This year I've embarked on a program to broaden my reading horizons. Up til now I've read short contemporary romances almost exclusively, but I decided it was time to experience what else was out there. Last summer in Atlanta I went to the Harlequin book signing, met a lovely woman named Bridget Anderson and was able to get a copy of her May 2006 release, Hotel Paradise. Since this month is Black History month, I decided to pull Bridget's book out of the TBR pile and experience my first African American romance. Darius meets Alicia, they're attracted, they each have something they want, a reason for wanting it and of course there's that inevitable conflict that keeps them apart. But true love prevails and in the end they live happily ever after.
So... what's different?
Bridget has graciously agreed to blog for us today on the subject of AA romance and how it fits into the overall romance genre. Please make room on the swing set for her and give her a big Playground welcome.
Thanks for asking me to blog about African American Romance novels. As a teenager, I read just about everything I could get my hands on. Romance novels became my favorite. I tore through Nora Roberts and Victoria Holt (just to name a few) books like they were going out of style. However, just once I thought it would have been nice to discover a main character who looked like me. Often times I changed the characters look in my mind's eye and she did look just like me.
You asked where I thought the African American romance novel's place was in the genre as a whole, how they're different, and how they're the same. Several years ago I read an article that said African American's make up the fastest growing segment of the romance reading community. So I'm not the only one who wants to read about people who look like me, experience some of the same things I do, and have some of the same cultural experiences I have. African American romance novels reflect a sign of the ever changing times and should be a welcomed edition to the genre.
In my opinion, the flavor and voice of the African American experience makes the novels different -- the way they depict African American history, life inside black colleges (sororities and fraternities), churches, family reunions, and even Kwanzaa celebrations. A writer has to capture the essence of the Afrocentric lifestyle in America today and get it down on paper. In Hotel Paradise, I dealt with someone of Gullah descent. In Moonlight & Magnolias I introduced the heroine to Kwanzaa. Every culture has certain unique characteristics that can be used as the backdrop in romance novels.
Another difference I see, and can appreciate, is that African American main characters come in all sizes, shapes, and shades, and with different hair textures. They look like people I know. Hair styles go from bone straight, to afro's and everything in between. I enjoy falling in love with a hero who has a head full of dreadlocks in one story, and a shaved bald head in another. I can relate to the vast array of skin tones being anywhere from high-yellow, to red bone, to mocha brown. In my family alone there are people with all the looks mentioned above.
Now, at the same time how are they the same? Love is love, no matter how you slice it. Throughout the novel the main focus is still on the relationship between a man and a woman. You have a happy ending and establish a lifetime commitment between the couple. The thrill of the chase (courtship) remains the same no matter what race. And doesn't every woman ultimately want commitment from a man? I know I do. In that respect, African American romances are like any other romance novel. Whether they are aware of it or not, the lucky couple is about to fall head over hells in love with each other. Oh, and if there's some danger and mayhem along the way even better I say. An interesting plot is why I pick up a romance novel, any romance novel.
Bridget doesn't have a website yet but she loves to hear from readers at Banders319@bellsouth.net. She also has a book on the shelves now. Sweet Memphis Crush was released last month by Harlequin/Kimani Press and is available at a bookseller near you.
Have you read any AA or other multi-cultural romance? Tell us about it.
P.S. One lucky commenter today will receive a copy of Hotel Paradise. I especially enjoyed the setting -- Jekyll Island, Georgia -- because my mother lives in the area and it was oh so easy for me to picture the setting in my mind -- gentle breezes, beautiful beaches and marshes, giant oaks dripping with Spanish moss and some of the best shrimp you'll ever eat.
P.P.S. Next Wednesday we'll have a special guest blogger for Valentine's Day. It's another AA author who resides on the island of Barbados and *gasp* is a man who writes romance!