What Is a Multicultural Novel?

IMG_4759When I find the courage to peek at my Amazon rankings, I consistently see my highest ranking in the category of “multicultural” novels. I was surprised I had written a multicultural novel. I thought I’d written a crime novel. There’s an interracial romance; maybe that makes the book multicultural. And maybe also because it is set in Detroit, a city with a black majority population. Then there’s my white main character, who writes from a first person pov.

My book’s been out about a month and it’s taken me this much time to think about the multicultural label and what it means. Is it good? Is it bad? Does it matter? My first concern was if I had been accidentally slotted into a category where I did not belong and had no right to be in. I did a search for adult multicultural novels and was relieved to see I’d read and adored most of them: Life of Pi, Poisonwood Bible, The Namesake, The Kite Runner, Like Water For Chocolate. This was not academic research, just a quick look at Goodreads. Barbara Kingsolver is the only white author in my short list. Other authors are Indian-American, Spanish-Canadian, Mexican, Afghan-American.

Next I came across an essay-ish letter from a famous Detroit novelist. I’d read and adored his book, too. Middlesex is also set in Detroit, but in another era, when there were many first generation immigrants settling in Detroit, and the family in Middlesex is still steeped in Greek tradition, which is how the novel ALMOST became multicultural. The author is very happy that he did not allow that to happen as he believes that to call a novel “multicultural” is to subtly denigrate it.


Here’s what I think. Amazon will have her labels and it has nothing to do with authors or books. In all the books I mentioned, two cultures mash up against each other, make accommodations or not. That is happening in Detroit and it is happening all over the USA. I see it every night on television when white police officers shoot black men and boys, over and over, night after night. I see it in the #BlackLivesMatter movement. I see it when CK takes a knee and some people don’t get that it is not about disrespect for the flag or our military. With the disarray our country is in, I didn’t know how I could write a novel set in Detroit with a white woman protagonist and simply ignore race.

On the other hand, I wasn’t sure how to include race. For a minute I thought I might be able to ignore it because I didn’t have a clue how to do it. But I write realism, or something close to it, and I had my heart set on writing a crime novel set in Detroit featuring Lily White. I didn’t know she’d meet a black cop. I didn’t know they’d click. But it makes sense. Half the cops in Detroit are black. Once I had those two locked in as the main characters, I found my way. And whatever anyone wants to call it is okay with me.




Pieces of Me: Creating Lily White

In a racially divided city a black cop and a white PI team up to solve a double homicide. What they uncover leads them closer to the truth, and to each other.

There were so many things I wanted to avoid when I started this book. I knew there would be violence and death. I knew I’d have to reckon with race, and I knew it would be difficult to get that part right, but I didn’t think I’d have an interracial couple on my hands. I was writing psychological mystery and deliberately decided from the first words on the first page that there would be no romance. Ha.

I knew there would be PTSD. What I didn’t know is that twice as many women suffer from PSTD than men. That shocked me. We think of PTSD as a war affliction, but cops get PTSD, rape victims, too. Anyone who suffers an overload of trauma is subject to PTSD.  One of the effects of PTSD is extreme anxiety that can play out in many ways: panic attacks and mentally crippling phobias are the two symptoms I have personally experienced.

It was both difficult and freeing to write about these mental conditions that have shaped much of my life. For a long time I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I knew I was different. Wired wrong. I did not know what the hell was wrong with me. Yes, sure, bad things had happened to me. As a teen, I’d been sexually assaulted by people I trusted, like my boss, like a close friend, like a relative. I was homeless a number of times from age 15-19. My parents, who had married in their teens, had their own complex issues and I was shoved aside, shoved out of the family home.

Many friends and relatives, including my dad, took me in for short periods of time. But I lived in an abandoned car for a few weeks, in my family’s garage for awhile. Slept on the beach in Key West. People wouldn’t treat their dog the way I was treated as a kid. Children who experience trauma at a young age are more likely to develop PTSD. I have never been diagnosed with this condition, but the anxiety and panic are nearly constant companions. Before I was diagnosed, I used to cool the stress with wine. Lots of wine. I was embarrassed by my inability to control my fear. I never wanted anyone else to know how it felt to be me.

Sometimes even wine didn’t help. I ruined parts of my beautiful honeymoon in Maui because I could not be a normal passenger driving up to see the sunrise over the volcano or winding up the road to Hana. My husband is the calmest person I know. I think that’s why I was attracted to him and married him. He was my opposite and I wanted to learn to be like him. I could tell how disappointed he was in Maui when I cowered on the floor of the back seat of the car with my eyes closed to the beauty surrounding us. Shortly after the honeymoon, I had a serious car accident. I’d had one just before the wedding, too. Now it wasn’t only high places, bridges, mountains, cliffs, winding roads, or closed-in spaces that made me panic, it was just driving down the road in a car. Any road. Any car.

