Jeff & Will kick off a special two part series focusing on the Black Love Matters essay collection. For this episode, Black Love Matters editor Jessica Pryde, and romance author and essay contributor Adriana Herrera discuss their essays and the importance of being able to see yourself get a happily ever after in a romance. Jessica also shares why she wanted to put this collection together and how she curated the essays. They also discuss what the future may hold in the ongoing efforts to create a diverse romance genre.
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Here are the things we talk about in this episode. Please note, these links include affiliate links for which we may make a small commission at no extra cost to you should you make a purchase. These links are current at the time the episode premieres, however links are subject to change.
- Ripped Bodice State of Racial Diversity in Romance Publishing Report
- Jessica Pryde & Adriana Herrera Interview
- Jessica Pryde website | Twitter | Instagram | TikTok
- Adriana Herrera website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | TikTok
- Black Love Matters: Real Talk on Romance, Being Seen, and Happily Ever Afters edited by Jessica P. Pryde
- Jessica Pryde on Book Riot
- When in Romance Podcast
- Well-Read Black Girl by Glory Edim
- Beverly Jenkins on Amazon
- Margo Hendricks on Amazon
- S04.10: Beverly Jenkins: a Trailblazer Episode on Fated Mates
- Piper Huguley on Amazon
- Finding Me: A Memoir by Viola Davis
- American Dreamer by Adriana Herrera
- Finding Joy by Adriana Herrera
- A Caribbean Heiress in Paris by Adriana Herrera
- Vanessa Riley on Amazon
- Dahlia Rose on Amazon
- J. J. McAvoy on Amazon
- Da’Shaun Harrison on Amazon
- Christina C. Jones on Amazon
- Bloom Books website
- Sourcebooks website
- Girl, Have You Read website
- Monica Ahanonu website
- Isabela Allende on Amazon
- Gabriel García Márquez on Amazon
- Mario Vargas Llosa on Amazon
- Dirty Girls Social Club by Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez
- Honey and Spice by Bolu Babalola
- You Made a Fool of Death With Your Beauty by Akwaeke Emezi
- Witchful Thinking by Celestine Martin
- On The Hustle by Adriana Herrera
- The Hellmouth Guardian’s Lover by Adriana Herrera
- Villain I’d Like to F… by various authors
- Find Selected Books from this episode at Bookshop.org and support a local bookstore
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast Links
This transcript was made possible by our community on Patreon. You can get information on how to join them at patreon.com/biggayfictionpodcast.
Jeff: Coming up on this episode, we’re discussing the “Black Love Matters” essay collection with the editor Jessica Pryde, and romance author and essay contributor Adriana Herrera.
Will: Welcome to episode 399 of the Big Gay Fiction Podcast, the show for avid readers and passionate fans of queer romance fiction. I’m Will and with me, as always, is my cohost and husband, Jeff.
Jeff: Hello, Rainbow Romance Reader. It’s great to have you here for this first of two episodes where we will be discussing the “Black Love Matters” collection.
Will: Now, before we get into that, just a quick reminder that if you’d like to get book recommendations from us delivered to your inbox every Friday, you can sign up for the Rainbow Romance Reader Report. It’s a great companion to the show and a fun way to learn about new and upcoming releases. To sign up, go to BigGayFictionPodcast.com/report.
Jeff: Now, you know, we’ve talked at various times, particularly over the past few years about diversity in romance. Diversity and the representation and inclusion that comes with it is why we wanted to focus on the “Black Love Matters” collection and present this two episode series.
I don’t think I’ve marked up a book as much as I did this one, which I have to say isn’t the easiest thing to do when you’re listening to audio, to be able to hit that little bookmark and leave a quick little note on what you liked about that particular segment. In this book though, it’s difficult to go more than a couple minutes, or couple pages, without coming across a passage that’s thought provoking, and that often comes with a range of emotions from sad to joyful to being outright pissed off about the state of the world and how people perceive and treat each other in some cases.
This feeling is captured right at the start of the introduction, written by “Black Love Matters” editor Jessica Pryde. She wrote how, for her eight-year-old self, she decided that the final scene in the Whitney Houston, Kevin Costner movie “The Bodyguard” was actually their kiss on the tarmac. As Jessica wrote, and I quote here, “I might not have thought about it this way then, but I was giving Rachel, giving myself, a happy ending, one that I could be satisfied with as a burgeoning devour of love stories. And the fact that it was a Black woman I was giving the happy ending to, in such opposition to the other media I’d been exposed to and would continue to experience for the next few years, was no small factor in needing to see that happy ending.”
Now, representation has improved in media since “The Bodyguard” came out in 1992, but it’s still nowhere near where it should be. And when you look at romance books, reviewing the most recent data from the Ripped Bodice’s “State of Racial Diversity in Romance Publishing Report,” in 2020 and 2021, only some 12% of romances were written by BIPOC authors and released by leading romance publishers. While that’s up from 8.3% in 2019, it’s still not reflective of the number of BIPOC people in the US. And we suspect, though we have no data, the number of BIPOC authors in queer romance is quite less than 12%.
Now, beyond the book world, while there is more representation for persons of color, it often doesn’t come without backlash. Just this year alone, there’s been disheartening controversies made about a Black actress playing Ariel in an upcoming Disney live action version of “The Little Mermaid,” which comes some 25 years after Disney gave audiences a Black Cinderella with Brandy as the princess in a film that also featured Whitney Houston. Similar controversy has come from the diverse cast featured in recent “Star Wars” movies and TV shows, and the new Amazon Prime series based on “Lord of the Rings.” This all demonstrates we have a long way to go across the media landscape, and in the real world too.
