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GUEST POST: Thank You Beverly Jenkins By Funmi Baker

Thank You Beverly Jenkins

By Funmi Baker

@when_funmi_met_romance

4D61FFA4-3A38-4655-B302-B41C7C54A561The Lust & Found blog (@lustfoundreads) has done a wonderful thing. She created #JenkinsJuly. A wonderful month to celebrate a living legend in the genre of romance, Beverly Jenkins. She is my favorite author in the entire world. All month, I’ve been mulling over what to say about her works, or how to say it. One thing is for sure, I couldn't let #JenkinsJuly go by without adding my two cents.

 

I grew up wonderfully black. I lived in a black neighborhood. I went to black schools. I had a mother who could drown out my whining perfectly when she had a Sepia, Arabesque, Dafina, or BET book in her hand. She surrounded me with illustrated books of girls who looked like me. I went to Juneteenth celebrations. It was easy to be black. I never understood exactly how hard she was working to make me understand that my blackness is a positive thing. In many ways, I was sheltered. A black life was the de facto for me.  

 

I, like my mother, am a voracious romance reader. Living a one minute walk from the library, it was my key to worlds unknown. I became particularly enamored with historicals. In high school, I entered a world of dukes, barons, and earls. They were all very good but all very white. I never read into it because I was young. Black was normal. Black was everywhere in my life. I was simply reading for the joy of reading. Before I knew it, I had read hundreds of historical books about white people. I was in every history class at my high school answering all the white-washed questions. There was no AP history test I couldn’t pass. Now, my mom had noticed that my reading was white and my history knowledge was fairly white. She tried steering me toward the things she had been surrounding me with since I was a kid. However, I was a high schooler. I knew it all. She was a single mom with four kids and two jobs. She didn’t have much time to really sit down with me.  

 

So speed forward. I’m 18. I’m at Purdue University. For the first time in my life, I felt the weight of my skin. Now, I’m the only fly in the buttermilk. I’m the only black person in my major in years. I’m the only black person in my friend group. I’m the only black person in my classes. I’m isolated. I stopped reading altogether. I spent five years fighting to be seen as a person as I pursued higher education.    

 

When I graduated, I decided I wanted to live the blackest, BLACKEST life I could. I wanted to be unapologetic. I wanted the luster to return. So I returned to my favorite thing in the world--reading. This time, I wanted to see myself. I wanted to see brown happily ever afters. Kinky happily ever afters. Full-lipped happily ever afters. This is how I found Beverly Jenkins.  

 

637D76F4-F2C6-4AB5-B4C2-349EAAB1E096I ordered her book, BREATHLESS. I remember when the Amazon package came--I just stared at the cover. I was thinking, “Where have you been all my life?” I devoured that book. With my first adult paycheck, I ordered EVERY single historical title of hers. With the help of my mom, I consumed at a voracious rate every single Beverly Jenkins historical. I felt my soul warming with each word. The excitement, the sighs, the tension. I had never been more engrossed in my life.  The power of representation--of reading your culture’s love stories--is unparalleled.  

 

Not only was I reading some swoon-worthy things, I was learning. Before you know it, I’m checking out the books from her bibliography. I’m reading books on black women in the west and wealthy black business owners in Louisiana. I had no idea cowboys were not white. As I learn the history of my people, I find that I’m also learning about myself. When I look at black people, we aren’t just made of struggle and suffering. We are the product of love. We are the product of fighting. We are the product of WINNING.

 

Reading Beverly Jenkins books as an adult, I now understand what my mom was fighting to do. You have to understand your history, the good and the bad. Black people are amazing. Black women are awe-inspiring. There is not one Beverly Jenkins title that lets you forget that. We’ve been falling in love, fighting for our rights, and saving the day since the beginning of time.  

 

Thank you so much Beverly Jenkins. Thank you for restoring some color into a lost black woman’s life. Thank you for inspiring a journey of black knowledge that won't stop until I’m six feet under. Thank you for always showing Black Love.


What can I do?

