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July 31

So You Want To Talk About Race:

The RWA Panel On Race


By David T. Valentin

This year’s RWA convention had a number of events focused on issues of race and diversity in publishing and I attended the round table discussion on the topic lead by moderator Courtney Milan.


The seats were positioned in a circle, suggesting an inclusive dialogue between everyone, ensuring you’ll see the faces and identity of the people who are telling their personal stories. The panel was a Discussion Ed based off Ijeoma Oluo’s book So You Want to Talk About Race and was set up so that even if you hadn’t read the book, you could gain insight to perspectives from of all races—white, black, hispanic, Latino, Asian— who discussed the issue of racism and publishing in America on varying scales.


The panel began with the establishment of discussion rules that would create a respectful dialogue between all attendees. These rules established that the marginalized people in the room should not talk over the marginalized people who have experienced racism or forms of prejudice.  Moderator Courtney Milan encouraged those experiencing discomfort in what was being discussed, mainly attendees of the panel who were white and straight, to sit with that discomfort, because discomfort often means growth and confronting one’s own privilege. 


Milan began with a quote from the book that establishes racism as a systematic issue that has been tacitly maintained in order to exploit and keep people of color at the bottom of a socio-political hierarchy. 


The discussion started on a positive note as many of the participants recalled much of the progress that has been made since the beginning of the Civil Rghts movement in 1954 to the present. The attendees of the discussion, specifically the attendees of color, credited the change to a willingness in the public to discuss issues of systematic racism and giving those who have been victimized a platform to speak in politics. But despite such great strides it is important to remember these systematic problems are not completely gone. 


Racism as something ingrained in all aspects of life was recently highlighted when Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez’s commented on Trump’s policies and blatant racism. To Ocasio-Cortez, and to many marginalized Americans, Trump is not the root of a system, which continues to oppress marginalized people, but a symptom of a great systematic problem that has existed for centuries. The fight against racism and social injustices as a whole is a constant in every day battles for basic human rights. 


In the realm of publishing, one attendee of the panel brought up the amount of privilege it takes to work for the publishing industry in New York City while only making 20K a year where one needs family money to successfully make a career out of publishing. The point highlights the kinds of people who are at the top of the publishing industry—people of privilege who may or may not understand the struggle of marginalized peoples in America, people who may not believe those struggles because they do not experience said struggles. 


In the terms of marketing of the romance genre, and most likely other genres, another attendee noted that in a bookstore, such as a Barnes & Nobles, and even smaller bookstores, African- American writers are rarely in the same section as books simply labeled “Romance.” Instead, African-American writers are pushed to another section of a bookstore labeled “African-American Romance,” thus creating an unequal marketing presence. As a result, customers looking for romance books will not make a conscious effort to go into the section labeled “African-American Romance,” because they either feel they don’t relate to the stories or they don’t want politics, or the discussion of privilege and race, in stories they use to escape the real world.


But what if African-American writers—or books that are labeled differently due to the marginalized identity of the author—were included in the “Romance” category? Would costumers be more willing to pick up a book by a person of color? Or an LGBTQ+ author? Some believe the segregation of writers is a disadvantage right from the start, dooming marginalized authors to fail.  

The issue seems to come down to money, a conclusion many of the attendees of the panel agreed upon. Many people, especially white cis people, argue that publishers are accepting authors writing books with diverse characters more often and making more money than those writing white-bread books—books featuring heterosexual, white couples. But the statistics do not support such a claim.


Additionally, while that claim seems to be favorable to marginalized authors, it holds prejudice and racist thought. It is a call back to how some members of the public believe that because colleges are looking for diversity—affirmative action—that people of color do not need to have quality skills; they just have to apply to these high-end schools and they’ll get in based on the color of their skin. But statistics on the graduating classes of these classes, the same way one can look at the lack of money being made by marginalized authors due to lack of proper marketing, do not support that people of color are actually graduating from these high-end colleges. Which brings up the question: are publishers, and even colleges, not investing enough time in their marginalized students? If they put in as much time as the authors writing white MF books, would marginalized authors make more money? The answer from the room was most definitely. 


The myth that diverse books are being accepted and making more money, Milan said, is a myth cis white people tell themselves so that the situation seems better. 


Milan proposed a question to the panel, specifically asking the white people in the room: How do you make sure situations like this do not occur in the future? Why are stories with black people considered stories of a different type and not just labeled as stories, i.e. African-American romances being labeled as just romance? 


Milan’s question returns to the overall statement from the book about racism being a purposefully exploitative system that purposefully and tacitly keeps marginalized groups at the bottom of a hierarchy. It seems that stories of people of color and LGBTQ+ people are being purposely excluded so that these stories are not given credibility because they are not making enough money. The exclusion of these stories allows for these injustices to be swept under the rug as if they do not exist. 


So what exactly can we do to deal with oppression that’s ingrained in the fabric on all macro and even micro scales—economically, socially and culturally? In one participant’s words, while change is happening from the bottom up, there must always be change from the top as well. For example, while it’s important for writers to be demanding change from the publishing industry, publishers must also be willing to change. 


Although the participants on the panel discussion of race seemed to veer toward hoping that someone else should push for change, specifically the publishers in the publishing industry, Milan provided a more hopeful and proactive message. 


In terms of inciting change, Milan challenged those in the room who are of a marginalized identity to be the change they wish to be; to be that someone else. 


With two black women winning a Rita award this year--Kennedy Ryan with her novel Long Shot and M. Malone’s novella Bad Blood--for the first time in the 37 years the Rita Awards have been established, it seems that with enough of an uproar, positive change can—and should—happen. However, this demand for diversity must continue to ensure that everyone has a chance to have their own unique stories told. 

July 30

The Latest Internet Dating Scam: Using Real Military Men to Lure Lonely Hearts



By Lori Perkins

Over the years, due to the creation of social media, lonely people can be easily scammed by that catfishing. On Facebook and Instagram, the feat seems easily done with little ramifications. 


Most recently, there has been a scam where people pretend to be American members of service in order to swindle women out of their money. This scam has become very popular and goes something like this: the scammers first must steal actual service members information in order to have fake credentials, often making up their own rankings and war stories. They then frequently search Facebook groups to find women they deem vulnerable and good targets for ‘military men.’ After likely messaging hundreds of women, they find a few easy targets and hook them using other communication platforms in order to avoid their Facebook or Instagram getting deactivated. The men then partake in the usual smooth-talking that swindlers do, in order to promote the idea of a future with the women. They then start to talk about needing money and sell the funds they receive, almost always gift cards, on the black-market.

Many of the men, who have been tracked down as the scammers, have said that this work was much more profitable then good, honest work, so they turned to it in order to help their families. Additionally, there are some who are willing to exchange their scripts with others in order to help them become successful at it. Interestingly enough, some of the men have admitted to eventual feelings for those they are talking to and scamming and have quit the work due to their bad and/or guilty feelings towards hurting people. 


To read more about this latest scam, read The New York Times coverage of this new scam here,

July 29

Lifetime Channel Orders New

28 Christmas Movies

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By Lori Perkins

Looks like Lifetime knows that there is no such thing as too much Christmas on TV.  Christmas movies can dominate the theatrical box office, and earn royalties year after year, and the same goes for TV holiday fare.

According to Entertainment Weekly, last year Lifetime bought 18 holiday movies, but this year they have increased their order to 28. 

