They're Hot. They're Naked. They're two different colors.
Folks, there’s been a lot of really unhappy news coming from Fergusson, Missouri lately. I hope you find the ugliness as disturbing as I do. So in an effort to ‘give peace a chance’, I’m sharing (with her permission) this email exchange that I had with Alexa Day about two weeks back.
>>> I’m noticing an increase in the stats on my interracial posts. I’d like to keep that momentum up, if possible, and not just because I’m on a countdown to my own release date. Is there anything you want to hear about interracial romances, anything at all, that I haven’t already written about? Feel free to put this question to the crew.
>Okay. Well, for starters, I’m interested in the difference between interracial romances between black woman & white men and black men & white women. And hot suggestions for both.
You mentioned this before. I’m still not convinced there is a difference aside from big-publisher BS regarding availability. (see post HERE) But what differences are you seeing?
>> I am not seeing any differences — I know nothing about interracial romances, really, except I go drool over the covers at Ellora’s Cave occasionally. (I spend lot of time drooling over lots of covers actually.) Maybe some plot teasers would tempt my appetite?
What if you did a post called: “10 things to covet about interracial romances”?
Okay, I’m going to sketch out a couple of answers to your question. Let me know if anything strikes your fancy as I ramble, and I’ll expand on whatever is interesting for some posts and whatnot.
Here’s the most important thing to know about interracial romances: they’re romances. What draws me to one or another is the same thing that draws me to any romance, honestly.
What makes you drool over your favorites, Alexa? I mean, I know you’ve done a post somewhat like this before (HERE) but for people who know NOTHING about interracial romances–or maybe need reminding–are they romances that HAPPEN to have people of two different races and other than that it’s ‘just’ a romance? Or are there some basic common tropes that they tend to sort through
i.e. “The moment his female friends give him shit for dating a white girl” — etc?
I’m looking at Zenobia Renquist’s stuff because it’s edgy (mind control, sex for money). I like Veronica Tower’s stories about a couple in a rut looking for spicy role play ideas. Koko Brown is playing with one of my favorite time periods in Jezebel. I just found out Megan Hart wrote one, but I would read Megan Hart’s grocery list. I often smile at folks who say they “can’t relate” to interracial romances. At the outset, before there were any women of color in romance novels, women of color were reading them. We’re still reading them. When black readers protested that there were no black heroines, we were told to imagine ourselves as the heroine. I personally am not sure why that suggestion doesn’t cut both ways.
Beyond that, though, I have to ask what there is in an interracial romance that a white reader can’t relate to. (This is a little harder to swallow coming from readers who evidently have no trouble at all relating to characters from other planets.)
Yup. Well, yeah, I don’t know what gets people intimidated either – I just know I like it when people feel they can talk about racial differences you know, in a positive way.
Like this article I read one time in GQ or some mag about “dating a black girl” — written by a black woman author, explaining her hair (Maybe wearing a silk scarf over it at night? I had a friend in high school used to do, actually.) The article referenced some black women not hopping into bed right away…but that’s all I remember from the article…I mean, not much really stuck with me, but it was a very gentle article — like “In case you were curious/intimidated, there’s really nothing to fear here folks. But here’s what I’ve noticed white guys commenting on in the past…just so you can envision what having a black girlfriend would feel like. So you can relate more.”
My book (Illicit Impulse) is about a woman choosing between her best friend and her fuck buddy, a choice made more complicated by a pill that enables her to have sex without commitment. That’s really it. If a reader can relate to that time-tested dilemma — will sleeping with my best friend destroy our friendship? — she can relate to the book.
If she can relate to that sex-positive fantasy from Sex and the City — fucking like a man and then walking away without a second thought — she can relate to the book. I think the real truth is that these readers are making totally unsupported presumptions about my book based on its cover, which has a black woman on it. I’ll never know for sure because no one wants to admit this.
Having said that, the world of interracial romance is divided for the most part into two parts –
(a) books where the characters just happen to be of different races and in which race is not important to the plot at all and
(b) books where the difference in race does matter to the plot. I typically write type (a) because it’s what I want in a real-life romance and because type (b) is too close to the unsexy part of reality.
Some people only read or write type (b) because that’s what they view as realistic. Some people like the built-in conflict in type (b) because it makes for a sweeter payoff.
To circle back to what I was saying about these books being unrelatable — if a reader can relate to feuding families (like the ones in Romeo and Juliet) she can probably relate to this. If she can relate to the old-school Native American romances, she can relate to these.
I have read type (b) romances. Sandra Kitt’s The Color of Love is a seminal work in the subgenre. Afton Locke is doing fantastic work, especially with Plucking the Pearl, set in the American South in the 1930s.
I can absolutely relate to it after integrating my high school. I just don’t want fictional racism in my life any more than I want the real thing, no matter how sweet the payoff is.
> I remember you said you wanted to write an interracial romance in every sub-genre type there is.
Can you blog a list of available interracials in different sub-categories? Like name ANY paranormal interracial romances? Romantic suspense? Historical? — Or is this sub-genre usually contemporary? Does the audience prefer contemporary for whatever reason?
IR novels in the subgenres. This is, to my mind, your best question.
