Writing Character

Umbrella Pat here:

One of the great difficulties and controversies of writing fictional characters is whether to “write what you know” or expand a book’s universe by writing characters of different cultures and ethnicities— or finding some happy medium.
AHappyMedium

Obviously, when I write about characters who live in Regency England, I’m not precisely writing what I know—unless years of research and reading count as knowledge. My Magic and Mystic characters with their psychic and paranormal abilities are hardly in any known universe, except to the extent of knowing what it’s like to be a fish out of water and researching psychic powers.

By those standards—research and experience—I suppose I can “know” people of different cultures and
African village ethnicities. So I might introduce a Chinese or African character into my Regency story and wrap them in appropriate attire and give them a historically correct background, but I have not spent decades studying Chinese or African culture, history, or literature, and don’t feel the familiarity I do with my make-believe Jane Austenish characters.

Since characters are my story, more so than plot, I need to know them from the inside out. I need to know how they felt as children growing up, what foods they like, how they feel about their hair, how they react to fear or joy. Because my parents were both orphans and I grew up in a small family, my characters will often be the products of small families. That’s what I know best,Family-at-night and it works well with my historical characters where death and distance so often truncated relationships. I might imagine what it was like to grow up in a large family in a village where I’m related to everyone, but I would not be comfortable plunking my heroine down there unless I could quickly move her out.

So trying to imagine someone who came from a hot, dry desert country where everyone dresses in grass
Fish-out-of-water skirts and transferring them to chilly, damp Regency England…  Fascinating fish out of water story but not one I would be comfortable writing. It would be difficult enough trying to fit a person of different color into an essentially white bread world, to have that world constantly reacting to their physical differences, without trying to get inside that character’s head.  It would be wonderful to read a book about such a character, but for me, the complications would exceed the limits of historical romance.

This leaves open the question of whether contemporary romance with culturally or ethnically different characters can be written by an author not of that race or culture. Americans are Americans, after all. We grew up with the same TV programs, in the same schools. But I’m old enough to remember the immense cultural divide between nationalities and religions and race as recently as the sixties. Even if my heroine is thirty, wouldn’t she be affected by the influence of parents and grandparents who thought in more judgmental, less educated old ways?  I can still remember trying to figure out if I was a Mick or a Polack when I was a little kid and deciding I was a Pat. I can’t bring that kind of information to the table with a character labeled with worse slurs, although I’d like to.
Racism

What do you think? Should authors stick to what they know or attempt to stretch their imaginations based on what we’ve read and observed? Can we really “know” what it’s like to be a different race or culture? Or can we just say romance is romance and who cares how well the character is drawn as long as the story works? What do you bring to a story when you read about characters of a different background than your own?

50 thoughts on “Writing Character”

  1. This is an important post because it raises several issues. The first is the catch 22’s that keeps romance pretty white. On the one hand, you’ve got ‘write what you know’ which doesn’t really mean write what you’ve experienced. So is the ‘other’ (for shorthand purposes) character really so intrinsically different than a white character? Their motivating forces might differ, but their emotional response to whatever stimuli is present to them is going to be the same. Part of ‘othering’ people is assuming they are somehow so very different from whatever you are.
    On the other hand, there is the axiom that books with white characters are what sell, so readers are not interested in non-white characters. This doesn’t take how difficult it is for a non-white author to get published in historical romance. It’s not that there are so few because the writers aren’t good (Hello newcomer Sherry Thomas!) it’s that publishers are comfortable with white characters. Readers are conditioned to be comfortable with white characters also through ‘othering’.
    I once had a friend who was obsessed with the most dreadful plantation novels of the early 80’s. The rape them up, call them names, sell them off books. I asked her what the possible appeal was – and she said they were the only historical romance novels with any black characters at all.
    So if the name authors and the authors who DO have contracts aren’t proving a market for non-white characters or are ‘othering’ the character into a different ‘type’ of human than the white characters, reinforcing the ‘exotic’ aspect, where does the reader get reconditioned to accept a more diverse field?
    There’s been an ongoing discussion on the internet where sci fi authors and fans have essentially been telling black fandom that they don’t exist. Black fandom responds that they DO exist, they just aren’t very welcome. Romance is not so different. Black readers love historical romance, when you read a novel until you get to the description that character can be any nationality – yet when the writer makes them ‘not white’ they often make them ‘other’.
    There’s not an easy answer, but it always makes me glad when someone raises it, because we’ve been All White (with a few exotic ‘friends) for long enough.

