Thursday, July 26, 2018

RWA 2018 - Westward Bound (Part Two)




From the first day, it was apparent that this year's RWA national conference would be different. From Suzanne Brockmann's speech at the RITA® ceremony, to Sonali Dev's heartfelt address at the Librarians Day/Bloggers Day luncheon (listen to Sonali's speech here), to workshops, parties, hallway conversations, and more, two themes echoed throughout this year's conference: diversity and inclusion. It's time. Frankly, it's beyond time. Were all of the obstacles conquered? No, but nothing is accomplished without taking that first step and this year's conference was a solid step forward to a time when every reader will be able to open a romance novel and see herself reflected in the pages of a hopeful love story with a happy ending. Regardless of our skin color, ethnicity, gender, body type, disability, or sexual orientation, we all are worthy of that happy ending. Whether we're the recipient, experiencing the journey while reading a favorite novel, or the creator of that story, we all deserve the opportunity to love, be loved, and create love. And while both authors and readers should be able to see people like them on the pages of the books they write and/or read, we should also celebrate the books that reflect our differences.  

My circle of friends includes people from different countries, with different skin colors, different religious beliefs, different political points of view, different body types, challenges, weaknesses, and strengths. Knowing them does not bring strife into my life. Instead, it fills my life with a richness I might not have otherwise known. It promotes understanding and appreciation of experiences different from my own. So do the books written by authors of different colors, ethnicities, and sexual orientation that feature characters with life experiences far removed from that of a middle-class, heterosexual, caucasian woman raised in a midwestern U.S. state. 

A Princess in Theory was created by the exceptionally talented  Alyssa Cole and features a Nigerian prince hero and an orphaned NYC scientist heroine who has no idea that she might actually be a Nigerian princess. About as far from my upbringing as one can get, right? I loved it. In fact, it is one of my favorite books published this year. How sad it would have been if this author's words had not been published, if I had not bought this book written by an author of color with characters so different from me. And yet, that's exactly what happens with too many authors of color working hard for the opportunity to have their books published...and purchased. There are many diverse books and diverse authors out there just waiting to be discovered by all of us. We have only to step out of our comfort zones and give them a chance. I'm going to make a concerted effort to read more of them and bring them to your attention here at the blog. In the meantime, here are some of the talented, diverse authors I had the pleasure of chatting with at this year's RWA conference. Please, do consider reading their books.



Kianna Alexander & A.C. Arthur
Kianna Alexander and A.C. Arthur

A.C. Arthur hit my radar last month when she was a guest at the Romance of Reading page at Facebook. It was such a pleasure to meet her in person and I'm looking forward to reading her books. One Perfect Moment, the third book in her The Taylors of Temptation series was released in print July 17 and will be out in ebook on August 1. A.C. lives in Maryland and has worked in the legal field for more than 20 years.

Kianna Alexander has been a well-known name in romance for the past decade. Writing has helped her through difficult times in her life as I have no doubt her books have brought love and hope to those readers who buy them. The book she's holding in the photo is A San Diego Romance, part of the Millionaire Moguls series. 

And yes, both ladies were just as warm and friendly in person as they appear in the photo!
Pintip Dunn



Pintip Dunn is the author of Sci-Fi Young Adult Fiction. Her debut novel, Forget Tomorrow won the 2016 RITA® for Best First Book and the second novel in that series, Remember Yesterday won the 2018 RITA® last week for Best Young Adult Novel. Pintip is warm, engaging, intelligent (magna cum laude graduate of Harvard with a J.D. from Yale Law School), and an exceptionally talented writer. She's also one of the nicest people around. I just can't help but smile whenever I'm in her presence.






Alyssa Cole

Alyssa Cole was born to write. This accomplished, award-winning author of both historical and contemporary romances is a star on the rise. As I stated above, A Princess in Theory (contemporary romance)  is one of my favorite books of 2018. The second book in this new series, A Duke by Default, featuring a grumpy Scots hero and an American heroine finally taking control of her life, will be released July 31. It's another winner! In addition to writing romance, Cole is also a science editor and has contributed many romance-related articles to a variety of publications. Her novella, "Let Us Dream," in Daughters of a Nation was a 2017 RITA® Finalist. 





