Star Trek

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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Very Inspiring Blogger Award

very-inspiring-blogger-award

Anne Lange nominated me yesterday for the Very Inspiring Blogger award, which is all nice and shiny just above. Anne’s first book, WORTH THE RISK, is available right now from Etopia Press.

Of course, winning such an award comes with responsibilities as well. I’ve got to post the plaque (there it is, above), tell you all 7 things about myself and choose 15 more people to receive the award after me. I don’t know that I’ll get to 15 people tonight, but I promise you’ll get as much as I have to offer.

Seven Things About Alexa

1. I got an A+ in high school English for writing a racy sonnet about Verona. My teacher said he didn’t care about the content, so long as we got the form right. I bet he didn’t say that to the following year’s class.

2. I’m a total geek, especially with regard to Star Trek. I paid full theater price to see the most recent movie in IMAX. Three times. I don’t think I’ve paid full theater price to see another movie since, although I considered paying to see The Hobbit in IMAX just to see the long trailer for the next Star Trek movie.

3. Losing my job in November 2011 is the best thing that’s ever happened to me. Had I not lost that job, I wouldn’t have discovered bartending as an alternate career path. I also wouldn’t have finished my novel, ILLICIT IMPULSE, which is coming soon from Ellora’s Cave (plugplugplug).

4. If I could live anywhere in the world, I’d choose Shanghai. If you restricted me to living inside this country, I’d pick New York City.

5. I can probably recite Blazing Saddles.

6. If I could travel backward in time to anyplace in my past and live there forever, I’d choose my third year at the University of Virginia. High school was over, law school hadn’t happened yet, and just about everything was right with my world.

7. There are at least three knitting projects in progress at my house at any given time.

This has been fun! Many thanks to Anne for nominating me. I, in turn, nominate the following people:

Denise Golinowski

Nara Malone

Madeline Iva

Sofie Couch

Leah St. James

Tracey Livesay

Nancy Naigle

Tina Glasneck

Enjoy the trip! And don’t forget to sign the guest book.

In Praise of the Bad Boy

He’s not Mr. Wrong. He’s not a garden-variety jackass. And while he may genuinely be a good man, he is nobody’s Mr. Nice Guy.

He’s a bad boy. Lots of women love him, and lots of men want to be him. But I don’t think we really understand the bad boy. If we did, I think we’d stop thinking of him as some stranger who sweeps into our lives from somewhere else, and we’d start seeing him everywhere. Even in the boy next door.

So who is the bad boy? That’s a difficult question. To get a better look at it, I think we should look at some exaggerated examples from higher literature.

The bad boy is determined.

If the bad boy appears to flout society’s rules, it’s because he has something that matters to him more than society. Let’s look at an example from sci-fi history: Khan.

What do you mean, who? Well, would you recognize him if I said, “KHAAAAAAAAAAAAN!”

This is the short version of the story. Captain James T. Kirk picked up Khan and some genetically engineered folks who took over the Enterprise. When Captain Kirk took back his ship, he punished Khan by “placing” him and his people on Ceti Alpha V. He basically said he thought Khan was really cool and that they’d had an interesting time together and that there was no one in the world like Khan.

Then Captain Kirk disappeared and never called. I know. That doesn’t sound like him at all, does it?

After Ceti Alpha V was devastated, there was nothing else for Khan to do there but sit around and think about how much – how very, very much – he hated Jim Kirk. You just know he recited that “’round Perdition’s flames” speech over and over again under his breath. All his genetically engineered buddies had probably memorized the Tale of How Jim Kirk Stuck Me Here and Then Blew Me Off. So when that glorious day finally came, and Khan could get off Ceti Alpha V, Khan’s agenda only had one thing on it.

Khan could have rolled right up on Jim Kirk and taken him out. It could not have been hard to find Jim Kirk with a ship full of people under mind control. In fact, he hung nose to nose with Jim Kirk and could have taken him out with an hour or so left in the film. But his vision is to make Kirk suffer. As the film develops, you watch him pass on easy solutions in favor of methods that bring him closer to his goal. Khan’s willing to destroy people’s minds and bury folks alive and rip off shiny new technology and blow up property and alienate those closest to him — and kill a few people — on his way to making Kirk suffer. The action builds and builds and builds, until Khan finally gets exactly what he wants.

