Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Land of Something Other than Milk and Cream

Yesterday Angela T was blogging at Romancing the Blog about how
Here we are in 2009 and the case of “separate, but equal” rules how AA romances are treated. [...] I for one feel that acknowledging the issues romance writers of color face is the first step to understanding, and ultimately, supporting the inclusion of romance writers–and characters–of all colors, creeds, and nationalities into the romance genre.
Also yesterday, over at Dear Author, Handy Hunter had up a guest post about "Cultural Appropriation in Romance." Sunita added a very detailed comment which gave examples of many different possible scenarios for historical romances set in India with Indian protagonists. The discussion is still ongoing and it broadened out from the initial topic of cultural appropriation to include examples of "issues romance writers of color face." Jade Lee wrote about her personal experience:
Harlequin recruited me into the Blaze line specifically to add a dimension of multi-culturalism to it. I’ve written 3 books for them, one historical, two contemporary, all with Asian characters. No paranormal elements. Harlequin promoted me well, especially The Concubine which was the second historical Blaze ever, not the first. I think I write good books, but The Concubine was especially good and fit perfectly with senior editor Brenda Chin’s vision for the Blaze line.

After 3 books, Harlequin considers the experiement over. The sales were extremely poor. It was not the fault of promotion or marketing. I got a TON of promotion. It was also (according to senior editor Brenda Chin and the few who read the books) not the fault of the writing.
Despite the failure of this experiment, many readers on the thread expressed their wish to read romances written by "romance writers of color" about protagonists "of color." I thought I'd add a few links to some online short stories which might fit the bill:

Shobhan Bantwal - Seeking a Six-Foot Bride about Rajesh Sanwal, who is "seeking a six-foot bride."

Barbara Caridad Ferrer - For You I Will and a sequel, about Adam Cardenas and Milagros Acevedo.

Roslyn Hardy Holcomb - Rock Star Wedding, a novella and sequel to Rock Star. If you haven't already read Rock Star, you might want to just focus on the protagonists of this novella, Naysa and Twist.

Going further back in time, I suppose one could think of George Eliot's Daniel Deronda as a romance by a white author about characters from a different racial background:
George Eliot's final novel, Daniel Deronda, was also her most controversial. Few had a problem, upon its publication in 1876, with its portrayal of yearning and repression in the English upper class. But as Eliot's lover, George Henry Lewes, had predicted: "The Jewish element seems to me likely to satisfy nobody." (Owen)
If you've got more recommendations or links, please do leave a comment.

Both illustrations come from Wikimedia Commons. The first is "Attributed to Manohar" and is from "India, Mughal dynasty, ca. 1597." The second "was painted by Chang We-Che'ng who lived in the 8th and 9th centuries."


  1. Makes me want to hunt down Jade Lee's Harlequin books. Melissa James an Aussie Harlequin writer, wrote a book with an Aboriginal hero years ago now. And I guess Anne Stuart's does have a half Japanese hero.

  2. I remember a romance my mum had - this would be at least 25 years ago - I think I was 10 or 11 at the time. I sneaked it off her and read it. It was called Flora and it featured a Eurasian heroine. From memory a lot of the story was set in the far East.

    I've done a quick search on Google and see that it was written by Anne Weale, a M&B writer who recently passed away.

    Given how the book stayed with me (I can still remember the final epilogue featuring a very old Flora) I've been tempted to buy a second hand copy and see how it stands up 25 years on.

    I read the first 25 comments on the thread at DA but it's over 200 comments now.

  3. Melissa James gave some interviews a while ago about her books and how she came to write them. I've copy and pasted in a few bits I've found that are relevant to this discussion:

    Her Galahad is a based-on-fact book, gleaned from my Aboriginal History course in 1999. I was away camping with my family, and brought my reader. I read that weekend that the Australian Government had regularly given fake death certificates to members of the Stolen Generation (Aboriginal kids taken from their families) for their parents, so they wouldn't go home and look for their heritage, and blend into white society. Those same kids (the girls) quite often lost their children - told they were dead, and the government adopted them out to white families. And many of those boys ended up in prison, on real or fake charges.

    I had to write the story then. I studied up the subject, checked facts, finished my course and wrote the story of Tessa and Jirrah. A few people have condemned the book as implausible and unrealistic, even ridiculed it. But it is fact.
    (The Romance Reader)

    and elsewhere she mentions being "able to write about such issues as Australia’s Stolen Generation in Her Outback Knight. She's also written that "My mountains are what I call my “dreaming place”. It’s an Aboriginal thing (I have Aboriginal background through my father)." (Road to Romance)

    It's been a while since I read Her Outback Knight and I haven't come across a copy of Her Galahad yet.

