The Therapy for Black Girls Podcast is a weekly conversation with Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, a licensed Psychologist in Atlanta, Georgia, about all things mental health, personal development, and all the small decisions we can make to become the best possible versions of ourselves.
Before summer ends and you head back into whatever your fall schedule will look like this year, we want you to join us for one more fun, just for you experience. We thought it would be nice for us to choose a book for us to read as a community and then come together to discuss, and what’s better for a summer read than a romance novel? The book we’ve chosen for our last days of summer read is Seven Days in June. So if you haven’t already, grab your copy and then sign up to join us for a virtual book chat later this month at therapyforblackgirls.com/bookclub.
And to kick of the experience, this week we’re joined by the author of Seven Days in June, Tia Williams, as well as Berry Sykes, a hardcore fan of romance novels, to chat all about the genre of romance and particularly Black women in this space as both authors and characters.
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Our Production Team
Executive Producers: Dennison Bradford & Maya Cole
Producer: Cindy Okereke
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Session 219: Romance Novels for Black Women
Dr. Joy: Hey, y'all! Thanks so much for joining me for Session 219 of the Therapy for Black Girls podcast. We'll get right into the episode right after a word from our sponsors.
Dr. Joy: Before summer ends and you head back into whatever your fall schedule will look like this year, we want you to join us for one more fun, just for you experience. We thought it would be nice for us to choose a book for us to read as a community and then come together to discuss, and what's better for a summer read than a romance novel?
The book we've chosen for our last days of summer book club is Seven Days in June so, if you haven't already, grab your copy and then sign up to join us for a virtual book chat later this month at TherapyForBlackGirls.com/BookClub. And to kick off the experience, I'm very excited that the author of Seven Days in June, Tia Williams, is with us today as well as Berry Sykes, a hardcore fan of romance novels, to chat all about the genre of romance and particularly black women in this space as both authors and characters.
Tia had a 15-year career as a beauty editor for magazines including Elle, Glamour, Lucky, Teen People and Essence. In 2004, she pioneered the beauty blog industry with her award-winning site, Shake Your Beauty. She wrote the best-selling debut novel, The Accidental Diva, and also penned two young adult novels It Chicks and Sixteen Candles. Her novel, the award-winning The Perfect Find, is being adapted for film by Gabrielle Union for Netflix. Tia is currently an editorial director at Estee Lauder companies.
Berry Sykes is the creator of Podcasts in Color, the largest directory of people of color podcasts. She is passionate about helping people find podcasts by people of color creators. Born and raised in Denver, Colorado (also where she currently resides), podcasts are her link to the outside world. Marketing podcasts is a passion and she is always looking for creative ways to make it happen. If there's something that resonates with you while enjoying our conversation, please share it with us on social media using the hashtag #TBGinSession. This is a spoiler-free chat so you can enjoy it even before you've read Seven Days in June. Here's our conversation.
Dr. Joy: Thank you so much for joining me today. I really appreciate you hanging out and talking about romance novels with me this afternoon.
Tia: I'm so excited. It's my favorite thing to talk about.
Dr. Joy: Likewise. So Tia, I would love for you to just kind of get us started by talking about what actually makes a romance novel a romance novel. Like how is that genre classified?
Tia: Well, there are some actual hard and fast rules that you have to follow for it to be considered a romance. Like a romance isn't just fiction with a love story in it. The love story has to be prominent–so it can't be like a thriller where they're solving a murder or something, and then they accidentally, way in the background, fall in love. That's not the point at all. The love has to be forefront and there has to be a happy ending.
Dr. Joy: Really?
Tia: Yeah. If there is no happy ending, it's not a romance.
Dr. Joy: And who sets these rules? Where do these rules come from?
Tia: I don't know. I mean, maybe it's the Romance Writer Association. There are long held hard and fast rules.
Dr. Joy: Okay, that’s really interesting.
Tia: Yeah. And the fandoms get into battles over it, honey. Like “no, no, no, this doesn't classify...” you know. So like, we’re speaking in technical terms, that's what that is. But like I grew up on movies like Romancing the Stone and things like that. They're like on adventures in Cartagena, Colombia, like solving insane mysteries but falling in love. Like that's a romance to me, but yeah.
Dr. Joy: But that might not technically classify?
Dr. Joy: Yeah, interesting. Berry, I saw you shaking your head when she said the fandoms kind of get into it. What have been some of your favorites and how did you like get into this genre?
Berry: I would say like I've always been a reader. I don't know how to explain that to people but I've always been a deep reader. I’m one of the children where I meet other women and they're like, “Yeah, I was picking up books at people's houses and just reading them,” and I'm like, yeah, that was me picking up books at people's houses. And I came up on a romance book at someone's house, I have no idea. And it kind of was like, okay, I like this kind of story.
