Oct 5 2012 1:00pm

Removing the Shade: Barriers of Multicultural Romances

The Golden Chalice by Sienne MynxWhen I first started writing for this site, my initial posts shone a spotlight on multicultural romances, as I feel they’re underappreciated and overlooked in the romance genre. Even I didn’t seriously invest in reading them until a little over a year ago.  I don’t regret the tangent; if I hadn’t taken it, I would have missed some wonderful stories I now cherish written by authors not well known in the romance genre mainstream. Granted, I still read traditional historical, paranormal, contemporary, and romantic suspense books, but I’ve added variety to my heroines and heroes. Now I read novels with women of color as heroines, women who look more like me. As my excitement increased, I noticed that it wasn’t resonating with some others I know and that leads me this column.

I have several friends who are avid romance readers like I am. Through our discussions, I realized several of my friends would not read multicultural romances because, in their paraphrased words, they couldn’t identify with the lead characters, specifically the heroine. They read ménages and male/male romances, yet were uninterested or hesitant to read a book if the lead wasn’t Caucasian. I was surprised, disappointed and in some ways, a little insulted. Is it really easier to identify with a lead who shapeshifts into an animal or a being that sucks blood from other living beings or a man as long as that character is Caucasian?

Sunset Embrace by Sandra BrownI grew up reading romances where the heroine did not really look like me. Yet I was able to enjoy stories with Caucasian lead characters because the adventure of the couple falling in love is what captured my interest. One of the very first romance novels I ever read when I was in junior high was Sandra Brown’s Sunset Embrace. I had nothing in common with Lydia, the Caucasian heroine of the novel, yet she drew me to her so strongly because her triumphs over her terrible childhood were fascinating and, at times, heartbreaking. Her love story with Ross Coleman is one of the best I’ve ever read. It made me cry to read her struggles, but never once did it detract from the story for me that Lydia didn’t look like me. Great writing transcends the color of skin or so I thought.

Now I find myself at a crossroads in how to approach individuals hesitant to read a romance with a woman of color as the lead heroine because it becomes a slippery slope on WHY it’s different or difficult to identify with her than identifying with a man, shapeshifter or vampire. Much like with Caucasian heroines, it is about the story and the hero. The audience should care about the heroine's intelligence and her moxie, but I’d like to think it is not about how she looks, nor the color of her skin. I mean, if the heroines of your top five romance novels were women of color, would it change the story or work just the same? There are quality novels being missed because of skin color, and that's a shame.

The Question by Zena WynnIf you’ve never tried a multicultural romance, there are many on Amazon if you’re willing to give it a go. I’ve got a list of great authors for people to try as initiation into the multicultural romance subgenre: Zena Wynn, Sienna Mynx, Latrivia Nelson, Delilah Hunt, Ruthie Robinson, Mallory Monroe, Lena Matthews, and Theodora Taylor. Many of their novels are highly rated as well.

Please hit me up in the comments or on my twitter as I am curious to hear from people on this topic.


Miss_D has been reading romance books for over 25 years. A native Californian making her way in the Big Apple, she likes to spend her downtime relaxing in front of the TV, chatting with friends, sitting in Central Park and playing beach volleyball. Miss D can be reached via Twitter @bonobochick.

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1. aquamarine331
I couldn't agree with you more Miss_D. I had a friend recommend Octavia Butler whose heroines don't share the same skin color of mine. If I hadn't read them because I didn't think I would identify with the main characters because of the color of their skin, I would have missed out on excellent storywriting and beautiful adventures. I'm glad I read them and contemplating picking one of her books for my book club (i.e. introducing others who may never pick up her books). :)
2. Jeroslyn
I really enjoyed this post. Its touching on an issue that too often gets ignored by mainstream media. As a Black woman in a 5 yr relationship with a white man I find it crazy how we're constantly filled with images of same race relationships. Walking through the streets of New York you see tons of interracial relationships so why aren't they broadcasted in today's popular books, movies, and shows. I appreciate this post for touching on an ignored issue in today's society.
3. EC Spurlock
As a white woman who has read multicultural romances, albeit not very many, I found that I did not have any trouble relating to the characters, but I did have issues with language. Especially in the dialogue, there was a lot of vernacular that I was not familiar with; and while I could pick up meanings in context, it gave me a subtle sense of exclusion, an outsider intruding in a world where I didn't belong. It's using a language barrier as a physical barrier. Admittedly there is a similar disconnect in Regencies, but in a historical we know we are distanced by time and space so it doesn't seem to matter as much as in a contemporary where we expect to be able to assimilate ourselves.
4. lwright
I agree, i find it fascinating that with the increase in interracial relationships, we don't see as many stories that invlove interracial characters. There certainly seems to be a lack of stories and images that portray these relationships, and I'm happy to see them on the rise!

