Why are all the spanking fiction heroines white?

I just read this (vanilla) blog post by Cheryl Rainfield about why we need diversity in YA fiction.  Could not agree more.  I won’t say “but it goes beyond YA fiction” because, quite fairly, she *is* talking about YA fiction.  She’s a YA author.  By the same token, I write spanking fiction so I will talk about diversity in spanking fiction.

But it does go beyond YA fiction or even mainstream fiction.  The one stipulation I will demand for cover art on my books is that I do not want the characters shown from the front.  Why?  I do not want a race or ethnicity assigned to the characters, at least not by an artist.  For a reader to enjoy the story and imagine the characters as a certain ethnicity (often the same as the reader) is lovely and what I hope will happen.  To present the characters as of a certain race cheats the reader from that experience.  It’s also why I generally give very little physical description of my characters unless it is crucial to the story.  Natalie has long dark hair as a college student (when Kat first meets her) because hair has been a symbol of sexuality and Natalie is comfortable with hers.  Plus, it is a striking physical feature that sticks in Kat’s memory.

I wanted to leave this comment for Cheryl, but her comment box did not have a “send” or “submit” button.  Instead, I’m posting it here:

I agree with the need for diversity BUT it has to be more than “paint-by-number” quotas.  A “diverse” story written by a white author who has read a few internet articles about India and fetishizes and exoticizes a daughter of immigrants from India is worse, in my opinion, than the ordinary white story because it gives the *illusion* of being diverse when instead it only propagates whiteness as the norm.  We also get into questions of the “gaze”, such as when the white main character observes the “foreign” culture with all kinds of judgments.  Homesick, My Own Story by Jean Fritz is a great example.  Jean’s story is slightly different because she did indeed grow up as a white girl in China.  The problem lies not in the narration of her own story but in the way that her view of China and Chinese culture is accepted as authoritative *without* acknowledging that she is a white outsider.  In cultural theory terms, this is called appropriation.

Worse, in my mind, is the Harry Potter version of diversity–throwing in “ethnic” names while writing the characters as white.  Yes, we have characters named Padma and Cho who allow for “ethnic” actors to play the parts in the films.  But are they any different from all of the white characters?  And is any one of the main characters not white and straight?  “Diversity” has become a popular selling gimmick, and throwing in a token name/character or two is superficial to the point of being insulting.

The gay best friend story who serves as comic relief is another.  We don’t just need MORE diversity, we need quality diversity.  The buffoon, the Mickey Rooney in yellowface pretending to be Audrey Hepburn’s crazy hilarious neighbor in Roman Holiday, is a thing of a past or should be.  (Ever wonder why “Kangnam Style” hit it so big?  As clever, perfectly executed, and really well-done as it may be, it fits precisely in the buffoonery category deemed acceptable for Asian characters.  Never mind that the original song lyrics are a satiric critic of class inequalities, it’s a yellow guy being funny!)

These thoughts come on the heels of a wonderful discussion with Alta Hensley yesterday (thank you, Alta and everyone who participated!) pointing out the need for diversity in spanking fiction.  Why is M/F presumed to be the norm?  In DD fiction especially, since many of us hold that especially dear.  To continue yesterday’s discussion, I ask why the heroine is always white.  Why, if the hero is not white, is he presented as an object of viewing pleasure?  I have no problem with the concept of “man candy” (or woman candy) and enjoying physical pleasures in viewing.  But when a white author refers to a black man by saying, “Mm, I love dark chocolate”…that goes beyond normal swooning and touches on centuries of the white woman’s imperial ability to view and use black men’s bodies for her own pleasure with impunity.

There is a false idea that all writers are white and all readers are straight and white, or that if there are writers/readers of other variations that they don’t really matter.  The answer is always that publishing is a business, and so the best bet is to cater to the white majority.

I’ll finish with an excerpt from Cheryl’s post:

What Can We do To Help?
As readers, I think it’s important to buy and read books that have diverse characters. And it also really helps to talk about, review, and get the word out about those books you’ve enjoyed!

