Race and Loving in Romance

I’d been thinking about interracial romance over the weekend, while I was trying to draft a section for The Book (OMG The Whole Genre?!) {that’s a working title, obviously} that examined minorities in RomanceLandia. What a verdant, green – or white, perhaps – pasture of peaceful writing that was. Not a landmine in sight for my clodding feet to trip on. No, no. *head desk* So when a friend of mine forwarded me a news article that Mildred Loving, the Black woman whose marriage to a white man overturned laws against interracial marriage died today at the age of 68, I had to think how different the world is in 2008 vs. 1958. Before I move on – our condolences to her family. I always thought it was unspeakably awesome that the name of the court case that declared laws restricting marriage on basis of race unconstitutional was called “Loving v. Virginia.”

Since I count among my neighbors several interracial couples and families,  I have been spoiled with an experience that indicates interracial marriage as something that’s somewhat common. As the friend who forwarded me the article said to me over email, I’m nuts if I think that’s the rule across the US. It’s certainly not the case in romance – interracial couples in romance novels are still somewhat rare, though there are more of them of late. One writer of bestselling awesomeness told me recently that many romance writers, including herself, would love to write a romance that crosses racial lines – but those books are difficult to get into publication from established print romance publishers. In the e-format, there’s a more vigorous supply, but then, the “e” in romance is the one area that does tend to push the boundaries of the genre a little bit harder, giving the “nudge nudge” a more diverse meaning. Samhain has an entire section of interracial titles, featuring white heroes and Black heroines, and vice versa—and hero/hero, as well, so clearly someone or many someones are shopping for interracial romance specifically. 

On one hand, it’s difficult to ask the right question. Would the presence of an interracial couple stop someone from buying a romance? (Would it stop me? Nope.) Is interracial romance solely the domain – and by domain I mean “located in the bookshop section” – of Black romance, because the minute one half of a protagonist pair is Black, the book moves toward Black Romance as a subgenre marker? Speaking solely for myself, I’m curious why interracial romance appears to be mostly found in epubs, small presses, erotica, or within Black romance publishing lines. Brenda Jackson has written several for Silhouette Desire, but those seem to be an exception among the backlist of series romance – and yet another reason how the dismissed-as-staid category romances can sometimes not just push but shred the envelope of boundaries every now and again like nothing else.

I’m also curious whether it’s a target people shop for, a type of storyline that some really enjoy the same way I am a total and complete sucker for a certain plotlines, including one that is too embarrassing to mention. If people shop deliberately for interracial romances, then why aren’t there more of them in mainstream romance (unless they’re there and my Google-fu has failed me)? Is there a difficult barrier towards publication of a romance that takes place across cultural and racial lines?  And what counts as interracial, anyway? Does a Black woman and a Middle Eastern man count as interracial? (This reader thinks so.) Or is “interracial” code for solely white/black combinations? Hell, depending on what anti-Semite you ask, my marriage would be interracial.

Mostly I’m wondering simply why there aren’t more interracial couples in romance. There’s more than a few powerhouse examples in mainstream romance across several genres, so I am curious why there’s not more of it. For example, Ward’s Brotherhood plays with race, and the question’s been asked of her point blank whether the Brothers are Black (her answer was that they are not an identifiable human race so it’s impossible to say). Kleypas’ Mine Till Midnight also crossed a racial line in the historical sense, in that her hero was Rom and the heroine was white – a combination that caused me to question the endurance of their happy ending, given the social prejudice working against them. And someone will hunt me down and kick me in the knees if I don’t mention the multi-book subplot of Brockmann’s Sam & Alyssa. All three examples were holy crapping damn successful. Perhaps the problem is that what I perceive of as “few” needs to be adjusted. Someone else might think that’s plenty.

I’m not so much asking for a list of interracial romances, though feel free to suggest some that you’ve enjoyed, but more of a “Interracial romance: what’s up with that? How come there’s not more of it?” type of random musing. So? Your thought? Ha. I crack me up. I know you have more than one.

