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: http://shellyellisbooks.com/

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.

 

Do It Revolutionary Style

Brownie Harris/FOX

Brownie Harris/FOX

The Revolutionary War and the Colonial era in general have been on my mind lately. First, the new Fox show Sleepy Hollow debuted a few weeks ago. This delicious supernatural thriller, inspired by Washington Irving’s classic Headless Horseman tale, feels like a brand new horror flick each week. And I hate horror flicks. But the story lines make it so hard for me to stay away each Monday night. The flashbacks to the Colonial era and the Revolutionary War set my historical geek heart a-flutter. Then, there’s Nicole Beharie playing the lead character Abbie Mills. I absolutely adored her in the film 42, where she portrayed Jackie Robinson’s wife Rachel. I can’t wait to see how the sparks flying between Abbie and Ichabad Crane will play out in the long run.

Then, I read the novel Her Wicked Sin by Sarah Ballance a few weeks ago. (Yes, I purchased it.) When I saw that this historical romance was set during the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, I couldn’t download it fast enough. This author’s use of dialogue to establish the historical setting was awesome. I thought the first half of the book read like a dream. But when the heroine Lydia mentioned Tituba in the text, bells went off in my head: there are some African-American romances and women’s fiction set during this time period too! Let’s talk about them. (Yes, I purchased all of these books too.)

Midnight by Beverly Jenkins
ISBN: 978-0061547805
midnightThis historical romance novel is set in New England during the American Revolutionary War. It is based on the real life female spy Lady Midnight, who provided crucial information to help Colonists. Lady Midnight’s true identity was so well hidden back then that nobody can say for certain who she really was. So Beverly Jenkins figured that meant Lady Midnight could have been African-American and proceeded to write Midnight.

 

 

 

I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem by Maryse Conde
Translated by Richard Philcox
ISBN: 0-345-38420-2
titubaIf you are familiar with Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible, then you already know something about the real life Salem Witch Trials and the enslaved woman Tituba who was one of the accused witches. But did you that there was also a retelling of the story written from Tituba’s perspective? Thanks to Maryse Conde (and to her husband Richard Philcox, who translated the original text from French to English) there is. This was one of the very first books I was assigned to read in college. It blew my mind. It is more literary women’s fiction. However, there is a bit of romance in the very beginning of the story. It is worth the read. The hero left a strong impression all those years ago. My classmates and I all wanted to know where we could find a man like that.

 

Windward Heights by Maryse Conde
Translated by Richard Philcox
ISBN: 1-56947-216-5
winward_heightsI can’t talk about Maryse Conde and I, Tituba without mentioning Windward Heights. It starts in the middle of the Cuban War of Independence, right before the United States entered the fight. In the United States, we know these hostilities as the Spanish-American War. (Yeah, I know that was in 1898. But it’s still colonists fighting for their independence from another country, right?) This book is about a low-born man who returns to his childhood home, only to find that the girl he loved in his youth is married to the rich guy who lived next door. Sounds a lot like Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, doesn’t it? Well, that’s exactly what it is. Windward Heights IS Wuthering Heights, except that it’s set in the late 19th and early 20th century Caribbean, Heathcliff is African and Cathy is a mulatto. Intrigued yet? Good, go read it. (For the record, I hated Wuthering Heights and, to this day, have yet to finish the book. But I loved Windward Heights. Like a lot “loved it”.)

Have you already read any of these books? What did you think of them? Are there any Revolutionary War or Colonial era African-American romances or women’s fiction titles that I missed? Please share in the Comments.

 

What I’m Reading
369th_InfantryRight now, I’m working on my own historical romance set in the 1920s. The hero is a World War I veteran who served with the 369th Infantry, also known as the Harlem Hell Fighters. I wanted to know more about the 369th Infantry’s experiences during the Great War since I’m still getting to know this character. Through my internet surfing, I stumbled upon Harlem’s Hell Fighters: The African-American 369th Infantry in World War I by Stephen L. Harris. Ohmigod, ohmigod, ohmigod, this book is soooo good. Not only does Harris give you a detailed account of this Infantry from its beginnings as the Seventh Regiment of the New York National Guard, but you get an unexpected lesson on the early history of jazz in New York City as well as the city’s Draft Riots during the Civil War. My historical geekiness includes all things African-American musical history and the Civil War. I practically drooled as I read about the formation of their military band whose members included James Reese Europe, Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake. (Hardcore old, old school jazz fans know what I’m talking about.) This book is turning out to be an excellent resource for a number of historical events outside the scope of the Harlem Hell Fighters. I’m only halfway through it right now, but I highly recommend it.