As writers, I think it’s important to start consciously bringing in diverse characters when they fit the fabric of your story. Think about your main character–does she or he have to be straight, white, or able? Or your secondary characters. Think too about your walk-on characters. Do they really all need to be white or straight?

If more writers submit more books that have diverse characters, then there will be more books published with diverse characters. But we also need to help get the word out about the books that are out there, need to buy those books, so publishers will start to see that that books resonate, that people will buy those books, and then they’ll also put effort into marketing and selling those books.

If you never thought about this while reading my stories, that’s perfectly fine.  I hope that you focus on the story itself, anyway.  But if you ever wondered why you don’t get much physical description, now you know.  I want you to fill in the blanks for yourself, but I want everyone to have that very same opportunity.

P.S.  For those of you, especially in the US (using this as approximately half of my pageviews come from the US) who argue that the white is majority, I suggest that you take a look at this article questioning how long the US will remain a white-dominated country.

UPDATE: For an example of how readers assume that characters look like them (the readers), here’s an article about the casting controversy for The Hunger Games film.

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53 thoughts on “Why are all the spanking fiction heroines white?

  1. Celeste Jones says:

    Interesting post, Ana. You make some excellent points. I have thought about writing characters who were not obviously white, but I knew that just throwing in a few phrases or other references would be more insulting than gratifying to my readers.

    I suspect that part of the reason for so few non-white heroines were the choices made by publishers which were likely based on sales. I hope that now that there are so many publishing options, we might see more non-traditional heroines.

    Going along a bit with yesterday’s discussion about romance/marriage/hea, I’d like to add that even heroines who are older, divorced, or overweight are contrary to the traditional romance model. (No pun intended there w/’model’.)

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    • Ana says:

      It depends on whether it’s done for titillation (the “dark chocolate” comment, for example) or for a genuine reason. Also whether it’s done properly rather than just a throw-in. I get that some people will assume all characters are white and that is fine, but are there physical descriptions or other characteristics that definitively make the characters white? If so, is it really necessary? I’m more about keeping options open for the reader’s imagination than spelling everything out.

      As I said to Minelle there is a growing number of books about older and divorced heroines, but there are not so many about those struggling with their weight.

      And you never intend your puns do you? 😉

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  2. Minelle says:

    I have thought about this issue. I do think that authors often write from their experience, therefore explaining some of the reasoning. Maybe it has a great deal to do with opportunity, and naturally to exposure. Certainly it has caused authors to divide into certain categories in order to appeal to a market that will appreciate their perspective.
    And Celeste, I completely hear you on the non traditional heroines.

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    • Ana says:

      Another example…how many times do we see a spanking fiction character who is in a wheelchair? Who is legally blind? Who has a chronic illness? I don’t think we need to pick a rainbow of diversity to feature, but I think we could use some more realism and thoughtfulness in our fiction. We have choices as readers in what to buy and what feedback to give to companies. Blushing, for example, relies heavily on customer feedback in what they choose to publish. They’ve put out a special line called Seasons that features older couples. There is so much potential here…

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      • Adaline Raine says:

        I think that a lot of people want to read fantasy or treat DD and spanking fiction as such. If I want to put myself in the main girl’s shoes, i want them to be high heeled and fabulous, I don’t want to read about deep and dark issues. I want to escape. That does not mean that I don’t care about diversity or disability but I don’t want to read about it when I’m trying to get away from life. This might get me flamed but it’s just one opinion.

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        • Ana says:

          Again, I think that speaks volumes about the privilege involved in “escaping”. Who has the privilege of determining what is escaping? Who does not? Of course as individuals we all have our own opinion, but if we look broadly at societal patterns it is generally a certain group that receives this privilege.

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          • Adaline Raine says:

            I guess the author does. If you can escape in your own story there is a high chance that someone else will be able to. But again, I just write the way my characters present themselves and I tell their stories the way I hear them. I don’t identify with other cultures because I just don’t have enough info. I love this type of post where you can really see multiple sides to a topic. Were you in debate club? 🙂

            Like

      • jadecary says:

        Ana, don’t don’t see these things, because spanking someone in a wheelchair would get you skewered. I got killed for the hero spanking the heroine in The Point of it All after she’d been kidnapped and slapped around by her captors. Diversity is fine but it needs to make sense. Addy makes a great point: if it’s escapist for you, the author, chances are your readers will feel the same. I think we all write what we know, what we can relate to.

