October 12, 2014

The Savage Past: The Evolution of Native American Romance

By Alexa Day

Tempting Will McGlashen by Liz Everly - 100
Click me … I pre-order!

Liz Everly’s Tempting Will McGlashen releases this week, and to celebrate, my Lady Smut comrades and I are examining little slivers of the Revolutionary War era. It was suggested that I write a few words about the Native American romances from back in the day. Another colleague of mine described them as the first interracial romances, and with Columbus Day approaching, the subject has some relevance.

But I have to confess that my first thought was that those romances with the lurid covers and the titles featuring the word “Savage” probably came after Mandingo and are just as problematic. Mandingo, in fairness, is not so much a romance as it is a large dogpile of stereotypes and questionable sexual content. The “Savage” books are closer to the definition of romances, but their spines are built from the same stuff.

The shopworn figure of the Noble Savage. The ever-so-pure heroine’s dubious consent to life-changing Othersex. And the men on these covers … well … they look about as Native American as Tonto.

Not Jay Silverheels’s Tonto. Johnny Depp’s Tonto.

Maybe these are the first interracial romances, but I’m not sure it’s something I want to brag about.

It's not every day that I'm excited about a fully dressed hero on a cover. Click to see what's up.
It’s not every day that I’m excited about a fully dressed hero on a cover. Click to see what’s up.

The world has changed for the Native American romance, though. The two-dimensional Noble Savage has given way to the fully realized hero. More importantly, the Native American romance has stepped into the present day, recognizing that Native Americans are not locked in the past.

So where does a girl go to get a good Native American romance? I sought the advice of wiser, better read women. This post from Janga at Heroes and Heartbreakers praises Kathleen Eagle. The commenters at Romance Novels for Feminists add their own recommendations. Start your search with those references, and you’ll soon build an inspired TBR list.

As for me, I’m new to the subgenre. Janga’s post on Kathleen Eagle’s books mentioned This Time Forever, a romance featuring a hero whose life as a rodeo cowboy allowed his true identity to transcend racial labels. That’s a story I can get behind!

There have got to be newer titles out there. I’m definitely curious to hear about where these stories are going, so I’d love to hear from readers with experience with this subgenre. And while you’re out there checking out the state of the Native American romance, be sure to pre-order Liz Everly’s Tempting Will McGlashen. It’ll be hot and all ready for you on the 14th.

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  • Post authorMadeline Iva

    I’m sure one day someone will write a dissertation on the popularity of “savage” romances in the late 70’s, early 80’s as a subconscious response to the environmental movement, etc. etc.

    I think all novels were equal opportunity when it came to dubious consent back then. So glad there’s some rocking Native American romance out there today. It’s great to have p.c. ways to celebrate diversity, love, and hot sex. Are any of the books you recommend historicals or are they contemporary?

    Reply to Madeline Iva
    • Post authorAlexa Day

      Those two blog posts I mentioned focus mostly on contemporaries, but they do treat some historical issues. It’s exciting to see the genre exploring lesser known areas of American history, I think. My corner of romance is doing the same thing these days.

      Reply to Alexa Day
  • Post authorLiz Everly

    Thanks so much Alexa! What a thoughtful post. There are no Native American romances is in this book, but there is a sub-plot that involves them. I don’t want to give way too much–but there’s a bit of a twist in the subplot which my historian husband actually helped me with. Cheers!

    Reply to Liz Everly
    • Post authorAlexa Day

      Awesome! I do love a twisty subplot. 🙂

      Reply to Alexa Day
  • Post authorElizabeth Shore

    I can’t think of Native American romances without Cassie Edwards coming to mind and her own “Savage” romance line: Savage Love, Savage Tears, Savage Grace, etc. etc. There must be dozens of them, and yes, some feature Fabio on the cover. Back in the day I thought it was great that she was writing them – a least someone’s featuring Native Americans, thought I. But in 2008 came Cassie-gate, where we learned she’d plagiarized big chunks of her work from other sources.

    I’m with you, Alexa. Nothing to brag on that front. But maybe, just maybe, we’re seeing a change for the better.

    Reply to Elizabeth Shore
    • Post authorAlexa Day

      Yeah, I think we’re definitely seeing major improvements! It’s a great time to be working in romance. We have so many opportunities to check out stories that are informative, inclusive *and* hot.

      Reply to Alexa Day
  • Post authorKate Allure

    Just discovered your blog today. Yeah!

    Regarding Native American Romance it reminded me of when I was a white-looking halfbreed growing up with a white mom away from the reservation. I was starved for anything with Indians, which brings me to the old b&w Spaghetti Westerns that used to rerun on TV. (This was along time ago but I won’t say how long….) Anyway, occasionally they featured a white hero falling in love with an Indian “Princess,” and I quickly learned that it was okay for a white to fall in love with an Indian as long as one of them died and their love was never realized–a trope that may have gotten it’s start with “The Last of the Mohicans.” Even as a pre-teen this incensed me! Thankfully those a racist movies are long gone from the tube.

    I also remember reading a teen novel about a white girl kidnapped and raised by Indians (such subject matter is titillating even without sex), but I remember identifying more with the Indians than the white girl’s plight, clearly not the author’s intent.

    Day’s blog made me realize something else. I’m a newbie author with a series of erotic short story anthologies coming from Sourcebooks (“Playing Doctor,” 1/6/14 is the first). What I realized is that I wrote a Native hero into the second book, “Lawyering Up,” without really thinking about the fact that he was Indian or how my readers might feel about him with a white woman. It was just who he was, Omaha, which for some reason isn’t even my tribe (Santee). But I think it’s a clue to how far we’ve come that authors (granted I’m biased) can write characters that are just that—characters in a relationship—not stereotyped representations of a certain race used as a plot device.

    I’ve long since stopped reading the Noble Savage trope (don’t even flip the book over to read the cover blurb), but I’ll be on the look out for this new sub-genre that features Native Americans just because that’s who they are.

    Kate Allure

    Reply to Kate Allure
    • Post authorAlexa Day

      Kate! I’m just back from a long weekend and I’m so happy to see your post. I write interracial romances with characters like yours, “not stereotyped representations of a certain race used as a plot device.” I’m always glad to see other writers working in the same vein. I also had to laugh when you mentioned the spaghetti Westerns — the ol’ interracial morality plays were a similar mainstay on TV.

      I can’t wait to check out Kathleen Eagle’s stuff now. Definitely hoping to see more of you around here on Lady Smut. 🙂

      Reply to Alexa Day
      • Post authorKate Allure

        Nice to meet you Alexa. Just to clarify, I’ve only written two such characters because in those stories it made sense. I’m sure I’ll write more but it’s not my focus per se. I am excited to re-explore Native Americans in romances now though, for my reading pleasure.

        All best to you. Kate

        Reply to Kate Allure

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