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J.J. McAvoy: We Belong Here

J.J. McAvoy: We Belong Here

With the growth of streaming services, eBook publishing, and cultural diversity, the desire for more inclusive content has grown to an unignorable level. One genre that has been capitalizing on this is Regency Romance.

With shows and movies like Bridgerton, Mr. Malcom’s List, and Sanditon, a new era of diversity in fiction has clearly come to stay. I say “a new era” because while films, shows, and novels have promoted diversity in the past, their impact has never before been so acclaimed and influential. The entertainment industry is now actively searching for more inclusive stories.

I would like to think these efforts would be met with universal praise, but I know this is not always the case, especially online. Sadly, some people feel erased by the inclusion of others.

Others do not mind diversity so long as it’s “realistic”—for example, they believe that if a story takes place in Regency-era England, characters of color must be relegated to spaces of inferiority, servitude, or slavery.

The word “realistic” was used to gatekeep my upcoming novel, Aphrodite and the Duke, for years. Seth Grahame-Smith could write Pride and Prejudice and Zombies—yes, zombies—but I was told a happy, diverse noble family in 1813 England would be too much for the imagination.

I, like many others, rejected that belief because fiction has no limits. I do not write fiction for realism. If you want realism, you can read an autobiography. I write romance to transport myself and my readers to a place of joy. My readers are diverse, so my stories will be diverse. Every person—especially women of color—needs to see themselves as loved and deserving of a happily ever after.

It is important. It matters.

It shapes the way a person moves through the world. The romance genre edifies its readers. It builds us up; it gives us something to look forward to. It can not only heal us but also teach us about the type of love we need. It might be the only reason a person smiles that day. A cast of characters that reflects a range of different people can only bring more joy, never less.

No one loses anything with diversity.

The market isn’t closing for some and opening for others—it’s only expanding.

For this reason, I say to any critic of diversifying fiction: we belong here.

If vampires, zombies, and imaginary dukedoms can exist here, so can affluent, joyful Black characters.

Aphrodite and the Duke is published by Quercus on 23 August 2022

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