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  3. Cara Bristol says:

    What timing. I’ve been thinking about this lately, because one of the minor characters in my Rod and Cane Society series is African American. I’d like to give her her own book, but as a white person, I don’t have the “insider’s” knowledge of the black experience and I’m not sure I can do her character justice.

    I think many authors “write what they know.” So the question is…where are the black spanking fiction authors?

    As for other diversity in spanking fiction, F/F & F/M (as opposed to M/F), I think it boils down to what is commercial and what will SELL. I believe that the market is larger for M/F fiction than the others. And for an author, the questions are simple: how many books do you want to sell and how much money do you want to make? Do you want make thousands of dollars off a book per month or tens of dollars off a book? The difference between what is commercial and what is not can be that drastic.

    I broke the mold in my erotic romance, Reckless in Moonlight when I paired a 45 yo heroine with a 28 yo man. That book doesn’t sell 1/10 of what my others do. If I could have do-overs, I’d make her 39 and him 31 or 32 because I think the age difference is a big reason the book doesn’t sell well.

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    • Ana says:

      Really good points. Do I want my mold-breaking stories that I adore and will sell 10 copies each? Or do I want to make them marketable and sell a ton? But as Korey said on your blog the other day, we really don’t know what makes certain books sell. Sometimes it’s simple luck. I think it’s not a question of “where are the X spanking fiction authors” but “how has our publishing system discouraged and prevented X spanking fiction authors?” In other words, how many times have manuscripts been rejected (by publishers and agents), and how many times have people been told that their writing isn’t marketable because it won’t sell? I experienced that ten years ago with my Kat stories. Maybe they will sell, maybe they won’t, but ten years ago I wasn’t even given a chance to try. I am sure that this is the case for many, many others. It was only a unique combination of events that conspired to get me to even try submitting the book, and I did it with no expectation of any different answer. I can’t believe that I am the only one who gave up after that “No, it won’t sell” answer.

      Interestingly, M/M is “hot” right now (pun not intended).

      Like

      • Cara Bristol says:

        Until recently, the traditional (NY print) publishing industry had consolidated to only a few titans, making it difficult for writers with something new or different to break into the market. But with the creation of ebooks, publishing is undergoing a renaissance and we are only at the beginning. There has been an explosion (a big bang!) of ebook publishers willing to take on new and different things. They can take the risks because it is not as expensive to produce an ebook as it is a print version. And self-publishing is easier than ever and no longer stigmatized.

        We’re all getting in on the ground floor. BUT the “traditional” stuff will continue to be a top seller because it appeals to widest audience.

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        • Ana says:

          I might be emailing you a question privately, Cara. I think self-publishing is still stigmatized in some circles. I took someone off my Twitter feed who went on a rampage about self-publishers being hack writers who could never pass a “real” test to get published. I may not be self-published (yet), but I don’t like that kind of disparagement. There was a great article a while back saying that in many cases it makes more sense, financially, to self-publish and that publishing with a company is now “vanity” because it means less profit to get the “name” of publishing with a company. I also hear from self-published authors who sell almost no books at all.

          Can book sell even if they are with an e-publisher that will take these kinds of variations? I hope so. Very much. I worry that all of these tiny e-publishers will go under, but on the other hand they have fewer expenses…right?

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          • jadecary says:

            Many of the big-selling authors are turning to self publishing right now, but of course they’re already established. Still, there’s something to be said for keeping the money for yourself.