In the wake of the #ritassowhite  and the growing awareness of how black authors are systematically discriminated against in the romance community, there has been a lot conversations about what we can do as readers and reviewers.  For all the attention we pay to the Ritas each year most readers, bloggers and reviewers are not and will never be RWA members. I am librarian member, which is a limited membership, that doesn't give me access to the forums or allow me to vote.  But the pronounced discrimination against Black and Indigenous writers at RWA and prejudice and exclusion of Authors of Color more generally is an industry wide problem.  As a reader, blogger, and reviewer I am part of that industry. I might be unpaid but I know that I am part of the industry, thus part of the problem.

You might be asking yourself, "What can I do?"

 

Track Your Reading:

Inspired by others, last year I started keeping a reading log, so I could get a better idea of how inclusive my reading really was. It is very easy to think one is reading inclusively because the white/straight default is so strong and nothing like hard numbers and charts to make you aware of how far there is to go.  This is the first thing I would recommend to readers who wants to do more.  You can't recognize patterns until you look at your data.  I would suggest you start simply. Just a spreadsheet with the books your read and a couple of categories you will want to track. My spreadsheet this year is more granular, but I didn't really know what I really cared to learn till I looked at the first round of data.

Evaluate Who You Follow:

When I first came into Romance I mostly followed white reviewers and authors. They were the biggest names, the most visible and the most retweeted. They had their books in the library and on the RITA lists.  And as a result almost everything I read was written by white authors.

Really look at who you follow, it matters. Do you have black bloggers on your follow lists?  Do you read the reviews of Black, Asian, Latinx  & LGBTQIA+ readers?  Do you follow their Instas? If you are not, it isn't because they aren't out there on their platforms. Their work is invisible to you because you haven't looked for them.   Once you find someone who is giving good inclusive recs, look at who they follow. We all influence each other. 

The big publishers have advertising and promo budgets, and access to us through their newsletter databases.  We've all seen how certain books are seemingly are everywhere, that isn't simply organic, that is marketing. If you are already an established author, that ARC is an easier sell to readers and reviewers, more likely to be coveted and talked about, more likely that folks with big platforms were approached and offered the book. Privilege builds on privilege.

 

Read Someone New:

We all have favorite authors, authors who are auto-buys, authors whose books we drop everything else to read. Our TBRs get crowded, and maybe you are mood reader, and prone to re-read binges. We can very easily let our reading be dictated by others. We want to be part of the conversation, read that hot book everyone else is reading. But I urge you to try a book a black author whose work you have never read before.  Make room for them on your reading shelf in between your favorites.

If you have a favorite-can't-miss tropes, you can search WoCinRomance's database for ideas, look at Girl, Have you Read's weekly new release list, or maybe try one of those three 2019 POC Rita finalists (Courtney Milan's organizing a virtual bookclub to do this: Romance Sparks Joy). If you are reviewer, sign up for Love in Panels/BawdyBookworms/Jenreadsromance's Diverse Romances Press List and get a monthly list of new and upcoming books by AOC and LGBTQIA+ authors.  Also if you didn't look at them in the past take a look at the #Rombklove prompt posts, as we tried to create diverse and inclusive lists for our prompts.

Reading and then talking about you read, leaving reviews is time-tested  and effective way to support authors.  Hopefully you will like me turn those New-to-Me authors into your new Auto-buy authors.

Recommend books by AOC to your Library:

 

Melinda's tweet reminded me of another simple action readers can take.  If you library uses the Overdrive ebook system or collects patron recommendations, take the time to suggest your library purchase books by authors of color.  Many people rely solely on their library collections and the diversity of collections varies widely. 


#RomBkLove August: Week 3: Independence

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#RomBkLove August: Week 3: Independence. What does Independence mean in Romance? Which characters seek it?  Who gets it? Who sacrifices it? Who makes sacrifices for it?