Beverly Jenkins
I don't know anyone in the world of romance who does not admire and respect Beverly Jenkins. This self-professed "slayer of words" has been bringing the stories of African-American characters to life for the past 25 years. From the American Civil War to the Old West to present-day Kansas, her complex and exquisitely crafted characters leap from the pages of her beloved novels. Awarded the 2017 Romance Writers of America Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award, Jenkins has also been nominated for the NAACP Image Award in Literature, was featured in the romance documentary, "Love Between the Covers." and on CBS Sunday Morning. Ms. Bev, as she's called by many, is smart, sassy, warm, inclusive, generous, kind, and immensely talented. Click here to read Hellie's Top Dish review of her historical romance novel, Breathless and here to read Janga's review of Chasing Down a Dream, the eighth book in her contemporary Blessings series. 



Rich Amooi, Sonali Dev, Silvi Martin
Sonali Dev was the luncheon speaker for this year's Librarians Day/Blogger Day event. The message of acceptance, opportunity, and inclusion that she delivered was heartfelt and timely. Though infused with plenty of her signature humor, this was a serious topic that, clearly, has impacted both her life and the lives of family members and dear friends. By the time she finished, there was not a dry eye to be found. The mastery of her words and depth of life experience shared in her speech, that reached the heart of each person at my luncheon table, are on full display in her award-winning novels featuring characters and customs from India, the country of her birth. 



Xio Axelrod
Xio (pronounced ZEE-oh) Axelrod writes contemporary romance, romantic fiction, and what she refers to as strange, twisted tales. She also writes erotica under the name of Xio Nin. When not busy creating stories, this multi-talented woman can be found in a music studio, writing and/or recording. This USA Today bestselling author was honored this year as one of the 2018 RWA Service Award recipients. Last year, she founded the Philadelphia Chapter of RWA and she's also a founding member of Philly Loves Romance, an author group dedicated to raising the profile of romance in their area. 



Brenda Jackson
Brenda Jackson is a trailblazer in the romance genre who has published more than 100 novels and novellas and has more than 10 million books in print. Stop and think about that for a moment. Ten. Million. Books. Jackson was the first African-American author to be published by the Harlequin/Silhouette Desire line and also the first African-American author to hit the USA Today and New York Times bestseller lists for series romance. Jackson has received many awards in her distinguished career, including the 2012 Romance Writers of America Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award. Not content to rest on her laurels, she continues to write (full-time now that she's retired from her non-writing career), attend events where readers can meet her, and give back to her community in a variety of ways, including educational scholarships. One of her books, Truly Everlasting has been made into a movie which has been featured on Netflix. Another book, A Silken Thread is set to be made into a movie that will be directed by the multi-talented Debbie Allen and distributed by Lions Gate. 



Alisha Rai

The first time I met Alisha Rai, I heard her before I saw her. While gifted with gorgeous, dark eyes and a wide, beaming smile, it was her exuberant, unfettered laugh that drew me across a crowded room, intent on meeting this woman who was filled with so much joy. She continues to draw people to her, both personally and through her books. Complex, emotional, and deeply sensual, these are stories not to be missed. Rai is the first author to have an indie-published book named to The Washington Post's annual Best Books list and has also been on annual Best Books lists at NPR, Entertainment Weekly, Amazon, Kirkus, and Cosmopolitan Magazine




Nicki Salcedo & PJ
From my introduction to Nicki Salcedo at the Georgia Romance Writers Moonlight & Magnolias conference almost ten years ago, it was clear there was something very special about this woman. She's someone I admire, respect, and am proud to call my friend. We tell people we're sisters. You see the resemblance, right? (by the way, the matching blue outfits were not planned) Nicki is a whip-smart Stanford grad and gifted writer who shares her talent through books, essays, short stories, mentoring, and speaking engagements. She's also a hardworking wife and mom with a full-time job outside of her writing/speaking commitments. Her essays are thought-provoking (check out Intersections, a collection of essays published in her weekly column at Decaturish.com) and her debut novel, All Beautiful Things has a special place on my keeper shelf. 




