This rather Victorian-looking pair are my paternal great-grandparents, and the serious and dapper young man seated at the left is my grandfather. I had a very special relationship with my Grandpa, who came to live with us the year I was born, after Granny—his wife—died. He was the first person I remember reading to me every day, and through those early interactions I developed both my insatiable reading habit, and the curiosity that’s a huge part of my character.
Judging by the ages of the children, I estimate this picture was taken circa 1907. My great-grandfather Ernest, an accountant, and Great-grandma Alice, Post Mistress for the district, married in 1888. Nothing unusual at all, right?
Although the picture was taken in the hills of St. Elizabeth parish, in Jamaica, from the clothing it could have been taken almost anywhere in the world European folk lived.
Yet, here’s something to consider:
The family in this picture is, at most, one generation removed from being slaves.
Ernest’s grandmother, Mary Gittoes, was a slave. His mother, Maria Miles Tomlinson, was born prior to Emancipation, and prior to her parents’ 1836 marriage, so conceivably was born into slavery too.
This isn’t something spoken about much, in families like mine. Older generations were determined to attain “respectability” and distance themselves from those types of roots. They were more focused on the European side of their lineage, ignoring all traces of any other. For as long as I could remember, my father swore his surname was French, his ancestors Huguenots fleeing persecution, and refused to entertain the suggestion that it was actually Jewish.
Even in a country with the motto “Out of Many, One People,” where many, if not most people are of mixed heritage, the vestiges of prejudice still lingered.
This is a legacy I had to break free of, and that shapes much of my outlook on the world. I have a very difficult time with racism, and colorism, and caste/class/social prejudice, because I’m not only a genetic melting pot myself, but the descendant of both enslaved Africans and European slave owners. Descendant of Low Country Jews, and Eastern European Jews, with a sprinkling of other genes to boot.
For me, that diverse blood is a source of great pride.
I was also privileged to grow up at a time when my country was learning how to throw off the bonds of colonialism, even as many of its citizens were mourning the loss of the “motherland’s” rule. While others might disagree, I think of myself as lucky to have experienced those turbulent times, when Jamaica was trying to find herself; trying to figure out who and what she was. There was a concerted push toward equality for all, and I like to think I learned the lessons of the time.
Everyone is worthy—of life, education, opportunity, and advancement.
Worthy of love.
When I started writing romance, there was room for werewolves and vampires, aliens and shape-shifters, even ghosts, but seemingly little for people like me, or my family. Yet, through travelling, I learned that while my appearance, experiences, and background may differ from those of the people I met, there were definite similarities too. Cultures, settings, professions, and appearances may be diverse, but the problems, joys, loves, dislikes, the pain and losses we experience make us more alike than different.
We’re all individuals, with our discrete backgrounds, hang-up, and desires, but there is always something we can share, and understand.
The commonality of humanity.
But, in the beginning, I wrote what the market seemed able to accept because, above all else, I wanted to be published and was trying to be realistic. After a while, I found solace in writing paranormal and fantasy romances, because I could people them with anyone I liked. I also found that readers of M/M romances were more accepting of diversity in race and culture, and had some small success writing those too.
I didn’t think there would be a place for me in mainstream publishing if I wrote the characters I wanted to. That was a painful realization, but in Jamaica there’s a saying: ‘If yuh want good, yuh nose haffi run’ (basically, if you want to succeed, you have to deal with any attendant pain) and I yearned for success. The type of success where family members, on hearing I had a contract for publication from an e-publisher, wouldn’t say, “Oh, soon you’ll be a real author!”
Honestly, when I heard that Harlequin was looking for diversity in their Medical line, I wasn’t sure if they meant it or not, but decided to try my hand at it anyway. I wanted the chance to write a variety of characters, using my own background, experiences, and observations when crafting some of them. If I could also get a chance to put a little of my own roots into some of the stories, using culture and place to add interest, I wanted in!
I was ecstatic when they accepted my first story, The Nurse’s Pregnancy Miracle. It featured a Jamaican, immigrant heroine—successful and headstrong—living life on her own terms, despite the pressures her family put on her. She’s based on women I know, and love. Strong, determined women, who’ve succeeded beyond, or in spite of, their roots and the expectations of others.
I carry the memories of my early life, and the lessons learned, to this day. They guide me in various ways, reminding me to remain open-minded, curious, and attentive to others. But just as what seems important when we’re fifteen seems inconsequential when we’re thirty, about twenty years ago I underwent a life change that shifted my perceptions again.
But that is a tale for another day.
Another facet of my Origin Story.