible Forces

Book Beverly Jenkins Destiny's Embrace Book Beverly Jenkins - Destiny's Surrender Book Taming the Wolf - Maureen Smith

Book Just a Little Taste - Moments in Maplesville series Book Forever's Promise - Farrah Rochon


[music]

Sarah Wendell: Hello, and welcome to another DBSA podcast. I’m Sarah Wendell from Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, and with me is contemporary romance author Farrah Rochon. I sat down with Farrah at RT, and you can tell that at some points our voices sound as if they are about to give up because, well, they were about to give up. We talked about her experiences in self publishing and publishing through traditional presses like Harlequin. We talk about how romance covers send various signals to various readers and how to address diversity in romance. How do you connect diverse readers with the diverse characters that they want to read, and how do you reach as wide an audience as possible while doing it? This is not a conversation where we arrive at completely amazing, earth-shattering conclusions, but I follow Farrah and many other writers on Twitter, and the conversations that they have been having this year about the issue of diversity in publishing and diversity in romance has been fascinating, and I wanted to ask her more about it. Hence, this interview! I hope you enjoy it.

[music]

This podcast is brought to you by Berkley, publisher of New York Times bestselling author Jessica Clare’s steamy new romance, The Virgin’s Guide to Misbehaving. This book is on sale now wherever books are sold.

The music that you’re listening to was provided by Sassy Outwater, and I will have information at the end of the podcast as to who this is and where you can buy it.

And if you are listening to this podcast while working out, which I know many of you are, you are doing great. Keep going!

And now, on with the podcast.

[music]

Sarah: So, if you would please introduce yourself. Tell people who you are.

Farrah Rochon: My name is Farrah Rochon. I am a writer for Kimani Romance, and I also do self publishing, African-American romance. My little moniker is sexy, sassy, contemporary romance author. So that’s who I am!

Sarah: I like this plan. That’s a good plan. And one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you is because you and many other authors have been very outspoken on Twitter about the lack of diversity in romance. And this is not necessarily a surprise, the lack of diversity in romance is not a new thing, but one of the good side effects of social media is that you get to see what people are saying, and if you step outside of the people who you know, you hear more about what other people are thinking, and you see things from different perspectives. And what I find really interesting about Twitter myself is that two years ago – or was it three years ago; I have no concept of time – I watched governments in the Middle East fall on Twitter, because the American news didn’t cover it, so I watched the Arab Spring on Twitter, and I watched –

Farrah: Yeah.

Sarah: – Tunisian governments fall, and I watched the Egyptian protests, but I watched it on Twitter because that was the only place I got that information. This year and last year, I have learned through what listening to what people say on Twitter about gender diversity, and –

Farrah: Mm-hmm.

Sarah: – I have learned terms like cis-het. I would not have ever known these words it was not for Twitter –

Farrah: Saved! Yes. Yes.

Sarah: – and now I understand what that means, and I, and I, and I have learned that it’s not just male or female. There are, there’s, like, a spectrum of gender –

Farrah: Yeah.

Sarah: – and people identify in different ways. And one other thing that I have learned that I actually already knew was that when you are the dominant racial majority, changing your language can make an enormous difference to the people who are hurt by words that you use that are meaningless to you. You know?

Farrah: Yeah. What you don’t realize is –

Sarah: No, I have no idea. And, you know, contrary to other people’s opinions, I don’t actually want to be a douchebag. This is not my agenda!

Farrah: That would be good!

[Laughter]

Sarah: So I’ve been listening to you and to Alisha…Ray?

Farrah: Rai, yeah.

Sarah: Rai, thank you. And one of the problems with reading names is you don’t hear them, so you don’t know how to say them –

Farrah: Yeah.

Sarah: – but Alisha Rai and other authors talking about not only the lack of diversity in publishing and romance, but how the diversity is funneled into a very specific line that is not marketed the same way as white romance.

Farrah: Yes.

Sarah: One of the things that I have seen you and many other authors talk about is that there is an audience for multicultural romance.

Farrah: Absolutely.

Sarah: There is an audience of readers who want to see characters of color, diverse cultures, of different nationalities, of different, even just cultural foods –

Farrah: Yes.

Sarah: – and explore different cultures, and I see this lacking also in a lot of areas. Like, every year I talk about how there’s, like, nine Jewish romances at the holidays.

Farrah: Yeah. [Laughs]

Sarah: To say nothing of the complete lack of Muslim romances –

Farrah: Yeah.

Sarah: – except for all the sheikhs who aren’t really Muslims.

Farrah: Yeah.

Sarah: They’re like –

Farrah: The blue-eyed sheikhs –

Sarah: Yes!

Farrah: – is what I call them.