I must say that I understand the last posters comment as well.Even as a black women I find it very hard to relate to the venacular that some interracial romances use and have stopped reading certain books due to that very reason. But again, maybe it is an issue of what people relate to which ironically goes back to the basis of this whole conversation.

Thanks for the shedding light on this topic!
Jasmine Ray
5. JassyBaby
Thank you so much for this post and for recommendations! I've been trying to find some other really good interracial reads. All of the comments make really good points, too, that I also agree with. Especially about the vernacular. I don't think, that just because your heroine or hero is African-American, they have to automatically be urban or use slang, or things of that sort of nature. I understand that a lot of that is what sets the African-American and Caucasian communities apart (Not so much in BDB! Lol!) I think that some authors who write interracial or African-American romance should think of the target audience, just like any other romance author would. While some readers may "get it", probably having lived closely in or enmeshed in the urban lifestyle, there are others who will not and will become frustrated by this. Ah, okay~ While I haven't read all of L.A. Banks (RIP) vampire huntress series, I like Damali a lot, and the rest are in my TBR pile! Again, thanks for the recs!
6. JT
I couldn't agree more! I don't read interracial romances often, but that is more a result of these stories being published fair less than other romance sub-genres. Sandra Kitt's Color of Love was my first foray into the genre and I loved it. My current favorite has been Kimberly Kaye Terry. However, lately I've read a couple multicultural romance novels misrepresenting the cultures of the hero and heroine on the book. That really upsets me because it makes it seem shameful, like it should be hidden. Rrrrrrrr.
7. Lionrock71
The Girl Says Yes by Jane O'Roarke is great! Also some good reads by Alisha Rai. Lots of reference to food though so don't read them when you're hungry.
mandy troxel
never read one, going to take your advice and try a few, see if its for me. thanks for the post.
Aliza Mann
9. AlizaMann
I think I agree with @JassyBaby. There isn't a huge amount of multicultural romances that make it to publication. I have seen more of them as of late.
From a writer's perspective, I wish I could sit down and say, "I'm going to write a story about an interracial couple today..." It doesn't work that way for me. But, reading is different. I read based on interest in a particular story, trope or theme.
What a sad world it would be if we only read things that are familiar to us.
Great post!
10. Miss_D
Glad to read the thoughts of people on here and on facebook in response to the article.

A good point was raised about the availability of MC books. When I am in Barnes & Noble, I hardly ever see MC romances but there's a plethora available online to buy as paperbooks or for an ereader (I buy a lot of them for my Amazon kindle vs paperback). I think that has helped the subgenre some but it could still use the exposure that a traditional bookstore could bring it. There are some really good authors whose work is being missed due to that.

If anyone tries out any of the authors I suggested in the article, I'd be interested to know which ones and if you enjoyed them. :)

Jassybaby, you raise a valid point on the vernacular. I admit that I am sometimes clueless on all the urban slang but I don't let it trip me up too much when I do come across it. There are definitely several authors who trend much more urban attributes in the writing for characters than others. I usually just google urban dictionary if I can't figure it out on my own, though. Then again I don't look at as anymore different than reading a Harlequin or other romance novel with a international male where the author will suddenly have him say something in his native tongue to the heroine mingled in with the English.

Mandy36, that's great. I'd love to know which ones you try out if you want to tweet me or follow up here.

EC Spurlock, who have you read in the MC subgenre?
K.M. Jackson
11. kwanawrites
Fantastic post Miss_D I wrote about this last week on my blog from a writer's and a reader's POV talking about the struggles I've had. I totally agree with you. I strive to write my life as I see it and just women. Thanks for this.
BTW here is the post if you'd like a look:
13. Ange.
Interesting. It never occured to me to not like a book based on the color of the hero or heroine. My only reasoning would be it is harder to come by with being less known authors. I can understand why hearing something like that would be insulting. Good article.
S Tieh
14. infinitieh
I realized that pretty much all the MC books I had read were YA. Oops.

Also, I used to read romances regardless of race but I moved away from African-American romances after feeling that I didn't have a whole lot of exposure to what it was like to grow up in a small town in the South (although, since I gave up reading small town contemp romances entirely, maybe it wasn't really a race-related omission).
15. CBales1984
I have read several multicultural romances in the last year as ebook publishing is flourishing. While I had no problems with the stories or the characters, the opposite in fact, but I have had problems with grammar errors and typos. Several of the books I have read were self-published or from small online publishers and I was so frustrated by the lack of good editing that some of the story was ruined for me.

