Diversity or Die ~ Outside the Margins with KJ Charles

Join Prism Book Alliance® as KJ Charles goes Outside the Margins today.

KJ-Charles

It was the Romance Writers of America conference 2015 conference last month. Author Suleikha Snyder wrote this blog post on her conference experience, which I urge you to read (you should read Snyder too, I love her stuff). In it she mentions both the great times, and the fact that publishers “still don’t quite know what to do with multicultural and queer romance”. A representative of Pocket Books on a panel referred to queer romance as “a trend”; other publishers suggested that multicultural romance ought to have separate marketing. Um.

I’m coming at this as a white heterosexual, but also, and more significantly, as a Londoner. Both my kids’ classes are minority white. Of the seven little girls at my daughter’s party, we had one white Brit plus second generation immigrants from Sri Lanka, Kosovo, Romania, Nigeria, Pakistan and Spain. (All eight of them flounced identically and said, ‘Oh Em Gee’ and ‘In your face!’ all the time.) My kids are mixed mittelEuropean immigrants on my side, come to that. Meanwhile, they’re growing up with their gay uncle and their gay godfather and the out people we know as part of their lives.

They’re also growing up with Horrible Histories and ‘worst job in Victorian England’ books, and lessons that concentrate on the lives of ordinary people as well as the actions of kings and queens. I recently read a blog post by an author of het Regency romance who explained that she never mentioned servants because ‘my characters wouldn’t notice them’. (Disregard the sheer historical ignorance of this fantasy.) I was snarling about it to my husband and my daughter said, “Why doesn’t she write a story about a servant?”, an eight-year-old nailing what was apparently inconceivable to a grown author.*

My daughter is a voracious reader and already has covetous eyes on my Georgette Heyers. In ten years’ time she’ll be reading full-on romance. Think about that. In just ten years, my daughter and a million like her, who have grown up with openly gay relatives, and friends of all races and religions, from all over the world, in person and on the internet, and an awareness that history is not just about the rich few, will be turning to books and finding…what?

Ten years is a lifetime for a kid but it’s a blink of an eye in publishing. While publishers are sat there mumbling that queer romance is a ‘subgenre’ or carefully whitewashing covers, new generations of readers will be bowling through looking for a world that reflects their own reality, and making my daughter’s patented o_0 face when presented with a mass of Rich White Straight Cis. Obviously, my life is far from representative, and a lot of people live in much more segregated or monochrome worlds, but their kids are still growing up with the internet. They’ll grow up knowing other stories exist.

Am I optimistic? I don’t think so, not in the long term. Remember the seismic upheavals of feminism. The blogger Elisabeth Lane has been reading old Mills & Boon books and looking at the sexual development: how women’s pleasure and sexual agency and consent has moved from barely spoken (or barely considered) to central. There are some authors still writing old style romance now and some readers still seeking it, but it’s withering because culture has shifted and writers shifted with it. Change rolls on.

If/when my daughter writes a romance novel (God help me), it is not going to be set in a white het world because she doesn’t live there. The numbers of people who live in that world are still huge now but they will dwindle by the generation, and faster than publishers expect.

Let me be very clear on this: Everyone’s story matters. I believe we should all actively push to ensure nobody is ignored or erased or shouted down. I believe diversity is a moral end in itself; I also believe that everyone’s life is enhanced by connections with others. I think a life spent only with people who look and think exactly like you is a waste, frankly. There is a great wide sea of human experience out there, go splash in it. Watch out for jellyfish.

Diversity is not a trend. Suleikha Snyder quotes her impression from some people at RWA: “My God, can’t you all be quiet and go away, so we can go back to the way it was before?” and concludes: “the industry is not changing fast enough, and that is why we can’t be quiet and just go away.”

I absolutely agree the industry isn’t changing fast enough. But my daughter is growing almost visibly, and so is everyone else’s daughter, and if the industry doesn’t change, it’s going to find itself left behind by those new young women (and indeed male and trans and genderqueer readers). Just as happened in the 90s when romance publishing was becoming irrelevant to a new generation of women who wanted to see their world, not the old-style one the publishers were still trying to sell them. The industry went through a very painful patch. Remember that? Want that again? Didn’t think so.

So in addition to the moral imperative to diversity…the readers, which is to say the buyers, are changing. For publishers and authors, doing what you always did is going to stop being profitable, just like it always does, all the way back to the forgotten authors who sat there doggedly writing chivalric courtly love poems and mumbling that the Canterbury Tales would never catch on.

Diversity or die. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow. But soon and, I sincerely hope, for the rest of our lives. Because if people can’t do things because they’re the right things to do, well then, they can damned well do them for the money.

 

  • I have seen people say, ‘But who wants to read about someone who scrubs floors?’ For the record, my British grandfather was a chauffeur in a big house and my grandmother was a maid who, yes, scrubbed floors, and they were both sacked, very kindly and with a generous wedding present, for getting married. They got a canteen of nice cutlery from which I still have a tablespoon. It probably wasn’t quite as good as being allowed to keep their jobs during the Great Depression, but that was their choice, their romance, their story. Anyone with dismissive remarks to make about servants might wish to make them elsewhere.

~KJ Charles

Fashionable-Indulgence_03_04_15

Title: A Fashionable Indulgence
Author: KJ Charles
Publisher: Random House
Publication Date: 08/11/2015
Cover Artist:
Genre: Regency

Blurb:

In the first novel of an explosive new series from K. J. Charles, a young gentleman and his elegant mentor fight for love in a world of wealth, power, and manipulation.

When he learns that he could be the heir to an unexpected fortune, Harry Vane rejects his past as a Radical fighting for government reform and sets about wooing his lovely cousin. But his heart is captured instead by the most beautiful, chic man he’s ever met: the dandy tasked with instructing him in the manners and style of the ton. Harry’s new station demands conformity—and yet the one thing he desires is a taste of the wrong pair of lips.

After witnessing firsthand the horrors of Waterloo, Julius Norreys sought refuge behind the luxurious facade of the upper crust. Now he concerns himself exclusively with the cut of his coat and the quality of his boots. And yet his protégé is so unblemished by cynicism that he inspires the first flare of genuine desire Julius has felt in years. He cannot protect Harry from the worst excesses of society. But together they can withstand the high price of passion.

Advance praise for A Fashionable Indulgence

“If one Regency rake isn’t enough for you, check out A Fashionable Indulgence, a rollicking tale from the deft pen of K. J. Charles. I’ll read anything she writes!”—New York Times bestselling author Kate Pearce

Links

A Fashionable Indulgence on Goodreads
Random House
Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon CA
All Romance eBooks

About KJ Charles

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Farewell Giveaway
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.

Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,

Brandilyn
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18 thoughts on “Diversity or Die ~ Outside the Margins with KJ Charles

  1. Thank you for another thought provoking and entertaining post!

    We’ve had those conversations around our dinner table about what’s ethical and what’s profitable converging and how sometimes the only way to make business change is to show them that doing what is wrong will hurt the bottom line.

  2. “Anyone with dismissive remarks to make about servants might wish to make them elsewhere.” – all the YES! Why would we not want to read stories about people in situations very much like our own families, friends? These are our stories, dammit! Loved this post, you are so very spot on, as always. And the cover for A Fashionable Indulgence is just as lovely each time I see it!

  3. Aside from agreeing with you 100% on diversity and a fast changing world… I now find myself wanting to write a story about servants who enjoy their jobs, good times and bad times… Not sure whether to thank you or curse you!

  4. As always, spot on. I’ve never been able to suspend disbelief completely (you don’t want to go to movies with me), so I have to have a lot of reality in my (non-fantasy) books. Cultural realities are important amd ground the story for me. Servants are real. The world around the story is real. History is real. The non-stereotypical gay uncle and friend are real. I want them in my stories.