    Reply
  2. This is an important post because it raises several issues. The first is the catch 22’s that keeps romance pretty white. On the one hand, you’ve got ‘write what you know’ which doesn’t really mean write what you’ve experienced. So is the ‘other’ (for shorthand purposes) character really so intrinsically different than a white character? Their motivating forces might differ, but their emotional response to whatever stimuli is present to them is going to be the same. Part of ‘othering’ people is assuming they are somehow so very different from whatever you are.
    On the other hand, there is the axiom that books with white characters are what sell, so readers are not interested in non-white characters. This doesn’t take how difficult it is for a non-white author to get published in historical romance. It’s not that there are so few because the writers aren’t good (Hello newcomer Sherry Thomas!) it’s that publishers are comfortable with white characters. Readers are conditioned to be comfortable with white characters also through ‘othering’.
    I once had a friend who was obsessed with the most dreadful plantation novels of the early 80’s. The rape them up, call them names, sell them off books. I asked her what the possible appeal was – and she said they were the only historical romance novels with any black characters at all.
    So if the name authors and the authors who DO have contracts aren’t proving a market for non-white characters or are ‘othering’ the character into a different ‘type’ of human than the white characters, reinforcing the ‘exotic’ aspect, where does the reader get reconditioned to accept a more diverse field?
    There’s been an ongoing discussion on the internet where sci fi authors and fans have essentially been telling black fandom that they don’t exist. Black fandom responds that they DO exist, they just aren’t very welcome. Romance is not so different. Black readers love historical romance, when you read a novel until you get to the description that character can be any nationality – yet when the writer makes them ‘not white’ they often make them ‘other’.
    There’s not an easy answer, but it always makes me glad when someone raises it, because we’ve been All White (with a few exotic ‘friends) for long enough.

    Reply
  3. This is an important post because it raises several issues. The first is the catch 22’s that keeps romance pretty white. On the one hand, you’ve got ‘write what you know’ which doesn’t really mean write what you’ve experienced. So is the ‘other’ (for shorthand purposes) character really so intrinsically different than a white character? Their motivating forces might differ, but their emotional response to whatever stimuli is present to them is going to be the same. Part of ‘othering’ people is assuming they are somehow so very different from whatever you are.
    On the other hand, there is the axiom that books with white characters are what sell, so readers are not interested in non-white characters. This doesn’t take how difficult it is for a non-white author to get published in historical romance. It’s not that there are so few because the writers aren’t good (Hello newcomer Sherry Thomas!) it’s that publishers are comfortable with white characters. Readers are conditioned to be comfortable with white characters also through ‘othering’.
    I once had a friend who was obsessed with the most dreadful plantation novels of the early 80’s. The rape them up, call them names, sell them off books. I asked her what the possible appeal was – and she said they were the only historical romance novels with any black characters at all.
    So if the name authors and the authors who DO have contracts aren’t proving a market for non-white characters or are ‘othering’ the character into a different ‘type’ of human than the white characters, reinforcing the ‘exotic’ aspect, where does the reader get reconditioned to accept a more diverse field?
    There’s been an ongoing discussion on the internet where sci fi authors and fans have essentially been telling black fandom that they don’t exist. Black fandom responds that they DO exist, they just aren’t very welcome. Romance is not so different. Black readers love historical romance, when you read a novel until you get to the description that character can be any nationality – yet when the writer makes them ‘not white’ they often make them ‘other’.
    There’s not an easy answer, but it always makes me glad when someone raises it, because we’ve been All White (with a few exotic ‘friends) for long enough.

    Reply
  4. This is an important post because it raises several issues. The first is the catch 22’s that keeps romance pretty white. On the one hand, you’ve got ‘write what you know’ which doesn’t really mean write what you’ve experienced. So is the ‘other’ (for shorthand purposes) character really so intrinsically different than a white character? Their motivating forces might differ, but their emotional response to whatever stimuli is present to them is going to be the same. Part of ‘othering’ people is assuming they are somehow so very different from whatever you are.
    On the other hand, there is the axiom that books with white characters are what sell, so readers are not interested in non-white characters. This doesn’t take how difficult it is for a non-white author to get published in historical romance. It’s not that there are so few because the writers aren’t good (Hello newcomer Sherry Thomas!) it’s that publishers are comfortable with white characters. Readers are conditioned to be comfortable with white characters also through ‘othering’.
    I once had a friend who was obsessed with the most dreadful plantation novels of the early 80’s. The rape them up, call them names, sell them off books. I asked her what the possible appeal was – and she said they were the only historical romance novels with any black characters at all.
    So if the name authors and the authors who DO have contracts aren’t proving a market for non-white characters or are ‘othering’ the character into a different ‘type’ of human than the white characters, reinforcing the ‘exotic’ aspect, where does the reader get reconditioned to accept a more diverse field?
    There’s been an ongoing discussion on the internet where sci fi authors and fans have essentially been telling black fandom that they don’t exist. Black fandom responds that they DO exist, they just aren’t very welcome. Romance is not so different. Black readers love historical romance, when you read a novel until you get to the description that character can be any nationality – yet when the writer makes them ‘not white’ they often make them ‘other’.
    There’s not an easy answer, but it always makes me glad when someone raises it, because we’ve been All White (with a few exotic ‘friends) for long enough.