A bad boy picks a goal and sticks to it, come hell, high water, or Ceti Alpha eel. Nothing else matters. People can’t take their eyes off that electricity.

The bad boy thinks big.

The idea of realistic goals has no meaning for the bad boy. He’s more about going big or going home. Or going big and then going home with you. He doesn’t have to worry about failure because he isn’t going to fail. Failure is for other people.

For my money, no one thinks bigger than Lex Luthor. They just don’t build them like that any more.

In the original Superman movie (I’m a purist, and I think this is the only Superman movie), Lex Luthor breaks the supervillain mold. His mission is to make big money in real estate, but he’s not just going to flip houses or start showing properties or anything like that.

First, he’s going to buy up lots of California desert. Then he’s going to knock the California coast into the sea, which would make his property the new California coast.

He recognizes that he needs a big tool for a big job, so he rips off a nuclear missile.

He recognizes that Superman can stop one nuclear missile, so he rips off a second.

He knows that Superman might still find a way to stop him, so he rips off some kryptonite.

From there, it’s just a simple matter of putting the kryptonite around Superman’s neck, launching the missiles in opposite directions, and watching the fun. It’s crazy to think that one person could cause havoc on that scale all by himself, isn’t it? But Lex Luthor’s giant plan almost worked. If he hadn’t fallen into the trap of associating with the wrong people, Lex would be a very wealthy man now, once he ducked responsibility for killing Superman.

But it never occurs to Lex to go for a smaller – or legal – idea. He considers himself the greatest criminal mind of all time; why should he go for smaller? Even with Superman against him, even after repeated setbacks, Lex sets great big goals for great big rewards. Why should any of the rest of us dream small?

A bad boy doesn’t think less is more. If less is actually more, wouldn’t all of it be even more than less is?

It’s never a bad time for the bad boy.

No matter how things might seem to be falling down around the bad boy, unless his life is in immediate danger, he will find time to have sex with his woman. At the very least, he’s thinking about having sex with his woman. To illustrate this, I turn to one of my new favorites in the bad boy family: Ben Zajac from Boss. (You can even watch the first episode online for free.)

Let’s illustrate it for real. Go look at him. That’s nice, right?

Ben is trouble. He’s not as ruthless as Tom Kane is. In fact, Tom Kane put our golden boy on his knees (not to do anything, just to make a point), which I didn’t think I’d enjoy until I saw it. But Ben is still trouble.

As much as he has on his plate, though, Ben is never too busy to have sex. I think it’s safe to say that Ben is at least theoretically interested in having sex with you. Yes, you, reading this in the real world.

Oh, you don’t think so? To determine for certain whether Ben Zajac wants to have sex with you, take this quick, two question test.

  1. Are you female?
  2. Can Ben see you?

(Don’t be so quick to say ‘no’ to #2. Sometimes Ben can see women who are immediately behind him, so there’s a chance he can see you, all the way out here.)

If the answer to both questions is ‘yes,’ then Ben wants to have sex with you. That’s why he’s crowding you a little in the elevator. That’s why he’s looking at you like that. He wants to have sex with you. Like right here in the hallway. With people around.

Last week, on the second season opener, Ben is all stretched out in bed, rocking a pair of boxer briefs (whoo hoo!) and listening to his wife describe how worried she is about the way Tom Kane is starting to push him toward the margins of power. When Ben sees that his casual efforts to reassure her are not working, he gives her a little smile that says, “Oh, I see. Does Daddy need to turn that frown upside down?”

Now this is not the same as that patronizing attempt at comfort we’ve all seen before – that “let me distract you from something you should be worried about because I don’t know what to do about it.”

This is the gesture of a man who is so confident about what’s going to happen that he can stop for the pause that refreshes.

A bad boy tells his woman, “Hey, I got this.” He looks her in the eye and really, really means it. And then he turns that lady’s frown upside down.

So … is the boy next door more of a bad boy than you thought? Do you think he knows he’s a bad boy? And what do you plan to do about it?