Interview with Heather Massey and guide to diverse sci-fi romance

Heather Massey is an author and also curator of The Galaxy Express. I’m not going to lie; when I first had Heather’s email about taking part this month I found myself a little intimidated! She’s active in the diversity and science fiction communities and I think she gives her list of accolades far better than I ever could:

I’ve been blogging about SFR in books and film since 2008. In addition to TGE, I’m a front-page blogger for Heroes & Heartbreakers as well as Coffee Time Romance’s steampunk site. I also began contributing posts to the lesbian erotic fiction site Strange Flesh Press. I once wrote a monthly column for Germany’s LoveLetter magazine. My posts have also been featured at SF Signal, Dear Author, Tor.com, and numerous other book sites.

To further expand visibility for SFR stories, I helped launch Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly in 2013 with authors KS Augustin (Editor) and Diane Dooley (Story Editor). It’s a free, SFR gateway ‘zine readers can download or peruse via flip book.

I’m sure you’ll agree with me that we’re lucky to have her participating in Diverse Books Month and I hope you’ll join me in giving her a warm welcome.

1. What does the term “Diverse Books” mean to you?

“Diverse books” means stories that center people of color, characters with disabilities, and characters across the LGBQT spectrum. More importantly, diverse books means stories written by people of color, people with disabilities, and LGBQT folks.

“Diverse books” means supporting said authors by buying their books, discussing them with my friends and on my blog, and generally shining a spotlight on them. It means doing what I can to help change the publishing landscape so diverse authors and stories can claim their rightful place in it.

2. Through your website, The Galaxy Express, you’re an active proponent of diversity in literature and film. Why is this issue important to you?

SFR is a genre that focuses on the intersection of love and technology. Every character who wants a romance with a Happily Ever After deserves one, and readers of all types deserve to see themselves represented in these stories—not just once or twice, but over and over again.

In my reading experience, sci-fi romance seems to have more alien characters than diverse characters, and that needs to change. Should SFR really have more aliens or “Other” characters than characters of color? Are we really saying we can relate to aliens more than characters with disabilities or LGBQT characters? Stories that lack diverse characters send the message that certain readers aren’t wanted and aren’t worth being represented.

Some folks are concerned about the plausibility of science fictional elements in SFR and that a basic level of believability is crucial to the stories, especially if readers are to take them seriously. That’s a valid concern, but what about plausibility when it comes to the characters’ races? Here’s the thing: an all-white cast in a far future setting is fraught with plausibility issues. A white default setting will yank me out of a story faster than any fantastical elements ever could. But it’s not just a story issue—the lack of diversity reflects a lack of empathy and compassion. It means many types of people are being marginalized or worse, erased altogether.

The lack of diverse SFR characters is also glaring in light of the fact that many stories occur in a far future setting. Unless an author presents a specific, compelling reason for having an all-white cast of able-bodied, cis gendered characters, there’s no excuse to exclude PoC, queer, and characters with disabilities on a regular basis across the entire genre.

I blog regularly about diversity in SFR in the hopes that the genre can not only improve its offerings, but begin to lead by example, especially since love is universal.

3. Your website focuses on the genre of Science Fiction Romance, although I know you blog about Steampunk as well as other genres too. What do you see as the challenges facing diverse authors in this genre?

There are many challenges facing diverse authors and many of them are the same that all SFR authors face: lack of marketing resources (a big one); visibility challenges; SFR being a niche genre (and the bias against little-known authors that accompanies it); SFR being a relatively young genre; and romance readers being hesitant about the SF in SFR.

Unfortunately, diverse authors also face obstacles such as racism, ableism, and homophobia, which overshadows all the other ones. They face it from readers, publishers, bloggers, and even fellow authors. (And let me be the first to say I undoubtedly have my own unexamined biases. Just because I’m discussing diversity doesn’t mean I don’t still have much to learn about it.)

Therefore, diverse authors can be negatively impacted by various layers of typical publishing challenges as well as a host of –isms. Marketing opportunities are limited not only by lack of resources, but also the racism that prompts readers to pass over books featuring characters of color on the covers.

Another issue facing diverse authors is a lack or a lesser amount of privilege. How many SFRs are published solely because of the fact that the authors have the time and resources needed to write them? How many SFRs weren’t written because diverse authors took one look at the genre and felt they and their stories wouldn’t be welcomed?

Can authors of color be guaranteed the same enthusiasm and reception from bloggers when reaching out for promotion opportunities? Do SFR bloggers/reviewers make a conscious effort to seek out diverse authors to feature, read, and/or review? Do books by diverse authors get the same types of “passes” that authors with more privilege receive when it comes to factors like packaging and/or story content (e.g., perceived flaws)? Additionally, diverse authors are often held to a different standard, such as the pressure to write higher quality stories or “good” representative characters. The frustrating part is that even if they do write quality stories with attractive packing, things like racism can still marginalize them. So many times they just can’t win.