[Laughter]

Sarah: They are, they are, they are sheikhs who do not have any connection to Islam –

Farrah: Yes. Yes!

Sarah: – which is just amazing to me!

Farrah: Yes, it is. [Laughs]

Sarah: Anyway. How do – and I, I’m not challenging you; I just want to know –

Farrah: Mm-hmm.

Sarah: – would love to hear more – how do you know that there is an audience. Where do you see your audience?

Farrah: Well, of course, because I write for the line that is, you know, the African-American romance line with Harlequin –

Sarah: Of course.

Farrah: – you know, that is, they target the books to that audience.

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Farrah: Our whole thing is trying to get it, to broaden it from that audience, which has been the challenge, but we, our, I could give you an idea of just how big the audience is. Just last week I hosted a conference. It’s the Romance Slam Jam conference that is for readers of African-American romance.

Sarah: You have no, you have no idea how much I want to go to the Slam Jam –

Farrah: Yes.

Sarah: – and I have young children. I was like, I can’t do a two-week RT/Slam Jam trip –

Farrah: Yeah.

Sarah: – but oh, my gosh, the pictures looked so awesome!

Farrah: And a lot of them – yeah, it’s a huge – these are, that is my core audience. These are readers –

Sarah: Those are, that is, those are your peoples. Those are your usual readers.

Farrah: Those – yes. Those are the ones that I know will buy my book the day it comes out, read it within two hours, and then want to know when my next book is going to come out. And thank God for those people. You know, they keep writers of African-American romance going. And yeah, there is the audience for it. It’s, it’s those people who have been reading romance as a whole –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Farrah: – since they were little girls like me.

Sarah: And then they found the romances that reflect them.

Farrah: Yes.

Sarah: And, and the, not just their experience –

Farrah: Yes.

Sarah: – but the way that they look.

Farrah: Yes.

Sarah: They don’t have to imagine themselves as a character who is white.

Farrah: Yes.

Sarah: They have a character who is the color they are.

Farrah: Yeah. And I, I truly believe that’s why Harlequin has a line, that’s why Kensington has the Dafina line.

Sarah: Kensington’s is Dafina, isn’t it?

Farrah: Yeah. You know, because there is that audience, and it’s, it’s supply and demand from sixth grade, you know?

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Farrah: If there’s a demand for it, publisher going to, they’re going to supply it.

Sarah: That’s why the line is still there.

Farrah: Exactly. So there’s definitely readers out there, and they understand that these are just romance novels. These are love stories. They just feature people that look like them.

Sarah: Mm-hmm. Now you have experimented with self publishing –

Farrah: Yes.

Sarah: – and have removed the people from the cover of your books –

Farrah: Yes.

Sarah: – to, to sort of break past the visual boundary of having –

Farrah: Yes.

Sarah: – people of color on your cover. How has that worked for you? How, how, what have you learned from that?

Farrah: I have learned that I could sell a lot more books –

Sarah: You don’t say.

Farrah: – if I do not have people of color –

Sarah: I want to talk to you about that –

Farrah: Yeah!

Sarah: – so tell me.

Farrah: It’s amazing. It’s amazing. My first books that I put up were actually books that I got the rights back from Dorchester Publishing.

Sarah: Oh! You were a Dorchester author!

Farrah: Yeah, I’m sor-, yes, I was. Yes, I was. [Laughs]

Sarah: Oh, I’m so sorry. I mean, seriously, it’s like it sunk to the bottom of the ocean –

Farrah: Yeah, and they were pulling everybody down! [Laughs]

Sarah: – and all these little lifeboats, all these little lifeboats around the, around the shipwreck, getting their rights back.

Farrah: Believe me, I was baptized by fire in this publishing industry, okay?

Sarah: My lord! Oh, this is nothing!

Farrah: I have been through a lot.

[Laughter]

Farrah: But you know, it’s all turned out really well, because I got the rights to those books back – at least three of them, I should say – right before they imploded, and I –

Sarah: And then the rights were sold as part of the bankruptcy dealing, which is just –

Farrah: Yeah, well, it, it put me as an Amazon author. They bought them.

Sarah: That’s not a bad thing! Yeah.

Farrah: Exactly! So, yeah, it has, it was awful as I was going through it, but it’s turned out to be a good thing. And I, those books had, you know, African-American models on the covers. Well, I knew that I wanted to try something with just, like, a scene or, you know, no people on it, because I studied this industry very much, probably more than I should, but I noticed at the time that Brenda Jackson, she hit the New York Times bestsellers list just around that time, and I’d been reading her work for years, but I noticed that she hit it with a book that did not have people on the cover. It had just the scene on the cover, and for, like, the next dozen or so books that she put out, they never put people on the cover. It was only a scene, whether it was her Kimani books or her Desire books.

