The Emotional Toll of Romance

If you haven’t caught wind of the whole Santino Hassell saga yet, I’m sure you will soon enough. Twitter and Facebook will get you up to speed. 

But, where do we go from here?

M/M Romance as a subgenre has had its fair share of hot mess catfish stories. Many of them took place before my time as a reader and author. I’d heard about them because a convincing catfish story never dies. I think this is different, on a variety of levels. It’s more than just a team pretending to be a single entity. It’s more than marital status. It’s about claiming an identity(ies): bisexual, immigrant, etc. It’s about hurting people emotionally. It’s about manipulating the narrative to suit your needs. It’s about shaming victims. It’s about fostering an environment where cyberbullying is seen as an acceptable option when you’re under scrutiny. 

But of course, we may never get the entire truth because “Santino” might never admit culpability or how far back the untruths go. And I will use “he” because that’s how I knew this person. I believed I fostered a friendship with a single dad who was a bisexual man. The emotional manipulation on his part has been an ongoing thing, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. I’m sure I’ll land on a few “DO NOT EVER BUY” lists after this, but it’s quite all right. I am fully secure with speaking my truth. To those who say they “only care about the books and not the drama,” YOU are part of the problem. This is not simply “drama,” this is tainting an entire subgenre. It’s promoting misogyny and toxic masculinity. It’s about causing readers to lose faith in authors. 

Romance authors create worlds. We create escapes. We make people feel good. We save the world with happily ever afters and happy for nows. We make the awful disappear for a bit with our words. 

I cried. I cried when the stories about Santino finally started to sink in. As a reader I was hurt, as an author, I was devastated. 

We never want to believe the people we like/love are capable of doing horrible things. 

The folks who have stepped up to take down problematic people in Hollywood, in YA, in the music industry DO NOT TAKE THIS LIGHTLY. It’s not like these people woke up one morning and said, “Let’s ruin some careers!” They were hurt, wronged, taken advantage of, and they fought back. The women and men involved in this situation are no different. They broke their silence and spoke up. 

The thing that stings most about this debacle is how difficult Santino has made it for WoC and PoC to make significant headway in queer Romance. I remember a discussion I had with him recently. I said, “I can write the same material as you, talk about the Bronx (which I have) and the other lesser known and grungy parts of NYC, and although I may not write as well as you, I will never have the same audience. White people are okay reading about people of color in a digestible form. A cis white man writing about gay/bi men who are Latino, gender non-conforming, asexual, biracial, is A-okay. A black woman, a Latinx person, an Asian person writing about the same topics will never have the same traction as you. We will never get the same coverage.” He admitted I was right and said reading my words made him sad. 

Santino opened the door for queer Romance to break into mainstream Romance within the last two years. And as an aside, say his wife (a Latina) was indeed the person writing the books, HOW FREAKING COOL WOULD IT HAVE BEEN TO KNOW A WOC IS A DOMINATING FORCE IN GAY ROMANCE? She had the talent and the platform and could have used it to her advantage. A great opportunity was missed. 

But, he did his part to help amplify my voice. Some people are aware of who I am only because of my friendship with Santino Hassell. I didn’t friend him to get noticed. I’m not the starfucker type. I didn’t friend him to gain clout. I befriended him because I adored his words. I found him to be incredibly talented. But, it’s what I do. I forge close friendships with authors whose work I enjoy. And I will scream just how much I love said work from the rooftops, but now, I’ve had to face the fact that the friendship I thought existed didn’t. The person I thought I knew, isn’t real. The person(s) behind the persona hurt a lot of people and caused some deep, deep, deep pain. I feel betrayed. I feel let down. But this is not about me. It’s not about my feelings and my hurt. It’s about the people who have been relentless for over a year and felt like they were shouting into the void. This will always be about those women and men who were taken advantage of. The victims of this emotional turmoil are the folks who deserve our attention. 

