053. Tasha L. Harrison Writes Romance For Black People
Tasha L. Harrison, romance author, editor, and lady about Twitter is my guest, and we discuss how Amazon's algorithm encourages the idea of "take and toss" literature, the white gaze in the romance publishing ecosystem, and why Tasha writes romance for Black people.
Tasha L. Harrison, romance author, editor, and lady about Twitter is my guest, and we discuss how Amazon's algorithm encourages the idea of "take and toss" literature, the white gaze in the romance publishing ecosystem, and why Tasha writes romance for Black people.
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Guest: Tasha L. Harrison
Tasha's Modern Romance Canon Nomination:
Tasha L Harrison Misc
[00:00:00] Tasha L. Harrison: and then I end up talking the whole time and not remembering anything. And then the podcast comes out and it's like, yeah, she said she hates bubble baths. I'm like I said that? Well, I do, but I don't remember that conversation at all, but that's generally how it happens. It's like a fugue state
Andrea Martucci: Hello, and welcome to episode 53 of Shelf Love, the podcast that digs deeper into the question of why we love romance and what the genre is about. Guests lend their expertise to help me explore identity, romantic fantasy, and power through the lens of specific romance texts. Every big question can be answered with the help of a romance novel.
I'm Andrea Martucci host of the Shelf Love podcast. And today I am joined by Tasha L. Harrison, romance, author, editor, and lady about Twitter. Recorded June 13th, 2020, our conversation covers topics like how Amazon's algorithm encourages the idea of "take and toss literature," the white gaze in the romance publishing ecosystem, and why Tasha is writing Black romance.
I want to unpack some of the things that are brought up in this episode. So please stick around for the end, for my retrospective as well as actionable exercises you can do if you're interested in engaging in an anti-racist romance reading practice. Plus I have three exciting podcast things to announce at the end of the episode.
Before we jump in, I just want to define a few things. When we are talking about indie romance, we're talking about independent, i.e. Self-published romance novels. IR romance stands for interracial romance, which is a relationship where the people involved have different racial backgrounds from each other. And now Tasha.
Tasha L. Harrison: Hi, I'm Tasha L. Harrison. I'm a romance and erotica author, freelance editor, and creative entrepreneur dedicated to helping aspiring word makers become authors. And I also created the 20K in Five Days writing challenge, which was just really just about spending five days doing the actual writing work.
Andrea Martucci: And I remember reading A Taste of Her Own Medicine and I was reading it in December or January, I think. I got to the end. I'm like, that was fun. And I get to the end and you're like, I wrote this in September 2019.
And I was like, what the fuck? You just like, wrote the whole thing and then published it. And here I am, I'm like looking at a calendar on my clock watch face. That's how I look at calendars
Tasha L. Harrison: on my arm.
Andrea Martucci: Exactly. [00:02:30]
Tasha L. Harrison: yeah, I think the whole, when I launched it, that 20k in 5 Days, the whole goal was just to be able to write faster because I mean, people want more words all the time.
Romance writing is kind of a churn. If you take too long to release another book, all your algorithms fall and it affects your income and all that other backend stuff. So I was like, you know, I got to figure this shit out. I can't keep like writing one book a year and thinking like, yes, I'm doing great.
It had been a while since I wrote anything, I had published the second book in the Truth Duet in May of last year, I think. And then, my brain was just like, Nope. We're done. Like, I don't know what you thought you were doing. Like we're not making any more words. So I started a whole bunch of stuff and didn't finish anything and I just decided, I was like, you know, I'm just going to edit for awhile and, you know, just take on a bunch of editing jobs and figure out what's going to happen from there. I don't know if a lot of writers feel this. I get to a point where if I don't write, I feel weird.
Andrea Martucci: Like, you're not a writer anymore?
Tasha L. Harrison: Almost kind of like I'm going stir crazy. You know what I mean? Like I need to do something. I need to do this thing and I can't do it. And I start to get really anxious around that one thing. So, and my husband was home for RNR and then he had just left and I was like, fuck it.
