By Andrew Zack
Shortly after I started chatting with author R. Barri Flowers, who writes under his own name and also as Devon Vaughn Archer, I realized ITW could do a great panel discussion on authors and race. Flowers is an African-American writer and his books are often packaged for the African-American audience, even if the plots might have wider appeal. Take his upcoming novel, DANGER AT EVERY TURN:
When retired FBI forensic psychologist Spencer Berry and his dog break up a scuffle between gang members, in the process of chasing one with a gun, they end up discovering the nude remains of a young woman partially submerged in a creek behind the home of police spokeswoman Deidre Lawrence. The deceased appears to be the victim of the Pelle Park Killer, a serial murderer terrorizing Sinclair Heights, Oregon over the past three years.
As a result, Spencer and Deidre find themselves involved in the case, while being drawn to each other.
Interfering with their burgeoning romance is a stalker and serial killer, each with a different agenda, putting both Deidre and Spencer’s life in danger.
Reading this, I don’t get any sense that this is anything other than a mainstream thriller. Yet the packaging sends a very different story, I felt. When I raised this issue with Flowers, he commented, “The publisher has their own objective. Their objective is to appeal to an African-American audience.”
Talking with Flowers, I couldn’t help but wonder, can publishers reach African-American readers without using cover art that specifically appears to be targeting African-American readers? Is the stereotypical cover required? Flowers commented, “My personal feeling is that you don’t need to have a cover that may exclude other racial and ethnic groups from being interested in the book by having African-Americans on the cover.”
In a follow-up email, Flowers wrote, “In thinking about race and writing, I remember years ago when first hearing about James Patterson’s ALONG CAME A SPIDER with African-American protagonist psychologist Alex Cross. With no picture on back of book, I bought it assuming Patterson was African-American himself.
“Of course, he is not, but was able to successfully and convincingly take on the persona of Alex Cross, turning into a popular series that appears to have crossed racial lines in making a success.
“And . . . Tess Gerritsen, as a Chinese-American, has carved out a nice career as a novelist with most of her protagonists white, such in her popular Rizzoli & Isles series.
“Like Patterson and Gerritsen, I have been able to find some success under my own name by stepping outside the mold in creating interesting characters designed to appeal to the masses.”
So, in the case of R. Barri Flowers writing as Devon Vaughn Archer, perhaps the key is to not judge a book by its cover, lest you miss out on a great read!
Devon Vaughn Archer is the bestselling author of several urban thrillers, including THE SECRETS OF PARADISE BAY, THE HITMAN’S WOMAN, ALOHA FANTASY, PLEASURE IN HAWAII, PRIVATE LUAU, and CHRISTMAS DIAMONDS.
He has also authored a number of bestselling contemporary romance novels, such as ALOHA FANTASY, PLEASURE IN HAWAII, and PRIVATE LUAU; as well as young adult novels, including HER TEEN DREAM and HIS TEEN DREAM.
Follow the author on Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook, YouTube, Goodreads, MySpace, LibraryThing, and on his website.