Shelley Laurenston writes several series with a wide variety of characters. If you like shifter books and want to start reading some multicultural books, I would check her out. She actually has a question on FAQ page (on her website) with her multicultural books.

Thanks for the post!
16. avalon14u
This was a great article and I can truly relate to most of what's been said in the comments. I was never one to read multicultural romances, however, lately I've read a few and I have to say, with some minor, exceptions, I do understand why some people would be put off by them. One reason is when an author attempts to mix two worlds, it can get confusing, especially if one of the worlds is unfamiliar to them (i.e a Caucasian author writing an African American heroine or an African American author writing a Caucasian male). To address the point above about urban venacular: I feel that when an author uses that, he/she somehow is 'dumbing us down'. The other reason I hesitated to pick up a IRR/MC is because the few that I'd read before had heroines that I couldn't relate to because they are, for lack or a better word, crazy. They spent so much time being offended by the fact that the hero's family/friends don't approve that there is no time to have any feelings for these people and I get frustrated and stop reading. Last thing...the grammar and spelling issues in some of these books are atrocious. If you're going to self publish, self edit first.
17. butterflybug
I keep hearing that it's hard to find MC romances from popular romance authors, but reading this article made me think about Christine Feehan's books. 3 of her 4 series have quite a few MC romances in them including African-American, Latino, and Asian characters. One of my favorites is MaryAnn Delaney, who is an African-American wolf shapeshifter, in the Dark series.

I agree that it is very hard for a writer to set out specifically to write a MC romance--it either happens or it doesn't. But I do think that one of the biggest influences in whether they write an MC romance is if they are MC themselves or have significant exposure to MC. When you're reading a book, unless the author describes otherwise, people tend to automatically picture the characters as similar to themselves. The same would be true for authors when they're writing because (to take the line from Never Been Kissed) "you have to write what you know in order to write well." So we need to encourage future writers with a MC background to keep writing until they develop their talent enough to get published.
18. Color_blind
Color me confused, but IRR/MC authors don't have the monopoly on books published with grammar issues (indie press authors of all genres do and yes races do). Whenever I buy a self-pub book I'm pretty sure I'll find a typo or two, or three or six. So don't hang that hat on IRR/MC only. You see it in IRR/MC because New York publishers turn their nose up to these stories and refuse to publish them. Which in my humble opinion is the real travesty.

Secondly, I'm not sure about this claim that reading a book with urban slang is so hard to relate too. I don't find many MC/IRR books with this vernacular issue. If you buy 'urban lit' then yes you will have urban slang. Black authors don't all write the same and many understand the english language. If you have come across this I sure would like to know what genre you were reading. Maybe you can share a couple??

Personally I think excluding books of any genre limits you. Growing up I loved Harlequinn and all of them had whispy white women captured by some billionare and whisked away. I never begrudged the writer or the woman in the book because she had the fairytale. But boy it would have been nice if she had some melanin in her skin.

Most of these readers who turn away from this genre can't escape their comfort zone. And that's perfectly okay if you want to live in your comfortable world when reading a book. However, I think this genre overall makes romance readers (who are largely non-ethnic) uncomfortable because they feature women of color with white men. Still very few will be honest enough to say so. There are a pleathora of wonderful MC/IRR romance books out there (grammar and vernacular issues free). Authors like: Eve Vaughn, Yvette Hiines, Bridget Midway, Sienna Mynx, Roslyn Holcomb, Lisa G. Riley, Serrisa Glass, Delilah Hunt, Stephani Morris and I could go on and on and on.

I read books regardless of race. Maybe because my life is multi-cultural. My husband is white, I'm not, and my kids are dusky little people that reflect our love. Sadly not everyone does and it's a reflection of the state of race relations period. Those readers that get love is colorblind will be able to explore and enjoy these books. Those that can't, you should pass them bye.
19. Cherry Girl
You live in a shallow world if you think only black authors are writing IR/MC romance novels. Dana Marie Bell has an IR novel, Bear Necessities. Vivian Arend also has an IR novel, Black Gold.

