Saturday, August 14, 2010

To Critique or Not to Critique...

Book cover 'borrowed' from Nora Roberts' web site by Denny S. Bryce

I’ve been in a mild quandary the past few days after receiving a list of potential critique partners and on it one of the writers listed African American as a ‘genre’ she’d be uncomfortable critiquing. My initial reaction was ‘huh?’ And frankly still hovers in WTF-ville.

But am I over reacting?

In romance (or any number of genres including nonfiction), publishers, bookstores, you name it, present ‘African American’ as a genre or a separate ‘section’ in their store or bookshelves or web sites. Publishers market books to specific audiences based on content, style, and/or the ethnic niche it may appeal to. And as a marketer, I get that. To reach prospective buyers you want to point them toward their proven preferences. If publishers sell books with African American main characters to mostly African American buyers then they market those
books accordingly. If buyers want one genre over another, the marketer wants to save them time, by letting them know more about the main characters or what the story may be about up front. In today's get it fast world, a decision to buy a book is not pondered, it happens quickly. Mulling over a purchase is quickly becoming passe. Marketers subscribe to the buying publics buying habits.

But in a critique partner or critique group if I felt uncomfortable critiquing romances without African Americans main characters, I’d be limiting myself to a very small list of prospective partners (lucky to find more than a handful).

I’m not saying readers shouldn’t choose or not choose to read a romance based on such guidelines as African American or Interracial, or Gay or Lesbian or Historical or Paranormal (although I might question their sense of fun regarding the latter:), but it’s the critiquing that gets me.

As a romance critique partner, I want to support my partner (or the group) and that means I'm looking for a good, consistent voice, story, plot, character, you know, the stuff that makes fiction work.

I write fiction with non-African American main characters. I write fiction with African American main characters. I feel comfortable and qualified to write stories with a multi-cultural cast because I, Denny S. Bryce, exist in a diverse society. Raised, worked, loved, and hung out, and still do, with friends and loved ones from different ethnic backgrounds. So I know the emotional journey of characters in a romance ain’t all that different from race to race from culture to culture. And even if I start writing steampunk (which I’m thinking about, seriously. I had a dream and yeah, it was good:) or some other historical, I’ll research to find a make-sense way to create a multi-cultural cast, but mostly, my goal will be to write an effective romance in a really good book.

Hopefully, when I get published (boldness ensues on a Saturday afternoon:), the readers who choose to buy my book(s) will relate to the main character’s journey because it grabs them. Whether they are white or black (the readers) is neither here nor there to me. I just want to write a good book that people want to read.

But let me not be too self-righteous here. I know plenty of African-Americans who don’t read popular fiction, don’t read romance with non-black characters, and aren’t interested in paranormal stories. And sure, some of them may be writers, mainstream authors, or politicians, but I still don’t get saying in a list of genres you’d be uncomfortable critiquing African American romance.

Am I na├»ve? Missing the point? Being hypersensitive?  Could be…

But if Nora Roberts had called me (no, she doesn’t have my number) and invited me to be her critique partner for “The Search” (and yeah, I know she doesn't need a critique partner) I wouldn’t have turned her down. Because I know her goal is to write a main character that will intrigue and relate to many readers of romance. I can go on a journey with Fiona, and fall in love with her dogs (and Simon, too). It doesn't matter to me that they aren't black or that the dogs are dogs. 

It matters that it's a well-written romance. And that would be a joy to critique.

PS: In case you're interested (and for full disclosure), I listed the following as categories I'd feel uncomfortable or unqualified to critique: traditional fantasy, high fantasy, no elves or were-seals (the latter I actually meant as a joke, because I bet there's a good book out there with an insanely well-written romance with elves or were-seals). So, maybe I need to check myself, huh?

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