Two of the films will feature Lifetime-fav actresses Melissa Joan Hart and Tia Mowry-Hardrict. Hart will star in Christmas Reservations where she plays an event coordinator who falls for a handsome widower. Mowry-Hardrict will star in A Very Vintage Christmas, which will feature an antique shop and the search for the owner of a mysterious box filled with romantic souvenirs.

Last year Lifetime featured Hart in A Very Nutty Christmas and in 2017’s A Very Merry Toy Store. Mowry-Hardrict was cast in two holiday films last year with Lifetime’s My Christmas Inn and fierce Christmas competitor Hallmark Channel’s A Gingerbread Romance.

This year’s slate of Christmas films makes Lifetime a contender in the televised Christmas movie game. According to EW, at the moment, Lifetime is the network that will air the most original new Christmas TV movies this December.

The lifetime Christmas countdown begins October 25th, seven days a week.

July 28

State Senator Alessandra Biaggi Marries Former Co-worker As Hilary Clinton Led The Vows


Roey Yohai Studios

By Lori Perkins

This story reads like the plot from a really great contemporary romance.


Freshman State Senator Biaggi from the Bronx just said “I do” this past weekend to her former political co-worker (and boss), Nathaniel Smith Koloc, whom she met working on Hilary Clinton’s election campaign, and none other than Hilary Clinton herself led the couple in their vows!


According to the wedding story in The New York Times, the couple met in January 2015 when both were New York City New Leaders Council fellows studying to be political influencers (Ms. Biaggi is the granddaughter of 10-term former NY Congressman Mario Biaggi, so politics is in her blood (she also has an NYU law degree). When Koloc became the director of talent acquisition and development on Clinton’s presidential campaign-in-waiting team and asked Biaggi what she wanted to do with her life, she answered, “I’m going to work in the White House.” Koloc agreed with her and offered her a position on his team.

They worked together on the election team (and announced they were an “official” couple as soon as they realized they were serious), but broke up after the election for a short time.  As Biaggi told The Times, “We were crushed into a million pieces, but the love we had and have for each other triumphed,’’ she said. “Our relationship had a bigger purpose and continued, and it passed the test.”

The Times ended the article with the line: “On Monday following the ceremony Mr. Koloc said: ‘For some cinematic flare, lightning struck the Blue Hill property about five minutes after our vows. It was fantastic.’”

This story originally appeared

June 27

2019 Marks First Time African-American Authors Have Won Rita Awards


By Lori Perkins

The audience rose and applauded when it was announced that Kennedy Ryan’s self-published novel Long Shot had won the 2019 Rita Award for Contemporary Romance: Long, as this was the first time in the annual Romance Writers of America awards’ 38-year history that an African-American author has won a Rita award.


This groundbreaking accomplishment was repeated a mere six award announcements later when M. Malone became the second African-American author to win a Rita Award for her self-published romance novella Bad Blood.


The evening kicked off with an opening from NY Times best selling author Sarah MacLean wearing a kick-ass blue tuxedo who emphatically stated that “Happy Ever After has always been revolutionary” and then went on to ask the audience, “what better way to change the world than to live our triumphant happiness in love?’


In addition to award presenters, additional speakers included Sandra Kitt, the first African American romance writer published by Harlequin, and Radclyffe, a ground-breaking author of lesbian fiction who went on to start an award winning LGBTQ+ publishing company, Bold Strokes Books. 


LaQuette, the President of the New York Chapter of Romance Writers if America, welcomed the crowd to her city and then shared her own experience with romance fiction. She told her story of loving romance as a teen, but then growing disenchanted as she failed to find a reflection of herself as a black, curvy young woman from Brooklyn in the pages of the books she was reading.  She encouraged editors and agents to look beyond the stories they were familiar with, as well as calling published writers to mentor those who had different stories to tell, but she also called out readers to “look beyond stories not centered on your experience.”


Throughout the evening book covers from the 1970’s to the present were flashed on the screen to show how romance has broken ground throughout the decades.  These images can be found at

Below is a complete list of this year’s award winners:


Paranormal Romance:  Dearest Ivie by J.R. Ward

Contemporary Romance Long: Long Shot by Kennedy Ryan

Young Adult Romance: Cry Baby by Ginger Scott

Historical Romance Short: A Duke in the Night by Kelly Bowen

Contemporary Romance Mid-Length: Advanced Physical Chemistry by Susannah Nix

Romantic Suspense: Fearless by Elizabeth Dyer

Erotic Romance: Three-Way Split by Elia Winters

Romance Novella: Bad Blood by M. Malone

Mainstream Fiction with a Central Romance: How to Keep a Secret by Sarah Morgan

Historical Romance Long: A Wicked Kind of Husband by Mia Vincy

Romance with Religious or Spiritual Elements: The Saturday Night Super Club by Carla Laureano

Contemporary Romance Short: The Bachelor’s Baby Surprise by Teri Wilson

Best First Book: Lady in Waiting by Marie Tremayne 


At the end of the event, RT award-winning erotic romance author Cecilia Tan said, “This year’s award ceremony shows that the current RWA Board has really listened to the concerns of the members and our changing world. And the winner proved that times have changed.”


Roan Parish /Twitter

June 26

RWA 2019: Golden Heart Awards


By David T. Valentin

For the Golden Heart Awards Luncheon, everyone attending RWA 2019 gathered in the Broadway Ballroom on the sixth floor of the New York Marriott Marquis under a ceiling reminiscent of a sky-meets-sea crossover; white fluorescent lights that took the shapes of clouds outlining illuminated fake crystal quartz. With circular tables set as far as the eye can see, and a stage illuminated by two projected screens and two walls lined with pink lights, the feeling could be likened to a dream. And for some it was. Some were preparing to have their dreams realized as they would be asked to accept their Golden Heart Awards. And for others, their dreams were just beginning. And for all, this was an end of a dream as this was the final Golden Heart Award ceremony. 


Grabbing the attention of the audience with a subtle bang of the mic and a hello, the Golden Heart Awards Luncheon kicked off with the presentations of the RWA Industry Awards—awards that congratulated and commended the different people who make the Romance industry the Romance industry. 


First up for the awards was the 2019 RWA Steffon Walker Bookseller of the Year which went to Michelle Mioff-Harding of Cupboard Maker Books, an independent bookstore in Central Pennsylvania. Michelle has owned the bookstore for 21 years where she hosts seven book signings several times a month and includes literary-themed parties and multi-author signings. She is a member of Central Pennsylvania Romance Writers and encourages authors at all points in their careers. 


Next up was the 2019 RWA Cathie Linz Librarian of the Year award,  which went to Stephen Ammidown of Browne Popular Culture Library. During Ammidown’s time at Browne Popular Culture Library he has improved online access to the Popular Culture Library’s Manuscript collections, including those of the Romance Writers of America and more than 40 romance authors. In 2018, he organized the Researching the Romance Conference, a two-day event that brought together academics, authors, and fans of romance fiction to talk about the past, present, and future of the genre. He has also presented on the library’s romance fiction collections at the national Popular Culture Association conference in Indianapolis. 


Then there was the 2019 RWA Vivian Stephens Industry Award which went to Mark Coker of Smashwords. Coker founded Smashwords in 2008 to allow authors to self-publish and distribute e-books in an efficient and professional manner. Today, Smashwords has grown to become the world’s leading distributor of self-published e-books, representing over 140,000 authors and small independent presses around the world that publish and distribute over 500,000 books with Smashwords. 