I found out those were the kinds of books in the grocery store, like those Harlequin type of books. So somehow, I happened to come by one of those and I sent that little slip in like they sent you books. And they sent books for like three months before they sent a bill that my mom was like, okay, so what’s up? I would say like I got into it and it was just like, oh, I need more, I need more romance. This is the cutest thing ever. This is the kind of thing I needed. And it would be like all types of stories, it wasn't just one type of person. But I just felt like it was an escape, so.
When she says that, I totally agreed. And like getting deeper in, my mom's best friend's daughter read black romance and so she's the one that got me into Beverly Jenkins and Brenda Jackson and that type of thing. And that was when I got into the fandom type of thing. Like joining a Beverly Jenkins Yahoo group, it kind of was like a whole different world of like the rules and what people expect. And like when things are released, they're like the respect people expect to give, and it's very deep. And people feel a way if you don't understand it and you're in the space.
Tia: Oh yeah. Right now, there's rumblings within the fandoms because the Romance Writer Awards just came out and the person who won for I think Best Christian Romance or Best Inspirational Romance, it's like a colonial-era American story. And like in the first chapter, the white male protagonist like kills native tribes. It's totally offensive and so wrong and it's like, why is this rewarded? I don't know if you’ve followed this on Twitter.
Berry: Yeah. I'm deep into the romance part to like the things that I love, I'm a fan. Everything and the deepness in the behind the scenes. So I've been through the whole RWA and I actually stopped paying attention because of all the drama that happened beforehand and who ran it and things like that. So I try not to give it a lot of attention. And it's because of that. It's like, we do all this, we call you into accounting, you say these things have changed, blah, blah, blah, and then the first time we come around, we see something else. You do something else. And it's like, so do we have to stay in outrage? And I don't like that. So it's just easier for me to follow the authors I like and deal with the things I deal with and not like those organizations necessarily, if I don't have to.
Tia: And you know what? I'm gonna do that, too. I'm following your lead because it gives me such...
Dr. Joy: Probably a good idea.
Tia: Oh my God.
Dr. Joy: Yeah. So it sounds like, much like other areas, like this is an area... And I know from my own experience like it wasn't until probably college where I even saw like black women in romance novels. And so I’d love for both of you to share some of the differences you see, like when black women are the lead characters, and what kinds of things really make a romance novel exciting to you.
Tia: That's tough because if you're a black woman writing a black woman character, it's all you know. And they're all different types of black women, the same way there are all different types of white women. So a black character to me isn't defined by being a black character. I'm not really sure how to answer that. Like you have very silly black female heroines in romance novels, you have very cerebral ones. You have sort of like the virgin deflowered, you have the flirty ones. There are so many different kinds.
What is definitely true is that it's taken far too long to get here to this place where we have so much representation, and there's enough space for there to be more than just one black female protagonist trope. I think it was with the advent of self-publishing that really did it. Like suddenly there were all these different voices and, you know, you're seeing black in all these different genres that they hadn't been before, and characters portrayed in different ways that they hadn't before. And it really opened up the genre to new experiences. The problem with book publishing is that the gatekeepers are super-duper white. More so than in music, more so than in movies and film, like you see all sorts of positive progressive changes being made, like especially in TV like Atlanta, Insecure, like Queen Sugar, like all these... Mindy Kaling’s fabulous show (it’s not black but you get me).
Berry: But I do have to say, just like those industries, it’s the stands and the fans of black romance that pushed authors up to actually be paid attention to and like why they are a thing. Like it wasn't because somebody said, oh, okay, let's choose a black author and put them out there, I would say until like the last couple of years. It was the people building up and like having such a fanship of like I release a book and even if you don't acknowledge me, these people buy it so much, I end up on these lists and you wonder about me. And it kept doing that where it was like people had to pay attention in different ways.
Like BET, I remember doing the [inaudible 0:11:53] movies. Like I remember being so excited, like, they know who Brenda Jackson is, they know who these people are, like they’re actually seeing what this is. It wasn't the best movies but I was like, there's somebody seeing this and seeing that it should be on screen and trying to like create a connection to do something more. And I do wish more could have been done with that or somebody with another vision could have been a part of that because I'm like, it could have been a bigger thing than it was.
But back to your question, Dr. Joy. Like for me in starting off, it felt like black romance books were more family oriented than white romance books. Like black romance books would have parents in it or grandparents or like mention siblings and all that kind of thing. And white romance books were more like the people were the people and they had their children or like things around them and the bigger story didn't connect necessarily always to their family members. And like I had to grow into that with Nora Roberts and other things like that.
