From 2008 to 2010, I reviewed here at AAR under the name ‘Abi Bishop’. On July 1st 2016, Soft Barracuda, my debut novel will be released and I have to wait to see whether I experience any “what goes around comes around – now you know what it feels like” moments.

I’m on Elizabeth Hoyt’s mailing list and she recently asked for us, her Gentle Readers, to post a review of her latest book if we could. She promised to not read it unless we shoved it in her face via Twitter. Well, Ms Hoyt has published a gazillion best-selling, award-winning books so this is now old hat to her. I, on the other hand, shall obsessively read every single one of the reviews I get (I also hope I get reviews – whole ’nother guest post). I will probably internally review the reviews. But this is all part of Debut Author excitement.

It’s not what I dreamed about though. My dream involved submitting to my first choice agent on Monday, getting a call back on Tuesday, being flown to New York on Wednesday, driving a hard bargain on Thursday, collecting my six-figure cheque on Friday, and chuckling with Regis (it’s an old dream) on live TV the very next week.

In real life, I’m self-publishing this novel via Amazon’s Kindle Direct Press after a year of agent rejections, most without reasons as is to be expected. For those agents who did send personal rejections, the majority fell into the ‘not what we’re looking for’ category. One in particular said that I’d written a ‘hard to sell’ story.

She’s right.

If I were to reduce myself to a few basics for the sake of this post: I’m a black, overweight Trinidadian woman. It’s my drive to see some version of myself in a romance novel that ultimately has led me to write a “hard sell”. I’d like to share a little bit of that drive and this journey with you today.

So, I’m a life-long romance reader. I am sure I share similar histories with a lot of you, where after Sweet Valley High, we levelled-up into Mills & Boon and the ball kept on rolling from there. For me, the ball rolled unceasingly and well into my twenties before I started to feel a sense of dissatisfaction with my reading experiences. My favourite authors at the time (Lisa Kleypas, Christina Dodd, Mary Balogh, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Rachel Gibson) were still writing great, heart-wrenching, awwwww-inducing love stories. I was excited about new-to-me contemporary authors (Sarah Morgan, Sarah Mayberry, Karina Bliss, Kristan Higgins, Victoria Dahl to name only a very few of a gratefully long list). Yet still…I wasn’t as content as I used to be. I wanted something more. Something different.

To be blunt, I wanted the hero to lick a brown nipple once in a while, not a rosy pink one. And I wanted that hero himself to have skin that wasn’t brown because of the sun but brown because that’s how he was born.

In Trinidad we don’t have huge chain bookstores and the romance sections are pulled straight from the bestseller lists, so African-American romance was largely unknown to me. I knew it was out there in ‘America’ but I had no way of getting to them. Then I lucked out on a second-hand bookstore which stocked a wide range of romance novels and I worked my way through Brenda Jackson, Rochelle Alers, and Sandra Kitt; and said a warm ‘hi, where you been all my life’ to Maureen Smith, Ann Christopher and Farrah Rochon.

But, we humans, we’re never satisfied are we? That second-hand bookstore gave me my inch and I proceeded to run the mile. Now I wanted the hero, of any colour, to run his hands over a plump stomach, not just a plump breast. And I didn’t want the heroine to lose weight and feel ‘happier about herself’ by the end of the story. I wanted that woman to stay fat dammit. Yeah, I was a choosy beggar.

This was a taller order for me to find, but in the search, I came across a lot of indie authors, got sucked into the romance blogosphere (still in its ‘hundreds of comments a post’ heyday) and had also received a Kindle for Christmas so…WORLD. BLOWN. WIDE. OPEN.

I’ve never been able to reach a level of satisfaction with most of the ‘plus-size’ romances that I read as they’re too often focused on the size of the heroine and what I’ve been looking for is a romance where the size of the heroine is a description, not a plot point. In addition, because the heroine is usually in a state of despair or uncertainty about her weight and her attractiveness, she often looks to the hero for validation and this leads to some uneven relationship dynamics.

But despite this, I enjoy reading them all, again, just for the difference…the difference that on its flipside is really similarity. To me.

So, back to hard to please humans. One day I read a romance set in the island of St Lucia but the protagonists were Americans and they called the citizens “natives”. After I shouted all sorts of versions of WTF, WTH and plain ole huh? I got to thinking…gee Abi, wouldn’t it be great if you could read a romance set in the Caribbean featuring Caribbean umm, natives? While I like reading African-American romances, the Caribbean sensibility is a different one.

And what about, what about if that same romance featured a plus-size black woman?

I went in search of this Trifecta of Abi’s Perfect Romance and came up empty. It’s not that it isn’t out there, but I haven’t found it (or them) yet. So then I figured, well, since I couldn’t find it, I’d have to write it.

So I did. It’s a hard sell but it’s my sale and I am happy, excited, proud to share my fat black Trini heroine with the world. She’s also got a potty mouth and is hedgehog prickly. And there’s a man who loves her for all of that.

I hope there are readers out there who find themselves in some part of this story, as well as those who appreciate the immersion into something different.

Bring on the reviews. This old reviewer is ready.

Soft Barracuda by Abi Dore

Fay Gordon has four problems.

1. Her architectural firm is floundering;

2. Her sister has delusions of pop star grandeur;

3. The music agent who says he’s going to take Zahra “to the top” once took Fay to dinner and a movie – and a lookout point – and she just wants to forget he ever existed; and

4. Fresh from a successful career in New York, family friend Christian Quintero is back in Trinidad, enjoying hometown popularity and feeding her this crazy story that he’s always been in love with her and wants to give a relationship a shot.

The man has lost his mind.

But as a hot year winds down, either Chris gets more persuasive or Fay grows more susceptible. Everyone calls Fay a tough go-getter but Chris seems to know all her soft spots.

That makes him the biggest problem of all!