  5. On the social level, diversity has happened/is happening/will continue to happen whether FoxNews says so or not, and you’re dead on right that those who were raised with diversity are going to expect it in the books they read. It’s kind of a cycle, though. Big publishers won’t get behind an idea unless they know they can make money at it, but people can’t buy what doesn’t exist.

  6. They do exist. We need to keep pushing them, so that we can change the ‘default’ of white cis het as ‘normal’ and everything else as ‘trend’ or ‘subgenre. But it’s going to have to be market led, because publishers are.

  7. Quote: Suleikha Snyder quotes her impression from some people at RWA: “My God, can’t you all be quiet and go away, so we can go back to the way it was before?” and concludes: “the industry is not changing fast enough, and that is why we can’t be quiet and just go away.”

    The exact same thing is going on the SF/F world right now. Witness the debacle at the Hugos, and a certain contingent of heterosexual, privileged white men throwing a hissy fit because women/POC/LGBT/capital-O Others are now playing in “their” sandbox.

  8. “I have seen people say, ‘But who wants to read about someone who scrubs floors?’”

    This sort of attitude is what made the fantasy genre so fucking boring–which is the last thing any genre calling itself “fantasy” ought to be. By the time I was a teen I was sick of reading about King McWhiterson, where the only time anyone not a noble appeared in a book, he (invariably he) was really the True Heir to the Throne who maybe spent two pages mucking stables before being heading off on his grand adventure. Tell me the story of the poor bastard whose crops might not get harvested because the king is at war *again,* or the scullery maid who’s got a particular magic for getting things spic and span, which turns out to be the key to saving the day, or ANYTHING else I don’t even care. And sadly romance hasn’t done any better, as you note. 😛

  9. I think those new generations of readers will come hand-in-hand with peer writers, who will publish themselves when the Big 5 (or Big 3 by then) ignores them. I also think those writers will prove to be such successes globally that when the Big 3 finally approach them for pieces of the pie, those new writers can say, “Too little, too late.” It’s already happening. Lucky for everyone, smaller, more agile publishers have the pulse now and are offering writers great publishing relationships. For the record, I agree with everything you said, I just like to imagine that new generation of writers making their own success without the need for a gatekeeper at all. Naive? Maybe.

  10. And that’s it, isn’t it? People go on FB and GR asking for recs because all the books they’ve read recently are ‘samey’ and they’re bored. OTHER STORIES, people. NEW STORIES. DIFFERENT STORIES. How is that not incredibly exciting?

    • I think it is exciting – I’m so bored of stories where money and position conquer all. That isn’t romance – romance should have love conquering all 😉

  11. I hear you about the servants’ stories. My grandmother was in service and of course had to leave when she got married. My grandfather was going to be given a job as a driver for the company owned by the family she worked for – until they found out he was a Catholic, and said they didn’t employ Catholics. (Obviously you could get away with that sort of thing in those days.) That’s story type stuff happening right there to real people, even if they are “just servants”.

    Even though it’s not my chosen genre to read I’ll always defend writers of Family Saga, since those books are one of the few literary genres where working class women can take centre stage and have their stories told. Publishers always seem to be proclaiming the death of that genre, but a writer I know got back the rights to her sagas from a publisher that was letting the books languish. She self-published them and they started flying off the shelves – digitally anyway! Personally I’d rather read a saga than yet another a-hole billionaire.

  12. I can’t tell you how much I agree with this post. It’s much more than 100%, that I can tell you. Though, I do feel the need to say, that us, POC wanting to see stories and characters that reflect us instead of just being tokens isn’t new. I was a kid of just ten in 2001 and I wanted diverse books to read. I even turned my nose up at a book my mother owned that was an interacial M/F romance between an Asian woman and Native American man. Can’t really remember what sort of Asian or Native American, but I can remember them feeling like puppets instead of people, and not finishing the story.

    The demand is most definitly here now, and was there fourteen years ago. It’s just become unigorable, because people a sick and tired of being ignored.

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