            Like

    • L. Dwayne Decker says:

      Greetings, Ana; and Cara, et al! I hear/see that comment oft repeated in this forum — (my paraphrase) “I’m afraid i don’t have enough “insider’s” knowledge to do the character justice…” I understand that concern; and i would never attempt to trivialize it – because I respect everyone in this forum. Just for myself, perhaps, I always remind myself that we are all the same under our skin … and that we all have common fears, concerns, joys … and, as diverse as the Human-experience is; there are still so many things that we hold in common, and that bind us as one – no matter what differences we may have. I love stretching myself/challenging myself to “be” in somebody else’s skin. I was very aware of erotica and sexuality, at a young age; and – though it came from abuse (I have been able to forgive all them; still working on forgiving myself – lol) – I can appreciate the chance to use what I learned, in my writing. Age, gender, ability or disability, mental capacity, race, creed, religion, fiscal/social station in Life – we are all sexual/sensual/visceral/erotic beings.

      Play with it! Enjoy it! Namaste & Bright Blessings!

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      • Ana says:

        Thank you for picking up on this theme. I wanted to address it but didn’t know how. It is very true that writing superficially about a situation *is* insulting, as some have pointed out. On the other hand, writing about an experience (from the outside and not having experienced it) can be a way of showing empathy. For us to write, ethically and responsibly and well, is to research and listen and to open our hearts to an experience–and to recognize that any situation can play out in many different ways to many different people–that is to expand ourselves as people and to become, in my opinion, better people.

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  4. Joseph McNamara says:

    A lot to ponder here Ana. Isn’t it the norm that commercialism and business always seem to dictate what is best for society and the buying public in general. Sales make for good business and sales make for good royalty checks for the author. It would be interesting to me to see a study of who the buying public is in relationship to spanking and BDSM literature. Surely if there was significant interest in non-white buyers, the commercial aspect would be capitalizing on it by now. Perhaps your idea of submitting diverse character’s into books in the future would indeed at least start the conversation. Who knows, there may be a large unexplored population that is waiting for and ready to embrace just this concern……..

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    • Ana says:

      Yes, Cara makes a really good point. Do we want to be responsible writers or to sell tons of books? I always hope that really good writing will sell, but we all know that really crappy writing can sell millions if it hits the right spot.

      I think we can all learn to be a bit more open-minded. 😀

      Like

  5. Sue Lyndon says:

    Interesting post, Ana! I actually made this comment to my husband a few months ago right before I wrote “Punished by the Cowboy” for the Halloween Heat VI anthology. My heroine in this short story was half-Indian, however the part of the story where it mentions her mother is from India was edited out. But it does mention her dark skin. Hmm…maybe I should post some outtakes from this story like Cara did the other day on her blog for False Pretenses:)

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  6. Bas says:

    Ana,
    I could not care less about make, colour or whatever aspect of Hero and Heroine.
    What I do care about is a possibility to identify with the characters.
    That is mainly a task for the author.
    When the author finds it necessary to put a lot of emphasis on ethnicity that may make it more difficult, but not necessarily so. Just asks more work from the author.
    Conclusion: its the author who decides to stick to the easy well known path or to make things hard work for him/herself.

    Like

    • Ana says:

      Basling, you just want Ana spanked!! I can see those devious wheels turning in your head. You don’t care about make and color as long as it’s Ana getting it. *sigh* Poor me! 😉

      And absolutely, being able to identify with the character is important. It’s a pleasure to find readers who go beyond their McDonald’s version of “give me exactly what I want or I refuse to use a single brain cell to go beyond my 2×2 square box of comfort”.

      Like

  7. Joe gallo says:

    Did you know that many of the people in my stories are ethnically diverse?

    Also, the sexual orientation is not mentioned, but all orientations are represented.

    I am more interested in writing about the person than physical attributes.

    Like

    • Ana says:

      Joey, where are your stories? You’ve mentioned this before, but on your blog I only see your scary cane comments. 🙂 And you being naughty and escaping Azkaban. I think that the spanking-party type of person is more likely (but this is speculation only) to be more accepting of different pairings because there’s more awareness of diversity in general. I may be wrong. 🙂

      Like

  8. Sunny Girl says:

    Interesting post. As a writer, I write what I know. I don’t not include diversity, it’s just not there in my mind. I could care less about color, creed or sexual orientation but I am a white,hetrosexual, non religious female so my stories and my mind run in that vein.

