Romance Slam Jam 2014

Romance Slam Jam is the annual conference where readers and writers of African-American romance novels get together to encourage each other and talk books. This year was my 6th time attending so it is basically a big ol’ family reunion to me.

This year’s host city was New Orleans, Louisiana. The event was put on by authors Farrah Rochon and Shelia Goss. They did an excellent job. On the final night, they arranged for a New Orleans style second line band to say goodbye. (Don’t know what a second line is? Click here for the history. Click here to see a video of a second line procession.)


I’ve been to New Orleans several times before for extended visits, so I didn’t do anytime touristy or of a historical exploration nature this time. But I did get to sit on two panels with African-American historical romance authors Beverly Jenkins, Kianna Alexander and Piper Huguley. The first was a discussion on the process of writing historical romances and the obstacles that African-American writers face in the genre. Audience members shared almost identical stories about being discouraged by the traditional publishing industry from telling their stories. However, readers in attendance expressed a desire for more titles in the sub-genre. So if you have an African-American and/or multicultural historical romance inside of you, write it and publish it by any means necessary. Contrary to industry opinion, the market is there and they’re hungry.

The second historical romance panel was geared toward readers and how to make new readers aware of this sub-genre. One audience member shared how she started a lending library for the youth at her church. Her pastor reads every title in the library and starts word-of-mouth buzz as he finishes each one. It turns out he learned some “new to him” history from Ms. Beverly Jenkins’s books. Ha! Other readers also stressed how their personal recommendations to their friends and family members, some of whom were non-readers before the recommendations, have created new fans of Ms. Jenkins’s work. So I repeat, write those books! We’re creating new African-American historical romance fans every day and they want more books.

In both sessions, I mentioned the database of African-American historical fiction titles with two other readers last summer. The list has a historical romance and women’s fiction bias. As promised, here is the link to all those books:

It is a work-in-progress, so email me if you know of any titles that are missing.

Romance Slam Jam 2015 will be March 26-29, 2015 in Irving, Texas. It is the 20th anniversary celebration so you don’t want to miss that party. Brenda Jackson will be the keynote speaker. Keep an eye on for all the latest detail.

Happy 70th Birthday, Alice Walker!

Alice Walker’s 70th birthday was this past Sunday. Her writings only saved my life. I first got into her work when The Color Purple movie came out. This was right after my grandmother passed away. That movie was the only thing that pulled me out of that funk. “You took my sister Nettie ‘way from me. You knew she was the only somebody who loved me…” Whoa! Celie was speaking my grief. Ma ki da da.

Through the movie, I was introduced to the novel and, in essence, the world of African-American women’s literature. So um, this blog you’re reading right now? Thank you, Alice Walker.

I’ve kinda been in Ms. Walker’s presence at least 3 times in my life. The first was a book signing in Brooklyn for the Possessing The Secret of Joy release where they rushed us past her. (Boo!) Then she stayed in the guest rooms in my dorm during my freshwoman year at Spelman College, but we never saw her. We tried though. Like casually hanging out by the door to her hallway tried until some staff member ran us off. But those instances were teasers really. It’s the third encounter that matters.

I was finishing up my lunch at Whole Foods in midtown Atlanta. I look up and see Alice Walker walking toward the restroom. My first reaction was “WTF!” And my second reaction was “Oh, no!” You see, I had to go to the bathroom too. And there was no way that I was going to be one of those rude fans who slides pen and paper under the stall door while a celebrity was trying to handle their business. And I didn’t want to miss her if she left while I was handling mine. Besides, I already had her autograph (reference my Alice Walker encounter #1).

Well, I really had to go. So I went. And she washed her hands and left out before I was done. Oh no! Foiled by the elusive Ms. Walker again. I washed my hands and went back into the store. By now, I was gonna be late if I didn’t start heading back to work. But eff that. This woman’s work only had a major influence on the person I have become, right? So I look around. She was talking to her companion and was about to push her cart into the main part of the store.

I gently tapped her on the back. She turned and I… Well, what do you say to Alice Walker when you unexpectedly bump into her at the grocery store? I came up with pure brilliance in that split second, if I do say so myself.

“Excuse me, Ms. Walker. I don’t mean to bother you. I just wanted to say thank you.”