Comments are Closed

  1. sallahdog says:

    What I have found interesting is that most of the time, when an interracial couple is written, it is a white man and a black woman. Yet most of the interracial couples I know in real life, are black men married to white women…  I think sometimes interracial relationship books are hard, because the interracial part becomes THE book… and if I am reading a romance, I want a romance, thank you very much… I have read some good ones in the last year, but I think I will be happy when there is a day where an interracial couple in a book isn’t that big O deal…

  2. Denni says:

    IMO the larger publishers are afraid of them, don’t know quite how to handle them, and therefore leave the whole issue to smaller imprints to deal with.  In addition, the practice of shelving AA authors seperately makes them difficult to find and purchase.

    I love any well written romance, and interracial can add an interesting and fun element to a book.  Like many other readers I have heard on this subject, we don’t like preachy and we don’t like the race issue to be the only plot.  Tried to read Brenda Jackson, but her approach was so titty-fingered that I wasn’t really sure about the interracial aspect (or maybe the cover was just wrong).

    Crush by Crystal Hubbard is good.  Champagne Rules and Hot In Here by Susan Lyons are awesome!

  3. My belief is that interracial romances are harder to pigeonhole, so bigger publishers aren’t too enthused by them.  As for the readership, I think that is growing, as are the number of interracial couples.  Maybe it’s because I live in New York, but I see all kinds of pairings that make you wonder how these people even met.  LOL As far as black/white pairings go, bw/wm is on the rise.

    I also agree that interracial stories that are only about race are not enjoyable reading.  By the way, what does this mean?

    Tried to read Brenda Jackson, but her approach was so titty-fingered that

    Confused minds want to know.

    All the best,

  4. rebyj says:

    I see the African American section at the bookstore, I always wonder why theose books aren’t integrated into ALL the books offered. Especially the fiction, non fiction I can understand it having it’s own place on the shelf.
    People are people, I wish they were all together and I think once they ARE all together then we’ll find more interracial stories where the story is more than race.
    I don’t know if I’m saying it well, I just think that it sets us back a few years to have segregation in bookstores when in life we’re much more diverse and integrated.
    Regardless of race,  romance readers are way ahead of a lot of the world in that we want good stories, prejudice isn’t an issue.

    If you write it, we will read it.

  5. Mollyscribbles says:

    In general, I don’t tend to read ‘Black’ romance, or novels for that matter, because once they get categorized in that way, it gives off the vibe that it’s going to be a book about Black People, rather than a novel where the characters just happen to be Black.  And this, as I see it, is a step away from equality rather than a step toward equality.

    The day that we’re all truly equal, regardless of skin colour, is the day that ‘African-American’ will only be a section in the bookstore as a subcatagory in the history section.

    If there’s a book that looks interesting to me, and one or both halves of the couple just happens to be non-white, I’ll pick it up.  But I’m not going to join Oprah’s book club.

  6. Lorelie says:

    we don’t like the race issue to be the only plot.

    Yep, I’m in this group.  I tried a couple and had that problem.  I’m sure there’s interracial books out there where there’s sustainable conflict but I don’t really know how to pick them out.

  7. Wirdald says:

    I agree with sallahdog; if an interracial romance becomes more about the “interracial” and less about the “romance,” I don’t think that would be a book I would want to read. Well, I would read it, but I wouldn’t be able to deal with a steady diet of it. Perhaps because I don’t want to deal with the unpleasant aspects of interracial romance, such as hateful bigots? My brother (white and Hispanic) and his wife (black) have had to deal with a lot of scary, hateful people on some military bases where he has been stationed. I would just be afraid that any interracial romance novels I picked up might have some frightening scenes in it that would give me nightmares—because some of those books will have to deal with hateful people, prejudice and the scare tactics that some bigots use to “run people off.” Just as I avoid romances that involve brutal rape, I would want to avoid interracial romances with hate-filled antagonists. Those things are just too real to me, and I don’t read romances so I can be reminded of all the horrific things that people do to others—I want to read about love.

    Wow, and the word “hate” showed up in there a lot. Hate is absolutely frightening to me; there’s enough of it in the real world that I don’t want it showing up in my free-time reading.

    It reads like I’m assuming that dealing with prejudice would have to be a major theme of an interracial romance, and I certainly don’t think that has to be the case. And honestly, dealing with ignorance and prejudice is one thing—scary but doable—but dealing with prejudice, ignorance and active hate? Something else entirely. Not a theme that would make me feel safe in the book-world in which I choose to immerse myself.

    Whew, long post. Hope it made sense. Thinking…like Shatner…now.

