May is officially the Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month in the US and this month, I’ve decided I’m going to read romance novels featuring heroines of Asian descent. Before today, I’ve only read a few, among them Nalini Singh’s Rock Courtship, Alisha Rai’s Pleasure series, The Bollywood Bride by Sonali Dev, Lora Leigh’s Wicked Pleasure, Jaci Burton’s Midnight Velvet, and Fobolous by my friend Rainne Mendoza.
My Goodreads search proved to be frustrating as there are very few books that answer to the criteria – 190 if you include South Asians. Amazon is not much help either – only 40 are listed and most of the heroines are half something else.
It’s no wonder that 63% of those who answered the Dangerous Books for Girls survey said (they) “…think there is not enough diversity in characters and settings…”. It’s true, there’s not.
In the same study, it was learned that there were over 9,500 Romance ISBNs in 2013. Very likely, that figure went up in 2016. If I would hazard a guess, the number of those books who have Asian/Pacific Islander heroines would be pitifully small, could only be just a handful. Why? Are people not buying them? The Romance genre is a Billion-dollar industry and there’s no market for novels with my kind of protagonists? That’s sad and I refuse to believe that.
According to the 2010 US Census Bureau Statistics, over 3.3 Million American husbands have Asian wives. If only a small fraction of those wives read romance novels, that’s still a substantial number who may want to see their stories told in books. Toni Morrison said, “If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” So, that’s what I’m doing, I’m writing their story.
I’m writing MY story.
The ebook of Dangerous Books for Girls, Maya Rodale’s nonfiction book on romance novels, is on sale for $2.99. This book, published in May 2015, is based on Ms. Rodale’s master’s thesis which examined the stigma attached to consumption of this genre.
As a reader–and now, writer–of romance novels, this study fascinates me. Even when I was young, I was never ashamed of reading them because I was known as a math nerd. Nobody maligned me for my choice of reading materials. The only reason I hid books within the folds of the skirt of my uniform was that I was not supposed to be reading during school hours, and not because of the subject of my book. I would have done the same for a Shakespeare or a Charles Dickens title. But then, it’s probably because I grew up in the Philippines, where you’re encouraged to improve your English as best as you can. Reading anything in the language was an accepted–even approved–means of doing that.
I never knew that Americans are looked down on when they read romance. That was weird to me because most of the books I read in Manila were from the US. Even when I came to the US in 2005, I was still oblivious. Had I been interviewed for this study, I would have been one of the “50% of romance readers who love the genre and don’t care who knows it”. I surely would have answered that romance novels make me happy.
As a writer, I am encouraged by this infographic. Especially as I’m hoping to address the lack of diversity in characters and settings issue mentioned here. I hope my multicultural, contemporary novels set in Southeast Asia will find a place in the romance readers’ bookshelves. I certainly hope they won’t feel guilty about reading it for pleasure.
Thanks, Maya Rodale, for this enlightening study. Your books are now going up on my TBR pile.