But like coming in, it was like, oh, they have all these brothers and that's exactly what I think of as a black family, is like somebody with five brothers or like a younger sister is gonna act like this in a family or grandparents are going to let the grandchildren do anything. And what can you do about it? And it just kind of felt like normalized for me.
Dr. Joy: It sounds like the things that you really enjoy, Berry, are like when their world is built out. So that there are these supporting characters and other things going on besides just like the love story.
Berry: Yes, because that's a part of romance. Is like the people around you like contributed to it in some type of way. Like they're the people you talk to or the people you'll depend on in different ways to help you. So I like when they're in the story.
Dr. Joy: Tia, what kinds of things do you consider when you're like building out a new love story?
Tia: It's a romance pet peeve of mine when you're just presented with these two characters and told that they're in love or told that they should be in love. It's very important for me to build the case for them so that by the time they finally like get there, you are so invested, like you'll just die if they don't get together. I want my readers to feel like these two were fated to be together so I really love like really building the case for these two people being soulmates. That's what I love.
Berry: I just want to say like in the middle of a book, I will shout like, yes, that's exactly what it was... Go after her!
Tia: Yeah, it has to make sense. It's almost like a legal case, like you have to have everything in place and it's like putting together a puzzle. And the way I really love to do it is with dialogue in my books. I love the way people talk to each other: I love colloquialisms and like different generational language and just witty, sparkling convos that you never have in real life. Like you always think of the line in the shower, like long after the conversation has been had! I love that.
Dr. Joy: Yeah. I feel like you do an excellent job of that. Like I feel like especially with Seven Days in June, but also with The Perfect Find. Like I could really picture these scenes playing out in my head. Like, oh, this is what Eva’s apartment looks like inside, and like I can imagine Audre in her room, you know. So I really feel like there was a lot there that allowed me to kind of come up with the pictures for myself of both these characters’ worlds.
Tia: Oh, great! Yeah, that's what gets me excited. I love doing that.
Dr. Joy: Yeah. So there's a line in Seven Days in June where you talk about “your misogynoir is showing.” So they are author panel and there's a comment around how romance is often fluff, right? And it seems like this often comes up–really anything that like women in particular love. And so I would just love to kind of hear more of your thoughts about that. I would imagine that is, you know, you wrote it in the book but you've already kind of alluded to this kind of being what happens in real life. So what kinds of things have you done to be able to kind of manage some of that?
Tia: It's really frustrating and you hit the nail on the head. It's like things that women love are never taken seriously, they're just not. Like they're considered silly, they're not considered serious and they're definitely not considered high arts until like a man vouches for it. And I think it's complete bullshit, obviously, the idea that what I do is fluff. Nathaniel Hawthorne said, “Easy reading is damn hard writing,” like it is a skill and a craft to be able to seduce wide ranges of people into a love story.
In the wrong hands, it could be comedy, in the wrong hands, it could be horror, like if you get it really rough. Try a sex scene sometimes! It's really tough to do this genre correctly. And you see it with everything. It's just media is born of a patriarchal structure so if something centers emotional life and loving and being considerate and soft and caring, it's just too girly and it’s too silly. And it's a shame.
Berry: It is because like for me, romance books, I always liked it because the women are so strong. Like they think for themselves, it's not like just simple “I'll go along with anything,” they push back. They're very much like I'm doing this and I'm gonna say my thoughts so if you would like to be around, these are the things that you're gonna encounter being around here. So I think that people think it is just like, oh, I meet this man, and I swoon. And it's like that's not it at all. I like it because women do push back and they are getting someone who is their equal in a way of that they'll have these conversations with them and not back down. And I feel like that's part of the reason I connect.
Like I love your book, Tia, I'm reading it right now. But I was like it's not that the conversation’s *[inaudible 0:17:39], like children aren't going to be the same, like a child is gonna press their buttons and see what they can do. And as a parent, like I’m not a parent but I meet other people. It's like, okay, how do I go about this? There is no perfect way or perfect response. And I was like, that's what I like about romance books and books in general, is just like that realness and not trying to necessarily create a world like where nothing would ever happen in the book, but like bringing in different types of things.
Dr. Joy: What kinds of things do you think romance novels specifically bring to black women? Like why do black women often find solace in romance novels? Specifically, in black romance novels.
Tia: We deserve to see ourselves reflected in love stories, in feeling great about ourselves, being loved the right way, connecting with other people, being seen is so important for black women. I mean, for so long, we're just sort of like the mules of society, just carrying everybody on our back. And it's a gift to see black women loved and respected and valued in these books. And that's what I always try to do. I try to make it a gift for black women, an escapist fantasy that we can get lost in.