The final industry award was the 2019 RWA Veritas Award which went to Bim Adewunmi for her article “meet the Women Who Are Building a Better Romance Industry” on BuzzFeed news,


The show then moved to emcee bestselling author Darynda Jones, a Golden Heart Award Winner herself and a Rita Award winner, whose speech revolved around the importance of a journey worthwhile. To her, her awards are simply but the cake—bland and tasteless. Her true success—the icing on the cake—is the friendships she formed as her writing career took shape, and the insight she learned about the writing craft through those friendships. Her final message, addressed to the finalists of the Golden Heart Awards before she announced the winners of each category, is one of friendships that will last a lifetime. And a reminder that the journey and the friends you make along the way are the true rewards. 


Below are the Golden Heart Awards winners in each category, and the highlights of their thank you speeches. 

For Contemporary Romance, Never Have I Ever by Rosie Danan was the winning title. One thing I thoroughly enjoyed about Danan’s thank you speech is the honesty and vulnerability of the moment. She often exclaimed, through nervous laughter and happy tears, that coming up for her award, giving a speech, and taking pictures, were all really nerve racking. Often you don’t see people in media being so honest, so that was a very refreshing take. 


For Contemporary Romance, short, the winner was Love on the Books by Betsy Gray.


For Historical Romance, the winning novel was Tempting the Heiress by Emily Sullivan.


For Mainstream Fiction with a Central Romance, the winner was Everything Comes Back to You by Melissa Wiesner. 


In the category of Romance with Religious or Spiritual Elements, the winner was The Promise of Spring by Martha Hutchens. Hutchens reminded us that, despite religion and sexuality and romance usually being different ends of a spectrum, that God, or some higher being, is to thank for all this in the world, the good and the bad. 


In the Romantic Suspense category, the winner was The Hustler by Angie Hackman, who had an empowering message about how watching her write was an example to her four year-old son to never give up on his dreams, and to always take chances because you’ll never know if you’ll succeed if you don’t try. 


And finally, for Young Adult Romance, the winner was Dragged! By Susan Lee, a novel featuring a diverse cast of color and sexuality about a teen who enlists a drag queen for help in love and life, which, after hearing of the synopsis by Lee, I surely wanted to read. At the end of her speech she said, this award was for, “all the marginalized people who fight for their stories to be told, this is for you,” ending the award ceremony with a hopeful message for future writers. 


Overall the awards ceremony was filled with love, tears and great rounds of applause. With many of the award winners thanking loved ones, family members who are still here and who have passed, and friends, it really did prove Darynda Jones’ message: that the journey is the best reward in any adventure of life. 


For me, I would have to agree with Jones’ message to writers. Often the image of a lone, hermit writer sitting with their Mac book lit up in a Starbucks comes to mind. But, to me, the conference proved that a writing community not only helps you as a writer honing your craft, but it also helps you learn lessons which you would never have learned while stuffed in some corner-street café, isolated from the rest of the world. 


The most important take away, I think, is that writers should never forget how to live, never forget to experience the world outside of that little carved out quiet desk space and be part of a community. Because without experiencing life, where would our stories come from? 


July 25

Notes from RWA National Convention, Day 1


By David T. Valentin and Lori Perkins

RWA Focuses on Change

By Lori Perkins 


Romance Writers of America’s national convention kicked off this week on July 24th returning to the Marriott Marquis Hotel in midtown Manhattan.  For many who attended, the first event they went to after collecting their badges and welcome bag stuffed with free mass-market paperbacks was the well-attuned Annual General Meeting. After introductions and a treasury report, the subject that many members came to address was how the organization was going to change its RITA awards so that both nominees and judges do not fail to include marginalized authors who are both members of RWA and beloved and best-selling authors, as this is the second year in a row that the annual awards have had sparse representation by nonwhite authors.


It was announced that the RWA Board approved changes to the 2020 RITA Contest rules which will include: 

    • RITA contest entrants are not required to judge the preliminary round.

    • Preliminary round judges will be chosen using Judge Volunteer Questionnaires completed by individuals who are eligible to judge. The Judge Volunteer Questionnaire will collect basic identification data, voluntary demographic data, and such other information that is consistent with the purpose and needs of the contest.

    • All General RWA members, Associate Writer RWA members, non-member RITA entrants, current or former booksellers and librarians, and romance reviewers with an interest in, and knowledge of, the romance genre are eligible to submit a Judge Volunteer Questionnaire.

    • All individuals chosen as judges for the preliminary round of the RITA contest must complete the judge training required by RWA for this purpose.

    • The 2020 RITA contest will be open to 1,200 paid entries, provided that there are a sufficient number of eligible judges for each judge to score no more than eight entries.

    • Each entrant may enter one entry during the first seven days the contest is open. After this period, if space is still available in the contest, the entrant may submit one additional entry for a combined total of two. After the first entry, the cost of the second entry will increase.

    • The category name for Romance with Religious or Spiritual Elements changed to Romance with Spiritual Elements.


It was noted that this is the final year for the Golden Heart Awards, which are given to aspiring writers for unpublished works.  Many authors bemoaned the loss of the community that came with being a Golden Heart finalist and the network of writers that developed from this award.  The award was eliminated because submissions for the award had declined dramatically in the past few years.  The RWA Board said they are looking into ways to fill the void that the ending of The Golden Heart Awards leaves.  In that spirit, The Board approved a mentorship program for unpublished and underpublished romance authors that will help these members publish in the traditional and indie markets. The program will launch in the fall of 2019. 


Later that afternoon, there was a “Diversity” Town Hall for members, which was a well-attended forum to meet RWA’s DEI (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion) consultant, Sunny Lee Goodman, who is working with the Board to address some of the issues that have risen in the past few years.  She introduced herself and told the story of how as a child in kindergarten her teacher had told her that she was changing her name because her Korean name was too hard to say, making the membership aware that she understood these issues on a personal level.  


The floor was then opened to members who were given three minutes to speak. While many members chided RWA for its past as a ladies’ garden party, other challenged it to change.  There was a robust discussion about revamping the code of ethics and making members re-sign every year upon dues renewal.  Sassy Atwater, who attended the meeting with her seeing-eye dog, asked the membership to make sure that RWA was accessible to those with disabilities, stating that at any given time 20% of the population is disabled, but that is not reflected in the room or in romance fiction.  Another member suggested that all meetings be held in places that meet legal accessibility laws, thus also moving meetings out of people’s homes, which has often perpetuated the garden party analogy.


Casey Clipper of the Pittsburgh RWA chapter suggested that all RWA contents get rid of the terms “heroes” and “heroines,” which received resounding applause.


Linda Ortiz told the story of how romance changed her life, sharing that she had grown up in poverty in New York City got the inspiration to get out and move to California, where she now makes her home, from reading Harlequin novels as a 15 year-old.  She had been on the earlier RWA diversity committee, which was given no authority to make changes, but she urged the Board to give the next committee power because, she said, she was an example of how “romance can change lives.”

Golden Heart Finalists Reception at RWA Nationals

By David T. Valentin 


In a small room--too small for the personalities and gatherings of writers from all over the nation--and probably too few wine glasses, the finalists of the Golden Heaert Awards gathered with the finalists  with agents and writers alike.


Becke Turner, a finalist in contemporary romance, explained the process of writing a book nominated for the global hearts award. 


Turner said that she wrote the book and decided she wanted to submit it to the contest for the global heart award back in December. She first sent it out to readers, testing to see if it had a good hook. After she had a collective agreement that her book was good, she submitted it for the golden hearts award, and now is a finalist.