I believe diverse authors have many opportunities within the online SFR community when it comes to getting help in spreading the word about their books, but I’d also like to see more sites, bloggers, and reviewers take the initiative and reach out to them first. As a blogger, I’ve experienced “crickets” when I’ve attempted to spread the word about diverse books, both publicly and privately. The silence is telling.

All of that said, progress can be made as long as we continue conversations like this one.

4. You are also an accomplished author in your own right, with numerous books to your name. How do you write ‘authentic’ diverse characters?

Ultimately, readers get to decide how authentic my diverse characters are (or aren’t), but in terms of crafting them, a significant part of my process is being conscious about and interested in diversity in general. I create characters first, and then ask myself things like, do they have to be white? Able-bodied? How can I avoid the white default when it comes to background characters? I focus on writing stories where diversity is the norm and wherein characters are diverse just because. Plus, the world we live in is diverse and of course my stories should reflect reality.

As a consumer, I’ve always sought and enjoyed diverse characters in various media, so featuring them in my stories was a natural extension of that. My background in mental health also informs my creative process because the experience greatly expanded my horizons. I also read all kinds of articles about diversity by diverse people. Education and research are a key part of the process, and it’s one of my ongoing endeavors. I have a long way to go, but I hope that each subsequent book reflects how much more I’ve learned.

For interested readers, the following books of mine offer the most in terms of diverse characters:
Dangerous Rendezvous
Dangerous Rendezvous

Queenies Brigade
Queenie’s Brigade

Fortune Cat’s Visit
Once Upon a Time in Space

5. Please share with us some of your favourite diverse authors and/or books.

Depths of Blue
Depths of Blue – Lise MacTague
Lanas Comet
Lana’s Comet – Lyn Brittan
Dean-full-updated-preview (1)
The Felig Chronicles – P. J. Dean
in enemy hands
In Enemy Hands – KS Augustin
Ascension_Jacqueline Koyanagi
Ascension – Jacqueline Koyanagi
Night Whispers – Alisha Rai
Hellcat’s Bounty – Renae Jones
Rulebreaker – Cathy Pegau
Skies of Gold – Zoe Archer

Heather has also written us a handy guide for anyone that is interested in diverse science fiction romance:

A Guide to Diverse Sci-Fi Romance Authors and Books

Science fiction romance is an amazing and notable genre for a number of reasons. One, it explores the intersection of love and technology. Two, each tale is boldly wrapped up by a Happily Ever After or a Happily For Now. Three, it’s penned largely by women, a group typically marginalized in science fiction publishing and fandom. Within that group are women who face even greater discoverability challenges: authors of color, authors with disabilities, and LGBQT authors. They’ve been writing a wide variety of speculative-based romances for years and are among this genre’s hidden gems.

But gems like these shouldn’t stay hidden.

The low number of diverse authors reflects, unfortunately, the lack of diversity in sci-fi romances themselves. For example, many SFR tales feature aliens, but aliens do not equal People of Color. Alien characters can be used to explore issues like oppression, racism, and colonialism, but they don’t count as routine diversity. Even though we live in highly diverse cultures around the globe, PoC characters aren’t the default setting in many, if not most, sci-fi romances. White, cis gendered, and able bodied characters shouldn’t be the only ones privileged enough to join with an alien/cyborg/starship captain lover. Everyone deserves to see themselves in a romance if they so desire.

No doubt about it, sci-fi romance can only benefit from increased diversity. Many more diverse authors deserve a chance to not only write stories that reflect them and their experiences, but also receive signal boosts, support, and access to marketing resources to help level the publishing playing field.

In the meantime, I’d like to take you on a tour of some of the diverse sci-fi romances available right now. Many of the titles are written by diverse authors.

1) News flash: the universe isn’t the sole possession of cis gendered, able-bodied white men. Sci-fi romance boldly goes where much of SF fears to tread by featuring fearless heroines of color in otherworldly worlds. They have cool jobs, too, like starship captains, warriors, princesses (and also princess warriors!), hackers, and soldiers.

Overclocked – KS Augustin
Night Whispers – Alisha Rai
Ravyn’s Awakening – Sherri L. King
Mission to Mahjundar – Veronica Scott
The Spiral Path – Lisa Paitz Spindler
Blue Galaxy – Diane Dooley
Beneath a Trojan Moon – Anna Hackett
Phoenix Rising – Corrina Lawson

2) Lesbian sci-fi romances feature intriguing heroines with incredible talents who meet and fall in love with their soul mates. It’s double the heroine fun! These stories offer insightful social commentary about gender roles, sexuality, feminism, the patriarchy, and other issues along with the romance and speculative elements. If it were up to me, lesbian SFR would be one of the fastest growing trends because it’s just that wonderful. For now, get your feet wet with the following titles:

Depths of Blue – Lise MacTague
Hellcat’s Bounty – Renae Jones
Rulebreaker – Cathy Pegau
War Games – KS Augustin
Hakusan Angel – Alex Powell
Protector of the Realm – Gun Brooke
Steam Powered: Lesbian Steampunk Stories – Edited by JoSelle Vanderhooft

3) The number of m/m sci-fi romance is more than I can realistically present here, so keep in mind this is but the tip of the iceberg. You’ll find alluring gay heroes in outer space, cyberpunk settings, steampunk, mystery/thriller, and more.

