Black History Month: Reese Ryan on Reading and Writing Romance
by Reese Ryan, author of Engaging the Enemy
One of the reasons I first fell in love with books as a very little girl is because the stories my parents read to me opened new worlds of possibility. Talking animals, fictional creatures, fanciful worlds and faraway places fed my already wild imagination. However, quietly in the background, something even more important was happening.
I was exposed to new concepts. My worldview was expanded. And I was taught the importance of understanding, compassion and empathy. It was a critical part of my life as a little girl who didn’t venture beyond my neighborhood in Cleveland, except for occasional trips downtown and the annual journey to our family reunion in Memphis, Tennessee. Reading fiction as an adult can have the same effect.
Despite the multicultural world we live in, many still reside in fairly homogenous communities where they rarely encounter people who don’t look like them. Our growth as individuals is limited when we have no other point of reference about other cultures or lifestyles, regardless of whether we live in gated communities where anything we want is at our fingertips or in crumbling inner cities where everyday existence feels like a struggle.
Our lives are fuller and we finetune our capacity for understanding, compassion and empathy when we get to know people whose experiences in life are markedly different from our own. Nothing compares to real-life connections with a wide range of people. However, fiction can be an excellent primer for a well-rounded life.
As a reader, I appreciate the power of prose to thoroughly entertain us while also providing us with new and enlightening experiences. As an author of romantic fiction, I’m grateful for the opportunity to share a wide range of experiences with readers. And I take that job quite seriously. Therefore, I try to introduce a wide range of black characters to mainstream readers.
My Pleasure Cove series features brilliant career women, including self-sufficient single mothers whose children are the centers of their universe. The series also highlights successful black men who are entrepreneurs or professionals at the top of their game, close-knit families like the Johnstons and families who are struggling to repair past hurts like the Williams.
My Bourbon Brothers series features men like Joseph and Duke Abbott and Martin McDowell who were wonderful, attentive, loving husbands, fathers and grandfathers, but by no means perfect men.
But I also want to show the experience of people who have suffered in their lives. People like Sloane Sutton of The Billionaire’s Legacy still struggles with issues of abandonment around her father leaving when she was a little girl. She’s made her own way in life and finds it hard to accept help from others, worried that she will live down to the low expectations people in town set for her.
I want mainstream readers to get a glimpse into the lives of characters from different cultures and socioeconomic levels. To see that we share many of the same hopes and concerns for ourselves and our children. To understand how our lives may differ and the very real impact it has on our paths. And while I primarily write about black heroes and heroines, I include characters of various ethnicities in my stories. Sometimes even as the hero and/or heroine. Because I’m committed to building an inclusive society.
Reading transports us to new and exciting places. It allows us to walk in the shoes of people who, at least on the surface, seem vastly different from us. But as entertaining as a good book can be, it offers us so much more. Research has shown that reading fiction increases emotional intelligence and makes us more empathetic. All of that is going on in the background while we simply enjoy the pleasure of being introduced to new and exciting worlds.
Reading is a gift I don’t take lightly. I’m thankful to my parents every day for instilling a love of reading in me at a very young age. And being a fiction author who shares the worlds I create in my still vivid imagination with gracious readers is a privilege for which I am ever grateful.
About Engaging the Enemy:
“That’s the deal, Abbott. Take it…or leave it.”
How far will an ambitious heir go to secure his future?
Parker Abbott will do whatever it takes to be the next CEO of King’s Finest Distillery, even play fake fiancé to his childhood nemesis, Kayleigh Jemison. Yet as he and the fiery redhead get reacquainted, sparks fly and real passion emerges. But when her ex wants a second chance, who will Kayleigh choose?