Friends before we get to this amazing post by Negeen, let’s flashback to RWA when I met her. It was Friday morning. I was on my first wave of tiredness, had the worst blisters on my feet and was all bandaged up. I was in the line at the hotel for a ridiculously overpriced egg panini, iced tea and a $6 bottle of water. Anyway as I was standing in line, I saw Tif Marcelo, who if you don’t already know this is one of the kindest, sweetest humans in the whole entire world. She was accompanied by another author. As I like to do, I latched on to them and we ended up sitting in the lobby and chatting while I ate my overpriced and overcooked egg panini. Negeen was telling me about herself and her books and I really, really wanted her to write a guest post for us at Smexy. Fast forward to now, here is fantastic and touching post about representation and why Negeen writes the stories she does.
When you think Contemporary Romance, Persian girls don’t come to mind. That’s because, other than my Forbidden Love series, I’m not sure how many other romances have Iranian women main characters. Not ones set here in the states, living average, every day, American lives. Or at least as average as it gets for a middle-easterner. And when you think of a Contemporary Romance author, I’m not what you’d imagine. That’s because, just like my stories, Iranian authors aren’t that common either.
I’m a first generation Iranian Muslim woman, born and raised here in Los Angeles. I’m a dentist by day (glamorous, I know), wife to an Iranian Jewish lawyer (it’s okay, you can gasp), and the proud mother of two amazing boys. Life around here is exactly what you’d expect: loud, busy, stressful, exhausting, and thoroughly amazing.
But growing up, I wished I were more like my friends. Blonde, blue-eyed porcelain dolls, a vivid contrast to my dark, frizzy hair, and olive-toned skin. It was tough navigating in a world I didn’t look like. And even more confusing, dealing with being Iranian, a culture that felt half embedded in a county I’d never seen, while struggling to become “Americanized.” Suddenly, all the sharp black borders my parents raised me with blurred into various shades of gray, leaving me clueless on how to proceed. But as I grew, I evolved, and with time, found my place.
It wasn’t until just a few years ago, that an unfathomable public incident pushed me back into the category of “other.” Suddenly, I was painted as an imposter. It was here, in the murky, biased waters, that I found the inspiration to write my stories. I’d gone from feeling like I belonged, back to the outcast of my childhood. And I refused to let the only images of my people be those painted in the news.
My main characters are modeled after my Iranian heritage. The cultural expectations I grew up surrounded by, the family I still struggle with, and the small idiosyncrasies that are only understandable to a Persian girl like myself, are all very much influencers of the novels I write. They provide the foundation for my storylines, helping me weave together words that give my readers glimpses into a culture they know very little about.
Family. Community. Rules. Expectations.
This is what it means to be Iranian-American. And this is what I want to show the world. That we too, are much like everyone else. Human, raw, flawed and ever-changing. This is at the core of each family that lives within the pages of Forbidden by Faith, Forbidden by Destiny, and Forbidden by Time. The struggles they face, the limits they’re all forced to consider, the ways they must all change, mimic that of any other family in the United States, just with different details.
Sara, Leyla, and Bita are similar to the other heroines you read about in romance novels in that they struggle to find true love. They just do it under different circumstances than what you’re used to. Despite being adults, they still have to fight for their independence, push against their families’ expectations, and figure out who they really are. They question themselves, falter under the disapproval of their mothers, and burst into their own by the time the story is done.
Maybe the world isn’t ready for Persian girls to be splashed across the pages of their romance novels, and maybe I’ll never become a best-seller. But young Iranian women deserve to be reflected in the stories they read. And despite how popular my books may or may not become, if even one reader walks away able to erase their preconceived notions and identify with my characters in a way they hadn’t imagined possible, then I’m doing my job as an Iranian author ––to shed light on what truly is a beautiful culture.
Where to find Negeen and her books:
Amazon – all three books are available via Kindle Unlimited