Diversity in romance – you can’t have it both ways



In 2017, a picture of the South Korean President’s very handsome bodyguard went viral, and a group of us authors swooned and then decided we’d create a set of romances, that celebrated diversity and featured handsome Asian heroes.

On Asian Valentine’s Day, in August 2018 we launched Kiss Me, which featured eight contemporary sweet romances where each had a hero that was Asian.



Our readers enjoyed the stories with different locations from Hong Kong to Australia to the USA, and we’ve loved all the positive reader feedback.

We talk about wanting diversity in our books, and yet when an author “dares” to write outside of their cultural boundaries they are attacked on social media and called “racist”. You can’t have it both ways. If you want diversity, you will have authors writing characters that have a different social and racial background to them. We need to believe in each author that they will research and write the best book they can (that is culturally sensitive).

We have a number of very talented authors who write for Mills and Boon, in Australian and New Zealand, who I personally know. They write heroes that are culturally different to them – handsome, walk-off the page heroes that are Italian, Spanish, Greek etc. Should they now not?

Years ago when I was learning to write romance, one of my “how-to” books specifically mentioned not to write a romance with a Russian hero. And guess what? Carol Marinelli was one of the first (or the first!) to write a Russian hero (loved that book!) and since then, hundreds of authors have now written romances with sexy Russian heroes.


One of Carol’s awesome reads featuring a Russian hero


So do we vilify or celebrate those authors who write outside of their cultural boundaries? I say we celebrate.

I recently met an upcoming author who’s written a story with a quadriplegic hero. Should she not to do so because she’s not quadriplegic? No. Her story sounds captivating and I want to read it.

My fellow Kiss Me authors and I have been publicly vilified on social media by a small group of authors and self proclaimed social warriors who think it’s acceptable to ridicule fellow authors. It’s not. It’s mean and it’s nasty.



My book, An Unexpected Forever, features an Asian hero and an Orthodox Jewish heroine. I spent so much time researching this book, and my acknowledgements to the people who helped me create my characters are in my “Dear Reader” letter at the end.

Why an Asian hero? Because the book is set in Hong Kong. I wanted a rich romance of two characters who were so diverse, yet attracted to each other, who had to work through the barriers between them so they could have a happily ever after. This is what romance is about.

If I had set the story in Melbourne, with an Australian hero, the story wouldn’t have had the strong depth of conflict between the hero and heroine.

And that’s why I love writing romance. It’s where a hero and heroine are able to work through their differences to come together. They each change each other in a positive way so they can have a happily ever after (or happily for now).

Authors who write diverse and complex books should be applauded not publicly shamed.

To our readers who support us, I say thank you from the bottom of my heart. I am truly grateful to be doing a job I love so much, and to be surrounded by so many awesome and talented authors.


41 Responses

  1. Congratulations on being you. On choosing to write what you want and to do it so well. On researching, checking and double checking that you’ve nailed it. I believe in you and urge you to continue doing what you are – setting an amazing example for other authors in so many ways. xx

    1. Thank you so much Phillipa for your kind words. I did more research for this book, than I ever have. I’m fortunate to have support around me, who were able to ensure my characters were authentic.

      I love my book, and I love the set. And yes, it’s been wonderful to read such positive comments from our readers. Thank you x

  2. I was appalled when I came across that Twitter mob, Joanne. The fact these people were authors, and in one case I noticed, a reviewer, was even more disturbing. Frankly I was horrified.

    I know it is redundant to point out here, but fiction is all about making things up – people, plots, even whole worlds which come from the minds of their creator. We write fiction, not thinly veiled autobiographies.

    Fiction is about exploring the push-pull dynamic of human interaction. We develop these worlds to entertain and to explore the deepest needs and desires that exist in the human mind, heart and soul. We lay them bare so we and our readers can reflect on the world as a whole.

    By all means, readers can criticise characterisations (or plot, or setting…) in a review, but that is a far cry from saying a piece of art should not have been created in the first place because the author was the “wrong” gender, ethnicity or sexuality.

