Today on the blog we’re joined by author Ines Johnson. Living outside Washington DC, Ines says she writes books for strong women who suck at love. I caught up with her to ask a few questions!
1. What does the term “Diverse Books” mean to you?
At the recent RWA convention, I struggled to compare my multicultural and interracial romances to the works of the other authors in attendance. The vast majority of authors at the conference were white women who wrote romances that featured white women heroines falling for white male heroes in contemporary settings. Now these were amazing women who told amazing stories, and I didn’t want to keep paring their work down to racial and socio-economic terms every time I engaged in conversations. Finally, another writer who wrote characters of color where the romance was same-sex persons happening in a futuristic setting, told me the word I was reaching for to encapsulate the majority of the romance stories on the market was “mainstream.” So, a diverse book, to me, is any story that’s not mainstream.
2. You mention on your site that you’re a Buddhist. How does this influence your writing?
I’m a very bad Buddhist. I sit each week in sangha, which is similar to sitting in a church pew on Sunday. In a sangha the teacher, think preacher, will lecture on spiritual teachings and guide the group in mediation. During meditation when I’m supposed to be getting my zen on, my mind always wanders back to the teaching and turns it into a story.
3. Your books explore some of the more difficult aspects of sexuality. Why do you think it’s important to represent this aspect of diversity in fiction?
Two years ago, I was given an ARC of Kele Moon’s paranormal, ménage romance, “The Queen’s Consorts.” I’d never read a polyamorous story before, where not only did the men fall for the heroine, but they fell for each other as well. I craved more of this world, but couldn’t find anything to satisfy my needs.
So I wrote my own.
“The Pleasure Hound” is a polyamorous romance set in a dystopian future where a young monk is given the chance to redeem himself from scandal when he is called upon to train a young woman and her two bonded mates in the orgasmic arts. But what starts as a simple ritual soon turns carnal when the monk’s heart begins to yearn for the woman, and hers for his.
The third book in the Pleasure Hound series, “The Clever Fox,” explores bondage, or more aptly the Japanese art of Shibari. There’s a preponderance of books where pain is pleasure. And that’s okay with me -when I believe that there’s actually pleasure being had. I’ve read too many books where women are getting spanked just to get spanked. Its not clear how the act satisfies a need in them, nor is it clear that the man understands and is acting to fulfill that need. That understanding is the sexy part to me: a woman who knows (perhaps subconsciously) what she needs and a man who knows exactly how to give it to her. I wanted to read about a heroine who was eager to explore pleasure. I wanted to encounter a hero who was skilled in, and solely interested in, that woman’s pleasure. My heroes in The Pleasure Hound series are all former pleasure monks who’ve studied women’s bodies like textbooks. After thorough perusal of, they each emerge ready to ace the examination for the women, and men, whom they love.
4. You say you write books for strong women. What other role models do you provide in your novels?
I think the strongest women in the world are mothers. I speak from experience. Raising a human being is hard! The only time I have for romance is when I’m writing it down. My book “Pumpkin: a Cindermama story” is a fairytale retelling of the Cinderella story, but in my story, Cinderella married the frog first and had a baby.
This story is based on actual events. Shortly after my divorce, I was out with my two children at a community farmer’s market. A really handsome politician waved me over and began chatting with me about his platform. I was more interested in his light-colored eyes. But my burgeoning fantasy was dashed when my son sauntered over and embarrassing words spewed from his mouth. I ushered myself and my kids away, chiding my silly imagination. What man would be interested in a single mother of two school-aged kids? There are no fairytales featuring mothers as the heroines.
That night, I rewrote the events of the day to my liking. In my imagination, the light-eyed politician asked me out, after winning over my guard dog of a son. We got married and I moved out of my apartment and into a big mansion with a closet stocked full of name brand clothes. Oh, that closet…
Anyway, it was October, and so I plotted the book for the next month of NANO. The completed manuscript sat in a drawer for years because I didn’t think anyone would want to read a story where a single mother was the hero. Thankfully, I was wrong. Every woman deserves an HEA.