  8. Randi says:

    I recommend checking out Monica Jackson’s blog for more info on this topic. She has a slew of blog posts about this very topic, and as she is AA and a romance writer (though not strictly romance anymore-she’ll tell you why), comes from a viewpoint that I have not come across in any of the other blogs in Romanelandia (well, ok, I haven’t read EVERY blog in Romancelandia…). Some of what she says could come off as being..I was going to say mean, but that’s not it; it’s in your face, so be warned that it might make you uncomfortable (it doesn’t stop me from going back though); but if you really want to know about this subject, drop on by. http://monicajackson.com/blog/

  9. RStewie says:

    I read recently a book, Object of Love, which was interracial.  I didn’t even know it until I was almost 1/3 into the story.  It was great, though, and I have NO problem reading them.

    I wonder if the lack of them is because the vast majority of readers are white chicks, though?  This might not be the case (although judging from my year of experience hovering in the romance section, it bears out), but it’s a thought.

    I notice, too, that there aren’t very many women of ANY other ethnicity, Asain, Black, Hispanic, etc, and rarely are there any Russian or Eastern European heroines, as well.  Is this for the purpose of easier self-identification with the heroine on the part of the reader (or author?)?

    spamword somewhat69…NO!!  Definitely 69!!

  10. dillene says:

    Seriously!  End segregation now!  Anyway, it’s irritating that the bookselling world only recognizes two races.  What if you’re a Navajo with a soft spot for Polynesian girls?  What if you’re a Japanese chick and you really dig on Turkish men?  What if you’re a white American girl with the hots for Andy Lau?

    Where’s our section of Barnes & Noble?

  11. Wirdald says:

    Oh, and I forgot to ask, what is this plot line you love “that is too embarrassing to mention”? Come on, you can’t throw a teaser like that out and then not tell! I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours…

  12. jill says:

    I’ve been branching out lately and reading more romances (lots of great recommendations from this site – thanks!), but haven’t run across an interracial one yet.  Like others already mentioned, it’s more about the story than the skin colors. I work in a very diverse company and live in a tolerant community and have been in an interracial marriage (b/w) for 20 years. My brother’s wife is Chinese and I have friends and co-workers in interracial marriages of different type.

    Probably it’s just the enviroment I live in, but I’ve never had any negative reactions to the fact that my husband and I don’t ‘match’. I did write an interracial relationship into a fantasy novel I wrote (not yet published), but the racial element doesn’t cause any difficulty for those characters.

    Looking forward to more diverse characters to come!

    less98? 98 less of what?

  13. Elle says:

    Well, my fiance is a full-blood Navajo, and I am the whitest woman ever.  Indian Romances, including those written by you-know-who, are certainly one very specific genre of interracial romances.


  14. It seems to be a black/white issue in the US publishing industry, ‘cause I’ve seen numerous bestselling romances over the years with Asian/Anglo, Native American/Anglo (Thanks, Cassie!) and Hispanic/Anglo match-ups and no one blinks an eye.

    It would be interesting to get feedback on this from someone in the industry, telling us whether any marketing work was done to determine the benefits or downside of shelving AA romances separately, or why we don’t see more B/W storylines.

  15. corrine says:

    I’m writing an interracial Hispanic/Anglo right now and I love to see that there is an audience for this plotline.

    I agree, however, that if the interracial aspects consume the plot, I wouldn’t read it. The same way I steer clear of books about widow(er)s—because, in general, the plot tends to focus on how horribly guilty the hero/heroine is that they’ve moved on.

  16. Alison Kent says:

    Living in such a racially diverse city and not thinking twice about interracial relationships, it would never have occurred to me not to include them in my books.  (WARNING: Blatant pimping ahead.)

    Asian secondary heroine with Hispanic secondary hero
    African American secondary romance
    Caucasian hero with Asian heroine
    Caucasian heroine with Caribbean black hero
    Caucasian secondary heroine with African American secondary hero

    There’s talk about how accurately authors portray various races, but I just write the people as I see them.  If race is an issue for them in the story, I’ll include it.  If it’s not, I don’t, and then I hope they come across as the characters I intended them to be.

  17. Well, as a writer… Aside from any question of whether my pub would buy it or not, I feel that the racial stuff WOULD be an issue in the romance, though not much more than other social issues. For example, the high-powered lawyer falling for the mechanic or the older woman and the younger man. What will their friends/family think? Will both the h/h be able to overcome their preconceptions, etc.?