Sarah: It was tables and food –

Farrah: Yes, or, like, a beach scene.

Sarah: – or a window –

Farrah: Yes.

Sarah: – beach chair.

Farrah: I think it was Intimate Seduction was the book that hit the New York Times list for her, and I thought, you know, there’s something to this, so I’m going to try it, and that’s what I did.

Sarah: And it worked really well!

Farrah: It worked really well.

Sarah: And your books are about, the first one is a food truck heroine?

Farrah: The, oh, gosh, let me think –

Sarah: But they’re food related.

Farrah: I have some, well I have several series. I have my football books –

Sarah: Right.

Farrah: – which are for Kimani, and I did, you know, those books, they did well because one of them was nominated a RITA. You know, that was, I do believe it was the first African-American book that actually had African-American characters on it that was nominated for a RITA.

Sarah: In contemporary, I think.

Farrah: Yeah.

Sarah: I think Beverly Jenkins has been nominated too.

Farrah: No, actually, she hasn’t.

Sarah: What?! What?!

Farrah: No!

Sarah: What is this crap?

Farrah: She has not. Angela Benson and –

Sarah: Can we just talk about how much I love Beverly Jenkins for a minute?

Farrah: And I, I’m a fangirl too. [Laughs]

Sarah: GOD, I LOVE HER BOOKS! Okay, anyway, go ahead! [Laughs]

Farrah: I know, I know, ‘cause she’s one of the realest people you will –

Sarah: Good book noise!

Farrah: Yeah. Yeah. I love her, but she has not been nominated for a RITA.

Sarah: Oh, what the hell is that?

Farrah: There’s only, like, five, I think. The other three before me were all inspirational, so –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Farrah: – you know, their, their covers –

Sarah: They get the same covers –

Farrah: Yeah.

Sarah: – they don’t get character covers.

Farrah: One of them had, like, a woman standing with her, faced that way, you really could not tell. My book, I was proud because it was the first one that had, you know –

Sarah: Black characters.

Farrah: – black characters, and it was still nominated for a RITA.

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Farrah: It did really well, and so I did pick up readers of all, you know, all races, all cultures. They, they all wanted that book, so thank you, readers.

[Laughter]

Farrah: But I also, yes, I did, the food truck book was actually one that’s of my self published series.

Sarah: Mm-hmm. And it’s a scene, it’s a food scene on the cover.

Farrah: Yes.

Sarah: No people.

Farrah: No people, and, you know, I did a little Christmas book that has, yeah, just an ornament. [Laughs]

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Farrah: That’s –

Sarah: And the sales are different.

Farrah: The sales are definitely different, and –

Sarah: Is your core readership still getting them?

Farrah: They are, because they know my name.

Sarah: But it reaches, but it reaches beyond that.

Farrah: And the funny thing is that series is actually, it’s a novella series that I tied to one of my Harlequin series. It’s small-town Louisiana.

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Farrah: There are two towns. In the Harlequin books, I, I talk about one town, and they’re, like, competing against this neighboring town, so I wrote a novella series that’s about the neighboring town. Funny thing is, the Harlequin books have black characters on the, the front. They do not sell as well as the self published series.

Sarah: The self published – Does that make you angry?

Farrah: It makes me disappointed.

Sarah: Yeah.

Farrah: You know, it does, it does, but I’m somewhat encouraged because I have gotten people on Facebook, I’ve had people who found me through my self-published work who have gone back and read my entire backlist.

Sarah: How much backlist do you have? How many books are we talking about?

Farrah: Ooh, I think number 21 just came out between –

Sarah: Wow!

Farrah: Well, you know, there’s a few novellas in there –

Sarah: It counts.

Farrah: – and I write the shorter books.

Sarah: It counts.

Farrah: So, yeah, yeah, since –

Sarah: That is a –

Farrah: – 2007, when I came out, yeah.

Sarah: That is a good backlist.

Farrah: Yeah!

Sarah: It’s a very good backlist.

Farrah: It’s, it’s going well. And –

Sarah: So, hmm, okay. Here is my theory, and you don’t have to have the answer to this –

Farrah: Okay.

Sarah: – but I wanted to know what you thought. So, one of the things that I have been thinking about is I’ve been listening to you and other writers –

Farrah: Mm-hmm.

Sarah: – talk about diversity in romance, is how to market that idea to readers, because a lot of people, if you talk about diversity, they shut down. No matter who they are, they’re like, I, I don’t want to –

Farrah: Yeah.

Sarah: – I don’t, I don’t wish to be politically responsible in my reading. I like to read about billionaire dukes.

