My new paranormal romance release, Phoenix Inheritance has three things I’d never thought I’d write in a romance:
A cat, dogs, and a kid.
I suspect I’ve gone sentimental in my old age though, I promise, there is a moment when stuff blows up. What it also has, and not for the first time, is a main character who happens to be a person of color.
Daz Montoya, who is of mixed Filipino and African-American heritage, is the third non-white hero in my novels, joining African-American Aloysius James of Luminous and Ghosts of Christmas Past, and Gregor Sherringford, the Indian-British consulting detective in The Curse of the Brimstone Contract. One could argue Philip Drake of Phoenix Legacy is also a person of color, as he’s a quarter Native American, but if someone can pass for white, they don’t experience our society’s prejudice in the same way as one who’s recognizably the other. Therefore, I don’t count Philip.
Daz has been around since I included him in the supporting cast for the first Phoenix Institute book, Phoenix Rising. By the time I started writing Phoenix Inheritance, I never thought “hey, I’m writing a POC as a hero.” I thought “I’m finally able to give Daz his own story. Awesome.”
However, Daz was originally part of a deliberate choice to include people of color to my Phoenix Institute universe after I’d talked to several friends who felt they weren’t being properly represented in romance. One friend, Rita-nominated author Karen Harbaugh, herself Japanese-American, is the reason the heroine of Phoenix Rising, Beth Nakamora, is Japanese-American. Why? Because Karen and the others were right: why was the fictional world so white if the real world is so diverse?
I grew up reading comics books and science fiction and fantasy novels and I know what it’s like to be missing from your favorite genre. Finding three-dimensional female characters at the heart of SF/F and superhero stories was like finding a diamond amidst mounds of coal dust. I held close to my hear those few female characters who, even if they weren’t main characters, at least had powerful moments, like Eowyn in Lord of the Rings. I nearly cried at 13 when I realized that Lessa in The DragonRiders of Pern was a main character. And I bought every single issue of Batman Family Comics that featured Batgirl.
So how could I write stories excluding whole swaths of people? Answer: I can’t.
But you shouldn’t buy Phoenix Inheritance because it’s a blow for diversity. You should buy the book because Daz is an awesome hero that anyone can love.
That he breaks the mold is just a bonus. Below, I hope you’ll see why I adore Daz. And you can enter to win a copy of Phoenix Inheritance by commenting here or liking my Facebook page.
EXCERPT: CHAPTER ONE, Phoenix Inheritance.
Daz Montoya’s lungs burned with the need for air. The fifty pounds of dead weight in his backpack pushed down on his shoulders and his belly scraped the bottom of the pool. He kicked several times, short, sharp strokes designed to close the distance to his goal: the far wall.
The tiles loomed closer but somehow still out of reach. Spots appeared before his eyes. Air bubbled out of his mouth.
He would not abort.
All his life, he’d been the best. The best trained, the best prepared, the best at leading his men. But now he was in over his head, involved in a war with immortals, firestarters, telepaths and God knew what else. He had to level up or he’d just become cannon fodder. Disposable. Or, worse, a point of weakness that enemies would use to get at those he was supposed to protect.
Daz’s vision narrowed. Chlorine stung his eyes.
Level up, dammit. He reached out with his leading hand, flailing for the wall. One more kick. One more stroke. His fingertips scraped the tiles.
There. He let his feet drift to the bottom of the pool, ready for the final thrust that should send him to the surface, even with the weight strapped to his back.
The water surrounding him vanished. Fuck.
He instinctively gasped in air and used the wall to keep his balance. The backpack straps dug hard into his shoulders. He blinked and looked around.
A wall of water rose over the pool’s surface, held back by an unseen hand.
“Alec!” Dammit, he’d been going to make it. “Why the hell are you interfering with my training?”
Alec Farley, wearing his customary T-shirt and jeans, floated down into the empty space where the water had been. Though it probably took considerable effort to hold back the water with his telekinetic ability, Alec showed little sign of the mental strain.
Alec’s power was what Daz had to measure up to to be of use to anyone. Alec’s home, the Phoenix Institute, existed to teach those gifted with psychic abilities, especially children, to use their powers responsibly. That was Alec’s job. He did it well.
Daz’s job was keeping the Institute safe, so it could operate as planned. And, lately, he’d been doing a freakin’ lousy job.
“Showoff,” Daz said. Though it looked like Alec was floating in midair, what he was really doing was pushing against the floor with his telekinesis to give the appearance of floating.
“I just figured this was the quickest way to talk to you.” Alec landed next to him at the bottom of the pool.
“You figured you’d have fun while interfering with my training.” Alec had no shame at all about his abilities. He thought they were cool. Daz usually did too. But not right now, not when it reminded him of how weak he was.
He rolled his shoulder, resisting the urge to touch the half-healed handprint burned into his skin, a souvenir of his failure on the last mission.
“I wasn’t trying to interfere with your training. I just wanted to talk to you.” Alec kept one hand up, to guide his TK in keeping the water in check. “What the hell are you doing down here without a spotter? You said never to do that, that it was too dangerous.”
“That’s because we always had to take your power into account when training you. We never knew how you’d react.” Of course, Alec was right. No one should train like this without a spotter.
Daz grabbed the bottom rung of the pool ladder and heaved himself up and out. He dropped the weighted backpack, and it hit the floor tiles with a clink. Leveling up practice was obviously over for the day but he was going to do it again, spotter or no spotter. He touched the handprint on his shoulder. He’d needed rescuing. Unacceptable.
Alec levitated topside and landed near Daz. The water, released from Alec’s TK hold, splashed back into the pool.
“Why are you risking yourself like this? Why are you pushing yourself so hard?” Alec asked.
Daz grabbed a towel and dried off his hair and torso, wondering if Alec would understand. Due to his isolated upbringing—very little contact with the outside world— Alec was incredibly mature in some ways but completely innocent in others.
“Firefly, sometimes I need to do stuff, okay?” Daz said. “This was suicidal,” Alec said. “I was just about to surface and I’d made my goal. I know what I’m doing.” “You sure?” “I’m sure.” One advantage of having been Alec’s trainer was that Daz could still lie to him and get away with it.
“Beth says you’re overcompensating for what happened in Germany.”
“If I wanted an opinion about my state of mind from your telepathic girlfriend, I’d ask.” Daz ditched the swim trunks, finished drying off, and dressed in the sweatpants and T-shirt he’d left on one of the benches.