Romance at its core tends to be about Interdependence, about finding someone with whom to share life's challenges.  When Independence shows up as theme it is often in novels where the protagonist have a strong need to find their own path, often fighting to live their lives according to their own values and desires and often having to leave family and community behind in order to live a different kind of life, one of their own choosing.  

In Sweet Disorder  by Rose Lerner, political patrons are courting Phoebe for her vote and she is trying to secure the best deal for herself and her sister after her husband's death but it is in Nicholas's arc that we see a focus of independence.  Nicholas is a wounded war vet and writer whose over-bearing family is determined to override all his choices.  In the end, Phoebe and Nicholas's HEA hinges on both their willingness to make sacrifices to become independent financial and emotionally. 

In A Gentleman's Position by KJ Charles  For Richard and David to have their  HEA  they need to seek a different kind of independence.   In the previous books in the series both Richard and David had made themselves indispensable to their groups of friends, but that left little room for each other. In the end for their relationship to have to room to grow Richard needs to step away from the role he had given himself as the central cog in their friend's lives and Richard needs to trust that David's own judgement about his wants and desires.

n Lisa Kleypas's most recent novel, Devil in Spring, Lady Pandora is determined not to give up her independence and personal autonomy.  Being forced into a marriage even one that has the potential of great love and affection is the worst disaster that can befall her.  Throughout the novel Gabriel and Pandora must try to figure out how they can restore Pandora's independence. The book loses it way in the last third, but I had loved the heroine throughout the story and I feel in the end that they will be able to craft a marriage where she can do the things she wants, when she wants to and still have the benefits of loving partner. 

What novels and stories come to mind when you think of Independence? 


#RomBkLove August: Week 2: Adventure

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Who writes the best adventure romances? What are your favorites?

I really enjoy adventure romances. I tend to find them by reading Romantic suspense, SFR  or fantasy romance. I love how adventure plots often throw characters who would usually avoid each other in to close proximity. Force to work together for the greater good has a way of ramping up the hormones!

Here are some of my favorites: 

The whole Iron Seas Series by  Meljean Brook is high on adventure, how can it not when some of the main characters are air pirates fighting nanonite infected zombies? I love all these books but the Kraken King serial by Meljean Brook was fantastic. Giant sand monster, leaps for plummeting airships, who wouldn't want to read this!

Gunpowder Chronicles by Jeannie Lin. Most of this series is currently unavailable but I hope Lin republishes them soon. She did such fantastic worldbuilding in Gunpowder Alchemy, and adventure and tension in each story was phenomenal.

Kearsley's writing is most often described as lyrical and her novels as atmospheric but they are also full of adventure.  Her heroines are often pulled into stories and out of their own time, literally or figuratively. In the  The Rose Garden a grieving young woman visits a Cornish estate where she spent most of her childhood summers. As she wanders about the estate she keeps wandering back into time, where she meets and falls in love with man from the past whose rebellious activities might doom him to the gallows, but not if she can help it.

Radio Silence by Alyssa Cole After worldwide event has disabled the power grid and chaos ensues Arden and her best friend John, hike out Rochester to wait for help at his family's well-stocked cabin.  There Arden and Gabe, John's brother drive each other crazy and slowly fall in love as they try to figure out what happened to John and Gabe's missing parents.

Jill Sorenson is one of my favorite romantic suspense authors. Her Aftershock series is as much Adventure romance at it is Romantic Suspense. Two of my favorites are Island Peril and Backwoods. Both the books have a lot of action and fantastic heroines. If you haven't tried her books, do yourself a favor and check them out.

What books do you turn to for high-stakes action and adventure romance?

 

 

 


#RomBkLove August: Week 1: Summer Reading

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 This week I would love to hear from everyone if they read more or less in the summer, what they read (and if it is different than what they reading the rest of the year).  What books do you most associate with summer or holiday reading? What makes something a beach read? What are you favorite summer romances?

I am a teacher-librarian so while I read voraciously all-year round, I do have more time in the summer for reading and writing. I don't really change my reading for the summer. Other than having way more time, which results in more binge reads.  