We firmly believe that everyone deserves to see themselves in a happily ever after, as an action hero, as royalty, a mer person, an adventurer in space or middle earth, or hey, depending on the story, a character who embodies all of that at the same time. And if you’d like to write that story, let us know, ’cause that’d be a pretty cool book. And we hope since you’re here with us, that you believe in all that too.
Will: So while a collection of essays isn’t something we would normally talk about here on the show, Jeff and I both read “Black Love Matters” and absolutely loved it. It’s got a lot of really important, insightful things to say and we wanted to share that with you as a way to encourage you to give this book a try. We hope that hearing us talk about it, and hearing Jessica and Adriana talk about what they’re so passionate about, that’ll give you some time to reflect on how you choose what you read.
All that being said, I wanna make sure that you know “Black Love Matters” is more than a bran muffin. You know, something that you consume because it’s good for you. Not only is this collection educational, but it’s also really funny and, like I said before, very insightful. It talks about where the romance genre has been, where we are right now, and where we’re going in the future, which are all things that we are very passionate about, something we talk about every single week here on the show, ever since episode one back in 2015.
Jeff: And now let’s dive into our conversation about “Black Love Matters” with Jessica Pryde and Adriana Herrera. Jessica talks about why she wanted to do the collection, and they both discussed the essays that they wrote. We also dig into why representation matters, and the difficulty that can be had in finding books by Black authors.
Jessica Pryde & Adriana Herrera Interview
Jeff: Jessica and Adriana, thank you so much for being here to talk to us about “Black Love Matters.”
Jessica: Thank you.
Jeff: Jessica, I wanna start with you just for some introductions. Please, tell our listeners who you are in case they don’t know already.
Jessica: Sure. I am Jessica Pryde. I am a contributing editor at Book Riot, and the co-host of the “When in Romance” podcast. And I edited and contributed to the book, “Black Love Matters.”
Jeff: And Adriana, you’re certainly a return guest for us, but let people know who you are in case for some reason they haven’t read one of your books yet.
Adriana: I am Adriana Herrera and I write romance, and I was also a contributor to the essay collection, “Black Love Matters.”
Jeff: Jessica, tell us a little bit about how this book came about and kind of the moment that triggered the idea for the essay collection.
Jessica: Sure. The moment that I always go to is when I was reading “Well-Read Black Girl” by Glory Edim. And it’s a really great collection, sort of like “Black Love Matters,” of a lot of Black women authors and other people sort of talking about the moment they saw themselves in fiction. And I was like, “Nobody in this book is talking about romance.” And I’ve been a romance reader before I should have been reading romance. So, I sat there thinking like, what if there was something like this or something similar, where maybe not everybody was talking about the moment they felt seen, but just what it’s like from the Black experience of being involved in the romance universe. So that’s sort of how it came about.
Jeff: How did you select the authors you wanted to have come along? Because you’ve got such an impressive lineup in this book. There were certainly a lot of people that I’ve heard of, but then, you know, others that I hadn’t as well,
Jessica: It was a bit of a mix between sort of looking at whose books I was enjoying and who I felt had a unique perspective. And then people that they recommended.
I needed to get the frightening one out of the way. So the first person I contacted was Beverly Jenkins, Ms. Bev. And she actually recommended Margo. So it sort of spiraled from starting with a small group and then building out, figuring out where the gaps were in experiences or points of view. So it was really fun because, you know, not everybody I reached out to said yes, but they were all like, “This is great. I hope it works out and best of luck, and I look forward to reading it.” And then I would sort of build out from there too.
Jeff: What brought you into the collection, Adriana?
Adriana: Jessica. She invited me. And I think…I mean, I think Jessica, because she is not just really aware of the romance…like romance happenings, is also very attuned, being a Black woman herself, to who is out there writing romance about people of color, Black people, in particular. So she had a pretty good sense of who A, was writing it, and B, had a lot of opinions about it and from a particular point of view. And I think that’s why she ended up with such a good group.
I think we all were really coming in with a really particular point of view and it really gave… I mean, I think it’s just the beautiful thing about doing things like that for this, for romance specifically, because I think people who don’t read romance, who aren’t in romance, just don’t have a sense for the scope and the depth and the knowledge that there is, and the thoughtfulness, and intention that there is in writing romance for a lot of the people who are writing it today.
Jeff: And I like what you said, Jessica, about, you know, getting Ms. Bev, essentially, first, to get that big one out of the way. So much knowledge and history sits with her. Our friends over at “Fated Mates” had her on for one of their trailblazer episodes, and just listening to her vast experience and knowledge and understanding and passion for the genre was just wonderful. And, you know, her essay too, the first one in the book after the introduction, it sets such a stage.
Jessica: Yeah. I couldn’t imagine starting with anything besides her. Like, basically, I’m gonna tell you a story about Black romance and how it came about, and it reads so much like she’s just sitting across from you telling you about this stuff. And it felt like the best place to start because… I mean, it’s definitely a hook, it’ll get you in there.
And then to just move from there to the rest of the purview was just a great way to go about it. And she put so much in it. I had to actually go back to her with the essay that she gave me and was like, “This is great, but where are you in here?” So we had to go back and forth a couple of times to just remind her, “Yes, you can tell us about everything else that was happening, but you were in here too, you were a huge part of the history of Black romance, so drop yourself in there a few times.”
Jeff: Did you give the authors any guidance on ideas for topics or things you’d like to see them write? Or was it more organic of, here’s the broad topic of Black love matters, what would you like to write?
