We hear a lot about “authors behaving badly” on the internet. We get blog posts on the subject, with links and screen shots illustrating that some authors can’t handle criticism, think it’s their job to tell readers how to read or how to review, or are willing to use tactics like intimidation, threats, and manipulation of social media tools to try to suppress certain responses to their work or to their behavior. I have never blogged about one of those incidents, although I appreciate those who do and have commented and spread links when I think more people need to be made aware of what’s happened.
Today, I want to talk about the opposite phenomenon: authors behaving well. There are lots of examples I could cite: Brenda Novak’s annual auction to raise funds for juvenile diabetes research, the various literacy efforts supported by the Nora Roberts Foundation (not to mention their support for the efforts to save the black-footed ferret!), or even the many authors who can respond in a classy way to snarky comments in a review of their book. (My favorite is still Carla Cassidy’s response to the Smart Bitches’ review of Pregnesia, which gave rise to blog posts like this one from Maree Anderson). There are many wonderful people writing genre fiction, which is mostly what I read, and I periodically need to remind myself of that.
The impetus for this post is the response of certain authors when they learned that Romance Writers Ink, the Tulsa-based chapter of the Romance Writers of America, has decided this year to exclude all books featuring same-sex couples from their annual More Than Magic romance writing contest. Yes, the rules specifically state, “Note: MTM will no longer accept same-sex entries in any category.”
You don’t have to have been around the world of romance publishing long to know that the genre and RWA, its professional authors association, have had some growing pains regarding the place of same-sex romance, mirroring the growing pains in our society. RWA now has a chapter for writers of GLBT fiction, the Rainbow Romance Writers, and these works can be entered in RWA’s national contests under whatever category they fit (categories being mostly based on length and setting).
Apparently an RWA board ruling stated that it was up to individual chapters how to categorize GLBT fiction in their own contests — which I would take to mean that some contests would have separate categories for GLBT, which some authors and judges prefer, while others would include them in the category they otherwise fit, as per the RITA and the Golden Heart. (This understanding is mine, based on my reading of what’s out there on this subject, particularly this blog post by Heidi Cullinan, president of Rainbow Romance Writers.) I sincerely hope that RWA did not mean to suggest that it was acceptable for chapter contests to exclude GLBT books altogether, but that’s what RWInk has done, because its members were “uncomfortable” accepting these entries. (This from an email received by Kari Gregg in response to her query about the rules.) [ETA: I have heard that the official RWA stance may be that individual chapters can make rules like this, but a lot of members aren't happy with that, so the policy is going to get some discussion and clarification in March.]
A number of authors and bloggers are standing up and spreading the word about this issue, expressing outrage and dismay over both the choice made for the More Than Magic contest and the message it sends, as well as the message sent if RWA doesn’t take a stand against it. Author Isobel Carr is tweeting about it, and about her attempts to raise the issue with the RWA board. Author Courtney Milan has an excellent blog post urging a boycott of the contest, “Don’t enter More than Magic,” and Carolyn Jewel has publicly posted her very articulate letter to the RWA board on this issue.
Needless to say, I agree with all these fine women. Discrimination is wrong, and hanging a blanket “no gays” sign on your contest is no different from “no Blacks” or “no women” — highly ironic in a genre that is routinely underrated because it is a “women’s” genre. And while I’m mad as hell about this, I have to say that I’m celebrating the response. Because knowing that I’m not alone in thinking this is wrong, and reading the very passionate, powerful responses of authors whose work I respect, feels awfully good. Thanks, ladies.