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.

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.

Destiny’s Surrender & So You Think You Can Write Contest

destiny_surrenderWhat an exciting week in the world of African-American historical romance! I have some exciting updates for you guys. First, the new Beverly Jenkins historical romance came out last week. It is the California-based follow-up to Destiny’s Embrace. It features the second Yates brother Andrew.

I devoured Destiny’s Surrender in two nights. I’m not sure how to talk about this latest heroine Billie without dropping spoilers. This young lady is not your typical romance heroine…which you will learn the second you open the book. In first page, first paragraph, first sentence, this woman is literally screaming, “Hello, world! This is me.”

It is hard for me to pick just one favorite historical romance heroine. But I think Billie would rank pretty high on that list. Who would you pick for your historical romance heroine(s)?

 

For those of you who follow the world of publishing, you already know that Harlequin’s annual So You Think You Can Write has begun. I was so excited to see the submission from Piper Huguley under the Love Inspired Historical line. The title to her inspirational African-American historical romance is The Preacher’s Promise. It is about an Oberlin College-trained teacher in Reconstruction era Georgia and the local preacher. You can read chapter 1 here: http://www.soyouthinkyoucanwrite.com/manuscripts-sytycw-2013/the-preachers-promise/#comment-166463

If you like it, help Piper move on to the next round by posting a comment. You can learn more about Piper Huguley on her blog All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes: http://piperhuguley.com/about/
(Disclaimer: I know Piper in real life. I had no input on her contest submission. My first time reading it was today, on the Harlequin blog, after she submitted it.)

That’s all I have until next week. I’ll be talking about the new Sleepy Hollow television show and Black romances and women’s historical fiction set in the Colonial era.

Countdown to the Next Beverly Jenkins novel: California

Happy Birthday, California!

California became the 31st state on September 9, 1850. In Beverly Jenkins’s historical romance novel Destiny’s Embrace, I learned that the word “California” comes from Queen Calafia, ruler of a fictional paradise populated by Black Amazons. (Sounds a lot like the Wonder Woman origin story to me.) So that means the state is named after a black woman. Who knew?

In honor of today being California’s “birthday,” I decided to highlight the published African-American historical romance stories and women’s fiction set in the state. You didn’t think Destiny’s Embrace and Destiny’s Surrender were the only ones, did ya?

Kissing The Captain by Kianna Alexandra. http://authorkiannaalexander.com/  ISBN: 978-1466208377. A sweet novella featuring an African-American heroine and a Spanish sea captain hero. Set in 1879 California. Available in paperback and ebook formats.

The Preacher’s Paramour by Kianna Alexandra. http://authorkiannaalexander.com/  ISBN: 978-1475034875. A sweet novella featuring a sassy African-American heroine and a preacher hero. Set in 1880s California. Available in paperback and ebook formats.

(I believe that Kianna is working on 1-2 more stories set in late 1800s California.)

Dark Sun Rising by B.L. Bonita. http://www.bonitasromance.com/dark-sun-rising.html  ISBN: 978-1-61921-163-6. An erotic interracial western novella set in an 1800s California mountain town. Available in paperback and ebook formats.

Virgin Soul by Judy Juanita. ISBN: http://www.judyjuanitasvirginsoul.com/book/ . Historical fiction set in 1960s San Francisco. A college-aged woman joins the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. Available in hardcover and ebook formats.

 

These were the only African-American historical romances that my helpers and I could find. If you know of any others, please post the title and the author in the comments.