Black women, I'm targeting first and whoever else likes it, yay. But I really do want to appeal to us first because I feel like we really, really deserve it and for years it just wasn't there. When I was growing up in the 80s, like I was into Johanna Lindsey and Kathleen Woodiwiss and Jude Deveraux and all the early Sandra Brown when she was like exclusively romance. And it was just a really, really white landscape. I mean, there was really only Beverly Jenkins, and that's when I got older. And so I would read them and recast the characters as black people in my mind. Like black people I knew, black movie stars, black singers like Ralph Tresvant was in quite a few in my head. And that's just lame. We're not the black versions of a white character or like a white story. We should be able to exist in our own narratives. Yeah, that's what I think we get out of these stories.
Berry: I feel like it fills the gap for me. Like reading Francis Ray and other people, they gave black women like they were executives, they were nurses. They're ranchers, they're not just like, oh, you're either a mom or you're something else. It's like they filled the gap in many things. Like, yes, you might be a photographer. Yes, you might be a model. Like there's just different types of things you might be and just regular jobs. And I think that became like, okay, these are women I might know. This is a woman that is a social worker or something like that. These are the people that connect for me. So I felt like when I was reading Rochelle Alers, like Brenda Jackson, and it's like, okay, these are the kinds of people I know. I know Caribbean people, I know people with money that aren't in the United States but their family are connected to other places and they speak Spanish and English and things like that. So it kind of just brought like layers to life that white romance books weren't bringing for me.
Dr. Joy: Mm hmm. More from my conversation with Tia and Berry after the break.
Dr. Joy: You know, the other thing that I really love about your books in particular, Tia, is that it feels like you also have this added layer of writing for a little bit of an older woman. So I think most of your characters are 35 and older or are like late 30s. I think that that is also like a segment that can sometimes be left out of romance novels–like not these young single people but people like that have stuff going on in their lives. Can you speak to that a little?
Tia: That's just me being old. Yeah, I mean, I'm 45. I wrote my first novel, The Accidental Diva, when I was 25. And it shows. Like the things that were important to me then or mattered to me then was getting my career on track, like really trying to figure out who I was like post college as an adult, and that's what was happening in that novel. A woman at the beginning of her career, a guy at the beginning of his career, like they're trying to figure it out, like you still have a roommate maybe. But then like as I got older, my life and my perspectives changed. In The Perfect Find I wrote about a 40-year-old woman when I was 40. The bottom falls out of her life and she has to reinvent herself in a new job, in a new world. And I was experiencing that and it was nutty and I thought it was ripe for fiction treatment, so that's where that came from.
And then Seven Days in June, I think Eva and Shane are 33, and they're only 33 which is super young for me, obviously. They're 33 because I wanted their teenage flashbacks to be in the early aughts. I just think it was such a weird time culturally and it’s really rich to write about and so yeah, so that's why. But I wouldn't be averse to writing a younger character, it's just that my books usually reflect where I am. And I have a 12-year-old daughter, Eva has a 12-year-old daughter. Yeah, like being a single mom is something that...
My daughter's father and I were divorced when she was 11 months old so we co-parent, I see his apartment through my window, like it’s fine. Like she walks back and forth, it's fine. But when she was with me half the week, it's just the two of us. And we sort of, as any single mother of a daughter (a single daughter) knows, like you just become this sort of symbiotic organism, like living in your own bubble. And it's such a special and unique relationship with like your own language and rituals and inside jokes and things that you do together, that I just was like, yeah, I've got to write about this. And it’s something I couldn't have written about as a 25-year-old.
Dr. Joy: Mm hmm, yeah. Something else you included in this book that I'd love to hear more about is like living with a chronic illness. Because I think that's something else that you don't necessarily hear like in the romance genre. And so I’d just love to hear why it was important for you to include that and maybe if you want to share anything around like how that does come up in relationships. Like talking about illness.
Tia: Yeah, it sucks. Eva Mercy, the protagonist of Seven Days in June, has chronic migraines since she was a child and so do I since I was nine. And my diagnosis is intractable which means incurable, which means things work for like three to six months and then they stop working and then it's back to square one. And I have a migraine every day, I wake up in pain every day, and it affects everything. I mean, any chronic pain sufferer, whether it's fibromyalgia, whether it's arthritis, any sort of like nagging, relentless pain that can't really be treated, it rules your life. It's bigger than any emotion, it's bigger than any feeling, it's bigger than any relationship you have, it's like you're the pain with a person attached. And you don't see that representation in the genre.