    But for me, personally, as someone who was in an interracial relationship for four years, it makes me tired thinking about revisiting those particular issues with my characters.  It’s a minefield I spent a lot of time in, you know? But I’ve never been a shy heiress dating an intimidating stable master, so that still sounds exciting to explore. Ha! Does that make any sense?

    All that said, Champagne Rules by Susan Lyons is a recent interracial romance I read. Good stuff! Great cover too.

  18. Ciar Cullen says:

    I’ll be interested to see more comments here. I took on a related topic on at Romancing the Blog a while back, and not only did it drop a big goose egg, I got hate mail. (Having grown up in an urban area and living on the East Coast, I thought it was all pretty benign material, or that I knew what kinds of responses I would get. Ha!) I asked whether books in which the protagonists were African American were the exclusive territory of AA writers. And why that section of the bookstore was segregated. One type of response was that “it’s hard enough for AA to get published, so hands off” and another was “the segregation in the bookstore helps sell to the right market.” Not what I expected! It was a bloody mess at the end of the day.

  19. But I forgot to mention that one of the ex-boyfriends of my contemp heroine is black. Actually, I don’t think I ever say that in the book, I just know it in my head. It would’ve been weird for her to THINK of him as her black ex-boyfriend, no?

  20. Stephanie says:

    This isn’t an issue confined to romance, either. Back in November, The New Yorker published a story, “Brooklyn Circle” that featured several characters that were the product of interracial relationships.  I remember thinking, “Huh. Now that’s something different!”

    I think one reason for the dirth of interracial romances may be attributable to the authors. A lot of writers I know feel uncomfortable writing from another class or race perspective, so doing it well from two perspectives (at least one of which may be foreign to said writer) could scare some folks off from the task.

  21. Robinjn says:

    I think that though it’s not strictly romance, C.E. Murphy does a great job of writing an AA heroine in a realistic way that doesn’t harp or preach in her Negotiator series (Heart of Stone, House of Cards). Her heritage is part of what makes Grit who she is, but it doesn’t define or confine her. And of course the hero is made of marble during the day so yep, pretty darned white.

    I agree that if a romance is marketed as a black romance (or whatever kind of novel) I’m not interested. If it’s marketed as a romance and happens to have an interracial couple, that’s cool.

    And I mean, come on. Different race/culture is a mainstream in romance. All those magically tall Greek Tycoons!

  22. Esri Rose says:

    Huh. Never thought of this. I would pick up an interracial romance for probably the same reasons I’d pick up any other romance:

    1) Someone told me it was a good book.

    2) I’d learn interesting stuff about a time, place, or in this case, cultural situation.

    3) It was funny. ‘Cause I love me a funny romance.

    Marta Acosta’s books feature a Latina heroine and her very WASPY fiance (who is a vampire). I’m not Latina, and seeing the world from the heroine’s brown-skinned perspective added to my enjoyment of a great book. I think, if publishers are turning down great books about interracial couples because they think people won’t want to read them, they’re missing out on sales.

  23. Lauren says:

    I haven’t been reading romance for that long, but I’ve been reading sci-fi / fantasy since I could hold them in my pudgy fingers.  This is also a problem over there – the only interracial romance in a sci-fi fantasy that I can think of off the top of my head is Le Guin’s Earthsea cycle – the protagonist is black (in fact, all the “good people” are black), while his eventual love interest is “white.”  The author has actually mentioned that she intentionally snuck it in there, because otherwise she didn’t think readers would accept and/or identify with him.  And then when the Sci-fi channel made it into a movie, they messed it up :/

  24. Krissie says:

    Cobblestone Press also has multi-cultural romance. I actually just read one, and the cultural differences were NOT a part of the story at all. It was refreshing. You may want to check Cobblestone Press for your multi-cultural romance needs.

  25. Kalen Hughes says:

    It seems to be a black/white issue in the US publishing industry, ‘cause I’ve seen numerous bestselling romances over the years with Asian/Anglo, Native American/Anglo (Thanks, Cassie!) and Hispanic/Anglo match-ups and no one blinks an eye.

    Not to mention all the “sheik” romances . . . it’s a whole bloody subgenre, with a substantial readership (or so I’m told).