So far this summer I've started making a dent in my ARC TBR, including a couple like Not Another Rock Star by Amber Belldene and  Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai, whose release dates I missed.  Rai's Hate to Want You is a good example of a book that is a perfect summer read for me. While some might want to read light fluffy stuff, I am better able to deal with emotionally intense books in the summer. I had to put down HTWY when I first picked it up in May because it was too overwhelmed with life and work (I was juggling work deadlines and the first incarnation for #RomBkLove) to read it with abandon. That wasn't a problem at all when picked it up last week and I read it in less than a day and I was as baffled as my friend Jessica was when she asked me how I had ever put it down.

As a reviewer I am also starting to receive a lot of the Fall and Winter releases. I actually have a Christmas anthology already in my queue, but I am not really ready to start reading it. I usually end up some diving into some of the RITA awards winners that I missed the first time around. However what I am currently reading is Ilona Andrew's Innkeeper Chronicles, which are set in an inn in Texas that serves intergalactic travelers.

So what have you been reading this summer?

I will be looking for your answers on #RomBkLove  and I would love it if you'd join us on Saturday Aug 5th at 4pm EST for the #readRchat about Summer Reading.

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Sexy #RomBkLove Day 1: Sex in Romance

 

Short answer: Yes

When I first started blogging about Romance I wrote out a whole explanation on why I read and reviewed Romance.  One of the issues I addressed in it was the sex because that is often the first thing so many people bring up to me either out of concern (isn't it porn?) or to ridicule (smut..hrr..hrr) when they learn I read romance novels.

What about all the sex?

What about it? Yep, I am a Christian, pastor’s wife even, and I have sex. Do you have sex in your relationships? Why then should it be absent from books focused on love relationships? Sure some of it can be quite smutty, some of it can be boring (tab A into slot b) but when it is done right, it powerfully exposes characters to the reader and I enjoy reading about it. Need, desire, vulnerability & acceptance are real human emotions, and should be part of sexual encounters and a skilled author will writes sex scenes with all of these. In the romance novels I enjoy the sex scenes that are revelatory not merely titillating and the author is not scared to portray sex honestly, allowing characters to engage in good, bad, okay, empty or meaningful sex. And finally, it can be educational. No other genre places such a focus on female desire and female sexual satisfaction and I really appreciate that. I grew up with little conversation on sexual topics beyond encouragement to be sexually pure and the vague promises of happy married sex if I held out that long. When I read Romance fiction I find the variety of portrayals of sexual desire and arousal to be life-affirming. It might not always be my thing, my kink, but it is a human expression of love and my own life is fuller for reading about it.

   I am really glad Jennifer decided to open with this prompt for this version of #RomBkLove.  For me there isn't one answer for too much or too little, open door or closed door, except that the sex needs to serve the story and the voice of the author or it quickly becomes boring or laughable.  If I find myself skimming through sex scenes, it probably means that the sex is interrupting the pacing of the story. And as many other people have mentioned in the thread today, it needs to carry the emotional through-line of the romance.


#RomBkLove Week 4: Journey

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#RomBkLove Week 4: Journey. Traveling can make or break a relationship. What are the most memorable character journeys you have read? What are your favorite road-trip/travel romances?

Summer Vacation begins this week for me.  Growing up almost all our vacations were road-trips of some sort or another. We would fly up to NYC, rent a car and sight-seeing up and down the East Coast.  These vacation adventures became fodder for family inside-jokes, which we still love to retell to each other, from the endless evening spent looking for an affordable hotel in Montreal to how we lost our dad's new hat somewhere between Boston and Niagara Falls and he was so mad he didn't talk to us for the rest of the day.  Traveling together can make or break a relationship.  That particular trip was the first one where we kids noticed that my parents marriage was falling apart. It was second-to-last family vacation and their last as a married couple.  But in Romance trips often throw couples together.

I love road-trip/travel romances so much that I keep a shelf of them Goodreads.