Another finalist, Sara Whitney, got personal when I explained my situation of being a recent college grad who was wrestling with the duel personality of being a person in real life, and a writer who wants to succeed in the larger life of writing. 


“Much of it is putting fingers to keys and just sucking it up,” Whitney said. “Although most of my friends give me this advice, which I don’t listen to very well, is to write an hour a day or 1,000 word a day. It really is just sitting down and doing it.” 


Energies seemed to be high, and everyone was excited to speak to one another; especially writers who were looking for agents for their books. 


It seemed no one was all that thrilled to speak to the press, probably because I couldn’t publish their book or talk writing. But after I explained I myself am a fantasy writer, they seemed a little interested in talking. 


Afterwards, we moved to the sky lobby on the 16th floor of the Marriott Marquis Hotel in midtown Manhattan where a small cocktail party was held serving champagne, chewy shrimp cocktail, some spicy, juicy chicken, and small quesadillas (I think). As people piled into the room, mostly all finalists for the Golden Heart award, the room was abuzz with joy. 


A.Y. Chao, a finalist herself in fantasy YA fiction and an author I met at the networking event, seemingly sensing my social anxiety, came up to me and introduced me to some of the writers at the reception. 


At 7:30 the reception kicked off with a bang of a mic by the host. She went on to congratulate every one of the finalists who were here today and explained how the reception would work. They would call the finalists name, their certificate would be presented to them, and their picture would be taken. 


And so it began. After every name, all women, everybody cheered and clapped, showing a display of solidarity in their writing community of romance. 


Although my first day at the conference was underwhelming, for the first time I got to see a gathering of writers passionate to learn how to better their craft. Often in the real world, telling someone you’re a writer gets a plain “okay” and the subject is quickly changed. But here things were different. Everyone didn’t mind indulging in each other’s fantasies, and everyone seemed happy to talk to one another. Most importantly, considering pretty much all the writers there were women, there was a display of solidarity and confidence in one another as women who supported each other; something that’s not often portrayed in the media.


July 23

What to Do in NYC 

If You’re Here for RWA2019

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By Lori Perkins

New York City can be overwhelming and exciting and expensive, especially if you only have a few hours for yourself when you’re here for a convention.  But New York is also a one-of-a kind experience, and even if you’ve been here a hundred times, there are always exciting, unique things to do that won’t be here the next time you come.


Lucky for all of you, this year’s RWA convention coincides with the semi-annual Restaurant Week, a two-week promotion in which 100 of the city’s most awesome restaurants offer a three-course prix fixe lunch and dinner special menu at  $26 and $42 respectively.  This is a great time to experience some of the city’s classic restaurants like the 21 Club (no jeans and men must wear a jacket), Michael’s (the former jet set locale of the literary set in the last decade) or The Monkey Bar, as well as number of Danny Meyer of Daniel Boulud experiences. But do make a reservation ASAP. 


Of course, people come to NYC for the theater, and there’s plenty of Broadway shows to catch.  My suggestion there is What the Constitution Means to Me by Heidi Schrek, which was a Tony nominee and a Pulitzer finalist. It is a powerful female-centric play that will surprise you with its feminism.


If you’re a Harry Potter fan (and who isn’t?), there’s the two-part Harry Potter and The Cursed Child, which is an amazing theater experience featuring a grown up Harry Potter and the further Hogwarts misadventures of the Potter gang’s kids. Although J.K. Rowling’s name is on the playbill, it’s really just really good Harry Potter fan fiction or fan theater.


If you don’t have a whole day for theater, and/or you can’t spend quite as much on tickets, there’s Puffs the Play. This heartbreakingly hilarious yet loving send-up of Harry Potter tells the story of seven eventful years at a certain Wizard school through the eyes of the misfit members of Hufflepuff. Excellently acted and produced at the New World Stages complex, tickets start at only $39. After a three-year run, the show will be closing August 18th (and opening in Australia!) so now's the time to see it.  New World Stages is only a short walk from the Marriott Marquis at 340 W 50th.


If you’re a little adventurous and willing to leave the island of Manhattan, there are currently two amazing Alice in Wonderland productions in Brooklyn.  Then She Fell is an interactive experience in a three-story edifice that has you walk through different rooms of Alice’s adventures, with an entire tea party towards the end.  There are only about a dozen “seats” sold each night, because you are literally walking through the play from room to room. A one-of-a-kind experience that is different each time you go (I’ve been twice). Worth every penny.

Queen of Hearts is an Alice in Wonderland burlesque show that is part Cabaret and part Cirque de Soilel in a fabulous hidden Brooklyn space that will shock you with its elegance and decadence.  You can watch the show while drinking specialty drinks or absinthe, as you are waited on by the scantily clad performers, both male and female.  Another once in a lifetime/must-see experience,


New York is also one of the art centers of the world, and there are two shows you should try to see while you are here.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art is currently showing Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock’n’Roll, which is as good as any pop culture music exhibit I’ve ever seen at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page lent quite a lot of his personal collectibles, as well as gave a great interview about how he feels about his instruments, and there are equally revealing interviews with Tom Morello, Eddie van Halen and Keith Richards.


Every two years the Whitney Museum gathers art from all over the world that the curators feel represents the zeitgeist.  Known as The Whitney Biennial, it is currently going on.  If you’re at all curious about how Trumpworld has translated into art, you might want to make the trip.

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July 22

Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton Novels to Become Netflix Series Developed By Shonda Rhimes

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By Lori Perkins

But wait—there’s even more!


Julie Andrews is set to star. The eight-episode series will premiere some time in 2020.

The best-selling Regency series will be shot in London.  The Netflix official description reads as follows: "From the glittering ballrooms of Mayfair to the aristocratic palaces of Park Lane and beyond, the series unveils a seductive, sumptuous world replete with intricate rules and dramatic power struggles, where no one is truly ever on steady ground. At the heart of the show is the powerful Bridgerton family. Comprised of eight close-knit siblings, this funny, witty, daring and clever group must navigate the upper ten thousand’s marriage mart in search of romance, adventure and love."

Julie Andrews (who worked with Rhimes on The Princess Diaries 2) will be the voice of Lady Whistledown, the unseen gossip writer. Rege-Jean Page, who worked with Rhimes on the legal drama For the People‚ is the male lead and plays Simon Bassett, the Duke who is the most eligible bachelor in town. Phoebe Dynevor (Younger) plays Daphne Bridgerton, the young ingénue waiting to make her debut.

The cast also includes Golda Rosheuvel (Lady MacBeth) as Queen Charlotte; Jonathan Bailey (Broadchurch) as Anthony Bridgerton, the eldest sibling; Luke Newton (The Cut) as Colin Bridgerton; Claudia Jessie (Doctor Who) as Eloise Bridgerton; Nicola Coughlan (Harlots) as Penelope Featherington, a girl with a sharp wit; Ruby Barker (Doctors) as Marina Thompson, who is sent to live with her cousins, the Featheringtons; Sabrina Bartlett (Victoria) as Siena Rosso, an opera singer; Ruth Gemmell (Penny Dreadful) as Lady Violet Bridgerton, the matriarch of the family; Adjoa Andoh (Thunderbirds) as Lady Danbury, the dowager who runs the town; and Polly Walker (Pennyworth) as Lady Portia Featherington, the most matriarch of her family.

"We could not have found a more gifted group of actors to bring Bridgerton to life," lead writer Van Dusen said in a statement. "When creating this series, the goal was to turn a very traditional genre on its head and make something fresh, smart, sexy and fun. That’s exactly what this cast embodies and I'm ridiculously excited to see them inhabit these characters and captivate viewers in their own incredibly brilliant ways.”