This is a poster in our local library:
Sadly our life time is not sufficient enough to know about everything. Knowledge is within us, it surrounds us, its's simply everywhere. So how do we acquire it? Once again with our intelligence, the invention of reading and writing and evolution of languages we gave birth to books. Thus if knowledge acts as a lock, we need to read books to unlock it.
20. Miss_D
Cherry Girl, if the comment is directed at me, then no, I don't live in a shallow world cause I don't think that. I don't believe that I said that ONLY Black authors write MC novels. I listed some authors I am familiar with who primarily write MC books that resonate well with me & score well with Amazon reviews. I've actually read some MC books by non-WOC authors that have been enjoyable but then the color of the author wasn't the point of my column.
21. Miss_D
Color_blind... you raise a lot of valid points, especially about the grammar & typo issues with self-published or small house published books. I've read some MC books with many grammar issues & typos while also having read some with little to none. It's not totally not all of them that are error-riddled. Plus, there are a couple of mainstream authors I've read published by big houses who have error issues in a lot of their books. One mainstream author even made me stop reading her books for a long while cause I got sick of seeing all of the errors (H & H knows who it is cause I complained on twitter a lot about that author's error filled books). So, yea, it's not just a problem in the MC sub-genre.

I have also often wondered if the issue boils down to... However, I think this genre overall makes romance readers (who are largely non-ethnic) uncomfortable because they feature women of color with white men. Still very few will be honest enough to say so... which is why I wanted to ask people who are hesitant or unwilling to read MC books their respective stance on it.

Butterflybug ... I find it near impossible to find MC books in Barnes & Noble - RIP Borders - or independent bookstores. If not for online sites, I wouldn't know where to look. Amazon has a lot of MC books, even more for the ereader than getting in paperback, but it's tough outside of buying from online book sites to find MC books. I wish there wasn't such an exposure problem with being able to walk into a bookstore to buy them.

I enjoy seeing the diverse responses from people on this topic. :)
Nicole Leapheart
22. BoxyFrown
Such a great article. I enjoy finding multicultural books and passing the author's name off to friends, but they are usually not very mainstream. Thanks to this post, I can add more authors to my list! For bigger names, I really enjoy the multicultural world view of Shelly Laurenston (mentioned above by someone else) and especially Nalini Singh.
23. Cherry Girl
Miss D, my comment was not directed at you. I was simply making a general statement.
24. venapat
I don't read multi-cultural romance because the stories are not fantasy. It is like the stories are about real life with the names changed. When I read romance I want fantasty an vamps and shapeshifters give me that. If a could find a multi-cultural romance that was fantasy I'd be willing to give it a try as long as it has a lot of action and no overly long desciptions.
25. Lizzie18
I am a white woman in my fifties and I have not read many interracial romances. Could be because I mainly grew up on Harlequin romances, but I did get pretty much tired of those a few years ago. I've been branching out a bit since then: romantic suspense, urban fantasy, historicals. Not so much interracial unless it's part of a series. Love, love, LOVE Shelly Laurenston.

What really very surprised me is Color_Blind's comment about the issue being women of color with white men. I never really thought about it before now, but I realize that for me it's totally the opposite. I have no trouble reading about a woman of color as the heroine and identifying with her feelings. My 'prejudice' is more with a man of color as the main love interest since I have never been in a romantic situation with a man of color nor even thought/fantasized about it (ok, maybe Shemar Moore or a young Denzel, who wouldn't...). And to be fair, it's not my only 'prejudice'; being a fairly tall woman, I really hate starting a book and finding out the hero is 5'7''. Sorry but then I can't find the book exciting or romantic.

So, might the reasoning be incorrect on that point ? I know it's wrong to think like this but might not the race of the male hero be more a factor here than the race of the heroine since the readers of romance novels are mostly (as you say) non-ethnic FEMALES and women would tend to look for a hero that personnally attracts them. In the last few months, I've been into 6'4'' medieval highlanders !!!

So interesting reading all the responses on this subject.
Shelly Estes
26. ShellyE
My online book club recently had this same discussion. I too am a white woman in my 50's. I was raised in a average sized midwestern town. I didn't even know any people of color until I was in high school. I still don't know many. The main reason I don't read many MC books is because I tend to put people I know in the place of the characters.... and frankly, I don't really want to know what Ted's penis looks like, or what Deborah's breasts look like. When I read caucasian romance books, it's easier for me to have the characters in my head that I don't know personally. I know, I'm weird!!
27. JilB
As many have said, the books I read are largely because the story is a compelling one; not because of the book cover. I don't worry about the "colors" of the characters; I've had several pleasant surprises when I realize either the hero or heroine (or secondary characters) do not conform to a lily-white norm.

In addition to vernacular, I suspect another issue prevents more writers from including various cultures among their protagonists: how does one casually notify the reader of the character's color/race? When attempting to be conscientiously "P.C.," how does one best approach character descriptions? (I think over-the-top vernacular is sometimes used as an alternative, or even a "shortcut," to attaching a specific color label.)
If someone is "dark skinned" -- this could still be someone's Caucasion complextion; it's not specifically tied to one's heritage. During an initial character description, when I read "kinky hair," I feel uncomfortable -- not because of the character, but more because I'm offended that *that* was how the author felt they had to approach the issue. (This might also be why "big, black poles" and "caramel-colored breasts" are often included. But in all fairness, I've read countless descriptions of pink/peach/rosy/etc. areolas....)

