We All Need Stories by Cole McCade

The other day I was looking at a well-known book mailing list advertiser who shall, for this post, remain nameless. Just checking out pricing, the sign-up process, etc. And while I was looking at the form to submit, I was faced with a dropdown that asked me to pick a category. In that list were the expected genres of fiction, but what jumped out at me were just two:

African-American Interest, and LGBT.

Huh, I thought. That’s just odd. Not only were they called out as their own genre, but they were the only ones called out. There was no category for queer, intersexed, asexual, poly, pan. No category for, oh, Asian Interest, or Hispanic/Latin@ fiction. Are all those just rolled up into general genre fiction, while African American Interest and LGBT are separated out? You can only pick one category; what about stories with POC characters who fall somewhere on the LGBTQIAPP spectrum? Is there a way to check off both, or am I stuck with one, or—

Why the hell am I checking boxes based on ethnicity, sexuality, or gender identity at all?

I didn’t know what was worse: that for these two groups, just a natural state of being was sidelined into a niche category, or that by creating these niche categories—categories that make it just as easy to avoid diversity as they do to find it—it erases anyone who doesn’t fall into either those specific groups or into the generic categorization of assumed white cis-gendered heterosexuality.

Here’s my problem.

I’m not white. I’m not straight.

But you won’t find many—if any—stories about me in any category, because by being complex, by being diverse, I’ve fallen into the cracks of non-existence somewhere between either and or.

I’ve been erased. And in erasing me, the voice of people like me has been erased; I’ve been told that my story doesn’t matter, that people like me don’t matter or don’t exist. Yet I know we do. I know we do, and I want to find our stories. But even more, I want people who aren’t like me to find our stories. I want them to read those stories, love them, and identify with them in the same way that I’ve been reading, loving, identifying with stories about white cis heteronormative protagonists for my entire life. Yes, I’ve at times felt a disconnect between their experiences and mine. But much of that disconnect came from knowing that there weren’t any stories that told my experience in an equal way, even though I’ve wanted to write one.

And I’ve tried; it just hasn’t gone very well, and so instead I’ve been playing it safe.

That’s right. I’ve been guilty of whitewashing my stories. Of straightwashing them. I’m still doing it: writing romance and erotica about straight white cis-gendered people, as though if I make a name for myself doing that I can then have the freedom to branch out more. Don’t get me wrong, I sneak some diversity in there. The hero in my first novel is a swarthy modern-day Roma; his agent and best friend is the angriest gay Chinese man on the planet, and isn’t particularly fond of “gay best friend” stereotypes. The hero in my recent release, The Lost, is half Native from the Arapaho tribe, and the entire fictional setting of Crow City is based around the idea of what would happen if a modern-day massive urban center was built by and heavily populated by the people of an Arapaho village that underwent industrialization and modernization in the same way that many early American towns did. There are several side characters who are Native or black. And while the heroine in The Lost might end up with a man in the end, she has multiple detailed sexual encounters with women without ever labeling her sexuality or even talking about it, because it’s a commonplace and ordinary thing for her. I flirt with the edges of what I really want to write, at least trying to have open representation, but I never really cross the line.

Because I’m scared.

I have reason to be. Most people don’t know this, but A Second Chance at Paris isn’t my first book. I have another out under my real name. M/M. POC central protagonist. And it flopped miserably. People bluntly stated they were skeptical of reading a book entirely in the POV of a man of color, and shied away from it. I was actually a little stunned when I got those responses, because I thought we were beyond that. I was also a little stunned when the people who did read it made similar comments about actually being surprised they could identify with an ethnic main character, but also complained that for an M/M book, it didn’t have nearly enough kink.

Because every gay relationship is all about kink. Right. Got it. I guess I need to have a talk with my last few boyfriends; no wonder we didn’t work out. We didn’t align closely enough with the fetishized fantasy of our genre label.

It’s that kind of fetishization and classification of someone’s life, someone’s existence, as a genre kink or niche interest that makes it so hard to take real steps in finding genre representation for even LGBTQIAPP or POC (and do not get me started on my grudge against BWWM), let alone making it into a real and viable and; the kind of and that’s needed for intersectionality. Don’t get me wrong—we’re making strides. There was the fallout over the lack of diversity at BEA. You see more and more people talking about how diversity matters in fiction, even though it bothers me that the preference seems to be more toward encouraging white heterosexual cis-gendered writers to include more diverse characters, instead of seeking more authentic POC and LGBTQIAPP authors to raise their voices. I’ve even been told directly on my own queried stories that my black teenage heroine was hard to identify with because she was black. That my shy gay Japanese high school student couldn’t be both; he could only be one or the other, because both was too much for the general market…and apparently getting my chocolate in your peanut butter and your peanut butter in my chocolate would make for terrible, terrible consequences unless said peanut butter / chocolate hybrid was a side character intended to cover every token in one.