    I was interested to see that no mention is made in the backcover copy of my upcoming book, LORD SCANDAL, that the hero is half-Turkish (and it comes up quite a bit in the book). It was nearly the only word that was removed from my suggested wording. *shrug* Guess they’re more worried about scaring off those it would an issue for than attracting those who are looking for it (and as the book is not “about” the racial differences, I don’t think it can really be categorized as something that would appeal to those looking for books that deal with interracial couples).

    Interestingly, I was just in B&N;yesterday and when was checking out the whole backsplash was “Urban Fiction” (or, what Black Books Direct calls hip-hop fiction, ghetto lit or gangster lit). THONGS ON FIRE was prominently featured.

  26. Writing interracial romance has the same pitfalls as writing Characters of Color in a fanfiction story. You have to keep the characters true to themselves, not turn them into “Julie Andrews in ManTan” nor make them walking talking ghetto stereotypes. Google “race in fandom” and it will cover the waterfront in terms of the debate.

    I venture into it now and then, always with trepidation.  A Cherokee trucker here, a Barbados black man there, an Arabian dancing boy or a Greek rabbi who now runs North America.

    As for segregated books stores, I have to agree that it’s purely marketing. If your audience wants something specific, they don’t want to have to root for it amid scores of books that are similar but not right.

  27. NHS says:

    Like you Sarah it’s not something I think twice about anymore in my day to day life. When I was in high school yes a little, but not with my daughter’s generation or the friends I have now.

    But this is a very timely topic for me because I recently finaled in a RWA chapter contest in the historical category with an interracial romance. I mean I guess it is.
    He’s European and she’s half European half Caribbean Indo-African. Would that still make it an interracial romance? Is it considered an interracial romance if, believe or not, her heritage is not the one of the major conflicts the story line is based on? (Great amounts of Money and a rather lawless setting can overcome many obstacles for your characters) Should I be worried that I’ve given the book a death sentence in terms of ever selling to NY by making the heroine who she is? Honestly that never crossed my mind. Damn was I hopelessly naive?
    It’s my hope that I wasn’t naïve but on the cutting edge of a trend that will become more and more popular.

  28. Mora says:

    I love Marjorie Liu because her books are probably the most diverse of any other writer out there.

    Book after book of white characters is pretty annoying, to me, because it doesn’t reflect the reality I live in.

    And also, I would really love more romances with Asian characters. Asian heroes, Asian heroines—whichever.

  29. Bonnie L. says:

    I think what you see in books is a reflection of what popular culture is producing.  How many sitcoms and dramas that you watch on a regular basis have interracial couples?  Heck, how many have AA couples at all (apart from CW’s line up)?

    Am I saying that it’s okay?  Heck NO! But don’t go thinking that Romancelandia is behind the times or anything.

  30. AgTigress says:

    Humans are so depressingly brilliant at creating problems where none really exist, aren’t they?  The very concept and definition of ‘race’ (as at least a couple of you have already indicated) is so unbelievably sloppy, unscientific and nineteenth-century-class-conscious and imperialistic that it should be laughed out of court.

    There are no pedigree humans around, thank heavens:  the closest thing we have are some royal and aristocratic European lineages, and they are no great shakes.  British citizens of Afro-Caribbean ancestry sometimes identify with Africa, though their own genealogies almost invariably also contain Europeans, Indians (from various areas of the sub-Continent – many different peoples involved) and Chinese (again, more than one kind).  Any country that had African slaves in the 18th, let alone the 19th, century (we gave it up earlier than the USA) undoubtedly has ‘African’ (usually west African) genetic material in some of the native-born-for-generations white population.  Africa itself is not all ‘Black’ (whether that means very dark skin colour or negroid physique):  Egyptians and Nubians, Sudanese and Somalis, Nigerians and Ghanains and Kenyans and Tanzanians and many different South Africans – all different peoples, with different languages, cultures, physical appearance, histories, religions, and admixtures, ancient and modern, of other peoples – no more like to each other than all the multifarious peoples of Europe and the Middle East and Asia. There are fair-skinned, blue-eyed, blond Algerians, and handsome Nubians, black as jet but with aquiline features, high foreheads, narrow noses and lips.  What possible meaning and definition does this idiotic term ‘Black’ have?  As far as I can see, in modern America and to a lesser degree in Europe, the term is purely a socio-cultural one, and one that is intentionally and provocatively divisive, from within and without.

