Guest Author Post: Behind the Curtain: One Story About Writing Diversity in Romance By Beth Kery

Apr 28, 2017 by

Guest Author Post: Behind the Curtain: One Story About Writing Diversity in Romance By Beth Kery

Previously, I have written books where the hero and heroine were of different races, but it wasn’t necessarily a major issue to the story. When I went to write Behind the Curtain, I knew I wanted to explore a romantic relationship where the differences between the hero and heroine’s race, religion and culture were integral to the plot and conflict of the story. Behind the Curtain possesses all the hallmarks of a traditional romance, but these differences are crucial to the conflict of the love story and the development of the characters.

I think one of the anxiety provoking things for an author about writing a character that comes from a different race, religion or background than our own is that we’re afraid of getting it wrong, and being disrespectful. The myth goes: You know the WASP world or the Irish-American world (or fill in the blank with your racial or cultural identity) so that’s what you should write about. Of course, the problem with that assumption is that it maintains a sense of separateness. As research has shown us, the best way to tear down the walls of prejudice and racism is to enter the domain of difference. Cross the line.

Of course, in creating Moroccan-American Laila Barek’s story, I was telling only one fictional character, and she had to unfold within the limits of my imagination, compassion and experience. I claim no absolute correctness as to the cultural details of her life, only that I did my best to draw her accurately and respectfully. From sources and research, I soaked up the rich and delightful traditions conferred by Moroccan culture. I watched Arabic soap operas. I learned about the traditions of a Moroccan wedding and wished like crazy someone would ask me to attend one. I salivated over some of the most delicious food in existence.

Learning Laila wasn’t as easy as just doing research and speaking to people of Moroccan heritage, however. Laila is an American, as well. I had to investigate common experiences of young people existing in two or more cultures at once, usually navigating them gracefully. Laila is a second-generation American. She attended a large public high school in Detroit, and was daily exposed to people of varying races, backgrounds and religions. She’s as hip as any of her peers on pop culture, fashion, music and technology. She longs to be a songwriter and performer, and sneaks away with her cousins to her idols’ concerts, because her mother doesn’t approve of modern music. And yet Laila loves her home life, the close-knit Moroccan neighborhood that surrounds her, the rich and comforting daily rituals, and the love of her extended family. She knows exactly what to say to her parents, and what to withhold about her life outside of their family and community. Like many people in this country, she is a unique, beautiful blend of two cultures.

Laila has two female cousins who are of a similar age. They are longtime best friends. One of my favorite representations of how they navigate their two worlds as college-age young women is what I call in the book the “art of the vehicular wardrobe change”. Laila and her cousins have perfected the skill of leaving their houses in their conservative, parent-approved clothing, pulling over on the side of the road, flinging off their clothes and changing into American-girl approved apparel and make-up, and going out for a night on the town. They have the process down to less than five minutes. It’s something they do automatically, a mundane detail of how they seamlessly manage their two worlds.

Of course, that smooth navigation grows rocky when a nineteen-year-old Laila meets Asher Gaites one idyllic summer in Crescent Bay. Their attraction and connection is instantaneous and powerful. Asher is white, privileged, headstrong, but compassionate. He’s everything Laila’s parents would not want for their cherished only daughter. Laila is expected to marry a Moroccan man.

Thus begins the conflict, much of what is associated with Laila’s very identity. Does being with Asher make her immature and insensitive in regard to her family and culture? Or is she being adult, independent and strong? Laila’s struggle is far from being just about whether to be obedient or not, although many Americans might view it that way. Romance triggers a personal crisis for Laila, one where she questions her values and very identity.

This is a romance, so love prevails, of course. As adults, Laila and Asher are given a second chance at forever. But in Behind the Curtain, I hope their happily-ever-after comes within a believable context of culture, family and personal identity.


(May 2nd, Berkley)

There’s something about this woman…

On a break between overseas jobs, journalist Asher Gaites returns to his hometown of Chicago—and allows his friends to persuade him to check out a hot new singer. At a downtown jazz club, he’s soon transfixed by the lyrical voice and sensuous body of a woman who performs behind a thin, shimmering veil…

…That could bring a man to his knees.

The veil gives Moroccan American Laila Barek the anonymity she needs since she has never been able to reconcile her family’s values with her passion for music. But one man is inexplicably drawn to her. And when Asher confronts her on a subway platform after a gig, he’s shocked to recognize the woman who walked away from him nine years ago…

Laila has never been able to forget the touch, the feel, the taste of Asher. And despite the doubt and fear that wind their way into their lives, they must trust the heat of their desire to burn down the walls the world has placed between them…



About the author:
Beth Kery is the New York Times, USA Today and international bestselling author of over thirty novels, including the Because You Are Mine series, Looking Inside, The Affair, and Wicked Burn. Beth holds a doctorate in the behavioral sciences and loves using her knowledge of human behavior, emotion and motivation to write characters with depth and complexity. Her novels have been translated into fourteen languages.

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