    Reply
  5. This is an important post because it raises several issues. The first is the catch 22’s that keeps romance pretty white. On the one hand, you’ve got ‘write what you know’ which doesn’t really mean write what you’ve experienced. So is the ‘other’ (for shorthand purposes) character really so intrinsically different than a white character? Their motivating forces might differ, but their emotional response to whatever stimuli is present to them is going to be the same. Part of ‘othering’ people is assuming they are somehow so very different from whatever you are.
    On the other hand, there is the axiom that books with white characters are what sell, so readers are not interested in non-white characters. This doesn’t take how difficult it is for a non-white author to get published in historical romance. It’s not that there are so few because the writers aren’t good (Hello newcomer Sherry Thomas!) it’s that publishers are comfortable with white characters. Readers are conditioned to be comfortable with white characters also through ‘othering’.
    I once had a friend who was obsessed with the most dreadful plantation novels of the early 80’s. The rape them up, call them names, sell them off books. I asked her what the possible appeal was – and she said they were the only historical romance novels with any black characters at all.
    So if the name authors and the authors who DO have contracts aren’t proving a market for non-white characters or are ‘othering’ the character into a different ‘type’ of human than the white characters, reinforcing the ‘exotic’ aspect, where does the reader get reconditioned to accept a more diverse field?
    There’s been an ongoing discussion on the internet where sci fi authors and fans have essentially been telling black fandom that they don’t exist. Black fandom responds that they DO exist, they just aren’t very welcome. Romance is not so different. Black readers love historical romance, when you read a novel until you get to the description that character can be any nationality – yet when the writer makes them ‘not white’ they often make them ‘other’.
    There’s not an easy answer, but it always makes me glad when someone raises it, because we’ve been All White (with a few exotic ‘friends) for long enough.

    Reply
  6. Oh wait, I’m not actually done – part of the othering is that you’ve done tremendous research into England of that time period (I mean that sincerely) but you say
    “It would be difficult enough trying to fit a person of different color into an essentially white bread world, to have that world constantly reacting to their physical differences, without trying to get inside that character’s head. ”
    This shows how complete the othering is. The world would not constantly react to them. Someone from a very small village might, but England has had a diverse population since Roman times. Those that attained fame have been ‘whitewashed’ by history, but your non white character doesn’t need to come from anywhere – they were living in Britain, perhaps in situations not that different from your standard vicar’s daughter, for generations. To research them is not so different from researching ‘indoor plumbing’ or ‘how to make a horseshoe’ except for the ‘othering’ factors.
    Your average Regency heroine would certainly have had exposure to educated non-whites. George Bridgetower, one of Beethoven’s friends, was known to the Regency period and performed at court and toured the country before marrying an English woman. Cruikshank may have only made racist portraits, but there are plenty of contemporary and respectful portraits of non-white Regency persons.
    (Can you tell this is a subject I can go on and on about?)

    Reply
  7. Oh wait, I’m not actually done – part of the othering is that you’ve done tremendous research into England of that time period (I mean that sincerely) but you say
    “It would be difficult enough trying to fit a person of different color into an essentially white bread world, to have that world constantly reacting to their physical differences, without trying to get inside that character’s head. ”
    This shows how complete the othering is. The world would not constantly react to them. Someone from a very small village might, but England has had a diverse population since Roman times. Those that attained fame have been ‘whitewashed’ by history, but your non white character doesn’t need to come from anywhere – they were living in Britain, perhaps in situations not that different from your standard vicar’s daughter, for generations. To research them is not so different from researching ‘indoor plumbing’ or ‘how to make a horseshoe’ except for the ‘othering’ factors.
    Your average Regency heroine would certainly have had exposure to educated non-whites. George Bridgetower, one of Beethoven’s friends, was known to the Regency period and performed at court and toured the country before marrying an English woman. Cruikshank may have only made racist portraits, but there are plenty of contemporary and respectful portraits of non-white Regency persons.
    (Can you tell this is a subject I can go on and on about?)

    Reply
  8. Oh wait, I’m not actually done – part of the othering is that you’ve done tremendous research into England of that time period (I mean that sincerely) but you say
    “It would be difficult enough trying to fit a person of different color into an essentially white bread world, to have that world constantly reacting to their physical differences, without trying to get inside that character’s head. ”
    This shows how complete the othering is. The world would not constantly react to them. Someone from a very small village might, but England has had a diverse population since Roman times. Those that attained fame have been ‘whitewashed’ by history, but your non white character doesn’t need to come from anywhere – they were living in Britain, perhaps in situations not that different from your standard vicar’s daughter, for generations. To research them is not so different from researching ‘indoor plumbing’ or ‘how to make a horseshoe’ except for the ‘othering’ factors.
    Your average Regency heroine would certainly have had exposure to educated non-whites. George Bridgetower, one of Beethoven’s friends, was known to the Regency period and performed at court and toured the country before marrying an English woman. Cruikshank may have only made racist portraits, but there are plenty of contemporary and respectful portraits of non-white Regency persons.
    (Can you tell this is a subject I can go on and on about?)

