Jul 12 2016 9:30am

Thank Heaven for Sci-Fi’s Diverse Romance Creators

The Felig Chronicles by P.J. Dean

You may have heard the news that the Iron Man comic will pass the mantel to Riri Williams, a black female teenager. Great news for diversity in comics, but there’s a catch: the series will be written by Brian Michael Bendis, who’s white and male.

In June 2016, comic writer Mark Miller revealed he’s rebooting his Kick-Ass comic with a black female superheroine. Great news for diversity in comics, but there’s a catch (stop me if you’ve heard this one): Mark Miller is white.

In other book news, author Ben Winters was hailed as “fearless” in the New York Times for mixing “slavery and sci-fi”. Can you guess what comes next? Yep, he’s white.

And the one show you’d think had black writers penning stories and dialogue for black female characters apparently doesn’t. Sad to say, Orange is the New Black missed a huge opportunity there.

The above examples are just the tip of the ice berg, yet despite the small sample there’s already a disturbing pattern of mostly white creators having the privilege of writing characters of color. This is happening even though authors of color were exploring issues like slavery in science fiction long before authors like Ben Winters were even born. But they aren’t afforded the same opportunities as folks like Bendis and Miller. Check out those marketing platforms—The New York Times, The Hollywood Reporter...nice gigs if you can get them.

Octavia E. Butler is a giant of science fiction, yet Hollywood seems to act as if she never existed. She’s also a pioneer of the genre given when and how she explored topics like genetic engineering, slavery, space travel, and a host of others. You can also find some romance in her work.

It’s common knowledge that her books feature marginalized black women in direct response to the egregious lack of female protagonists (of any kind) in the science fiction she was reading at the time. Now that’s what I call fearless. Where’s her New York Times spread and other accolades?

Dawn by Octavia Butler

One might think Octavia E. Butler significantly addressed the imbalance in SF and/or influenced sci-fi romance regarding diversity and indeed, her work is enormously important, but I’m concerned it’s not been nearly enough. This issue became readily apparent while I developed a forthcoming interview with P.J. Dean, a black female author who pens a sci-fi romance alien invasion saga called The Felig Chronicles. It’s one of my go-to series, especially considering it provides the social commentary I crave in sci-fi romance. For example, in the latest book, Gambit, she tackles some of the issues related to the corporate privatization of prisons very much in the vein of Orange is the New Black.

Here’s what she had to say about what prompted her to feature a black female heroine:

“I was saddened that in most SFR, the vision of “other” folk in the future and/or of them surviving a catastrophe was nil.  I wanted to see a multi-faceted, African-American, female, main character who CARRIED the damned story! I wanted her to have an actual purpose instead of being a symbol. I mean as egalitarian and varied as characters in SFR were supposed to be, I still saw lots of stock persons in my reading material back in ‘09. That was when I got my epiphany, and the heroine, Faustina Marie “Tina” Cain, of The Felig Chronicles, was born.”

Sounds very similar to what Octavia E. Butler went through, doesn’t it? Why, though, after all this time, is there a persistent lack of representation in both the stories as well as behind the scenes (e.g., authors, filmmakers, etc.)? Why aren’t female authors and creators of color accorded the same attention and praise as their white, male counterparts?

SEE ALSO: We Need Diverse Books—Yes or Hell Yes?

That question is why P.J. Dean and I also discussed the challenges faced by marginalized authors in the publishing industry:

“Now about that opportunity deficit for marginalized authors. It’s such a multi-layered mess that many fail to comprehend it, or act like they fail to comprehend it. In fact, this very minute, I am sure the strings of countless violins are being played by white authors. So I’ll tell them this: change places with me, and see if you can stomach, let alone, clear, the hurdles that will be tossed in your way. I double dog dare you! For purposes of clarity, I’ll be speaking on the nonsense faced only by black authors of romance, as I cannot speak for romance writers who are differently-abled, or who are LGBTQIA and want their stories recognized. Except I’m certain they face the same obstacle course.

Black romance writers are not whiney, talentless hacks begging for special treatment. We are writers who happen to be black, who work our butts off to create good books. Are we owed an audience? No. But we are owed equal access when it comes to using the same paths white writers use in trying to establish an audience.