    I am not trying to dismiss the issues that have been raised here:  they are perfectly valid subjects of discussion.  I understand that some people of limited understanding and education have strong atavistic feelings of fear and discomfort about the idea of mating with somebody of a different so-called colour.  I am just trying to point out that they should be taught some basic scientific method, some principles of genetics and physical anthropology, and snap out of it.  We are not in the Victorian age any more (though sometimes I wonder whether people are trying to go back there, or even further, to the Middle Ages).  We are not even in the 20th century.  How long is it going to take the single, undivided species Homo sapiens to grow up?

    Coming back to novels, on the one hand, many of today’s readers of fantasy romance can apparently cheerfully stomach shape-shifter books in which women mate with members of other SPECIES, while on the other, some of them have a fit of the vapours at the thought of associating with another human being who has a different skin colour.  Call me old-fashioned, but much as I admire wolves, when it comes to sex, I’d rather get it on with a black human male than with even a part-time canid.

    One despairs.

  31. L says:

    I think, also, that authors may fear writing an interracial romance, because most of them (the authors) are one race or another, or are perceived as such, and that means that they are opening themselves up to an immense amount of criticism of their portrayal of a topic that is not (probably) one they know well themselves, and is a sensitive one for many people, and one about which feelings tend to run high.  I think I think the issue is the most pronounced when it comes to Black/White relationships—as other have noted, there’s the entire Sheik thing, and at least in what I suppose one could call the cowboy subset of romance novels, there’s a significant Latino presence; however, Black/White is rare, and I think Asian/White is, as well.  And combinations which avoid White altogether (e.g., Black/Native American, or Asian/Latino) are effectively nonexistent in mainstream markets, are they not?

    I am a white woman, and at least in part because of where in the country I live, I have never been in a long-term mixed-race relationship, because there are relatively quite few nonwhite people (and even fewer nonwhite men) in my area—for example, in my workplace of roughly 150, there are, best I can figure, eight people who identify as nonwhite, of which one is male.  Anyway.  If I write a book in which I simply portray a mixed-race relationship, no matter how careful my research, the odds are, I will manage to trip over a stereotype that—even if I have asked for feedback on my portrayal of the race dynamic, from people who I have found who I think would have a meaningful opinion due to their own personal or academic experience with the topic—will generate outrage.  I can’t write it simply, most likely, without race becoming an issue.

    For instance.  If my nonwhite primary character is Black, and is, oh, say, a mechanic from a background of blue-collar workers, I may find that some readers believe this is a representation of my racism, that I believe all Black people are inherently not capable of managerial or academic professions.  However, if my Black primary character is a college professor from an upper-class background, I may find that readers object to my unrealistic portrayal (which ignores the very real problems that some people have which stem from long-standing prejudices about skin color).  If s/he is a college professor from a difficult background, I may find that readers believe I do an inadequate job of discussing what the journey for this character, to get to this situation, may have been like.  If s/he is a professional athlete, I am almost certainly going to be criticized for perpetuating a stereotype. 

    The trouble here is that in order to fully represent all that a nonwhite character might be so that it doesn’t come across as either ignoring or perpetuating racism, I have to present, and make reasonably roundly-portrayed, an entire array of characters of color so that I can show that I do know that some of them are garbage haulers and some of them are doctors and some of them are librarians and some of them work at the 7-Eleven, that some of them have run into great resistance based on their skin and some have not experienced that problem the same way, that some of them are kind and gentle and others are nasty and mean.  To be clear, I believe this is not a trouble with individual readers or writers so much as it is a manifestation of a lot of hurt and injustice that exists and has existed in the lifetimes of people who might be irritated; I don’t want to suggest these readers are “oversensitive,” because that implies that I am the authority on what their level of sensitivity should be, but I do want to suggest that there may be slights perceived that were never intended, and that even an author with excellent intentions and pretty good research may not be willing to risk the perception.  I suppose in order to begin to change that, someone has to begin, but it’s in no way so simple as to merely make the boyfriend Black (which is a whole other problem: if I exoticize his nonwhiteness, making the story about his amazing differentness of skin, then it would be easy to perceive that I believe his value is about his skin, not his self; I am selling him as “other,” rather than as “Mike who is a smart stocker of supermarket shelves and volunteers at the public library one weekend a month and likes roast chicken sandwiches and whose favorite color is green”).