Jessica: It was a mix of both. Like with Adriana it was like, I mean, you have a very particular point of view, you are one of the few authors writing romance from the Afro-Latinx point of view. You have all of this experience. And then I learned a whole lot more about Adriana. And some people we had to sort of sit down and discuss which area of their own experience.
Like Piper Huguley, who wrote a really excellent essay, particularly about the Black male hero. But, you know, we were also talking about whether she might want to bring in inspirational romance and all of that. And there are people who are like, “I could do this one or this one or this one, which one would you prefer?” And then others were like, “This is the story I’m gonna tell, here it is.” So it was very much…basically, I said, “Go for it and come back when you’ve got something.” And then we went from there.
Jeff: Tell us a little bit about what you wrote for the collection because you’re actually in there three times between the introduction, the post-script, and the essay that you’ve put into it.
Jessica: Yeah. The introduction was actually the hardest to write because I wanted it to be approachable and not…since it’s the first thing anyone’s going to be reading or listening to. It’s like, this is coming from the… I didn’t want it to sound lofty or too much inside baseball for the average person who was reading about romance. I had to cut out a lot of stuff about RWA and that kind of thing. But I was really glad that I could still sort of set the scope in the introduction.
But then when it came to, I wanna write an essay about this too, what on earth am I going to write about? And I had been thinking a lot about interracial romance just on a huge scope, not just as far as what I wrote about in my essay, which is how Black woman, white man, interracial romance is sort of taking over diverse romance of most kinds in traditional publishing. And I really wanted to sort of dig into that, especially as someone who is in an interracial relationship as a Black woman with a white man, just how I have to traverse that personally, but also as far as the book universe goes.
Jeff: And Adriana for you, how did you pick what you wrote? Because you’ve got one of the most profound bits in the book, in my opinion.
Adriana: Yeah. I mean, I think, again, I think Jessica and I were on the same page that what I could bring in is that I am someone who is kind of in a space that kind of gets lost in the cracks of, you know, blackness in general. It’s, like, I’m Latina, I’m from the Caribbean, I come from a place that speaks Spanish, and I am also Afro-descendant. So I am Black. And to me, I had to kind of think about my own sense of my blackness in terms of representation and seeing myself represented because I grew up watching telenovelas and I talk about how telenovelas, in particular, have a pretty important role in my life, in general, in my family’s life because it was my dad’s business.
And also because I grew up watching telenovelas, but also…I mean, yes, representation in terms of there were Latin people, but there were no people that looked specifically like me, and then how that translates into my experience as a reader and a romance reader specifically. And then kind of my journey as a romance reader once I moved to the U.S. and kind of saw my own blackness in a different light, and how that reflected into what I began to read.
So yeah, I feel for me, it was kind of a layered…it was different layers of my experience as a romance reader and my consciousness around representation, I think, was a lot of what was in that essay in terms not just of representation in terms of books, but love stories because telenovelas are romances, it’s just they’re, you know, television. And in my sense of where I could fit into those stories as my full self, as a Latina, and a Black woman, and an immigrant, and a person who is bisexual, and all those things together. And that was kind of the place where I kind of just slipped through the cracks.
Jeff: And the representation is exactly what struck me so much in your essay because you have this passage, you mentioned what you just said that telenovelas was your father’s business, it was also your mother’s business, they were in it together. But you mentioned, at one point in the essay, that you wondered if your mother and father would’ve had…if they had seen themselves more in the telenovela romances that they were putting on the air, that it would’ve helped their own HEA. And I don’t know if people think about how seeing yourself even in an entertainment fiction program or a book, how that can impact your real life and the relationships you have.
Adriana: Yeah. I mean, I think about that a lot actually, because obviously, I’m a romance writer, so I think a lot about romantic relationships. But I think about my parents, and my dad…specifically, my dad was a really dark-skinned man who was a lot darker-skinned than I am. And he was, you know…this person was a very successful businessman. And his business was romantic…like he knew…he could watch the first episode of a telenovela because he would go to these big trade shows, and he would watch, you know the pilots, and he would decide if he was gonna buy it or not.
And my dad knew it was gonna be a hit, right from the first episode. And just thinking, like, someone who consumed this much romance for decades and not once did he see someone that looked like him in any of those telenovelas. And he knew exactly what a great romantic hero would be, right? Like, just from watching the 30-minute kind of pilot. And I think a lot about consuming so much of that and then never seeing your reflection once, how that has to impact your ability to see yourself as that person.
Viola Davis said this…I was watching her in an interview recently for her autobiography, and she was talking about you have to see tangible evidence of your dream. You can’t just hear about it, but you have to see it physically or read about it so that you can experience what your dream is. And I think about that a lot with my dad and my mom.
Jeff: It’s interesting how you could be around romance all the time, but not seeing yourself can matter.
Jeff: Jessica, you mentioned leaving RWA stuff out of the introduction because you didn’t get too much into the nuts and bolts. But certainly, some of the RWA discussions is where Will and I started to hear so many stories of people. And something that stuck with me from a meeting that they had at RWA 2019, where the board were hearing different things about diversity and letting people kind of talk out loud, the membership.
And one of the things that struck me, somebody stood up and said that they had, you know, gotten a lot of pushback from some readers because there was a Black woman in the book who was a scientist. And the readers were like, “That’s not believable.” And it struck me as like, “Really? How is that not believable in 2019?” And, you know, there’s more reference to that kind of thing in this book, and especially how people read critically. How do we move past that kind of lack of understanding of where we live today?
Jessica: I think part of it is just keep throwing it at people. That’s the only real way that…you know, throw it, throw it, throw it, and hope it’ll stick like spaghetti eventually because, you know, even Ms. Bev talks about, you know, 20, 25 years ago being approached by a white reader who told her that she didn’t know that Black people fell in love the same way that white people did.