In Discretion
In Discretion – Reesa Herberth
Island of Icarus – Christine Danse
Break and Enter – Aleksandr Voinov and Rachel Haimowitz
Bitter Harvest – Kim Knox
My Fair Captain – J.L. Langley
Claimings, Tails, and Other Alien Artifacts – Lyn Gala

4) Sci-fi romance features a few awesomesauce black heroines—smart, beautiful, and take charge women who embark on fantastic adventures. I hope authors are busy writing more of these ladies because they really rock!

Lanas Comet
Lana’s Comet – Lyn Brittan
The Felig Chronicles – P. J. Dean
Hathor Legacy: Outcast and Hathor Legacy: Burn – Deborah A. Bailey
Ascension_Jacqueline Koyanagi
Ascension – Jacqueline Koyanagi
Cold Warriors – Clare Dargin
Tethered – Pippa Jay
Ravyn’s Awakening – Sherri L. King
Thief – Anitra Lynn McLeod

5) Diverse steampunk romance at its best features prominent, diverse characters doing creative things with steam-powered devices, automatons, airships, and clockwork inventions. Some of them transport readers to alternate history settings like Japan, China, and Thailand.

Skies of Gold – Zoe Archer
The Iron Seas series by Meljean Brook
TheWarlordandtheNightingale
The Warlord and the Nightingale – Jeannie Lin
Rajasthani Moon and Green Cheese – Lisabet Sarai
Sky Pirate: Safe Harbor (transgender hero alert!) – Finnegan H.H. O’Riordan

6) Whether they’re Japanese, black, or East Indian, heroes of color are sexy, bold, and as heroic as they come. Some are superheroes. Others are cyborgs. They command armies or rule over distant planets. Peruse the books below for a taste of some extraordinary brown-skinned hotties!

Way Out of Control
Way Out of Control – Tatiana Caldwell
Nights of Steel – Nico Rosso
Fight or Flight – Vanessa North
The Marann – Christie Meierz
The Spiral Path – Lisa Paitz Spindler
To Love, Always – Helen Louise Carroll
The Kraken King – Meljean Brook
Dangerous Rendezvous
Dangerous Rendezvous – Heather Massey (in the interest of full disclosure, that’s me!)

7) In my reading experience, heroes and heroines with disabilities are among the least represented in sci-fi romance, and that’s a shame since this genre offers huge opportunities to explore such characters and their romance journeys. That said, the titles exist if you know where to look. I’ve done all the hard work to make it easy for you to connect with them!

Tin Cat – Misa Buckley
His Clockwork Canary – Beth Ciotta
Ascension – Jacqueline Koyanagi
Isolation – A.B. Gayle
Wild Cards and Iron Horses – Sheryl Nantus
Skies of Gold – Zoe Archer
Riveted – Meljean Brook
A Gift For Boggle – PJ Schnyder
Island of Icarus – Christine Danse
Mission to Mahjundar – Veronica Scott
Alien Blood – Melisse Aires
In Enemy Hands – K.S. Augustin
Blade Dancer – S.L. Viehl
Miles in Love – Lois McMaster Bujold
Evan’s Ladies – Eva Caye

8) Last but not least, you can discover sci-fi romances that feature a diverse cast of characters, both in terms of the main couple as well as secondary and background characters. From action-packed to political to philosophical tales, SFR’s got it. Here are a few examples:
The Best of All Possible Worlds – Karen Lord
Ascension – Jacqueline Koyanagi
Overload Flux and Minder Rising – Carol van Natta
Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling series

If you can’t access one of the above books because of budget constraints or your local library doesn’t carry any of them, please consider using the power of your social media voice to give one or more of them a boost. Together, we can help spread the word about the importance of diversity in books. Thank you!
For more information about the above authors as well as sci-fi romance, visit my blog, The Galaxy Express.

About the author:
Heather Massey is a lifelong fan of science fiction romance. She searches for sci-fi romance adventures aboard her blog, The Galaxy Express. She’s also an author in the subgenre. To learn more about her published work, visit heathermassey.com.

A Note from Rivka:

There is a post scheduled on Thursday 20th August about the books of Jacqueline Koyanagi and KS Augustin. If you missed PJ Dean, her interview was posted on the 9th August. Lise MacTague joined us on Sunday 16th August, so please be sure to check out her post too!

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5 thoughts on “Interview with Heather Massey and guide to diverse sci-fi romance

  1. Pingback: Diverse Books Month! | Rivka and Ivory

  2. Love this, it is so hard to find books in general especially when you try to drill down to sub genres and then it gets even harder when you want to support diverse books as well. Lovely post and thanks for giving me some more good books to read, truly.

    • Thanks for reading and I’m glad to help! I love the “work” behind discovering SFR titles (indeed, there’s lots of drilling!) and am grateful for the opportunity to share the knowledge. If I can help address the imbalance in even a small way, that’s something.

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