They’re back! Today Suzanne Brockmann and Jill Sorenson have more to say about writing, diversity, privilege and more. If you missed Part I, you can find that here. And – after the interview, you will find details for a Sorenson/Brockmann giveaway to enter. – Lynn
(JS) I appreciate the fact that you write characters of color and embrace diversity. I live in the San Diego area, near Camp Pendleton, and it’s a very diverse community. It’s jarring for me to read a military romance (or a football romance, for another example) without characters of color. We live in an increasingly multicultural society and I want my books to reflect that.
(SB) Oh, I’m so with you, there! I, too, have a house outside of Boston, in a town that is extremely multicultural. I believe that diversity is what makes America great. We started out as a melting pot, and we still very much are.
(JS) White, straight authors are sometimes said to be appropriating other cultures and identities not their own. How do you respond to this criticism? Do you feel that you’ve been praised more than authors of color and GLBT authors?
(SB) Okay, I’m gonna answer your last question first. Yes. I have been praised more than some authors of color or LGBT authors, because I’m a New York Times bestseller who has been writing for two decades.
My fifty-five published books have sold tens of millions of copies. They’ve been reprinted in dozens of languages, across the globe. When I write a book, it gets noticed. It gets reviewed. It gets read. (And I’m extremely grateful for that.) It gets discussed. And it frequently gets shat upon, too–don’t forget about that! That comes as a special, zesty side-dish to the whole millions-of-copies-sold thing. (I’m not complaining, just stating a fact.)
But sometimes my books get praised, and I do, too, because some people consider the topics I write about and the characters I include in my books to be “risky” in some way. I don’t see any of it as risky, but I do understand that I sometimes write about things that aren’t (or weren’t) often found in mainstream genre romances.
Like people of color and gay people. As main characters.
Just sit for a minute and think about how fucked up that is. That’s considered risky? In 2013?
Again, I don’t see it as risky–even if I might be criticized as a “white writer appropriating other cultures.” Especially since the implication is… what? That I should’ve left the romance genre as segregated and white-washed as I’d first found it…?!
Bottom line is: I write the books I *need* to write. Realistically, I know I’ve lost many conservative readers because of my inclusion of LGBT characters, but the idea of losing readers (especially *those* readers) doesn’t scare me. Because I know if I write from my heart, with the passion that burns in the center of my chest, I’ll keep picking up new readers.
And I know that I’ve changed many, many, *many* hearts and minds with Jules Cassidy alone. I’ve got the reader email to prove it.
So let’s talk about the first part of your question. Appropriating other cultures and identities.
Isn’t that, by definition, what we do as fiction writers? Appropriate other identities? I’ve been doing that for decades. How could that be wrong or bad?
The framing of this criticism has shades of those purely fictional movies where the main character writes a book and then everyone in town gets obsessed about figuring out which fictional character is based on them. There’s a myth in America that *that’s* what a novelist does.
But that’s absurd. We use our imagination and our empathy when we create characters. I’ve written fifty-five books, and I’ve never based a character on someone that I know.
And I’ve never, ever written a character based on myself. I am so freaking boring.
If I only write about what goes on in my house, I’ll never sell another book. And if I write about what I see out my window, well, that’s the same multicultural neighborhood that you see outside of yours–and it’s displayed pretty prominently in my books.
My books have always been about groups of people who work together to solve a problem. I show a reflection of that world outside my window by making that group diverse. And I do research and read and learn and empathize to understand all of the
different problems experienced by a character who doesn’t look like me or live in my house–regardless of their race, their religion, their sexual orientation, etc.
I’m a fiction writer and that’s what fiction writers do.
No, I’m not Alyssa Locke, an African American former Navy sharpshooter FBI agent, but I know what it’s like to walk a mile in her shoes–because I’m a fiction writer.
I’m also not a Navy SEAL–take your pick of the dozens of SEAL heroes I’ve written through the years. But I can imagine the drive and passion it took to go through BUD/S training–because I’m a fiction writer.
Research, willingness to learn, imagination, and empathy–all done with the goal of appropriating other identities.
(JS) I’ve always written diverse characters and I have many thoughts on this subject. The cultural-appropriation criticism hurts my feelings (white tears alert!) but I can’t put it in the same category as fiction writing in general. The issue here is privilege, not imagination. I think it’s more difficult for a person in a power group (white, straight, male) to understand the experiences of those outside their group. The power group’s perspective is widely available and valued, so we’re all familiar with it. This power differential, along with a history of oppression, is the reason men must be more careful writing women than women are writing men. The same goes for straights writing GLBT and whites writing people of color.