July 21

Alice in Wonderland Burlesque Comes to Brooklyn


By Lori Perkins

Imagine that Lady Gaga and Cirque de Soliel collaborated on a music and dance extravaganza in middle-of-nowhere Brooklyn, where you could watch this performance from a comfortable black leather sofa while sipping absinthe and eating chocolate truffles.  This is Queen of Hearts, a two and a half hour theatrical performance that is both elegant and decadent, as well as just a bit surreal.


This extremely talented troupe of dancers, gymnasts and singers know as Company XIV, created and directed by Austin McCormick, have been doing slightly naughty re-interpretations of classic fairy tales such as Cinderella for a little over a decade. But their version of Alice in Wonderland is a must-see experience.


All the familiar elements of the Lewis Carroll tale are there –The Mad Tea Party, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, The Cheshire Cat, the Caterpillar—but they are almost unrecognizable here, and certainly NOT Disney.  Some of the above-your-head acrobatics reminded me of the setting of Behind the Green Door.


I am an Alice in Wonderland aficionado – I have seen Alice theatrical performances all over the world, and even in French.  While I love the interactive And Then She Fell (currently still playing in Brooklyn too), this is by far the most adult and creative interpretation of Wonderland I have seen.


The show takes place in a nondescript Brooklyn storefront on a side street, but when you enter there are two bars with an array of themed drinks (the Mad Hatter drink is served in a tea cup) and Caberet-esque bartenders and servers who you soon learn are the actual performers who are so damn good. It’s an amazing experience from the moment you walk in the doors, and you are welcome to stay and nibble on the macaroons or truffle potato chips after the show.


This show runs through August 18 with tickets ranging from $59 to $159 (some with drinks included). Performances are Thursdays - Sundays and select Wednesdays Purchase at


July 20

Olympic Skier Gus Kenworthy Splits From Longtime Boyfriend Matthew Wilkas

Screen Shot 2019-07-20 at 9.06.42 AM.png


By David T. Valentin 

Gus Kenworthy, an LGBTQ icon who won the hearts of America during the 2018 Winter Olympics where he won a silver medal in freestyle skiing, has recently split from his boyfriend of four years, Matthew Wilkas.  The couple have been together since 2015 when Kenworthy, 27, sent Wilkas, 41, an actor, a direct message on Instagram.


Kenworthy and his spokesperson were quick to note that the split was mutual between the two due to their lives going in different directions; Gus being an Olympic athlete and Matthew being an actor.


“With my job, I’m always on the road, so I think that makes it pretty tough,” Kenworthy said to Entertainment Weekly last year. “I think that’s hard for any relationship, and long-distance is tough.” 

But Gus is not all too sad. While calling Wilkas “an amazing communicator,” Gus went on to explain the inner workings of their relationship and hinted at the break-up. “So we kind of just talk through everything and work through stuff, and I’d say it’s a pretty good relationship. I’m happy about it.” 


Kenworthy, however, seems to be moving full steam ahead, trying to move forward. This fall, he’ll be starring as Emma Roberts’ love interest in American Horror Story: 1984.

Kenworthy, however, seems to be moving full steam ahead, trying to move forward. This fall, he’ll be starring as Emma Roberts’ love interest in American Horror Story: 1984.

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July 19

Paving a New Road With Sound Waves:

‘Old Town Road’ and Lil Nas X

Sets New Precedent For LGBT Musicians


By David T. Valentin 

While some may be sick of Lil Nas X song ‘Old Town Road,’ a song that has spent 15 weeks on the No. 1 spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart and will certainly break the record of 16 weeks at No. 1, its influence for future LGBTQ musicians is undeniable. 


As most modern songwriters of our time would modify their image, or music, for the sake of an easy label, Lil Nas X has refused to conform. Instead, Lil Nas X decided to use his identity as a LGBT PoC to draw upon different sounds from different genres to create the hit song ‘Old Town Road.’


Billboard’s Stephen Daw said, “Part of the reason why ‘Old Town Road’ has become such a monster hit is due to its blending of musical styles, which puts the song into a hard-to-qualify sonic territory and gives it a certain fluidity.”


The blend of music makes it so that there is something for everyone, no matter what genre of music one may prefer. 

Billboard reported Tuesday, ‘Old Town Road’ now holds the distinction of being the longest-leading No. 1 hit by an openly queer artist in Hot 100 history, dethroning Elton John’s ‘Candle in the Wind 1997/Something About the Way You Look Tonight,’ which topped the chart for 14 weeks 22 years ago. 

After a fairly obvious coming out tweet, Lil Nas X opened up about his sexuality in recent interviews, specifically about what his coming out means to other artists and himself. Lil Nas X has gone on to say that he believes he’s diversifying the country and hip-hop genres, where identifying as LGBTQ is still “Not really accepted.”


Lil Nas X opened up about his sexuality, “It’s something I was considering never doing, ever. Taking to the grave. But I don’t want to live my entire life—especially how I got to where I’m at—not doing what I want to do.”


While Lil Nas X is shaking up the music industry, his success as an LGBTQ PoC crossover leads me to wonder how long will it be till we get a M/M romance where one of the love interests is a PoC country singer? Hopefully soon.

July 18


Dating and Self-Reflection

By David Valentin

When thinking often about dating, we think of candle-lit dinners with expensive wines, brisk walks through a park on a spring day, and pajama dates watching Netflix as the hours melt into mere seconds. What we don’t think of when searching for a significant other is the thought that we might be faced with our ugly side, our opposite in weakness and in strength. That’s exactly what Andrew Lee was confronted with when a nine-hour date almost ended abruptly when his date, Sarah, told him that his race might be an issue. 


What was supposed be a one-hour coffee date had evolved into a nine-hour soul binding experience. With discussions of the five love languages during dinner, telling stories about each other’s exes, and finding that their upbringings were essentially mirrors of one another, Lee did not see exactly how the date could go wrong. Well, it did. 


“You’re the first Asian guy I’ve ever gone on a date with. I’m not sure how I feel about that,” Sarah said. To which Lee responded by saying, “Hey don’t worry about it…sometimes things get between people. Like racism.” 


After an odd discussion in front of Sarah’s apartment, she had confessed that she enjoyed all the good parts about her Asian-American culture, but despised all the hardships and the sense of other that came with it. 


“I grew up believing Asians weren’t desired,” Sarah said. “I just wanted to fit in, but my friends had a hard time understanding my parents, and our house didn’t look or smell like my friends’ homes. Whenever I complained about how different we were, my parents would just remind me that despite my efforts, people will always treat me like I don’t belong.”

Lee realized something for himself, in that moment. Despite their similarities, they did not have the same experience growing up. Lee felt quite the opposite from Sarah. Unlike her family who was ashamed of being different, Lee’s family was proud of their ancestry. 


But Lee didn’t reject Sarah, despite her racism. He saw this as a moment of honesty and vulnerability. And so he listened to her. After she went through her own self-hatred in her sense of feeling different, she realized she really liked Lee. And, after a few moments too close to one another, Sarah wanted to kiss him. They kissed. And then before going inside into her apartment, and lingering outside in the doorframe, Sarah gave another kiss to Lee. 


After many months, more dates, kisses, and moments of vulnerability, Lee and Sarah will be marrying in Colorado on Aug. 31, 2019. 