    Reply
  9. Oh wait, I’m not actually done – part of the othering is that you’ve done tremendous research into England of that time period (I mean that sincerely) but you say
    “It would be difficult enough trying to fit a person of different color into an essentially white bread world, to have that world constantly reacting to their physical differences, without trying to get inside that character’s head. ”
    This shows how complete the othering is. The world would not constantly react to them. Someone from a very small village might, but England has had a diverse population since Roman times. Those that attained fame have been ‘whitewashed’ by history, but your non white character doesn’t need to come from anywhere – they were living in Britain, perhaps in situations not that different from your standard vicar’s daughter, for generations. To research them is not so different from researching ‘indoor plumbing’ or ‘how to make a horseshoe’ except for the ‘othering’ factors.
    Your average Regency heroine would certainly have had exposure to educated non-whites. George Bridgetower, one of Beethoven’s friends, was known to the Regency period and performed at court and toured the country before marrying an English woman. Cruikshank may have only made racist portraits, but there are plenty of contemporary and respectful portraits of non-white Regency persons.
    (Can you tell this is a subject I can go on and on about?)

    Reply
  10. Oh wait, I’m not actually done – part of the othering is that you’ve done tremendous research into England of that time period (I mean that sincerely) but you say
    “It would be difficult enough trying to fit a person of different color into an essentially white bread world, to have that world constantly reacting to their physical differences, without trying to get inside that character’s head. ”
    This shows how complete the othering is. The world would not constantly react to them. Someone from a very small village might, but England has had a diverse population since Roman times. Those that attained fame have been ‘whitewashed’ by history, but your non white character doesn’t need to come from anywhere – they were living in Britain, perhaps in situations not that different from your standard vicar’s daughter, for generations. To research them is not so different from researching ‘indoor plumbing’ or ‘how to make a horseshoe’ except for the ‘othering’ factors.
    Your average Regency heroine would certainly have had exposure to educated non-whites. George Bridgetower, one of Beethoven’s friends, was known to the Regency period and performed at court and toured the country before marrying an English woman. Cruikshank may have only made racist portraits, but there are plenty of contemporary and respectful portraits of non-white Regency persons.
    (Can you tell this is a subject I can go on and on about?)

    Reply
  11. “Can we really “know” what it’s like to be a different race or culture?”
    Even within the so-called “white bread” of Regency romance, there is plenty of room for difference.
    I like Regencies about non-traditional women–women who take on the men at their own game and succeed. As a woman in a man’s world here at work, I can identify with them. In these books, the women SUCCEED, which is what I want to see more of in the real world, especially when I’m having difficulties. Things may be better now than they were then, but, believe me, they’re not that much better. At least let me have my fantasies in books.
    The other factor is I’m reading for enjoyment. Yes, I’m white, and I want to identify with my characters. Nowadays, there are books with non-white heroes and heroines and it’s about time. But, do I read them? No. Reading is my leisure and my pleasure, and I like Regencies. When it comes to my time and my money, I spend both as I choose. I mourn the loss of the traditional Regency, but that’s another story.

    Reply
  12. “Can we really “know” what it’s like to be a different race or culture?”
    Even within the so-called “white bread” of Regency romance, there is plenty of room for difference.
    I like Regencies about non-traditional women–women who take on the men at their own game and succeed. As a woman in a man’s world here at work, I can identify with them. In these books, the women SUCCEED, which is what I want to see more of in the real world, especially when I’m having difficulties. Things may be better now than they were then, but, believe me, they’re not that much better. At least let me have my fantasies in books.
    The other factor is I’m reading for enjoyment. Yes, I’m white, and I want to identify with my characters. Nowadays, there are books with non-white heroes and heroines and it’s about time. But, do I read them? No. Reading is my leisure and my pleasure, and I like Regencies. When it comes to my time and my money, I spend both as I choose. I mourn the loss of the traditional Regency, but that’s another story.

    Reply
  13. “Can we really “know” what it’s like to be a different race or culture?”
    Even within the so-called “white bread” of Regency romance, there is plenty of room for difference.
    I like Regencies about non-traditional women–women who take on the men at their own game and succeed. As a woman in a man’s world here at work, I can identify with them. In these books, the women SUCCEED, which is what I want to see more of in the real world, especially when I’m having difficulties. Things may be better now than they were then, but, believe me, they’re not that much better. At least let me have my fantasies in books.
    The other factor is I’m reading for enjoyment. Yes, I’m white, and I want to identify with my characters. Nowadays, there are books with non-white heroes and heroines and it’s about time. But, do I read them? No. Reading is my leisure and my pleasure, and I like Regencies. When it comes to my time and my money, I spend both as I choose. I mourn the loss of the traditional Regency, but that’s another story.

    Reply
  14. “Can we really “know” what it’s like to be a different race or culture?”
    Even within the so-called “white bread” of Regency romance, there is plenty of room for difference.
    I like Regencies about non-traditional women–women who take on the men at their own game and succeed. As a woman in a man’s world here at work, I can identify with them. In these books, the women SUCCEED, which is what I want to see more of in the real world, especially when I’m having difficulties. Things may be better now than they were then, but, believe me, they’re not that much better. At least let me have my fantasies in books.
    The other factor is I’m reading for enjoyment. Yes, I’m white, and I want to identify with my characters. Nowadays, there are books with non-white heroes and heroines and it’s about time. But, do I read them? No. Reading is my leisure and my pleasure, and I like Regencies. When it comes to my time and my money, I spend both as I choose. I mourn the loss of the traditional Regency, but that’s another story.

