Hey everyone, Amy Lane is stopping by today to share an excerpt from her new release, Fish Out of Water. She's also gonna a hang around a bit to chat with me about some very heavy topics, so stay tuned.
An Interview with Amy Lane
LaQuette: Hey everyone! It’s your girl, LaQuette. I’m very excited to welcome a very special guest to Embracing My Crazy. Today, we have the very talented Amy Lane dropping by to chat with me for a few.
Hey Amy! Thanks so much for dropping by. How are you?
Amy: Recovering from RWA actually. * yawns* Seriously—takes a week at least! But thanks for having me here on the Crazy—your company is always a pleasure.
LaQuette: I'm thrilled to have you here. So, let’s get right into it. Tell me about Fish.
Amy: Jackson Rivers is a PI for a defense law firm—and while he’s always sort of scoped defense attorney Ellery Cramer out, he’s always assumed Ellery was too high and mighty to fall for Jackson’s tomcat charm. When the only family Jackson has ever known is threatened by a false conviction, the two are thrown together and as it turns out, Ellery has crushed on Jackson for six years. The case comes first—Jackson’s family comes first—but the chemistry between them is pretty intense, and, well, things happen!
These two characters are very different. Jackson grew up in the shit side of town and Ellery grew up with the silver spoon. Jackson is pretty sure this won’t work—he’s built his life out of one night stands because he just doesn’t trust anybody enough to let them stay another night. But Ellery is a lot more stubborn than his usual pickup, and he’s crushed on Jackson for a long time.
I really like these characters—they’re not cuddly or soft or adorable, but they’re human. I love conflict and these guys have it in spades.
LaQuette: Now, you always seem to create these stories that break readers’ hearts. Although I think you’re amazing at creating characters that readers empathize with, I never expected to read something like Fish coming from Amy Lane. I think I told you when I first read it, this is a deep book. People will either love it or hate it. I don’t think there will be any middle ground. This book is a romance, but in the background of the romance is a heavy social justice story. What made you want to come up with a story like this? Why not write something light and fanciful instead of touching on such sensitive issues like racism and police corruption? Especially in this day when there is so much tension across the country regarding these very same topics?
Amy: Well, I wanted to write a romantic suspense novel, which is sort of out of my comfort zone. So, of course, I went right into my own backyard. About eight years ago my husband was alternate on a jury that convicted a dirty cop—and at the time I was fascinated. I read everything I could about the case—and listened to Mate’s stories too. I think when it came time to write my suspense novel, that was one of the first ideas that came to mind. At the time I was writing it—October of last year—the country was not quite primed to explode like it is now, and I must admit, that makes me a little nervous. But questioning authority has always been one of my subtexts.
Two years ago, when Ferguson erupted, I heard the news while coming home after being released from jury duty. The case depended on believing the word of a policeman as the only evidence, and even then I was skeptical. We ask too much from our law enforcement without giving them any training. I taught high school for fifteen years in a place with a highly diverse student population and a 98% free and reduced lunch rate—but none of us ever walked into our classroom with a gun, and I would have far rather interacted with my students than my administration. For the most part, the kids were far more respectful of kindness and education than the adults, and when I think of racial integration and racial relations, that’s the image I carry with me. As teachers, we didn’t walk into that situation with violence in our hearts. What we did have was training in how to work with people as people—how to talk them down without resorting to force. I have always believed that was law enforcement’s job—to interact with the community and to leave violence as the last possible resort.
When I wrote Jackson—and his family—I wanted those same values. Jackson wanted to be the good cop—the face of authority without violence. He wasn’t allowed to finish that career, but that doesn’t mean he can’t make a difference as a PI—especially when he’s given a chance to help his family.
LaQuette: Well Amy, now that we’re addressing sensitive issues, I want to talk about your book Selfie. Specifically, I’d like to talk about some of the issues that arose when that book was published. For anyone who hasn’t read the book. There was an explosive thread on Twitter where people accused you of perpetuating racist ideas in Selfie. Much of this outrage stemming from one line that the Caucasian protagonist says to his African-American lover, "For not caring if you're my Dark Chocolate Monkey of Love." Here’s my question. Is that what you think you did? Is that what that line represents? Or were people just being too sensitive?
Amy: Well, I think people are sensitive right now. It’s like getting into a car accident and breaking your leg and bruising your shoulder and smashing your face. Everything hurts—someone could brush up against our hair or the skin of the unbroken leg or our elbow or something, and the whole rest of the body would scream in pain. I inadvertently—and I swear to you, in ignorance and not malice—brushed up against people who were already in pain.