    One of the criticisms of the Fifty Shades books is that the author set them in the US but wrote it from her English viewpoint. She didn’t cross all her tees or dot all her i’s. That happens when you write outside of your comfort zone.

    Have a great day.

    Like

    • Ana says:

      Sure, that’s fair for all of us. It’s nice, though, to stop and think what a privilege it is to be able to write marketable books about people who look like you and to easily find a variety of books about people who look like you (generic you, not just you as one person). It’s generally the white, heterosexual, and able-bodied who get the privilege of not caring about identities.

      Like

  9. pao says:

    That was an interesting post and discussion. It really does boil down to what is perceived to sell and also what choices readers make. However, in the context of DD fiction, I do wonder how diverse the readership is.

    Like

    • Ana says:

      I like that you say perceived readership because we really can never know. It’s just like the perception that boys won’t read girl heroines but girls will read boy heroines, so we have Harry Potter instead of Haley Potter. And how often do non-white readers ever write in and say hey I want characters who look like me? When the editors, agents, publishers, etc. won’t listen? I do think it’s readers as much as writers who need to take responsibility for reading and requesting more diverse fiction. Writers can write our hearts out, but if no one buys…

      Like

  10. reneeroseauthor says:

    Yeah, for me it’s either about writing from experience or writing what shows up for me – I didn’t make Fox in Deathless Love the token gay friend to represent gays – that’s just who he is. I’m not the sort of writer who can be told how a story should go or “decide” to writer about someone in a wheelchair… I just have to put down what shows up. I think it’s a mistake to try to write about an experience you don’t “get” – to give voice to someone you’re not, or you don’t know…

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    • Ana says:

      I think you’re right, and part of expanding our writing/reading is to expand our lives. If we want to write an experience, we have to know that experience…and if we only know people exactly like us, that’s reflected in our reading and writing. It goes back and forth, doesn’t it? We can’t stay in either one alone.

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  11. Adaline Raine says:

    It’s funny but for me my characters just show up in my head – you may like to know that I was surprised by an unlikely pairing of a male dominant werewolf with this gorgeous darker skinned beauty – unlikely because she is human and at one point he tells her they can’t be together – she snips that it has something to do with her skin and spanks her good and tells her she better not talk like that again! So I don’t know I just write they way they present to me. I like to read about characters that speak to me no matter what race/ethnicity. And for the record, white is becoming the minority in the US.

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  12. L. Dwayne Decker says:

    Greetings, Ana! I write mostly erotic poetry, and a few short stories; but am working on my first erotic novel. I can appreciate all of the issues that have been raised, thus far, in this discussion. Having worked/lived with a variety of the disenfranchised – and been identified as such – I fully applaud the call for diversity. Personally, I try and keep my characters as non-descriptive as possible during a story; and then enjoy throwing a twist in at the end … like disability, or ethnicity, or age … to catch the reader by surprise and make him/her think – sort of, “Oh my Goddess! I guess it “could” happen THAT way!” – lol. Sometimes, ethnicity comes into the descriptive narrative (ie: describing specific ‘flesh-tone’, etc.). But I have no problem switching all that up, for different chapters/scenarios. I see the beauty and sensuality of The Goddess in everyone (w/o getting stuck by gender, ethnicity, sexual preference, age, weight, or any of those so very slight differences) – and it opens up an ever-broadening and wonderful world of erotic-confrontation. … And, I like challenging taboos, as well! 😉 But, that’s just me! Namaste & Bright Blessings!

    Like

    • Ana says:

      It is wonderful to meet you! Thank you for such a thought-provoking and careful reply. I’m heartened to see that people are taking these thoughts seriously. Thank you. I hope also that we can go beyond rigid expectations of what counts as an escape in a fantasy world unfettered by diversity and other considerations. Wouldn’t it be great if our fantasies didn’t exclude people who didn’t live up to these ideals?