Alice Walker’s response was to open her arms and say “Give me a hug.” She wrapped her arms around me. And I turned into a babbling idiot. “Oh my god. I don’t want to bother you. Your writings mean so much to me. I started writing because of you. Blah blah blah…” And then I think I sobbed. Nooooo!

By then the dreadlocked stock girl was looking at us funny. Causing a scene was the last thing I wanted to do. I could easily the berries & juices folk mobbing this poor woman while she tried to do her grocery shopping. I quickly gained my composure and said my goodbyes. But when I stepped out into the parking lot? I. Started. To. (Gasp). Cry.

I was such a mess. I returned to the hair salon/spa where I was working – hella late – in a daze.

“What’s wrong with you, Kaia?”

“I just bumped into Alice Walker. She hugged me.”

“Who’s Alice Walker?” My co-workers were total buzzkills that day.

And that, my friends, is my “I Bumped Into Alice Walker at Whole Foods” story.

Happy Birthday, Ms. Walker. I’ll never stop saying thank you.

Now go read The Color Purple. Followed by The Temple of My Familiar and Possessing the Secret of Joy (in that order). And the essay “Looking For Zora.” That is all.

Note: The documentary “Alice Walker” Beauty in Truth” is currently showing as part of the PBS series “American Masters.” Check your local listings for broadcast times.

Heads Up, Writers
Carina Press editor Rhonda Helms said on Twitter this last week that she is “desperate” for PoC (people of color) historical romances, from 1850s on. She’ll look at any heat level from sweet to super spicy. So please finish writing your African-American historical romances and send them to her.

Gwen Hayes at the historical imprint Scandalous at Entangled Publishing is also look for PoC historical romances.

What I’m Reading Now
I’m still on my African-American educational history kick.  I’m currently reading The Education of Blacks in the South, 1860-1935 by James D. Anderson. I’ll do a write up on it once I’m finished. But so far it’s been both an eye-opener and a pissed-me-offer.

Until next week,

Happy Black History Month!

First off, I apologize for the unplanned blog hiatus. The last few months were the busy season at the day job. But what better time to re-boot than February?

Black Women’s History on Twitter
It warmed my heart to see the #BlackFemStory hashtag pop up on Twitter yesterday. The Twitterverse showed love to Black women to kick off the first day of Black History Month. I was very happy to see that women from all over the diaspora were featured. This included a number of groundbreaking women in Africa, the Caribbean and Europe who were new to me. I encourage you to check it out.

first_classFirst Class & Dunbar High School
I received a number of books focusing on African-American history as Christmas gifts. You’ll see them featured here over the next few weeks as I read through them. First Class: The Legacy of Dunbar, America’s First Black Public High School by Alison Stewart was the first one I finished. Since it first opened in 1870 in Washington, D.C., the school has been known as Preparatory High School for Colored Youth, M Street High School, and Paul Laurence Dunbar High School. Dunbar has had an impressive roster of alumni and faculty in the past. Notables such as activist/educator Nannie Helen Burroughs, blood banking pioneer Dr. Charles Drew and “The Man Who Killed Jim Crow” legal scholar Charles Hamilton Houston were all graduates of the school. Former faculty included Anna Julia Cooper, Mary Church Terrell and Carter G. Woodson (who started Negro History Week, which eventually became Black History Month).

First Class covers the fascinating history of D.C. public schools, the rise of the D.C. African-American middle-class from the Reconstruction era to the Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education decision, and the decline of the school in the latter half of the twentieth century. I have always been fascinated by the story of this historic institution. It is amazing what the students and faculty were able to accomplish during the height of racial segregation in the United States. During the school’s heyday in the first half of the twentieth century, Dunbar’s graduates regularly went on to study at the top colleges and universities in the country. Stewart’s discussion of how outside politics had a direct effect on how the school turned into an academic powerhouse gave me a lot to think about. Anyone who has an interest in education and early twentieth century Washington, D.C. needs to check out this title.

Until next time,


Hey everybody,

I apologize for being MIA for the last week or so. The time I usually spend on supporting the blog has been sucked up by working on my NaNoWriMo project and web application coding class. Yes, I’m learning how to build web applications from scratch. And yes, I do plan on applying what I’ve learned to what I’m doing with this blog.

I promise that I have not abandoned this project. Please be patient with me.  My current distractions will not be in vain.