So we’ve still got those readers that we have to get through to, or not. Like, sometimes it’s just like you have your…you have your 95% of romance, if you really want it, you can have it. But, you know, for people who are reading and not realizing the amazing communities, the amazing abilities, the amazing just, like, lives that Black people, in particular, have.
Carole’s essay was all about sort of, like, Black community, and infrastructure, and working together, and activism, but in a very insular way because that is how we have learned how to work and live in the United States in particular. And sort of letting people visit that who aren’t Black, who don’t share that experience, might expose them to some understanding of how not different from them we might be. But gosh, the idea that someone doesn’t believe that a Black woman could be a scientist, I don’t know if there are people who have those kinds of concepts of how people are and how the world is that we can actually get through to. So, I don’t know if I answered your question, but those are the thoughts that came through.
Jeff: Margo Hendricks touched on a similar concept in the, “How a Black Author Found Her Romance History” essay as well, because there’s certainly a lack of understanding of, you know, how Black people, persons of color, queer people existed in the Regency, well, really in all of history. I mean even coming through the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s of the 20th century. And Adriana, you write through multiple timeframes, you know, between the contemporaries with like the “Dreamers” books and “Finding Joy,” and now some of the historicals that you’re writing, do you even worry about that? Or do you just tell your story and let other people try to fill in what they think is true and not true through all that?
Adriana: I mean, I don’t, and I don’t worry about it, but I do try to do as much research as I can because I think, to Margo’s point, I think… I mean, we got the same history books that everybody else got, and so we’ve also not had our complete history told to us, right? And so even for me, I grew up in the Dominican Republic, so I went to a Dominican, you know, elementary school, high school, and college.
And so I have a very strong sense of Dominican history because I was born, and I talk about this in my essay. I was born in the place where the transatlantic slave trade began. And I was also born in the first place that was a city in the Americas. So I have a very strong sense of just how long Black people have been living and thriving in this part of the world. And so I think that helps me come into these historical romance spaces with a lot less trepidation. I think because in romance we have only read a very particular part of history. And specifically like…I mean, we are not talking about Ms. Bev, who’s been doing her thing for decades, and is writing the African-American experience. But for me, for example, I’m writing about people from the Caribbean in Europe.
And that is something that has been predominantly European set, historical romance other than Vanessa Riley, I think, and Dahlia Rose, I think, and now J. J. McAvoy, her first came out this year, have not been really writing in that space. I have a lot…I think I come at it from like, I don’t have any sense or hesitation that we were there. And so I don’t question it because I know it happened. I mean, it would be really hard for it not to happen when ships began sailing back and forth from Santo Domingo specifically in 1492. And by the time…like by the 1800s, it had been, like, 300 years. So it would be very difficult for people not to make it from the Island to Europe, only from Europe to the Island, the Island would’ve been overflown with people, people would be in the ocean.
I mean, to me that’s part of it. Because I grew up in the Dominican Republic with Black people who had been there as professionals, as doctors, and surgeons from the 1600s, so I have a very strong sense that, yes, we were going to Europe and studying medicine, studying art, studying law, and coming back. So, to me, it’s more being able to kind of find little pockets of history that I can kind of use for a romance setting.
Like for my series “Las Léonas,” I just happen to find that the Dominican Republic and other certain Latin countries were at the 1889 world’s fair in Paris and that they had pavilions, and they’re just all these archives of information about our presence at that fair. I know how many people came. There’s ledgers and registers of how many Latin people were at the fair. So there was all this information that I could use to kind of set a series there. So I don’t worry about it because I know how little…like how much information I was lacking in my education about the presence of people of color in the world in general. So I know that that’s gonna be a question, but also I don’t worry about it because if I did, then I wouldn’t write it.
Jeff: Was there an essay or a passage of an essay that, like, really maybe surprised you or caught your attention the most within the collection?
Adriana: I mean, I don’t think anything surprised me. I was really interested in just all the different ways that people think about romance and Black romance in particular. Like Jessica mentioned, I think Carol’s essay was really talking about how a community can exist in romance and the activism that one can do through reading and also through writing. And Ms. Bev was just fascinating because she’s just a living, walking, talking history archive institution of… she’s literally one of the people that built the house that we get to write in.
So just to read about all the things that were… Like, how much has happened, right? Like, you always think about people coming into romance as a very new thing, and then you remember, oh, you know, Beverly Jenkins has been writing since the ’80s when romance really began to be a thing that was the modern genre that we read now. So it was…I don’t think anything surprised me, I just think I just found it very enriching to me.
Jeff: And Jessica, how about for you?
Jessica: Oh gosh. The fact that I got to read every essay, some of them three or four times. I did not realize how many times you have to read a book before it’s published. By the way, Adriana, I salute you, because you’ve done that a whole lot.
But every essay sort of stood on its own, and that’s the main thing that I really love about this. I will say that the one essay that I didn’t know what to expect, so that kind of just sort of took me by a surprise was Da’Shaun Harrison’s essay, in part because they are not in the romance universe. I really wanted something from the perspective of someone who was familiar with pop culture, who could talk about romance and love and the universe, and Black love in particular. But I really love their voice and their essay about desire and desirability is so very different from everyone else’s, even though everyone…like I said, all of the essays are different, but that one just like…that’s the one that made me sit and think about everything I knew for a little bit before I came back to them to talk about expanding ideas and clearing things up. Just because it’s like, I know I have a degree in humanities, but you are on a whole different level than me, my friend. So that’s the one that stands out because Da’Shaun himself stands out among the very romance center of people that is the rest of the collective.