Farrah: Yeah.

Sarah: I really like, I really like hot billionaires –

Farrah: Yeah.

Sarah: – and if you tell me I have to diversify my reading, that shut’s people down.

Farrah: Yes.

Sarah: So one of the things that I have been trying to do is think of a way to reframe the argument for diversity in books, and when I talk to people about how everyone should see themselves in a romance, people get that.

Farrah: Yeah.

Sarah: It’s not like, you need to be diverse!

Farrah: Yeah.

Sarah: You need to read more books with people of color. It’s everyone should be able to find a book that reflects their experience, especially since romance is about intimacy and emotions. Everyone should know that their emotional experience is reflected in the genre. Everyone should see themselves in a romance.

Farrah: Yeah!

Sarah: We should be able to share with people who are East Indian or a Latino or –

Farrah: Yeah.

Sarah: – of, you know, Caribbean extraction. We have this represented. Everyone should be able to see themselves in the genre, and I want to figure out a way to argue for diversity with that frame –

Farrah: Instead of –

Sarah: You need to do better! No.

Farrah: – just – yes! Gosh.

Sarah: I, everyone should ref-, everyone should be able to see themselves in the genre. How do we make that better?

Farrah: My gosh. I wish I knew.

Sarah: I don’t know either.

Farrah: We need to come up, we –

Sarah: We need to work on this!

Farrah: You want what I want.

Sarah: And here’s the other thing: So last year there was a movie that came out of Australia called The Sapphires. And it is a terrific movie that was, it’s set in the ‘60s, but it’s about a group of Aboriginal young women –

Farrah: Mm-hmm.

Sarah: – who go on tour in Vietnam as entertainment, sort of like a slightly less famous version of The Supremes.

Farrah: Okay.

Sarah: In the course of the story, there’s four, three or four Aboriginal girls and their white, Irish manager, who’s like this drunken lout who figures out that they have something special. So in Australia, that movie did pretty well in Australia. What’s Australian doesn’t really sell over here because we’re like, oh, that’s Australian, that’s not for me –

Farrah: Yeah.

Sarah: – I’m an American, but then the movie was imported into America, and the cover, the movie poster, they were blue. They were in the background, and they weren’t even of color, they were blue.

Farrah: Oh, gosh!

Sarah: It was blue-shaded blocks with the women – you could not tell that they were of color – and then the white guy in the front rocking out, and people in Australia were like, what? the fuck. America.

Farrah: Oh, gosh!

Sarah: Oh, it was, they weren’t even, they weren’t even whited out, they were made blue. They’re blue!

Farrah: Oh my gosh!

Sarah: ‘Cause you know, The Sapphires, I get it, marketing, but –

Farrah: No!

Sarah: – and this was right before I went to Australia last year. So I read this really interesting opinion piece in the Sydney Morning Herald, and it really struck me, because the writer was saying, yes, this sucks, and yes, it should be, you should be able to be honest about the content of this movie, that it is about four women of color, but here’s the thing that hit me.

Farrah: I know what’s coming.

Sarah: He said, the minute you put black people on the cover of anything, you are saying, whitey, this is not for you.

Farrah: Yeah. I knew that’s where it was going, yeah.

Sarah: And I am embarrassed to say that I had not noticed that I had internalized that message –

Farrah: Yeah.

Sarah: – that something that has people of color on it is not for me. Not because it’s, you know, less or it’s, you know, I am superior and that is lesser. It is, it is inappropriate for me to read that.

Farrah: Yeah.

Sarah: That is not for me, and that is not a place where I am even welcome.

Farrah: Yeah!

Sarah: Like, I have internalized that message, and then I was like, well, I feel really fucking stupid now. Shit! How do I undo this?

Farrah: It’s – yeah.

Sarah: How do you undo that message? And I don’t know, but it’s fascinating to me that in your experiments with your covers, it bears that out.

Farrah: It’s, it’s the same thing.

Sarah: The minute you remove the people of color from the cover, you can say, everybody, this is for you. So on one hand, you want to have people, everyone seeing themselves in a romance, but on the other hand, you have to change the coding of the color, of the cover so that –

Farrah: Yeah.

Sarah: – people will look at it beyond –

Farrah: And actually think they can read it.

Sarah: This is for me as well. And it, this is a problem I don’t know how to solve. Oh, look!

Farrah: Don’t you see that? And you know this author.

Sarah: I know Rochelle Al-ers? Ail-ers?

Farrah: Yes. And they did that for her covers –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Farrah: – and the books are selling like crazy –

Sarah: Well, of course, it looks like a –

Farrah: – because it looks like a –

Sarah: – Julia London, it looks like a –

Farrah: – or a Robyn Carr.