Happy Halloween!

voodoo_dreamsThe last week in October can only mean one thing: Halloween! That one day of the year dedicated all things eerie and spooky and creeping in the night. What better time to read about the hoodoo woman falling in love or the fine brother who turns into a werewolf (or a bear) when the full moon comes out, right?

I was curious to see if there had been any paranormal historical romances written with African-American heroines and/or heroes. Guess what? I actually found some romance and women’s fiction titles. Looks like it’s time to load up the e-reader with some spooky goodies:

Daughters of the Stone by Dahlma Llano-Figueroa
Fela is an enslaved women in mid-19th century Puerto Rico. She carried the essence of her unborn child with her from Africa within a stone. She unleashes the essence after she lays with the plantation owner. The result is a daughter who is a powerful healer. This is a mother-daughter story seeped in the Afro-Puerto Rican tradition.

Voodoo Dreams by Jewell Parker Rhodes
A fictionalized telling of voodoo priestess Marie LaVeau’s story. Set in 19th century New Orleans. (This book is the first in a trilogy. The sequels Voodoo Season and Yellow Moon are contemporary thrillers about Marie Laveau’s great-granddaughter.)

Given by Lisa G. Riley and Roslyn Hardy Holcomb
An erotic paranormal shape-shifter romance about a mysterious Underground Railroad conductor who is a member of the Eshu, who can shift into any animal at will.

Stolen by Lisa G. Riley and Roslyn Hardy Holcomb
The Eshu heroine is determined to become both and Underground Railroad conductor and a doctor. But the local stationmaster decides that he rather have her in his bed than risking her life on such a dangerous adventure. Interracial. Erotic.

Have you read any of these titles? What did you think of them? Please share any other paranormal historical that I might have missed.

Guest Blogger: Shelly Ellis on the Great Migration

Note from Kaia:
This week we are honored to have our very first guest blogger on Aren’t I A Heroine. This article is the result of contemporary romance author Shelly Ellis tweeting that she didn’t have anything to do. I responded by challenging her to tie her contemporary novels to something historical. I didn’t think Shelly would take me up on it, but she did. Now, I want her to write a novel about Althea Gibbons’s backstory AND about Lady Sara. Who knew?

The Great Migration & Contemporary African-American Historical Romance
by Shelly Ellis

Photo Credit by Joe Yablonsky

Photo Credit by Joe Yablonsky

I love romance novels. I particularly love book series that are rooted in a family saga or history. When I wrote my Gibbons Gold Diggers series, I didn’t just want to write salacious stories about ruthless gold diggers/seducers. That would be the easy part.

To give another layer to the series, I wanted to focus on a family, particularly a family of women with their own sense of tradition/legacy. From the outside their traditions seem a bit warped, to say the least, but these traditions are what hold their family together. I also wanted to borrow from my family history by basing the series loosely on the legacy of Great Migration that took blacks from the South to the North. More than 6 million blacks between the 1880s and the 1930s left the South in droves during post-Reconstruction to seek more economic and social opportunities in the Northeast, Midwest, and waaay out West that Segregation had thwarted them in the South. A second wave – or the second Great Migration of blacks – headed north after the Great Depression during 1940 to 1970. (My family took part in both waves.) They traveled to great metropolises like New York City, Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Los Angeles, Oakland, and in my great-grandparents’ case, even Washington D.C., joining thriving black communities and expanding into new suburbs.

The matriarch of the Gibbons family in my book series – Althea Gibbons – is no different from these many other black migrants. But instead of leaving behind her sharecropper shack in North Carolina to seek a job as maid, clerk, or hairdresser above the Mason-Dixon Line, Althea decides to find a rich man and marry him. She uses her wit, looks, and her wiles to go from the daughter of a poor sharecropper to the wife of several millionaires.

vibe-vixen-saralouharrisAfter I finished the novel, I stumbled upon another industrious black woman who used her beauty and her brains to help climb the socioeconomic ladder. Sara Lou Harris, one of the first black runway models, was born in 1926 in North Carolina to humble beginnings, much like Althea Gibbons. The daughter of a mill worker and house painter, Sara would later go on to graduate from Bennett College and Columbia University. She became the first black woman to be featured in the New York buyers’ fashion show, the first in a Lucky Strikes cigarette ad campaign, and she was featured on the cover of magazines like Jet and Ebony. She later married John Carter, a prominent barrister in British Guiana (now Guyana) who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth, therefore making Sara Lou Harris, Lady Sara. Who knew a simple girl from North Carolina would earn such a title?

