author – activist – faculty – mom
So my freelance editor has recommended a couple of books for my final round of edits to my novel. One of them, Mine at Last, is a Kimani African American Harlequin Romance book. Here’s the cover:
So I’m trying to read it on the bart train, and I’m a little mortified at the idea of people seeing me reading a romance. But I’m also wondering why I’m so mortified when I don’t shame very easily (I’m a woman who’s performed in character as a sex bomb emcee wearing a blonde wig, high heels, and booty shorts).
I’m not anti-romance. I don’t mind a nice romantic subplot with my mystery or thriller or legal procedural or political drama. I have no objections to falling in love or people finding each other. For me, in a story, romance is like a condiment or a frosting. I just need some cake under that buttercream. I need a salad under that dressing. Category romances, where the main plot is the getting together of the two love interests, doesn’t satisfy me as a book genre. And yet, according to statistics from the Romance Writers of America, category romance book sales are increasing or holding strong as the literary industry struggles: “Romance fiction revenue actually increased from $1.355 billion in 2010 to $1.368 billion in 2011, and it remains the largest share of the consumer market at 14.3 percent.”
So women are reading these books. And I want my book to be commercially successful. So, according to my editor, I need to figure out how these books appeal to readers, how they get the audience to root for the relationship between the two lovers. Apparently, my initial approach–yeah, whatever, you know, it works out with the guy in the end, even though the protagonist spends most of the book busy doing other things, and can’t really be bothered–isn’t going to cut it. I guess my first job in reading this book is to confront my own conflicting values and unrealistic expectations. Somehow, I want mainstream success without conforming to mainstream expectations. Or only conforming minimally to mainstream expectations. Or being in control of which mainstream expectations I choose to conform to.
Ultimately, it reinforces my main goal with this novel experiment: how can I create a commercially viable book that satisfies my values? Can I conform to certain expectations in an interesting and innovative way. I’m really satisfied with the ways I have done that with the overall plot of the book and the way I handle sex in the book. Now it’s time to tackle romance. So if you see me on the subway reading a Kimani Harlequin romance, know that it’s research for my subversive feminist heist novel. And in a couple years when my novel comes out, if you like the way I handle the romantic subplot, you can thank the hunky doctor and the reluctant hospital administration consultant from Mine at Last.