I was one of those kids who grew up in the ‘70s and my mother’s nose was always in a Harlequin romance novel. The problem was, back then all the romance novels were written for Carol Brady and her Canasta Club. Black professional women like Claire Huxtable were still undercover and Florida Evans didn’t have time to read. As a result, there weren’t any black characters enjoying the benefit of all that larger-than-life romance because black women didn’t figure into the publishing industry.
Today, things are certainly different. Black women with buying power are a force to be reckoned with in the economy. They are in the workplace, graduating from college, and entering the professions in increasing numbers every year and with those numbers dawns the realization that there is a market for black love. Although the major publishing houses are moving slowly, and in the vacuum smaller imprints and vanity presses are reaping the benefits. So, as Valentine’s Day approaches, I wanted to recommend some romantic fiction to add just the right amount of juice to the occasion, if you know what I mean—something that Julia might read when she got off work at the hospital or that one of Shaft’s chicks might use as a tune-up before the “private dick” showed up for some loving. Doesn’t matter if you’re a hopeless romantic or a fetish freak, there is something here that will get you off—in color.
Shelia M. Goss creates some over-the-top drama for yo’ Mama in My Invisible Husband (4AllSeasons Publishing). Nikki Montana, a successful woman in her thirties, is tired of everyone asking, “When are you getting married?” So, she decides to forestall the drama by announcing her marriage to a fictional husband to her family. Of course, the family won’t let it go that easily and insist upon meeting her “invisible man.” Fortunately for Nikki, Byron Matthews steps in to help her out, but he’s got some plans of his own. The plot isn’t deep, but it’s fun and incorporates all the drama of a nosy family.
Tina McElroy Ansa’s The Hand I Fan With (Anchor Books) takes the “invisible man” theory to the next level. Herman’s not the invisible man; he’s the supernatural lover. This is an ethereal, spiritual love story between a small town Georgia entrepreneur and her ghost lover; a do-right man killed a hundred years before. Lena is tired of being the one person in town who everyone expects to right all wrongs and decides she needs a little warmth and companionship for herself. She and a friend “conjure” Herman (read that “her-man”) and Lena’s life is never the same. Although the themes of the story have to do with life, love, forgiveness, and the acceptance of human limitations, Ansa still weaves a fascinating and sensual tale of love. Herman becomes more and more lifelike and shows Lena that he is all man and capable of fully satisfying her every need, even if he is—technically—dead.
Sadorian Publications opted for taking the drama over the top, rather than the characters, and created a romantic fiction series called The Cradle Robbers (Sadorian Publications). The series consists of three books: Misdemeanor by Tanya Marie Lewis, Bloom by Linda Dominique Grosvenor, and Class Act by T.C. Matthews. As expected, each story surrounds a May-December relationship between an older woman and a younger man. These three stories are the epitome of love, romance, and courtship and will surely appeal to tenderhearted romantics.
Now, I mentioned my mother’s romance novels that were on display for public consumption, but I didn’t mention the secret “trash stash” that she tried to hide—tried being the operative word. Those titles included some of the hottest erotica available at the time. Whereas our mothers hid these books from company, you might see the sistah riding next to you on the train reading today’s sexiest tomes without a thread of shame in her game. So, all kidding aside, if what you really want to read is mind-blowing, pull my hair and slap my ass contemporary erotic fiction, then romance novels are not for you. But before we make that leap, it’s time for the kids to go to bed. This house party is officially adults-only. The blue lights are on in the basement, Marvin Gaye is singing “Let’s Get It On,” and that zodiac poster with the naked brotha and sistah in all the Kama Sutra sexual positions is glowing! With that said, all hail Zane, the queen of contemporary black erotica. Her latest release, currently on the New York Times Bestseller List, is Afterburn (Atria Books), in which characters Rayne and Yardley pass each other on a daily basis and never bother to hook up. Instead, they waste all kinds of time going on dates with quintessential hoodrats, confirmed virgins, nymphomaniacs, and gay men in camouflage. The episodes are hilarious, the humor bawdy, and the sex, well, in the words of the singer Tyrese, “you know we be tearin’ it up, breakin’ stuff, that ghetto love.” I promise you, there will be things done on a chiropractor’s table that will have you looking for one in the phone book. It is a fantastically entertaining read. And if it doesn’t get you fired up for Valentine’s Day, nothing will.
Graphic sexual encounters in literature haven’t changed much since Xaviera Hollander’s infamous memoir The Happy Hooker (Dell) and Erica Jong’s flagrant exposé of female sexuality Fear of Flying (Holt, et al.), but in respect to the growth in cultural diversity now represented in romantic fiction, “we’ve come a long way, baby!” I don’t know if my mother would read some of the stuff today that she used to in the ‘70s (and I stole both Hollander’s and Jong’s books from under her bed - sorry, Mom, I hope you never read this), but one thing is for sure, the titles that are available today showcasing black love are not my mother’s romance novels.