Good morning and welcome on Queer Books Unbound! I am very excited to share a new guest post for our blog series Authors Unbound with you today. Please give Lila Mina a warm welcome!
Diversity in Romance – Let’s Season It a Bit!
Thanks to the boom of self-publishing, the Romance genre has never been more diverse than today. Let’s recognize that indie authors play a huge role in the current efforts to make Romance a bit less white, ableist and cishet, and with HEAs that don’t necessarily mean married with a baby on the way, but rather finding closure and happiness with the people who matter to you.
It’s rather self-explanatory that the world isn’t only made of ingenue women with pink nipples who started their new barista jobs two months before, and of powerful and dashing CEOs with a six-pack to show. The harsh truth is, when you look at the world at large, those kinds of protagonists reflect a very small minority. And while we all want to dream and love retelling of fairy tales, Cinderella doesn’t have to be a blue-eyed blond girl anymore, and for once, Mulan could come to her rescue.
Readers of English-written romance represent an audience that covers the entire world. We need stories with protagonists who look, sound and act accordingly, in lesser known places than London or San Francisco.
So, we need more diverse books with queer leads, and not just in the Romance genre. Within this, there must be more cross-sectional efforts: diversity and representation in origin, culture and religion, in language, mental and physical health. And also… in age.
I’ll be brutal here. It is vital for Romance readers to come across protagonists, especially women and LGBTQIA+ folks, who are over 35. At its core, Romance is about finding love – including self-love. On top of identity, orientation or origins, we all need to see that there is no end date for doing that, and that nobody should ever see themselves as ‘too old to be lovable’… and beddable. The genre is filled with silver foxes and older gentlemen who woo younger partners off their feet – it’s fine, it’s great, give me the age gap trope any day, but why can’t women and LGBTQIA+ folks also project themselves in a heart-warming future with someone their age… or younger for that matter?
After all, if there is one common denominator for all of us, whoever we are, wherever we come from, is that nobody gets any younger. And if it’s indeed crucial for teenagers and young adults to see LGBTQIA+ protagonists of their age finding love, care and acceptance, it is also vital to read stories where this happens much later in life.
This is one of the central themes of my saga Temper. This interracial and paranormal trilogy has two bi heroines who are 37 and 42, as well as a pan hero who is 57. My fiery, competent, hot-tempered Lana figures out her bisexual identity over the course of the story, and the trio works out their complex polyamorous relationship while fighting curses, merciless families, past trauma, and ancient demons in Tokyo. Temper is also extremely steamy – kinks abound, making Kindles self-combust, panties melt. Like reviewers say, it’s not your grandmother’s erotic romance – and well, no, it shouldn’t be. Temper has been extremely well received, and two sequels will be released in 2020, but it will never become a bestseller. Because Lana and her wife (yes!) aren’t 22, it’s not taking place in downtown Chicago, it crosses too many genre boundaries for easy categorization, and well, the things this trio loves doing together…
So, why is it so hard to sell mature female and LGBTQIA+ protagonists to readers, especially when they have scorching hot sex?
First of all, let’s start with social expectations regarding women over 35. You are supposed to have figured it all out by then. Career, family, place of living, gender, sexual orientation. Actually, strike the latter – you’re not supposed to have desires anymore, because you’re a married mother of 2.4 children, and hot moms are only fine in erotica or hard porn written for and by cishet men.
This is of course utterly wrong. You can be divorced, a widow at 37, or simply not interested in marriage. But you can also be happily married and realize that it’s not the sexy soccer coach who makes your heart beat faster, but your neighbor Ana who has the most wonderful brown eyes and the sweetest laugh. By now, you have figured out what you enjoyed in bed and what you didn’t, and you have enough self-confidence and zero frack to give to embrace new roads, new kinks. Oh, and maybe you and your partner, with whom you’ve spent the last twelve years, think it’s time to bring someone else in your bed – a long time partner, two of them, or someone just for fun. Or both of you part ways because after all these years, it is time for you to come out and be in line with your true self, and someone else is a better match for your needs.
