Wednesday, May 1

Diversity in Romance Novels

I was flipping through my ideas notebook last night trying to sort out what to work on next (because come Hell or High Water--or camping this weekend--I AM finishing A Place to Belong next week. EARLY next week). 
Anyway, I flipping through my notebook and going over my Word files (where I also have some ideas stashed) and thinking about the characters, the stories, and what's in the best shape to go next (and what's too close of a repeat to what I've done most recently) and that got me thingking about diversity in romance.
Yes, I write boy meets boy, which is certainly a little off the beaten track as far as mainstream audiences are concerned. But why do we see so variations in ethnicity in romance? Why are all of oure men young with washboard stomachs and our heroines (if we read het romance) busty and beautiful with 26 inch waists? Where are the heavy set boys and girls? Where are the older men and women? Where are the people of different ethnicities? Is it because our demographic  is (at least by our own perception) caucasian? Do our readers want stories about people that at last superficially look like them? (because I doubt our readers look like Barbie and Ken any more than we do). 
Have we just simply been so conditioned to believe that in order to be desireable we (or at least our characters) have to be physically perfect?
One of the my favorite books from last year was Rick Reed's Chaser. Rick took the idea of "changing
for you partner" and turned it on it's ear with a story about Caden, who is hopelessly attracted to men with a little meat on their bones, though he himself is quit fit. He meets and falls for a wonderful, very average sort of man (Kevin), at a bar, but when circumstances separate them for a while, Kevin decides the only way to keep a guy like Caden interested is to get fit. (Well, okay, like most of us Kevin has some body image issues, not to the point of angst, just the normal, "I wish I looked different" think I think we all go through). Long story short (and not to give away the story), Caden is shocked and has to figure out if who he loves is the guy inside the hot new body or the wonderfully cuddly man he fell for from afar that first night at the club.
 I love stories that turn tropes on their ear! (And Rick isn't the only great author I've read who breaks out of the perfect body mold. I haven't had a chance to read Zahra Owen's book The Hand-Me-Down yet, but it's SO on my list of books to read!)
Anyone who follows me on Facebook saw my post last night about the BDSM Librarian--basically, I got frustrated with the number of "perfect rich Dom" stories I'd been seeing and wanted to turn that around, have Dom who's laid back, as an average job, an average income, an average apartment, and a sub with a high pressure, high paycheck job (and all the nice things that go with a fat bank account--nice things that he doesn't get to enjoy as much as he'd like because I'm sorry, when you have a job that rakes in big bucks it tends to come with a lot of work responsibility and little time to play).
But even so, all of these guys are caucasian Americans. Where are the Latino men? Where are the African Americans? Shoot over to Amazon and type in Gay Romance (or even just Romance) and scroll through the covers. What will you find? Hunky white men and women along with vampires and were critters (most of whom are also hunky and white). So...diversity is a sprinkling of paranormal?
I'm working on shaking that up a little in my own work. Hanging by the Moment has a character who is Native American (and not living out West, he lives right here in SE Michigan and drives a beer delivery truck for a living). Daniel hot as hell (oh he's gorgeous!) but otherwise he's a pretty average guy with a pretty average (some might say really hard) job. The man he meets (Pasha) is five foot ten and has a 36 inch waist. He and his father own a failing Greek/Coney-type restaurant. Pasha seriously does not understand what Daniel sees in him because guys like Daniel can walk into the bar any night of the week and have their pick of the hot men lined up along the bar. And it's true. Hot men (and women) often have their pick of the other hunks and some people really are superficial enough to ONLY care about a person's looks. It's really sad IMO.
But even looking over my own notes about story ideas, I'm seeing a staggaring lack of diversity and I'm pretty sure I'm bothered by that, because there are some great stories to be told there. (And anyone who knows me knows how much I love writing about people who don't look or act like me. Pasha is a devout Russian Orthodox; yes, it's where I came from, but I'm not Christian anymore. I want to write a Jewish character, I want to write a Muslim character, I want to explore every facet religion and culture that I can comfortably wrap my head around--and when I'm not comfortable, I want to push my comfort zone out a little to see if I can do it anyway).
So what do you think? Are you sick of the rich man/poor man trope? Do you want to see roles flip flopped? Do you want to see different shades of skintone on romance covers? Maybe a few more chubby guys and curvy gurls?
Here are two parting thoughts:
One of them is from Midnight Secuctions, and it's called "It's Raining Billionaires" and I love it!
And the other one will explain why I haven't used the word "race" once in this post (and why you'll hardly ever hear me use the word unless I mean that thing that athletes do).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the Chaser recommendation I was looking for a few new books to pick up and I'm getting to the point I avidly look for books that have something a little different in them :)

I would like to see more role reversal, or even just switching and big bad ass guy being the bottom with a cute twink being the top in a more vanilla story. I don't mind the stereotypical rich man/poor man stories but there is so much room to play a little or lot that could be really fun to read instead of the safer storyline. I would love to see a power executive being a sub to a say school teacher Dom. I loved Impacted series by Mickie Ashling simply because role reversal.

As for more diversity in race I think there are alot more white upper/middleclass characters on the whole, but I've got a several books in my Kindle with Native American, black, Latino and an occasional Asian characters. So there out there just not as big a quantities. Also not a lot of them are written by the more popular or prolific M/M authors, so they are buried on books site 5+ pages back.

I don't think there is a huge amount of race diversity in M/M authors themselves so unless there is story point involving race many authors probably don't think about it too much.