      Like

      • L. Dwayne Decker says:

        Greetings, Ana! My dear lady, (imho) “Ideals” are just a bunch of over-rated/over-rigid boundaries put-in-place by ultra-conservatives who get so much enjoyment from abusing their supposed authority, that they haven’t even taken time to love, live, and enjoy Life! They don’t see the beauty that is there (within each one of us), because – as “idealists – they are too busy writing down new rules about beauty! Sometimes I feel sad for them … but most times, I’d just like to give them a good swift kick in the butt – lol! Namaste & Bright Blessings!

        Like

        • Ana says:

          lol…Yes, the “ideals” and idea of what is “normal”…complete poppycock. There are standards of love and relationship, etc. but so much of it is culturally determined vs. universal. What is accepted as universal may simply be one small (powerful) group’s ability to propagate its comfort zone as the norm.

          Diversity is not about enjoying diversity for its own sake but in recognizing that MY comfort level does not trump YOUR ability to be recognized as a valid human being. The fictional images that are circulated contribute very, very, VERY heavily to what is validated and what is not. I would go as far as to say that as writers we have a responsibility for the images that we produce.

          Like

          • L. Dwayne Decker says:

            Greetings, Ana! Absolutely, i agree! We have a responsibility – within the artistic/creative community … we have a more powerful gift that we may realize – to influence Society, and advocate change! Now, if only we could find a way to get them to listen!
            Namaste & Bright Blessings!

            Like

            • Ana says:

              Very much true! I believe that one or two people can make a great difference in just one or two lives…and then it ripples outward. We have to focus on the one or two instead of the masses in order to remain true to ourselves. It can be hard!

              Like

  13. jadecary says:

    Not adding much here, Ana, to what has already been said. The diversity is out there. Is it enough? Many don’t think so. Books sell for the oddest reasons. I’m both a reader and a writer, as you are (and most everyone else here), and I like to write what I know and what I like. My characters are as diverse as I am. Val Rios in The Point of it All is Chilean. I happen to love Chileans, so there you have it. I’m close to, and understand to some degree the Latino culture. In other words, I’m comfortable there. I’m close to and understand the gay culture quite well, too, but have zero desire to write about it. It is of NO interest to me. I write for the extreme pleasure of it first. If the books sell, then it’s all the better. I can write whatever you want me to write for a price, but I’ll get little pleasure from it. So I think the idea of diversity is a great one, and for those who feel it and can write it well, they will do so. As a reader I form my own ideas of what the characters look like. As a writer, I’m quite descriptive. There you go. 🙂

    And as for your comment, Ana, that…’I would go as far as to say that as writers we have a responsibility for the images that we produce’, I say we have a responsibility to produce those images WELL, whatever they are. I’ve gotten my tits in a ringer more than once for keepin it real in my stories. I’ll continue to take the beatings, and if I was all that worried about being politically correct, I wouldn’t be writing romances where the hero spanks the heroine. To add additional color or other ‘tokens’ for the sake of doing it seems silly. I like that the idea of diversity has been brought up and it’s making for a great discussion. We all come with our own experiences, and to me, the best stories reflect that reality.

    Like

    • Ana says:

      This has been an amazing discussion! Thank you for joining in.

      I agree about being able to write for a price but there is no pleasure. It shows if we write something that we love. People love to lecture us to write what sells, but don’t we have to have passion in order to write well? I find that my beloved authors often reach a phase when they are writing to churn out books instead of loving what they write, and it shows.

      Absolutely. Even the most banal cliches can be wonderful if described well. That’s a great point.

      And yup, the idea of tokens can be silly. I think where it comes into play is when we look at the landscape and realize…hm…only a certain type of representative is shown. We never, ever, get stories where X is a main character. Why not? How does this affect people who are X? Is this something I want to continue perpetuating? That’s where our responsibility kicks in, I think.

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    • L. Dwayne Decker says:

      I am not “published”, so possibly my two-cents are not worth much… However, my main heroine – whom I turn to again and again, is a Shawnee-Black warrior woman named Copper Shayde (I do have copyright on her character). Another ploy I am fond of is having three close friends join forces as a triad-protagonist, in all my erotica – three young women, each with their favourite deviancies… one white, one black, and one oriental… it plays well! 😉

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