Jeff: How did you decide how to order them? Because it is a very distinct order that really tells a story and pulls a narrative through starting from Ms. Bev through to the end.
Jessica: Yeah. I knew that Ms. Bev and Christina’s essays were going to be the book ends, just sort of where we started, where we’re going kind of thing. And the other ones, I sort of shifted around based on their themes and almost how personal the essays were. I didn’t want to have personal essay, personal essay, personal essay, theory essay, theory essay, theory essay. I wanted it to sort of flow so you didn’t get too tired, like, mentally tired of the same kind of concept over and over again, you got sort of a mix. Because there is a nice blend of people who are writing from the personal point of view, people who are writing from a more academic point of view, and people who are somewhere in the middle.
So I wanted to not quite alternate, but sort of smoothly move through those so that it wasn’t just like… Because I almost did it in groups, like, these are the personal ones, and these are the literary ones. But I thought that having it moved back and forth might be a little more interesting to read and also make people not skip whole sections in the case that they were afraid of the academic ones.
Jeff: Don’t be afraid by any of them because they all tell such a good story.
Where do you think all this does go? I mean, you mentioned Christina’s, that kind of look into the future. What do you think the future looks like, you know, based on what she said and just what you’ve seen even since this collection came out?
Jessica: Oh man. There have been a few authors who have popped up in the past year and a half or so because we got the final draft of this in the summer of last year. So it’s been a little over a year now since the draft went in. Well, not the final draft, but everyone’s essays and everything before copy edits. But there have been some authors whose voices have popped up on Twitter or other social media or whose books I’ve just encountered and been like, “Oh, I wish that I could have gotten their point of view.” There are so many younger authors who are popping up, who are just out of college or still in college, who really have not only a different writing style, but a completely different experience with the world that I am really excited to read their stories and their romances.
And I’m just…I’m excited for more. Self-publishing and indie publishing is really broadening the horizon, which is one of the reasons that I wanted to end with Christina’s essay because that’s really where so many of the stories that haven’t made it through the gates are being put out. But the fact that traditional publishers and multiple imprints among those publishers are doing more than just, “This is our Black author who writes Black romance, we don’t need anymore.” Okay, some of them are still doing that. But the fact that they seem to be trying a little more to broaden their own sort of group of authors, even the ones who are writing stories that I talk about in my interracial romance essay, they’re at least trying to expand their horizons.
But indie romance is going to be where the new stuff happens, I think, for a while, while traditional publishers are going to sort of be watching. Because we’ve even seen Bloom Books as one imprint, in particular, with Sourcebooks who sort of watching TikTok and watching indie romances, and seeing what’s popular and then offering them contracts to publish those same indie-published books again. So, you know, maybe that’s the way in, but I don’t know, it’s hard to see. It’s really hard to tell how that’s gonna work. But as long as everybody gets their flowers, that’s what matters.
Jeff: How do you think things are moving, Adriana? Because you certainly have been one of the people really leading the charge coming through RWA 2019, and now here we are three and a half years on from that. It feels like it’s better, but it’s certainly not as much better as we’d want it to be either.
Adriana: Yeah. I mean, it’s hard to say. Like, I probably could talk just about this for, like, three hours, so I think about it constantly. I mean, going from just the idea of community and places where romance can kind of have bigger conversations, I wish there was something that was a physical thing because I feel like social media, especially through the pandemic, has become a place that, personally, for me, has been a real hard place to be in if I wanna continue to create and write. Like, things feel really fraught, there’s a lot of intensity. There’s a really like…it’s not easy to have nuanced conversations. And so I think…I wish we had something where we could go and talk about craft, talk about the genre, talk about where it’s going, talk about how it’s going for those of us who are trying to write in the margins, and we don’t have that and I miss that, and I wish we had that.
And just in terms of craft, I think so much of the conversation is about how you’re doing on social media, how you’re marketing yourself. And I wish there were more conversations happening in our genre about the craft of writing, right? And so that, to me, is something that I miss. And so in that sense, I wish that was going better. And in terms of just where… I don’t know it’s so hard to even say because, in the age of TikTok and viral books, it feels like the midlist is shrinking. So visibility for people who are writing stories like ours, the space for us to be visible and for our voices to have reach feels like it’s getting smaller.
Like, someone compared it to like…like where romance is going to like the MCU, like the Marvel Universe, where only the blockbusters are visible, and then everybody else kind of like… And so it does feel that way sometimes. And I wonder how that’s gonna impact our ability to…because I felt like we were really gaining a lot of traction right before the pandemic, in terms of really having a conversation about diversity is important. And romance, even traditionally published romance is more diverse than it’s ever been.
And in terms of books getting published and people having access to book deals and being able to be in an imprint and indie authors being able to just write whatever they wanna write and put it out there and find readers. And then also at the same time, it feels like the bestseller list is really reflecting that the taste of the readership really have not diversified. If you kind of go back and look, like, the “USA Today” Bestseller List, your “Times” Bestseller list and see what’s happening there. And then you see “Oh, like, there is a lot more available in terms of diversity, but are people reading them?” And so that is my question of where that’s gonna go, how we can possibly find more pockets of readers?
And I think a lot of it has to do with visibility because I think there’s still a lot of readers…the readers that we are writing these books for, it’s a question, for me, whether they know we’re here because publishing is very good at selling books to a particular reader, and I don’t know if that is the readers that we are writing for. That’s a pretty grim answer, sorry.
Jeff: A realistic answer though.