    Re the Anne Stuart, was it Ice Blue or Fire and Ice? I had a brief look at her website and it looks as though both are set in Japan.

  4. "It was called Flora and it featured a Eurasian heroine."

    That made me think of a much more recent Harlequin/Mills & Boon heroine whose

    mother was a Japanese college student and my father was an American serviceman stationed in that country. I think they were married and they both died, although I’m not sure how or exactly when. After that I somehow wound up placed for adoption in the United States

    and "With her Asian features and diminutive height she was the polar opposite of the rest of the tall, blonde-haired and blue-eyed Lundy clan."

    She's Anne Lundy, in Jackie Braun's The Businessman's Bride.

    Getting back to Anne Weale's Flora, it would indeed be interesting to "see how it stands up 25 years on." I recently re-read one of her novels from the late 1980s, and the heroine is very pleased that the hero shows the same kind of tolerance of gay people that her father showed. It has to be said that his "tolerance" would seem extremely offensive to many modern readers:

    'Do I gather that some mother-fixated pansy from the world of fashion is about to descend upon us [...]'

    For a second or two she was baffled [because Robert isn't gay, as Oliver assumes but she works out why Oliver might have reached that conclusion] [...] At some levels the rag trade and its ancillaries were known to include a lot of effeminate men, many of them with difficult mothers.

    The thought of Robert's reaction to being taken for one of them was so funny that, worried as she was, she couldn't help laughing.

    '[...] He'll have to find friends of his own ilk. It shouldn't be difficult - there's a coterie here as everywhere.'

    His tone held a good-natured tolerance for the human condition, in all its forms, which reminded Laurian strongly of Archie, the most charitable of men.

    and later there are some interesting insights into what constitutes "masculinity" when Laurian wonders what Oliver will think when he discovers the truth:

    Oliver wouldn't object to her staying overnight in a hotel with a man he assumed to be effeminate. But how would he feel about it when he discovered that Robert was as manly as he was?

    Not quite as manly, actually, because Robert wasn't in such good shape; nor did he have Oliver's innate authority. But there was no difference between them in terms of sexual preference, although they might differ in their prowess as lovers. That was something Laurian would never know.

    Later the "tolerant" Oliver, still unaware of Robert's sexual orientation, describes him as "your limp-wristed friend" (144) and Laurian finally has the opportunity to inform Oliver that "There's nothing limp-wristed about him. He's as hetero-sexual as you are" (144).

    Weale, Anne. Neptune's Daughter. 1987. Richmond, Surrey: Mills & Boon, 1988.

  5. Ah. I think my curosity is somewhat dampened.

    You can see the cover and a description here - interestingly, the eponymous heroine looks European rather than Eurasian on the cover.

  6. I went over to Librarything and parts of the description of the book are also rather off-putting. The heroine is apparently "A delicate Eurasian child-woman." I tend to find it disturbing when heroines are described as "childlike" anyway, but in this particular context it also recalls stereotypes about Asian women:

    Jessica Hagedorn explains in “No Joy, No Luck” that “If [Asian women] are ‘good’, we are childlike, submissive, silent, and eager for sex (Chin 17)

    Maybe I'm being very unfair to the book in judging it by its back cover copy and Weale's ideas about tolerance in another area. However, even if I didn't have those worries, [SPOILER ALERT!] according to something I saw at AAR:

    "Flora" by Anne Weale [...] was a historical with a younger heroine/older hero and the epilogue took place as she was an old woman, looking back on her long widowhood. It had been made bearable by the love letters he had written her the only time they had ever been separated. The book ended with the heroine dying as her young again spirit leapt out of her body and ran to meet the hero where he was waiting for her. The HEA was provided in the afterlife.

    I prefer to imagine rather more HEA during the couple's lifetime, and the statement that this is about a "younger heroine/older hero" pairing seems to reinforce the "childlike" aspect of the heroine that's mentioned in the back cover description.

    Chin, Tracy. "Sayonara Stereotypes: The Depiction of Chinese/Japanese Americans in Hollywood Cinema." AlphaVision 2.1 (2003): 14-19.

  7. It's Reno in the Anne Stuart novel Fire and Ice.