My husband was eventually rattled by my actions. I would beg him to slow down, pull over, drive in the slow lane, take a back road, let me out of the car. One day he said “What the hell is wrong with you? Do you think we’re going to die?” And I thought about that. My heart was racing so hard I felt it would burst out of my chest. I said YES YES I DO! His reply was that I needed a shrink.

I’d had therapy before, in another marriage. But it was not about my phobias and anxiety. I hid those even from the therapist while I tried to figure out a way to save my marriage all by myself because my ex said I was the one who was unhappy so he didn’t need to go to therapy with me. I was ashamed to even tell the therapist about my anxiety.I’d been treated so horribly by so many people that I didn’t think there was anything wrong with his decision. I went to therapy alone for two years and at the end of it I learned that I should not be married to that person. Nothing was going to fix us because for him everything was fine.

But Al was different. He loved me enough to realize that everything was not fine and he wanted to make things better for me. He saw that I needed professional help for my acute anxiety and the sheer terror that is panic. One in ten women will at some point in their life will be mentally and emotionally damaged by trauma, especially if the trauma is sexual assault or rape. A traumatic childhood just makes it that much more likely the accumulation of damage will result in chronic anxiety, phobias, or even PTSD.

I got help with my problem and I’m fine. I use medication as needed, but meds are much better than a gallon jug of cheap wine or tiny bottles of emergency vodka for when only a shot will do. These damaged parts of me are also in Lily, although I’ve fictionalized everything except the way anxiety, panic, and PTSD feel.

Lily White in Detroit is available now.


How to Soothe Pre-Book Release Jitters


My new novel is coming out in ten days. The same week, I’m hosting a family party for my son, daughter-in-law and two delicious grandchildren. They are staying with me but everyone else is coming here for the picnic next Saturday to see them, especially one-year-old Julia June, whom they’ve not yet met. Also my husband will not be here for the party, so I’m doing this solo. While preparing for my book release.

I learned of this convergence of events a few months ago, so I called Dora Badger from the Woodward Press and asked her to put together a marketing plan and prepare a press release. The plan is working and the press release has been sent.

For reviews, Dora did the research and provided links, all I had to do was contacted book bloggers. Done! I’ve already gotten some responses requesting ARCs, even an interview on one blogger’s site.

Good luck (and the graciousness of a friend) enabled me to tape an interview (did that last week) for local cable news that will air on my release day. Next on the marketing plan is scheduling guest blogs and a book tour. This makes me more nervous than being on TV for the first time, but I will do it. I know I need to front-load as much as possible because the kids are coming and of course I want to devote my time to them.

Luckily I signed up for Bouchercon 2018 a while ago hoping my book would be out and I could sell it there. The largest mystery conference in the world is in St Pete this year where I own a tiny condo, so it seemed sensible that I try to be there. My books will be on sale and I’m gathering a basket of books and other goodies from Michigan Sisters in Crime for the silent auction. (If you are a member of MiSinC, email me to get your book included.) I’m also checking out the only indie bookstore I know of in Detroit, Pages.

A few days ago, I did a little work on the landing page of my website, which I overhauled months ago to reflect the new direction into crime novels my writing has been taking me. Dora designed a new header then, so now she’s tweaking things using that to design and order book marks. She’s also putting together a press kit. I didn’t even know what a sell sheet is, but apparently it goes in the press kit. I saw her design of that, and love it. Dora’s going to have a complete press kit on my website soon. And I’ll have copies to include when I send ARCs.

So this is how I am managing to stay half-way sane during the run-up to publication day, with Dora’s help and also the input of Rachel Thompson author of “Book Marketing Challenge.” Rachel discusses a blog title check on CoSchedule.com It’s an effectiveness calculator and after five tries my title today scored a 72. Rachel says anything over 70 is good-to-go. My first title came in at 20-smething, so I’m glad I finally went there and tested my ability to create headlines that might actually bring people to my blog, which I love writing but is also pre-marketing.

To stop my nerves, jitters, and worries, I’m doing work I enjoy and it takes my mind off ruminating about whether people will like my book or if anyone will even read it. I can’t be the only author who gets the jitters and gives in to self-defeating thoughts just before a book becomes public.

Turns out instead of worrying, there’s plenty of work you can do to stop those self-defeating thoughts come true. Also, rewrite those thoughts into positive ones. “I am doing everything I can to prepare for the success of my book’s release” is my mantra now. Being confident and positive is just as important as all the other book-related stuff.

And now, I need to do laundry.