The Tropical Romance Book Club is my project to literally expand my reading horizons by trying books by authors from and set in countries between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. After reading One Night at the Palace Hotel, set in the Philippines, and interviewing the author Bianca Mori, I shifted hemispheres to read books set in Trinidad and Tobago by Roslyn Carrington, written under her romance pseudonym, Simona Taylor. Mesmerized is a romantic suspense novel following two American expat oil and gas industry workers during a political crisis on Trinidad, and Everything to Me is a Harlequin Kimani category romance starring a music producer and music journalist attending a major international jazz festival on Tobago (where they find themselves staying at a sexy couples resort). Roslyn Carrington has graciously agreed to talk about her romance experience with me.
CR: How did you first discover romance?
RC: I was vacationing in Tobago with my family at the age of eleven or twelve and found two romances (Mills and Boon) in the bedroom of the house we were renting. I was surprised that my mother let me read them but of course that was the seventies, so they were probably pretty tame. I gobbled them up; I can even vaguely remember the story and how annoyed I was at the author for using the same silly phrase THREE TIMES so I guess I also had a bit of editor in me even then. (The phrase was something like “her fingers curled around the stem of her wine glass.”)
I also remember my mother saying, “Romance novels are written by frustrated housewives who are disappointed in how their lives turned out.” Didn’t believe her then, but as I’m older I can see how the temptation is to escape.
RC: Many middle-class Trinis (with credit cards, etc.) do shop online. I use my Kindle. But libraries and bookstores are also popular. For most of my life only white romances (Harlequin, Mills and Boon) were really available, but since the nineties there has been a small boom in “multicultural” romance that we can identify with. But the mainstream white writers are still hugely popular.
In the past ten years or so, more West Indian writers are getting published or self-publishing but it still tends to be a bit more literary, as the prevailing idea is that romance is trash. I literally have had my professors come up to me and ask me if I am still writing “those penny dreadfuls”.
Off the top of my head, I know Eric Jerome Dickey is huge here, although I don’t know if he is exactly romance. You can find all levels of sensuality. Most readers don’t shy away from sexy, though.
CR: Is Trinidad and Tobago largely independent as a literary scene, or do writers network across the Caribbean or go elsewhere?
RC: I don’t know much about the infrastructure and publishing scene, as I have only published in the US. I do have a colleague who published in India. There are a few small publishing houses right here, but many still seek US and UK publishers.
We do network somewhat. There is also the Bocas Lit Fest, which allows regional authors to be exposed to Trini audiences.
CR: The two books of yours I read place American protagonists in Trinidad and Tobago: long-term gas industry expats in Trinidad in Mesmerized, and short-term music professionals visiting a jazz festival in Tobago in Everything to Me. Can you talk a bit about this?
RC: As a Trini I have tried to have Trinidad or at least the West Indies featured in every book I write. It’s difficult for some imprints such as Kimani, which insists that all main protagonists must be American, but I feel a responsibility to fly my flag and teach people about my region. So I make sure to slip it in somewhere. I also worked in the gas industry at the time I was writing Mesmerized, so it was a good fit for me.
CR: You’re also a published literary fiction author as Roslyn Carrington. Can you compare your literary and romance careers?
RC: A Thirst for Rain was definitely my most lucrative book, but some of the romances sold well, too. It was really just a matter of branding for me, using my real name for people who wanted a more literary experience and my pen name and style for people who enjoyed that kind of story. I’d definitely say the literary work is still more “acceptable”, but that has always been the case with romance, I think. Neither is necessarily more challenging than the other; just different.
CR: Can you recommend any other books about Trinidad and Tobago or the Caribbean for anyone who wants to read further?
RC: I haven’t read much regional romance but I did the primary edit on The Yard by Aliyyan Eniath and it is a wonderful coming-of-age novel set in a typical barrackyard setting, with an extended family. It is interesting because it is rare that we get to see this type of novel set in a Muslim household, with the young girl yearning to be free of these stifling family control and traditions. Definitely worth a read.
CR: Finally, is there anything else you’d like to share with me and our readers?
RC: Just that the Internet and related technology has been a godsend to us West Indian writers who can finally express ourselves without leaving our homes for the US or UK like so many generations of writers have been forced to do before us. It’s a wonderful time to be a writer.
Also, I don’t write much fiction anymore, but I have ghost-written several memoirs and edited several novels. That’s my main business right now.
CR: Thank you so much for your time, and for helping me get to know your stories and Trinidad and Tobago. Best wishes with everything you’re working on!
Roslyn Carrington can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook under Roslyn Carrington.
So, readers: what do you think?
Having learned about the publication challenges of writing local characters, I broke my original rule requiring tropical characters in addition to tropical writers and tropical settings. Was this fair? (Also, I was way into Mesmerized before I realized the main characters were African-American and not Trinidadian and I really wanted to see how it ended!)
What side of Trinidad and Tobago would you rather explore – the corporate setting of Mesmerized, or the resort and festival world of Everything to Me?
And I haven’t chosen my next tropical read yet – please recommend anything you’ve read and loved!
~ Caroline Russomanno