You don’t figure yourself for good at 18, 22 or even 29. In fact, there is no end date for self-awareness, healing, growing and changing, for exploring and discovering new things about yourself. To say the opposite is the biggest social lie ever, but it endures given that it’s about control, especially of women, their bodies, their intellect and ambitions, but also of men, by shaming them when they wish to be in touch with their emotions and true aspirations. It is devastating and blocks people from achieving their true potential.
As an author, once you have realized this, the possibilities for new stories, new tropes, new settings, new struggles and new forms of closure are endless for Romance stories. Ah yes, let’s be clear. A woman’s transformative journey shouldn’t only belong in Women’s Fiction (because apparently when it’s about a man, we don’t need a genre for this). One of my issues with the prerequisites of WF is that sex shouldn’t happen in there, or if it does, behind closed doors, because ‘who wants to read about granny sex?’.
Heck, no! Show me those mature bodies! Show me this incredible hot passion born from experience and knowledge of self! Show me this renewed desire, this unbridled thirst, this exploration of dark red waters, where you don’t have to, or don’t want to care about commitment, marriage, kids and so on, because been there, done that, or it’s not your goal… or simply because life decided you can’t, and that’s also valid.
For that matter, show me strong, kickass and smart mature women who will hunt down demons or vampires because it’s their job or because they threaten their loved ones, and then let out steam between the sheets with a sexy trans slayer, or a disabled rune specialist (or both at the same time). You know, I was 18 when Buffy aired for the first time, and she’s still one of my fav. I can’t imagine she put away Mr. Pointy at 28 and gave up on hot steamy sex at 35. Neither would Willow.
Wild, isn’t it? Yes, too wild for many. And that’s why ‘seasoned romance’ of any sub-genre – while in high demand from readers, check out the success of Facebook groups like Romance in her Prime and Seasoned Romance – still struggles with traditional publishers. We don’t want to give the wrong ideas to women, don’t we? And if this is true for women as a group, it is even more fitting for LGBTQIA+ folks who have it even worse.
At some point, you have to stop waiting until those who benefit from the status quo accept to share crumbles of the cake with you. So go on, Indie authors of queer fiction, write novels with the protagonists you need to see out there, and inspire folks around the world by showing them that, yes, love comes to you in all colors, tastes, shapes… for as long as you live.
To recover from a terrible assault that shattered her life, short-tempered Lana Martin has poured all her energy into her international career and is now a workaholic consultant based in Tokyo.
Not one to turn down a challenge that allows her to tread into the waters of her darkest desires, she accepts the indecent proposal of her martial arts instructor to become his submissive in a dynamic that tests her resilience.
To her surprise, their affair spreads like wildfire and lits another blaze, this time between Lana and Honda’s wife, the sophisticated socialite Yuki. At first unsure about her own desires, but unable to ignore the strong pull she feels toward Yuki, Lana embraces what the couple offers her.
What Lana doesn’t know, however, is that their powerful passion rouses dark powers who waited for decades to claim their prizes. Lana must confront the darkness eating her from within, while pulling back Honda from the edge of madness. Yuki’s unwavering strength keeps them sane – but for how long?
A two-edged sword, the trio’s fiery passion will either destroy them or be the key to their salvation.
Coming soon from Lila:
An avid reader of most — if not all — genres, I have been writing for twenty-five years.
I love blending genres to create powerful characters, emotional plots and exciting stories that hopefully will stay a long time with my readers.
Strong, courageous and resilient, my female protagonists embrace their desires and identity while battling inner demons and dangerous foes.
I live in Japan with my family. The rich and beautiful traditions, the amazing nature and the long history of this country are a constant source of creative inspiration.
You’re interested in participating? Great! Just shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org using Authors Unbound in the reference line and we’ll get things set up.
We can’t wait to hear from you!