This story originally appeared in the Modern Love section of The New York Times,

July 17

Big Dresses and Big Issues

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By Lilli McHale

No, these ladies aren’t just dressing up for nothing. These outfits represent old school southern style and hospitality with a little twist. The Azealea Trail Maids have been around for a long time. They got to walk the walk for President Obama’s first inauguration parade before making trips to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade and Disney’s Easter Parade. 


These young ladies are trying to serve up a modern representation of the south in their whooping 50-pound dresses and to do so is no easy feat. Becoming a Trail Maid is considered a true honor and challenge. In a profile done by NPR, the girls ranged from valedictorians to National Merit Scholars. In addition, there is an intensive interview process for which some even take classes or rehearse for a long time to do well in. These girls are looked to represent their southern town of Mobile, Alabama. They serve for one year and often do nothing besides wave, pose for photos, and don antebellum dresses worth thousands of dollars. 


Profiler Adair Rutledge reflects, "There's sort of a disconnect between what the dress represents historically and these multicultural, highly accomplished modern young women who wear it now," she says. "They're not exact replicas, but they are modeled after the attire of the white Southern plantation-era elite, which means that they are the gowns that were once worn by the wives of slave owners. ... I really want people to be asking these questions around gender and identity and race and the tensions that are created from being a young Southern black woman wearing an antebellum hoop skirt."

Rutledge interviewed others to find out their stories, "I tried out for Trail for all the little black girls who wanted a dress like that, but they were slaves and they couldn't have one,"’ said Kaycee Tate, the valedictorian of her high school’s graduating class. "If you were to tell a little black girl who was picking cotton, you know back in the day, 'Hey, in a few hundred years maybe you'll get to wear a dress like that too,' no one would believe you. So I'm kind of a testament to times have changed."


But for Rutledge, the project has taken a larger turn, "There are just all these tensions that are fighting each other, like between the modern woman and the sort of antiquated tradition that manifests itself in the big dress," says Rutledge, currently based in Seattle. She added: "I hope the work encourages people to ask bigger questions about gender and race, particularly in the context of our national conversations on issues like the #MeToo movement and removal of Civil War monuments."


This story originally apeeared here:

July 16

Move Out Or Get Married: Dallas Church Offers Free Weddings to Couples Living Together,

on One Condition


CreditConcord Church Media Ministry

By David T. Valentin

Nowadays, it’s not all that uncommon for couples of all ages and sexualities to be living together before marriage in the hopes that their relationship will grow strong and, eventually, grow into marriage. But this is actually not always the case.


One Concord Church, a nondenominational Christian Church, in Dallas, questions why many couples live together for so long but do not marry. So, they proposed a challenge: couples either get married, receive a free wedding alongside other candidates of the challenge, go through 11 weeks of marriage counseling prior to the marriage, and receive a whole year with a marriage counselor, or move out. In 2016, 25 couples married in a mass ceremony, after they agreed to 11 weeks of premarital counseling. This year, 50 couples have signed up for a September ceremony.


Pastor Bryan Carter believes cohabitation is not the correct lifestyle choice for couples in committed relationships. “We believe marriage builds a better foundation for people than saying, ‘Hey, let me try you out for a few weeks. Let’s live together,’” he said. 


And there is research to back up Rev. Carter. According to one researcher in the psychology department at the University of Denver, “those who cohabited before marriage have an increased annual risk for marital disillusion that is about 30 percent higher than those who did not cohabit before marriage.”

As the Rev. Carter said in a video interview, he believes that living together creates a sexual relationship without the covenant relationship. Carter believes couples who are not interested in eventual marriage shouldn’t be living together. 


Luckily for those couples that are not interested in marriage, Mr. Carter’s church offers rent money for couples to move out as well. 


Carter’s challenge and philosophies doesn’t come without criticism. He argues that the idea is to build better, stable families that are beneficial to the couple and, in the long run, their kids. The idea is commitment to self and community.  Others believe that some pre-marital cohabiting strengthens relationships and takes one even further into the eventual commitment of marriage.


This article originally appeared here:

July 15

Oldest Home In Manhattan Holds Annual

George Washington Cabinet Dinner


George and Martha Washington pose for guests at the annual Washington Dinner at the Morris-Jumel Mansion.

By Lori Perkins

Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams and their wives joined George and Martha Washington at the first cabinet dinner on July 12, 1790, at the Morris-Jumel Mansion in upper Manhattan. The oldest existing house in Manhattan was built in 1765 and served as Washington’s headquarters in the fall of 1776. This Bastille Day, about 200 of New York’s history buffs, historical foodies and sons and daughters of the American revolution came to 163rd Street and Edgecombe Avenue to experience a four-course Colonial meal largely based on the cookbooks of Martha Washington.


The evening opened with a cocktail hour on the flagstone promenade of the house where specialty drinks of bourbon and cider or port, rum, Cointreau and mint were offered with a floating array of potato puffs and tiny pork pot pieces.

The main courses were served beneath an outdoor tent on a beautiful moonlit night. The first course was as salmon and asparagus plate, followed by a layered salad, then a delicious apricot tart paired with pork loin and finally Martha’s own cherry pie with ice cream. As guests ate, Ramin Ganeshram, author of The General’s Cook, talked about writing her novel about the slave Hercules who was Washington’s cook. Eighteenth-century music was be performed by Washington Heights Chamber Orchestra as guests ate.

Guests had the opportunity to step inside the Morris-Jumel Mansion before the dinner for a special tour of the museum focusing on the recently unveiled restoration of the Octagon Room with a recreated rug from the time period in the first Octagon-shaped room in the colonies. Ticket also includes the opportunity for a book-signing and conversation with our featured speaker, Ramin Ganeshram, author of The General’s Cook and early admission to the cocktail hour.


July 14

Religion As A Source Of Strength For LGBTQ+ People: The Religious Roots of Pride


David T. Valentin 

With Anti-LGBTQ+ Vice President Mike Pence, the poster child for religious conservatives against LGBTQ+ people of America in office, it’s easy to forget that religion and human sexuality, specifically those of queer identity, are not entirely separate. 


In a recent article in The Advocate, Brett Krutzsch, a noted author and scholar of religion and LGBTQ+ politics, believes that America has focused too long on anti gay religious leaders and politicians like Vice President Pence. Within his commentary article Krutzsch discusses how, throughout history, religious organizations have been—and should continue to be—sources of strength for many LGBTQ+ individuals. 


Krutzsch says, “When we fail to recognize how religion has shaped LGBTQ communities, our activism, and the aspirational dreams of so many LGBTQ people, we let anti gay religious leaders and politicians speak on behalf of all religious people.”

He points out that in 1970, the Reverend Troy Perry, a Baptist minister turned Pentecostal preacher, organized the first Pride parade. Perry had come out as gay in the 1960s and started a church in his Los Angeles home for gay and lesbian Christians. 

Krutzsch states that throughout the 1970s, gay and lesbian churches, synagogues, and religious organizations appeared throughout the country and still exist today. He points out that his year as the first openly gay presidential candidate, Pete Buttigieg, is firmly committed and engaged in his Protestant community and Christian faith.

He ended the article by saying “We need to stop indulging the illusion that … Mike Huckabee, or Mike Pence, or any other antigay religious figure is a more legitimate Christian than someone like the Reverend Troy Perry who proudly declared, “The Lord is my shepherd and He knows I’m Gay.”

