Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Race and Romance

I've been thinking about race in romance novels lately. I don't really care what ethnicity the characters I read about are. Diversity is a trend I enjoy (and it is alive and well in paranormal romance), but I'm not personally offended by the fact that there aren't a huge amount of minority characters in books about twelfth century England. I'm a historical-accuracy-first, diversity-for-diversity's-sake-later kinda girl.

I tripped across a review the other day where the reviewer stated a character seemed flat and the historical romance would have worked better for her if he'd had a different & more developed background. The reviewer was then attacked in the comments and all but called racist because the book was about an interracial couple and the aggressive commenter believed the reviewer was trying to imply the heroine should have stuck to her own kind.

I didn't see that. I'm inclined to think the reviewer just thought the character was flat. (And having read the book, I tend to agree.) But I don't read interracial romances or their reviews looking for socio-racial commentary. In the same way I don't read romance looking for post-feminist messages.

I can't help but think there will always be people who will get upset with me for the way I handle race in my books. I feel fortunate that a portion of my upbringing was based in Hawaii, where the concept of race is handled differently than it is in the continental US, and the rest of my childhood was spent in Alaska where the sense of being a winter culture is more dominant than attention to racial divisions. I come from a wonderful multi-ethnic family and I don’t think I would worry how my books will be received from a diversity standpoint, except I know some readers are extremely sensitive to racial tones in novels and I don’t particularly want to piss people off with my books. The goal is to make people laugh, you know?

The heroine of The Naked Detective is Chinese-American. She is mistaken for Lucy Liu at one point and the hero even thinks how much she looks like the actress. It's weird that after seeing that reviewer get crucified I feel like I need to point out that he doesn't think that because he is a racist jerk who thinks all Chinese-American women look like Lucy Liu. It's just that my heroine bears a freakish resemblance to Lucy Liu. Like, hardcore spitting image. (I might have been watching Chicago when plotting this book, but I admit to nothing.)

And if she doesn’t seem terribly Chinese to readers, this might be because she was raised by foster parents in New Jersey, so her sense of culture is somewhat warped. She is not meant to be a commentary on Chinese-American women any more than the heroine Lucy of The Ghost Shrink is meant to be a commentary on blonds.

But I have a feeling someone is going to be offended in spite of my intentions. And on this issue it's virtually impossible to tell people they're being oversensitive about without catching even more hell. It's one of those topics I find frustrating with a side of helplessness. What're ya gonna do?

Moral of the story – please don’t take offense. Just laugh. That’s what the book is for.

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