    Reply
  15. “Can we really “know” what it’s like to be a different race or culture?”
    Even within the so-called “white bread” of Regency romance, there is plenty of room for difference.
    I like Regencies about non-traditional women–women who take on the men at their own game and succeed. As a woman in a man’s world here at work, I can identify with them. In these books, the women SUCCEED, which is what I want to see more of in the real world, especially when I’m having difficulties. Things may be better now than they were then, but, believe me, they’re not that much better. At least let me have my fantasies in books.
    The other factor is I’m reading for enjoyment. Yes, I’m white, and I want to identify with my characters. Nowadays, there are books with non-white heroes and heroines and it’s about time. But, do I read them? No. Reading is my leisure and my pleasure, and I like Regencies. When it comes to my time and my money, I spend both as I choose. I mourn the loss of the traditional Regency, but that’s another story.

    Reply
  16. Love the blog and coming out of deep lurkdom to say that I visited Scone Palace in Scotland recently, and one of the family portraits there shows Dido(http://tinyurl.com/23co8jc) who was very much accepted as part of the family and whose resemblence to her cousins was striking. Also at Scone is a portrait of Queen Charlotte by Allan Ramsay (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Charlotte_1744.jpg) which she was supposed to favour *because* it emphasised her ‘mulatto features’. It’s very easy to assume that England in Georgian and Regency times was a very ‘white bread’ world but even in the ton there was more diversity than our 21st century sensibilities would expect.

    Reply
  17. Love the blog and coming out of deep lurkdom to say that I visited Scone Palace in Scotland recently, and one of the family portraits there shows Dido(http://tinyurl.com/23co8jc) who was very much accepted as part of the family and whose resemblence to her cousins was striking. Also at Scone is a portrait of Queen Charlotte by Allan Ramsay (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Charlotte_1744.jpg) which she was supposed to favour *because* it emphasised her ‘mulatto features’. It’s very easy to assume that England in Georgian and Regency times was a very ‘white bread’ world but even in the ton there was more diversity than our 21st century sensibilities would expect.

    Reply
  18. Love the blog and coming out of deep lurkdom to say that I visited Scone Palace in Scotland recently, and one of the family portraits there shows Dido(http://tinyurl.com/23co8jc) who was very much accepted as part of the family and whose resemblence to her cousins was striking. Also at Scone is a portrait of Queen Charlotte by Allan Ramsay (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Charlotte_1744.jpg) which she was supposed to favour *because* it emphasised her ‘mulatto features’. It’s very easy to assume that England in Georgian and Regency times was a very ‘white bread’ world but even in the ton there was more diversity than our 21st century sensibilities would expect.

    Reply
  19. Love the blog and coming out of deep lurkdom to say that I visited Scone Palace in Scotland recently, and one of the family portraits there shows Dido(http://tinyurl.com/23co8jc) who was very much accepted as part of the family and whose resemblence to her cousins was striking. Also at Scone is a portrait of Queen Charlotte by Allan Ramsay (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Charlotte_1744.jpg) which she was supposed to favour *because* it emphasised her ‘mulatto features’. It’s very easy to assume that England in Georgian and Regency times was a very ‘white bread’ world but even in the ton there was more diversity than our 21st century sensibilities would expect.

    Reply
  20. Love the blog and coming out of deep lurkdom to say that I visited Scone Palace in Scotland recently, and one of the family portraits there shows Dido(http://tinyurl.com/23co8jc) who was very much accepted as part of the family and whose resemblence to her cousins was striking. Also at Scone is a portrait of Queen Charlotte by Allan Ramsay (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Charlotte_1744.jpg) which she was supposed to favour *because* it emphasised her ‘mulatto features’. It’s very easy to assume that England in Georgian and Regency times was a very ‘white bread’ world but even in the ton there was more diversity than our 21st century sensibilities would expect.

    Reply
  21. Excellent points,all! I fully realize there were people “of color” in Regency England, but I am coming from the standpoint of a person who grew up in KY in the sixties where anyone “different” introduced to the classroom produced serious reactions. Any kind of difference in a small cultural world will produce gossip, at the extreme least. Bigotry, to some extent. Not everyone is as accepting as the families mentioned above. I would love to address those differences and reactions, but as you point out, it’s not easy in the current market.
    I think publishers are using numbers to keep racial variance to a minimum–if the overwhelming number of readers are white, simply based on statistics, then they will publish for a white audience. Which, of course, is a Catch 22 similar to the one where they say men don’t read. “G”
    Men might read more if there were more books of interest to them, but publishers and editors are generally female.
    I’m hoping e-books will change these parameters in a few years, but Linda’s post above raises a question. What if we could write romances set in the sixties and seventies, where women of all races are struggling to survive in a man’s world? Thinks we could start a new genre?