Now think about how good, solid, black writers feel who write romance. Good, solid black writers who cannot believe that they are so fortunate to be living in a time where the “multicultural” romance is doing big business and their spin on a love story with characters who resemble them might be considered, even accepted…Then they get the news that their well-written submission was rejected for “not fitting what the house had in mind.” Or they uncover that mother of a gut-kick: the publisher has decided to go with an in-house writer who “really knows how to pen a black character” and it’s a white writer. Say what? Wait a minute. You just doubly insulted me by believing 1) I can’t write and 2) by proclaiming I do not know how to write a fictional version of “me.””

The issue of an author’s race and who gets the high exposure and lucrative opportunities prompted me to reflect heavily about sci-fi romance because unlike Marvel, who reportedly doesn’t have any black women comic book writers, we in romance are lucky enough to have a number of black female authors who deliver diverse, representational stories time and time again. They don’t get the big bucks or the national marketing platforms (that I know of), yet they continually write engaging stories starring powerful black heroines for a marginalized and historically under-served female audience.

SEE ALSO: Too Smart?: Intelligence in Romance Novels

Authors like Deborah A. Bailey, who recently released Revelations, the third book in her Hathor Legacy series. This series features a black heroine with extraordinary psi powers and words cannot describe how empowering that kind of character is for a reader like me.

Way Out of Control by Tatiana Caldwell

Take also Tatiana Caldwell, who wrote an erotic little number of a story called Way Out of Control featuring a Hulk-like superhero (and superheroes are so hot right now—in more ways than one!). Author Lyn Brittan consistently delivers strong and capable heroines in her Outer Settlement series. Clare Dargin provides a military sci-fi romance fix in Cold Warriors and Ice and Peace.

Alyssa Cole has been wowing readers with her post-apocalyptic romances in her Off the Grid series. Rae Lori’s City of Simplicity offers a compelling social justice fantasy and is driven by an intrepid black heroine. Want a cerebral romance tale that skews toward the sci-fi side? Then check out Karen Lord’s The Best of All Possible Worlds.

And for your comic book fix, Taneka Stotts wrote “Love and Sprockets” for Fresh Romance #8.

These authors and others like them are heroes to me. I can’t give them boatloads of money or prominent platforms to share the news of their work. But I can speak for them in this small way, and let them know how much I appreciate their efforts.

When we see their names in the proverbial lights, that’s when we’ll know true change has come to pass.

Learn more about or order a copy of Fresh Romance #8, featuring Taneka Stotts's “Love and Sprockets” at Rosy Press.

Learn more about or order a copy of the books mentioned in this post:

The Felig Chronicles (Book 1 of The Felig Chronicles) by P.J. Dean  
Dawn (Book 1 of Xenogenesis Series) by Octavia E. Butler  
Revelations (Book 3 of Hathor Legacy Series) by Deborah A. Bailey  
Way Out of Control by Tatiana Caldwell  
Anja's Star: A Futuristic Romance (Book 1 of Outer Settlement Series) by Lyn Brittan  
Cold Warriors by Clare Dargin  
Ice and Peace by Clare Dargin  
Radio Silence (Book 1 of Off the Grid Series) by Alyssa Cole  
City of Simplicity by Rae Lori  
The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord  













Heather Massey seeks out sci-fi romance adventures and writes about them for Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly. She’s also an author in the subgenre. To learn more about her published work, visit heathermassey.com.

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
P J Dean
1. P J Dean
Thanks for highlighting an issue close to my heart.
2. Kareni
Thanks for a thoughtful post and for directing me to a few new to me authors.
Heather Massey
3. HeatherMassey
@PJ Dean Thanks for your books that inspired me!

@Kareni Glad to be of service and thanks for your interest!
P J Dean
4. Deborah A Bailey
Thanks for the mention and for this terrific article. I grew up reading comics in the DC universe. So the superhero story is part of my orientation to storytelling - though it was one where I didn't see anyone like myself represented. But (as I've often mentioned) when I read Clay's Ark by Octavia Butler, I had a complete shift. Then I dived into Xenogenesis and was completely blown away and inspired.
E.L. Felder
5. elf2060
Well presented post. Thanks for the enlightenment and for sharing names of talented authors to try.
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