Sarah: – Robyn.

Farrah: So I wonder if we need to do this. Because people have discovered her, they’ve discovered Brenda Jackson. You –

Sarah: And then you have Beverly Jenkins, who has gorgeous covers, but those people are clearly not white.

Farrah: Yeah. And if only people knew how much they could learn from her. I mean, her historicals are just –

Sarah: My God.

Farrah: – my goodness.

Sarah: Her, the, the latest series, the Destiny series, I have learned so much about the founding of California.

Farrah: Exactly!

Sarah: And I’m from the east coast! I grew up in Pittsburgh. I know nothing –

Farrah: Yes!

Sarah: – about California, except they have better produce. Now I know –

Farrah: [Laughs]

Sarah: – how much about that cultural history and how –

Farrah: It is so amazing, and it, it, it really just hurts me that other people do not realize what you are missing when you do not read those books. Don’t, don’t let that stop you.

Sarah: And it’s so, and it is so hard to realize that you have internalized that marketing message –

Farrah: Yeah!

Sarah: – that there’s a divide and that it is, this is not for you. This is for someone else.

Farrah: It’s the whole shelving thing.

Sarah: Yeah. And it’s like, okay, how do you, how do you fight that?

Farrah: How do we change that?

Sarah: Like, dude, no. But it’s –

Farrah: But it’s so deep seated, it’s so, you know, books – I hope we can start to break this up –

Sarah: Me too.

Farrah: – with books, because it goes so much further than the can we, can we do it, where people feel okay –

Sarah: How can we, how can we visually –

Farrah: – reading these.

Sarah: How can we visually communicate that the people in this book reflect more than the just the white reading community –

Farrah: Yeah.

Sarah: – but also create a cover where white readers don’t look at it and say –

Farrah: Not for me.

Sarah: Same thing with Tyler Perry movies –

Farrah: Yep.

Sarah: – with The Best Man series, and there’s always, always, always, like, wow, that movie with all of the black people did really good!

Farrah: It was good! Yeah!

Sarah: And it did really well!

Farrah: Yeah!

Sarah: Why is that? Black people watching the movies.

Farrah: Yeah.

Sarah: Oh, my God!

Farrah: Yeah, it’s a, it’s a, you know, it’s a struggle, I know. I -

Sarah: And I, one of the reasons I wanted to do this interview is because (a) I wanted to hear your thoughts, and (b) I wanted to have this conversation so that maybe when I post this, people will have comments and suggestions –

Farrah: Yeah.

Sarah: – and think about the ways that they have internalized the messages on romance covers, ‘cause we also have a genre with images that are so encoded. They’re sexual, they’re half naked most of the time –

Farrah: Yeah.

Sarah: – they are very male fetishing, they are, they are very female fetishing. There’s a whole set of fetishes involved, in, in both roles.

Farrah: That blue-eyed sheikh that we talked about –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Farrah: – is definitely a fetish.

Sarah: And, like, cheekbones I could ski over hill –

Farrah: Exactly, yeah.

Sarah: Shirts off. No, no one ever wears a shirt.

Farrah: Yeah.

Sarah: And they unbutton it and leave it tucked in, and I don’t understand this. But we are, we already have a coded image where we see the clinch or we see, you know –

Farrah: Yeah.

Sarah: – man chest, and we know, oh, that’s a romance! Because, you know, that’s ours! That’s our image, and we have been taught to look for that image because it represents romance, and if you have a table setting at a picnic and some shoes and a sunset, women’s fiction, contemporary –

Farrah: Yeah.

Sarah: – and, you know, you got butt plugs, whips, and chains –

Farrah: You know it’s – [laughs]

Sarah: – it’s BDSM. Or you’ve got some sort of single-color image, that’s erotic contemporary –

Farrah: Know.

Sarah: – and then you have the, the, the scene outside, usually people in jeans, even then, that’s a very specific coded image for a contemporary romance –

Farrah: Yeah.

Sarah: – historical is the same way. We have been taught to visually decipher very quickly what kinds of books we’re looking at, and that education that we’ve had, that understanding of how to shop quickly by the visual, also limits authors –

Farrah: Yes.

Sarah: – who put people of color on their covers.

Farrah: Yes. Never mind the fact that they are –

Sarah: Contemporary.

Farrah: Yeah. It’s – I got such an education when I became published, because I didn’t realize just how segregated it was. And of course, Borders, you know, they’re not here, but they were known for, my books were in the African-American literature section. I was next to Toni Morrison and Richard Wright and, you know –

Sarah: Which is awesome!

Farrah: – I’m like, wait, no. It’s great, but –

Sarah: It’s awesome, but that’s not where romance readers are going to go.

