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.)

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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: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AmZ4GQGc3C_9dGZkYVU5dXN3N1Bnd0FXYWdhY1JLdlE&usp=sharing

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 http://www.rsjconference.com/about/ for all the latest detail.

Update

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.

 

Kaia

Denise McNair, Carol Robertson, Cynthia Wesley, Addie Mae Collins, and Sarah Collins

“We could not let little girls be killed…” – Diane Nash, SCLC

4_Little_Girls50 years ago today, on September 15, 1963 in Birmingham, Alabama, a bomb erupted outside of the 16th Street Baptist Church, killing four African-American girls who were in the basement bathroom preparing for the youth Sunday program. This event breathed new life into the Civil Rights movement and was the spark that ultimately led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965.

Denise McNair was 11 years old.
Carol Robertson was 14 years old.
Cynthia (Morris) Wesley was 14 years old.
Addie Mae Collins was 14 years old.

I take the time to write out their names because many have fallen into the habit of calling them “the four little girls.” For the longest time, I didn’t know who these young ladies were. I only knew that four little girls had been killed in a bombing. It wasn’t until I saw Spike Lee’s documentary “4 Little Girls” that I knew anything about their individual lives.

We need to know their names. We need to remember their names. We need to speak their names. And, we need to know the stories behind the names in honor of their parents, siblings, family members and friends who have had to endure life for these last 50 years without their loved ones.

However, I’d like to see a fifth name attached to this significant event. This name I had not heard before today:

Sarah Collins. She was 12 years old.

Sarah_CollinsWho is Sarah Collins? She was the fifth girl who was in the bathroom that Sunday morning. She’s the one who survived. Intrigued? Here’s the link to her story: http://sarahcollinsproject.com/the-story-1.html#.UjYlN06Dnfw.twitter

I think it’s a shame that it has taken this long for Sarah Collins’s (now Sarah Collins Rudolph) part in the story to get any attention. Her omission from the dialogue reminds me of why I take the time to write about African-American women’s history each week. There’s a tendency to focus on the sad and unfortunate aspects of the history. I think it’s time to focus on the triumphs. Putting those triumphs into a romance novel is a good way to do that.

Image of Sarah Collins taken from the The Sarah Collins Project website.

Countdown to the Next Beverly Jenkins Novel: 4 Weeks

destiny_surrenderIn case you didn’t know, Beverly Jenkins is known as “the premiere writer of African-American Historical Romance.” And her next release Destiny’s Surrender is coming out on September 24. That’s in 4 weeks. Squee!

Since the release date is so close, I wanted to reminiscence on my favorite Beverly Jenkins historical romance novels. Notice I said “novels” plural because there is no way that I could ever pick just one. There are two that standout as near and dear to my heart: Topaz and Night Hawk. Why these two? Dixon Wildhorse and Ian “Preacher” Vance. <intentional, dramatic pause> Ooh-wee! They might be the best-est-est heroes ever.

The “cute meet” in both of these books are what grabbed me. But, there’s nothing cute about how these men first meet their heroines. However, both of those scenes had everything to do with hawt and sexy. Don’t worry, I’m not going to give away what happened in either of these scenes. I wouldn’t want to ruin it for any of you Beverly Jenkins virgins out there. But, I know all you die-hard Beverly Jenkins veterans KNOW what I’m talking about. <brushing the dust off my shoulders Dixon Wildhorse-style>

The genius of how these heroes were introduced and crafted goes back to my post about African-American heroes from a few weeks ago. These men are shown as protective, authoritative and holding their own during a racial tense time. Both stories are post-Reconstruction era Westerns. You have to remember that this time was known as “Redemption” in the former Confederate states. It was not an easy time for African-Americans to exert their fairly new rights and to establish themselves to post-slavery life.

But anyway, back to the romance. I’d love to hear from others about their favorite Beverly Jenkins novels, heroes and heroines. Go!

Call For Submission: Cowboys!

Call For Submission: Cowboys!

Hey aspiring historical romance writers!

Gwen Hayes, Editorial Director of the Scandalous historical romance imprint at Entangled Publishing, is looking for cowboy stories set in the mid-to-late 19th Century (think post-Civil War years).

