Inda’s Corner 12: The Art of Affing — Why I Love The Incredible Jessica James

Before we begin, I need to issue a content warning for anyone who might be a bit sex repulsed as this show contains a short discussion about sex and sexuality.

I love this film unironically. I find it genuinely funny with a heartwarming ending. And I also find a type of Black girl representation we rarely get to see in film. There’s so much I love about Jessica James that I decided this month I should try to unpack it. Maybe then I can stop watching it every day and stop immersing myself in this world that feels so much like an impossible aspiration yet almost heartbreakingly familiar. So here is an incredibly spoilerific discussion about The Incredible Jessica James.

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Everyone Deserves Their Romance: A Short Review of So For Real

I’m certain my first encounter with romance novels came during my childhood. My grandmother had what appeared to be hundreds of Harlequin romances all over the house. I picked one up every once in a while but never read any all the way through. The old paperbacks just held no appeal to me. Too grown up, too unfamiliar.

Quite possibly the closest I came to reading romance during my adolescence was V.C. Andrews, who technically isn’t romance. Perhaps that’s what made it palatable to me as I often spent most of my youth in an “ewww romance!” phase. As a whole, the genre just didn’t interest me, not even after I let go of Andrews for good.

Or so I thought. During my last years of high school and first years of college, I belonged to a couple of paperback bookclubs and expanded not only my book collection but also my tastes in genre. I read a book called Renee and Jay that I very much enjoyed even after I found out the author was a white male with a Black wife. The book was entertaining and I enjoyed the tone of it, written from the perspective of the Black female protagonist. Yet at that point I still would not have called myself a romance fan even though I acquired other books such as the anthology The Bluelight Corner and continued dipping my toe in the romance waters every once in a while.

Around my first or second year of grad school, I read Janice Radway’s Reading the Romance. It was one of those texts that helped me get over my preconceived notions of romance as a genre. I still did not intentionally seek out works in the romance genre although I was more receptive to it. Films like The Truth About Cats and Dogs also helped me see a value in romance where I had missed it before.

But my official foray into romance would not come until after 2006 and I’d left grad school. With no money for books, I found myself taking up various offers for free e-books no matter the genre or author. One of those offers came in 16 free e-books from the name synonymous with romance itself, Harlequin. This was the first time I learned that the publisher had several imprints catering to niche targets including a Nascar imprint. I read all 16 of these books and even found a favorite with Harlequin Historical selection.

This would probably be when I began taking romance seriously as its own genre. It might also be where I found the reason I had never been eager to embrace the genre: I did not identify very much with the characters. It’s difficult to look for yourself in works that give absolutely no regard to your existence and often treats it as an afterthought when you are included. Slowly over the years, networking has introduced me to various authors whose works take us beyond the predominantly lily white world of romance.

One of those authors is Rebekah Weatherspoon. Over the past year, I’ve had the pleasure of reading a couple of her trilogies: the Fit trilogy and the Sugar Baby trilogy. Of the two, I favor the Sugar Baby series. And just this past week, she released the third novella of the series, So For Real.

sugar-baby-trilogy

With this series, Weatherspoon finishes the story of Kayla Davis and Michael Bradbury who meet through the unlikeliest of circumstances. Without giving away any spoilers, I will say that I think I enjoy this series so much because I relate to the need of this type of fantasy in my life right now.

However, my own personal preference is secondary here. There are many reasons Weatherspoon’s work stands out in a genre that somehow seems to think that only cishet white women read romance. However, not only does this work include women of color, particularly Black women, at its center, but it also centers queer women of color and women of size. She goes beyond vanilla sex to explore different types of sexual pleasure in mutual, consensual settings.

Yet one of the biggest pleasures of her work is that the obstacles of romance do not focus on the marginalizations included in the characters’ identities. Rather, they face obstacles such as work, insecurities, backstabbing and other people’s problems in their love lives. While factors such as race, size and sexual orientation are present, they are not the obstacles to happiness. But they are important aspects of the characters.

This is much of the appeal of Kayla and Michael; they’re perfect for each other. As the reader, you get to be happy with their journey without the tension of will they or won’t they. There’s a pleasure in knowing they will overcome, but they get curveballs thrown at them that remind them that they live in a world outside the cozy one they’ve created for themselves. And yes the fantasy of jetsetting with a billionaire doesn’t hurt either.

Oh and yes there are plenty of sex scenes not for the faint of heart or vanilla. Seriously, there’s no kinkshaming here.