If the world was either/or, I wouldn’t exist. I’m a panoply of things. I’m Asian. I’m black. I’m Native American. I’m Irish. I hate gender roles and do whatever the fuck I want regardless of my anatomy, whether it’s woodcraft, painting my goddamned nails, autobody repair, or having multicolored hair down to my narrow brown arse. I’m bi…pan-something, I can’t even figure that one out when I fall in love with people and not their sex, sexuality, gender, or gender identity. Point is, I’m not the heteronormative box I’d be lumped into without a category to easily label me as other. I’m not just one checkbox; I’m not an either/or. I’m many. I’m a complete, complex person who doesn’t want to be otherized by a genre label and cast out of the mainstream or shuffled into someone’s side story. My being is not a genre. And when you tell me that my many checkboxes are too much for the general market, what you’re telling me is that there’s no place for me to see myself in these stories.

You’re telling me that there’s no place for me to write in this market.

And that often makes me feel as if there’s no place for me in this world.

Because I live in a world without checkboxes, where ideally no one has to be informed of just what terrifying aspect of diversity is represented in mainstream fiction just because that makes it easier to hide from it.

About Cole McCade

coleCole McCade is a New Orleans-born Southern boy without the Southern accent, currently residing somewhere in the metropolitan wilds of the American Midwest. He spends his days as a suit-and-tie corporate consultant, and his nights writing romance novels. And while he spends more time than is healthy hiding in his writing cave instead of hanging around social media, you can generally find him in these usual haunts:

You can also get early access to cover reveals, blurbs, contests, and other exclusives by joining the McCade’s Marauders street team.

About The Lost

the lostThe first book in the new Cole McCade: After Dark erotica imprint; a darkly haunting erotica with the taboo appeal of V.C. Andrews.

There’s something wrong with Leigh.

She’s known it her whole life. She knows it every time she spreads her legs. Every time she begs for the pain, the pleasure, the heat of a hard man driving deep inside. She’s a slave to her own twisted lusts–and it’s eating her alive. She loves it. She craves it. Sex is her drug, and she’s always chasing her next fix. But nothing can satisfy her addiction, not even the nameless men she uses and tosses aside. No one’s ever given her what she truly needs.

Until Gabriel Hart.

Cold. Controlled. Impenetrable. Ex-Marine Gabriel Hart isn’t the kind of man to come running when Leigh crooks her pretty little finger. She loathes him. She hungers for him. He’s the only one who understands how broken she is, and just what it takes to satisfy the emptiness inside. But Gabriel won’t settle for just one night. He wants to claim her, keep her, make her forever his. Together they are the lost, the ruined, the darkness at the heart of Crow City.

But Leigh has a darkness of her own. A predator stalking through her past–one she’ll do anything to escape.

Even if it means running from the one man who could love her…and leaving behind something more precious to her than life itself.

Grab a copy on Amazon US

Or Amazon UK

17 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Hi. I recently read your post called “On speaking out vs White retaliation” and after reading this I only have a heartfelt thank you for you. You have been able to say eloquently what I am unable too. And can’t say enough how much I admire you because despite being scared, here you are and there you were, already saying everything I have spent years being silent about, both on the internet and real life.
    I have never voiced how I hate “picking out a category”. 2015 was the first year I started saying to people I often talked to online that I’m Mexican.
    So, thank you. Ten thousand times, thank you.

    • You know, I did the same thing when I first came on the het romance scene. I was silent about my ethnicity and sexuality. I left those a blank. And people started filling in those blanks with white and straight, and at first I would evade it, but I couldn’t take it anymore and started gently correcting them with a “Well, actually…” and a little light teasing even if sometimes I was gritting my teeth at the comments that resulted. But even so, I felt completely trapped by this idea of Cole that people had built up, and because I wasn’t able to be myself, I wasn’t able to be authentic and really engage with people even if there was nothing really dishonest about me; just restrained. And then a few weeks ago I just…got fed up and came out guns blazing. “This is me. This is what matters to me. It’s important to me that you see me, and not some idea in your head.” And I was shocked at how well it went. At how many people engaged with me, supported me, rooted for me so passionately. Yeah, there were a few people who made comments–someone said something about preferring my ambiguous avatar’s more strongly masculine jawline, and someone else DMed me to tell me they weren’t as interested in my books because they weren’t attracted to the real me–but for the most part support has been overwhelming. And with me being authentic and speaking in my own voice, I’m finding that my reach extends because more and more people want to respond, to engage, when I talk about topics of substance without filters, without carefully picking my words to both protect myself and cause the least offense.