I'm about to do this. I'm going to do this, you know, 4,000 words a day, for five days. Let's see what happens. It was like, I'm going to say something on Twitter. And if someone wants to join me, they could join me that I posted it. And I ran away from Twitter for like four hours and came back and there was like, 30 people like, yes, I want to do this with you.
I was like, Oh, so this is a thing now. Now I've got to figure out how to do this. And that's basically what it's been like. I've been building on it every time I host it.
Andrea Martucci: So 20 K and five days, what do you think are key elements of being able to write fast? I assume there's an element of just like, stop editing, just like, throw it on the page and not worry about it.
Tasha L. Harrison: Yeah. That's the first step. It's kind of like, well, I wanted to do five days, cause doing the NaNoWriMo is just too long for me.
Like maintaining that same kind of like urgency and energy around it for 30 days is too long for me. So, part of it is that just like. Turn off your inner editor, write as many words as you can. It's not a competition, it's just a challenge, accountability. We do zoom, write-ins like where it's literally just like 13 of us sitting on zoom writing
Andrea Martucci: How do you stop yourselves from talking to each other.
Tasha L. Harrison: We break like we do Pomodoros, so like 25 minutes on five minutes off. And then it's the longer we are on the [00:05:00] longer I make the writing sessions as well. It's like, it'll start 25 and then I push it to 30 and then push it to 40 and then 45.
So that we're staying in the zone longer. And the ones that happened later in the evening typically ended up being like we did two writing sessions and now we're going to stay up till one in the morning talking dumb shit, which happens way too often. I come off of that thing exhausted. Like, I don't want to look at my own face.
I don't want to talk to anyone for a long time. Cause it just feels like it's just so much togetherness, even though we're not together. But what I really loved about it is just having like the camaraderie, just having people all of us focusing on the same ,thing at the same time, it kind of feels like intentional, like magic, almost like spelling as a spell.
Everybody's doing the same thing. We're all going to get this 4,000 words a day and this time almost everyone made 20 K.
Andrea Martucci: Oh wow. That's amazing. And so you were talking about the algorithm before and how you can't not release something regularly otherwise I'm assuming you're talking about Amazon's algorithm primarily. You publish in the Kindle Unlimited program,
Tasha L. Harrison: yes.
Andrea Martucci: Okay. So you're like only on Amazon, basically.
Tasha L. Harrison: Yeah. I tried going wide. And what I've discovered is until I have a deep enough backlist is really, this is pointless because. I have to be able to run sales on different things while I'm working on something else in order to keep the algorithm happy. And the way it works on Amazon is like, they really don't like you to go more than 90 days.
If you get more than 90 days outside. Yeah.
Andrea Martucci: I'm making a face, listeners.
Tasha L. Harrison: It just, it dropped like you see it. And I thought when I was listening to all these - because I bought all these freakin' courses on this shit, because that's what you do. And they were like, this is how you have to publish in order to keep steadily climbing so that you end up being like a permanent fixture, like in the top 100 or whatever. 90 days, every 90 days, you need to be putting something else out. Or running a sale on something you already have in order to keep the algorithm happy. Otherwise you just fall off a cliff
Andrea Martucci: and you, and you have to like build up back to that point.
Tasha L. Harrison: So it's like you're starting from scratch all over again.
Andrea Martucci: So I completely understand why as an individual you're making the choices you're making, right?
Like you're trying to release more so that you're not being punished by the algorithm, but if we kind of like zoom up to like the algorithm itself, which of course we have no control over.
Tasha L. Harrison: It's, it's got its own biases already built into it. [00:07:30] Like, I mean, the algorithm is racist. Period. It's always gonna publish it, like push all the white romances up ahead of yours.
And it's a churn and it's hard to satisfy. So like, even if you do like a steady release, every 90 days, it's going to take a while for you to climb. You know, it's not as easy as it used to be. And especially now that people game the system, so there's other things.
Andrea Martucci: Yes. Yeah. I've heard, I honestly do not understand the specifics of the gaming that's going on, but like , if we're talking about other authors who are legitimately writing stuff that, they're not like, I don't know, just like word stuffing, scammers. Yeah. You know, they're not hiring people to write or like, you know, other things, it feels like what... what is Amazon trying to accomplish with this? Just, just like a steady stream of available content, but it doesn't seem like that algorithm is designed at all to, create literature that lasts, right?