5. Please share with us some of your favourite diverse authors and/or books.
I’m obsessed with Ernessa T. Carter. Her book “32 Candles,” is an 80’s fairytale retelling for women of color.
These are great answers and you’re right – every woman deserves an HEA!!
Ines has also kindly written a guest post for this month:
“When Gay Became Okay” by Ines Johnson
Shonda Rhimes recently tweeted that there are no gay scenes in her shows, only love scenes. I agree with her. I see character motivation and plotting over sexual preference.
But not before.
I learned homophobia through micro aggressions. Kids calling others names on the playground when a little boy went off to play with the girls, or when a girl choose to ignore the offensive advances of a boy. Grownups commenting on a young boy with too much switch in his walk or a young girl who preferred a baseball cap and sports to frilly skirts and dolls. From the name-calling and sickly-sweet comments I learned that being gay was not okay.
As a teen growing up in front of media screens, I saw these micro aggressions continue. The gay male in movies was always the butt of jokes. The lesbian was the outcast who didn’t fit in with the girls or the guys. But I didn’t laugh when I met Ricky Vasquez on the television show “My So Called Life.” Ricky’s hardships on that show opened my heart. Ricky didn’t have a lot of screen time, but his tears from being bullied, beaten, and cast aside gutted me. When he was welcomed into the home of his English teacher (who looks so familiar), I cheered -on the inside. Moral lessons often cause a local, internal shift, but don’t often shift the entire world off its axis. Outside, in the real world, gay still was not okay.
Years later, the closet door was pushed further open on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” when Willow and Tara kissed. I had stopped watching the program by then, but I felt the aftershocks of that show of affection. Gay characters became a gimmick in the media, with lesbian kisses pulled out to boost ratings for sweeps. I assumed this was what was happening when Dr. Callie Torres and Dr. Erica Hahn hooked up in the fifth season of “Grey’s Anatomy.” I would soon learn that I was wrong and my worldview was coming to a turning point.
At the start of the season, neither of these women identified as lesbians. Callie thought that she and Erica were just fooling around. After their intimacy, Erica saw something that transformed her worldview. Laying in bed with Callie after their first time together, Erica recalled the first time she put on prescription glasses as a child and saw that the big green blobs on trees were actually leaves. “You are glasses,” Erica says to Callie as she realizes for the first time that she’s a lesbian.
That line resonated with me. There were no aggressions. There was no moral statement. There was no sweeping sensationalism. What was there on the screen was gritty, messy, human emotion that naturally evolved from that character’s development and motivation.
Other than the word lesbian being used, that scene had little to do with sexuality. It was a scene about identity and self-discovery that ended in rejection and heartbreak.
Erica became an underdog, my favorite type of hero. I cared about her storyline; her sexuality was secondary.
I love the friends to lovers trope. When the vampire warriors Qhuinn and Blaylock of JR Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series began their rocky transition from best friends to lovers, I was captivated at the perfectly paced, heart-rending, uplifting love story between boy next door, Blay, and bad boy, Qhuinn.
Squeezed in-between the pages of Courtney Milan’s historical romance, “The Suffragette Scandal”, is an ugly duckling to swan love story between a bookish young woman and a stylish lady of the ton.
I could go on, but I hope you get my point. I’ve spent a lifetime witnessing micro aggressions, morality lessons, and sensationalism for and against homosexuality. As a writer I’ve learned that the pen is mightier than the sword, and it’s the storytellers who win in the end. Screenwriters and authors are casting LGBT characters in new roles with storylines that transcend their labels. Kids on the playground, grownups around the kitchen counter are sitting quietly in front of the television or curled up with books in their hands and finding bits of themselves in these characters.
I really hope you’re right, Ines, that we are the ones paving the way to a future where there are no labels and it’s okay to be who you are. I think it’s a powerful movement to get behind!
To learn more about Ines and her work, you can find her here: