In our first #OneWorld feature, and to celebrate International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples, we meet authors, Pamela Sanderson, Alex Powell and Wanika Fazekas.
Pamela Sanderson ~ Fighting Cliches.
I knew exactly what I wanted for the cover of my first urban Indian romance – my main characters, Henry and Rayanne, leaning into each other, just about to kiss. When I searched stock art for a native couple, it didn't take long to figure out I was in trouble. The selection was too limited and included a distressing number of feathered headdresses and buckskin miniskirts which were neither appropriate nor part of my tradition.
(Aside: Native American? Indian? There is no consensus on a preferred term. The Indians I know refer to themselves and other Indians, as Indians, and that, or Karuk, which is my tribe, are my preferred terms.)
I knew of a talented photographer from my tribe and tentatively hired her to create photos for my series. She was juggling child care and other obligations and ultimately had to drop the project. My next plan was to recruit my nieces and some of their friends, but I still needed a photographer. I decided I could do it myself, take a crash course in photography to get enough skills to produce usable photos for the cover artist. That plan collapsed due to issues of timing and finding enough models.
Next, I found a non-native photographer locally, but we still needed Indians who wanted to pose for us. Turns out a call for young native couples to model for romance novel cover art does not bring people running. As a last resort, the photographer and I discussed bringing in models who looked native but at that point it made more sense to save my money and go back to using regular stock photos. I love how the covers turned out but I'm disappointed I can't say they are native models.
I wish I could report that was the last of my setbacks – but the real challenge is always finding readers.
I got back into reading contemporary romance when I bought my first E-Reader. Discovering new favorites had never been so easy. But when I looked for stories about native people, the selection was as exasperating as the dismal search through stock art.
I am a citizen of the Karuk Tribe. Our territory is one of the most beautiful places on the planet, in the mountains of northwest California on the Klamath River. I am an urban Indian but I have had social, cultural, and economic ties to my native community my entire life. For my day job, I do legal work for tribes and tribal organizations.
So many of the books out there portray cliched versions of Indian people with generalized references to native culture. The main characters are native stereotypes and deal with overly simplistic problems, the kind of problems an outsider would come up with when imaging reservation life.
I suspect there are readers like me who are looking for authentic stories about native people.
Contemporary Indians get flat tires, dread going to the dentist, and get tongue-tied around potential love interests just like everybody else. Indian culture and tradition isn’t just ceremonies and teepees. Every day there are Indian people out there fighting to preserve their native languages, to control and sustain their natural resources, and to provide education, healthcare, and economic opportunity to their citizens.
I wanted to create complex native characters who deal with a variety of contemporary but real Indian issues: worrying about elders, wanting a voice in the way the media portrays natives, getting through college, repatriating tribal cultural artifacts, and making a difference in Indian Country.
And what else? Natives looking for a sexy sweetheart who "gets" them and hoping for a happily ever after. I failed at stock photos but I managed to create the Crooked Rock Urban Indian Center. Heartbeat Braves is the first book in the series.
Pamela's latest release is Crooked Rock Braves, book four in the Crooked Rock Urban Indian Center series. You can find out more about Pamela at PamelaSanderson.Com and on Twitter.
Alex Powell ~ Overcoming Challenges
My name is Alex Powell, and I'm an Indigenous author of LGBTQ+ romance. I love what I do, and even though there have been some interesting challenges along the way, I'm doing my best to overcome them.
I started writing creatively as soon as I was able to hold a pen. I love creating stories and worlds of my own, and it started as soon as I could string words together. The first story I wrote that got some attention was about racism! In particular, it was about anti-Indigenous racism. This was back in the early 90's, and even when I was five, I knew what was what. My story was about how a native child was being bullied and had a vanilla ice cream thrown in their face to make them “white.” It was my first activist piece.
I wrote a lot when I was a kid. I bounced between writing self-insert stories and trying to make up characters. However, when I made up characters, a lot of them were white, because that's what I was reading. Later, when I analyzed my own writing, it was interesting to see that my self-insert stories were more diverse than my original characters!
