“Aka” Why Alice Martin is NOT A SIDEKICK
It’s MLK Day, and it’s also Pandemic Times which means I’m in my house with plenty of time to reflect. I’ve been knocking this post around in my head for a while, especially after a conversation with some dear friends who write actual romance novels, so today, you’re gonna hear my thoughts!
Women of color don’t get a lot of leading roles in romances or even fan fiction—at least, that’s what I learned growing up. Characters who looked like me were always the friend or the sidekick. I didn’t get to be the “totally normal on the outside but secretly the most magic special person who the universe revolves around.” The vampire never came to school and swooned over my kinky curls, and if I had a dollar for every time I read about “perfect alabaster skin,” I would be rich. When I did show up in stories, it was often tied to trauma. Don’t get me wrong, it can be empowering to read characters who have your experiences, but the characters who looked like me had their experiences basically narrowed down to racism.
Even in D&D, which I absolutely ADORE, I find myself changing the skin tone of NPCs or giving the powerful wizard some dope afro puffs just to see more of myself reflected.
Now, I’m delighted by how much this is starting to change. There are amazing writers out there bringing Black Girl Magic to the page. It’s not enough; obviously, the publishing industry is still ::waves hand:: what it is, and writers of color are often held to a whole different standard. But I’m seeing it a lot more, and it makes my heart full.
But back to the BBD universe and SimLit. I wanted to write some heroines who looked like me, and they needed to be powerful, smart, special, and yes—sexy. The sexy part is essential, vain as it may seem. The “homely black girl” who only ends up with the love interest through sheer personality is a trope in romance that I just cannot with in the Year Our Lord 2022. If white women get to be hotties in fiction, black women do too.
And that’s not the only deliberate choice I made. In BBD, I wanted Alice’s family to be successful even as she struggled a bit to find her place in the world. I have also written her as unapologetically prickly, a theme you’ll see continued with Penny Pizzazz. I have to do everything at 200% just to be at baseline in real life. I wanted heroines of color who didn’t have to carry the legacy of “twice as hard” around with them in my stories.
But what about the romance of it all?
I firmly believe that writing a HEA—the hallmark of romance—is a revolutionary and feminist act. And for those reasons, writing characters like Alice or Penny or as the romantic leads who will get a HEA was vitally important to me because while they were powerful, I wanted them to have space to be vulnerable.
If you’ve ever run into the “strong black woman” trope, you know what I’m talking about. Alice is allowed to cry, feel unsure of herself, be afraid, and it’s not a failure. She has a soft place to land in the form of her romantic interest. Likewise, I’m excited to explore all the ways Penny learns to be vulnerable in this new story. I’m a huge fan of the princess saving herself, but I’m also equally enamored with the princess getting saved when she’s always had to pull herself up by the bootstraps.
I guess that’s why I’ve given myself permission to engage in tropes. Sometimes they need to be flipped on their head (do you want to talk about writing murder heroes who don’t practice toxic masculinity? Because I could talk about that for hours). But other times, it’s nice to let someone who’s never had the luxury of experiencing the trope be at the center of it.
And that’s really the whole vibe. I wanted to read characters like me doing all the things I love in the genres that make me happy. I’m the author, this is my (insanely time-consuming) hobby, so I get to do that. And maybe this sort of thing will happen enough times the next generation of nerdy black girls grow up seeing themselves (if you don’t think I have some YA adventure with Gwendolyn as the protagonist floating around in my head, you don’t know me).
And that’s all. Happy MLK!
(new chapter next week if you were wondering ::wink, wink::)