Reel of The Day: Black Romance Has a History!

Today I broke down 50+ years of Black Romance history through ten books from my collection. It’s not comprehensive or anything- think of it as a research amuse bouche to whet your appetite!

For more, check out the chapter by Beverly Jenkins in one of my favorite books of the year, Black Love Matters. You can also check out my incomplete but more robust timeline of Black authors in romance (including non-Black romance) elsewhere on the blog.

Oops, I had an opinion.

It began, as so many things do, with a sleepy tweet on a sleepy Sunday.

I was just stating an opinion- not trying to stir the pot or cause a ruckus. But. What followed was perhaps a predictable nightmare swirl that comes with going viral in romancelandia, particularly if you present as male. “Mansplainer” was bandied about, intentional and unintentional misreadings abounded, I was accused of trying to kill the HEA (Happily Ever After), and I eventually just had to disengage. There was no room for actual conversation, largely because of my gender. A normal person might’ve apologized profusely and deleted the offending tweet.

But here’s the thing.

I’m right. I was then and I am now.

And not just because it was my opinion (which, don’t we get opinions about books anymore?), but because the two books I allude to did play with the HEA tropes of their moment. Yes, tropes. Word choice matters. But more on that in a minute. First, let’s talk about the books.

Nurse Morgan Sees It Through by Rubie Saunders (1971)- The fourth in Saunders’ series of nurse romances focused on the character of Nurse Marilyn Morgan, R.N., this focuses on the nursing adventures of Marilyn as she cares for the sick daughter of a Broadway star and falls in love with the new attending physician who’s assigned to the case. At the end of the book just as in the other three Marilyn and Ed are happily dating but not engaged or married. In this book, the engagement ring that typically appears at the end of a nurse romance is on the finger of Marilyn’s roommate.

Today, we would call this book a Happy For Now, but in 1971 this just wasn’t done. Category romances like the Signet Nurse Romances Saunders was writing ended with an HEA 99 times out of 100. Saunders wrote Marilyn not as a prize for some lucky doctor, but as a fully formed woman whose story couldn’t be contained in one book.

Back in the Day by Katrina Jackson (2021)- The second story in Jackson’s Bay Area Blues series, the book begins with widower Alonzo packing up his house to move in with his son after his wife dies. What follows is Alonzo telling the story of how he and Ada fell in love over a weekend- sometimes told to Amir, sometimes just to the reader- with interludes in the present that show the community that Ada and Alonzo built over their long and happy life together. It’s a brilliantly told and emotional story.

Does the fact that we know that one of the characters is dead at the beginning of the story take away from the fact that it’s a genre romance? I argue no. The narrative may not be as linear as today’s typical story, but all the elements a romance reader would expect are there.

Both of these books are 100% genre romances. The love story is central to the plot, and the central couple is happily together. But in both books, the author has taken the tropes typically associated with the HEA convention of the moment they were written in and subverted the expectations of the reader.

“But Steve, HEA/HFN is a convention, not a trope!” Sure. But be that as it may, the HEA/HFN convention frequently uses the same tropes over and over again. Maybe it’s the last minute reversal of fortune, or the change of heart, or the battle against evil being won, or whatever. How that HEA/HFN finally comes about can be any number of ways, but it often repeats across books within the genre or subgenres. And that’s fine! But it’s also possible to break from the typical tropes and structures and still have that convention. And I would argue it’s a necessary evolution of the genre as stories become more inclusive and the idea of what a “happily” means to one set of people is different than what it means to others. That was the point I was trying to make, and that’s what got lost in all the noise that followed.

I don’t suspect the people who got real mad at me will read this, and that’s alright. And smarter people than me can probably give better and more complete explanations than I did here, and that’s fine too.

TL;DR- You don’t have to agree with me.

But I was right.

Image of shrine with two candles and an image of Ernest Borgnine from the movie RED

Archives Month: Tips for romance authors (and others!)

October is always American Archives Month, which is of course when archivists don their colorful costumes and dance in the stacks after assembling their shrine to Henry the Record Keeper, as portrayed by Ernest Borgnine in the classic film RED. May his cozy cardigan keep us warm in the year to come.

Shrine consisting of two candles and a picture of Ernest Borgnine from the film RED
My Henry shrine (no lighting the candles, though- fire hazard!)

Am I the only one who’s ever actually created a shrine to Henry? Yes.

Will I ever stop trying to make it a thing? No.

After the celebrations, we take time to talk with our friends and family about what it is we do (no, we’re not anarchists, well not all of us at least). Given my connections to the romance community, I always like to talk about how authors can preserve their own literary papers. Thus the topic of today’s post!

I have heard from countless authors that because of their relative level of fame, they don’t think their papers are worth saving. Nothing could be further from the truth. Even if your papers don’t end up at your alma mater or some other institutional archive, as an author, you are a business, and archiving your papers is a good business decision. Beyond keeping a record of your work process as an author, keeping good records can help you be ready for things like rights reversions, contract negotiations, or even chasing that scammer who copied and pasted from one of your books. Also, under the current copyright laws, copyright can last for the author’s lifetime plus 70 years. Keeping good records will help your family protect your intellectual property! What I’m trying to say is, it is not vanity to keep copies of the hard work you’ve done.

So what stuff should you be keeping, whether it’s for posterity or business purposes? I tend to split it into three categories. The first is anything that documents your creative process, such as:

  • Story ideas, notes, and research
  • Query letters and other early-stage correspondence with agents or publishers
  • Contest submissions
  • Drafts and manuscripts
  • Correspondence with publishers
  • Edited manuscripts and foul matter
  • Galley proofs and ARCs
  • Anything relating to cover art such as publisher information sheets, sketches or artworks, and proofs.

The second is promotional materials:

  • Conference/signing swag like bookmarks, buttons, cover flats, promotional postcards. NOTE: It’s okay to throw out perishable stuff or anything that smells. You’ll get tired of having that in your archive real fast.
  • Clippings of reviews, interviews and profiles. If you have recordings of TV interviews or podcasts, those are great to hang on to as well.
  • Fan mail/emails- in addition to making you feel good, it’s great to have for posterity!

The third is business papers. These are less for posterity and more to make sure you’ve got everything in order:

  • Financial records- bank statements, cancelled checks, royalty statements, bills, etc. These should generally be kept for a limited period of time. Check with your tax professional for advice on how long to hold onto these items.
  • Contract materials- given the nature of the publishing history, you should hang onto contract related items permanently, and be sure that your family knows where to find them.

This advice applies to electronic records as well as paper records. If you’re working mostly with electronic records, make sure you’re keeping multiple copies of things- just make sure you’re not relying entirely on cloud storage or hard drive storage. Remember that those things can go away at a moment’s notice!

For paper records, you can find acid-free boxes (and sometimes acid-free folders as well) at Staples and other supply stores. Remember that paper, like digital bits, is decaying all the time whether we like it or not- our goal is to keep it for as long as possible. So keep it out of light and in spaces that don’t have wild swings in temperature and humidity. This goes for print books as well. The ideal temperature for paper is something like 65-72 with a humidity of 40-55 percent, but that’s not always possible- consistency is often a more achievable goal.

This post is far from comprehensive, but it should give you a place to start. Lynne Thomas wrote a more comprehensive post a few years ago for science fiction writers; I highly recommend taking a look. If you’re looking to actually donate your papers, the Society of American Archivists has a helpful outline of what to think about and look for.

If you’re an author and you’ve got questions about your literary papers that I didn’t cover here, I am always happy to try and help or point you in the right direction, just shoot me an email. I hope this is helpful! If there are other topics relating to archives or collecting you’d like me to cover, just leave a comment!