 This article originally appeared in:


July 13


It’s Going To Be A Crowded Parent-Teacher Conference: Child Has A Four-Person Co-parenting Team Of Three Dads And A Mom

David T. Valentin 

The saying goes that it takes a village to raise a child. That was certainly true with Lori Tipton’s child, Wilder, when she had to get creative on how to have a child even though her partner of a decade, Andy, had had a vasectomy early in their relationship and had no desire to have a biological child of his own. 


After thinking, rethinking, thinking again, and eventually deciding against approaching a fertility clinic due to frequent mistakes, Lori approached her friend, Lee, and asked if he “would ever consider co-parenting” with her. Luckily for Lori, Lee said yes. 


The two agreed to discuss the matter over dinner with Lori, Andy, Lee, and Lee’s partner—Clint—where they all decided to raise a child together as Lori believes the demanding task of raising a child “must be easier with four parents!” 


After Lori became pregnant at home with a specimen cup, a needle-less syringe and “a wealth of knowledge from lesbian pregnancy blogs on the internet,” the four of them began to create the family they are today. 


Wilder, now five, gets four different stories and personalities from his parents. The experience has certainly been easier with four parents. With two busy parents a child may be ignored and not given the attention they need, and parents often lose their own personal time while raising a child, Wilder can bounce between four people. The experience grants him the attention he needs and gives a break to the other parents. 

Lori said, “In a country that has held on tightly—disastrously so—to the notion that mothers should be able to do everything without asking for other’s help, the four of us have gratefully shared the duties of parenthood with the understanding of how it benefits us all.” 


Of course, co-parenting does not come without challenges, but it does provide a deeper level of introspection and endless possibilities to Wilder that normal parenting would not. 


This story originally appeared in this article:

Bluestocking Banter


~your monthly dish of historical romance

An Interview with Jennae Vale

This month, Bluestocking Banter interviews Jennae Vale.


Hi, Jennae, and welcome to Bluestocking Banter. 


As the author of the Romance Readers Guide to Historic London, I’m always interested in how authors choose the setting for their novels. What interesting settings have you used outside the standard period ballrooms and castles?


Jennae: I chose to set Raider of the Deep on a fictitious island I named Manta Cay. When I think of pirates I always imagine them in the Caribbean Sea and so it felt right to me to set my story there. I also made use of the pirate ships and the open sea, but my favorite setting in the story is the port of pre-revolution Charleston. In fact, I enjoyed it so much I’m thinking of setting an upcoming series during that time period and in Charleston. I love American history, especially the colonial period.


From all your books, who is your favorite hero, a gent you’d like to meet in person or revisit with another story?


Jennae: This is almost like asking a mother who her favorite child is. I have loved all my heroes, but if I had to choose I think I’d go with the very first, Cailin MacBayne from A Bridge Through Time. He was the hero of my dreams and I wrote him to encompass all of the things I love about a good romantic hero. He was handsome, brave, funny, loving, the perfect gentleman, but he also had just a little bit of the rogue in him. He was in my head and heart for a good long time as I wrote. Cailin appears in just about every Thistle and Hive book I write because his relationship with Ashley, his family and my readers is so special.


What excites you about your latest or upcoming release?


Jennae: Raider of the Deep was a departure of sorts for me. I usually write time travel romance that moves back and forth through time from present day San Francisco to sixteenth century Scotland. Raider is a one hundred percent historical set in the eighteenth century. The time period, as well as the setting were all new to me. I’d never written a pirate story and new very little about ships, so I was excited to put in the time necessary to research everything needed to bring this story to life. I bought books on ships and pirates, and Google became my best friend. I love research almost as much as I love writing.


Raider of the Deep

A beloved father’s murder, stolen treasure, and a handsome pirate who may be the man that destroyed her family…


Lizette Wickham and Rourke Mackall are thrown together by fate and a need to discover the truth. Together they navigate the waters surrounding her island home in search of a murderer and a thief. Of course, these revelations will come at a price, for Rourke has never loved a woman for more than a night, and the fiercely independent Lizette will never give in until she gets what she wants.


Learn more and buy Jennae’s book on Amazon.


Jennae Vale is a best-selling author of romance with a touch of magic. As a history buff from an early age, Jennae often found herself day-dreaming in history class — wondering what it would be like to live in the places and time periods she was learning about. Writing time travel romance has given her an opportunity to take those daydreams and turn them into stories to share with readers everywhere.


Originally from the Boston area, Jennae now lives in the San Francisco Bay area, where some of her characters also reside. When Jennae isn’t writing, she enjoys spending time with her family and her pets, and daydreaming, of course. Learn more about Jennae on at and meet her on Facebook, Twitter, BookBub, and Instagram.


Learn more about Sonja Rouillard and her Romance Readers Guide to Historic London at


July 11

Harlequin Books Announces Diversity

Mentorship Program


Harper Collins

By Lilli McHale

Harlequin books, a division of HarperCollins, announces the launch of a mentorship initiative that offers aspiring romance writers from underrepresented communities the chance to work one-on-one with a Harlequin editor for a year on writing a romance novel. The mentorship includes an offer to publish their book and $5,000 to support their writing.  According to their press release, this Romance Includes You Mentorship is part of Harlequin’s active efforts to find new talent and bring more stories representing diverse and own voices to romance readers.

Submissions for the program will begin to be accepted on September 1. The 12-month mentorship with a romance editor, who will provide editorial guidance during the writing process and share firsthand insights and knowledge on the romance market and the publishing industry, is open to resident of North America only. The goal of the mentorship program is for the selected writer to develop a manuscript during the mentorship that Harlequin can publish in one of its 12 series romance lines or Carina Press.

This opportunity is open to unpublished or self-published writers from underrepresented communities who have a strong desire to write romance fiction for adult readers and want to add their diverse voices and own voices to the romance genre. “We’re committed to publishing diverse and inclusive voices so that readers see themselves reflected in the stories we publish,” said Loriana Sacilotto, Harlequin’s Executive Vice President. “We are actively working to acquire more traditionally underrepresented and diverse voices. 

Submissions for the Romance Includes You Mentorship will be accepted from September 1 to October 15, 2019. A judging panel whose representatives have broad experience editing, publishing and marketing multicultural, interracial and LGBTQ+ romance fiction will review the final shortlist of submissions.

Submission criteria and more details are available at

This initiative is part of Harlequin’s ongoing outreach activities to encourage story submissions from traditionally underrepresented and diverse voices through submission drives and to broaden diversity, representation and inclusion in its publishing program. Harlequin supports writers conferences and organizations promoting inclusion and diversity in publishing, and regularly participates in #DVpit story pitching events on Twitter that connect editors with marginalized writers.

July 10

Arab Princess Flees Dubai

(This is NOT the plot of a romance novel)


Tiina Jauhiainen

By Lilli McHale

The wife of Dubai Prince Emir Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, Princess Haya has ran away from her kingdom and is currently hiding for her life in London. It is said that she learned about Princess Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed Al Maktoum who tried to run from her father’s rule but was caught in 2018, despite taking seven years to create her escape plan. 


Princess Haya is believed to be hiding in a $107 million townhouse in Kensington Palace Gardens in London. It is said that she is attempting to divorce her husband, the prime minister and vice president of the United Arab Emirates. She took her two children as well. 


Her escape was first documented on June 22nd by a Jordanian journalist. The government told Business Insider. "The UAE government does not intend to comment on allegations about individuals' private lives."

While Princess Haya is married to the Vice President, her father was King Hussein of Jordan. Sources claim Princess Haya learned about the disappearance of one of her husband’s 23 children and got worried. 