    This group-think identity politics which has infested so many areas of the public space is pernicious and it shouldn’t be underestimated how dangerous it is – especially to those of us in the creative arts.

    The religious-like zealotry of these would-be arbiters of what should or should not be allowed in literary works, with heresies punished by Twitter-mobs brandishing the flaming torches of unearned indignation, need to be vigorously resisted.

    It needs to be vigorously resisted because the end game is the end of fiction, creativity, beauty and the arts. And that’s a grey, featureless dystopia I don’t want to live in.

    1. Thanks Elizabeth, I agree with you 100%. I’m saddened and disturbed by this ‘group think’ where people target others because they simply don’t agree. Ironically, not one person checked with us, before posting on line. Everything was an assumption based on their opinion.

      I have ignored it, but the zealotry has been a concern.

      We are romance authors. We love love. We love to create characters and give them a happily ever after. We want diversity, and different characters.

      A number of Australian romance authors write gay romance, and they’re not gay. Does it matter? No. Because they’ve written beautiful stories that people want to read.

      I will continue to write characters that have flaws, personalities and yes, of differing cultures and backgrounds. This is my job, and it’s a job that I love.

  3. I really liked your post, Joanne. Reading romance is about feeling *good* after the rocky ride of trials and tribulations that led to the happy ever after and if a book is well researched and makes the reader feel in a better place then they were before, they should feel proud.

    1. That’s exactly right Beverley. Readers know that in a romance, the couple are going to end up together, so why read is? It’s the journey. They want to read the couple overcoming the issues so they can have their happily ever after. That’s what romance is.

  4. While we all have the right to personal opinions, there is no need to vilify others for any reason whatsoever. Criticism should be constructive not destructive and should never be personal. If it’s personal, isn’t that the same as bullying? Our imagination gives us wings to fly and experience new worlds and different cultures. I’ve never been in a space ship nor am I an alien but I write science fiction! And why not? A writer’s goal is to entertain and romance writer’s to bring love and hope into people’s lives. What better way than to explore the complex issues of couples from different races and cultures? What better way to show the world that we can ALL get along? Kudoes to all the authors involved in this box set for their thorough research and up-lifting stories regardless of their nationality!

    1. Beautifully said Suz, and you’re exactly right.

      Romance is about couples overcoming barriers to be together. It’s a journey. Readers want to be whisked away in to a tale.

      Our set celebrates diversity, that heroes come in all shades, races and cultures.

      We are authors, and our job is to create. I love this set, and I know that our readers have too.

  5. I’m so used to Australians intermarrying, I’m disturbed and upset that you girls were attacked. These people are wrong. Simple as that. I want you to know you have my complete support.

    1. Thank you Cathleen, you have been very supportive and for that I’m grateful 🙂

      I’ve been very touched by the support I have received from so many authors (and readers too!)

  6. I think that the issue was the fact that it was using marketing from books/films that are oenvoices Asian to promote, that it seemed odd to have a whole set of Asian or interracial romances written by a set of no Asian authors at all and only predominantly white women at that.

    You mention Greek, Russian, Italian, and I think Spanish above. There’s a distinct difference between ethnic groups (and all you listed are also ethnic groups that are currently considered Caucasian) and a racial group. For one thing, the West has a tendency to fetishize Asian women and men alike as the exotic other. I am not saying you did that automatically or that you didn’t have sensitivity readers etc but the way this whole boxset was approached and marketed feels like trying to horn in on a trend and off the labor of Asian American own voices authors and their success.

    I am not saying not to do a diversity boxset but there’s really a difference between all non-Asian women doing this and having at least some ownvoices representation mixed in and helping supervise the process. Your work might be diverse but it’s not actually inclusive.