Farrah: Exactly. Romance readers won’t.

Sarah: Two-row romance section, that’s where they need to be.

Farrah: Yes. And they are not – you know, I have white readers, I have white friends that, you know, of course –

Sarah: You have white friends?

Farrah: I have white friends –

Sarah: No!

Farrah: – I have a bunch of them –

Sarah: No!

Farrah: – and they all bought my book!

Sarah: Bless their hearts!

Farrah: But they also told me, you know, they had to go to the African-American section –

Sarah: To find them.

Farrah: They got looked at –

Sarah: Yep.

Farrah: – because, you know, they had that look of –

Sarah: Once you leave the romance area, people are like, oh, that’s what you’re looking for? You should stay on your shelf.

Farrah: Yeah! And they’re like, well, what are you doing here? Do you know where you’re supposed to be? That’s what was created, and it actually made some people uncomfortable going for that book, so it, you know –

Sarah: Which just sucks.

Farrah: – it’s what was crea-, yeah, it was created by, by the publishers, by the sellers. I don’t know who decided that if you have a black author, if you have black people on the cover, whatever, that it needs to go –

Sarah: It needs to go in the black section.

Farrah: – in the black section. That’s starting to change now –

Sarah: Well, we don’t have as many bookstores.

Farrah: There you go. Not as many.

Sarah: So your shelves are digitally populated by algorithms and not by –

Farrah: Yeah.

Sarah: – a buyer who puts the books over there –

Farrah: Exactly.

Sarah: – versus over here. That’s a good thing, but there’s also not a lot of flawless digital discoverability that allows you to quick surf towards what you want –

Farrah: No.

Sarah: – and think about different things. It needs to know what you bought before to serve you more of the same –

Farrah: Yeah.

Sarah: – and if you want to change, you’re not going to – it’s going to be pretty difficult.

Farrah: It’s disappointing. It, you know, it sounds awful, but it’s reality. It’s –

Sarah: And you can analyze it and figure out –

Farrah: Yeah.

Sarah: – how are we going to do this in contemporary? How are we going to make this work in contemporary?

Farrah: Yeah. And I would love to, you know, I talked about the books with just the scenes and all of that, maybe that is the foot in the door.

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Farrah: They’ve tried it with Brenda Jackson. She, you know, she hit the New York Times –

Sarah: Does well.

Farrah: – and now they have started reintroducing –

Sarah: Her older titles with the same covers –

Farrah: Yeah.

Sarah: You want, you want to be able to communicate to people who are looking for themselves that this book features their stories –

Farrah: Yeah

Sarah: – but you also don’t want to cut off the white audience, because they also read and recommend and talk a lot about romance.

Farrah: It is, it’s a conundrum –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Farrah: – that has plagued writers of color for so long.

Sarah: It’s hard, and I, and I wish I had –

Farrah: Yes.

Sarah: – like, the perfect answer.

Farrah: Yeah. I wi-, I wish I knew, and like, may-, maybe Brenda Jackson will be the answer –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Farrah: – now that they, they brought her back with, she actually has black men on the covers now –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Farrah: – with A Brother’s Honor, and I think she, some of her Desires, they started to reintroduce people on the cover, and –

Sarah: Well, Brenda Jackson’s name is bigger than the cover –

Farrah: Exactly, it’s bigger than the cover, so people are totally – they’re totally comfortable reading it now, so maybe, maybe that’s a start. And it’s amazing that romance is still so homogeneous.

Sarah: It is. It is very homogeneous.

Farrah: It’s, you know, it’s like, it is just not reflecting, how long will it take –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Farrah: – for it to reflect how the rest of this country and world looks?

Sarah: Yep.

Farrah: It’s – gosh.

Sarah: What was it, that, like, by 2048, in America, white people will not be the majority?

Farrah: Yeah, and it, like I said, it goes deeper than –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Farrah: – you know, just a romance novel.

[music]

Sarah: What have you read that just rocked your world?

Farrah: Well, speaking of Maureen Smith, I just read her Seducing the Wolf, which –

Sarah: Is that a paranormal?

Farrah: It is, no, she has this set of brothers and cousins called the Wolf Pack, and these books are –

Sarah: So the title hints at paranormal, but it’s contemporary erotica?

Farrah: It’s contemporary. I don’t –

Sarah: Smoking hot?

Farrah: It’s smoking hot. [Laughs] I don’t know –

Sarah: I’m okay with that!

Farrah: You know, the funny thing is, the heroine is a violinist. How many times do you see that? A classical violinist.

Sarah: Not often. You see pianists.

