Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Minority Report: The Publishing Industry vs. REAL Reality

Now that Hollywood has had its annual opportunity to wallow in a night of self-aggrandizement before millions, I am reminded of a post on Facebook from a friend who cited a New York Times article, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/21/movies/what-does-the-academy-value-in-a-black-performance.html?smid=fb-nytimes&smtyp=cur&_r=0 .

Reading this article lends a voice to others who see the same reality: If you make a film about the so-called "ordinary" lives of minorities, white audiences either want to see how it reconciles the racist past ("42"), or whites want to see a film that depicts how their relationships fare alongside a minority character ("Driving Miss Daisy"). Otherwise, the author writes, if the film features the story of an "ordinary" African-American, for example, then it is a "black film".

I shall not labor to repeat points of the NY Times article; however, I contrast those observations with what has been both my experience at attempts to get published as an author of interracial romance. Bearing in mind that I am playing off Molly McArdle’s February 24 article in Brooklyn Magazine, You Will Be Tokenized: Speaking Out About the State of Diversity in Publishing, http://www.bkmag.com/2016/02/24/you-will-be-tokenized-speaking-out-about-the-state-of-diversity-in-publishing/ , I see publishing as one of many arenas in the entertainment industry. Like Hollywood, which has historically been the citadel of majority white management, the publishing empires that exist today are woefully lacking in minority management, representation, and marketing from the bottom, up. "... publisher Lee & Low’s first ever diversity in publishing survey in January 2016 offered no surprises," writes McArdle. "Publishing is overwhelmingly white (79 percent), straight (88 percent), able bodied (92 percent), and female (78 percent)."

Makes me wonder about the incentive for change, let alone change itself, given those statistics. I surmise that publishing houses, big and small, are sustained by the perpetual influx of an upscale college-graduated literature-based Caucasian demographic, all of whom desire to make a living at what they love. They enter a publishing house, claw their way up the corporate ladder from intern to agent to editor to executive. They accept and publish what and who they are, with interests that embrace what they know.

And that is the key.

Would it be possible for a Caucasian agent or publisher to embrace a romance novel featuring a white man and black woman when their life experience, reading interests, social interactions, or even concepts of marketing potential cannot relate to such a relationship? Is it something about the unfamiliar that causes minority authors to receive the justification for rejecting a query with the phrase, "It's just not the right fit for me"? That their response is subjective and someone else may think differently, so good luck at getting published?

With humility, I once believed it was my writing, my plot, my genre. I certainly never believed I was better than a NY Times bestselling author; only that I was marketable enough to help make the difference in the profit of an agent or publisher. And so that you understand I am not merely treading on what may be viewed as my sour grapes, I do understand where publishing professionals are coming from: It is a business. They are there to make money, something I wholeheartedly support.

I shall give them benefit of the doubt, and unlike Hollywood, which does great injustice to minorities in propagating screen stereotypes, it is my hope that publishing is not that overtly unscrupulous--hopefully they are merely behind the times. And I hope I am not being naively optimistic about that. But what they need to consider is this: Writers and readers come in races of all colors, not only white! (Was I shouting? My apologies.) If anything, ignoring diversity in this literate entertainment industry is to deprive the agent/publisher matrix of a pool of minority talent as well as the extra income that would flow in from readers of color. Poor business, if you ask me.

So to post best-selling author Roxanne Gay's lament about diversity in publishing, or more accurately, the lack thereof, I leave you with her words about the real reality: "The problem is and has always been the exclusion of writers of color and other marginalized writers who have to push aside their own work and fight for inclusion, over and over and over again. We beg for scraps from a table we're not invited to sit at. We are forced to defend our excellence because no one else will." 

As for me, I not only know my ground, but I stand on it, head high as I push forward.