To me, it's a very gifted author who can relate this information in an oh-by-the-way manner. (Generally I find this is more in secondary characters.) I'm reading along when something (often dialogue) alerts me to the fact that, "huh, Character X is black/native American/Hindi/LGBT" And it's no big deal! Again, much easier to achieve in a secondary character; much more challenging among the main characters.

I don't have an ideal answer, just another thought to add to the mix. And yet another reason to appreciate those authors who can gracefully create characters whose skin color/race/heritage is largely irrelevant to the greater love story. (Unless, that is the actual catalyst/conflict driving the story...)
28. Lionrock71
Kristen Ashley has written MC books (ALL of her books are amazing BTW, rehardless of what genre prefernces you might have), and she drifts into urban speak occasionally along with alphahole/badass speak for most of her male characters. Not how I speak or even how a minority of the people I know speak, but I've never had trouble immersing myslef in her books. She is/was self-published, but she's so good that I barely notice her typos except to have the fleeting sympathetic wince when I come across one. I think I mentioned her after mentioning Rai and O'Roarke because her MC angle just fits -- it's in the story more than it IS the story. I think if the writing is good enough you learn to lose your "I only like this" or "I would never do that" thoughts and just enjoy a whole new world. I used to think I hated novels involving military/legal/courtroom/police dramas that were not romances. Nelson DeMille and Brian Haig are so good that I get into a frenzy of anticipation for their books as much as I do for Kristen Ashley's or RL Mathewson's.
29. chanrowl
I know I'm a little late to the party, but I just came across a link to this article from someone's post on FB.

Growing up I used to sneak and read Harlequinn novels all the time (usually checked out from my local library) starting in 5th grade. The dollar store used to have a romance section a friend and myself would frequent. None of the character could I identify with physically, but the same applied when I turned on the TV to some of my favorite shows at the time (90210, Dawson's Creek, etc.). I would look past the color and get drawn into the romance and happy ending. I remember the moment very clearly when I was thumbing through the romance section of my local library and came upon my first IR book (I can't even remember the name). Even then I could tell the writing was subpar and it was very short compared to the other romances I had read, but I had never read a book where the heroine was black and the hero was white. From that moment on I began to scour the library hoping to come across more. Well I had no luck. Years later in college I came across Sandra Kitt ("The Color of Love"), and a whole world of online fiction sites that had black female heroines with white celebrities or fictional characters. From there I've never looked back. I can't even recall the last time I've read a romance novel with a white heroine (I read lots of non-romance books that do). I've preferred to read them on my Kindle (as I do all books now), but many are found in hardcopy form as well.

I'll admit, in the beginning the genre did have a lot of slang and urban venacular as those were the types of books that were coming out but to read people's comments on that makes me shake my head because today most IR/MC novels feature professional black woman (accountants, teachers, nurses, business owners) who's command of language shows their level of intellect and pedigree and the same goes for their love interest. Yes, you can still find the more urban novels for thoses interested, or those who aren't looking more than a few clicks.

As far as the spelling/grammar errors, unfortunately, as many of these are self-published, there seems to be a trend. I have given very honest reviews for those novels in which the errors are, in my opinion, unexcusable and distracting for the reader. As the genre picks up more readers and publishers begin to value the genre the quality should improve. But please be aware that there are many authors of IR/MC novels that I've read that have NO errors!

I am still discovering new authors (some I wish I had never encountered, lol) but some of my all time favorites are Sienna Mynxx, Lena Matthews, Eve Vaughan, and Savannah Frierson. I love all the recommendations others have left and plan to check them out!
30. Dershleen
I'm a great lover of romance novels but I too struggle to find many that share any resemblance physically to me in real life. I managed to put that aside and not really focus on the race, ethnicity or colour of the characters but to see their love story and try to connect with that and the adventures and mishaps that make up the journey of falling in love.

Thanks to you, I discovered Sienna Mynx and am reading her book, "Love After War." Enjoying it so far. I really wish though there was way more multicultural and intercultural romances. I have to agree with color_blind's thoughts on this issue.
31. DarkTrinity
First of all, excellent post. There are a few resources on the web that you can look to for information on heroines/heroes of color. There are also websites that feature free stories and numerous groups on Facebook that post links to multicultura/interracial romances. (story archive website)

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