Tasha L. Harrison: no, no, no, no. It feels like. It honestly feels like, kind of like the penny dreadfuls like how they used to be. Like, they're just like, this is just take and toss literature. Like it's potato chips, you eat it and it's done. You don't think about it again. And yes, I have some reservations about that.
You know what I mean? It's like, what, what are we really doing here? What are we creating? What are we actually leaving behind? But then I think I like money too, so,
Andrea Martucci: And that's fair, right? Like I'm not, I would never criticize somebody to be like, what are you doing here?
But I do think that the algorithm should be questioned because it's like, basically what it's saying is that nothing has a shelf life longer than 90 days.
Tasha L. Harrison: That's true.
Andrea Martucci: It's basically like, yeah, sure. Leave that up a little bit. People will consume it and then it's done and they need the next thing. And I think as part of the much, much larger conversation about pay in traditional publishing, but then just such an ecosystem of systemic issues, right.
That then kind of like trickles down into the indie market as well, or is, or is exacerbated in some ways by the indie market.
Tasha L. Harrison: Yeah, I think, I think at this point, like what's going on with publishing, especially in romance. I can't really say for publishing at large, but especially romance there is, they [00:10:00] undervalue what we produce because they think we can produce it quickly. And that, of course, that content is not of value. So we're not going to give you any money for it. And they were always paying too low. Like advances were low. Contracts were low, always has been lot across the board for romance. And now, because indie is so big and traditional publishers have a hard time breaking in, which is their own fucking fault, you know?
Cause when eBooks started happening, like, Oh, we're not going to publish an ebook. And then when they started publishing ebook, they're like, Oh, we're going to charge you $15 for an ebook. Like, no, no, you can't do that. So now they're feeling the pain of that and they're still staunchly refusing to adjust.
And that hurts authors. It hurts authors. And I don't know how this ecosystem can change. I really just think it's like a series of castes. Like you you're, you're you're here. You're never going to get out. That's what it feels like, you know, like there's an occasional person that breaks out and it's usually someone who like, everyone's like, Ugh, why is why this book?
Andrea Martucci: Yeah.
Tasha L. Harrison: You know, there's occasional breakout story where someone gets published and they're famous enough for everybody to know who they are. You know what I mean? Like you, you talk to people who don't even read romance and you say, Oh, I write romance and like, Oh yeah, I read that such and such book by so-and-so.
And you're like, this romance is so much more than that.
Andrea Martucci: Right. Like please read something else also, you know, please just as in comparison something else. Yeah. What I was thinking of, as you were saying that you're like, why this person?
And I think sometimes I think if we're talking specifically about like, okay, romance publishing is really good at finding white people to publish. And then they're like, like, Oh yeah, we need diversity. We need to,
Tasha L. Harrison: let's grab this one.
Andrea Martucci: Yes. And I think there's an element of sort of like, Oh, Oh, this is a book.
And, and then I think there's an element of like some authors who are Black or, you know, other people of color or have other cultural experiences. I think the question many authors ask themselves when they are in a marginalized group, is who am I writing the story for? Am I writing this story for the white gaze, you know?
I was recently talking to EE [00:12:30] Ottoman and he is a trans author. And one of the questions he asks himself is, am I writing my romances with trans characters for a trans audience who is going to need less explanation of some things and I can use certain terminology more freely because they're going to understand what I'm talking about without explanation, or am I writing for a quote unquote wider audience that includes cis individuals reading this. In which case it changes how the story is told. Right?
Tasha L. Harrison: Yep. And it changes how it's received as well. And I don't, I'm not going to say that people who write for the white gaze are white cis gaze. Like, I don't know. I'm not, I'm not gonna come down on them for doing that because I mean, there is a benefit to being widely recognized if that's what you want.