I'm not a fan of sickfic even though people are. Actually, I really liked The Fault in Our Stars. But I never really wanted to write sickfic and other than that, I couldn't figure out how to weave pain into like what should be a sexy, sparkly, dazzling, escapist love story. And honestly, it wasn't until I got to being in my 40s and my perspective sort of changed, it stopped being something that I hid from people so that they wouldn't think I was complaining or I was making it up. Because, you know, when you have an invisible disease, if you're not bleeding or limping or in a wheelchair, it's really hard for people to understand that you struggle so badly. So I always tried to hide it or make up lies about why I couldn't go to things or go to the second party. Like if I go out, I can only go to one thing, I can't like go to a second place, if that makes any sense. Because it's all I can bear, is just the one first place.
But anyway, I got to my 40s and I was like, why am I hiding this? I know there's a whole community out there who suffers in the same way. And we just never see ourselves deserving of like big love and great sex in the story. And I was writing at a time when my head was really bad and it was really hard to be a single mother. And I felt like I was doing everything from the couch–I was like doing homework on the couch, ordering dinner from the couch, detangling her hair from the couch, like everything from the couch. And I was like this sucks. So I sort of made up Eva and gave her a happy ending and like this epic love story as like a treat to myself.
And the crazy thing is, halfway through writing this book, I swiped right on my husband. It was almost like I manifested it. And I only swiped right on him because he was so good looking. I was like, he's too hot for this ever to go anywhere real, like he's definitely going to be a bad boy, like we all know how this is going to end. And I married him in December, so a very responsible pandemic wedding in a hotel room with just us two with my daughter and officiant, very masked up and, you know, Zoom. But yeah.
Dr. Joy: Wow! Well, congratulations.
Tia: Thank you.
Dr. Joy: Berry, is this something that you've seen in other books that you've enjoyed? You know, like you talked about like really enjoying the relationships and their families and stuff like that. Are there other pieces like disability or other things that have come up for you in some of the books you've enjoyed?
Berry: I would say not necessarily. Like the thing that makes me think of this, and it's not a disability but just like as a difference, is Indigo by Beverly Jenkins where the main character, her hands are dyed indigo because she was a slave. And so when she was picking, it died her hands so she would wear gloves and things like that, so that people wouldn't talk about it or mention it, that kind of thing. Things happen during or like there's a book where like somebody's dealing with something.
There's only one book I read during the pandemic and the person uses a wheelchair and that was like, I don't even remember. I just remember reading and I was like, this is different. But I was like, okay, I can go with this. Like this is something that's normal, I can see this. So it kind of just felt like an expanse to the stories that I felt like during like the height of COVID last year and things like that, I was just reading any and every romance book that I could find if I liked it. I’d just read a chapter or two and then I'd be like, all right. I was just searching on Twitter for different things like that so I found a lot of different things I didn't normally read.
Dr. Joy: Mm hmm. You know, Tia, some of the other things that you dealt with in Seven Days in June are topics like self-harm and alcoholism. And I'm just curious to hear like you also included that which I think can also be a difficult balance when you're talking about something that has to have a happy ending. And so what were you hoping maybe that readers could get if they were going through a similar kind of struggle?
Tia: Well, you know what's funny? I wasn't really thinking about the reader when I wrote these characters; I was really thinking about the characters, like what was true to them. I wasn't writing it as a lesson or any sort of morality play or “this is what happens if you do this.” And I wasn't even writing it as like inspiration. Shane is in recovery but who knows what's gonna happen to him down the road? And everyone's journey is different. This is just it happened to work for him this time but it never had before and we don't really know if it'll stick.
I just wanted to show like a slice of life and I guess if a reader got from the characters a sense of strength and stick-with-it-ness (which is not a word) but both Eva and Shane have their own... You know, they come from very troubled childhoods and they had their own coping mechanisms. And they each coped in different ways and they were not healthy ways and they had different ways of overcoming them. Like for Shane, it was going to AA and that worked for him. For Eva, it was just cold turkey, walking away, going to a different city and changing her name. We all have different ways of dealing with uncomfortable pasts.
But I do think that it's important and what Eva realizes is that until you reckon with your past, until you forgive who you used to be, somehow learned how to get comfortable with who she was, there's really no way to move forward in your life with any authenticity. By the end of the novel, she's claimed that girl and her weird ancestors that she was so ashamed of, and you get the feeling that she's gonna move forward and be like a stronger writer, a stronger mother. This phrase is overused but she's like “standing in her truth.”
