Letter from Rohana Shaheen in Visnagar, India, to Mayuri Falodiya in London

08 August 1800

Mayuri Falodiya, Proprietress
Masala Rajah Gentleman’s Retreat
London, England

Miss Rohana Shaheen Visnagar, India

My dearest friend, Mayuri,

It has been so many years since I have seen your face, heard the soft lilt of your voice, the grace of your fingers on the sarangi. I can hardly remember the dances of our youth, the music we once made together, the joy and laughter of our nights with Ramraja, days filled with young women’s silly dreams of love and devotion. It is my fondest hope for you, who once I called my sister, that you found such affection with a lover after your departure from India.

After my disgrace before the Chhatrapati and the tawaifs, I do not forget you were the one woman who came to my defense. You paid dearly for your insistence that the actions of my lover were not my own, that as Ramraja himself offered me up to the Vikanta as a gift, I deserved the protection of the emperor, not his contempt. For your defense of me, you were scarred beyond reckoning and banished with only your jewels to keep you, and I have grieved for the loss of your beauty and your livelihood since that fateful day.

I write at long last with news of my life since your departure for England and to ask the greatest service any woman can ask another. I will not dissemble, my friend, as you must know my years have not been easy, nor the life of comfort we were promised as the most favored tawaifs of the Maratha princes. Indeed, raising two children with no husband or protector has been a daily challenge for more than a decade. Were it not for the Vikanta’s generosity upon his leave-taking, we might have starved, for such is the charity shown by the royal family.

But such children! Both lovely girls: Kali, a graceful, thoughtful young lady who turns thirteen today, showing signs she will grow into an incomparable woman; and Kamala, who is yet a silly miss of almost eleven, and prefers stories of romance to her lessons. Both have a distinct flair for languages—English, French, Hindi, Sanskrit, and Farsi—and both show talent for the arts, Kamala with a special aptitude for the yaal harp, Kali an extraordinary dancer. Both are well-mannered and well-trained to the caste; I have seen to that myself.

This, however, is why I must ask a more important indulgence than I have ever asked anyone, as you will soon be the only hope for my daughters.

My health is failing, death slowly stalking me, as it often does, but I do not have so much time left as young girls dream. Without me, they will be alone in the world with no one to speak for them, to keep them safe, to be the mother they will yet need, both still so young. I believed, ten years ago, the Vikanta’s orders of protection by his soldiers were a boon, but now I see they only aligned my fate with those who would become my country’s enemies, ignoble men disinclined to provide shelter on the orders of a man an ocean away.

I have begged Emperor Shahu to place my girls under the imperial court’s protection, but you know his temperament better than any. I was fortunate to be granted an audience, but only so he could speak of how poorly I have aged and give vent to his long-standing hatred of my former lover. Of my children, he suggested only that they sell themselves to British soldiers, as that is what he considers I have done.

Our shared friend, Nitara, called me aside as I left the palace to say you have opened a kotha in London to train girls to our way of life. It is my dearest hope you will accept Kali and Kamala to study with you—the most talented tawaif of our generation—and help them find their start in life.

I do not ask out of remembrance of our childhood friendship, but rather offer the last of the fortune I was gifted by the Vikanta, not an inconsiderable sum, holding out only what the girls will require to make their way when they are fully grown. There is no other woman in the world to whom I can entrust my greatest treasures and the monies saved to keep them from harm.

As you are in London, you may yet discover the whereabouts of the Vikanta, Sutcliff Knightley, formerly Viscount Asheton and Lieutenant-General of the 29th Regiment of Bengal Sepoys, who will surely by now be the Earl of Birchbright. I cannot provide his direction, but if he can be located and is still the decent man I remember, he will honor his promise to protect our daughters. I beg of you, my friend, help me save my girls from certain ruin.

Namaste, my sister,

Rohana Shaheen


Find out what happens to Kali and Kamala in

La Déesse Noire: The Black Goddess.

ldn-cover-500x750

Sired by a British peer, born of a paramour to Indian royalty, Kali Matai has been destined from birth to enthrall England’s most powerful noblemen—though she hadn’t counted on becoming their pawn. Finding herself under the control of ruthless men, who will not be moved by her legendary allure, she has no choice but to use her beauty toward their malicious and clandestine ends. When those she holds most dear are placed in peril by backroom political dealings, she enlists some of the most formidable lords in England to thwart her enemies. But even with the help of the prominent gentlemen she has captivated, securing Kali’s freedom, her family, and the man she loves, will require her protectors stop at nothing to fulfill her desires.

Order from your favorite retailer HERE.

To connect with Mariana Gabrielle:
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An Open Letter to White, Straight, Able-bodied Romance Authors

My esteemed colleagues:

We have a very long way to go.

Most of us say “Diversity in literature is really important,” and/or “I am not racist/ ableist/homophobic,” and/or “Of course, I would buy a romance novel by or about a person of color/gay or lesbian/disabled person.” But when was the last time you did?

When was the last time you bought a romance by an author, or about a character, with a different cultural, historical, or physical experience than your own? About a person with a different skin color, nationality, religion? About a gay man or lesbian or transgender person? When was the last time you bought a romance with a physically or mentally disadvantaged hero or heroine? A novel about people who live in the margins?

When was the last time you wrote one?

Women are overlooked in myriad areas of publishing—book contracts, sales, awards, reviews—but we are also the much greater portion of romance writers. Are we, as female authors who are often marginalized and maligned ourselves, really so callous as to assume people of color don’t have Happy Ever Afters? That LGBT romance is only about sex? That people with disabilities never fall in love? Or do we just not think about it?

This letter is not meant to encourage you to shoehorn a diverse character into a book that doesn’t need one, or write a book about diverse characters because it is a hot topic or because it feels like the right thing to do. One of the most wonderful things I have heard on this subject recently was: “I write characters who happen to be people of color. I don’t make a big deal about it.”