I know if specifically that even when I'm writing IR romance, I'm not writing for white people. I write for Black people. I'm not going to explain things. I'm not going to apologize for things that are in there. You know, like, Oh my God, you use the N word. And like, okay. So either you can stop reading now and return the book or whatever. I'm not gonna make things easier for people just because they're used to reading this one type of sanitized romance. And that's, that was rude.
Andrea Martucci: I mean,
Tasha L. Harrison: it's kind of like whitewashed romance. Like it's one idea of how, you know, people are supposed to be received or even discussed or, you know, what slang is appropriate.
And you know, like, I don't understand this sentence pattern. I'm like, cause it's African American vernacular. If you're not going to get it, there is a grammar structure to it. You know what I mean? Like we can tell when you fake it because you don't know what it is. So there's actually a structure there.
And I think that , as a Black author, you make a decision early on when you first start writing, who you're writing for. And that's not to say that every Black author writes the exact same way I write. We're not monolith. We all have different experiences, but there is a universal experience we all have.
And it's recognizable when you're writing to other Black people versus writing for white people.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. Well, and, given that the gatekeepers in traditional publishing are primarily white people, primarily cis het white people of a particular class
[00:15:00] Tasha L. Harrison: and white women too.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah.
Tasha L. Harrison: So it's not even just like it's, it's very narrow.
Andrea Martucci: Yes. And so the stories that that group is going to be the most comfortable with are the ones that align most with their experience. And so I think this is part of the really problematic ecosystem that there's there. It's, it's structural it's, it's literally part of the structure.
Why some authors, you know, with marginalized identities get chosen. I mean, it's like, and again, like not every author published by traditional publishing, is writing for the white gaze, but...
Tasha L. Harrison: more often than not in romance, especially if they're breakout, more often than not. Yes.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. Right. There is a startlingly high occurrence of that.
Tasha L. Harrison: Not saying all. Not saying all.
Andrea Martucci: But... A lot.
Tasha L. Harrison: A lot
Andrea Martucci: More than - there's more than one example.
Tasha L. Harrison: Definitely more than one. Just saying.
Andrea Martucci: Did you know that Shelf Love has an email newsletter? Get episode extras, like book recommendations from guests, additional editorializing on topics discussed on the podcast, automatic entry into giveaways, heads up on opportunities to participate in the podcast, plus I share links that further the discourse. You can sign up on shelflovepodcast.com.
This actually segues very nicely into the question about the modern romance canon . You are an individual who has your own life experiences, different things are going to be meaningful to you that might be less important to other people and vice versa.
So your modern romance canon nomination is a reflection of what you consider to be an exemplar of the genre and like what specifics of the story really speak to you. So I'm curious what your nomination is, and then basically why you think it is an exemplar, an exemplary romance novel and relevant to readers today.
Tasha L. Harrison: Okay. So I don't really have one book. I just have an author that I think is doing this really well right now. And has for several years now that is the black romance writer and that's Christina C. Jones. Amazingly solid romance all the way across the board.
Very consistent. Meets- what do we consider a romance? -central love story with a happily ever after, happy for now ending. She does that across the [00:17:30] board, but also I feel like she is writing category romance for Black readers in a way that Harlequin does for white readers. You know what I mean? Like y'all those ones like, you know, Tempting The Duke or whatever millionaire, yada, yada, you know what I mean, those, but not with those titles like that, but with that same kind of structure and framework and she does it so well and so consistently, and that's why she has such a large readership.
I'm hard pressed to think of anyone else. Like in what I want to say, my class, like my graduation class of romance writers, who is doing that the same way and so consistently. So that's who I nominate. I don't have one book because she's written like a million
Andrea Martucci: she's she's written like 80 plus books. Right?
Tasha L. Harrison: She's prolific. Yeah.
Andrea Martucci: But here's the thing, Tasha. I have to create a graphic. And put it on my site. So just choose one.
Tasha L. Harrison: What was it? The last series was, I Think I Love You series, the romcom series, series of novellas.
I Think I Might Love You.
Andrea Martucci: I Think I Might Love You.
Tasha L. Harrison: The Love sisters. Yeah. So it's three novellas - and they're rom-com-y, and what she does really well too, is like, she writes short, but they're not, the stories are still really well fleshed out. You know what I mean? She does get some complaints, like I wish this was longer. But to me, to me, that request says to me, "I really enjoyed this story and I just wanted more of it." Not like "you cut the story short and it should have been longer" type thing.
Andrea Martucci: I read the blog post where she addressed that concern that readers had and she sounds like the kind of writer who, like , these are the characters that came to me and this was the story and that was it. I have no control over it. And I think that was her explanation. If I'm remembering correctly.
Tasha L. Harrison: It's just like, this is all they wanted to tell me. So y'all will be all right. You know, and I think too, another thing that we come up against as Black romance authors, and we started talking about canon and what are exemplars of the genre is that people start to think that the story is completely different. That it's not the same kind of romance. Like the fact that we call it Black romance and then white romance is just "romance." You know what I mean? That's, there's people already have in their mind that they're going to be getting something different than what they're already getting in a white romance novel.
And it's [00:20:00] really not. And this particular author, Christina C. Jones, proves that across the board. I love that people are just discovering her now, like white readers. I'm like every time I say like, Oh, you late.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. Who's discovering her now? White people.
Tasha L. Harrison: White people. I mean, like, she was just invented like lots of things right now. Black people just, they were just invented yesterday. So, you know, it's been a deluge of, Oh my God, I didn't know Black people did this,
Andrea Martucci: You know I have talked a lot about like, Oh, I've been reading romance for 20 years, but to be more precise, I read white romance for like 19 years and I have been reading more widely in romance unqualified for let's say the last year.
So. I am somebody who also needs to be honest, that like my depth of experience in romance is really limited to white romance. And I'm really a newbie when it comes to all romance, particularly Black romance, you know.
Tasha L. Harrison: That's fair. I mean, it's, it's, like I said, it's the way it's presented. It's like there's romance and then there's Black romance and it's always been, you know, in the store, it's in a separate section, you know, it's just always been presented in a way where we're separate but equal basically.
You know what I mean? That's the way they wanted to say separate but equal. We're not equal. That's clear, but.
Andrea Martucci: So part of the conversation I had with Kat, and I can't remember if this is part of the episode that will actually go out or the part that definitely won't go out. But, we were talking about culture and how, the white gaze is a culture like it's, it is pretending like, well, this is the default and everything else is a "different" culture. And thinking about, let's say particularly Black romance, which is a love story between two or more Black people, right? Black people only, basically.
Tasha L. Harrison: Only black people,
Andrea Martucci: Only Black people. And presenting it in a way that is written for the Black gaze.
It is not writing a Black love story for the white gaze. So like if, if you have a white reader, like me, who for a variety of systemic reasons, as well as lack of awareness on my own part, primarily read what presented itself to me, which for a lot of reasons was white romance.
And I'm trying to read more broadly. And part of that is reading [00:22:30] Black romance and - I am not your average reader. So I'll acknowledge that. But if you're the type of white reader, who's like, I don't know. I just didn't connect with this as much. And because of cultural differences where it's like, okay, well, this is not your culture. And so it's not going to feel as familiar to you. What I'm trying to articulate is this idea of like, we don't want these to be separate. Right. Like I, like, I totally understand why Black indie romance is somewhat separated- because it's like, okay, well, you didn't make room for us. So we made our own place over here.
Tasha L. Harrison: Yeah. Like you basically kept telling us, like, we don't want you, we don't want you and like oh, now we can do it ourselves? Fine.
Andrea Martucci: Right.
Tasha L. Harrison: I think I know what you're trying to say.
Andrea Martucci: Like Black romance should not say like, Oh, welcome white readers. We're going to now write for you too like, no,
Tasha L. Harrison: no, no, no, no,
Andrea Martucci: absolutely not.
Tasha L. Harrison: We can't
Andrea Martucci: Right.
Tasha L. Harrison: It just doesn't make any sense. You know what I mean? It doesn't make any sense to be like, Oh, welcome. Read our books. And then, you know, if you're still coming in with like, You know, the white romance and someone was complaining about this on the timeline. It's like, you know, all these recommendations are going out and you're trying to get all these white readers to read these Black romances.