    Reply
  22. Excellent points,all! I fully realize there were people “of color” in Regency England, but I am coming from the standpoint of a person who grew up in KY in the sixties where anyone “different” introduced to the classroom produced serious reactions. Any kind of difference in a small cultural world will produce gossip, at the extreme least. Bigotry, to some extent. Not everyone is as accepting as the families mentioned above. I would love to address those differences and reactions, but as you point out, it’s not easy in the current market.
    I think publishers are using numbers to keep racial variance to a minimum–if the overwhelming number of readers are white, simply based on statistics, then they will publish for a white audience. Which, of course, is a Catch 22 similar to the one where they say men don’t read. “G”
    Men might read more if there were more books of interest to them, but publishers and editors are generally female.
    I’m hoping e-books will change these parameters in a few years, but Linda’s post above raises a question. What if we could write romances set in the sixties and seventies, where women of all races are struggling to survive in a man’s world? Thinks we could start a new genre?

    Reply
  23. Excellent points,all! I fully realize there were people “of color” in Regency England, but I am coming from the standpoint of a person who grew up in KY in the sixties where anyone “different” introduced to the classroom produced serious reactions. Any kind of difference in a small cultural world will produce gossip, at the extreme least. Bigotry, to some extent. Not everyone is as accepting as the families mentioned above. I would love to address those differences and reactions, but as you point out, it’s not easy in the current market.
    I think publishers are using numbers to keep racial variance to a minimum–if the overwhelming number of readers are white, simply based on statistics, then they will publish for a white audience. Which, of course, is a Catch 22 similar to the one where they say men don’t read. “G”
    Men might read more if there were more books of interest to them, but publishers and editors are generally female.
    I’m hoping e-books will change these parameters in a few years, but Linda’s post above raises a question. What if we could write romances set in the sixties and seventies, where women of all races are struggling to survive in a man’s world? Thinks we could start a new genre?

    Reply
  24. Excellent points,all! I fully realize there were people “of color” in Regency England, but I am coming from the standpoint of a person who grew up in KY in the sixties where anyone “different” introduced to the classroom produced serious reactions. Any kind of difference in a small cultural world will produce gossip, at the extreme least. Bigotry, to some extent. Not everyone is as accepting as the families mentioned above. I would love to address those differences and reactions, but as you point out, it’s not easy in the current market.
    I think publishers are using numbers to keep racial variance to a minimum–if the overwhelming number of readers are white, simply based on statistics, then they will publish for a white audience. Which, of course, is a Catch 22 similar to the one where they say men don’t read. “G”
    Men might read more if there were more books of interest to them, but publishers and editors are generally female.
    I’m hoping e-books will change these parameters in a few years, but Linda’s post above raises a question. What if we could write romances set in the sixties and seventies, where women of all races are struggling to survive in a man’s world? Thinks we could start a new genre?

    Reply
  25. Excellent points,all! I fully realize there were people “of color” in Regency England, but I am coming from the standpoint of a person who grew up in KY in the sixties where anyone “different” introduced to the classroom produced serious reactions. Any kind of difference in a small cultural world will produce gossip, at the extreme least. Bigotry, to some extent. Not everyone is as accepting as the families mentioned above. I would love to address those differences and reactions, but as you point out, it’s not easy in the current market.
    I think publishers are using numbers to keep racial variance to a minimum–if the overwhelming number of readers are white, simply based on statistics, then they will publish for a white audience. Which, of course, is a Catch 22 similar to the one where they say men don’t read. “G”
    Men might read more if there were more books of interest to them, but publishers and editors are generally female.
    I’m hoping e-books will change these parameters in a few years, but Linda’s post above raises a question. What if we could write romances set in the sixties and seventies, where women of all races are struggling to survive in a man’s world? Thinks we could start a new genre?

    Reply
  26. Fascinating topic, Pat! I’ve wrestled these issues as well, since I come from a white, rural, Yankee culture, and most of my books are set in England.
    But differences interest me, and when it makes sense for a story, I write in characters of different colors and backgrounds. (Twist of Fate and A Distant Magic both had main characters who were black.)
    But it’s easier to write characters of mixed heritage, which I’ve also done several times, because I can emotionally grasp the feeling of not quite belonging. So I’ve done that several times. (Indeed, I’m doing that in my WIP.)
    Struggling career women in the 60s and 70s? I think that would be a hard sell since a fair number of those battles have been won. Not all by any means, but it’s not longer as compelling a conflict, I think.

    Reply
  27. Fascinating topic, Pat! I’ve wrestled these issues as well, since I come from a white, rural, Yankee culture, and most of my books are set in England.
    But differences interest me, and when it makes sense for a story, I write in characters of different colors and backgrounds. (Twist of Fate and A Distant Magic both had main characters who were black.)
    But it’s easier to write characters of mixed heritage, which I’ve also done several times, because I can emotionally grasp the feeling of not quite belonging. So I’ve done that several times. (Indeed, I’m doing that in my WIP.)
    Struggling career women in the 60s and 70s? I think that would be a hard sell since a fair number of those battles have been won. Not all by any means, but it’s not longer as compelling a conflict, I think.

