Is It Okay to Ask?
This month we ask authors what are the more awkward and intrusive questions they've been asked when people learn they write romance. You don't want to miss this! And having read the responses we got, we have to wonder, is it okay to ask those questions or is it crossing a line? You tell us!
It took a long time to land my first publishing contract. A decade and a half. I know; mind boggling. Take a moment to absorb that.
There were times when I tried to give up. I’d put away my research notes, stuff my unsold manuscripts in a drawer and pack up my Word Processor. (Yes, Word Processor. Take a moment to absorb, too.) But then I’d wander into a bookstore or a library, and the fire to tell my stories would quickly reignite and burn almost painfully. There were characters that I needed to move out of my head and into their own spaces so that they could tell their stories. Stories with messages about not judging people and not letting other people define you. So I’d go home, dig out my research notes, pull out my unsold manuscripts and plug in my Word Processor. Years passed. More rejections arrived, but I couldn’t. Stop. Writing.
One day, I was lamenting with a friend about my long and disappointing Road to Publication. We’d known each other for years and I’d shared with her the ups and downs of my journey. About a third of my way into my tale of woe, she turned to me and asked, “Would you consider making your characters white if it would give you a better chance of getting published?”
My mind went blank. Not because I was considering her suggestion but because I couldn’t believe she would make it, and here’s why. I passionately believe that we need greater diversity in books. I feel called to tell stories about people who are similar to me and not just in skin color. Characters who share a similar past, one that determines the words we use and the way we interpret the words of others. Stories featuring characters whose experiences inform their actions and reactions. I believe strongly in the Super Powers of Books, one of which is the ability to break down barriers. I believe that it’s only by publishing diverse stories that we can support that Super Power and bring diverse communities together.
For those reasons – and so many more – when my friend asked, “Would you consider making your characters white if it would give you a better chance of getting published?” My response was, “No.”
The most outlandish request I’ve ever gotten from a reader happened at a book signing. The question—would I autograph a body part?
I quirked a smile and waited for the punch line.
My immediate next thought: Oh, *insert favorite swear word here*, she’s serious!
Being a romantic suspense reader kicked my imagination into high gear. I made note of the location of her hands in case she was about to pull some random dismembered body part from behind her and schlep it onto the signing table. All clear there. Blood splatter? Nope. I scanned her face for any signs of medication. She looked perfectly sober.
So, I did what any writer would…I smiled, shrugged and told her that I was game as long as she understood I was holding a permanent marker.
We both laughed.
She held out her arm. I sighed relief that it wasn’t some other random and much less discreet body part.
I signed it and, as far as I know, it hasn’t washed off yet.
I was having a swim in the condo association pool when one of the residents cornered me between the wall and the ladder. She's known as local color because her behavior always borders on the bizarre. That day was no different.
She told me that she understood that I was a published author. I admitted that I was and that was the last word I got in as she proceeded to explain her problem. She had been unable to secure an agent or editor, or perhaps she had not yet tried or perhaps she needed help on where exactly to send her masterpiece because she had an idea so fantastic, that she was certain they would want it.
Eventually, finally and at last she got to the point of her capture. "Could you send my manuscript to your editor because I'm not sure where to start with selling my book?" Worse still the manuscript had not even been started. I explained that no editor would accept an idea from an author and that there was no way around writing the book without knowing if they would buy it. Well, that seemed like a lot of trouble and a possible waste of her time. She wondered who would write a book before they knew if they could sell it?
I don’t know if people really understand the life of an author until you’ve heard some of the questions we’ve been asked that people feel they have every right to ask.
I guess I would say the most memorable of them was when someone sent me a message saying they read my book and they wanted to know why it was in the multicultural/interracial category. The person claimed that because none of my characters were of mixed race, that disqualified it for that category. Needless to say, I was slightly confused. The book he was referring to had an interracial couple as the two main characters which is they very definition of an interracial novel. The only thing I could do in that case was to direct the person to the definition and thank them for reading the book.
And while that was probably my most memorable question, my most asked is if my books are based on real life. Being that I write romance and women’s fiction, this question can sometimes get personal. When someone asks this, I’m thinking, ‘Do you mean the sex or the plot?’ because those are two totally different things. And I also think, ‘Are you referring to all my books, or one in particular?’ because that makes a difference as well. And though I’m thinking these things, I usually just smile and say, “I try to write what I know,” and then observe the either confused, or sometimes envious, expression on their faces, the latter of which always pleases my husband if he’s around.