    Anyway.  In order to portray all the many facets of nonwhite people so as not to oversimplify or perpetuate racism, and get it in the ballpark of fair, requires a large and fully-drawn supporting cast, and not doing so leaves one open to criticism not of the story, but of the author and her beliefs.  Frankly, if I’m going to have to write that entire supporting cast, it’s going to take up a hell of a lot of my storytelling energy, and at that point, maybe it’s just as easy NOT to add the white part of the cast and also the additional storyline of mixed-race relationships, which, unless I have been misled, have conflicts and difficulties that are both like and unlike those faced by any other couple.  All of which means that it’s not going to be a sweet little romance by the time I’m done; it’s going to be an epic, and even still, I and my editors may fail to do it well enough. 

    I want to reiterate it is not my intent to suggest that folks who read a character of color and object to the portrayal based on their perceptions of how that character’s various traits tie into existing stereotypes and/or racist beliefs, are necessarily doing it wrong.  I’m only saying, this problem in writing about race exists, and probably serves as a deterrent for those who would like to include the subject.  And writing interracial romance, once you open the issue of race being relevant in the first place, is writing about race.

  32. I’m black and I write interracial romances, I also happen to be in an interracial marriage if that’s relevant. I’ve been trying to get published since 2002, with little or no luck. My first book, Rock Star, was published by a small African American press. It’s done very well with almost 7000 sales. Given that I’m the book’s only publicity machine you’d think that would be enough to get New York’s attention. Not so much.

    I get the impression that New York hasn’t a clue as to what to do with an interracial romance. It doesn’t fit into their carefully delineated niches, so they’re left perplexed and bewildered. I suspect they also fear the possibility of angering any number of groups. So it’s best to just leave them alone altogether.

    Even something as basic as a cover becomes a political issue. At least one writer has been told that putting a white man on the cover of an IR book is a major no-no. White readers might buy it accidentally and then return it upon discovering *horrors* that the book involves Negro sex. (According to at least one distributor this has actually happens. As someone who has never returned a book I find it almost inconceivable.) Readers might be turned off by the interracial content, and so on. And, of course, a book by a black author must go in the Negro ghetto, even if only one (or sometimes none) of the characters are black. And the band played on.

    It’s a sad commentary quite frankly. If my fan mail is any measure, there is a large and growing segment of the population that is clamoring for these books. That same segment is frustrated by the fact that it seems that the e-pubs are the only ones producing them. Even if one can overcome some people’s dislike of e-books, you also have to deal with the fact that many people don’t like the sensuality level in some e-books.

    It’s a helluva Catch-22. We have weaker sales because of these factors we have no control over. But those same sales numbers are used to justify not picking us up.

  33. In my first book, race was a triggering issue, but the heroine was mainly conflicted over living life in a fish bowl with a rock star.

    In my second manuscript, which I just sold to an e-pub, (Yay me!) race is scarcely mentioned at all. Not surprising given all the other issues they’re dealing with. With the books that I’ve plotted for future manuscripts the degree of racial conflict varies from none at all, to fairly minor issues. Having been in an IR marriage for almost ten years I think it would be unrealistic for all my books to lack racial conflict. OTOH, I think it would be unfair and woefully unbalanced to present IRs as all sturm und drang. For the most part, I’ve found being in an interracial relationship to differ little from a monoracial relationship, and my characters have plenty of conflict outside of race.

    I don’t think race has to be a primary conflict, but certainly it will probably come up from time to time. Especially in my first book where the characters are in a small southern town.

  34. AgTigress says:

    I think L’s and Roslyn’s comments contain many valuable insights (as do many – maybe all! – the earlier posts in this thread).  I know from a friend who is a very successful romance author (you would all know her name) that she is simply too nervous to include black characters as major players, for the very reasons that L. has listed, though she has never hesitated to include gay couples in her stories.

    Can I suggest that maybe, perhaps, just possibly, there is a way out, but it has to come from the readers, readers who want to read about real relationships involving real people, who are simply not, in this day and age, always going to be from the same square mile.  The way forward is for white readers to buy books that are written for, and marketed to, black readers.

