• Join 627 other followers

  • Facebook

  • Twitter

  • Most Recent Posts

  • What I’m writing about

  • Archives

When a story isn’t yours to tell

Every writer fails, and we all have story(ies) that go unfinished for any number of reasons. Sometimes they defeat us. Sometimes they aren’t our stories to tell.

I have been working on a ghost story since roughly 2002. A couple of years ago, I answered the question “What is your next book about” on Goodreads with this answer.

My novel, which I’m just calling “The Ghost Story” publicly, dates back to a Halloween contest on Literotica over a decade ago. I wrote a short story for the contest, but to my surprise the characters wouldn’t leave me alone.

I was inspired by several things–my deep love of New Orleans, my fascination with New Orlean’s unique history-especially placage relationships, and my desire to write a ghost story.

I’ve actually tried to write this story various times over the last decade, but I would inevitably get stuck and rather than keep writing I would just keep trying to make that part perfect. Things like having kids and moves also would break my momentum and I would pick up something else and put the book down again.

This is the first time I’ve tried to sit down and write it since becoming published, so hopefully this will be the time I succeed

It seems like wanting to turn my short stories into novels is a particular curse of mine (coughPlundercough).

But the point is that this story has defeated me time and time again.

Yeah, they’re vampires, but they’re hot men who “lived” in New Orleans, so it’s the best image I could find

The last iteration that I tried to write had dual timelines–one the events leading up to why there’s a ghost in the first place, and the second in modern times (2014 per my last drafts).

I think one of the problems that I keep running up against is that a key part in the historical chapters deals with plaçage, or the process by which a black girl would enter into a business relationship with an older, white man in New Orleans. There is a trope in literature called the “tragic mulatto” and I had been desperately trying to avoid falling into that trap.

As a regular person, I adore New Orleans. I almost moved there before meeting my husband–our relationship killed my plans, and New Orleans is like the lover who got away.

As someone with a degree in history, I am fascinated by the sexual history of New Orleans, because it is so unlike that of any other city. Plaçage relationships were usually arranged at or after the Quadroon Balls. Jazz came out of Storyville, the red-light district. The Black Creoles’ relationship to white Creoles, other free black citizens, “Americans,” and slaves is the subject of many historical texts, which I’ve read over the years since my first visit to New Orleans.

But there is the problem of me, a white woman, writing about a black woman’s life. In the end, I’ve decided that changing the ghost’s backstory entirely is for the best. Not because I think my original idea is bad, it’s that I’m not the right person to tell it. No amount of research will make this particular story work. I will fuck it up—with only the best intentions, but good intentions pave the road to hell for a reason.

Does this mean I’m never writing a romance with a character of color? No. I think I did Arjun justice in Capturing the Moment. I think I did the character of Saanvi justice in “Love is a Virus.” I think I can write the Lioness in the shifter novel, a black woman, with respect and sensitivity.

Plunder is set in the Caribbean, which means I can’t ignore the issue of slavery–especially given that William won Puerto Seguro (Safe Harbor) via a bet. In the current draft he doesn’t want to be a slave holder, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have to deal with the slaves who are part of the sugar cane plantation. They distrust him, and with good reason. He must use an intermediary to do so–in this case the man who has been like a father to him, who is also black, and therefore more trustworthy. And because this is an incredibly sensitive part of the book, and one I have a lot of potential to fuck up, I am asking my betas to go over with a fine toothed comb. My research isn’t worth a damn if I can’t write it well. Depending on their verdict, the plantation could be deserted upon his arrival on Puerto Seguro, which is a cheap sidestep, but it may be better to do that. But I’ll still have to deal with the question of slave ships, and the role slavery played in that period of time.

I have a number of beta readers who aren’t white, and they know that I won’t push back if they tell me I’m fucking something up or being a Becky. An example is that in an early draft of Capturing the Moment, I used a food metaphor in relation to RJ–that his eyes were like liquid chocolate or something. One of my betas sent me an article discussing why that’s a bad thing, and I changed it.

I think my job as an author is to remember that the world isn’t white and to include POC characters, when I can do so with thoughtfulness and respect–and hopefully without fucking it up. But it is also my job to know when to stay in my lane and not tell a story.

Moreover, it is my job to elevate the voices of POC romance authors through the purchase of their books (because money talks) and reviews of their work/recommending their work to my romance-reading friends. Can I write a book with a black character/s? Yes, I can. But Alyssa Cole, Beverly Jenkins, Rebekah Weatherspoon, Talia Hibbert, and Shelly Ellis (among others) can do it immeasurably better.

Review: On Pointe by Shelly Ellis

This contemporary novella, set in DC sets up the MacLaine Girls series.

Bina MacClaine is the daughter of the founder who can’t convince her mother that the business is in trouble. She teaches lessons and acts as the business manager. The book opens with her meeting up with her ex, his offering to buy her mother’s dance studio on behalf of a client, and her dumping her coffee over his fuckboy head. (More of this, please. Can this be a romance trope?) She is furious when she returns to work that day only to find out her mother has hired another teacher, when they can barely afford the teachers they have (and not for much longer).

Maurice is a back up dancer and choreographer from Atlanta who grew up in DC taking lessons at MacLaine. He came back to get away from some things and a specific someone. Mo always had a crush on Bee when he was a teen but she didn’t know he existed beyond as a student. He’s all grown up, and still crushing on the older woman. Can he convince her to see that he’s not a kid anymore? Will his past threaten his new life?

Bina’s mother Yvonne,who discovers that she had stage 3 cervical cancer and keeps it a secret, is the third “main” character in that there are sections written from her point of view. Her illness serves to flesh her out, as does her burning desire to keep the academy afloat no matter what. She’s had the chance to sell in the past and refuses to do so. However, there’s a lot of room for expansion, and I wonder if we’ll continue to get her point of view in future books, or if her inclusion was largely to help set up the future books.

I like that the age difference between Bina and Maurice and more to the point their former student /teacher dynamic is a big obstacle. It is made very clear that there was never any attraction on Bee’s side. Their slow burn of their sexual tension is well crafted and hot. They are an easy couple to root for.

There’s not a lot of time spent getting to know more about the academy and the other teachers/dancers there or their dynamic with Bee/Mo/Yvonne, and I would’ve liked to see more (I’m guessing that will play a larger part of future books). Gentrification and the consequences of that play out as part of the book, and the pressure on the business is really well done. We don’t see that addressed very often in romance, and I liked seeing it, perhaps in part because I live in Silicon Valley where gentrification and displacement because of it are a reality of my community. We see the role that the school has played in the community and that it has produced several powerhouse performers. If it shutters, it will have real consequences for the community.

Buy On Pointe at Amazon