Berry: That's the part I was gonna say. Like about romance books, is that they're accepting of themselves at the end. Like part of them getting together is part of them saying like, I need to be okay with these things about me and like how I feel about these things, no matter what that person is saying. Even if that person loves me, I still have to get past these things to be able to be okay. And I really do like that, that it's like, no, I need to deal with things within myself so that I can still be with this other person and it's not bothering me–these things that I haven't dealt with. So I do like that part.
Tia: It's important for female characters, no matter the genre. Like I mean all characters, but women are more complicated than men. Ssh, don't tell anyone! But I think that it's really important that I want to see this when I'm reading. I want to see a character arc, I want to see her ending up far from where she started. I don't want to see, you know... I want to see growth, it's inspirational.
Dr. Joy: Yeah. You know, something I'd love to hear from you, Berry, is if you've seen this theme because this was prominent in Seven Days in June, like this childhood romance and then like reconnecting later in life. Is that something that you see as a theme in a lot of the things that you read?
Berry: I do see things like that. Childhood or even like college to adult story. Like, you know, we came back around five or 10 years and now we're in the same city and we're talking about the same things. Like okay, well I knew you like as a teenager and we kind of were in the same circles but I didn't pay attention to you, but now that we're adults and kind you kind of look fine, I want to talk to you, type of thing. So I like that circle back type of story, that kind of thing of like maybe that person was around but you just weren't ready or having those conversations. So now that you're adults, it can come back around and you all can revisit what might be, type of thing.
Tia: The trope is officially called second chance romance so if that's something that listeners are into, like you can literally hashtag search in Twitter or any social media platform–second chance romance, and you'll just get a list.
Dr. Joy: Yeah, The Perfect Find had a bit of that as well, Tia, so is that something that you really enjoy? Like writing about the second chance romance?
Tia: Well, I think The Perfect Find is enemies to lovers. There's very specific romance tropes and sometimes they overlap. But The Perfect Find, because they did not like each other and then they really didn't like each other and then they fell madly in love with each other. A second chance romance has to be like a significant amount of time between when you were together and then when you get back together.
Dr. Joy: Okay. More from my conversation with Tia and Berry after the break.
Dr. Joy: Can you say more about some of these other tropes. I am not deep enough into the genre to know that there are these terms, so what are some of the other ones, like the other kind of themes?
Tia: Okay, so there's second chance romance, enemies to lovers, friends to lovers, fake relationship–which is one that I love a lot.
Dr. Joy: What is fake relationship?
Tia: Berry, do you want to take it?
Berry: I need you to be my fiancé, I have a family event coming up and I just really need somebody with me because I don’t want to have a conversation. But it is somebody, I’m asking a person that I kind of like so that when we’re there and we have to share a room, things become a little bit more complicated. And then by the end of the time, we’re together.
Tia: Date to a wedding, like we're gonna pretend we're together for this wedding because I don't want to have explain anything to my grandma why I'm still single. Like that whole thing.
Dr. Joy: Okay, any others?
Berry: I like the one-night stand “oh hey, I had a baby or I'm pregnant” type of thing, like coming back around. To me, that's always surprising. Like what they’ll have the person say or how they react type of thing.
Tia: Pregnancy is good. Like, oh bring a baby, oh! Like, yeah, that's a fun one.
Berry: I knew a secret that I didn't tell you and then when it comes out it's like, you could have told me the entire time.
Tia: I like “you work for me, that's really good, like you're on my payroll or like we can't do this in the office, obviously.” And then they're caught after hours in a conference room. I like one famous person, one regular person. Regular, you know what I mean. Not regular...
Dr. Joy: Not celebrity.
Tia: Not famous, yeah.
Berry: I'm a fan, like right now I've been deep into sports ones. So like where it's a hockey team...
Tia: I never read a sports romance.
Berry: Like, I'm like the hockey team, so it's all like men players type of thing or that kind of thing. So I'm into like and this the hockey team that's like so it goes player to player to player. And you kind of hear about an organization type of thing. I know Farrah Rochon has one like that. I've done Sarina Bowen, *[0:41:04] that's one person like I found her during the pandemic and I love her. I’m just like I love a sports romance of like, oh okay, because of the timing. During normal romance, you can be together at any time. So with sports romances, this person is going to games a lot and you're doing things in one months’ time and two months’ time. And like, you know, like the spacing is just different. And what they expect from the other person is like, not always being able to do person to person so there's texts or emails or like...
Berry: Different like things, so I'm into sports.
Tia: Which is a lot of the “one is a celebrity and one isn't” trope as well. It's like, okay, I'm on tour or you're coming with me, like everything is heightened.
Tia: Oh, my gosh, I have to try the sports one.
Berry: Yes. Jaci Burton *[0:41:47] is a good one, too.
