Monday, February 27, 2012

Chit Chat and All That! with Sharta Lira & Kendel Davi talking about interracial erotica

Intro: Greetings fans. This is Sharita Lira aka Rawiya/BLMorticia with NNP. The lovely Penny Peterson has given me the task of doing a chit chat with fab author, Kendel Davi who I’ve found to be very insightful and talented. And what better topic than interracial erotica for us since we both write it! This conversation was all through email and as you can see we discussed a lot. Instead of trying to separate it, I find that it’s better to leave our convo as is. Take a look at our discussion.

SharitaL: Hi Kendel. I did a couple of blogs on the subject a while back one on interracial gay male erotica.

The most recent was this one on Erotic Diaries  I think interracial romance is on the rise.
People are seeking it out more. I also belong to the IR romance group on Goodreads I go there sometimes to lurk and read. What are your thoughts?

KendelD: Sharita, thanks for passing on this information.  I've been following your work from your blog so it was great to get a chance to take a deeper look at these particular blogs topics.
Most of these ideas might seem random but I feel that if I get it out we can frame it anyway we want.

First, I have to agree with you as far as some of the thoughts that I've received from writers who are scared to dabble into the realm of interracial romance because they are afraid to "get it wrong".  I also agree that I've read some very stereotypical portrayals of characters of color in some erotic work.

However, I think what might be interesting to chat about is the fact that, since we are both writers of color, how we approach creating our characters.  With both of us being African American, how do we approach characters outside of our race when we write?  Also, since we both live in big cities (I lived most of my adult life in either Washington D.C., New York City and Los Angeles) how does that affect how we look at interracial relationships.

I write a lot of interracial F/F, ménage and group stories and I use a great deal of my experience growing up in a multicultural world for my characters.  I've had friends of all races and religions that have allowed me "insiders access" to their lives.  I use the information when it comes to creating characters.  Even as I'm writing this, I have stories out there which have East Indian, Latino, Asian, African-American and Caucasian characters.

I understand how a little bit or research can go a long way but I guess the question that I've always found interesting is, if you’re a person of color, when you think of writing romance do you think of character traits or race first?

For me, I always think of character first but most of those characters happen to be people of color because that's how I see the world.  I'm not sure if this is true for everyone and even with there being a rise in interracial romance readers are there certain genres that lend itself to a "slippery slope" when it comes to placing an ethnic spin on things?

A perfect example of this would be BDSM.  Personally, I enjoy reading these stories but whenever a character happens to be African-American, I feel that I have to look at the character with more scrutiny.  Especially if that character is a sub.  That might seem a little petty but I can't seem to let go of the history when it comes to the imagery.  Whether that character is male, female or transgender there is a part of me that tip toes through these stories trying to not allow the action to carry a specific meaning other than character wise.

The same goes for cuckold stories, which have a tendency to lend themselves towards more stereotypical imagery.  Even if the "Big Black Bull" is a three-dimensional character, the idea of the "Big Black Bull" still carries a historical connotation that has me wondering more about the author’s intent rather than the validity of the story. (Also, most writers forget that the idea of the cuckold comes from the female dominance of the submissive male and not the lust for black male sexual power re: Venus in Fur)

I've found a few stories that have been able to capture a balance between character and the historical implications of putting character of color in situations like this but they are very rare.

The same thing goes for the submissive Asian female character or the over sexed Latino.

I guess the point is that if the motivation is clear that the actions are coming from a character perspective then the story should work but you can't deny that the ground that you're walking on has all type of landmines that might turn the reader off.

That's not to say that these stories can't work or that they can't be written by authors of different races but I feel that sometimes the urge to try and embrace everybody by saying that race is only skin deep doesn't take into account that the perception is in the eye of the reader.

For me, I try my best to be all-inclusive and conscious of these elements when I'm creating characters because it’s difficult for me to think that a characters physical description is only the way that character looks.  It has to be all of those elements combined that makes them three-dimensional.