    Reply
  28. Fascinating topic, Pat! I’ve wrestled these issues as well, since I come from a white, rural, Yankee culture, and most of my books are set in England.
    But differences interest me, and when it makes sense for a story, I write in characters of different colors and backgrounds. (Twist of Fate and A Distant Magic both had main characters who were black.)
    But it’s easier to write characters of mixed heritage, which I’ve also done several times, because I can emotionally grasp the feeling of not quite belonging. So I’ve done that several times. (Indeed, I’m doing that in my WIP.)
    Struggling career women in the 60s and 70s? I think that would be a hard sell since a fair number of those battles have been won. Not all by any means, but it’s not longer as compelling a conflict, I think.

    Reply
  29. Fascinating topic, Pat! I’ve wrestled these issues as well, since I come from a white, rural, Yankee culture, and most of my books are set in England.
    But differences interest me, and when it makes sense for a story, I write in characters of different colors and backgrounds. (Twist of Fate and A Distant Magic both had main characters who were black.)
    But it’s easier to write characters of mixed heritage, which I’ve also done several times, because I can emotionally grasp the feeling of not quite belonging. So I’ve done that several times. (Indeed, I’m doing that in my WIP.)
    Struggling career women in the 60s and 70s? I think that would be a hard sell since a fair number of those battles have been won. Not all by any means, but it’s not longer as compelling a conflict, I think.

    Reply
  30. Fascinating topic, Pat! I’ve wrestled these issues as well, since I come from a white, rural, Yankee culture, and most of my books are set in England.
    But differences interest me, and when it makes sense for a story, I write in characters of different colors and backgrounds. (Twist of Fate and A Distant Magic both had main characters who were black.)
    But it’s easier to write characters of mixed heritage, which I’ve also done several times, because I can emotionally grasp the feeling of not quite belonging. So I’ve done that several times. (Indeed, I’m doing that in my WIP.)
    Struggling career women in the 60s and 70s? I think that would be a hard sell since a fair number of those battles have been won. Not all by any means, but it’s not longer as compelling a conflict, I think.

    Reply
  31. Frankly, I don’t read much of anything later than the Victorian/Edwardian age. Anything closer seems like real life to me. I don’t want real life in the books I read–I want BETTER than real life.

    Reply
  32. Frankly, I don’t read much of anything later than the Victorian/Edwardian age. Anything closer seems like real life to me. I don’t want real life in the books I read–I want BETTER than real life.

    Reply
  33. Frankly, I don’t read much of anything later than the Victorian/Edwardian age. Anything closer seems like real life to me. I don’t want real life in the books I read–I want BETTER than real life.

    Reply
  34. Frankly, I don’t read much of anything later than the Victorian/Edwardian age. Anything closer seems like real life to me. I don’t want real life in the books I read–I want BETTER than real life.

    Reply
  35. Frankly, I don’t read much of anything later than the Victorian/Edwardian age. Anything closer seems like real life to me. I don’t want real life in the books I read–I want BETTER than real life.

    Reply
  36. I’m half Asian and half white and I grew up in New York City, so I think for me, writing about other cultures and races isn’t too much of a stretch.I know it’s not like that for everybody, however. I’ve read many books–romance, historical fiction, general fiction–where a character came on, was a different culture, race, religion–and came across seriously awkward. I wonder how much of that awkwardness was because the author wasn’t comfortable or felt timid about writing that character’s experiences.
    I’d certainly love to see diversity in historicals, which is all I read when it comes to romance. I even started one, with a half-black heroine, after learning about Dido Belle, the niece of Lord Mansfield.

    Reply
  37. I’m half Asian and half white and I grew up in New York City, so I think for me, writing about other cultures and races isn’t too much of a stretch.I know it’s not like that for everybody, however. I’ve read many books–romance, historical fiction, general fiction–where a character came on, was a different culture, race, religion–and came across seriously awkward. I wonder how much of that awkwardness was because the author wasn’t comfortable or felt timid about writing that character’s experiences.
    I’d certainly love to see diversity in historicals, which is all I read when it comes to romance. I even started one, with a half-black heroine, after learning about Dido Belle, the niece of Lord Mansfield.

    Reply
  38. I’m half Asian and half white and I grew up in New York City, so I think for me, writing about other cultures and races isn’t too much of a stretch.I know it’s not like that for everybody, however. I’ve read many books–romance, historical fiction, general fiction–where a character came on, was a different culture, race, religion–and came across seriously awkward. I wonder how much of that awkwardness was because the author wasn’t comfortable or felt timid about writing that character’s experiences.
    I’d certainly love to see diversity in historicals, which is all I read when it comes to romance. I even started one, with a half-black heroine, after learning about Dido Belle, the niece of Lord Mansfield.

