A Response to Kelli Collins

Well…at least ours wasn’t the book you liked the least. That’s something. Though I *am* sorry we made you give in. We’re like sirens that way. ;)  It’s my hope women never feel ashamed for reading our books, however, our the romance genre at large. Whichever emotions a book makes you feel, shame definitely shouldn’t be one of them. Many thanks for giving us another try, and much luck in finding books you love!
Kelli Collins
Ellora’s Cave

Dear Kelli Collins:

I am surprised that in the vastness of the blogoshere you came across my article on Elia’s Diamonds at all. I was somewhat humbled to see an editor in chief pop in there.

I realize that you may have approached my critique with good intentions and I understand that you were trying to be politely humorous in your response but I am really, really not amused with the romance publishing industry at all. This issue is not “cute” to me, and it wasn’t Ellora’s Cave itself that made me give in, so don’t get too full of yourself. I mean, if you were starving, wouldn’t you eat the things avaliable to you that don’t fill you up but keep you from dying? If you’ve only ever known a lover who doesn’t fulfill you but is the only person you can be intimate with, wouldn’t turn to them time and time again before realizing that they just can’t give you what you want? Maybe, maybe not, but these are working metaphors for my relationship with with publishers like Ellora’s Cave.

Because you really are like sirens and I think you should stop to wonder why it is you keep crashing people’s ships on the rocks, leaving them to drown, then thinking that it’s somehow funny.

Ellora’s Cave nor can any publisher please every single person. Please don’t think that I don’t understand that. Not every single book I’ve ever read from Ellora’s Cave has been a complete waste of time and simultaneously many of the titles under Ellora’s Cave have constantly reminded me that there is a deep-seated issue in the romance publishing industry and the industry at large. There’s plenty of reasons why I can say that that it but something tells me you’re not interested.

At one point, it was my dream to be published by a company like Ellora’s Cave when I was in high school. But the more I read, the more I realized that it’s a business and people don’t seem to care what they’re printing as long as it sells.

I know, I know. Don’t like it, don’t read it–the golden rule. But I sure wish exposed writers and publishers alike would, I don’t know, do something more than what I’m having the misfortune of stumbling across.


Taviante Queens

Elia’s Diamonds

A Not So Romantic Experience with the Romance Genre

One of the first romance novels I ever read, in addition to Julie Garwood’s The Lion’s Lady, was Silver Angel by Johanna Lindsay. One of the most painful things I have ever experienced and continue to experience to this day is the way Black women are portrayed as minor characters and stepping stones to white heroines in romance and beyond. I’ll never forget the African princess in Silver Angel. She is sentenced to mass rape by the palace guards when she spits in the sheik’s face for opening her clothes and feeling her breasts when she is brought in to be “sampled” for his harem, like a slave on an auction block or a piece of meat at the market or a cow to be bought. Maybe she was sold to the sheik by her own people or kidnapped—who knows. All I remember experiencing, in her brief appearance, was this feeling of complete and utter worthlessness, that people can do anything to Black women and no one cares.

I suppose I should have felt happy that the kidnapped white girl heroine traded her own freedom in order to save the African princess from such a fate. Now all I think, sarcastically, is this: “Oh, didn’t the white girl look so noble, saving the African princess like that—kudos for her. Oh and look! She got seduced and found a husband in the process (though she was never in any real danger because he wasn’t going to let anything happen to her anyway)!”. (I feel like I can’t even properly explain the whole thing without talking about the white characters for the background story. The guy in the story is part-Arab, of course *rolls eyes*, and his twin brother is a sheik while he himself is a nobleman in England. He has to pose for his brother for a while because there’s some danger and encounters an English woman who has been sold to the sheik as a concubine. The African princess is encountered when he has to choose women for himself from among the new meat, so that he’s not touching his brother’s women.)

It’s not so much an issue of white writers being deliberately cruel. I view them as willfully ignorant, but the real issue is the fact that Black women/people are minorities in representation and in influence/power and/or they’re tokenized in white people’s writing.

This is a very painful experience for me, one that I live with every time I crack open a book, and I had a hard time writing this down. It is something I experience again and again, reading works from white writers where people of color are mostly exotified, eroticized, brutalized, and only appear as minor characters if they appear at all. People of color are the splash of brightness, the background for white writers to prop up or paint their imaginations onto. Mostly, we’re just props to them.

Reading work from writers of my own race, on the other hand, is different challenge in and of itself along with everything else.

For real,


The Man of My Dreams

Elia's Diamonds

I think the romance genre is full to the brim with damn-near carbon copies of male-sexed characters. Personally I feel the need to do something different with my writing.

There’s a difference between writing ‘unrealistically’ (like corny, sexist, and/or overdone romance novels, half-baked or overcooked heroes, powerplay and cliche male characters, etc.) as opposed to conceptualizing realistically and idealizing a little. Its called originality.

None of my experiences with most men have been very positive. I admit that right off. Growing up in a single-parent household with my mother and two other siblings and not having met my father until I was eighteen, I believe, has prevented me from having one of those super daddy’s girl complexes and that it has disillusioned me to idealizing men romantically and seeing them as heroes or the means to my completion. I think I’m better to myself for it and I’m definitely not sitting on my ass waiting for some man to come and ‘complete me’. (Although sometimes I trick myself into thinking it would be nice from time to time–fleeting fancy.)

Its not that I don’t believe in soulmates; I believe that two or more people can be more together than they are apart and it seems like some folks are just destined. I also believe, on the other hand, that there aren’t many people who actually need someone else to make them whole–they just think they do because that’s what they’ve been taught, especially young women and girls. Look at Sex in the City as a pop culture reference, which is totally several seasons of a group of white middleclass women looking to be ‘completed’.

As a artist who writes romantica, I believe that maybe the only reason the same type of men exist in such a quantity in the world and in literature is partly because we keep writing, acting, and speaking them into existence. If that’s only true in the smallest way, its still true. For writers, maybe if we ‘conceptualize’ realistically, as opposed to replicating archetypes of male-sexed characters, we can ‘sort of write them into reality’ in more of a variety.


Maybe this is just to airy and intellectual! This is all coming to me as I begin to write more gender queer male characters that I find very beautiful and attractive physically and in terms of personality and spirit.


Still lost? I’ll be brief then.

‘Man’ usually means something very specific and limiting. Maybe if we loosen, or dare I say, lose the concept of a ‘man’, we can move towards presenting a person, a human being, with a full range of emotions and experiences.

I think an ideal like this changes romance as we know it. Maybe romance writers are completely portraying male characters realistically but why should people with broader tastes than the usual brawny man-aristocrat-sensual-lover cutouts settle for the stuff the market is feeding us?