    Finally, I’d like to point out three last things. A – you said this was inspired by the hotness of the South Korean president’s son. I’d actually urge you and your fellow boxset authors to Google about the first time there was a huge deal made over the Tongan flag bearer in Rio/2016 Olympics . There’s is a problem when white women fetishize “exotic” men. It’s also problematic in sheikh fiction and in types of bodice rippers from the 70s and 80s that sometimes involved skewed antebellum and other racial Dynamics in the American South. Second, I’d really urge you not to have a knee-jerk reaction but to take a step back, listen to the authors talking to you, especially those writers of both color and/or if Asian descent. People who are hurt are trying to explain why this hurts them. It’s important to *listen*. Finally, the criticism over the last few days hasn’t been from “jealous authors” or those looking to tear others down to succeed. It comes mainly from authors of color and, yes, also some white editors/writers/readers who are trying to point out that—noble intentions or not—what you did was problematic and appeared opportunistic.

    Thank you and I hope you reflect on this.

    1. Dear Ivy, thank you for comments. A lot of thought has gone into the issues you raise by the group. The initial complaint about the use of own voices in marketing was listened to and acted upon. The problem came when people who had never read the stories insisted that we had no right to write multicultural stories including Asians simply because of our whiteness. They made no enquiry into what credibility the authors had. In fact several of the authors have strong credibility along with an editor and a sensitivity reader. The question of fetishising Asian men is worth considering but is it othering to exclude Asian men from being admired as we do Caucasian or African ethnic groups. Where is the line drawn between considering an actor like Idris Elba to be hot and worthy of admiration or turning him into a sexual object without thought about who he is as a person. My social media is full of images of semi naked men who are there simply for objectification. We have taken attractive men and given them a story. A story about falling in love and a happy ending. They are not simply objects of sexual lust but fully rounded characters who are faced with challenges and obstacles in their journey to finding love. They are paired with diverse heroines who see them as men worthy of love.

    2. Ivy,
      If you think that it is only Western/Caucasian/White culture that ‘fetishises the exotic other’, then you need to get out a bit more and learn a little more about history and human nature.

    3. I do not why you assume I haven’t traveled or been abroad when I have. Anyway, if people refuse to see the differences in dynamics when Caucasians create a potential fetishizing situation toward Asian men to other then and that there comes a lot of baggage that is hard to negotiate from the history of the white colonial gaze, then people are being willfully blind to those sociocultural issues and that’s unfortunate. Moreover, I am not sure the argument of “well other races outside of white exotic-fy/fetishize each other” as that doesn’t seem a positive point.

    4. Thank you Ivy for your thoughts, I don’t agree with all of them but appreciate you writing them in an articulate manner.

      As the lead for this set, I will respond to you about the comment of the “whiteness” of the authors. First, I think this is totally inappropriate and irrelevant, however, as this concerns you, please note that I opened this set to all contemporary romance authors.

      The criteria for being in the set included, word count, heat level and timelines/launch.

      The authors who joined were able to commit to the launch. Two Asian author friends loved the idea but the set didn’t fit in to their working schedule.

      I don’t care what race or skin colour are of the authors I work with. I care that they are professional, meet guidelines and write a fabulous romance.

      Is this set opportunistic? Depends on your definition. There has been a cry out amongst readers and authors that we don’t have diversity in our characters. This set addressed this.

      PS – not that this is relevant but one author in the set is a WOC, one is of a minority race and the other has an extended Asian family.

  7. Well written post, Joanne. So sorry you and the set authors have been through this, and I wish you all every success moving forward xo

  8. I find this so disturbing and in this day and age, that people cannot accept interracial relationships is beyond me. I’m so sad you’ve had to endure vile vilification. Keep writing what you love. Don’t let them beat you down.

  9. First, I am glad mostly the #ownvoices marketing angle is gone. I still see tweets and Instagram posts with it but they’re older. Second, I still think the lack of even one Asian author in the set is problematic. I’ll try and explain it this way: if 8 men came out with a set if strong heroines to celebrate female empowerment and decided to initially market it to the into #metoo and the general cultural shift especially in the US in feminism since the 2016 election, it would feel like appropriating women’s struggle, work, and a genuine earned zeitgeist moment to sell books. It also reminds me of the problems actually autistic people have had for years with the US foundation Autism Speaks, which lacks actual autistics on their board. The idea of representation if “for us but without us” isn’t actually representation.