    Reply
  39. I’m half Asian and half white and I grew up in New York City, so I think for me, writing about other cultures and races isn’t too much of a stretch.I know it’s not like that for everybody, however. I’ve read many books–romance, historical fiction, general fiction–where a character came on, was a different culture, race, religion–and came across seriously awkward. I wonder how much of that awkwardness was because the author wasn’t comfortable or felt timid about writing that character’s experiences.
    I’d certainly love to see diversity in historicals, which is all I read when it comes to romance. I even started one, with a half-black heroine, after learning about Dido Belle, the niece of Lord Mansfield.

    Reply
  40. I’m half Asian and half white and I grew up in New York City, so I think for me, writing about other cultures and races isn’t too much of a stretch.I know it’s not like that for everybody, however. I’ve read many books–romance, historical fiction, general fiction–where a character came on, was a different culture, race, religion–and came across seriously awkward. I wonder how much of that awkwardness was because the author wasn’t comfortable or felt timid about writing that character’s experiences.
    I’d certainly love to see diversity in historicals, which is all I read when it comes to romance. I even started one, with a half-black heroine, after learning about Dido Belle, the niece of Lord Mansfield.

    Reply
  41. @ Jen in London – fascinating info – went and looked Dido up a bit more.
    @ Pat – I think the first world war is fair game, maybe even the second, but the 60’s and 70’s are too recent to really take off (in my opinion, of course). Historicals need the remove from contemporary times to free the reader of the ‘would I do that today?’ reaction to the heroine.
    @ MJP – I’ve enjoyed your character diversity!

    Reply
  42. @ Jen in London – fascinating info – went and looked Dido up a bit more.
    @ Pat – I think the first world war is fair game, maybe even the second, but the 60’s and 70’s are too recent to really take off (in my opinion, of course). Historicals need the remove from contemporary times to free the reader of the ‘would I do that today?’ reaction to the heroine.
    @ MJP – I’ve enjoyed your character diversity!

    Reply
  43. @ Jen in London – fascinating info – went and looked Dido up a bit more.
    @ Pat – I think the first world war is fair game, maybe even the second, but the 60’s and 70’s are too recent to really take off (in my opinion, of course). Historicals need the remove from contemporary times to free the reader of the ‘would I do that today?’ reaction to the heroine.
    @ MJP – I’ve enjoyed your character diversity!

    Reply
  44. @ Jen in London – fascinating info – went and looked Dido up a bit more.
    @ Pat – I think the first world war is fair game, maybe even the second, but the 60’s and 70’s are too recent to really take off (in my opinion, of course). Historicals need the remove from contemporary times to free the reader of the ‘would I do that today?’ reaction to the heroine.
    @ MJP – I’ve enjoyed your character diversity!

    Reply
  45. @ Jen in London – fascinating info – went and looked Dido up a bit more.
    @ Pat – I think the first world war is fair game, maybe even the second, but the 60’s and 70’s are too recent to really take off (in my opinion, of course). Historicals need the remove from contemporary times to free the reader of the ‘would I do that today?’ reaction to the heroine.
    @ MJP – I’ve enjoyed your character diversity!

    Reply
  46. Yes, I think people who grew up with ethnic diversity could handle the cultural differences sufficiently for fiction, since we are writing make believe worlds that merely need to be grounded in reality. I think there’s great hope for the future in this area and maybe even room to make romance a more exciting genre.
    I can’t even handle anything as late as WWI with any degree of grace. And I only like the Victorian era if it’s American, so I understand the fantasy element!

    Reply
  47. Yes, I think people who grew up with ethnic diversity could handle the cultural differences sufficiently for fiction, since we are writing make believe worlds that merely need to be grounded in reality. I think there’s great hope for the future in this area and maybe even room to make romance a more exciting genre.
    I can’t even handle anything as late as WWI with any degree of grace. And I only like the Victorian era if it’s American, so I understand the fantasy element!

    Reply
  48. Yes, I think people who grew up with ethnic diversity could handle the cultural differences sufficiently for fiction, since we are writing make believe worlds that merely need to be grounded in reality. I think there’s great hope for the future in this area and maybe even room to make romance a more exciting genre.
    I can’t even handle anything as late as WWI with any degree of grace. And I only like the Victorian era if it’s American, so I understand the fantasy element!

    Reply
  49. Yes, I think people who grew up with ethnic diversity could handle the cultural differences sufficiently for fiction, since we are writing make believe worlds that merely need to be grounded in reality. I think there’s great hope for the future in this area and maybe even room to make romance a more exciting genre.
    I can’t even handle anything as late as WWI with any degree of grace. And I only like the Victorian era if it’s American, so I understand the fantasy element!

    Reply
  50. Yes, I think people who grew up with ethnic diversity could handle the cultural differences sufficiently for fiction, since we are writing make believe worlds that merely need to be grounded in reality. I think there’s great hope for the future in this area and maybe even room to make romance a more exciting genre.
    I can’t even handle anything as late as WWI with any degree of grace. And I only like the Victorian era if it’s American, so I understand the fantasy element!

    Reply

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