The CEO of a Dubai-based advocacy group stated, "Princess Haya has every reason to fear the consequences if she were to be sent back to Dubai. She surely knows, as Latifa knew, that asylum provides her the only safe route out of the royal palace … If she was abused, she could not go to the police; if she wanted a divorce, she could not go to the courts."

The Prince, a poet, wrote about his wife’s fleeing, saying, "We have an ailment that no medicine can cure / No experts in herbs can remedy this."

Six days ago, the British press reported that Princess Haya had “enlisted the expertise of” Baroness Shackleton, a lawyer frequently used by the British royal family to litigate divorce proceedings against her husband.

July 9

Spider-Man: Far From Home,

a Refreshing Tale of Romance


As millions of people flocked the theaters on July 2nd for the opening of Spider-Man: Far From Home, I probably went to bed at 10:00 p.m. that night, had my occasional six Oreos with my glass of almond silk milk, and went to sleep. Of course, as the days ticked on the looming threat of spoilers in the form of memes and uncensored Tumblr articles came in droves. It became obvious that I needed to see the movie as soon as possible before the spoilers got to me.  So, with millions of other people yesterday, I went to see Spider-Man: Far From Home as soon as my schedule allowed. 


As the movie opened up with a hilarious recap of the events of Avengers: Endgame and the consequences of Thanos’ finger snap, the camera pans to Peter Parker and his best friend Ned Leeds discussing a plan for Parker to get MJ, the girl her is crushing on, to sit next to him. Parker plans to woo MJ with a double headphone jack so they could spend the flight watching movies together, shoulder to shoulder, and laughing at corny comedies. Once in Venice, he plans to give her a necklace of a glass flower because, “Venice is really good with glass things, right?” He ends his discussion by saying he “really, really, really likes her.”


 Not too long after, the movie establishes there will be some competition with Parker’s classmate, Brad Davis, who was not blipped away in Thanos’ snap, went through puberty during the five years everyone else was gone, and is now really hot, which will create a spicy love triangle. 


I admit I rolled my eyes as I thought I had to sit through yet another forced and boring conflict of men fighting over the quirky love interest. However, the subplot was anything but forced and boring. 


As we watch Peter Parker go on his class trip to Europe, he’s constantly trying to find time alone with MJ, which is thwarted when Nicholas Fury requests that he deal with the threat of the elementals. Time and time again, he is forced to run away from his classmates to become Spider-Man so that he may save the day yet again. 


As Parker’s attention keeps being pushed away from MJ, it seems Brad, the athletic, tall, and handsome young man—contrasted with Parker’s awkward, nerdy and short stature—will win out in the end. 


But throughout the movie, MJ rejects Brad because of her interest in Parker (and her suspicions that he is Spider-Man), becomes Parker’s second trusted friend with his Spider-Man secret, and ultimately ends up kissing the awkward, bloodied, battle-worn Parker as he rambles on and messes up his planned speech in telling her that he likes her. 


In the end, the hero gets the girl and all is well (or mostly well). At first the movie appears as a classic end tale of a superhero romance. But the story is actually a subversion of classical superhero archetypes. 

To start off, Zendaya’s portrayal of MJ is different from others we have seen. In previous comic books, cartoons and movies, MJ is shown as the smart, snarky and sexy redheaded, white beauty usually dressed in slim-fitted dresses which show off an hourglass figure. MJ’s traditional appearance and personality as experienced, elegant and easily social serves to contrast Parker’s own inexperience, clumsy and socially awkward features. Each depiction of the characters serves to set up a nerd archetype going for the popular girl archetype. But with MJ’s classical depiction as the popular girl, it sets up their relationship for failure as it becomes obvious to audience members that Parker could never be enough for MJ. 

Zendaya’s portrayal in the MCU is a subversion of the popular girl trope. Instead, she’s changed to the quirky, sarcastic and awkward archetype which is normally set aside as a minor side character that gets tormented by the popular girl archetype in the school setting. Zendaya’s MJ speaks quickly, walks awkwardly clomping around in her big black boots with a slight slouch in her posture. The quirky, sarcastic, and awkward archetype side character is moved to the center. Her appearance is different, too. Zendaya’s MJ brings baggy clothes, curly-thick hair, and no make-up caked up on her face, demonstrating a different type of beauty that the men of the film and members of the audience could appreciate and find different positive representation. 

For once, MJ’s awkward portrayal is matched with Peter Parker’s awkwardness, sending the message to audience members that even those of the ideal beauty have their own stories and that they end happily as well. In the end MJ doesn’t fall for the pushy, athletic type, but for the klutzy, awkward featured Peter Parker. 


It’s like killing two birds with one stone: representing positive masculinity and equal representation. 


Even at the end of the movie when the two share a kiss, it is Parker—not MJ—who is reduced to a stuttering mess trying to explain his emotions. MJ—not Parker—initiates the kiss to shut Parker up to demonstrate her own feelings to him. Then they proceed to make out, awkwardly, on screen while Parker is covered in dirt and blood from head to toe. 


And even then, during the make out scene, the kisses aren’t at all sexy. The both of them stand just a little too far from one another, there aren’t hands sliding up one another, and there’s no epic music score blaring ever too loudly over the surround sound in the movie theatre exclaiming “You should care about this!” We care because the romance was built at a steady and comfortable pace for both characters and both are ready to confess feelings for each other. 


The romance is refreshing to those bored of the old 80’s, 90’s, and even many 00’s movies of 30 year-olds—athletic, tall, and always with perfect sleek hair—playing 17 year-old high school students. The movie represents a positive romance that shows love takes time, and shows it’s okay for the partners of a relationship to move at a pace they’re comfortable with. I only hope, moving forward, we get more of these types of relationships which sets a better precedent for generations to come. 


By David T. Valentin

Marvel Studios

July 8

Marianne & Leonard:

A Muse and The Man She Loved


Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love is the new documentary about the Canadian folk singer Leonard Cohen and his muse from his early years, Norwegian Marianne Ihlen


I only knew Leonard Cohen in his later years.  I did not know that when he was young and poor he wrote a novel that was so bad it made him turn to song writing, and that he had lived in Hydra, Greece with Marianne who inspired him in both his novel and his early song writing days (he wrote five songs about her).  I also did not know that he was terrible to her, left her alone in Greece while he partied with too many other women (a young Janis Joplin shows up in this film), and that after years of not being loved right, she let him go, but they both never let go completely.

When she was on her deathbed, having been diagnosed with leukemia and married to someone else, an equally old Leonard Cohen sent her a telegram, which we see being read to Marianne in her hospital bed. 

“Dearest Marianne,

I’m just a little behind you, close enough to take your hand. This old body has given up, just as yours has too, and the eviction notice is on its way any day now.

I’ve never forgotten your love and your beauty. But you know that. I don’t have to say any more. Safe travels old friend. See you down the road. Love and gratitude.

— Leonard

It’s such a poignant scene. Here is an old sick man reaching out to his sick lover with a message she has wanted to hear her whole life.

She died in Oslo on July 28, 2016 at age 81; Cohen died four months later of cancer at 82 on November 7, 2016.

Everything else in this two-hour, mostly black and white documentary is really focused on the times that made Leonard Cohen Leonard Cohen, which are a fascinating tapestry of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, followed by the shock of his disappearing to become a Buddhist for five years and returning as an old man whose business manager has stolen all his money, so he starts over in 2001.  That is why the song Halleluiah is the one we all know him for, and not Goodbye Marianne, which really starts and ends this documentary of a complicated love story, but a love story nonetheless.


By Lilli McHale

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