And then they're going in and giving us two and one star reviews because they couldn't connect. And what I don't understand, this is why - this is a wall for me. I admit this, I just don't get it. Like I get it, but I don't get it. I don't get like, Oh, I didn't connect with this story because we've been reading by white people, our whole fucking lives.
And most of those books, I didn't connect with. Majority of them. None of these stories were like my story, you know? So like this whole idea of like, you can't connect to a story or character because you can't relate to them. I'm like, what, what does that have to do with being entertained? What does that?
It has nothing to do with it, to me.
Andrea Martucci: It's fiction.
Tasha L. Harrison: Exactly. You're reading the book to be entertained, not to become the person. You know what I mean? Like, there's that disconnect. Like I don't get it. I keep trying, I keep asking people, like, can you explain to me what this even means? Like you, you don't relate.
I'm like, cause I don't, I don't get it. I don't get it. Because it's not something that we ever had a choice. Like we always
Andrea Martucci: Right. It speaks to that. Like, I have never had to look outside my own experience before. Like everything has been presented to me to make me comfortable.
Tasha L. Harrison: And then in that case, is there something wrong with the book or something wrong with you? Like, [00:25:00] I hate to say it that way. It's like, there's absolutely nothing wrong with this book, except for that you couldn't connect with it. And if you can't connect with it because you couldn't look outside of your own experience, that's a you problem, not a book problem, not the, not who wrote the book or who's writing the book for whom. This is about you being able to step outside of your experience. And if you want remain comfortable and always read within your life experience. That's fine. I don't care. I'm not for this like, everybody needs to read Black romance.
I'm not that person. You either read it or you don't, I'm not going to convince you to do it, but if you do do it, please, like I just -
Andrea Martucci: It's like going into like a forest preserve and dropping trash. Please leave the pristine forest pristine when you leave.
Tasha L. Harrison: Please.
Andrea Martucci: It makes me think though, so just to contextualize the time in which we are speaking, it is June 13th and, it's been a, tumultuous couple of weeks, with the protests that are going on and I will keep this focused in romance world.
There's a lot of focus right now, in the romance world on amplifying Black voices and reading Black stories.
Tasha L. Harrison: Educating yourself and it's like, it's like every time you go into the timeline and I, like, I tried to articulate this and cause it's been grating on me cause it's, it's kind of like, why do we have to have these events happen before white romance readers are like, we should read Black romance. These are the five Black romance authors that I know, and I'm going to share them and tag them 50 million times. And it's like, there's this level of like, yeah, I'm grateful, but also please stop. You know what I mean? Like just do it every day.
Like why, why does it have to happen like this? Like, there's always like, Oh, there's some big news event and now like, Oh wow, we should be reading more Black romance. If you're not thinking about doing it all the time, I kind of feel like eh.
Andrea Martucci: Right. Yes. And I think some people should focus on incorporating it into their - if they care, and if this was the thing that made them start caring, incorporate it into your daily life for awhile before thinking that you are one to recommend or whatever, because like you just haven't read deeply enough. But I feel like part of it is I think there's a tendency to externalize. Like, there's this big problem out there and I am kind of helpless to actually change it, but it's a big problem and
Tasha L. Harrison: This is what I'm going to [00:27:30] do in my world. This is how I'm going to change it in my world. And that's fine.
Andrea Martucci: Well, I actually think some people don't look deep enough to see how they could actually change it themselves. Like first of all, If you realize Oh, well damn like I've just been reading a bunch of white romance.
Okay. What are you going to do? You don't necessarily have to tweet about it, but like, what are you personally going to do? If you have a review site, what are you personally going to do? If you are a podcaster, what are you personally going to do, what changes are you going to make if you're a publisher? Like, who cares that you're heartbroken. What are you going to do? You know, like many of us do not actually have that much direct impact on like the larger systemic issues. But we're not helpless, we're not powerless
Tasha L. Harrison: I think too because of social media, it's become easy to do, like these outward things where people are just announcing that they're doing something and then they don't actually have to do it.