The knee-jerk reaction to automatically defend someone who you believe is being doxxed because of what *they* said without further investigation is so, so, so worrisome. His former agent said in a now-deleted tweet something to the effect of readers, “…aren’t owed anything other than books…” Santino’s accusers were asking for clarification regarding things SANTINO HIMSELF SAID. Not anything new. Just what was presented to the public by HIM. How hard is that to do? It doesn’t involve being invasive. It doesn’t involve revealing any more personal details. It only involves clarification regarding previous statements, and that did not happen. Instead, they were attacked, blocked, and slandered. 

There were inconsistencies in correspondence between Santino and myself, but even without those things, I would not have inserted myself into any conversation defending him. Not because “he’s a cool guy,” or “I met him at a few cons,” or some other justification. My reason for being slow to react is that he was ALWAYS kind to me. ALWAYS. Our interactions were nothing but pleasant (shit talking aside). I have no vendetta against this person. No ill will. No excitement to see his demise. Santino has always been helpful anytime I needed him. But even so, I did, and do, not think he is beyond reproach. No one is infallible. 

We never want to believe the people we like/love are capable of doing bad things. 

As I stated above, where do we go from here? 

The majority of Romance writers are women. And as women, we owe it to ourselves to do better. Authors of M/M Romance who are women, we owe it to ourselves not to fetishize gay/bi men in the stories we craft. Gay/bi men aren’t caricatures. We can do so much for this subgenre if only we worked a little harder. 

As Romance writers, don’t champion a cause if you aren’t truly willing to do the work. If your words are just lip service, don’t speak. 

Want to see more diversity/inclusion in Romancelandia? Include it in your stories. It won’t always be representation in #ownvoices form because publishers are lagging behind, but it’s something. And something is far better than nothing. 

Don’t fall back on excuses about not wanting to get it wrong. Make some friends. The Internet is at your fingertips. Join local writing groups. Get to know PoC as more than props and stereotypes. Read books written for, by, and about PoC. Read books for, by, and about queer people. Read books with Muslim protagonists that aren’t full of incendiary language. Get to know people who differ from YOU. No matter the size of your platform, signal boost marginalized voices. Do. The. Work. And be authentic about it, please. Please. 

Want to destroy stereotypes about Romance readers? Diversify what you read in the genre. Switch subgenres to keep up with what’s out there. You also don’t always have to read traditionally pubbed authors. There are tons of indie authors waiting for a space on your Kindle. 

Call out problematic behavior on and off the page. As the MTA says, “If you see something, say something.” WE ALL TALK. Bloggers, authors, Goodreads users, talk to each other and yet no one wanted to come forward in this situation for fear of reprisal. That scares me. We couldn’t have an honest talk about what was going on because people were being blacklisted, blocked, threatened, etc. We have to learn to listen. Listen to readers. Listen to other authors. Listen in general. We can’t have tunnel vision because someone is a friend. 

Overall, be more critical with your observations. 

I think Romancelandia will recover from this, but personally, I have an entirely new outlook. I still want to see the best in people, but I’m also waiting for the other shoe to drop because it very well could be possible that my next fave author is problematic as hell, too. 

Author Spotlight: Lorelie Brown

Ahhh!!! I know, I know it’s been a little over a month since my last blog post. I’ve been a busy bee! I’ll explain next week where I’ve been and what caused my hiatus. Long story short, I’ve been writing. Shocker! I promise you’ll get all the gory details next week. For now, let’s focus on the present. This week, my feature is all about Ms. Lorelie. I met Lorelie last year at my very first RWA conference. The hotel lobby is by far the best place to dish and network. Well, second to the bar. We got to chatting, I asked her if she wanted to be interviewed for my blog, and here we are. She’s a very cool lady, and now you all get to learn a little bit about her. 

Take it away Lorelie… 

I always find author interviews kind of boring. We only get to see one side of an author, the polite side. If you had an evil doppelganger, what detail would they enjoy revealing about you to the public that people would find surprising and possibly questionable?

Um, probably that I’m radically insecure? I mean, I feel like if you follow me on twitter, you might get an idea, because I joke about it, but there’s a very large portion of my jokes…that aren’t jokes. So if you ever see me in person, tell me that I’m pretty and super smart. I’d really appreciate it. 

Finish this sentence: I believe all artists should have ______.