Are you feeling inspired yet? Jump start your research with the following resources:
Anything written by William Loren Katz. He has 7 books about the African-Americans in the Old West. Here’s the link to his website and his booklist: http://williamlkatz.com/books/blackwest/

http://blackcowboys.com/

The African-American Historical Romance Hero

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African-American historical romance authors have a unique challenge in crafting the Black male hero. These alpha males must be subjected to dehumanizing experiences at some point to keep the story true to the historical settings: slavery, bounty hunters, lynch mobs, segregation, and limited employment opportunities just to name a few. Even if the hero in the historical romance is not African-American, he still has to navigate these obstacles to get to the Happily Ever After (HEA) with the woman he loves. It is a wonder that authors are able to find ways for their male characters to keep their dignity and still be sexy.

My current work-in-progress is set during World War II. Right now, I’m working through how to make my hero feel and act like a “man” in a world where there are limited job opportunities (even with the war production boom) and even fewer meaningful assignments given to Black men who enlisted in the military at that time. I can only imagine how difficult it must have been to live during those times. Even Jackie Robinson, the first African-American to play in Major League Baseball, faced court martial for refusing to give up his seat and move to the back of a bus in what is now Fort Hood, Texas. (This was in 1944, a decade before Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott.) Robinson was member of the decorated 761st Tank Battalion that distinguished itself during the Battle of the Bulge. Robinson never made it to Europe with his Battalion due to the court martial.  

The movie “42”, which depicts how he broke the color line in baseball, shows glimpses of how hard it was to maintain his dignity while trying to provide for his family and be a loving husband. (Sidenote: I would love see to a romance novel that fictionalizes how he and his wife Rachel got together. The chemistry between those two was burning up the screen.)

However, it is possible to show these men as loving providers despite the horrible realities of their times. My favorite example is the Nikki Giovanni short story in the Best Black Women’s Erotica anthology entitled “Bring On The Bombs: A Historical Interview”. In it, Giovanni describes how her African-American hero comforted and protected his woman with a prejudiced mob outside their home, threatening to bomb it for her Civil Rights activism. Woo-hoo!

Feel free to share your favorite stories and/or scenes that show how our men could be “men” in the face of prejudice and tragedy.

Works Referenced:
Giovanni, Nikki. (2001). “Bring On The Bombs: A Historical Interview.” Best Black Women’s Erotica (anthology). Cleis Press:  San Francisco, CA.

Vernon, John. (2008). “Jim Crow, Meet Lieutenant Robinson: A 1944 Court Martial.” Prologue Magazine. Spring 2008. Vol. 40, no. 1. Retrieved from: http://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2008/spring/robinson.html

Cover image used courtesy of Prologue Magazine, Quarterly of the National Archives and Records Administration, retrieved from: http://legacy.stripes.com/baseball/article7.htm

What Is African-American Historical Romance?

This summer, I began compiling a list of all the African-American historical romance novels I could find. This was not a solo project by any means. A special shout out goes to Beverly, Erica and Shantal, three very special ladies who spent their free time surfing the internet for all things African-American historical romance and Black women’s fiction in general. Together, we have found 154 titles so far.

However, I was surprised by the types of questions that came up as we created this list:

  •  Should we include titles written by non-African-American authors?
  •  What if the hero is African-American but the heroine is of a different background?
  • And, what if the neither the hero nor the heroine are African-American but the author is, as in the case of Francis Ray’s Regency The Bargain, Vanessa Reilly’s inspirational Regency Madeline’s Protector and Mallory Malone’s Devil’s Angel set in medieval Ireland?
  • What if the historical portrayal of African-American women is controversial, like The Help, or even offensive?
  • Which time periods are considered historical?
  • What if the novel is a love story that was not “historical” at the time it was written, like Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God?

These questions forced me to consider exactly what type of book is considered “African-American Historical Romance.” For example, Beverly Jenkins’s historical titles are no-brainers. She is an African-American author writing about African-American heroines and African-American/ multicultural heroes. But for the other scenarios, it’s not so clear cut. I personally prefer stories that depict an African-American woman falling in love. And, I would consider a setting as late the Black Power Movement to be historical. But there are so many other good books that fall out of that narrow definition.

What is your definition of African-American historical romance? What types of books would you like to see featured in this space?