Farrah: Yeah, she’s a violinist, and he’s a biochemist of some sort. It is the sexiest –

Sarah: Did you hear my catnip alarms go off?

Farrah: – most – [laughs] It was –

Sarah: My catnip alarm has just, has just been activated.

Farrah: Oh, it is so, it was great. I, my reading time has been extremely limited –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Farrah: – and I had to –

Sarah: Pre-conference does that to you.

Farrah: Yes. And, you know, having three books –

Sarah: Seducing the Wolf.

Farrah: – in, like, a few months. Seducing the Wolf was so good. It’s, like –

Sarah: Really.

Farrah: 500 pages of just so good. Yeah.

Sarah: Mmm.

Farrah: And it’s, like, a reunion story, you know. They were high school sweethearts. She left, she lives in Paris, she comes back, it’s – and, yeah. Very hot. Very, very hot. Very good. So, yeah, you want that one.

Sarah: Okay.

Farrah: You want that one. Amazing.

Sarah: Good to know.

Farrah: Yeah. [Laughs]

Sarah: What is coming up for you next? What books are you publishing next?

Farrah: Well, I plan to have the fourth book in my Maples, Moments in Maplesville series. That’s my little novella series –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Farrah: – later this summer. I also have two books coming out for Harlequin Kimani Romance. The first, oh, I have my, yeah. I have the – see, I have so much –

Sarah: Yeah.

Farrah: – that I can’t keep up with them. I have –

Sarah: Welcome to the Farrah Rochon buffet.

Farrah: Okay. [Laughs]

Sarah: Take a, take a plate. You may make multiple trips.

Farrah: I have one in October. It’s a part of an anthology called Hot Christmas Nights, and my story is Tuscan Nights. It takes place in Tuscany and Rome, and there’s tons of food, ‘cause I love to eat, and –

Sarah: I like this.

Farrah: – I ate my way through Italy. Yes, it’s –

Sarah: You poor thing. For Harlequin.

Farrah: I know! [Laughs]

Sarah: So sorry you went through that. It’s terrible.

Farrah: But you know, just imagine Rome at Christmas time, and that too is, it’s kind of a younger, my heroine was going to marry the hero’s older brother, and she got left at the altar, and the younger brother, he wants to show her that he was the one that she should have been with all along.

Sarah: Oooh.

Farrah: Yeah, it’s, I fell in love with that story.

[music]

Sarah: I hope you enjoyed my conversation with Farrah Rochon, and I want to thank her for taking time to talk to me at RT. It was very late in the conference, and I think both of our voices were about to go out at that point, so the fact that I managed to get 26 or 27 minutes of audio out of both of our sets of vocal cords is amazing.

I am imagining that some of the things we talked about have created a number of responses, so I want to make sure to remind you, if you want to email us or you want to respond to what we were talking, you can email me and Jane at sbjpodcast@gmail.com, or you can leave a comment when the entry goes up that goes with the podcast. Either way, if you have ideas or you have things that you want to say in response, we really want to hear them, ‘cause we think this is a conversation that we need to continue to have, not just on Twitter, obviously.

But I also have listener mail, because listener mail is awesome! This email is from Friday:

Dear Sarah,

It was a while ago now, but I think it was in a podcast that you and Jane lamented that there were no romances with disabled heroines. I remember thinking at the time, I know one, I know one! And I tracked that sucker down. It’s called Ms. Longshot by Sylvie Kurtz. The heroine is an amputee and a secret spy. It’s kind of awesome.

Yeah, you had me at spy. I, what is it with spy romances? I am all over that noise. Anyway, yes, secret spy, I wish to read this now. Yeah, thank you very much, Friday. You are totally right. Why is spy my catnip? Is spy your catnip? ‘Cause spy is totally my catnip.

I have one more email here, and this is from Jacqueline:

Dear Sarah and Jane,

So, quick story. I recently developed a new obsession, that of romantic comedy Korean dramas. They are basically trope-tastic, and they’re everything that American rom-coms are not, which is why I think I’ve fallen in love with them. However, as I’ve been reading plot summaries and accumulating titles for my To Watch list, I realized something. I hate, and subsequently avoid, dramas where heroines are unlikable. I abhor stories where the females are bratty, spoiled, self-centered bitch biscuits that, over the course of the story, change and become a good person. The minute that realization hits me in regards to my K-dramas, it also dawned on me that I avoid all romance novels which utilize the unlikable heroine trope. However, much like in Korean dramas and my romance novels, I do not mind if a hero is the biggest jerky jerkface on the planet, provided he sufficiently grovels and repents. So, my long-ass point, am I alone in this? Do you or any other listeners in Podcast Land have this aversion? Have you ever DNFed a novel strictly on the heroine’s craptastic behavior? What’s more, why am I such a hypocrite? I’m okay with the hero being an Ass Blaster 3000, but not the heroine? One would think it’s because of the oh, you just insert yourself as the heroine because all romance novels are trite and you’re pathetic for reading them, blah blah blah shit that I’ve heard lodged against me and thousands of other romance novel readers, but no, I do not insert myself into the role of the heroine or any other character that I read. They are their own person, and I’m just watching their stories play out before me. So, any thoughts, musings, comments on this topic? I’d love to hear what you, Jane, or any of the other content providers for the site have to say on this. I’m sorry if you’ve already covered this topic, in which just pretend that all the previous words were just me praising y’alls awesomeness. Always, thank you for the amazingness you guys do.