Dr. Joy: Tia, do you see this area? You talked earlier about like kind of how self-publishing really just opened up the doors. But do you see this genre as one where more black women are getting contracts like from some of the major publishing houses?
Tia: I mean, yeah, but we're not paid the same. I don't want to complain because it's absolutely true. Right now, there's like a renaissance, we're definitely getting deals. Not getting the same deals but at least we're in the door and our books are on shelves and that representation is just so important.
Dr. Joy: Mm hmm. Yeah, we talked earlier in a previous conversation I had with Dr. Racquel Gates who does a lot around black women in reality TV. She talked about how sometimes it's difficult for like reality shows that have a black cast to do well with white audiences. But your book was chosen as a Reese's Pick book club and so I'm wondering if that same kind of thing happens with romance novels. Like have you seen any of that, like difficulties with white readers kind of taking to your characters?
Tia: I don't think we have enough time for this question. I have to be honest with you. Like this is a whole podcast theme in and of itself. It’s funny because I actually haven't. Because I mentioned before that I write, mostly I'm inspired from my life when I write my books. And so I spent 15 years as a beauty editor at a fashion magazine so my characters were in fashion or beauty. And for a time, I was the only black beauty editor at a mainstream magazine, not counting the Essence Women and Ebony, I mean like in Elle and Vogue.
So I also worked at Essence and working with just an entire floor of black women was like, oh! I didn't go to an HBCU so I feel like that's my HBCU experience. That was going to Spelman for me. But, no, prior to that, like it was just me and so I'm writing from this place with people that are like the only black in the professions that they're in. And so that's like a comfy point of entry for a white reader. This was not done intentionally on my part; this is just the life I have, you know. And even now, as an executive editorial director at Estee Lauder Companies, like I'm definitely the only black editorial director.
And so it feels safer to enter into a book where I always have white characters. My characters are in professions that are traditionally white and so I think it’s just as, yeah, like I said, an easier point of entry. I actually had black readers, when I wrote the Accidental Diva, write me saying, I didn't know that black women could do that. Like Berry was saying earlier, these stories that are centered around us, they can open the audience's minds to things you never had even thought about. If you're black and you don't know anyone who has gone to New York and started a career as an art gallerist and you’ve always liked art, like huh, okay, well then I guess we do that. Sometimes you don't know you can do something till you see it.
Berry: I can say, just to speak on a little bit of what you said, Dr. Joy, just like white audiences and black books. Like, I'm a big person like with podcasts where I want to meet podcasters and I've met my favorite authors. I've met E. Lynn *[ 0:45:21], I've met Francis Ray, Brenda Jackson, those kinds of people. I would say it kind of felt like when the person had a big enough fanship, that like they were talked about other places, like no matter what the subject was. So I'm like E. Lynn Harris? He was coming to Denver and he was still at a room and it wasn't a lot of black people. I'm like, it felt like people that were talked about and like understood, like creating conversation and chatter and like that, had a bigger thing than people that like just kind of wrote good books and kind of put it out.
Because I'm like, there's a lot of books I remember from the 90s where it was like they did one or two books and like, you know, they were gone. And it was like a good thing but it felt like we didn't have the chatter on our side because we don't have the media and that types of thing to keep that thing going. You're not going to walk in a Safeway in Denver and find, you know, a black romance book the same way you can just find a random white romance book or like different books type of things.
So to me, I've been glad to see people take off in romance or like get talked about on a bigger level because that brings other conversations in. Because I'm like, alright, if that book is going viral, that means other people are looking for more books, then that brings more conversation and like hopefully more people into the conversation. Then I'm like, I remember being in high school and having favorite books and I'm like, I can't find those on Amazon now. If they're probably maybe in my friends’ like garage or something and if we went and *[inaudible 0:46:43]. But I'm like, there's so many authors that like we loved.
I remember there was a book called True Blue and like I can't remember who the author was. I just remember it was in the 90s and me and my cousin loved this book. And I'm like, I can't find it anywhere and it was just a black romance book. And I'm like, we don't have that where I can look that up pretty easily and find some book that I thought of that I loved and it was obscure. So it's like, we just don't have what the other people have in ways and so I'm glad that people are getting more attention and more people, like this was picked for a reason. But I was like, that's something big, we're out here. Look at the black authors we’re in romance, like we do love on all types of levels.