So what can we do? First, I think it’s important to acknowledge that gays and people of color are perfectly capable of writing their own stories. Second, I agree with everything you said about research and empathy. Third, I think we all have personal experiences that influence our writing choices. You might gravitate toward gay rights and gay characters because of your son. I try to include characters of color not just because it reflects my community, but because it reflects my own family. I can’t listen to people who say I shouldn’t write about relationships like the one I’m in, or characters who are like my husband and children. Writing white-only wouldn’t feel right to me.
Right after I got married, I showed an acquaintance my wedding photo. She said, “You’ll have beautiful children. I love mixed babies.” Years later, one of my close friends remarked that my daughter would grow up to be an “exotic beauty.”
Comments like this might not have registered before, but now they do. My family has shaped who I am as a person and helped me understand a broader perspective. My daughter doesn’t look foreign or exotic to me. She has brown hair and a freckled nose. I don’t know what to say about the mixed babies comment. It’s well-meant but sounds offensive. As if my children are zoo animals, different and Other.
So I have personal reasons for wanting to challenge these attitudes, and lack of diversity just makes me sad. I notice it, especially on book covers and movie posters. I’m glad to have options other than…Nicholas Sparks.
(JS) What are you working on now?
(SB) I’m in heavy promotional mode for THE PERFECT WEDDING (mentioned above!), so I’ve been doing some blogging for The Huffington Post’s Gay Voices. (I’m loving that!)
I’ve got NIGHT SKY, that YA paranormal (set in the same world as BORN TO DARKNESS, my recent paranormal romance) that I co-wrote with my daughter Melanie. We’re doing revisions right now, and prepping to write the sequel, both for Sourcebooks. YA is new for me, so this is fun!
And I’ve just started writing a book called ALL OR NOTHING, which is the second installment in my “Reluctant Heroes” romantic suspense series. The first book, DO OR DIE drops on February 4, 2014, in hardcover and e-book from Ballantine Books, and in audio from AudioGo. “Reluctant Heroes” is a spin-off of my popular Troubleshooters series. It features quite a few cross-over characters, including Martell Griffin (from FORCE OF NATURE) and FBI agent Jules Cassidy’s team members Deb and Yashi.
DO OR DIE is essentially the start of a new story arc set in the TS world. Diehard lovers of the TS series will feel right at home, but new readers can pick it up and feel (rightly!) as if they’re at the beginning. Win/win!
(JS) I just finished Backwoods (Jun 2014) about a family camping trip gone wrong. I’m not sure what I’ll be working on next. I’m plotting another earthquake story, set during the same event as Aftershock, but in a different part of downtown San Diego. I’d also like to do a follow-up to Badlands.
(JS) Read anything good lately?
(SB) Why, yes, I have. GLITTERLAND by Alexis Hall (mentioned above) is hands down my favorite romance novel of the year. (Possibly the decade!)
And lovers of paranormal suspense should look for UNDEAD CHAOS by Joshua Roots, from Carina Press. It’s a fun, fast-paced debut from an author-to-watch! I love Josh’s voice and can’t wait to see what he writes next. (Cool note: Josh is the former Marine helo pilot who was my contact in Iraq years ago, during a “Support our Troops” drive I held during one of my book tours. Awesome guy, awesome writer!)
And I recently read Virginia Kantra’s CAROLINA HOME and CAROLINA GIRL. I’m waiting impatiently for the third book in the trilogy, CAROLINA MAN. That one features a hero who’s active duty military. I can’t wait…
(JS) I enjoyed Carolina Girl as well. I recently read Burning, an excellent YA novel with a gypsy heroine, and Backwards to Oregon, a lesbian historical romance. I also really loved Close Enough to Touch by Victoria Dahl.
Many thanks to Jill and Suzanne for a very thoughtful interview!
GIVEAWAY INFORMATION: For giveaway, we have an ARC of Suzanne Brockmann’s Do or Die (Feb. 2014) as well as 5 copies of Passion and Peril(Dec 2014). Please note that Passion and Peril contains Scenes of Passion, which is a reissue from Suzanne Brockmann, as well as Scenes of Peril which is a new release from Jill Sorenson. This giveaway is open from now until 11:59 pm on Sunday, November 10, 2013 and it’s open to the United States only.
If you would like to enter the giveaway, please comment below and indicate in your comment whether you are entering to win Do or Die, Passion and Peril, or both. If you’d like to discuss the interview without entering the contest, you can do that, too. Discussion is always welcome!