By the time I actually started getting published, I was writing more diverse characters. I had a friend tell me about a little indie publisher which was publishing LGBTQ+ stories, and I jumped at the chance. My first novella Across Borders was published later that year.
I think my main struggle was with my own writing and trying to improve. I am an awful organizer, so when it came time to laying out the plot, I struggled a lot. What eventually led to a vast improvement was going to grad school.
There is one similarity I noticed in both grad school and in romance writing, and that is a huge lack of Indigenous representation. I went to school to become a Master of English, and will likely continue on to do a PhD. I have so far met only three Indigenous scholars out of a university with about 500 graduate students. My department is entirely made up of white professors, which is something that definitely needs to change in the future.
The same problem has come up with the romance community. I have heard of Indigenous romance writers, but I have never actually met anyone who could claim to be Indigenous. I follow many many Indigenous writers on Twitter, but have yet to actually meet any of them in person! I find this situation very frustrating.
One thing that I find is a roadblock to Indigenous writers is the lack of support they get. I am lucky enough to have a huge amount of support, but many people lack it, for many different reasons. One of the biggest roadblocks is lack of funding, because as many of us know, getting started as a writer can be tough. So, if you want to support an Indigenous writer in your community, one of the best things you can do is to buy their work and recommend it to others.
I had some recent setbacks to my own writing career, and one of those is that the publisher I had many books published with went under. They managed to gracefully bow out, but that left my novellas without homes. I am currently trying to self publish some of those novellas and find a new home for the longer novels.
To newly emerging authors, I say don't give up! The struggle to get your work noticed is real, but if you keep at it, you can accomplish anything. If you want to improve your writing, all you can do is practice, practice, practice. Like I said, I've been writing for almost 30 years, and I still find ways to improve. And, of course, you can hit me up anytime to chat. If you want some community support, especially if you're a new Indigenous author, please get in touch. You can tweet or DM me on Twitter, which is where I hang out a lot of the time. I hope to hear from you soon!
Alex's latest release is Insanity Girls Redux. You can find out more about Alex at alexpowellauthor.com and on Twitter.
Wanika Fazekas ~ Princess, Mother, Author.
What can I say about myself… ?
I come from a long line of chiefs, leaders and even royalty (My great grandmother was a princess in the Aboriginal Tribe of the Shell people from the Esperance region in WA and her mother was a Queen) so that makes me a princess as well because my great grandfather was a chief of the Nyungara (Esperance Tribe which later became Nyungar). We are still leaders in our community, we want a better future for our people so, we look for programs for the families to do.
I am a mother of four children and have been married for 20 years. I started writing about 6-7 years ago. Being depressed, I needed an outlet and writing became a big part of my life. I used to paint a very long time ago, but I’m not as passionate about it. I enjoy escaping to another world for a little while.
I self published my first book Ella, which is no longer on the shelves as I’m currently refurbishing it (I know it’s not a house but I couldn’t think of another way to describe it). My second novel - Abandon is a paranormal romance novel, part of the Avalon Series. I’ve always been intrigued with these sorts of stories, that I thought “What if the bad guy wasn’t so bad after all” as I only ever read vampire stories.
I didn’t even try the traditional way after I submitted Ella to a big company and got knocked back. I was foolish because the book was edited by an editor and I put it up on the ebook channels anyway. I wish I knew then what I know now. I know, very cliché.
My advice for first time writers, is ask the big questions, don’t be afraid, there will be someone who is always willing to help. And know your tribe, seek guidance from them. Romance writers are always there when you need someone.
Wanika's latest release is Surrender. You can find out more at WanikaFazekas.com or follow Wanika on twitter.
Don't forget to check out our Indigenous book recs this month and demonstrate your support and love of diversity by doing what every author needs you to do so they can keep writing: READ THE BOOKS!