Cheryl Etchison, Marielle Browne, Tracey Livesay
I met Tracey Livesay (far right) at last fall's Buns and Roses Tea in Texas and was immediately impressed by her intelligence and wit...not to mention her fabulous fashion sense (click here for Buns & Roses photo). A former criminal defense attorney, she left her law career behind to pursue her passion of writing romance and those of us who read her books are glad she did. Her novels have been featured in The Washington Post, The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, and on CBS This Morning. If you haven't read Livesay's books yet, I recommend any of them but especially Love Will Always Remember



Alexis Daria, PJ, Priscilla Oliveras
And last, but certainly not least, Alexis Daria and Priscilla Oliveras

Daria, an award-winning contemporary romance author from New York is gaining fans left and right. Her debut novel, Take the Lead which features a Puerto Rican heroine and a romance that unfolds during a TV celebrity dance competition not only was named one of the Best Romances of 2017 by Entertainment Weekly and The Washington Post but was a double finalist for the 2018 RITA®  and took home the award for Best First Book. Daria also received the RWA New York City Chapter's 2018 Golden Apple Award for Author of the Year. Like so many romance authors I've met, Daria also enjoys giving back. She states on her website that her most fulfilling job has been as a group facilitator at a women's empowerment community where she was instrumental in helping other women follow their creative dreams.

As Priscilla Oliveras shares on her website, with a Mexican American father who served in the US Navy and a Puerto Rican mother who earned her business degree from the University of Puerto Rico, it stands to reason her contemporary romances would be filled with a beautiful blend of her Latino heritage and, as she puts it, "good ol' US of A traditions." Her debut novel, His Perfect Partner was a 2018 RITA® double finalist and earned starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist. This busy mom who holds one bachelor's degree and two master's also enjoys tennis, running, theater, dancing, and sports. Because she's a Cubs fan (yay!) and so darn nice, I'm going to overlook the fact that she also cheers for the Florida Gators. ;-) 

Both Oliveras and Daria are part of the 4 Chicas, a group of four romance authors celebrating life, love, and romance with a Latinx flavor. Find them on Facebook


Have you read any of the authors spotlighted above?


Do you have any favorite books written by diverse authors or featuring diverse characters that you'd like to recommend?

One person who leaves a comment before 11:00 PM, July 28, 2018 will receive a package of books and swag from this year's RWA conference. (U.S. addresses only)







48 comments:

  1. This was a lovely post PJ. I have read several of the above Authors. Thanks for bringing these Authors to our attention. I'll be checking out their books.
    Carol Luciano
    Lucky4750 at aol dot com

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    1. I hope you'll find new authors and books to enjoy, Carol. Thanks for checking them out!

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  2. I love Beverly Jenkins sonali dev and Alisha rai!

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    1. All outstanding authors and really lovely people.

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  3. I have not read any of the authors mentioned. I love to read about all the conferences.

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    1. Maybe you'll find a new favorite! :)

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  4. What an interesting post and lovely photos. I have read novels by Sonali Dev and Beverley Jenkins and look forward to enjoying all of the authors' wonderful novels.

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    1. I hope you find other books from these authors that you'll also enjoy.

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  5. Very beautiful to be introduced to such talented authors whose books I would enjoy greatly. Nadia Hashimi, and Camille di Maio are authors I have read. What a special experience you have had.

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    1. Thanks for the recommendations, petite. I'll check them out!

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  6. So far I've only read one - but it's always fun to find new authors. Wonderful post. My tbr pile keeps growing and growing and growing lol. Now if there was only enough time but what a wonderful problem.

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    1. If you find a solution to the whole "not enough time" obstacle, please share! :)

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  7. Thanks for this awesome message and for sharing MORE authors for me to add to my TBR pile. I've read Sonali Dev's books and recently have been on a quest to add more POC to my collection.

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    1. You're welcome, Xio. It was so nice to see you again!

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  9. I haven’t read any from these authors yet. Thanks for sharing because I will definitely have to check them out

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  10. I've actually read the first two books of Alisha's "Forbidden Hearts" series. I absolutely loved Livvie and Nicholas's story. I have Evangeline and Gabriel's story on my "wish list".

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    1. Glad to hear you enjoyed Livvie and Nicholas's story. Hope you can read the next one soon!

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  11. Wonderful post! I am proud to call Nicki a chapter mate since I too belong to GRW. I have read Sonali's books, some more than once and have Alisha's books on my TBR. I will definitely be adding more of the author's mentioned to my TBR pile.

    So glad to catch up with you in Denver!

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  12. I love this post! Unfortunately, I have only read Sonali Dev, but you've given me many more to add to my list!

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  13. I've read four authors in this list, and they've all been *wonderful*. I have several more in my to-be-read pile as well. :) So glad to see these authors getting the recognition they deserve!

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  14. Some I have read, and some that are new to me.. Love the RWA when you get to meet author's you know and new one's!!
    Patricia Bennett Barber

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  15. I've read and met several of these authors. :) I have to say Alisha Rai and Naima Simone have become quick favorites for me. PS We need to schedule breakfast, I've missed you this summer!

