Have you ever read a romance novel with an Albanian hero? Me, either. Please welcome Alyssa Cole! Her novel, Eagle’s Heart, is an interracial romantic suspense with a hero who is an Albanian FBI agent. She’s got an interesting blog post about why she writes multicultural heroes. She’s giving away a copy of her book and a $10 Amazon gift card. Let’s get started!
Tell us about yourself.
My day job is an editor at a science journal, so writing romance is a great escape from reading about diseases and looking at pictures of lab rats. Like most authors, I’ve been in love with reading and writing since I was a child, and I’m really glad that I’m able to do it professionally now. I love learning new things, so my hobbies range from playing soccer to strumming a banjo to drawing comics. Right now, I’m focusing on learning French parce que mon fiancé est français. I’ve also started teaching a romance writing workshop, which is super fun and something I hope to continue in the years to come.
Loving Outside the Box: Why I Write Multicultural Heroes
Very soon after my first novel, Eagle’s Heart, was released I received a comment on my blog that made me tear up with happiness:
As an Albanian I just want to say thank you for doing research on my people before writing the book, the culture and the history was great. I loved the story and thank you for not only making the bad guy Albanian but also the good guy. Great story. I hope you continue writing more books soon.
Yes, any author likes hearing that her book is good and well-researched and that a reader enjoyed it, but the bolded part (emphasis mine) is what really got me.
The reason I first started scribbling my own fairy tales as a child, and then my own romantic stories as I got older, is that I wanted to read about characters that represented me. Although I loved reading romances about all types of people, I felt that I didn’t even really have the choice to read books about people who looked like me. I still remember the joy of purchasing my first romance with a black heroine (Sandra Kitt’s The Color of Love).
Underrepresentation is a problem for black readers, but the world is a huge place made up of innumerable cultures and identities and it’s a problem for other cultures as well. As someone with friends from all over the world (I grew up in one of the most diverse areas of the US), the homogeneity in romance always nagged at me, as did the “fix” of making the genre, literally, black and white. When I write my novels, I try to incorporate characters from other cultures that have been given short shrift in the romance genre.
In Eagle’s Heart, the heroine is an African-American school teacher and the hero is an Albanian FBI agent. In general, when you learn about Albanians you’re likely to only hear about (a) war, (b) crime, (c) war crimes, or (d) the mafia. I thought it was important to make sure that Julian represented for all the good Albanians out there, who are three-dimensional humans capable of laughter and love and feats of heroism and who deserve to be seen as more than a villain or a victim.
In my erotic short story coming out this week, Sweet to the Taste, the heroine is a black woman (with dreadlocks) and the male protagonist is a hot Indian wedding singer. I’ll leave the heroine’s natural hair situation for another discussion. As for the hero, television and the media have done an excellent job of pigeonholing Indian men. In the national psyche, they can only be Quickie Mart workers or IT guys, and they’re always awkward and inexperienced when it comes to women. In Sweet to the Taste, the hero knows exactly how to please a woman, and takes our heroine on an erotic path to self-discovery. I think it’s important for the hot South Asian men of the world to receive the recognition they so thoroughly deserve.
One of my works in progress features a Korean hero. I won’t list the numerous insulting stereotypes about Asian men, but I’m sure you can think of one or two. Hopefully, stories that resist the predominant narratives help undercut the unfair preconceptions that so many POC face. As so many proponents of diversity in romance have said in one way or another: everyone deserves a happy ending. I hope that readers of all hues enjoy my books, but I do love helping to diversify the happily ever after.
Salomeh Jones is a Brooklyn high school teacher whose attempt to aid an abused student ruins her career and puts her life in jeopardy. Julian Tamali is a special agent hot on the trail of the Albanian mafia boss responsible for a slew of crimes, including the death of Julian’s family. When Julian finds a connection between the mafia boss and the disgraced school teacher, he sets into motion a series of events that will change their lives forever.
A night of pleasure throws them into a deadly game of cat and mouse with the man who has kidnapped Salomeh’s student and is possibly providing weapons to terrorists. Caught in a web of passion, danger, and betrayal, Julian and Salomeh must stop the mafia boss or forfeit their chance at redemption—and their lives.
