Sunday morning I crankily tweeted about an excerpt of an article in the new Romance Writers Report (the magazine published by the Romance Writers of America for its membership) that offered advice on using social media. The excerpt suggested that writers be careful not to express extreme opinions on topics including “gay marriage, or Ferguson.” The article did not state what an extreme opinion was on any of those topics, but went on to suggest writers avoid stands and just say things like “I’m glad this is being discussed” or expressing sadness.
Y’all, among the things I write is gay romance, so this advice is actually terrible for me. One of my recent projects is, in fact, a bisexual interracial romance about a polyamorous couple. So yes, I’m going to talk about gay marriage and racial justice. Also, for fuck’s sake (hi, we do curse at this blog), my co-writer and I are both queer. We’re not controversial political positions. We’re people, who tell stories.
I didn’t think the whole thing would gain the amount of traction that it did (although I am thrilled it has), and for unrelated reasons quickly had to leave the Internets for a writers room on a new project you’ll be hearing about soon. Today, I’m back at my desk at my day job in NYC for the first time in 3 weeks after a lot of business travel; Wednesday night I leave for Los Angeles.
Which is to say, I am trying to keep up with all the great observations, heated discussion, questions, enthusiasm, and new Twitter interactions the whole event has generated. Chuck Wendig has written about it; John Scalzi tweeted about it; Courtney Milan wanted to make sure I was planning to write a letter to RWR about it (I am, and anyone else who wants to should too).
Now, to be honest, in the wake of this article (which has other troubling areas that include slut-shaming about how authors dress and a suggestion writers not express too much happiness about their successes lest it seem they are putting on airs), I did spend a little time thinking about political opinions outside of LGBTQ rights and other social justice I express strongly on Twitter, and if there is room for them there in a way that fits with my writing. In particular, I get very intense about the vaccination issue — vaccinations are important and if you are not immunocompromised in a way that means you can’t have them, you and your kids should get them.
When I tweet about that, I do sometimes lose followers. But the fact is, the vaccine issue is part of who I am as a writer too. One of my book series with Erin has an autistic hero. It is as reasonable for me as a writer to speak up on debunking the autism-vaccine link (there isn’t one), as it is for me to speak up about gay rights or social justice. It’s relevant to my stories, it’s relevant to my world views, and it’s relevant to my brand.
And while it is true political opinions can be alienating to some readers, and that writers can feel like we live and die by our sales, we actually live and die by our words. And it is our humanity and passion, not an indistinguishable acceptability that drives the social media connections that can help us get our books into the hands of the readers for whom we are creating the right stories.
The whole discussion has had some fantastic branches. Diverse romance, for example, has to mean more than M/M romance. Meanwhile, the idea that non-white heroes and heroines mean a romance is not “mainstream” has to go and has to go now. And the fact that stories like this get the most attention when amplified by male voices like Scalzi and Wendig remains troubling, no matter how much I appreciate the signal boosts or how responsibly they work to engage these items.
Romance is a genre that is mostly written and read by women, and it contains a fascinating mix of both conservative (in a non-political sense) fantasy and feminist discussion of desire. Among many other things, the romance genre shows us both who woman are and who women are told to be, and how we — all in very different ways — navigate those shoals.
And it’s for that reason, in particular, that I don’t think the RWR did well by its members by publishing an advice piece (for which its author was paid the standard rate of $.15/word with our dues money) that felt like it was telling us to be good girls who don’t rock the boat — especially if we’re gay or women of color.
RWA has worked hard in the last several years to embrace diversity — diversity of authors, characters, genres, and more. Hilariously, in the same issue of the RWR is an article on diversity in the genre. But letting this bit of advice slip through made the genre’s diversity seem like a burdensome afterthought instead of one of the keys to romance continuing to be one of the top money-makers in publishing.
Anyway, if you’ve been a part of this conversation, it’s nice to meet you. I hope we can keep the conversation going.