First of all, you’re welcome, and thank you for saying so. And second, yes, if you have similar thoughts or you also avoid heroines that you find really unappealing, you should email us at sbjpodcast@gmail.com and let us know why.

As for myself, yes, I have the same problem. You are absolutely not alone. For me, it’s not so much that a car-, that a heroine is a bratty or spoiled or self centered. It’s (a) is she a cliché? Does she say completely unrealistic things? Is she a trope that is going to be made over into a better person by the wonderful, adoring love of some guy? I dislike that trope every time. What really bothers me, though, is when it is first person, and I am inside the head of someone that I really, really dislike. I am trying to be a more patient person, but I am not always very patient, especially with characters. And it goes for heroes and heroines, but all too often in romance, especially lately, you’ll find yourself in the head of a heroine who is telling the story in first person, and when you don’t like the person who is telling you the story, being in their head is agony. For me, you might witness, say, Bella Swan or Anna what’s-her-face from 50 Shades of Grey, who are essentially the same person. I did not like being in their heads. It was really claustrophobic. I didn’t like them, I didn’t like their lack of backbone, and I didn’t like the way that they saw the world, so being in their heads was excruciating.

When there’s a heroine who’s really, really obnoxious and it’s just obnoxiousness without reason, I also lose my, lose my patience very quickly. It’s one thing if I understand the motivation of a character who is acting in a way that’s particularly unattractive, but if it’s just, I am a spoiled person, and I’m going to learn to be a better person, I’m not that interested, really, and I don’t really enjoy it with the heroes, either.

You are absolutely not alone, and I don’t think that disliking heroines and being harder on them in romance is a result of everyone putting themselves in the heroine’s place. I don’t think everyone does that. I think some people do and some people don’t. However, I do think that unilaterally, we as readers are much more critical and much harder on the heroines. They have a much higher standard to meet in terms of appeal, and that can make it really difficult to live with a heroine through the course of a book who you just don’t like. It’s not nice to spend a lot of time with people you don’t like, especially in the intimacy of a novel. So, no, you’re not alone; yes, it’s totally normal; and if you’re having thoughts on this topic, please email us, because we would really like to know what you think.

[music]

Sarah: Do you need the email address? I’m betting that you do, and that’s okay because I have a lot of information to tell you, starting with the email address, just in case you haven’t memorized it. If you have ideas or questions or suggestions, or you want to argue with us, which is totally cool, our email address is sbjpodcast@gmail.com, and you can also leave us a message on our Google voice number at 1-201-371-DBSA. Please don’t forget to give us your name and where you’re calling from so we can include your message as an upcoming podcast.

You can subscribe to our feed, you can find us on PodcastPickle, and thanks to @SayDatAgain on Twitter, we are now part of Stitcher, a podcast compendium and curation service, so if you’re trying Stitcher, let me know how you like it.

The music in each episode is provided by Sassy Outwater, and you can follow her on Twitter @SassyOutwater. This is called “Mackerel & Tatties,” and it’s by Michael McGoldrick. I will have links in the podcast entry about where you can find his fine, fine musical stylings, including Amazon and iTunes.

This podcast is brought to you by Berkley, publisher of New York Times bestselling author Jessica Clare’s steamy new romance, The Virgin’s Guide to Misbehaving. It’s on sale now wherever books are sold.

So are you in the gym? Are you working out? Are you running? Are you Priscilla in the garage on a bike? Hi, Priscilla! Keep going! If you are working out, don’t stop, you’re doing great!

And if you are Kat’s kids in the back seat, this podcast was completely safe for your ears. I hope you enjoyed it. I have a podcast with you and other young people in mind coming up this summer, or winter if you’re in Australia, but summer for me, and future podcasts will include interviews with Kate Noble and Nico Rosso and Zoë Archer. Two of those people were on the phone at the same time. You’re probably going to guess who.

And in the meantime, Farrah and Jane and I wish you the very best of reading. Thank you for listening.

[dancing music]

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