I blast the conversations on Twitter and other people are seeing it and like putting it in a bigger way. Because like the RWA made a whole big conversation on like who gets things and who gets what and who is actually acknowledged and who's actually building the space and like coming. And I'm like when RWA came to Denver, Colorado, I was like I'mma gonna go down there and meet Beverly Jenkins and I'm gonna go meet the authors I like, and I've liked that. But I'm like, if it's at the expense of them feeling like they're not great or like those people are making them feel worse as an author when I think they're the best thing, you can come by yourself and I'll figure out how to get there. Or tell me you're going to go somewhere and I'll figure it out. Because it's like I understand I want people to expand, but I also understand some of those spaces aren't for them and are hurtful to them so it might not be the space for them. It's just kind of like I wish more, but I understand.
Dr. Joy: Yeah. Final question. For both of you. I would love to hear your thoughts about like, where you are excited for the genre to go next. Like what is left?
Tia: Where are the movies? We need more.
Dr. Joy: Well you have a couple coming out, right? So The Perfect Find just wrapped and I think Seven Days in June has been optioned, right?
Tia: It has, yeah, I’ve had a TV series. I want more. I don't mean I want...
Dr. Joy: You personally.
Tia: I mean, I want to see all of Jasmine's books as movies. During the process of Seven Days in June being optioned, like one of the questions that always came up was, what's your favorite big screen or TV black love story? And invariably, it was Love Jones and that was in 1998.
Dr. Joy: Wow.
Tia: And that's not okay, it's too far away. I want to see it on the big screen or, you know, my TV. So I really hope that more books get optioned and I hope that some production companies are looking beyond the really big books and considering some of these smaller ones that have like really passionate following but aren't on a bestsellers list. Or even fanfiction. There is some amazing fanfiction out there written by black women. So, yeah, that's what I would really love to see. As a movie buff, yeah, I need that.
Dr. Joy: Okay. What about you, Berry?
Berry: I can see that more stories are being told like Brenda Jackson as of This is Love, a podcast episode, explaining how she did it. There's a black romance podcast, I think it's called Black Romance Podcast. A media space. There's always been this big thing as me, a social media person, that a lot of black authors didn't understand how to promote themselves. They didn't know like what podcast to go to, they didn't know like the space they can go to. They're just like we'll see them and like we connect, that type of thing. So I feel like I'm seeing that space being built, like as a connection of like we don't have to go through a Today show to try to find somebody else. It’s like I can listen to the Black Romance podcast.
Or there's a Twitter page, I think it's Woman of Color Romance. It might be listed on there when they put out their list or they're doing their Patreon and things like that. So I'm finding the in between space of like how do I find you all talking about your things and doing that without having to follow you everywhere because I'm not going to do that? Those spaces that are being built and I'm hoping that more people pay attention to those spaces and give love to those spaces so that those kinds of places can be built so we don't have to necessarily look at those other places if we don't want to. We can be like oh, I listened to this and this is how I found this. I go to Woman of Color Romance and I know that new books are there.
I'm a big person, I'm always on RomanceInColor.com. I don't know if anybody else goes to that anymore, but they list the books that come out throughout the year that are black and that's like something I’ve probably done forever. And I'm like RomanceInColor.com, I probably go there five or 10 times a week. Like, okay, what's coming up? What's been out? When I'm looking for a new book, I’m like there's things like that and just looking into those spaces, and feeding into those spaces to know that we are looking at those to find stuff.
Tia: I remember that site. I didn't know that it was still...
Berry: Still going.
Tia: Wow, I have to check it out.
Dr. Joy: Yes. So Tia, where can people find you?
Tia: Hopefully, on Romance In Color! On Instagram, I'm @TiaWilliamsWrites. On Twitter, I'm @TiaW_Writes and on Facebook I'm Tia Williams.
Dr. Joy: And books can be found everywhere.
Tia: Yeah, yeah.
Dr. Joy: And what about you, Berry?
Berry: I'm Podcasts in Color–Twitter, Instagram Facebook. PodcastsInColor.com.
Dr. Joy: Perfect. Well, thank you both so much for chatting with me today. I really appreciate it.
Tia: Thank you, it was so much fun. Thanks for having me.
Dr. Joy: Absolutely.
Berry: I can discuss romance books at any time.
Tia: Yes, same.
Dr. Joy: I'm so glad that Tia and Berry were able to join us today. To grab your copy of Seven Days in June and sign up for the book club, or to check out the Podcasts in Color directory, be sure to visit the show notes at TherapyForBlackGirls.com/session219. And don't forget to text two of your girls and tell them to check out the episode as well.
If you're looking for a therapist in your area, be sure to check out our therapist directory at TherapyForBlackGirls.com/directory.
And if you want to continue digging into this topic or just be in community with other sisters, come on over and join us in the Sister Circle. It's our cozy corner of the internet designed just for black women. You can join us at Community.TherapyForBlackGirls.com. Thank y’all so much for joining me again this week. I look forward to continuing this conversation with you all real soon. Take good care.