I’ve had a book checked out from my hometown public library for 26 years. It’s stamped with the due date of November 25, 1992, the spine is lined, and many pages are dog-eared. The cover features a raven-haired beauty gazing hornily into the eyes of a handsome courtier who cradles the back of her head with, one presumes, pre-coital passion. All the Sweet Tomorrows by Bertrice Small is the first historical romance I ever read. Small, a best-selling author who wrote over 50 novels, introduced me to many things: how beauty lives in the fine details of historical fiction, that research will always ground your writing in reality, and that not only can a woman whole-heartedly enjoy sex, but that she can go out and seek it if she damn well pleases. And boy, can our heroine get it. The sex is intense and inventive — at one point, she spends months as a sex slave in Algeria and experiences threesomes, dildos, aphrodisiac-based torture… and a sex game involving horse costumes. Horse. Costumes.
I was scandalized. And I was smitten. Pre-1600 historical fiction was my sweet spot, but soon I branched out into pulp classics, like my mother’s copy of Peyton Place, and Harlequin romances of all eras, which I devoured as hungrily as a rakish lover’s lips upon a rosy breast. Once I left for university, I traded romance for Rilke and never looked back. Flash forward 20 years, however, and I’m chapters-deep into writing one. How did I get here?
As a book-obsessed child with a Dear Diary problem, I always wanted to be a writer. After 17 years in the media business, I turned freelance and my dormant book dream demanded to be heard. “Write me now!” it shouted. “Do it before you turn 40!” (Writers love a deadline.) That gave me about a year to make it happen. I just had to figure out what I wanted to write about and why.
Like millions of others, I embraced the return of romance in 2018. Netflix resuscitated the rom-com with the trifecta of The Kissing Booth, Set It Up, and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, not to mention signing a multi-million-dollar deal with Shonda Rhimes, who is adapting historical romance series The Bridgertons. Crazy Rich Asians owned the summer box office. And Leah and Bea Koch, sister-owners of the California romance bookstore The Ripped Bodice, recently signed a first-look deal with Sony Pictures Television to develop romance projects using their unique connections.
My theory is that everyone craves a little sweetness to cut the sludge of reality sometimes. When the world feels like a wound of negativity and intolerance, love, sex, and a happy ending can be the balm. As a biracial woman (Barbadian dad, Polish-Canadian mom), I was feeling the special brew of racism and misogyny that seemed to permeate everything. I wanted to provide an escape for me, and people like me, and romance was the way.
Although I’ve read thousands of books, interracial love stories occupy a wafer-thin slice of the pie. I sought inspiration at the library. I began following Alyssa Cole, author of The Loyal League series of interracial romances set during the Civil War (a delicate subject handled beautifully) and The Reluctant Royals series, where kickass, modern women fall in love with handsome royalty (Book #1, A Princess in Theory, is one of New York Times’ 100 Notable Books of 2018). I read Black romance giants like Beverly Jenkins, self-published successes like Rebekah Weatherspoon (also on NYT’s Notable list), and lots of short ’n’ spicy Harlequins through their digital line, Carina Press.
I also discovered a gold mine of advice, information, and support through writing communities on Twitter, and specifically from romance writers of colour. I had found my genre, and my hopeful tribe. I learned about pitching via hashtags, like #DVpit, where authors can pitch an idea to book editors and agents who are searching for writers of colour.
Once I learned that a publisher I admired was holding a Twitter event for diverse romance pitches, I shot my shot. Two tweets later, I pitched my book idea, received interest from editors, and picked one to work with. After submitting the first 10,000 words for feedback (my editor requested the full manuscript, but there are no guarantees), I’m currently chapters away from bringing my vision of romance to life. It stars two hot, smart people of mixed racial backgrounds who meet, f*ck, fall in love, and — this isn’t a spoiler, it’s our sweet reward — live happily ever after.