“Not feeling patriotic?”
“What?” she squeaked, turning to face the man who had somehow crept up next to her while she was preoccupied with mentally flagellating herself.
“I was just observing that you don’t seem very patriotic,” he continued. He stood next to her, arms folded across his chest as he gazed at the fireworks. In the afterglow of the fireworks, all she could make out clearly was a head of shaggy black hair and the profile of a Roman nose and a well-defined jaw. He was tall, much taller than her five-feet-seven inches, and muscled. For a moment, fear coiled in Salomeh’s stomach. Could he be here to hurt her? Did he have something to do with Alexi?
“What are you talking about?” Salomeh snapped, irritated with him for invading her space and at herself for succumbing to distress. The jolt of anxiety segued into anger at the realization that she would have to suspect everyone until she could find Yelena, and hopefully, expose this Bardhyn character.
She took a sip of her gin and tonic and tried to rein in her annoyance, but she was tired of having her privacy invaded. All the people who had harassed her over the past weeks, the reporter with the fake card her neighbor had encountered the day before, the women across the rooftop just moments before, and now this man—all of them seemed to think it was perfectly okay to just barge into her life.
A huge burst of purple and yellow fireworks lit up the night sky, and from other parts of the roof, she could hear people clapping and whistling at the elaborate display. The man turned to her then, and in the glow of the fireworks she could see bright green eyes shining from under the fringe of his hair. His olive complexion provided a contrast that made his eyes seem even more brilliant. A smile touched his full, rosy lips. He was definitely handsome, although that didn’t change that fact that he was a nuisance. A very well-built and overly confident nuisance.
Salomeh watched surreptitiously as he reached up to run a hand through his hair. A thrill went through her at the way his biceps flexed and his pectorals tightened as he moved. His raw power was apparent even in this most casual of motions. Part of her wondered what it would be like to have all that strength concentrated on touching her. That same part, located between her legs, suddenly clenched when he shifted slightly closer to her.
“I’m sorry,” he continued, his accent still unfamiliar to her. It had the melodic but dolorous tone of something not quite European. “It’s just that it’s a beautiful night, the sky is filled with lovely fireworks, it’s the anniversary of your country’s independence, and you seem…unimpressed with it all.”
Salomeh rolled her eyes, although she was fairly certain the action was hidden by the shadow of the water tower. “I wasn’t aware that Homeland Security would be doing patriotism spot checks,” she deadpanned. He stiffened, as if she had offended him somehow. Good, she thought viciously, the scent of elderberry tickling her nose as she took a sip of her drink. “That’s what this is right? I mean, you’re not just some creep who roams the rooftops of Brooklyn, sneaking up on unsuspecting women for no reason, are you? Because that would be kind of weird.”
“You’ve seen through my disguise,” he said with mock severity. “We’re always on the lookout for suspicious characters. A woman lurking in a strategically isolated position such as this during a party merits an investigation. There must be something driving her away from everyone, no?”
He leaned in slightly just as a shower of white light exploded in the sky. Salomeh could see that his eyes were narrowed, his gaze entirely focused on her despite the world-famous light show occurring just above their heads. She had become used to scrutiny since her story had graced the covers of the tabloids. People had looked at her with disgust and disbelief and pity. But the look this man gave her was different. It was teasing and friendly and, most of all, interested.
Sweet to the Taste: Available at Amazon on 2/21/2014.
Visit Alyssa online at www.alyssacole.com. You can also find her on Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.
Prize: An ebook copy of Eagle’s Heart and a $10 Amazon gift card.
How to enter: Answer the following question in the comments: What was the first romance novel that made you feel a special connection with the hero or heroine? Not only cultural connections count: maybe the heroine was a paleontologist and that was your dream job at the time, or maybe the hero came from your hometown!
Deadline to enter: Saturday, February 22, 2014 at 11:59 pm EST. Alyssa will announce the winner in the comments and they will be contacted via email.
Note: By participating in this contest, you understand that if you’re the winner, your email address will be shared with Alyssa so you can receive your prize.
It was great to have you on the blog, Alyssa. Best wishes for much success!