The last book in the series, So For Real, keeps the tone and pacing of its predecessors So Sweet and So Right. It’s the perfect ending for those of us who have grown to love Kayla and Michael over the past year. As a romance, it might not be a spoiler to say that this one is awesome for anyone who likes happy endings of the happily ever after variety. The ride is in seeing what speedbump has thrown itself in Kayla and Michael’s way and how will this offbeat pair handle it.

Unfortunately, those of us who are not white and cishet still have trouble finding romance that speaks to our experiences and desires. Fortunately, there are a growing number of writers who are more boldly proclaiming that romance comes in more flavors than vanilla in more than one way. Authors such as Weatherspoon create characters previously ignored and maligned in romance and shows that they have their romantic inclinations just as anyone else. Everyone deserves their romance.

Uncompromised (Tentative Title): A Teaser

Lisa and Danny are back! Here’s a brief teaser from the upcoming novella, tentatively entitled Uncompromised:

Barely 15 minutes later, Lisa sat with the woman who had been her best friend since she first moved to this place almost eight years ago. She had made other friends in town, but Jocelyn was the only one she trusted with the real reason her marriage to Danny had become estranged. To anyone else, she had had an affair and decided the marriage was beyond repair if she took things that far. Never mind the affair had been emotional, never physical. It was still an affair. But she had told Jocelyn the whole sordid story a couple of months after they met and connected over their mutual love of fruit flavored wine.

        Jocelyn didn’t recoil in horror as Lisa expected or make an excuse to leave and cut off all contact. Instead, she said, “Are you okay now?”

        Lisa gave a sigh of relief before answering, “I’m fine. It’s not that I’m afraid of him. Just frustrated that he’s being so stubborn. I don’t see what we have to save if he did this. I know I’ll always love him to some degree and he’s all I’ve known, but maybe it’s time to let go.”

        Jocelyn patted Lisa’s hand in a soothing gesture. “When you’re ready, you just have to tell him that.”

        From that day forward, Lisa forged the type of friendship with Jocelyn she had always wanted. They talked about everything from The Real Housewives from Big City Land to local political scandals. They double dated and watched out for each other on solo dates. Jocelyn invited Lisa to work functions at the art gallery where she worked as a curator and Lisa helped her find leads on shows or programs the gallery might acquire. They were the perfect pair.

        So Lisa knew Jocelyn would not hesitate to come over at nearly midnight when she called in a panic over the one messy spot in her life.

        “You mean he’s actually here ̶ like in town?”

        Lisa nodded as she placed the tray with the tea and coffee on the table in front of Jocelyn, busy with Lisa’s laptop. She found the playlist she wanted and set it as Lisa sat beside her on the loveseat.

        “I’m so sorry to call this late, but he just showed up unexpectedly. He’s never come here before.”

        “Don’t worry about it. Thought you were having a nightmare at first but him showing up, I can see why you panicked.”

        “No I’m not afraid. I’m… I’m overwhelmed.”

        Jocelyn sipped at her coffee while Lisa got just the right proportions of sugar and milk for her tea.

        “We left things open when I left last time,” Lisa said. “I used to write him at least twice a year to ask for some type of compromise, something to make him finally sign the papers. He ignored me every time. I haven’t sent him anything since I saw him last time. I just hoped he eventually come around and agree. But maybe he took my silence as relenting.”

        “How could he take you not bothering with him as a sign he still had a chance.”

        Lisa absently stirred at her tea. “Well, that’s not exactly the only sign he got.”

        Lisa felt rather than saw the realization come over Jocelyn’s face. “Last time you were there, you slept with him didn’t you?”

        She had never told Jocelyn that part. “He was just… and I was… all these old feelings came back and it was just as good as it had always been.”

        Lisa looked at Jocelyn with her best puppy dog expression hoping to avoid her best friend’s judgment. She found none in Jocelyn’s eyes but did see a bit of amusement.

        Jocelyn asked, “Seriously, is the dick really that damn good it’s got you losing your everloving mind?”

        “It’s not just the dick, girl,” Lisa said, suddenly animated. “He used every part of his body to please every part of mine. His hands, his tongue… I mean he was always generous. Always. And he didn’t slack on that end after we’d been together a while. He actually cared that I got mine every time and it was fun trying to do the same for him.”

        Jocelyn’s snicker told Lisa her friend knew she was lost.