You mentioned the midlist, and we’ve seen late this summer Barnes & Noble saying what they were going to do about midlist and debut authors and hardback books, you know, not being in the stores. And, of course, in general, romance is about paperback, so it doesn’t necessarily impact that yet, but you could start to see where the retailers, and especially, it’s concerning when it is the national bookstore because it’s really the only national chain that’s left I think, and how they’re starting to cull some of that and how it affects new authors, marginalized voices, and that kind of thing. Do you see that as a concern for romance yet, or a concern perhaps yet to happen?
Adriana: I mean, I honestly feel like the last couple of years there’s been a whole new readership that’s coming to romance, which we predicted it would. Like, we knew YA readers were coming to romance, and they would have a pretty big sway over what happened. It’s been a different…like that readership has come in in a different way than I thought it would. But I think it tracks that they are more interested in paperbacks because YA readers read a lot more in paperback. So a lot of those things, I feel like, make sense. The thing about it with romance that perhaps is something that is helpful to us, that romance readers and romance authors have self-publishing as a very viable way to A, make a living, and B, put their work out there.
If you are willing to be hybrid, or if you are willing to be self-published you have the ability to kind of adapt and adjust to whatever the market’s doing. I honestly don’t know what’s gonna happen with traditional publishing. I am as curious about it as anyone else because it does seem there’s a big shift happening in how authors can have exposure, how they can have this ability to find readers. And I frankly don’t know how it’s gonna all play out if we’re like… I think it…my sense is that this happens, like…this is exactly how everyone was feeling when, like, when e-books all of a sudden came into the scene, and everything was changing very rapidly. Like “50 Shades of Gray” came in and it was…like changed the landscape. And so I feel like probably we’re in that moment again, and things will even out, and then something new will come.
Jessica: I was just thinking, like, my local Barnes & Noble is literally less than a mile away. It’s a stop light, a left turn, and another left turn, and I’m in there. And so when I wander in and you see the SpicyTok table and the fact that the buyers are putting more of their buying dollars into several copies of the same 30 books, and they might have one copy of something in the midlist that you’re looking for, you know. That is of a concern.
And, you know, if you sort of curate your own Barnes & Noble experience or at any indie bookstore. I’ve started going to a couple of indies in my area who don’t carry a whole lot of romance, and just ordering copies of books. Like, I ordered Adriana’s last book from there and they ended up getting a couple more copies because it’s like, oh, that sounds interesting. It’s like, well, then just buy them all the time. But that’s another story.
But, you know, the prevalence of trade paperback is, you know, shifting out some mass market as far as shelf space and that kind of thing. And, you know, that’s something that we have to watch as far as the whole romance landscape goes. But I think like Adriana said, there’s a little bit less of a concern as far as the hardcover stuff goes, but it’s really hard to say where stuff’s gonna go in print because the TikTok generation really is enjoying having something to show and hold and like pretty things. But they also apparently don’t like human bodies. So I don’t know. It’s very interesting.
Adriana: Yep. It is.
Jeff: And it leads to the connected question of discoverability overall. If you look at authors, for example, who are in KU, which is huge for independently-published romance authors, I think, especially when you drill down into queer romance. How do you find these authors? I think it’s very difficult. A lot of authors have just an icon for their image and you don’t know unless you maybe read bios and they say something in their bio that clues you in or something. And there’s a dearth of persons of color on covers as well. I don’t know how to solve the discoverability problem. You know, Jessica, you look at a lot through Book Riot and stuff, and Adriana, you’re certainly plugged in. How do we solve that?
Jessica: Oh gosh. It’s so hard. I rely heavily on word of mouth and word of mouth locally, but also on Twitter I follow certain groups. And then I follow websites like Christina C. Jones, the Christina that I’ve been referencing the past couple of times, has a site called “Girl, Have You Read?” And it is centered on Black romance, and they talk about releases and all of that. But it is really hard to even determine if someone who is writing about what appear to be Black people, what appear to be queer people, are themselves people of color or queer. So, like you said, unless they put it in their description or you troll them on their social media and see if they have a part, like, it’s so hard.
And so just relying on that personal connection of, “I read this, it was good, you should read it.” It’s almost how I discover every new author, especially indie authors, just because someone has been talking about it. And there are probably so many more that I don’t know because they don’t have a Twitter presence or one of my friends isn’t reading them right now or talking about them, or explaining about them on TikTok, because actually Twitter and TikTok have a very different group of Black authors that they love.
So it’s an interesting universe. But, yeah, it’s almost all word of mouth. It’s hard to find them if you’re not dialed into everything. And I know that there are a lot of people who prefer not to be dialed in because of all of that negativity, all of that angst, all of everything else that’s happening, especially in romance Twitter, which is a new fight every day it seems like.
Adriana: Yeah. I mean, I don’t…I’m not on Twitter and I’m not on TikTok. I’m on Twitter, like updates and I don’t do it. I’m on Instagram, and then I try to follow mailing list, try to kind of, like, word of mouth friends that, you know, read what I read and they have a new person that they found. They tread into those very treacherous waters of Twitter and find something new and they bring it back to me and I’ll read it.
But I think if it’s not word of mouth or something that, like, you know, magically kind of gets some traction outside of social media, then it’s hard to find. Unless, of course, then you have the covers, and then we have all this, you know, different…like there’s different kind of opinions right now about if you should have object covers or you should have a person on the cover. So it’s hard.
Jeff: And I’ve even heard some debates around, should it be a photograph or should it be illustrated as well. And what do the differences between those actually mean, and the message they kind of convey. It was a very interesting topic that we could probably go on forever even debating the kind of cover.
Jessica, how’s the response been to the collection? It’s been out since this spring, so we’re about six months out. What have you been hearing from the folks that have read it?