    Reflect that in the 1920s and 1930s, music made by black American musicians went out on records that were sold ONLY in the black ghettos of American cities.  They were known, condescendingly, as Race Records.

    But over time, white people started to buy some of these records;  they would go and seek them out, in the outlets where they were available.  Jazz (a wholly black genre at first) became trendy and eventually, even those Blues started to be important to music-lovers of all hues – because it was great, great music, that speaks, not only to the ‘Black’ condition, but to the human condition.  Eventually, an unsung hero called Sam Phillips started to record black and white artists TOGETHER – in the same studio at his Sun Records at the same time! Shock!  Horror!  And a white boy called Elvis sang songs that brought together cultural threads from Africa and Ireland and heaven knows where.  The middle-class white parents of 1950s USA worried about Elvis not merely because of the pelvic thrusts, but because they could see and hear the black element in his art.  Perhaps their white ewe-lambs would be debauched.

    The Blues, with its roots in the West African slave culture, and Country and Western, with its roots in Irish and British folk music, blended to produce rock and roll, and rhythm and blues, and all sorts of musics that bring these so-called ‘races’ together.  ‘Inter-racial’ music is one of the great achievements of 20th-century culture.

    Could we take the power of music as an example, and see if it can be done with mere words, too?

  35. Kalen Hughes says:

    I’m always caught out that anyone still gives a good damn about race. My family sure doesn’t. I think I’ve dated pretty much every option out there and while my parents and friends haven’t liked all of them, race was never the issue (in fact, my mom is still begging me to date one of my buddies who’s AA, or “black” as he prefers to be called*). Class is a whole nother issue though . . . my dad would soooooo not be happy if I brought home someone without a college degree.

    *Someone said something earlier about not getting the “black” label, that AA was better, right, whatever. I have to say, most of my “black” friends don’t like to be called AA (anymore than most of the Native Americans I know like to be called “Indian”). To quote one of them: “I’ve never been to Africa. I have no ties to Africa. I’m not Obama for heaven’s sake, I’m just plain ol’ black.” *shrug* It’s like the Hispanic/Latino debate. Whichever term you use, the only thing you can be sure of is offending someone.

  36. Julie Leto says:

    As a “Latina” writer who was once told she wasn’t Latina enough…and who had interviewers and publishers ask me to “prove” my Latina-ness, I totally understand why a girl like me wouldn’t dare write an African American main character.  What kind of questions would I have to deal with then?

    I will read them.  Like everyone else, I don’t want to see racism as the main conflict, but if it comes up in the natural progression of the story, I don’t mind.  The key for me is to FIND the books.  The segregation of bookstores really has to stop.

  37. Allie says:

    we don’t like the race issue to be the only plot.

    It’s weird, because this is actually why I want to read an interracial romance – especially a historical – because I find it romantic and empowering if two people basically say ‘fuck you’ to society and its massive stupidity.  It’s kind of why I like gay historical romance, too – it takes such a tremendous amount of strength to say “I’d rather be myself and love who I want to love” than to conform and play by the rules.

  38. more of a “Interracial romance: what’s up with that? How come there’s not more of it?” type of random musing. So? Your thought?

    My thought is that I just read a thesis on the topic of inter-racial (black woman, white man) and there’s a discussion of why the majority of romances described as “inter-racial” feature that particular combination) romances. It was really interesting and I think it might be helpful to you:

    Blanding, Cristen. Interracial Romance Novels and the Resolution of Racial Difference. Thesis (M.A.)—Bowling Green State University, 2005.

    Here’s the abstract:

    This thesis is a study of the emerging subgenre of category romance novels that depict interracial relationships, specifically relationships between black women and white men. Employing textual analysis of twenty-six novels published from 1995-2005, by romance publishers such as Harlequin, Silhouette, and Genesis Press, and situating them as category romance novels targeted towards a black female audience and written by black female authors, this study argues that these novels constitute a new subgenre, and that the conventions and themes that are common to these novels conceptualize racial difference as the most salient issue in the depiction of interracial romantic relationships, while simultaneously arguing that romantic love is fundamentally apolitical.

    The whole thesis can be downloaded from here.

  39. Carrie Lofty says:

    Wave hands in the air for Jewish heroes! Hello? Anyone? Ok, I’ll get back to work. If you can’t find one on the shelves, you have to write one yourself…

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