Their eyes open. We can’t create if we don’t first observe the world as it really is. I hope that would then lead to compassion for the people we observe and the situations we see, but that’s the optimist in me coming through. (Remember the part about being radically insecure? I’m now wondering if I have the hubris to claim the title of artist. See?)

This question applies to all genres. Name a book you wish you’d written.

I honestly don’t have an answer to this. I’ve read books and adored them, but I’ve never then wished that I’d written them. Mostly because I don’t think they’d be the same books if *I* had written them. I’d filter them through my own worldview and put my own spin on them, and then they’d be different books. And the whole exercise would be defeated. I just wish to write the best books that I’m capable of. 

Do you adhere to a writing schedule? If so, how strict are you with sticking to it?

Hahahaha, noooooo. No schedule for me. I’m the type of author who squeaks in a page or two wherever I can, at least for the start of the book. Once I get in deep enough that the pages are really singing, I start logging more hours at a time, but they’re still not on a schedule. 

We’re not that far into 2018. What’s one personal change you want to make this year?

I’m trying to find balance in the way I treat food. I was in a pretty major car accident at the end of September, and I kind of used it as license to lay in bed and eat Red Vines. I regret nothing, because I was pretty beat up and Junior Mints made me feel better, but I’ve got to find a bit more middle ground. Food is tasty and enjoyable, but it supports life; it isn’t actually all of life. 

Say you’re provided with an opportunity to have a personal chef for the evening. What meal is the chef preparing for your dining pleasure?

A lobster. I’ve enjoyed “lobster flavored” things, but I’ve never really enjoyed eating an actual, steamed lobster before. I’d like it personally prepared for me so I know if I really don’t like them, or if they’ve just been prepared in inferior ways. 

What would you like to see more of in the romance industry?

More of everything. More of life, as it actually is. People of color, and the *full* LGBTQ+ spectrum (not just hot white dudes banging.) More heroes with regular professions, not just billionaires. More heroines who have jobs that aren’t nurturing in some way. 

In your opinion, what’s the best cartoon ever made?

Beauty and the Beast? Or if we’re talking TV shows, maybe Muppet Babies. It’s not objectively the most delicately crafted cartoon, but I was kinda traumatized by having my collection of Muppet Babies happy meals toys stolen when I was a kid, so it looms large in my memory. 

Here’s the memory as I remember it: I was on a trip with my dad and playing with my handful of toys on a curb outside a gas station. He called me inside to go to the bathroom and when I came back they were gone. Absolutely tragic to a 7 or 8-year-old. 

Okay, but why the hell was I playing alone outside a gas station??? I hope I’m remembering it wrong, but it was the ‘80s, and parents were still kind of stupid in ways. 

In 2017, you were nominated for a RITA Award. Has that experience changed how you’ll guide your writing career moving forward?

Honestly? It froze me for a while! I went through this period of trying to write and being unable to get really deep into a story. I’d get a couple of pages in and then decide the story was trash and won’t ever measure up. I think I’ve gotten over it now. (Cross your fingers for me.) I’m trying to focus solely on the stories I want to tell and not think of the big picture. 

If you could have a dance battle with any celebrity, who would you choose?

I have very little confidence in my dance battle abilities, unless we’re going to put me in my 19-year-old body, put me in a rave and give me white gloves. Nowadays, I don’t move well, so I think I’d just like to use this opportunity to ogle someone who *does* dance well. As a result, I hereby challenge Channing Tatum to a dance-off whenever he’s ready. Come find me, Channing! I’m ready. Please wear a thin white tank top. 

**Bonus Question**

Ever tried BDSM? If not, would you?

I have. I’m toppy, but that’s about all I’m going to say to that! LOL.


After a semi-nomadic childhood throughout California, Lorelie Brown spent high school in Orange County before joining the US Army. She’s traveled the world from South Korea to Italy and now lives north of Chicago. She set her Belladonna Ink series in Southern California because she gets enough sleet and snow in her real life. 

Lorelie has three active sons, a shih tzu and a yorkiepoo puppy. The yorkiepoo makes a guest appearance in one of her books. Readers can find out which by asking her on Twitter: @LorelieBrown.

