Mar 31 2009
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Dear RWA Members*:
Can we talk about the RITAs? I don’t mean to harsh on the nominees. Indeed, some of my favorite authors were nominated this year and some of my favorite authors have won in the past. Oh, we all have our quibbles about who was left out and who was included, but those are subjective decisions. No, I don’t want to talk about the specific nominees but rather the categories themselves.
I know that you are a large group and one would say, even, a diverse one, but I have to tell you that I get the sense you aren’t happy with the direction that romance in general is taking. In the past, I’ve said many of actions of RWA that adversely affected erotic romance were primarily targeted toward epublishing and that erotic romances suffered because epublishing in romance is often associated with erotic romance. I posited that if inspirational romance were to be primarily associated with epublishing that it, too, would be treated differently. In looking back, though, I can’t help but wonder now if I was wrong.
By having an inspirational category but not an erotic romance category, it seems to me that one sub genre is being elevated over another in your organization which purports to the supporter of all romance writers, not just those who proclaim faith as the center of their lives and their works. I want to make it clear that I do not find the inspirational category in any way inappropriate, only that the absence of a corresponding erotic romance category appears fundamentally unfair. Even your page on romance literature subgenres leaves out erotic romance despite nearly every major publishing house putting out specific imprints devoted to erotic romance. (Note: I also question the percentage of books sold as erotic romances as being under 3% as you have on your site. Lora Leigh, one of the top selling romance authors currently in the market, is squarely an erotic romance author.)
Before I go on, let me address why I think it’s appropriate for readers like me to weigh in on the issue of the RITA, an industry award. The RITA is something that authors view as the equivalent of an Oscar. While the peer award carries with it industry prestige, you RWA Members want the award to be recognized and revered by readers. You want it to matter. But if you want readers to care, then you want them to become emotionally invested in the outcomes. Emotional investment reaps emotional response. In other words, if you want me to care about your award, then I have the right to criticize it.
Again, I’m not criticizing awarding books that fall into the inspirational category. I think that because of the subject matter that inspy romances involve, it makes sense to devote an entire category to it. An inspy romance is not simply a clean one, but one that involves conflicts regarding faith, specifically Christian faith. To readers who are secular or who worship in a manner that is not Christ centered, an inspy romance would be difficult to judge in a totally impartial light.
While erotic romance is not a religion, per se, some of the core principles of erotic romance are an anethma to inspirational authors and conservative authors. The concept of domination and submission, the use of toys, role playing, and other sexual games translate for a certain set of individuals into sexual promiscuity. The push against sexual promiscuity can unfold in two ways: the requirement of the woman to be chaste and a unit that is limited to one man/one woman. I can assure you, members of RWA, that the chaste woman and the one woman/one man unit are still strong tropes even within the erotic romance sub genre (much to my dismay at times). If this is a writing award and the story fulfills the main tenets of the RWA definition then it has to be judged on its merits.
But because we are all biased creatures, our own concepts of morality and love will skew our view of a book. A book whose emotional conflict is wrapped up in the sexual congress of the main protagonists or whose storyline contains envelope pushing sex can’t help but be viewed through the prism of dislike, disinterest, and disbelief by those who are predisposed to not appreciate this type of story. Why then would you subject books written by your peers to this kind of unfair judgment, particularly when you have carved out a safe harbor for inspirational romance?
Under the current rubric of grading for the RITA awards, five books are sent out to five different judges. Each judge has the right to disqualify a book for being Not Romance.
Any entry receiving 3 NR (not a romance), 3 NSRE (no strong romantic elements), 3 NPF (not properly formatted, for entries in the Golden Heart contest) or 3 WC (wrong category) scores shall not be eligible to advance to the finals even if the scores would otherwise qualify it as a finalist.
I understand that there are several authors who have admitted to marking erotic romance books as NR and several authors who have submitted their books for RITA consideration who have had their books disqualifed for too many NR marks. This practice has gone on for several years and authors who write the erotic romances are simply not entering their books because they know that their works will not get a fair shake. By fair shake, I mean, no disqualification for being “Not Romance” so long as it fits the following description:
A Central Love Story -’ In a romance novel, the main plot centers around two individuals falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work. A writer can include as many subplots as he/she wants as long as the relationship conflict is the main focus of the story.
An Emotionally-Satisfying and Optimistic Ending -’ Romance novels are based on the idea of an innate emotional justice-’the notion that good people in the world are rewarded and evil people are punished. In a romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love.
There is nothing in the definition set forth by RWA that suggests that the expression of a characters’ physical attraction somehow makes it not a romance or even that it would exlude any kind of polyamorous relationship.
All I am saying is that erotic romance deserves the same playing field as the rest of the subgenres in romance. If inspirational needs a separate category to fight against inherent bias, then so does erotic romance. For the fair treatment of all the authors who belong to RWA, the recognition of erotic romance as an equal within romance is vital. The allowance of a separate category in the RITAs, your self professed most important award in the industry, would be a huge step toward equality amongst your members.
Thanks for listening.
*I address this to the membership because it is the membership, the board, the officers and not the staff that is making these decisions regarding what goes on within RWA.