Yesterday, the 2008 RITA Finalists were announced. We posted the results and encouraged others to provide congratulations. This post and the comments that follow will likely be critical of the process, the finalists, the judging. Please be aware of this. I do not mean to diminish anyone’s accomplishments, but I am going to be giving an unvarnished opinion about what I think and some may be offended. You’ve been warned. Don’t click on the more link if you want to simply celebrate the RITA finalists.
Anonymous comments are okay.
Barbara Samuels asked us readers to start caring about the RITAs because she felt that it was an award that honored the best in the industry. The sad and ironic truth is that if there ever was a portion of the romance readership that could be brought to honor the RITA results, it is the internet community simply because we are high information readers, bright and well informed.
The problem is that the RITA judging process awards books, in my opinion, that are competent but not excellent. It doesn’t exactly award mediocrity but it does not generally award excellence either.
According to Samuels, the process is as follows:
It begins in the fall of each year, when hundreds and hundreds of published novels are entered into 14 categories. In January, these books are divided into small panels of around 6-8 books, which are then mailed to volunteer judges, all published romance authors themselves, who have about two months to read the books, and give each one a score between 1-9. Each book in the preliminary round is read by five judges.
The scores are returned to the contest coordinator, who tallies the scores. The top percentage (I think it’s ten percent, but am not completely sure) of books in each of those 14 categories are then announced as RITA finalists.
The RITAs were rejiggered this year to eliminate some categories and include a new one: Regency Historical Romance Finalists. The foolish part about the Regency Historical romance is the fact that if a book is a regency, it can be entered into either Regency Historical or the main historical category. There are 5 finalists in the Regency Historical category meaning that there were 50 books entered as Regency Historical books.
Another example of the broken system is the fact that Allison Brennan has one book, Speak No Evil, in the Romantic Suspense category and another, See No Evil, in the Novel with Romantic Elements. Is the romance in Speak No Evil that much stronger than See No Evil that one could be a romance but the other only “with Romantic Elements”? Further, High Noon by Nora Roberts is a romance, not a Novel with Romantic Elements. Roberts herself has repeatedly said she writes romance. What is the book doing in that category?
The non finalists often say more to me about the contest than the finalists. I think the general consensus here at Dear Author was that the last Anne Stuart book, Ice Storm, was competent, but not earth shattering and not one of Stuart’s better efforts. Janine rated it a B- and Jayne a C. I haven’t always agreed with the inclusion of the JD Robb books every year, but last year’s Innocent in Death harkened back to the early days of the in Death series when it was, in my estimation, at its very best. Why the inclusion of earlier and weaker Robb books and the exclusion of Innocent in Death? I tried Cherry Adair’s White Heat and was unable to finish it.
The 2008 Historical category had a weak showing. I thought the exclusion of Caroline Linden’s work was sad given that her writing is every bit as good as the finalists, if not better. I did read Surrender to a Scoundrel and rated it a C. I found it to be average with the author failing to actually write out important scenes and connections in the book, relying on the reader to make those emotional leaps based on what should happen. Of Elizabeth Hoyt’s work, I thought Leopard Prince was the weakest. It had the least emotional appeal and the strongest anachronistic writing of the set. The Serpent Prince was the best of that series.
I’ll save my harshest criticism for the paranormal nominees. With the exception of possibly Ward and Sinclair, the remainder of the paranormals are paranormal lite. I’ve read or tried all but Demons Kiss by Maggie Shayne. I couldn’t get past the first couple chapters of Dead Girls Are Easy. Games of Command was okay. Jayne really liked it and Jan thought it was derivative. He Loves Me, He Loves Me Hot was funny but not as good as the first Rowe. Lover Revealed, I read during my high romance crack consuming days. Prince of Magic I tried but found boring and didn’t finish. The entire Raintree series was a hot mess in terms of world building.
Most of the books in the paranormal category are for readers who don’t like paranormal. To not include books like Driven by Eve Kenin or one of Meljean Brook or Nalini Singh’s novels is a tragedy. Lara Adrian’s Midnight Awakening was great and on par with the Ward books released in 2007. Even though I enjoyed Christina Dodd’s Touch of Darkness, her world building skills are simply not on par with someone like Kenin, Brook or Singh. In the paranormal category, I think the ability to worldbuild and include the worldbuilding as the source of conflict rather than a mere backdrop should be weighted higher. It’s what separates the paranormal from the other categories.
An interesting theory was floated to me yesterday and that was the finalists in many of the categories have something in common and that is these books have a category feel to them. Dodd’s book, for example, is a fun riff off the boss/secretary theme. Debra Webb, Linda Winstead Jones, Maggie Shayne and others are all former category writers. It could be that the vast majority of RITA judges are most familiar with the category meme/theme/formulas and thus those tropes are more recognizable and easier to consume for these readers. Category novels showed up in virtually every category of RITA finalists. (Please remember that I am a big fan of category romances and think that they are really well written at times).
The current way of judging books is simply not, in my opinion, allowing the exemplary of the genre to show up. I know that a judge can say that there are certain categories of books that they do not read and it is probably, based on the results in the paranormal category, that paranormals is one area that has readers who don’t understand or appreciate the true speculative fiction categories.
In all, there is nothing in the 2008 RITA Finalists announcement that make me believe that it represents the best in the genre. I think the process awards competent but not spectacular books. It’s an industry award given by industry folks that isn’t reflective on this online readership nor the more populas offline readership.
I’m sure that there are readers and authors and others who would disagree with my assessments and I encourage you all to do so.