While everyone is celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage by exploring history, cuisine, cultural events, and documentaries, I thought I’d write a few words about Asian romance characters. When I first started writing contemporary romances I naturally populated my romances with the people I grew up with and saw all around me, many who happened to have Asian heritage. I didn’t realize writing Asian characters was a “thing” until my critiquers and romance writing friends asked me why I was “mixing” themes by having Asian characters in my novels. One prominent romance author said your story should be about one problem or trope, so why are you adding diversity issues into a romance? I was also fact-checked by another critique partner when I wrote that a newborn baby had brown eyes. She said, didn’t you know that all babies have blue eyes until they are eight or nine months old? Not any of my babies, I thought. Finally, I was dissuaded from writing Asian romance characters by several famous romance writers I befriended. They said that Asian men are not known as romantic heroes and that it would be hard for readers to identify with an Asian heroine. One group putting together a boxed set suggested that I change my Asian hero into at least a Caucasian man adopted by Asian parents. The reason given was that he would be handsome enough to be a hero but still allow me to introduce cultural elements into the romance. Finally, several romance writing friends surveyed their readers for me and got answers such as “I didn’t know Asians had romances.” Or “Don’t they all have arranged marriages?” I even heard that “Asian men aren’t attractive or likeable” from an Asian author and therefore weren’t marketable.
At this point, I went ahead and wrote my romances with Asian characters, not because I was specifically TRYING to write Asian issues but only regular romances and romantic suspenses with two people who fall in love despite conflicts and obstacles [not dealing with diversity themes.] For example, Claiming Carlos is friends to lovers, and Roaring Hot is fake relationship. The characters just happen to have Asian or Pacific Islander heritage.
During the time I was writing romances that happen to have Asian characters, the hit movie, Crazy Rich Asians came out, and I became aware of this whole other dimension of representation. Because most “mainstream” romances do not have Asian characters, or at most they are sidekicks, any romance that included Asian characters automatically incurred the extra burden of representation. I couldn’t just write my characters any way I wanted [well, I did], but I had to be aware that my portrayal of my Asian characters could impact stereotypes and beliefs about Asian people.
Any writer should have the absolute freedom of writing any character into either a hero or a villain or taking any occupation or role in a story. However, because of the paucity of Asian main character in mainstream (English and American) romances, the writer has to be aware of secondary factors. Writing characters is not propaganda, and therefore, characters whether Asian or non-Asian will have faults, growth areas, as well as strengths. At the same time, I didn’t want to end up with a tilted portrayal, such having only negative characters of a particular group, who are only villains and unlikeable. Therefore, in many of my stories, the hero and the villain are Asian, or they are simply complicated people who have conflicts, but are not necessarily evil or demented.
Recently, after a lot of RWA talk about diversity and inclusion, many romance writers are interested in representation and making their books more diverse. After several friends mentioned they were interested in writing Asian romantic heroes and heroines, I wrote a book, Writing Asian Romance Characters, to help dispel some of the stereotypes as well as to celebrate the vast diversity of Asian and Pacific Islander heritage.
Writing Asian Romance Characters and some of my romances with Asian characters are on sale for the month of May. I hope you will open yourself to reading and writing romances with Asian and Pacific Islander characters. It’ll be a chance to learn about their heritage, but at the same time, portray them as well-rounded and complex people worth being the heroes and heroines in a well-crafted romance.
Please pick up Writing Asian Romance Characters (regular price $5.99, but on-sale for 99c) and my romances with Asian characters.
- Knowing Vera (White H, Filipina h) Zach is a swimmer and Vera is a nurse.
- Taming Romeo (Filipino H, Filipina h) Romeo is an actor and Evie is a medical student.
- Whole Latte Love (White H, Chinese h) Dylan is a barista and Carina is an investment banking intern.
- Played by Love (Korean H, White h) Jaden is a university student and so is Ella.
- Playing the Rookie (Korean H, Korean-Filipina h) Jay is a professional baseball player and Jessica is a sports blogger.
- Claiming Carlos (Filipino H, Filipina h) Carlos is a cook and Choco is a restaurant owner.
- Roaring Hot! (Japanese-Greek-Filipino H, Japanese h) Teo is a motorcycle racer and Amy is an actress.
- Christmas Lovebirds (half-Chinese H, White h) Rob is a doctor and Melisa is a kindergarten teacher.
- Blush of Love (White H, Chinese h) Matt is a professional football player and Safire is a video game designer.
- Spring Fling Kitty (White H, half-Chinese h) Connor is the fire chief and Nadine is an artist.
- Black Tied (Chinese demigod H, Chinese human h) Johnny is the son of the kitchen god and Sapphire is a customer greeter at a bank.
- Jade: Perfect Match (Chinese H, half-Chinese h) Aiden is a Navy SEAL and Jade is a writer.
- Playing Fastball (Chinese H, White h) Timmy is a professional baseball player and Tina is a waitress.
- Christmas Con (White H, half-Chinese h) Braden is a bounty hunter and Samantha is a computer programmer.
- A Christmas Creek Caper (Chinese H, White h) Brad is the sheriff and Ivy is a decorator.
Rachelle Ayala is a USA Today bestselling author of contemporary romance and romantic suspense. Her foremost goal is to take readers on a shared emotional journey with her characters as they grow and become more true to themselves. Rachelle believes in the power of love to overcome obstacles and feels that everyone should find love as often as possible, especially if it’s within the pages of a book.
Her book, Knowing Vera, won the 2015 Angie Ovation Award, A Father for Christmas garnered a 2015 Readers’ Favorite Gold Award, Christmas Stray received a 2016 Readers’ Favorite Gold Award, and Playing for the Save got the 2017 Readers’ Favorite Gold Award in Realistic Fiction.
She is also a writing teacher and founder of the Romance In A Month writing community. She lives in California with her husband and has three children and two birds.