    Also, I’d say to the other poster that of course I understand there is not just fetishizing or exotic-fying of Asian men by white women. There are other groups who can be exotic-fied by a white, colonial gaze. it is definitely possible to write Asian heroes, interracial romance, and diverse romance without an underlying fetish angle coming through. However when it is a collection of writers—none of whole are Asian and almost are white—intent or not, it becomes layered with the orientalism/exotic east problem, down to a cover with traditionally Asian symbols (I’d argue only Japanese ones as a short hand for all Asia) with the cherry blossoms and the pagoda.

    Again, I hope you may digest more what points people, especially Asian writers and readers are trying to make, and think about them. Also, like “this isn’t racist” is declared saying “you can’t dictate what’s diverse” isn’t a dynamic a white person can control . We don’t and can’t dictate what is offensive for a marginalized or minority group. It doesn’t work that way due to our nested privilege.

    Thank you.

    1. “Also, I’d say to the other poster that of course I understand there is not just fetishizing or exotic-fying of Asian men by white women. There are other groups who can be exotic-fied by a white, colonial gaze”.

      But you still clearly misunderstand the point, Ivy, so I’ll break it down further for you.

      People from non-white/Caucasian/Western culture can, do, and have “exotified” and “fetishised” people from other races, nations and cultures.

      In fact, it is so common, that it is agreed that to be fascinated by someone who looks different to the rest of the dominant culture is a *human* trait.

      By getting out more, I mean get a passport and actually see some of the world and spend more time in other nations and cultures. You’ll find that it truly does broaden the mind.

    2. Thank you Ivy. I did spend all day Wednesday cleaning my feed of that promo but did notice someone retweeted one in the last 24 hours. As you know, once things are out in social media it’s hard to erase them entirely. I felt it important for me as a totally “white” author to not use that particular promo. For the rest of the group, it’s up to them. Their story is not my story but I can assure you that there was a lot more input from a range a sources including editors and sensitivity readers that gave credibility to the set. The assumption made that because six pictures of white women were on the set (and the two WOC/Minority that are constantly forgotten) that it was a cynical ploy to exploit the current market was particularly hurtful to some members. I’m reading an anthology about the experience of people Growing up Aboriginal in Australia today and one theme that appears over and over is that lighter skinned people were constantly told they were not “real” Aboriginals. That their identity could be measured by what percentage of blood was English, or Scottish, or Aboriginal. To First Nation peoples, self identification with their people is the key factor in identity. No-one should have to justify their appearance and to condemn someone without considering this possibility was very painful for those who do have those links but don’t feel it necessary to reveal very personal family details on an unforgiving internet.

    3. Hi Ivy, the set was not connected to the ownvoices, this was undertaken by one author who has sincerely apologised. Whether it was a mistake or not, is not relevant but her intentions were honourable.

      I thought the cover was beautiful and reflected that our set is multicultural. One of the author’s stories is around the heroine’s love for all things Japanese so the pagoda and cherry blossom works well.

      PS – every Asian reader and author I know has supported us. They love that our awesome romantic heroes are Asian. In movies and books, produced outside Asia, it’s so rare that the “Asian guy” get to be the hero. As I have said, we love love, and as authors, we create characters that have flaws, interests and differing cultures/backgrounds.

  10. I’m Asian and I see zero reason why people would take offence to your story with Asian main characters. In fact I applaud this.
    Asian characters aren’t often represented in tv shows and books. Too often they’re only the supporting character as the ‘math geek.’

    So if anything, it’s offensive when these trolls say you shouldn’t write strong diverse characters.

  11. In answer to Ivy Quinn, who wonders why there are no “token” Asian writers in this set. Here I am. I am an visibly Asian female romance writer, and I was a member of this set. The only reason I did not end up in the set was because my story about a Taiwanese major league pitcher, Timmy Li, grew too long and steamy. I am more concerned about the lack of representation of Asians [especially Asian males] in heroic roles than I am about a group of women idolizing them and writing about them as romantic heroes. When I started writing romances with Asian male heroes, I was criticized by other Asian writers who objected to it and rejected me from a boxed set because they said Asian males would not sell. They required white heroes in that boxed set [which is long gone], but I still have the emails warning me not to write about a marginalized group that was viewed as geeky, unsexy, not romantic, and won’t sell.

    Why is it okay for me to write about Caucasian heroes and be told by a group of WOC that we need to write about them or our stories won’t sell? I truly thought that we as a group of enlightened members of the world community have gone beyond restricting people on their self-expression and that if I am free to write about Caucasian heroes, then why are they not allowed to write Asian heroes, especially since Asian men are so underrepresented as romantic heroes.

    When I put out my boxed set, Rich Asian Lovers [now retitled Spicy After Dark, because some people objected to me stating that these were “Asian” Lovers], I got feedback from a few people saying they couldn’t imagine Asian people as lovers – AT ALL. Fortunately, I have a lovely group of readers from all over the world who continue to encourage me and read everything I write irrespective of the skin color or perceived nationality of my heroes and heroines.

    If the only people we can write about are people who share our experience to the last detail: skin color, eye shape, neighborhood, public school or private school, socioeconomic background, birth-order, family status [parents married, divorced, single], citizenship, gender identity etc., etc., then we would all be bored by autobiographical stories of self-love. In that case, being an identifiable Asian female means I, too, cannot write about Asian males since I don’t have a clue what it is like to live as an Asian male.

    Is this the world we want to live in? Where everyone is required to stay in their own lanes by self-appointed writer’s police? I’m sorry that this diverse group of authors was attacked. I applaud them for appreciating Asian culture and I see nothing wrong with the cherry blossoms and the handsome man on their cover. I wish there were more Asian cover models, because it would make it easier for me. I’ve have had to find stock photos with sunglasses so that my Asian characters can be put on the cover, or find Latino/Latina models. Instead of restricting people to writing about a group of marginalized people, why can’t we be more accepting? Love is love, and who these authors choose to love should not matter to anyone other than their readers.

    I’ve been afraid to comment, because I don’t want to be attacked for writing about men and women who don’t look like me, didn’t grow up in my neck of the woods, don’t share my gender identity, don’t have my height, weight, hair color, nonathletic ability, braces on teeth, bird-owner, single-eyelid and freckle-face background. But I can’t let them take all the shots, especially since they did a brave and wonderful thing in promoting cross-cultural understanding, love, and harmony.

    So here I am, known for writing Asian male heroes [among others], and standing up for my sisters in the Kiss Me: Multicultural Boxed Set.

    These are my Asian heroes and I’m proud of them.
    Played by Love – Jaden Sloup Sing
    Playing the Rookie – Jay Pak Ahn
    Taming Romeo – Romeo Garcia
    Claiming Carlos – Carlos Lopez
    Roaring Hot – Teo Alexiou [Japanese, Greek, Filipino]
    Jade: Perfect Match – Aiden Lin
    Black Tied: Sapphire – Johnny Wok
    Playing Fastball – Timmy Li

    1. Thank you Rachelle for speaking out, for your private and public support of our set. I met you when I was newly published and you have impressed me as an author who not only writes good books but also is professional as an author.

      It’s not easy opening yourself out, in a public forum, but I know you did it to show support, and for that I’m so very grateful.

      PS – I love your Asian heroes too 😀

  12. Bravo to you and the other authors. It’s a shame that there is so much petty complaining. One of the authors Rachelle Ayala is a very diverse author. The people complaining obviously did not do their homework. I believe it is jealousy.

  13. To Ivy :
    1) You didn’t get your facts straight. The picture is of the S. Korean President’s BODYGUARD – not his son.
    2) You are in love with the word, “problematic”. Enough already.
    3) Since when do beautiful love stories become some form of fetish? Maybe in your mind.

    I bought this set and finished Joanne’s story. I took particular delight in it as I am part Jewish, although I am a Messianic. Her attention to detail was spot on and I thoroughly enjoyed it! I had a hard time putting it down. I fully support the authors of this set! Rachelle Ayala is already a favorite author of mine & I look forward to reading the rest of the set!

