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Diversity’s Never Looked Quite Like This

I’ve always written interracial romances featuring a black heroine. I’m like a lot of romance writers, in that I wanted to read and write about a heroine I could identify with. For years, I avoided reading romance altogether because I didn’t feel represented there. I might have stayed away from romance if it hadn’t been for law school. One of Mom’s friends sent me a couple of romances in a care package. I was so desperate to read about human beings and just enjoy the story, without the pressure of facing The Paper Chase the next day. I finished the first one very quickly and had to slow down and savor the others.

I still didn’t feel represented. But I was interested in what romance had to offer.

When I started reading romance, it looked like black women appeared in only two capacities – as the Sassy Black Friend, helping the heroine get the guy, or as the “exotic Creole” character. I was never clear on whether the Creole character was actually black. She always had dark hair and dark skin, but I always wondered why the author didn’t just say she was black, if she was in fact black.

I wanted to see – and, okay, maybe to be – a black heroine at center stage of her own romance novel. It wasn’t enough to help someone else get the guy and then be relegated to the end of a series (if she was lucky) with the only other black character in the books. I didn’t want to have to guess whether the heroine was black.

And that’s when I started thinking about writing romances. I had always written stories and I’d always wanted to write for publication. I just didn’t think I’d do it with romance. After all, I didn’t see anyone else publishing interracial romances, although I know now that there were a handful of them out there, scarce as hens’ teeth.

Then Sandra Kitt changed everything. The Color of Love is the romance novel I needed to see. The heroine is definitely black – she’s not olive-skinned or Creole – and she is definitely center stage. She and the hero, who is white, overcome the obstacles separating them (race-related and otherwise) to arrive at the end of the book with a declaration of love and a marriage proposal. I’d never read anything quite like it.

The Color of Love came out in 1995, so it was around when I got to law school. I just didn’t know about it. Once I found it, though, the game changed again. If she’d been published with an interracial romance (and Sandra Kitt has more than one such story out there), then I could do it, if I worked at it hard enough.

When my first novel, Illicit Impulse, comes out in three weeks, it will enter a very different world. I never thought I’d see a world with so many interracial relationships in books, television and movies. Interracial romances have long since made a place for themselves in electronic publishing, but TV and movies seem to be seeing the light, too. Finally.

I was the nut who stood up and cheered when Uhura kissed Spock in Star Trek. (Go easy on me. I’d been waiting YEARS for that.) I’m happy to see James Bond continuing a 40-year tradition of getting his swirl on. I was almost delirious with joy when ABC had two (three if we consider Grey’s Anatomy) well-established interracial relationships in prime time scripted television, although I miss 666 Park Avenue dearly now. Better still, television executives aren’t playing up the fact that their characters are falling in love across racial lines. These are just characters with their own needs and wants and dreams and problems. They just happen to be of different colors, and that’s the sort of romance I love the most.

I couldn’t be more excited to enter this field now, when the market exposure is growing. I’m part of a steadily growing audience, composed of people seeing these relationships for the first time and people who are saying “about damn time.” The sky is the limit now. I already know there are more interracial relationships on TV than I can keep track of. I claim the next book as my excuse, but I hope I can keep up with developments.

In the meantime, I need to make plans to see Skyfall.

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