I met romance Canadian author Alexandra Isobel last year when she signed up for a social media analysis. I thought it would be a good idea to check in with her now in light of the Black Lives Matter protests worldwide. Here’s what she had to say.
What is it like to be Black in Canada?
I was born and raised to the Caribbean (Trinidad and Tobago) in a very white middle-class neighbourhood. We were one of only three Black families in the entire area. Like most kids, I HATED being different and just wanted to fit it.
I was on the receiving end of comments and teasing (ranging from ‘Can I touch your hair, it’s so spongy’ to the N-word). Looking back, I downplayed my blackness (doing, saying, being anything that would remind people I was different) to fit in. Over the years, and especially in high school, I got very good at it. The end result is that I learned how to fit into ‘the white middle-class lifestyle’ and got comfortable there. It wasn’t until I was in university and was enlightened to the idea of Black pride that I stopped running from ‘being Black.’
My parents divorced when I was around ten. My father remarried a white woman and stayed in our old neighbourhood. My mother bought a house in a different neighbourhood where there were a lot more Black families. I was amazed there were so many other Black people out there. However, by then, my survival methods were pretty entrenched, and I knew precious little about ‘Black life,’ so the other Black kids labeled me an Oreo cookie; Black on the outside but white inside. To this day, I still get referred to that way!
Black and a Romance Author
Last year, The Guardian published an article titled Fifty Shades of White: the long fight against racism in romance novels. What has your experience been as a Black romance author?
I’m pretty new to the publishing world, and it’s funny how writing and books can keep you pretty anonymous. Like all writers, I’ve been writing stories from birth, and I submitted my share of books to romance publishers and editors. Naturally, (re-read my first question response), my characters were all white. When I would meet with people, I’d get the usual raised eyebrows. I knew they didn’t realize I was Black. I’d also get the people who would say, “You don’t sound Black on the phone.”
After I started to attend the ORWA (Ottawa Romance Writers Association, a local branch of RWA) and met my writing partner, I started writing interracial stories. Publishers were just beginning to publish multicultural lines. I remember her saying to me, why don’t you submit to one of these new lines? Just write what you know and submit a manuscript.
Amazon Categories for Black or Biracial Stories
On the Romance Writers of American (RWA) website, the lists for romance subgenres are:
- Romance with spiritual elements
- Young Adult
But these subgenres are different than the categories you select on Amazon, such as:
- African American Romance
Do you think the RWA needs to expand its list of subgenres?
You know it’s funny or ironic. When I got into indie publishing, I was so thankful and excited to write out-of-the-box characters that didn’t fit into the constraints of publishing houses. But, that freedom has presented other problems – which category do you choose and I have to ask myself (still) where do my books fit in? Even though there is an African-American box, it’s generally meant for literature, not romance. Though there is a multicultural and interracial box, there isn’t one for bwwm (black woman white man) and never one for (bwam) black woman Asian man. And as an avid romance reader (since I was twelve), I know romance readers can be a fickle group. They like to know ahead of time exactly what type of book they’re reading. I don’t like surprises when I’m choosing my next read and am sure other readers feel the same.
What is it like to be a Black romance author?
Do you consider yourself somewhat of a maverick in the genre, or do you have plenty of company?
A maverick around here (locally) maybe, but definitely not in the romance genre world. I was so happy to see such a vast community of Black writers and an equally broad multicultural and interracial readership. There is definitely plenty of company once you get connected to the niche.
Do you connect with other interracial romance authors, and do you help market each other’s books?
Well, here’s my experience from last year. I tried to enter a newsletter swap for the first time last year and was promptly rejected because I did not have a big enough mailing list (read that as no mailing list at the time). When I read that the author was Black, I emailed the author in charge to explain it was my first time out (in hopes of some, I don’t know, sister support, I guess), and she still said no. I did the same with another Black author who said, and I’ll never forget it. “Sure, try it out. We’ll see if we can get you some readers.”
Differences between Canada and the US
What is the climate in Canada and your community given the current situation in the United States?
The climate is pretty much the same, I would say, except that racism in Canada is just more subtle. I’m from Ottawa (political capital), so people tend to be always concerned over what’s politically correct. We’ve had a few #BlackLivesMatter protests and marches, they’re just unlikely to turn into a riot.