And you know what I mean? It's like, Oh, I'm telling the world I'm doing this. So now people think I've done it. And, I'm not saying that's everyone, but like, there's like the usual players, like. Why are you still asking for Black romance recommendations? Haven't you blacked up your, your follower list yet?
Like, why are you still following so many white people? Because we're out there sharing each other's stories and retweeting and cheering each other on just like white romance writers do. So if you are not seeing that on your timeline, there's a reason for it. So like if you're not making a conscious effort to, you know, integrate your life in that way and then when an event happens, And you just start spouting off, like all of these things that you're going to do. First of all, we, we, we see you. We, we see you as a fake. We know you're not really doing it. This is just all talk. And second of all, you're not really serving anybody. If you haven't branched out past those five authors that you picked up the last time, you're not serving anybody.
You know what I mean?
Andrea Martucci: Yeah.
Tasha L. Harrison: And I, I go back and forth about it, but it really does grate me. It's like, you know, We've been here all this time.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. Yep. I think that if you are a white author and you're like, well, I don't want to appropriate somebody else's experience like, there are absolutely books that white authors probably shouldn't try to write.
Tasha L. Harrison: Yes.
Andrea Martucci: But that absolutely does not mean that they cannot put effort into telling stories in such a way that acknowledge that other people exist in the world.
[00:30:00] Tasha L. Harrison: This is a thing: you can have a Black main character, but there's a difference between telling their story and telling a story about a person who happens to be Black.
And when you're telling their story, like when you start talking about racism and how they react to it, or any type of microaggressions or any of that kind of bullshit. You're telling their story now. You're not telling a story about a person who happens to be Black. And guess what?
We do have other things that happen in our lives besides racism. I know that everybody thinks that, you know, it's constantly all day long, which really it is, but you learn how to, like, you learn how to compartmentalize it. You know what I mean? So like we still have joy in our lives. We still go out and do other things. Write about that. Racism ain't your business, leave it alone.
Andrea Martucci: Well, and there's plenty of stories with Black characters, like a Duke by Default written by a Black woman that also tell and, you know, I think we'll, we'll talk about this book more later, but like, you know, Portia is not walking around all the time, thinking about racism.
I mean, like, first of all, because she's like a wealthy Black woman, I mean,
Tasha L. Harrison: She's rich! There is a buffer there, you know?
Andrea Martucci: Yes. Right.
Tasha L. Harrison: We should talk about the book. That's what we're here for, right?
Andrea Martucci: And we'll talk about the book next week. So there's a few threads I want to pull on from our discussion related to anti-racist reading practices. So, first of all, we live in a racist society, which means that from the day we are born, we are absorbing messages about white supremacy. The good news is you can make conscious decisions day after day to be an anti-racist.
If enough people do this day after day, maybe it will lead to change. Let me tell you the specifically to the romance genre. If you are someone who wants to practice anti-racist reading, then it's essential to critically examine your gut reactions to books, particularly in ways where you have privilege.
It's also important to examine your subconscious choices and preferences. For example, in this episode, Tasha and I talk about how some reviewers who are reading about characters with lived experiences that are very different than the reader's own may chalk their discomfort up to the book being poorly written or flawed in some way, but literally all of us approach books with biases that impact how we interpret what we're reading.
So this is a topic I'm dancing around a lot these days: interrogating how preferences, ideas about love, our concept of what [00:32:30] relationships and happily ever after look like, are cultural and the first time you encounter literature that is speaking from, and to a culture that's different in big or small ways from your own, you may feel uncomfortable.
But Andrea? Isn't romance meant to be comfortable?
Isn't that what's relaxing and cathartic about it? Absolutely. And I, or maybe, I don't know, at the end of the day, you can read whatever you want. However, if you actually look at what you read and zoom out and look at the patterns, I think it's important to be honest with yourself about the limitations of what you're reading.
In this episode I say that for 19 years, I read white romance. I'm not proud of that fact. I certainly would never have qualified it that way during that time. But at some point I realized that and resolved to read more broadly because I saw that I was limiting myself and I was missing out on so many fantastic authors that I hadn't encountered because I was not reading intentionally.