However, there is something that tops this all and it didn’t even happen to me. It happened to my husband, though I felt it important to share to show that not only are the authors subject to these questions. My husband, the salesman that he is, told some of his co-workers to go check out my books. They did. But as other people sometimes think, they thought my ‘fiction’ novels were based on real life events. And while they sometimes are loosely based on real life, in this case they weren’t. But that didn’t stop three women from asking him did he cheat on me with my sister after reading one of my women’s fiction novels.
Thankfully he’s a good sport, and we had a good laugh, but it shows no questions are off-limit
Check out Carla’s latest novel as part of the Decades: A Journey of African American Romance project in 2018. For more information about her writing, check out her website, and follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
I’ve become accustomed to readers asking me what inspired me to write interracial/multicultural romance. What caught me off guard about the question I’ll be discussing today was the personal nature of the inquiry.
'You’re married to a black man.' So far, so good. 'Why do you write stories featuring black women who fall in love with non-black characters? '
Hold up, wait a minute. This reader must be a Facebook friend because Mr. Awesome wasn’t at this conference, yet his image had kicked off some serious inquiry for moi.
Honestly, I’m unsure where the reader was going with the question. Let me explain my confusion. I pondered the question before I responded. I asked myself whether she was questioning my legitimacy to craft a diverse character because I’m a black woman married to a black man. Fair question? Maybe, maybe not. Or was she asking, why I choose to write stories that celebrate the complexities of falling in love across cultural and racial boundaries?
If it’s the first question, I don’t have to share a cabin, you catch my meaning, with Captain James T. Kirk to write a futuristic, sci-fi, time-travel novel about a caucasian hero with a multi-species crew. Why do you read a diverse cast of characters in a Siera London book? My stories feature people of different races and socioeconomic backgrounds because that’s the world I see around me. Black, white, Native American, Samoan, Hispanic, Asian, wealthy, poor-you’ll get an array of issues and perspectives in all my story worlds.
In general, I believe writers are intrigued by humanity. Few things hold my attention more than the gritty underpinnings of human interaction. I study the choices people make, their reactions to conflict, and then I create order, in the form of a story, from life’s chaos. Storytellers are the social historians of our time, capturing the subtle, and sometimes, drastic changes of our society through fiction literature. In a nutshell, I’m inspired by the world in which I live, not just the life I live.
Siera's latest Claiming Jenna is out now. Check out her website and follow her Facebook , Twitter and BookBub
“So are you into that kinky stuff?”
Hi. My name is Bridget Midway. I write erotic romances. I’m probably best known for writing contemporary interracial BDSM erotic romances. Some of my books include Love My Way, which is about a BDSM Dominant looking for a submissive through a reality TV show, Woman In Chains about a former Dominant who saves abused submissives, and my latest release, Prince Harming about a contemporary royal prince who is also a BDSM Dominant.
The topics, admittedly, are offbeat and scandalous. You put what is perceived to be an oppressive, degrading, and abusive lifestyle in romance, and interracial romances at that, with the expectation that readers will dig it. In order for me to change the perception that the Lifestyle isn’t any of the negative things I previously mentioned, I characterize it as what it is: a practice of heightening sensations.
Because I write about this topic and can get very graphic with BDSM scenes and details, readers at events will often look at me and then my boyfriend and ask, “So are you in the Lifestyle? Are you two kinky?”
No-one has to ask me why I write interracial romances. They see my boyfriend and they know. Honestly, even if I wasn’t with him, I would still write those types of romances. Romantic fiction is meant for readers to use them as an escape. It’s supposed to paint a wonderful picture of what’s possible. Illustrating people falling in love without regard to race is not only romantic and real, it’s possible and shouldn’t be seen as taboo.
The same goes for a BDSM relationship. People are attracted to the Lifestyle because it offers them freedom. As a Dominant, you have the freedom to assert your will, which may be something you are unable to do in other aspects of your life, like at your job. As a submissive, you allow someone else to “drive” your life, so to speak. If you’re a CEO of a major corporation and all eyes are on you to make tough decisions daily, maybe you want someone else to take over. You want to be told what to do, how to do it, and when to do it.
As an author, my job is to portray my characters accurately. To do that, I did a lot of research. I aligned myself with a local BDSM group and asked lots and lots of questions. I’ve attended BDSM conferences and sat in on some pretty interesting workshops. I even have hosted in-person BDSM book events. I have one called Royal Pains on November 3rd and 4th to Williamsburg, Virginia. During the event, I’ll have people who are in the Lifestyle, both Dominants and submissives, talking about their lifestyle to attendees.