When I wrote Selfie, I wanted Noah—the character of color—to be an amazing—and human—protagonist. I truly believe that making our world a better place starts in fiction—when readers see a diverse population of characters working together and loving each other’s company in fiction, they realize it can happen in real life. I live in a pretty diverse neighborhood—I post pictures of my children in sports, choir, and dance, and none of those pictures feature an all-white population. When I see reports of racism, or people of color being shot or oppressed, I’m not thinking, “Oh, this happens to other people,” I’m thinking “This could happen to people I know personally and like and it could happen to children I love and have watched grow.” So when I write diverse characters, it’s not as a novelty or a “Hey, I can do this!” it’s because I made a decision to try to make my imaginary landscape reflect my real landscape in the most positive and ultimately uplifting way possible.
That this was not the result for some people—that hurt. To go back to the metaphor of the accident victim--the person who inadvertently causes more pain is never happy to do that. That person is usually devastated.
I was devastated.
LaQuette: I gotta tell you, I wasn’t happy when I read the line. I wasn’t happy because I was a fan of yours and I didn’t want to believe someone I supported could hurt me intentionally by writing something that I believed was obviously racist. I spoke to several author-friends about it. It was a hot discussion in romance circles. I was uncomfortable and upset until someone asked me if you were aware of why that line in the book was so offensive. I didn’t know the answer to that. I’ll admit, the thought of having to begin that conversation wasn’t something I wanted to do. However, fate intervened and we wound up in contact with each other.
I’m going to ask you now what I asked you then. People have told you that you were wrong, but do you understand why that line was wrong?
Amy: Well I do now.
I think one of the difficulties in writing about race—from any perspective—in this country, is that race relations, racial perception, even the language used to address it—varies not just from region to region but from neighborhood to neighborhood.
One of the people to read this book when it was just out of editing and could still be changed was a young black woman getting her degree in English and history. We’ve been friends for a long time—she’s a former student and she’s read pretty much everything I’ve ever written. When I told her about the very negative reaction to that line, she said, “But didn’t they get that’s not what the line meant?”
I said, “No—I was surprised. I know you would have told me if you’d found it offensive.”
Her response actually put things into perspective for me. She said, “I’m not stupid—I know my history. I get why that word can be offensive in some contexts but not this one.”
And that’s when I realized what had happened.
For Ambrosia, this word was history—that word is not a go-to word for racists in this part of the state. For the people who were upset, that word is. They have heard white people in authority refer to them as less than human. I have never—would never—walk into my classroom or my child’s and look at the black or Hispanic or Asian children and think of them as “monkeys” or as less than human—they are and they have been my students and are my kids’ friends. People of color have come to my home, been invited to birthday parties, and hug me when they see me. But for some people, dehumanization at the hands of authority is something they deal with every day, and when something is that vile—and that personal and painful and demeaning—and is a part of your immediate world, there is no context in the world that can make it acceptable.
So now I know.
I did not when I wrote the line.
LaQuette: When you wrote it, did you understand how and why that line would be seen as disrespectful or as some have labeled it, racist? And if not, when did you become aware of why it was so offensive to people of color?
Amy: I do understand now—but I wouldn’t have written it if I’d realized how hurtful it was. I’m a romance writer—I would never, in a million years, write something deliberately hurtful to any person. That’s no way to inspire hope—and for me, that’s what romance is. Hope.
I was made aware when Twitter went berserk.
LaQuette: What did you learn after being at the center of such an explosive incident like this?
Amy: To examine my motives carefully—and to know that writing outside the box is always a risk.
There are two components to writing politically in any situation: intention and impact. My intentions were the best—I wanted only to present a really awesome romantic hero, one that was worthy of a guy who’d had his heart run through the cheese grater and who was afraid to love again. I wanted the world to see Noah as beautiful and strong and sarcastic and funny, and his family as the bedrock of his formidable heart. I wanted us to see that his ethnicity was part of him and he was amazing.
My impact went askew—and I’m so sorry for how that happened. But my intention was to make the world a slightly more inclusive place, even in our romantic dreams, and I stand by that being a worthy idea. It’s what got me through the social media madness, and what gave me the courage to carry on with Fish.
LaQuette: Finally, what do you want readers and your peers to understand about you most?
Amy: I am a storyteller and a teacher in my bones.
When I taught high school, I taught about how stories changed the world and I hoped my students walked away with that idea and changed the world for the better with their own stories. When I became a full time storyteller, I wanted to make sure my stories were important—because I believe love is important and so is hope, and that’s what romance is, the language of love and hope. When I’m writing a story—whether it deals with race or just broken hearts—I want people to walk away with the hope that the world can be a better place and then to go out and make it a better place with their own stories.
It’s the core of who I am, the thing I believe even when the world feels the shittiest. I want the world to be better—I think we have the power to make it so.
LaQuette: I have to say it was a relief to talk you about this, both privately and here publicly today. Thank you for being open to discussing it.
Amy: You’re so welcome. Thank you for giving me a safe place to talk.