I have a lot to catch up on and honestly I have to pace myself. So here is my analogy.
A few years ago, I decided that I wanted to learn how to run. I wanted to "be" a runner. When I was first learning how to run, I literally had to focus on coordinating which arm went forward with which leg. That's how uncomfortable I was with running. Through intentional, regular practice, I got better at running.
I built up muscles. I no longer had to focus so much on my breathing. And I started to look forward to running because it added something to my life that wasn't there before. Before I set the intention and routinely practice running, it was damn uncomfortable for me to run a mile, but within a few months, a mile was a piece of cake.
Running isn't inherently uncomfortable, especially for people who have been running since they were kids. And I'm still not fast. And I will probably never run a marathon, but I can run. And now that I have some experience with it, it makes more sense to me why others enjoy the way it makes them feel. Because I started to feel it.
Through regular, intentional practice, I became a runner.
So here's how I think you can apply this to romance reading. Think about romance reading as a practice and ask yourself "what kind of reader do I want to be?" Once you've defined that the next question is "how do I align my actions as a reader with my intentions?"
You are [00:35:00] making choices as a reader every day, or at least every time you buy or pick up a book to read. And it's completely up to you if the choices you're making are reinforcing or challenging, the status quo. The status quo of a racist society is romance written for the white gaze that reinforces white cultural ideas of love and romance as the default.
Following this practice, are you going to love every book you read? No, but you probably don't love every book you're reading now. After one day of running, I was definitely not qualified to speak about what kind of running shoes I liked best or what my favorite route was. I had no context. Only after running hundreds of times could I identify what a good day of running felt like compared to one I didn't enjoy.
So sorry for the extended running analogy, but I think it's a good metaphor for pushing through temporary discomfort as a natural part of expanding your experience of the world.
I think where I still have questions is that on the one hand, it's incredibly powerful to see identities similar to your own on the page.
So seeing your story or the story of someone like you is indisputably important, but at the core: we're reading fiction. We're escaping into another person's world for the duration of the book and that escape is what romance readers are after. Right? Is it only an escape if the experience is quote unquote comfortable? That's a question to unpack on another episode.
Thanks for listening to episode 53 and thanks to Tasha for joining me. Tasha will be back to discuss A Duke by Default by Alyssa Cole next week. Also FYI Tasha's latest, Liquor & Laundry is available now. Here's what's in store in this spicy erotic novella: high school crush, #BlackRomance. Jerked chicken wings. Steamy laundromat make-out sessions, and a dirty talking hero.
You can go grab it on Amazon.
So here are the podcast announcements. First of all, I will be doing an "ask me anything" type episode with special guest Jhen from the Monogamish podcast. I am not exactly a secretive person on this podcast, but I've so never really formally introduced myself and what I'm trying to do on Shelf Love.
And the reason I waited until I was a year in is definitely because I am still figuring it out. So if you are a listener to the podcast and you have a question for me, send it over to Andrea at shelf-life podcast.com before August 15th, [00:37:30] 2020.
Second and third announcements are interrelated because they both have to do with Bookstore Romance Day, which is coming up on August 15th, 2020.
This is the second annual event. And sadly due to the pandemic, there will be no in-person events, at least not for me. However, I am teaming up with my local indie bookstore, Copper Dog Books to do some fun activities before and after.
I'm so proud to have a local, independent bookstore that carries romance and also proud to be collaborating with two awesome local people who want their bookstore to be known as a place that opens its arms to romance readers. Stay tuned for more details on that.
My third exciting announcement is more of a tease because I can't share details yet, but I'm going to be doing a virtual event for Bookstore Romance Day as well. You want to stay in the know as details emerge, please do sign up for my email newsletter, so you don't miss a thing.
As for this episode, check out the show notes for links plus, all the details for this episode can be found on shelflovepodcast.com, including a transcript. Look for episode 53.
Thanks for joining me today. If you have any thoughts on the show, I would love for you to reach out to me. You can send an email to Andrea@shelflovepodcast.com.
Black Lives Matter. Stay safe, stay mad, and keep reading romance.