      People wanted who I really was.

      People want who *you* really are.

      And I hope you won’t stifle yourself anymore, when you speak to people in your online circles. I think you’re awesome. And thank you for sharing this with me.

  • I feel it’s in a way up to us readers to make it possible for writers to write the things they want. Diverse readers need diverse stories and hope there is place both of them in romancelandia.
    Thank you for this post!

    • It’s partially on readers, but I think it’s mostly on publishers. Readers are saying “we want diverse books!” while publishers are saying “diverse books don’t sell” while at the same time not putting in the same marketing dollars and effort behind said diverse books, so it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Not that I think it’s some grand conspiracy or anything; it’s just that when over-caution comes into play people often don’t look at all the factors impacting these books–and often don’t take into account the effect that privilege has on boosting books that fit the white heteronormative cis standard not because there’s no market for diverse books, but because it’s easier to sell where there’s already an established channel and formula for success. So I think it’s on publishers now to make an active and concerted effort to come up with a real strategy for not just turning diverse books into a viable sales channel instead of a niche side market, but to blend diverse books into the mainstream in more than just limited quantities until they’re part of the *same* sales channel and enjoy the same chances for success with the same audience based solely on genre preferences that have nothing to do with ethnicity, culture, sexuality, gender, or gender identity.

      • I hear this about publisher from a lot of authors. I know they follow market trends but after those are based on what readers buy. The way I see it, readers/reviewers/bloggers and authors must talk and raise familiarity and awareness that there are diverse books out the. Writers want to write them and readers (still not many, but I think more and more readers of traditional romance are willing/interested in trying new reads) and I agree that publishers need to find a way to promote them ad much and as successful as more traditional romance.
        I fully agree with you that diverse romance should be part of the mainstream and not just a tiny, separate part. We just need to find the right way to make this happen or at least the convince the rest of the stakeholders in the book community to do their part.

        • Not just diverse romance; this is a problem in every genre.

          “I know they follow market trends but after those are based on what readers buy.”

          The thing is…readers can’t buy books they don’t know about. That’s where it’s on the publisher. If there’s no discoverability for a book because the publisher isn’t putting it out into the right channels to get people to talk about it and improve discoverability, then readers aren’t going to buy it. Then the publisher can say “well, readers aren’t buying or talking about diverse books.” And of course they’re not–because the publisher isn’t doing everything they can to make sure that readers know those books exist. So it’s hard to really say it’s on readers, reviewers, bloggers, etc. when they can’t be faulted for not buying books they don’t even know are out there. Publishers often treat diverse books as an afterthought. And I think, just from listening to the discussions going on lately, that if publishers were to make diverse books more discoverable, then readers would respond. There’d still be issues to overcome with a larger-than-usual subset saying “I don’t want to read this, I don’t think I can identify with this POV,” but I do think more readers would *rise* to the challenge of diverse books if they just knew where to *find* them and they were trumpeted with the same eagerness and anticipation as mainstream.

          • Sorry, I went with diverse romance by default because I read mostly romance, but what you say does hold true for diverse books in general.
            Don’t start me on this “I can’t identify with … character”. If I read only books where the characters were like me or the people around me, that would be a pretty limited range of books and definitely no diverse books, no sci fi or fantasy. I believe that we can relate to any well drawn character regardless how different they are from us.

  • I wish for you and for all of us that one day you won’t be scared anymore and will be able to write the stories you want, that you will cross the line.
    I’m here to read them, and I know there are others. I would love to read your M/M with a POC protagonist, too. Would you gimme a hint how to find it?
    Thank you for this great post.

    • Next year my publisher is actually doing a re-release under my other pen name (the pen name I created explicitly to write queer sci-fi, so definitely pushing forward on that front); I’m getting the chance to write an extended ending and flesh out some things I wasn’t happy with before when I was limited by novella wordcount. When that’s out, trust me, I’ll be blaring it to the high heavens. <3

  • I also want to read your previously published book. I’ve loved the two books you’ve released so far. Maybe you can republish it with a new title under Cole McCade to maintain your anonymity but still give your fans a treat?

  • “But even more, I want people who aren’t like me to find our stories. I want them to read those stories, love them, and identify with them in the same way that I’ve been reading, loving, identifying with stories about white cis heteronormative protagonists for my entire life.”

    I love this. As an aromatic asexual who adores romance novels, I’d never read a book with a protagonist who shared my sexuality until very recently. But I still was able to identify with allosexual characters pursing their romantic attractions, because I too am many. I am a complete, complex person and my sexual identity isn’t my only check box.

