Against Type 

Nashville writer's debut romance novel breaks the color barrier

Nashville writer's debut romance novel breaks the color barrier

Well over 1,500 romances are published each year. With titles like The Bride Stripped Bare and The Seductive Imposter, they are easily recognized, their covers a combination of pinks and violets, the racier titles fiery red. Often, the book jackets display a woman swooning into a hulk of a man with bulging pectorals. Almost always, both swooning woman and chiseled man are white.

For decades, the romance industry has been dominated by steamy novels written for heterosexual white women. Recently, however, romance aficionados have witnessed an explosion of sub-genres: gay and lesbian romances, as well as a variety of "ethnic titles" (as they're referred to in the industry), the fastest-growing segment of the romance market. Today, the romance aisles are refreshingly colored not only pink and violet, but also black, brown and yellow.

Set in Nashville, Christine Townsend's debut romance, Sweet Desire (BET/Arabesque, 381 pp., $5.99), features Regina Lovejoy, an African American songwriter penning hits for the biggest country stars on Music Row, and Thomas Simmons, the head basketball coach at Renaissance University, a fictional historically black college modeled on Fisk. Single parents brought together by mutual babysitting needs, they spark up a friendship that turns uncontrollably erotic despite their best efforts to remain passionless.

Like all romances, Townsend's story offers an optimistic ending. Unlike most romances, the book's characters are neither ultra-sophisticated New Yorkers nor a part of Atlanta's jet set. Regina, Sweet Desire's hero, is pedestrian by comparison, despite her seemingly unique status as an African American on Music Row. "I wanted to write about a woman like women I know," Townsend said in an interview. "[Regina is] down to earth, able to get down and dirty when necessary, but still a woman. She shoots from the hip and doesn't need a man for anything—or so she thinks."

As for Regina's career choice, Townsend doesn't see it as at all exotic. She notes that African Americans have been an integral part of country music since its beginnings. "Think about DeFord Bailey and so many other pioneers in the industry," she said. "I have friends who sang backup for country artists and one who plays in Wynona Judd's band."

When not writing romances, Townsend—whose real name is Mildred Walters—is the executive director of the Nashville Business Incubation Center, helping entrepreneurs start their own businesses. Despite her heavy work schedule, she still finds time to write at night and on weekends. She is under contract at BET/Arabesque for two more books, the first of which, Passion's Promise, will be released in August. She lives in Bordeaux with her husband and two children.

—Pablo Tanguay


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