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Get your one-click finger ready! Check out Lorelie’s latest release Her Hometown Girl, Book 3 in the Belladonna Ink series

Release Day Author Spotlight: Vanessa Riley

Happy Monday Everyone! 

Today, I’m featuring the wonderful Vanessa Riley on the blog! Vanessa’s latest release, The Bittersweet Bride, a Regency historical with a WoC heroine drops TODAY.  I AM SO PROUD OF HER! In case you needed a not so gentle nudge to spend your coins BUY THIS BOOK, NOW! I’m thrilled for Vanessa, and I wish her much success with this series. The preliminary buzz has been great, and I cannot wait to dive in. 

 Without further ado, take it away Vanessa! 

I always find author interviews kind of boring. We only get to see one side of an author, the polite side. If you had an evil doppelganger, what detail would they enjoy revealing about you to the public that people would find surprising and possibly questionable?

This is a very hard question. I think I’m rather boring and wholesome. I think that would be my accidental shoplifting heist. When I was kid, I thought the booklets on the counter at some store were free, and I scooped up a few and tried to put them in my mother’s purse. Let’s just say, they weren’t free, nor was my behind whooped-free, or the many times I paid having to hear the talk about how to act when in a store.

What inspired you to write the Advertisements for Love series?

I’m compelled to write romances because I truly believe all love stories need to be told. If you look at this advertisement, you can see how all the women were made fun of, but one woman, the Blackamoor was drawn to be grotesque. It didn’t sit well with me, and I decided to give the women the power and this series showcases three heiresses and hopefully they will find there happy ever after in this series.

Say you’re starring in a rom-com, who would you want cast as your love interest?

Always Pierce Brosnan. The answer is always the Best Bond, the Remington Steele.

What’s one rule you’ve set for yourself?

It’s okay to fail. If I tried and gave it my all, then it’s not really a failure.

What made you happiest in 2017?  

Other than my hubby and kiddo, it was working with my editor, Erin at Entangled. She gets me, and she knows how to make me better.

What’s your favorite board game? 

Monopoly. I’m the ironing board.

Finish this sentence: The quality of your life is the quality of ________.

Your memories. You have to live and love. You have to do things that bring you joy. Those memories should be spectacular.

Describe your most romantic date.  

Girl, I’ve been married for over twenty years, so you’re asking me to think. From what I remember, it would’ve been our first: a sweet dinner over a fire pit and then walking around downtown looking at the new Christmas season lights being put up.

If money wasn’t an issue, what would you spend your time doing? 

It would be writing full time. I love these worlds I create.

Take your time and think about your answer deeply before responding. People are reading with bated breath…

Best breakfast main course: Pancakes, waffles, or French toast? THERE CAN ONLY BE ONE

That would have to be pecan pancakes with hot bourbon maple syrup. Of course, this breakfast would have to be made by my husband, and he’s volunteering to do all the clean-up. Paradise.

**Bonus Question**

Ever tried BDSM? If not, would you?

Never tried. Not really into giving up that much control, and only my mama has ever spanked me. I’d like to keep it that way.


Vanessa Riley here. I write Delightfully Different historical romances set in 1800s England, giving voice to voiceless 10,000 peoples of color who loved, laughed, and lived full lives, even as the sands of time buried their stories. I write of the 10,000-person Blackamoor and mulattoes population living in London during the time of Jane Austen. This population was free and as some gained wealth, some intermarried but all mingled in society.

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Get your one-click finger ready to rock and purchase your copy of The Bittersweet Bride from any of the following e-Book retailers:


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*waves* Heeey, it’s Harper chiming in for a sec. Thank you for reading this Release Day Author Spotlight! If you’ve read The Bittersweet Bride, please leave a review on any of the websites above or Goodreads. Release Day reviews mean the world to an author. If you recall, the first cover for The Bittersweet Bride was not an accurate representation of the heroine, Theodosia. Because the book world spoke up, Vanessa was granted a new cover. It’s important that her publisher (and other publishers) see readers supporting stories such as these. Buy, read, review, and spread the word. When one of us succeeds, we all succeed. 

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