Jessica: I have been hearing very good things, and I’m very glad that the response has been significantly positive. A lot of people have learned a lot of things about either individual people, authors, or just sort of this scope of Black romance and Black romantic stories and pop culture that they hadn’t thought about, which is really, really great to hear. I’ve been able…like Adriana came out to Tucson for our Festival of Books in March, and we were able to have a little panel from some of the contributors to talk about it and got some interesting questions and just response from people that we could talk to face-to-face, which was nice because this is a whole pandemic baby.
I think I started proposing it before the pandemic started, but I remember my first meeting with Berkeley was on Zoom. So everything since then has been just pandemic experience. So a lot of my communication with people in reacting to it has been online in some kind of way. But, you know, that first time somebody I didn’t know posted about it, tagged me on Instagram. That was just like a, “Oh my gosh, this is a real book,” kind of thing. But like I said, it’s been a really positive experience. People have asked me if there was going to be more like it, and I don’t think so. I don’t know. We haven’t really talked about that yet. There’s been really great response to just the cover, which is…I had to fight for that cover, but I’m so glad that I did.
Jeff: Really? Because it’s such a perfect cover because it has the straight couple, the lesbian couple, the gay couple. It covered the gambit because honestly the straight couple that we think is straight, they could be bi. So, I mean, it really covered kind of everything and multiple forms of love.
Jessica: Yeah. Head canon accepted, that couple was bi. I’m going with it. The whole cover is queer. I’m taking it with me.
Jeff: I like it.
Jessica: Like, the original cover. I won’t…I say I had to fight for it, but it’s not that I had to fight for it, it’s more like I had to get there from the initial proposal for a cover, which was very female-centric. Just, like, it was a beautiful image of a woman, and I was like, “This is great. This is not what this book is about and it’s not who it’s for.” So we had to go back to the drawing board a few times before we got to that. And I think I was like, “Can I have a queer tryptic? Like can that work? That’s what this book really is, it’s like everybody, Black love amongst all people.” And Monica Ahanonu, who is the artist really came back with a grand slam.
Jeff: Kudos to them because it’s perfect.
Is there a romance novel lurking in you somewhere?
Jessica: I mean, lurking? Definitely. Would make it out through the fingers? Hard to say.
Jeff: And Adriana, there was a question we had from one of our patrons. Was there a book, something you read, you know, by a person of color or featuring characters of color that clicked for you that, “I can write this book too, I can do this?”
Adriana: I mean, it’s hard to say because, again, I grew up in the Dominican Republic. So in the bookstores, all the books were written by Latin people. Like it’s not like… I think had I been raised in the U.S. where there’s not as much diversity in that sense, it would’ve been like…I think I would’ve kind of come to that moment, but there were so many Dominican writers in Dominican bookstores that… I mean, I always knew that Dominican people could write.
I think probably it was the piece of seeing romance written by a person of color that gave me kind of, like…would’ve been more something that I would’ve kind of gotten here in the U.S. Because, like, you know, Isabela Allende, Gabriel García Márquez, Mario Vargas Llosa that was all Latin people on the bookshelves, on every bookstore in the DR.
So, I think my experience, given that I didn’t grow up here, was a little different in that sense. But probably like…I mean, I would say probably the first books that I saw that were with Brown people on the cover because there were some Latin lines in the U.S. bookshelves. I moved here when I was 23, but probably I would say the first book that I saw that was like, whoa, was “Dirty Girls Social Club.” And that was a chick lit book that came out in, I wanna say, like, 2001, 2002. And it was basically kind of like “Sex and the City,” but with this group of Latina friends. And they all had their own little romance stories in the book. It wasn’t really a romance, but it was kind of like “Sex and the City,” and it was written by a Latina and I was like, “Oh, this is cool.” Like, this is like all women that have experiences that are resonant to mine even if they are Latinas who are born here in the U.S. So, I would say probably that one, but I think I have, again, a different experience in terms of my sense of, “Can there be Black and Latin people?”
Jeff: That just highlights probably a whole other discussion we could have, just the differences in countries, you know, and how this plays out in different parts of the world as well. Maybe that’s book two, Jessica, right there, different perceptions around the world.
Adriana: Yeah. Romance writers in different places in the world. That would be super fascinating.
Jessica: Yeah. That’s something that I know that a lot of our conversations about romance are very U.S.-centric. Even most of the people who write Regency historical romance are from the U.S. But, you know, I’ve been thinking about that more. So maybe not a book, but maybe something else, we’ll see.
Jeff: And, of course, I’d be remiss if I did not get book recommendations from both of you. What have you been reading recently that you would recommend to our listeners?
Jessica: One that I really enjoyed relatively recently, speaking of not being U.S.-centric is “Honey and Spice” by Bolu Babalola. And Bolu is a British-Nigerian author. So, her story is set in the UK from the point of view of Black British people and people who are first-generation British from the continent. Like, some of them have families still in Nigeria or Ghana or other places like that. So, it’s a really different kind of book as far as figuring out some of the lingo. But otherwise, it is very much, it’s tropetastic, it’s a college set book featuring a university radio personality, I guess you would call her, and the new guy on campus, who she calls out for being sort of a man whore, and then ends up having to fake date him.
So, it’s really fun. I loved it on audio. So, since I know you’re an audio person, I definitely recommend the audiobook. It’s narrated spectacularly, and I can’t remember the narrator’s name right now. It’s lots of fun and has its serious moments and some more heavy stuff around sort of the Rom-Com Universe. But it’s great to read a book that is a romance that is not U.S.-centric and U.S.-focused.
Adriana: I’ve read a few good things. Probably my favorite book of the year so far is “You Made a Fool of Death With Your Beauty,” by Akwaeke Emezi. They are also Nigerian, but they live in the U.S. And this book specifically is set initially in Brooklyn, but it’s also set in the West Indies, it’s in the Caribbean. And the main character, Feyi, she’s lost her husband in a car accident five years earlier. She’s kind of just coming into the dating scene and starting to date. And she kind of starts dating this guy. And then she ends up in a relationship with his dad, which is not your typical romance, but it is a romance, there’s a happily ever after.
It is just gorgeous. It’s one of the best examinations of grief that I’ve read, and its both leads, the hero and her, are both bisexual. It’s a very queer book, and it’s a very Black book. It’s not set here. Just the descriptions of my home, my part of the world, the Caribbean are just absolutely amazing. The food. He’s a chef and… Anyway, I love that book a lot. I think it’s one of probably the best unpackings of a taboo romance, because she does end up dating the dad of the dad that she’s kind of originally seeing, and it unpacks the shame around taboo romances and forbidden love in such a beautiful way that I was just blown away by it. And the audio is really great. It’s narrated by Bahni Turpin, who’s fantastic. I’ve read it twice. Like, I read it and then I listened to it and then I’ll probably read it again before the year’s over. I really, really love that book. I think it’s truly one of the best romances I’ve read in a long time.
And also, one that is a lot more lighthearted, it’s called “Wishful Thinking” and it’s by Celestine Martin. It’s a debut paranormal and it’s…she’s Black, both leads are Black, and it’s a witch and a merman, and a New Jersey-like coastal town, and it’s super cute, and it’s really romantic and sexy. So those are two that I’ve read recently that have stood out for me
Jeff: And Adriana, you’ve had quite the summer with “A Caribbean Heiress in Paris.” Congratulations so much on how that book has gone. I keep seeing it everywhere.
Jeff: You’ve got quite a few things coming up shortly before this interview comes out “On The Hustle” will have come out.
Jeff: What else is coming up for you?
Adriana: Well, I just turned in the second book in “Las Léonas” series, which “A Caribbean Heiress in Paris” is the first one. So, the second one is “An Island Princess Starts a Scandal,” and this one is a lesbian romance. So, if you read the first book, it’s the Dutchess and Manuela, who is the…from the three trio friends, she’s the artist. And it’s also set in Paris in 1889 at the world’s fair. And then I have “Hustle,” which is my second one in the “Dallas” series. I have a novella that’s in a monster romance anthology that we did a Kickstarter for called “The Hellmouth Guardian’s Lover,” which is like “Buffy” fan fic, but with a serpent theme in.
Jeff: When I saw that on your list, I was so surprised just like, “Look at Adriana, really branching out here.”
Adriana: I’m trying. Yeah. I’m just like, if I’m gonna go into monster romance, it’s gonna be “Buffy” fanfiction. And then I have the “Villain.” I’ve been doing this historical anthology for the last couple of years with Eva Leigh, Nicola Davidson, Joanna Shupe, Sierra Simone. We did “Duke,” “Rake,” and this year we’re doing “Villain.” So, I have that coming out in November.
Jeff: That’s excellent. And Adriana, what’s your website information?
Adriana: Mine is adrianaherreraromance.com. And social media-wise, Instagram is the only place that I’m really on actively, and it’s, ladriana_herrera.
Jeff: And Jessica, for you, what’s coming up that you could tell us about on the podcast with other things you’ve got going on?
Jessica: You know, there isn’t really a whole lot coming up for me. I’m doing “When in Romance” podcast every other week, and I’ve got some Book Riot proper stuff every month. But I haven’t really settled on my next project, but there’s something moving forward, probably starting in 2023.
Jeff: Excellent. And what are the best ways for people to keep up with all of your various things online?
Jessica: I am on all of the things. You can always check me out on my website if you are not into social media. It’s jessicapryde.com, and that will have links to my various social media, including Twitter, Instagram, and the clock app, which I am slowly pulling myself forward onto.
Jeff: Fantastic. We will link to everything that we’ve talked about, all the books, all the ancillary stuff, everything in our show notes. Jessica and Adriana, I thank you so much for spending some time with us to talk about this amazing book, “Black Love Matters.”
Adriana: Thank you for having us.
Jessica: Yes. Thank you so much. I am really, really happy to spread the good news and to let the people who write a lot more, have more of the foreground.
Will: This episode’s transcript has been brought to you by our community on Patreon. If you’d like to read the conversation for yourself, simply head on over to the show notes page for this episode at BigGayFictionPodcast.com. And don’t forget the show notes page also has links to everything that we’ve talked about in this episode.
Jeff: And thanks so much to Jessica and Adriana for discussing the “Black Love Matters” collection with us. We hope that you’ll join us in seeking out and reading books by authors of color. The more we all read these books, and lift them up by sharing and reviewing them, the more it will encourage the authors to keep writing, which in turn allows more people to find themselves in the pages of a book.
Will: All right, I think that’ll do it for now. Coming up next week, we’ll continue our discussion of the “Black Love Matters” collection with author and friend of the podcast Kosoko Jackson.
Jeff: In his essay, Kosoko focuses on the representation in media, and in particular three characters from TV that impacted him, both as a queer Black man, and as an author. So we’ll be discussing that. And we’ll chat about his new rom-com that’s releasing in December.
Will: On behalf of Jeff and myself, we want to thank you so much for listening and hope that you’ll join us again soon for more discussions about the kinds of stories we all love, the big gay fiction kind. Until then, keep turning those pages and keep reading.
Big Gay Fiction Podcast is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. Find more shows you’ll love at frolic.media/podcasts. Original theme music by Daryl Banner.