December 4, 2007

Kissing, Killing, and Cussing

Why do people buy novels? That's what I've been wondering for quite a while. More to the point, why do people of color buy books? Is it because there's a 'colored' face on the cover? Is it because the main character is not Caucasian?

Since I'm black and I write, people freely give me their take on African American fiction (whether I ask for it or not). Most of the comments go a little like this: Black fiction is so edgy. It's so gritty. It's raw.

I'm left thinking, 'are we talking about a book or a piece of dirty meat?'

The truth is readers are people. They come to the bookstore with their own agenda. They want a book they can enjoy. But enjoy is so subjective. It's like chocolate ice cream (sort of). You'd think everybody would like the stuff. Right? Some people don't.

Sometimes I get questions like 'why don't you like such-and-such's book.' She's a black author, you're black. Her book's got all the things black folks are supposed to like in books. A lot of other blacks like the book. Why don't you?

Or there's this one: Folks really like that-famous-black-Christian-author's book. Why don't you write like that? She's black. You're black. You can write like her.

Like African American author Nathan McCall, I just wanna holler.

Multiethnic. Multicultural. Multiracial. Biracial. Interracial.

It all makes my head spin. I'm beginning to see how labels in publishing work. Or rather, how they are supposed to work. But the truth is they don't. They confuse people -- readers and authors alike.

Case in point, two months after the release of my book, I went into a major bookstore chain in my city. We were shopping for a gift. Just milling around, see, looking for other types of books when my oldest child says, 'Mommy, let's go see if we can find your book.' So off we go to the small inspirational (read:Christian) fiction section. Nope, not anywhere there near Rachel Hauck's Diva NashVegas or Dee Henderson's O'Malley crew.

My husband says we should try the 'African American Literature' section. We trudge on over to the area (two long rows of books) and find my book there, sure enough amidst a sea of covers with heavily oiled and barely covered breasts and thighs. I quickly usher my children away. That was more meat than we'd seen in quite a while.

So what are readers looking for? Don't know for sure yet. But in the Multi-ethnic, African American Literature section, it must be much more than I'm unwilling or unable to reveal.


Patricia W. said...

I hear you, Linda. I don't want my middle school and preschoolers in the AA fiction section of Borders or any other bookstore. The covers are truly outrageous.

But the Christian section is disappointing, rarely having what I would consider a wide breadth of titles, even those by white authors.

l. l. hargrove said...

Hey, Patricia. Thanks for dropping by. Unfortunately most every secular bookstore disappoints AA Christian readers most every time. Sadly, the Christian bookstores let us down too.

Bottom line figures in there a lot, we know. But what else? Majority rule? Shelf space? The list could go on. Not sure we'll come to a happy medium on this one any time soon.