Our sister blogger Heather Massey at The Galaxy Express touched on a subject dear to my heart with two recent posts on diversity in SFR. Heather herself identifies a list of wildly divergent SFR titles both by and about people of color and/or LGBT orientation in "Revisiting People of Color in Science Fiction Romance."
And Suleika Snyder, author of Bollywood and the Beast, challenges the assumptions of both readers and writers in her post, “Mind the Queue: Privilege,Diversity and Romance”.
Suleika’s main point is that diversity—as in characters of color or sexual orientation and romance between them—is really nothing new in science fiction romance. Authors of color and LGBT authors have been creating wonderful SFR for some time with these characters. They just haven’t gotten the attention they deserve. And it has been difficult for them to break into the “mainstream”. (As, I might add, it has been difficult, if not impossible for SFR itself to break into the mainstream.)
Now that mega-authors like Suzanne Brockmann and J.R. Ward have sold blockbusters featuring gay lovers (Ward’s Lover at Last, for example), you would think the microphone would be open for more voices to be heard. Suleika argues the danger is even greater that authentic contributions from talented, lesser-known writers will be drowned out by the clamor of acclamation for “trailblazers” who are actually trodding a well-worn path.
Suleika also takes the romance industry to task for an overall lack of diversity, citing the reams of stories set in all-white, all hetero contemporary small towns, in pale and proper Regency England or even in WASPish witches’ covens or werewolf dens. She’s got a point. The books we read do not reflect the society around us, or historical reality or the scope of our imaginations. They are shaped more by the perception of the market that determines the “rules” of the publishing world.
Which leads me to take one small exception to Suleika’s argument. It is undoubtedly true that many authors have bravely blazed the trail that Brockmann and Ward are now following. But it is also true that these two mega-authors took a risk in making gay or lesbian lovers the main characters of their novels. They have built careers (and readerships and fortunes) on alpha male/nurturing female tropes and, even more, on male-bonding-in-groups-tropes (Brockmann with Navy SEALS heroes; Ward with the Black Dagger Brotherhood of vampires). To depart so dramatically from what they are known for could have meant disaster for them. What if their readers refused to follow them? What if new readers failed to find them? Do you think their agents and editors and publishers were behind them 100 percent?
Still, I do agree with Suleika and Heather that it would be nice if the big dogs acknowledged those who went before, or who share the world with them. That seldom happens, however. We can only hope that their readers will now be open to exploring that wider world a little more, both in regard to LGBT characters and, in Brockmann’s case, in regard to SFR.
Diversity is of special interest to me as a lifelong supporter of the cause of civil rights. I make a point of including characters of color and differing orientation in my books, as a reflection not only of our society as it exists today, but as a projection of how I envision it will look in the future. (Rayna “Dozen” Carver, a secondary character of African-American descent in books one and two of my Interstellar Rescue series, is the heroine in book three of the series, Fools Rush In.) And yet, as a heterosexual, white woman of Appalachian descent, I recognize the challenges of accurately depicting characters of another culture. I rely on my friends and my reading and any source I can tap to get it right. I try not to make assumptions, and if I don’t know, I ask.
We have the advantage in science fiction romance of writing without the strictures of history and immediate environment. We have only the laws of science and our imaginations to rein us in. Why would we imagine a future full of only one kind of people, one kind of culture, of limited ability, of limited talent or even of limited sexuality? The future is open to us, as long as our minds are free.
Best of luck with all the submissions, Pippa! And keep on writing to conquer NaNoWriMo!