Author Livesay breaks barriers in romance writing

By Page H. Gifford

Fluvanna’s Friends of the Library will be celebrating romance with Love Is In The Air with author Tracey Livesay, on Feb. 7 at 10 a.m. Livesay, an African-American romance writer will discuss her work and her unique journey in a genre dominated by White women.

“Some of my earliest memories involve my father reading to me, so books, and an appreciation for reading, have always been a part of my life. As I got older that love spread to writing,” she said. “Although I wrote poems, short stories, and plays it never occurred to me that I could be a professional writer.” It wasn’t until years later, when she learned about Romance Writers of America, that she realized there was a way to combine the two things she loved to do: write stories and read romance novels. “While RWA isn’t the same organization it was 10 years ago, I wouldn’t be where I am today without my experiences with the organization and the lessons I learned. Just attending my local chapter meetings and seeing women who were published, whose books I’d seen on the shelves at stores was mind-blowing, life-changing, and incredibly inspiring.”

Some of her top romance novels include Have Yourself a Billionaire for Christmas and American Royalty published by Avon, an imprint of HarperCollins. She has written nine books.

Her books feature diverse characters, often tantalizing her audience with what is forbidden.

“A tip I often give new writers is the more specific they are in their writing, the more readers will relate to their authenticity. While I choose to populate my books with people from all types of backgrounds, my POV characters are Black women and White men because I know I can truthfully write them.” She said that as a black woman, there are limits to her stories or characters representing all African American culture.

Growing up in a middle-class family in an urban city on the East Coast gave her a different perspective, said the former criminal defense lawyer.

“That experience shaped me and the way I view the world. What I decided to focus on in my writing is going to be different from a Black person who grew up in a wealthy family on the West Coast. Our points of view are different. All I can do is write characters, particularly Black women, while bringing my cultural knowledge and familiarity, like details about our hair, or how we’re treated in certain situations, to the story framework I created.”

She added that “it’s important to represent my culture and experiences which may partly include the experience but not be it in totality. This is a larger issue within romance publishing: the idea that characters written by authors of color, specifically African-American authors, must be representative of their entire culture. Expecting that is reductive and something we don’t require of White writers. The goal isn’t to open the door for one author to write stories to represent all of their culture. It’s to allow more of those voices a seat at the table to tell their stories in their specific points of view.”

She says there have been challenges getting past the industry’s belief that Black women could write well enough to be published and that readers would be interested in stories featuring Black women.

“Entering publishing a little later in my life was both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because I understood, fundamentally, that my choices to write Black heroines in interracial stories featuring White heroes and to not have race be the central conflict, went against the status quo.” She understood this and expected pushback when she first started in the industry. She says it was a curse because she knew who she was and what she wanted to portray, and was unwilling to change those elements, even if it meant becoming published sooner or being more popular. “I think I overcame those challenges by staying true to myself and continuing to write the best stories I could. A big challenge we’re still fighting to overcome is the romance reader who still refuses to buy books that feature characters of color.”

Livesay stays true to her writing by not focusing too much on a target audience but sees her audience as anyone who loves reading romance novels. 

“I love writing romances where the idea of love and marriage is the last thing on my heroine’s mind. Where she’s annoyed by the inconvenience of it. And I’m interested in my character’s emotional arcs, how they move from being flawed to a place of wholeness, increasing their chances for a successful happily ever after,” she said. “I’m drawn to tropes like a marriage of convenience, fake relationships, and forced proximity because I’m fascinated with stories that put two people with an attraction together, remove external distractions, and watch the sparks fly.”

Her goal as a romance author is she wants readers to fall in love with her books, and the genre, the way she did when she first discovered romance novels. It also gives Black women a sense of belonging as a reader and potential romance writer.

“The euphoria of reading a great romance novel has only been matched by watching a great romance movie, one with a happy ending. I hope Black women read my stories and feel like they were sitting with a friend listening to her tell the story of how she fell in love. I also want them to see themselves loved, cherished, and valued. For Black women in interracial relationships, I hope they see their relationship reflected in ways that feel familiar and welcomed.”

Her work is character-driven and most of her time is spent on creating her characters which is how she begins her process. Who they are and the issues they need to overcome helps her determine the plot. She says in creating believable characters, there’s an inverse correlation between internal conflict (characters) and external conflict (plot).

“The more complicated the external conflict (plot), the less complex your internal conflict (characters) need to be and vice versa.” Her stories are primarily about two characters falling in love. She believes in ensuring that her characters are authentic and believable. “Then I place them in situations where they spark against one another, all while growing and changing into the best version of themselves for love. The actions they take, based on who they are as characters, is what creates the story.”

She adds that if readers can empathize with her characters, then it doesn’t matter if they’re socialites, rappers, billionaires, or royalty. She describes one of her plots and the characters shaped by their circumstances.

“Readers will ache for the boy who felt powerless in the face of watching his mother be abused and unfairly accused of a crime. When he grows up to be a billionaire looking for revenge, they understand his motivations and why he takes the actions he does. And when he meets a beautiful woman, who affects him like no other but who is also tied to his scheme, they’ll go along for the ride to see how the blue-collar businessman and the blue-blooded beauty achieve their happily ever after” she said. “Both characters will have some wound or flaw in their backgrounds, something that hinders their ability to be successful in relationships. If I’ve done my job and created compelling characters, that’s the heart of the story readers will relate to, despite the grandiose surroundings and their inability to relate to the life of a wealthy businessman.”

For any African-American author interested in romance she suggests thinking about what it means to them and to make their decisions accordingly.

“They should feel free to check in with themselves periodically as that determination may change over time: their answer before being published may be different than after they’ve published five books. But whatever the answer is, let it be their guide. As much as they may love writing, publishing is a business, and they may be asked or advised to do things they hadn’t considered. Knowing what they want is a good way to help them navigate what’s to come.”

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