Thursday, February 25, 2016

I sat down to my computer this morning after having had a tummy-filling green smoothie. As I am want to do, I tuned into my go to classical music FM station in order to suffuse the room with snooty background tunes as I type.
But instead of playing what generous subscribers pay to hear, the station host launched into a reading written by an effete intellectual who penned a reflection on a famous opera singer. The reading, done in the host's best ASMR-inducing voice, was riddled with otherworldly adjectives, such as "ethereal," "cerebral," "transcendental", and so on.
Not that I mind listening to discourse that works the less used muscles of my brain, but what struck me about this was the lengths to which the reading went; only an elite patron of the esoteric arts could keep up. It brought to mind, "I may not know art, but I know what I like," since I was familiar with the singer and enjoyed his voice.
So being the occasional snarky soul that I am, I questioned why it was necessary to employ such arcane, dare I say, highbrow, efforts at language to set one apart from the great unwashed. After all, the subject was the gifted talent of an opera virtuoso; but given the lofty verse of the reading, one would think we were appraising Jesus himself on the stage of the Met singing La donna e mobile from Verdi's Rigoletto. And even I would think a similar review of him could be overdone.
I wondered. Is the language of the elite in place to maintain some lordly impenetrable status reserved for but a few of the culturally enlightened? Or could it simply be verbal masturbation, an effort to make one feel supremely satisfied with how well he or she comprehends such supercilious prattle?
Whatever the reason, my advice to the proud is simple: Lighten up. Subscribers give donations to hear classical music, good jazz, and even listen to Garrison Keillor read poetry. (Or so I hope.) As for me, I still enjoy my public radio station; and if I want to have my mind boggled by cryptic over-the-top artsy-fartsy drivel, I can always enroll in a college psychology class.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Okay. It's decision time. I tell people that I'm a writer. I'm also a firearms instructor. I manage a household with a husband and family, including grand children. I love it all, but writing is my passion.

Perhaps I am here to convince myself that I should hone my focus and set myself up as a full time writer. And you know what? I am being swayed by my own argument, so I will go after my passion and goals: To become published in the interracial romance and women's fiction that focuses on women of color who have a lot to lose, but win in the end.

My one lament is that mainstream agents and publishers are still not up to speed on representing/publishing interracial ("IR") fiction. The reasons? I've heard that mainstream professionals do not believe IR fiction sells as well as white heroine centered regency, historical, contemporary, etc.

With the majority of readers being college educated, professional, African-American women, I believe the mainstream publishing industry is missing out on a huge under tapped market. Nevertheless, the readers are there; why not offer what they wish to read? It is not as if there aren't enough authors. Seems from a business standpoint that it would be well worth the risk to step out of the box and pro-actively go after writers of color to fill the increasing demand of minority readership.

So this is my decision: I will fulfill the desires of readers and get my stories into their hands. All I need is an agent and/or publisher who believes that I will be an asset to their career; and I will not quit until I do.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Almost a year? WTF? All right, I admit, there was a lot on my life's plate. Getting my fantasy trilogy completed and edited; a resurgence of the breast cancer that spread to the bone (bummer!), which had me working on health issues. Fear not. I feel fine.
I finally acquired my AR-15 rifle (I'm so covetous), and I did spend more time target practicing, with my pistol, something I find highly therapeutic. Most of all, I have decided to spend more time and effort at writing this blog. I tweeted that I have a lot to say, and I'm going to say it, damn it!
The state of affairs in society (as I see it) will be a source of material. I plan on commenting on what I see as trends in romance. And just wait until you read what I have to write about the cancer industry in this country.
Hope no one minds what will be my unabashed opinions. While there is still freedom of speech, I intend to exploit it. (Mwah-ha-ha.)


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

In Just Spring, New Life

Ah, spring. e e cummings best described my favorite season as, "... mud luscious (and) puddle wonderful ..."

Emergence and warmth, color and sound return after the doldrums of ice and forest silence. When winds that herald rains and the smell of earth suffuses my backyard, my gardening fingers get itchy and visions of flower beds dance in my head. Morning birds help remind me that rising early--rising at all--is a blessing that I should never take for granted. Sunlight feels like a delightful heated cloak, even when the breeze still chills a bit.

Forsythia, hyacinth, crocus, daffodils and magnolias ... Honey, you know it's time to put down that TV remote and join eddieandbill in a game of marbles.

It's spring. Time to walk the dog just a little farther. Yes, and enjoy washing the car yourself and not at the carwash. And better set out the humming bird feeder and await their return. Don't forget to tidy up the remnants of dead leaves and windblown refuse that was once buried by winter snows. Renewal, renewal.

Spring brings new life. Like a grandson. And a granddaughter. And new joys that come with another generation with which to share small things: The growing of flowers, tree leaves, the multi-colored marvel of a butterfly wing ... the sheer happiness of life, itself.

It's spring. Run along with bettyandisbel and play hop-scotch and jump rope. Be glad for the end of cold and look forward. The summer is nearer and we will continue to cast off heavy clothing, strap on our sandals, and worship long days replete with bar-b-queues, picnics, fresh fruit, and fireflies.

I love spring. Why I can almost hear that little goat-footed baloonMan whistling far and wee.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Interracial Romance: Fad or the Future

One might wonder why I would bother to ask such a question given the proliferation of interracial/multicultural romances with the last 10 years. If you are wondering if this is a fad or a harbinger of things to come, let me begin with this hypothesis: Mainstream literary agents and some publishers have two perspectives.

One, they consider this a fad; a recent boom coming from minority writers who dwell within our urban landscapes. They see the scores of self-published fiction on Amazon and elsewhere, and since this literary trend seemed to "come out of nowhere", it may fade as quickly it rose.

Two, they see it as the future. Yet because interracial (or "IR" as it is known in the trade), is a sub-genre within a sub-genre, my hypothesis is that it is still far too esoteric to be profitable. After all, the great amount of IR romance involves black women and white men; and because we always read about a heroine with whom we can relate, why would a white female want to read a romance wherein the heroine does not reflect her? Fair enough.

And we know that the largest demographic of romance readers are white females from the southern half of the United States, so it stands to reason that a literary agent who looks to the marketability of a good story first is going to decline representing a project that they perceive has limited sales potential. After all, this is business.

Yet I would like to add in a third variable which in no way impugns those in the business of representing authors for a living.

Might it not be that the many rejections that go out from long-established mainstream literary agent houses are because of a failure to fully perceive the rapidly changing racial, cultural, and "inter-relational" world around them? That from the competitive realms of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and other literary strongholds there lacks a visionary outlook which says, "We should represent more of this kind of literature"?

In part, I say, yes. Interracial romances are not a fad, and are not only here to stay, but they are going to grow and flourish. It is the future of romance much in the same way music like rap and hip-hop (once an anomaly of the urban fringe) have now gone mainstream.

I look to Kensington and Harlequin Publishing houses whose IR imprints do sell, and sell well enough for these giants to see profits generated from stories that feature non-white protagonists. Sadly, the reality is that by virtue of numbers in the population's demographic, white men/white women will continue to dominate mainstream romance submissions, acceptance by agents, and will end up on book shelves from publishers from now until romance writers go extinct.

But as the hearts and minds of people progress toward greater understanding and acceptance (notice, I did not say tolerance), of love across color lines, I do hope more agents realize they stand to profit by taking a chance on an ever-escalating trend.

Or perhaps I should reassure them that there are more than enough fans of IR romance; readers like me who would make it worth their while.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Ides of March

Unlike Caesar, I don't believe I should be wary of anything except the ever expanding mud puddles forming in my front yard.

Yes, the weather is changing, and as the Sun grows warmer and the days longer, I feel that sense of incubation so prevalent in the final stages of winter. Call it the end of a hibernation? Not really.

Dormant, I am not. The winter for me is a chance to regroup, renew, and prepare for a "coming out".

What do I mean?

I am not sure, to be honest. Perhaps it is an anticipation of results after spending much in the way of  sweat equity, and other investments into my future. Right now, the investment I am making in my writing will, I pray, result in the acquisition of a book contract. It has been a long slog through piles of rejections, requests for chapters and manuscripts, and still more rejections.

I do take heart that my editor, author, J.J. Murray (who I also count as my mentor), keeps encouraging me to stick with it--something I intend to do, since the only way I can fail is to give up.

So write on, I say! Write, read, reflect, incubate, and write some more. I know that I have great stories to tell, stories that come from hard knocks, tough experiences, from pain and glory, and from the heart.

Is all that enough to sell a book? I shall be able to tell you that once one of my books is sold. And that will happen since I am not about to give up.