        “Of course, it’s not just the sex,” Lisa continued. “I know from what I told you that you think he’s a horrible person, but it’s not cut and dried. His love for me is genuine. It’s not like he’s trying to keep me because he wants someone to control. He doesn’t think he’ll do any better. Do you know what it’s like for someone to feel that you’re the best for them? I never thought that would be me.”

        Jocelyn’s face softened to understanding. “Look I just want you to be safe. You said you’re sure he wouldn’t hurt you and he never has, so I’ll take your word for that. But if you decide to pursue things with him, be careful. People change, Lisa. You need to make sure he’s still that man you fell in love with when you were 17.”

        Lisa set down her tea cup, curling her lips inward as if trying to prevent words from coming out before speaking slowly, methodically.

        “It’s not just that. There’s a little something else that could be a problem here.”

        “Really. What?”

        “Alex.”

compromised_filtered

Don’t forget you can still get Compromised on Kindle. Find out the full story on how these two came to their current situation.

Expanding the Boundaries: Genre and Books

 

Last month, I released my novella Compromised as an ebook on Amazon Kindle. Not quite getting the response I need, but that isn’t the point of this post. I’m recalling the process of setting up the book and getting it ready for release. One of the hardest parts in the process for me was determining a genre. I eventually settled on Literary/Fiction.

compromised_filtered

I hesitated to call it romance because of something I once read as the baseline criterion for romance. I won’t say what it is here because I don’t want to give out spoilers for my novella, but it technically does not fit with that definition. However, the more I thought about it, the more I definitely want to say Compromised is a romance.

One of the reasons I believe this is a romance is because it focuses on the romantic and sexual relationship between two people. The plot is their struggle as a couple and the ways they connect. To me, this is what makes a romance no matter how it turns out. *Spoiler alert*: After all, Terry McMillan’s Disappearing Acts did not end with Zora and Franklin living happily ever after with a family and a house with a white picket fence. The story was their struggle to find each other and stay together.

Another reason I classify Compromised as a romance is because of something that stuck out to me as I re-watched the trailer for a documentary called My Final Girl, which looks at the Black women in Blaxploitation horror films. I was struck by a white female academic who says the Blaxploitation horror films aren’t really horror because of the music. Since the music was so “funky,” (read: Black) these films can’t possibly be horror.

That statement made me think of the ways we define genre along arbitrary lines that are often based in factors such as race, gender, class, sexual orientation, religion, etc. This woman wanted to dismiss horror films that were clearly horror films just because they didn’t use the music she thought appropriate for “real” horror films.

Qualifications such as this are used to dismiss the participation of marginalized people in many different types of genres where we aren’t supposed to belong. It also becomes a way to demarcate marketing and promotion in a way that is familiar to what we want to believe about genre. After all, why isn’t that guy who writes books like The Notebook (don’t tell me is name because I don’t know and I don’t care) promoted as a romance writer when all his book covers look identical to Harlequin book covers?

While classifying according to genre can be useful in helping us find a book, film, TV show, etc. that we want to connect with at the time, we should be weary of how they are classified. Toni Morrison’s Beloved is every bit of horror as it is “traditional” literature. Yes genres can cross and converge and that’s perfectly okay. Genres may have a few qualifications that should be followed for classification purposes, but we should also recognize that sometimes works may not follow these qualifications like checklist.

Done ranting now. Enjoy this excerpt I posted on Tumblr a few days ago and go pick up the romance novella on Kindle!

She never got in trouble for bringing a Walkman to school. It was against the rules, but Lisa kept it in her bag all day and only listened to it during her walk home after school. She needed it to block them out. All of them. Everyone who caused her grief during hours would most definitely try to do it afterward when she had no one to come to her defense. Girls like her usually did not have a knight in shining armor to rescue them. She was on her own. She listened to music as she walked home and tried to drown them all out with her music. She was deep into Gang Starr’s “Love Sick” when she felt rather than saw the car slowing down beside her. She usually ignored cars that followed her lest she find herself staring down the mouth of some toothless old man thinking he still had it and she wanted it. Lisa turned to tell the man she did not want a ride but found herself looking into the eyes of her knight. He only said, “Jump in.”

Lisa climbed into the passenger side of the aging Oldsmobile. She turned off her music to hear his. He was an old school cat. She halfway expected to see that GQ’s “I Do Love You” was coming from an 8-track rather than a cassette or compact disc. They were in their own world here. The world was a 70s wonderland, the world into which they were born. She would find later that he was more into rap while she actually preferred her old school R&B. For some reason that day, they were feeling the other’s vibes.

“I’m glad I ran into you,” Danny began. “I’ve needed to talk to you.”

“Talk to me? Why?”

“The Bridge tests are coming up soon. If I don’t pass them, I can’t graduate. I was told I should see you.”

“Oh,” Lisa said thoughtfully.

“What’s wrong?” Danny asked.

“Nothing. I was just thinking about the other day – the thing with Brad. I understand it now.”

“Understand what?”

“Why you, you know, why you helped me.”

“Why I helped you that day in the hall? Oh, that had nothing to do with the exams. He’s just an asshole and like most assholes, he needed to be plugged up sometimes to stop spreading shit.”

Lisa laughed out loud. Her eyes sparkled and her face lit up. But just as suddenly as she began to laugh, Lisa covered her face and attempted to stifle herself.

“So she does smile,” Danny teased.

Lisa took her hand from her face and set it back in her lap. She felt his eyes on her for a moment before he returned his attention back to the road. A snicker escaped her lips before she could suppress it.

“Now what?”

“Nothing I just thinking about Brad. He never saw you coming. Neither did I actually. You kind of just snuck up like a -”

Lisa clamped her mouth before she could finish the sentence. She had always tried to be sensitive toward other people. It was not always returned to her, but she did not want to say anything to offend him.

“Like a what? Go ahead and say it. A ninja. I don’t mind. That used to be my name.”

“So that was you.”

“Emphasis on the was.”

She had wondered if he was the one, the elusive Ninja. Lisa marveled that the best form of cooperative multiracialism she had ever seen was in a gang. The crew he ran with included everybody, the best of the best. Still, Danny was the only Asian in the group. The Ninja they called him. He was like a secret weapon. He need not always be involved in a rumble. Just the mention of his name was enough to make even the meanest gangbangers back down, particularly those who knew absolutely nothing about any type of Asian culture except what they had seen from Enter the Dragon. “We ain’t worried. We got The Ninja on our side.”

“Why did they call you The Ninja?” Lisa asked despite the obvious.

“Like you said. They never saw me coming.”

They began to meet after school, sometimes in her parents’ home and sometimes in his apartment. He passed his exams by a comfortable margin. The day Danny found out his results was the first time he kissed her. He could tell it was her first kiss from her reaction. It did not take her long to get it down.

Graduation day rolled around. As her gift, Lisa offered to throw a party for Danny and his friends. Even though it would only be about twelve people, Lisa made sure it would be a memorable event. She prepared the food, cleaned and decorated the apartment and played hostess to all his guests without complaint. Lisa hated parties, so she spent most of the time DJing and making sure the food did not run out and cleaning as she went along. She still noticed one of the town naughty girls openly flirting with Danny. She also saw him respectfully rebuff her as he moved to claim what was his. That girl suddenly had to leave.

Around one, the party began to wind down. Only a couple of guys lingered as they were engrossed in some Sega game. Lisa excused herself to the bathroom. By the time she came out, all the guests had gone.

“Tom and Jeff leave?” she asked as she ran the dishwater to finish cleaning the kitchen.

“Yeah, they needed to get out of here,” he said as he walked up behind her as she busied herself at the sink.

“Oh. I thought they were still playing that game.”

Danny made no reply. Lisa felt his hand caress her ample backside. He often did that when they were alone. She ignored him as usual and kept at the dishes even though she detected something different in his touch this time. His hand wound around her body and found itself under her shirt. She felt an unfamiliar heat engulf her. By the time his fingers were caressing her right nipple, she could no longer breathe easily.

Lisa found her dish towel and made a big deal out of drying her hands, but he had already seen they were shaking. He took hold of them with his free hand and gently caressed them.

“Lisa, look at me.”

She nervously blinked as she forced her eyes to meet his. It was the first time he looked at her that way.

“You don’t have to if you don’t want,” he said gently. “I figured you were ready, but if not I’ll take you home.”

“You’ve been patient and never pressured me…”

“That’s not the point. You shouldn’t do anything you don’t want to do, not even to please me. I just thought it was time I turned you Japanese.”

Lisa nervously laughed as she buried her head in his chest. Danny held her, kissing her and caressing her until the shaking stopped. He then led her to the bedroom.

Compromised – An Excerpt

Getting better at the whole excerpt thing, so I posted an excerpt of the novella on Tumblr. Get a taste there then follow the link to Amazon to get a copy on Kindle.