What I am proposing is that we don’t overlook characters with diverse experiences as we are writing. That we don’t miss them lurking in the shadows of our books. That we don’t push them aside because we don’t understand them. That we don’t dismiss a great idea because it is scary to be outside of our comfort zone, or because we are afraid to get something wrong.

But MOST IMPORTANT, I am proposing that we don’t overlook authors who are already doing it.

I am not saying a black person can’t write a book or have it published. I am not saying same-sex romance novels don’t exist. I am not saying a romance novel with an Indian heroine can’t become a bestseller (knock on wood). But these novels are shunted aside into the “African-American” or “Multicultural” or “LGBT” categories, which do not get as much attention as “Historical Romance” or “Regency Romance” or “Contemporary Romance,” overwhelmingly written by and about white people. And the more marginalized a book is on Amazon (and elsewhere), the less likely it is to be shown in the “People Also Buy” and “Recommended for You” sections. Front page of Amazon? Forget it.

I am not blaming or attacking, though to be sure, this topic almost always makes comfortable people suddenly uncomfortable. Yet, I think it worth the discomfort to have the conversation. This is a terribly important topic with enormous ramifications for groups that are already sidelined in so many ways. Are we okay with knowing that Vanessa Riley, Piper Huguley, Kianna Alexander, and Lena Hart have a harder time selling books than we do?

Do we, as romance writers, want to create one more place where it is harder to get ahead for a person of color than a white person?

  • I am guilty of overlooking diverse books, not out of malice, but simple inattention. I haven’t gone looking for them, because they are often hard to find.
  • I am guilty of assuming only white people read (and write) romance novels.
  • I am guilty of mentally labeling every historical with African-American characters “mainstream,” as though “romance” can’t be just as much a part of their experience as the historic hardships they faced.
  • I am guilty of using the hashtag #WeNeedDiverseRomance to promote my book before I knew the people who are doing the hard work to promote the subject matter.
  • I am guilty of asking my author friends who are people of color to educate me, rather than educating myself.
  • I will surely be guilty of causing unintentional offense, having now written a book with an Indian heroine.

So, to amend my own appalling oversights, I went looking for romance authors who are people of color or LGBT-identified or disabled and/or write romance novels about characters who are. In about an hour, I found more than sixty, and I am absolutely certain this is only a start.

I also found:
We Need Diverse Romance
https://www.facebook.com/DiverseBooks
@DiverseRomance
#WeNeedDiverseRomance
(Buy a “WeNeedDiverseRomance” tee-shirt in black or white.)

Women of Color in Romance
http://WOCinRomance.tumblr.com/
https://www.facebook.com/WOCInRomance
@WOCInRomance
#WOCinRomance

http://MulticulturalRomanceWriters.com (Sortable author/book listings)
http://RomanceNovelsInColor.com (Book information and reviews)
http://www.RomanceSlamJam.org (African-American romance convention; home of the Emma Awards)
http://www.RainbowRomanceWriters.com (RWA Chapter for LGBT authors)
Romances with heroes or heroines with physical, mental, or emotional maladies

If you click on any of the links above, you may find a new romance author you will love or a way to support the cause of diverse romance. I did.

So, in closing, I ask every white, straight, able-bodied author who is reading this to:

  • Buy a book written by someone with a different historical, cultural, or physical experience than you.
  • Review a book written by someone with a different historical, cultural, or physical experience than you.
  • Recommend a book written by someone with a different historical, cultural, or physical experience than you.
  • Write a character with a different historical, cultural, or physical experience than you.

Saying and/or doing nothing on this topic is a vote against diverse authors and characters, when most of us believe that diversity in romance novels is important and there isn’t enough of it.

Where do you truly fall on this issue? What message do you want to send to other writers—and readers—who are different from you? How important is diversity to you? And what will you do about it today?

Sincerely,
Mariana Gabrielle/Mari Christie
[White] Author of Regency romance
www.MarianaGabrielle.com
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Full permission is granted, without limitation, to repost, reblog, share, and otherwise distribute this material in its entirety.

My own new title (even though it’s not Tuesday): La Déesse Noire: The Black Goddess

Somehow, in my haste to promote to 31 (yes, 31) other blogs on the road to my new release on June 10, I have completely forgotten to say anything here. (Yeah, right?)

So, without further ado, I have a new book coming out June 10, La Déesse Noire: The Black Goddess, which is already getting great reviews from ARC readers. To celebrate, I will be having a Facebook party, which everyone is invited to attend, June 10, 12 noon-8pm EST, with a bunch of great authors, including the Bluestocking Belles.

LDN CoverSired by a British peer, born of a paramour to Indian royalty, Kali Matai has been destined from birth to enthrall England’s most powerful noblemen—though she hadn’t counted on becoming their pawn. Finding herself under the control of ruthless men, who will not be moved by her legendary allure, she has no choice but to use her beauty toward their malicious and clandestine ends.

When those she holds most dear are placed in peril by backroom political dealings, she enlists some of the most formidable lords in England to thwart her enemies. But even with the help of the prominent gentlemen she has captivated, securing Kali’s freedom, her family, and the man she loves, will require her protectors stop at nothing to fulfill her desires.

You can pre-order at a special price of $0.99 at:
Amazon
Amazon UK
Barnes and Noble
iBooks
Kobo
All Romance eBooks

Add it to your Goodreads To-Read Shelf

I’ve also set up a Rafflecopter Giveaway, where you can win some cool prizes that might have been worn by the heroine while she danced for the gentlemen of England.

You can also enter to win a signed print copy of the book at Goodreads.

Hope to see you all at the release party!