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    1. Great minds, Frances. I was just thinking the same thing this morning! I'll message you.

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  16. I like Sugar Jamison/Jamie Pope curvy heroines in the Perfect fit series. I haven't tried Alish Rai books, but I need to since I like her name :-) and she spells it right

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  17. I met Sonali Dev at RT Reno and bought several of her book's. I am just begining one. She is an absolute delight. I am a fan forever & am anxious to get into her writing. My work world has been quite demanding keeping from starting before now. Thank you so much for the opportunity.

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  18. I honestly don’t know the background/race/nationality of many of the authors I’ve read. Most of the main characters I read about are Caucasian. One contemporary romance I read very recently—The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang—featured a hero who is Vietnamese/Swedish and a heroine who has Asperger’s.

    It seems the mysteries I read feature more main and supporting characters with differences—race/nationality/religion/etc.—than do romances. I do believe equal opportunity for authors (and others in the publishing industry) should be the goal. But, as with any commercial enterprise, consumers will choose based on what is rewarding for them. Thanks for the post and giveaway.

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  19. Fabulous post PJ! Sonali Dev brought me tears in her speech. I hope others listen. I’ll be sure to share with my Library though they’re already quite amazing! I’ve featured and showcased many mentioned here on the LLL table. I’m currently listening to A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole! Really awesome! I hope to make it next year to RWA.

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  20. Thanks for highlighting these authors and their books. I haven't read any of these authors YET.

    One of my favorite diverse authors is China-born Sherry Thomas. I am amazed at how well she can write in English. I read that she learned how to speak English by reading romance novels!

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  21. I have read a couple of the authors you introduced. After watching the broadcast of the RWA awards, I did find a couple of others who create books I know I will enjoy. Thanks for the post.

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  22. I've read a few of the authors you highlighted - thanks for introducing the rest!
    I don't always know much about the authors I read unless I've read them for a long time or subscribe to their newsletters. I don't often know more than what they choose to share at the back of the book. I do enjoy the armchair travel of reading stories set in far flung locations.

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  23. I have read Alisha Rai and my favorite of her stories is Hurts to Want You.

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    1. Oh, good grief. That title should have read, Hate to Want You.

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  24. Hi PJ, I read books by several authors listed above and now have more to add to my list. My new find this year is Pat Simmons and I love her Perfect Chance at Love Series.

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  25. Thank you for this fantastic list. Love Brenda Jackson, and look forward to adding new authors listed.

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  26. I have not read any of these ladies.
    Natty's Mama (Karen T.)

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  27. I have read books from several of them. I love Sonali Dev, have met her twice, and read all of her books. I've also read Priscilla Oliveras as she wrote a book for a Tule series and it was definitely wonderful. I was introduced to Alyssa Cole through Romance to Reading's August authors. Ms. Jenkins and Ms. Jackson are amazing. Alisha Rai was at Nora Roberts bookstore with Susan Elizabeth Phillips, among others, when SEP did a facebook live video introducing the other authors. I've read books by authors you didn't mention - Jamie Pope/Sugar Jamieson, Josie Moss, Shirley Hailstock, etc. I met Pintip at RAGT 2018 and she was wonderful. Robin Covington is another amazing author.

    Thank you for sharing. I was so proud of the authors who talked about the lack of diversity in their speeches.

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  28. Such a heartfelt post. I'm so glad that inclusion and diversity is at the top of priorities in the romance world. I've read books by Beverly Jenkins and Alyssa Cole but not by the other ladies.

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  29. PJ, Thanks for including me on your list. You are the best conference sister I've ever had! I love finding new books and new authors. There is always room for more books. Thank you for doing this post.

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  30. I've only read a few of the diverse authors listed. I'm open to reading more.

    I read Suzanne's speech earlier and shared it with a friend of mine. He loved it.

    denise

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  31. I'm excited about listening to the speeches and reading the authors I haven't yet read. Thanks for a wonderful article.

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  32. From J. Perry Stone, who is having trouble posting her comment: "I adore Nicki's writing (and Nicki) and have downloaded the Cole book because I always do as my smart book blogger friend suggests. :)

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  33. I have not read any of these authors. Does Maya Angelou count as a diverse author?

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  34. I have read Beverly Jenkins and Brenda Jackson. Some of the other are familiar.

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  35. What a beautiful post, PJ! I sincerely appreciate you including me.

    Hope to see you at another RWA or romance industry event soon! Hugs

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