Do you have children? If so, do you have the same talk with them that Black parents need to have with their kids in the US about dealing with law enforcement? If so, how do you feel about that?
I have two boys, 23 and 20. They’re mixed and raised in a very white middle-class neighbourhood. We’ve had very frank conversations about, in the end, if something goes wrong, they are still young Black men and at-risk.
When I was young, I remember my sister and I talking about racism and bigotry. Though I don’t recall the whole conversation, I remember saying that I should be ‘exempt’ because I had a university degree. My sister just looked at me and said, “When the Klan’s coming, do you think they’re checking your degree!?”
I ended up telling my boys something similar. First impressions count. Something I highlighted to them with the recent incident in Central Park in New York City. (Amy Cooper threatened a Black man, Chris Cooper, when he asked Amy to leash her dog.) All she saw was a Black man. Full stop.
Racism Exists in Publishing
Do you feel that there is racism in the publishing industry?
Yes. It’s unfortunately everywhere. At this point, I think my experiences have been limited but ask me again in five years after I’ve been in the thick of it a bit longer.
Tell me more about yourself. How and when did you start writing romance books?
I discovered romance novels from my mother, who had a box of them under her bed. She was an avid reader or just about anything, but I loved the romances. My first favourite romance author was a Harlequin Ecstasy Supreme, Aphrodite’s Promise. My first favourite authors were Diana Palmer, Erin St. Clair, and Stephanie James.
When I started writing, I desperately wanted to write for Harlequin.
Romance Author Branding
The romance genre is a popular one. How do you try to distinguish yourself as a writer?
I think everyone’s style and genre distinguish them mostly, and a writer should just go with it. I lean toward alpha heroes and introverted heroines. I also lean to interracial couples. My settings are all over the place, but mostly in Canada with some series in the US.
When my setting is in the US, my editor, who fortunately is African-American, makes sure my characters and settings and dialogue are realistic. There is a difference between Black women in the US and Canada, and I’m consistently told that it comes out in my writing.
How do you use social media and other strategies to promote your books?
I love my newsletter list for two reasons: It’s full of people who actively like my books and writing, and every time I work with it, I think of that author who took a chance on me and helped me build it.
I also love Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter, but find Facebook to be a necessary evil these days.
Which book marketing strategies work best for you, and how do you capitalize on them?
So far, again, it’s been my newsletter list. I love it when a reader emails me after a newsletter. It lets me know that readers are really still out there, and I’m not just screaming into the wind!
The Hygge Lifestyle
You are also a hygge aficionado. What attracted you to this lifestyle?
Once I read about hygge, something clicked inside of me. I have been living that lifestyle for as long as I can remember. I just didn’t know there was a name for it. I’m a died in the wool introvert, and as you’ve read, do not like attention or standing out. So, staying home and turtling works for me pretty much all of the time. Making my spaces comfortable and beautiful is just a habit; small groups of people, or dealing with one or two friends and family at a time is enough for me.
What’s next for you as a romance author?
To just keep writing. If I can get all the stories that continuously run through my mind, written and out, I will be very, very, very happy.
Which of your books would you recommend right now to those who are reading this blog post (and why!)?
Definitely “Weekend Warrior.” It’s the result of a road trip I took last year for my 50th birthday with my sister. We went to Martha’s Vineyard, because like every older sister she decided I needed to learn. I thought I was going to see the famed ‘Kennedy playground.’ Instead, I was overwhelmed with the enlightenment of the hundreds of years of Black history on the island, particularly Oak Bluffs, where we stayed. It was the best trip ever, now permanently etched in my brain with the book!
Alexandra Isobel is a Canadian romance author with a head full of stories and no time to write! So, she plots them all out while standing on the yard, watching the children during recess.
She’s inspired to write alpha hero love stories and the women who can manage them from being a total action movie hound. Being an Ottawa native, a hugely culturally diverse city in Canada, her couples can’t help being swirl (interracially mixed).
I am an author and social media consultant for writers. My focus is on helping writers like you surmount the barriers that keep them from flourishing online and building their platform. I also provide content writing and email marketing services. Be sure to download my ebook about Twitter marketing. You can get it now for free!