    1. Hi Pam

      Thanks for taking the time to read my post and comment here 🙂

      I’m so glad you loved my story, that means a lot. Hope you enjoy the other books in the set.

      Joanne x

  14. Though attacking authors is never cool, there is a frustration among romance fans of color that publishing in general has a distinct lack of diversity in authors and content. The systems in place limit diverse voices from having a seat at the very large romance table. I have been a romance reader for over 35 years and have on recently begun to see characters that look like me grace the covers of mainstream books, and even rarer that the person behind the story is a WOC. These are the frustrations that lead fans to be vocal. I support companies that make an effort to publish diverse romances and authors who take the time to mentor them. We actually CAN have it All. And the prolific talented women of the romance genre can help make that wish a reality.

    1. Hi Kai – thanks for your reply and insights.

      You’re right, attacking authors who write diverse characters is not cool. If readers want diversity in their romance reading, then they should encourage and applaud the writers who do this.

      There are a number of awesome romance writers who self publish, and they do, so they can write the tropes and characters of what they want. There are no publisher guidelines. I am one of these authors who loves the freedom to write what I want.

      I will tell you that some author friends have privately confessed to me that they will NEVER write about a minority race because of the public ridiculing I received from some so-called “social justice warriors”.

      And that’s the crunch of it. Where an author writes outside of the box, they are attacked on social media and vilified. So it’s easier to write what’s “safer”.

      Sad really.

      And the irony is that Asian romance readers and authors LOVED our set. They loved that Asian men were the handsome hero, not the geeky side kick or the gay BFF. The Asian guy was the hero and got the girl. And that’s what the set was about. Shame that the haters didn’t see this, and instead publicly vilified us.

  15. I know a lot of people of color might not agree with me, but I support your opinion. And I also applaud you for not being afraid to say it. While there are truly exploitative authors and readers out there, I don’t get that sense here. I’ll be honest, I kinda hold my breath when I see a non-white author writing a black woman. And to be honest, it doesn’t always speak to me because the experience just isn’t there regardless of the research done. Still, that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be published and the author is lacking or exploiting in some way. Most times it’s simply telling a story. And I applaud every one who does that with love. It’s funny you mentioned Australia. One of my earliest memories of romances were sneaking off to read Violet Winspear whose stories were always filled with swooning beauties and daring beaus in what seemed like exotic locales like the Outback. I could attempt to do the same and no one would bat an eye. So keep doing what you’re doing. One love.

  16. Hi Shaundra

    Thanks for dropping by and for your insights, which I found interesting. I know what you mean, it would be nice to have WOC write heroines that are WOC. And I do have a number of author friends who do this.

    But as romance authors we do want to write different characters for both our heroes and heroines. Otherwise, all my heroes would look like my husband – tall, blue eyes, bald and likes Midnight Oil (Aussie rock band) – and I think my readers would tire of that – LOL 🙂

    Us authors have a responsibility to do the best job we can in portraying our characters, and we use friends, family and our editors to ensure we get this right. We can make slip up and make mistakes, but in my circle of author friends I see authors trying to do the right thing with their characters.

    The sad reality is that many authors are now reluctant to create diverse characters because of the social media warriors who attack, write mean reviews, and 1* books without having read them. And that’s a shame.

    And you can’t tell with some authors what their backgrounds are. A picture doesn’t always give the ethnicity of that author.

    Thanks for your support xx

  17. Keep writing the books you want to write. If it is a good book and treats the character fairly, hero or villain, I see no problem with it. Being a white woman, I usually write with white characters, but it depends on my story. Period. Therefore, one of my books had a Spanish heroine and several others had American Indian heroines. My western Trahern men had an Indian grandmother. These things just come into the story as the story and character dictate. I’ve never worried about them, and I won’t. I get attacked sometimes because I put some Christian or conservative views in my books. I figure if it bothers them, they don’t have to read it. Anyone who enjoyed War and Peace might remember entire chapters with the author’s views. I’d never do that, as I think it kills the story, and the story is supreme.

Leave a Reply to Phillipa Nefri Clark Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


more from us