By researching my materials, I’m able to lend some authenticity to my work. Perhaps that is why readers believe I am in the Lifestyle because it comes off so real. Is that any reason to ask about what I do behind closed doors? Not necessarily.
There are plenty of authors who write BDSM who live the Lifestyle 24/7. They are very open about admitting that when asked. I’m of the ilk that good authors will “write what they know.” That also includes doing research.
To answer the question, am I into that kinky stuff? Not that I need to answer it, but the answer is no. Do I respect people who are in the Lifestyle? Absolutely. They’re living their truth.
Now I wonder how many times Stephen King gets asked how many people he’s killed in real life to portray it accurately in his books.
Check out Bridget's website for more information!
Awful things romance authors get asked:
"How do you research the sex scenes hurr hurr?" (get this all the damn time) and/or "So are you, like, really into watching men?" and/or "Do you watch a lot of porn?" (I usually just go with, "Wow, inappropriate" and stare at them.)
Other joys: "Are you going to write a real book one day?" I already write real books. "I mean, a novel."
I already write novels. "Oh, you know. Not a romance..."
"Do they give you the story in advance?" Who is this mysterious 'they' and how do I get in touch with them, because that sounds great.
"Oh, romance? You mean like Fif--" No.
And my all time favourite, conversation with a man, obviously: "Oh, you're an editor for Mills & Boon? They give the plots to the writers, you know, all worked out, and the writer just types it up." No, we don't. "Oh, they do. I read something about it." I work there, and I can assure you we don't. "No, it was an article. They give the authors the plots." 'They' is me. I work there. We do not give authors plots. I know more about this than you because this is my job, so you are going to have to take my word for it, okay? *folds arms* "I'm sure I read that."
Check out her KJ's website for more information on her books and follow her on Twitter
Meeting readers and being interviewed weren't things I'd put much thought into when I became a published author. Partly because I was just so damn thrilled to have sold a book, partly because I'd never met an author face-to-face prior to being published and mostly because I'd never considered myself all that interesting. So, suffice to say, I was totally unprepared for what came my way.
Now, if you've ever met me, you'll know I'm not shy. I like talking to people and listening to what they have to say. It's all grist for the writers mill, after all. And for the most part, the people I've met have been lovely. That hasn't, however, stopped them asking questions which, at best made me hesitate or at worst, stopped me dead in my tracks.
Some of the classics were as follows:
'Oh, you write romance. That's nice. But they're not real books are they?' Erm, yes they are. Lots of people buy them. 'Do you think you'll ever write a real book?' They are real books. They're in bookshops and libraries and have pages and covers and everything. 'Yes, but you'll write a proper book one day, right?' (And at this point I usually smile, because there's no reasoning with stupid.)
'Do you make much money doing that?' Some people do. (Honest, if somewhat evasive answer, I thought) 'But can you make a living at it?' (At that point I was writing full-time, so yes) I do okay. 'So, how much do you make?' (Seriously? Do they need to see a royalty statement?) I can do a break-down of percentages on cover price and EBooks and the like if it's something you're considering doing yourself. But that might take a while... How long have you got?
'You're not exactly writing a classic romance like Jane Eyre, are you?' (I was asked this in a radio interview and considered it a gift from the literary snob who was doing her damndest to make me sound stupid) Well, you know not many women would consider a relationship with a guy who tries to become a bigamist by marrying you while his crazy wife is locked up in a tower much of a romance these days. 'A Mills & Boon author once said her heroes had to be capable of rape, is that true of your heroes?' (Another radio interview and listeners couldn't see me rolling my eyes) And, there it is. That famous quote from forty years ago. There's been a change of century since then, so no, my heroes aren't potential rapists. Readers are supposed to like the guy. Not want him locked up or castrated.
'Oh, you write those bodice ripper books?' I can honestly say a bodice has never been ripped in one of my books. 'Don't you wish you'd written that Fifty Shades book?' Nope, not my thing. 'Bet you wish you'd made that money though?' Well yes, that would be nice and more power to her, I say. But still, not my thing. ''You could churn one out, though, couldn't you?' (grits teeth)
'Do you base all the sex scenes on your own sex life?' (I'm always stunned when people ask this, cos how would they feel if a complete stranger asked them about their sex life? However, patient soul that I am, I simply laugh as I reply) I wish!
Trish's latest book is Mostly Married. To keep up to date with what she's doing you can visit her website or follow her on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
Do you have any questions you've been asked that you'd like to share? Do you think it's okay to ask an author these questions? Let us know in the comments or use #Isitokaytoask and join the #PHS #ViveLaDifference discussion on Social Media.