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Two of my favorites are  Joanna Bourne's The Forbidden Rose and Laura Kinsale's The Prince of Midnight.  In both these tales, danger stalk the couples as they get to know each other, and slowly see behind each other's masks while on the road together.

 

What are your favorites?

 

 

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Next Month:

Daily #RomBkLove returns!  Jennifer Porter (@JenniferRNN) will be hosting a sexy version of #RomBkLove tackling the tropes and conventions of erotic romance.  I'll retweet the prompt graphic when she is ready to launch it.   I won't be posting weekly prompts while Sexy #RomBkLove is going on, but I'll be back with more Weekly prompts in Aug.

Also on July 1st, I'll be co-hosting #readRchat's mid-year conversation on the Best Books of 2017.  Drop in to share which books you have loved so far this year. 

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#RomBkLove Week 3: Change

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RomBkLove W3: Change In what ways has the genre changed since you started reading? What change do you want to see in the genre?

I sometimes wish someone would put out a Mindset List for romance.  As someone who only started reading romance in the last decade, I am short on historical perspective. There are things that define my experience as romance reader, things that I take for granted that are still suspicious newfangled innovations for people who have been reading romance for 40+ years.

If I were to write a mindset list for myself it would include some of these statements:

  • Romance has always been digital
  • Self-publishing has always been a thing.
  • Covers have always featured headless torsos or inanimate objects
  • Social media like twitter and fb have always dominated romance fandom.
  • Erotic Romance and m/m have always been a subgenres

But in these short decade I have also seen a lot of change. I've seen several publishers crash and burn, many more be absorbed into large publishing empires. I have seen trends come and subgeneres rise and fall in popularity (Bikers, Billionaires, Massive Box Sets, Serials...).   Hard to know what changes will stick or where they genre is going next. I do know that I love the Diverse book movement and the greater visibility of #ownvoices books and authors in the romance community.  There is still a lot of change needed in the way Romance portrays the stories of marginalized people and how it recognized voices that are not white-cis-het but I'm in awe of the work by LGBTQ, Black, Asian,and Latino authors to bring their stories out despite the foot-dragging of gate-keeping editors and reviewers.

What changes big and small have you noticed in Romance since you started reading? What changes are needed or wanted? 


#RomBkLove Week 2: Discovery

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RomBkLove Week 2: Discovery

How do you find new books? Who do you trust for recommendations? What are you looking for?

Romance readers probably struggle with this more than most other readers because of our voracious reading habits. Romance is also a huge genre and it incredibly easy to get overwhelmed and lost in a sea of choice.

I did not have a trusted friend or a treasured aunt slipping me a book to read next when I entered Romancelandia. First I exhausted my library's ebook collection, reading anything that was remotely interesting and plenty who were not all good. Then I stumbled into madly googling for read-a-likes as I tried to figure out what kind of reader I was.  I found Dear Author and Smart Bitches, and gorged on their old-joint podcasts and then followed them on twitter, and through them I started picking up rom readers and reviewers to follow. Eventually I learned the language of tropes and helped search for books for effectively. Knowing what kind of story worked for me helped me find more stories like it.  I also started following the authors I liked, and reading the books they recommended.

And this is where things are both really great, but also very sketchy.  Overall I have loved a lot of the books I read because of author recs. But not every author is judicious with their recs and early on it was hard to distinguish a true enthusiastic rec from a friendly promo exchange.   Not every sale retweet is endorsement based on actual familiarity with a book. After stockpiling too-many of these "bargains", I stopped click on most of them, unless there was a trusted review backing it up.  I still click on author recs, but I am way more selective to who I listen to.  

Right now I think I find 95% of what I read through Twitter. Over the years I have found many fellow readers whose opinions I trust. They have become my trusted circle for recs. They can convince me to read a book in a way that beautiful graphic, 1,000 five-star reviews or hashtag filled tweet cannot. I also have certain tropes or premises that trigger my interest. If I see them in a review I perk up, and investigate. 

 So how do you discover new authors and books? Where do you go for book rec? How was that trust established? What are you looking for?