There are loads of interracial paranormals. Your question is so awesome because it demonstrates that despite your interest in them, you do not see them in your usual perusal of the market.
Paranormal in general is an immense market. The IR offerings should absolutely be more visible to you, and it is a huge problem that they are not. The same is true of IR romantic suspense.
IR historicals are slowly becoming more visible, I think, which does my heart good. Left to Hollywood, the world would think black people were only in America for slavery, disappeared after the Civil War, and then conveniently reappeared in time for the Civil Rights Movement. Just last night, in one of the interracial reader groups I’m in on Facebook, a woman was all but dancing with joy upon discovering an IR Western novel. She’d never seen one before, not because they aren’t out there, but because they’re not visible to the curious reader.
There is a popular but quite understandable misconception that the readership for this subgenre is limited to contemporaries. That’s because the larger houses (*cough*Harlequin*cough*) will only put black heroines in contemporary lines, or with black heroes in historicals. (I don’t think Harlequin will put black characters in a historical. I could be dead wrong, but they won’t give me a way to search for it.)
IR authors of all non-contemporary subcategories have two feasible options: self-publishing and smaller houses. Ellora’s Cave would let me have any subcategory I wanted, no questions asked; that’s why they were my first choice.
Musa let me put my IR couple in an alt-history; I’m pretty sure they’d let me have any subcat I wanted. Harlequin doesn’t think it has to wake up, and they may be right … for now. A lot of authors who want to write all subcats, only write non-contemporary subcats, or simply resent Harlequin’s behavior have chosen to avoid Harlequin altogether. That’s what I’m doing. I would love to see my name on a Harlequin, but right now, that has more to do with them than it does with me.
Basically, it’s not a subgenre limited to contemporary; it’s just that you have to work harder to find IR in anything else, if you don’t already know where to find it.
>>>You said with Scandal that it’s lovely that just being different races isn’t enough of a plot hurdle — so do these romances HAVE to tackle other bigger plot issues? I mean, with inspirationals their love of God is at the core of their internal working things out –otherwise it’s off-genre. MUST an interracial romance involve discussions or feelings around race?
Awkward segue — with regard to whether the difference between races is, all by itself, sufficient conflict to carry an entire romance novel. Today, it probably isn’t. 🙂
It definitely isn’t in contemporaries. Even in historicals, though, the difference in races will only go so far as a conflict point. Maybe it’s attraction conflict (“she is really, really hot, but I bet she’s not interested in white guys and I wouldn’t know what to say anyway”).
Maybe it’s subordinate to main conflict; I can see a Civil Rights Era IR plot in my head between a handsome Klan infiltrator from up DC way and a woman he absolutely cannot be seen with for fear of endangering his cover and her life. They’re both facing a clear danger from a common threat — so pushed together — but under the historical and geographical circumstances, both will be hesitant to pursue anything romantically.
Every so often, the difference between races arises in BDSM communities, and it *might* be a sufficient sole conflict there. Black people who enjoy submission are often tremendously conflicted over it. I’m toying with a short story like that, and Bridget Midway writes BDSM with black characters, although I don’t think she takes it racial.
> Here’s another question I had — How do people writing erotica or erotic romance appreciate physical qualities without it seeming like fetishization?
> … Your question about fetishization vs attraction is an excellent question, too. A great many black readers presume interracial erotica and erotic romance is per se fetish, which is sad. So many writers like me started writing erotic romance and erotica because those are the publishers who would take IR romances! We’re just writing hotter stories, not the fetish stuff.
But this was not your question.
I am fortunate, in a very strange way, to know what it is like when a person of a different race is attracted to me and what it is like to be fetishized, so I can write it from experience.
Simply put, just to observe that something is hot is not to fetishize it. In my book, hero John loves how alive heroine Grace’s skin looks, but her vulnerability makes him want to damage their friendship. Heroine Grace loves fuck buddy Tal’s golden boy looks, but she keeps him because he’s spectacular in bed and a gentlemanly lay.
When characters are absolutely fixated on certain racially distinctive attributes, to the exclusion of other characteristics, physical and otherwise, the fetish is on. With black characters, it’s important to avoid using the phrase “big black” to describe anything at all. 😉 Seriously, “big black car” is a bad idea.
>>Oh yeah, and btw, I feel awkard as hell emailing you all this. Sometimes things can sound a certain way over email that the author does *not* intend. So please read this with all due intended gentle-ness, curiosity, and open confessions of ignorance…
Two pieces of advice in this regard:
(1) if in doubt, write it the way you would write anything else. Your other characters probably aren’t fetishizing each other, either.
(2) Eve Vaughn gave would-be IR writers this advice a couple of Romanticons ago: “Find a black friend. We want to help. Get us to read what you have. If it doesn’t sound right, we will tell you. We want you to get it right.”
>Wow, that’s a lot to get through, isn’t it? I hope it is helpful/useful/interesting. Let me know if you see a blog post in any of that.
There is a lot of really ugly stuff going on.
>Yeah, but I’m excited about your blogging journey on LadySmut, and I think our numbers indicate a lot of others are too.
READERS, I hope you’re excited by Alexa’s journey as well. Follow us at LadySmut.com for more peace, harmony, and ooh-it-feels-so-good-don’t-stop.