Althea Gibbons doesn’t get any royal titles from her marriages (I wish I would have thought of that!), but she acquires plenty of wealth and teaches her daughter Yolanda how to do the same. Yolanda then teaches these gold-digging lessons to her four daughters – Cynthia, Dawn, Stephanie, and Lauren – the stars of the Gibbons Gold Digger series. The family even develops an unwritten gold-digging rule book that all of them must follow. The sisters quote from the rule book liberally. (A rule that is the theme of each respective novel is featured at the beginning of the first chapter of each book.)

To continue with the “legacy” idea, I have Althea carrying on a tradition she had witnessed in the South where the wealthy landowners would host their children and grandchildren for brunch and tea on Saturdays. (This tradition is fictitious but again, I wanted to add another layer to the story.) The Gibbons family adopts this tradition and it becomes “Saturday brunch at Mama’s” where they connect as a family and discuss their gold-digging exploits. These scenes are where readers get to see the most interaction between the Gibbons characters.

Contemporary genre fiction can be spicy, entertaining, and sexy, but you can also add some depth by grounding it in history and specifically, African American legacy. I hope to do this again in the next series I’m working on now that I’m finishing up the fourth book in the Gibbons Gold Digger series. It will be exciting to see what traditions I can think of next.

Shelly Ellis

As long as she could remember, Shelly Ellis (who also writes under the name, L.S. Childers) has wanted to be a writer. In college, she studied journalism and started out as a crime reporter for a small local newspaper. Now she is an editor at a trade journal in Virginia.

Her fiction writing career began when she became one of four finalists in the BET Books First-Time Writers Contest when she was 19 years old. The prize was having her first short-story romance published in the book, All That and Then Some! She has since been chosen as a finalist for 2012 African American Literary Award in the romance category. Her first novel, The Right Maneuver, debuted in April 2011 and her second, A Love Built to Last, was released in November 2011 and nominated for the African American Literary Award in the romance category. Shelly started her new women’s fiction series with Kensington Publishing, the Gibbons Gold diggers in May 2013, with Can’t Stand the Heat.

She is married and lives in Prince George’s County, Maryland with her husband, their daughter, and their tabbie cat, Barty. She loves to paint, read, and watch movies. Her Twitter: @ellisromance. Her website:

African-American Sororities

Autumn has “fallen” upon us. This is the season that I associate with Homecoming season. When I think of homecoming season, I don’t just think of football games and parties. Actually, Greek fraternities and sororities come to mind. Since the focus of this blog is African-American women, let’s talk about African-American sororities.

What do African-American sororities have to do with historical romance? I’m glad you asked. I think reading about how these organizations came to be and the women who founded them would be a great help to any romance writers who want place their heroine in the earliest decades of the 20th century. The popular image of women in the 1910s and 1920s include flappers and legendary blues singers. But if you research the biographies of the founders of Alpha Kappa Alpha, Delta Sigma Theta, Zeta Phi Beta and Sigma Gamma Rho, you will discover a very different set of women. You will find ground-breaking educators, businesswomen and civil rights and women’s rights pioneers. Actually, the accomplishments of these women are quite remarkable when you consider their gender, the color of their skin and the time period into which they were born and came of age.

To find out more about these organizations, check out these resources:

African-American Fraternities and Sororities: The Legacy and the Vision
by Tamara L. Brown, Gregory S. Parks, and Clarenda M. Phillips

In Search of Sisterhood: Delta Sigma Theta and the Challenge of the Black Sorority Movement
by Paula C. Giddings

Finer Women: The Birth of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, 1920-1935
by Tilu Khalayi

The Divine Nine: The History of African American Fraternities and Sororities
by Lawrence C. Ross, Jr.

Disciplining Women: Alpha Kappa Alpha, Black Counterpublics, and the Cultural Politics of Black Sororities
by Deborah Elizabeth Whaley

I dedicate this post to my great-great aunt Dr. Florence Steele Hunt, one of the founders of Phi Delta Kappa. Phi Delta Kappa was founded in 1923 as sorority to promote sisterhood among African-American teachers.