    It blows me away when I hear that readers weren’t able to identify with a character because of a check box or two. What do you mean you were unable to identify with this person who is feeling misunderstood? What do you mean you were unable to identify with this person who is reeling from unexpected betrayal? What do you mean you were unable to identify with this human being who is trying to better their situation? Because he’s black? Because they’re nonbinary? Because she’s pansexual? Because he’s deaf? Is there no other aspect of their humanness you can identify with and use as a bridge to fall into their story?

    And, of course, I’m delighted books with asexual protagonists starting to enter the market. Partially so I can see that aspect of myself represented. But also so everyone else can see it too.

    • (As an aside, ace romances are awesome.)

      This is what I don’t understand, either. We read to explore new worlds, whether those new worlds are just the POV of someone with a story other than our own or as far away as another dimension. We can accept aliens, magic, hyperaccelerated technology, protagonists with bizarre powers and mindsets shaped by completely different worlds…but we can’t read in the POV of someone from the same planet, the same era, the same life but with a different skin tone and different cultural and ethnic perspective? How does that make sense? If we went by that standard, men would never read books with female protagonists; women would never read books with male protagonists; only gay, bi, and pansexual men would read m/m; asexuals would have a deeply limited reading selection; intersexed persons would be stuck with nothing to read but flawed portrayals written by binary people…the list goes on. We read outside of ourselves in so many ways all the time, so I don’t know why it’s so hard for others to do the same.

  • There’s a weird skew here, right? To shy away from a book because it’s m/m and happens to have a hero of colour? (I kind of love the phrase ‘of colour’, btw, because to me it implies a bright person, someone who is more than an idea, or words on a page. Colourful and noteworthy.) And then, to complain there isn’t enough kink? Excuse me while I boggle a minute.

    I don’t consider the race, gender or orientation of the heroes in the books I read. I don’t care who wrote them. I just want to read good stories. I want to read the stories authors want to tell and if I like them, I’ll read more. Should be as simple as that, eh?

  • Wow, just wanted to say this is such a great post. I’m looking forward to your previously published book, when it’s republished.

    In response to some of the discussion that came up in comments, I think one issue with some people not being able to read outside themselves, particularly in romance or erotica has a really troubling basis. I think when they say “identify with”, people sometimes really mean “be attracted to”. And I think this can extend beyond romance and into other genre fiction, because you can have a romantic attraction to the protagonist in a sci fi or fantasy or adventure or crime fiction, for example, even when the story itself isn’t primarily romantic.

    So I think while a lot of people may not be outwardly or consciously intellectually racist, there can be underground stuff that contributes to being specifically non-attracted to people of certain races or ethnicities or even just to people who look a certain way, such as non-normatively sized people, etc. I’m ashamed to admit I’ve had feelings like this myself in the past which is the reason I suspect this is the case with others. And that can carry over into not wanting to imagine a protagonist looking a particular way that you wouldn’t respond to as attractive. This is different from merely having a type, though I think that’s not entirely unrelated either. It’s about having some sort of inherently negative association with people who look a certain way or are of a particular race or culture, which may not come out in the way you interact with people socially but can come out in these more visceral ways.

    But, even if you are just talking about identification rather than attraction, I think its different from an outer space alien culture, because it’s not necessarily being unable to identify with *anyone generically not like me* but more being unable to identify with *this specific other* to which there are negative & probably subconscious connotations attached. You know, how people used to say “I don’t care if you’re purple!”, which is sort of beside the point & easy to say because nobody *is* actually purple, so there are no negative societal or cultural connotations attached to being purple. If there *were* actually purple people, sadly there almost certainly *would* be, unless they were a majority, privileged culture.

    The thing people don’t realize though is, that if they resist this, err, attraction/identification discrimination by actively choosing to read something with a protagonist racially/ethnically unlike themselves, they will get over this. Or get a lot better about it, at least. They will find some awesome books & characters that they will, in fact, identify with. I think, in many cases, people only *think* they will not be able to relate, so they don’t even give themselves the chance, which is really a shame for all concerned.

  • Thanks for this, Cole. I appreciate that you own your own “safe” decisions. I hope you don’t beat yourself up if you ever make those decisions in part for economic reasons. It’s OK to want to pay the rent, and furtherly OK to aim certain books at a wider market to do so. Let those books subsidize your happy hunt for those readers who (a) would better recognize themselves in your more diversely-cast stories, or (b) are willing to stretch their reading beyond representations of themselves. :)

    Then again, if I’m raining on your determination to shine a light on a need not being met — on readers looking for the stories that publishers claim they want to publish — I’ll shut up.

    But not yet. :) Just wanted to add that I’m really glad Twitter pals pointed me to your writing this past week. I look forward to exploring your stories.

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