For my story "Umoja Mean Unity" that was in "Doing The Naughty List, Twice" my MC was half-Jewish and half African-American whose family celebrated both Chanukah and Kwanza.  Since this was a holiday anthology, the idea of having a bi-racial character fit perfectly but the balance between the two holidays and how it made my MC unique came from both personal experience and a great deal of research.  I didn’t think twice about “if” I could write this character but I also understood that striking the right balance between her religions and ethnicity was important to get the story across to the reader as well as keeping her unique and three-dimensional.

I know this is a long ramble but this has been on my mind all day.

To put it simply in a way that I think is odd and slightly funny is that I never questioned my abilities to write Caucasian characters in my stories but I can’t tell you how many blogs I’ve read where the opposite occurrence comes with a disclaimer and protest.

I guess if you have to explain to the world why you should be allowed to write interracial stories then maybe one should look at why you want to write them in the first place.

SharitaL: No everything you said makes sense. I definitely look at it from a character perspective first because regardless of color, no one should be the same. 
I have friends of other races as well. Not that I've delved into their personal lives but I'm of the opinion that we all could have certain traits but they shouldn't be regarded as stereotypes. 

Here's an interesting fact and I'm glad that we both touch on GLBT as well. For whatever reason, people think they must write a person of color a certain way. They're afraid to "not get it right" which in my opinion is silly. I mean, yes Asian's have certain cultural differences than say blacks or Latinos but it isn't written in stone that all Asians are one way and all blacks are another.

I like to write over different genres and races. I have two stories that are "out of my comfort" zone. One being an m/m about a Korean male who falls in love with a black man that visits his shop, and the thing that's real is they meet because of a racial stereotype. His father believes the black man may cause trouble or steal so he tells the son to go see what he wants. 

Unfortunately, that does exist and is the ugly reality because I deal with it in my own neighborhood. I've seen it happen. This may cause an issue but this has also been portrayed in movies too so obviously, it happens. Still, it doesn't mean that every Asian doesn't trust black people. 

You know what else bugs me is that some writers won't touch a black character and when they do, they make them like the stereotype.  Unfeeling alpha males, they talk slang, in gay books they're "daddies" and erm, in porn they are these huge-dicked monsters and are called that on the cover. Blacks and the white in the middle. *laughs* I abhor that! 

Sadly, it happens in erotica too. I'm not sure about f/f but I know in m/m it does. Thankfully there are writers who write novels that know better. Not every black man is uneducated, talks slang, etc. Now that being said, it doesn't mean I don't do it. I myself don't talk much slang but I know to bring a little reality to the story and the character, it might be necessary if that's the way they come out. However with me it doesn't happen often.

I know I just talked your ear off and went all over the place but I think you get from me that I hate stereotypes and wish people would accept people as that, people, not expecting them to be the "fiesty Latina, the uneducated black male or female, the Caucasian brain, or the un-trusting Asian. I think you get my idea.

When people read any of my books they should read it with idea that my characters stand out on their own because of the traits and not the race they are. I know it takes research to learn certain ideas about cultures to make the background correct but the characters themselves can be anything they want to be. We live in a diverse world and it’s time for readers to realize that our books should be just as diverse.

KendelD: I completely agree with you on all points.

I haven't been writing long enough to notice how stereotypes play in f/f writing as of yet except for the Sapphire Black Woman which I try to avoid but I love writing strong female characters who know what they want.  It came up in my free read today and I spent a lot of time trying to work my way around it but that is who my character is so I'll stick with it.

I also feel that religious diversity is an area the gets ignored as well.  I'm working on a book idea that I'm still researching a great deal about two Jewish women who fall in love in New York.  One happens to be Mexican and the other Ethiopian.  The fact that most people don't know about the Orthodox Mexican Jewish Population is amazing to me since I've know a few and I'm neither one of those.

I worked in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood for three years and the rules that designed to keep men and women apart lends itself to exploring same sex relationships but it's also a very slippery slope.  I know I have enough experience for the other side to fill in the blanks but I still have a little bit of pause about starting to move the story forward from the outline stage.

However, I still feel that if it's all about diversity it's hard not to think about the physical being an important factor but as you said, it has to be more than just about the color of a characters skin.

I understand how some stereotypical behavior can filter into a character and I don't mind that if it is justified by back story but what I have a problem with is a character who just seems to be there because the writer though it was a good idea to have a character of color in the story just because of potential profits.

I guess if you show me your writer's hand when it come to creating interracial relationships then I feel it's fair to questions the "whys".  And if your response is that I should be able to write about whoever I want to write about then you should be able to accept that fact that I should be allow to point out the fact that your ethnic character lacks "character development".

So, I guess all of this is to say "What responsibility does a writer have when they create ethnic characters?" or "How do you get your interracial relationships right in erotica?"
SharitaL: I believe that through research, you possibly could get the cultural aspects in the background right such as settings, family members, etc but to me, and I'm no expert at this, still learning, character development happens when we see the positive and negative traits this person displays. 

I'm still learning how to develop my characters fully. When talking to my editors and even some readers who've left reviews have said that certain characters are not developed enough. They didn't know anything about these people in the story other than how he or she fit with the others in the tale. Little scenes where the character lives everyday help the reader learn more about the protagonist.

When it comes to an interracial relationships, we as writers, should feel compelled to show the different things that tie the character to their race, positively and negatively as long as it is part of the plot story. 

This could be done just by watching people, period, how they act. In Chicago, it's very segregated. Sadly, in a lot of parts in the city, you can tell who lives where by the numbers that walk the streets. I'm sure it's like that in a lot of big towns but it happens and I suppose that won't change. I'd say an author could attempt to find out information just by asking about cultural differences. I'm married to a Hispanic man so I'm very familiar with Hispanic/Latino culture. When the author tries to "get it right" I suppose it’s best to ask someone of that race just for back story purposes. When it comes to the character, this person is still a human being. Maybe he could talk with an accent or only eat a certain food, but we, as authors, should be mostly concerned with the plot line and not pointing out the racial differences when it comes to our characters. 

As my editor always says, it shouldn't be in the story unless it relates to the plot. 

Perhaps more responsibility should be placed on the author when they do a historical to get their facts straight. In contemporary fiction, we can create our characters how we want without making them stereotypical. Those who criticize you for "not getting it right" in my opinion, are small minded. 

KendelD: Sharita, I agree with you completely.

I teach screenwriting at a major university out here in California and my focus for the past 16 years has been character.  I'm a playwright and screenwriter as well and when it comes to developing characters, the 3 most important questions are "what does you character want?", "what does your character need?", and the most important questions is "why does your character want what they want?".

I used to work at a small talent agency and every time I asked that last question they would look at me like a puppy who just peed on the rug.  And these are people who make their living writing for the screen and TV.

However, I've always found it interesting that editors will say that "if it's not important to the plot then don't put it in the story" which basically means when it comes to ethnicity that the default race is Caucasian.  I know it's that way in screenwriting but there is a question of why because that means if a character happens to be any other race there has to be a purpose for it rather than the story speaks for itself, my characters just happen to be of different races.  This assumption has always bothered me but I usually construct a major personal moment in my characters journey that somehow relates to their ethnicity and then get back to the story but the fact that non-ethnic characters don't have to deal with the same scrutiny as ethnic characters seems to speak to how far we are when it comes to dealing with acceptance of all races, religions and sexual orientations.

In New York, the neighborhood was segregated but traveling through the city wasn't and that's why I cherish the years I lived there.  Los Angeles is very segregated which might seem strange but as you're driving around the city you will see the color of the faces change block by block and since everybody drives here so it appears a lot worse than what it is which is still pretty bad.

I have to agree with your last ideas as well.  I do feel that writers have a greater responsibility to do historical and cultural research before writing their stories and the people who criticize about writers "not getting it right" as assuming that everybody's experience is the same, which means they are denying the possibilities of characters and focusing on the limitations of their own experience.

True, we as authors should focus on the plot line of our stories but why do we have to justify using ethnic characters in our stories when the same doesn't apply to non-ethnic characters?  That means if you use a character of color, the plot must be focused on the character being a specific ethnicity.  I don't feel that's fair but those are the rules that we have to play by, I guess.

On a side note, the thing I found most interesting when developing my story about the two Jewish women was the fact that Latino food doesn't lend itself to being Kosher.  Especially when it comes to Orthodox Kosher food.  There is a point in the story that I've outlined where that gets challenged when my female Mexican character has to deal with this issue at work when they have an office meeting that is catered.  They decided to get Mexican food for the meeting and she can't eat any of it because not only was pork used but the combination of meat and dairy together which is a major violation of Kosher law.  With this one I want to make sure that I get the religious aspects right because I got a intimate glimpse into the Orthodox world from a woman's perspective yet being an gentile there are still some places that I wasn't able to get to due to the secretive nature of the Orthodox religion.  I understand the concepts but knowing where they developed from in regard to the Torah is where I'm at now.  I hope I can get started on that one by the end of the year.

SharitaL:  That line about if it’s not important to the plot, pull it out? One of my editors preaches it. To an extent I agree but I mean shouldn't we bring out the subtleties of our characters when it comes to their race? Interestingly, he says, the best selling IRs are one where he couldn't tell the race of the character. But, but, then as you said, the reader assumes the characters are white.
The more IR I read and write, I disagree. It can be done to show some reality without beating the reader over the head. It gives the character flavor. The thing that makes IR different from mainstream is seeing those differences as long as they are setting and or relate to plot. You don't need to overdo it.


We covered a lot here. Do you have any other points we've missed?

KendelD: I know we covered a lot of stuff and the only thing I can think of, which popped into my head a few days ago when I sent my free read to Penny at NNP was this.

Since the genre interracial had "race" in the title it should mean that race play an important factor in the story.  However, if it doesn't and the characters happen to me of different races does it still make the story and interracial one?

I guess what I mean by that is how is the term defined by the writer vs the editor/publisher vs the reader.  Perfect example would be if a Japanese character fell in love with a Pacific Islander would that technically be an interracial story?  What about an East Indian character who falls in love with a Pakistani? Where is the line drawn?  The Irish and the English are both Caucasian but the differences in the culture is vast, yet if they fell in love it wouldn't be considered an interracial relationship. 

SharitaL: That’s a good point about interracial. Technically it would be an interracial because of the culture difference. We in American society seemed to be so quick to label everything.
The bottom line is all people should be treated the same regardless of color and despite the differences in culture we all bleed the same. However because of our upbringing we are quick to make somebody into the mold we want them to be. It’s just like the whole issue with gender and orientation. You’re a guy who likes guys so you're gay. Nowadays I'm thinking that it doesn't matter. You can love anyone if you have the deep connection with them and sex doesn't even have to play a role.

I rambled to say I supposed yes it still would be interracial because they aren’t of the same culture. When we'll be able to get passed that culture divide and just appreciate each other for our unique traits. I dunno. I suppose we’ll be waiting awhile.

Conclusion: As you can see we covered a bunch. The basic idea is we as writers would like to bring color to our stories not focusing on the differences of characters but rather their common traits as people. We both take issue with how races have been portrayed and have tried our best to do our homework to bring the realities into a more positive light. We think other authors regardless of color shouldn’t be intimidated to “get it wrong” and should be mostly concerned with developing lively characters regardless of race but we’ve also brought out some of the “ugliness” as long as it relates to the plot.

Obviously, Kendel has done a great deal of research to make sure the characters in her stories are as close to correct when it comes to customs and religion. I’ve relied mostly on what I’ve known or seen since I’m involved in an interracial marriage and have many friends outside my race. Neither method is wrong. The point is, are we doing all we can to bring life to our stories and show the details about the characters?

This can be done positively without stereotypes. You’ll offend no one if you keep them human, when writing contemporary. The basic idea, we all bleed red. That’s the key.

Thanks to Kendel for such a lively discussion!


  1. TY Penny for allowing me to do this with Kendel. He is so insightful! I enjoyed it very much.


  2. Thanks for the well-thought out chat, ladies. I have a WIP that has a black female MC who's alos submissive, and I am having a lot of trouble getting inside her head. This was a huge help! ;-)