I’ve always had a healthy respect for the romance genre. It’s an under-respected business that pulls in quite a lot of money, and it, like everything else, has been hit by the rapid sociological changes in recent years. Small presses and self-publishing have added to the growing visibility and tumult, and now THE premier organization involved, Romance Writers of America, has not only stepped in it, they’re gleefully gone digging to see just how covered in shit they can get before everyone just walks away.
Not surprising, in Trump’s America, where the GOP seems determined to do the same thing. But let’s not go down that particular road today.
I’ll give my (probably very badly done) summary, and then point you to articles by folks who have much better grasp of the run up, the run down, and the run off.
Back in the Stone Ages, romances were supposed to be based around a handsome man sweeping a beautiful woman off her feet and riding off into the sunset together, usually having incredibly good sex every few pages. It’s not quite that simple anymore, with LGBTQ representation on a sharp rise, racism and misogyny being blasted, and cultural appropriation a hot topic amongst writers in general.
Books written before The Current Conversation (pick whatever starting time frame you like — ten years ago, two years ago, fifty years ago– it’s been a fight for much longer than I’ve been alive, it simply has increased reach and visibility these days) — books written, I say, before Twitter could call out a racist trope within fifteen minutes of its sighting in the wild — tended, not surprisingly, to be packed with all the crappy stereotypes one could imagine. I’m not just talking about romance, of course — the same Conversation is loud amongst all the genres right now. But we’re talking about romance here, so let’s stick to that.
People are looking backward and calling older books out for their racist, misogynistic, harmful contents. We’re pointing out that the people who wrote said books are still in the industry, still writing; and that their editors and publishers, who let this crap pass, are also active and in most cases do not appear to have learned much from the stream of foot-in-mouth disorders afflicting authors in the age of the internet.
Enter Courtney Milan, a member of RWA who is also a really goddamn good writer. She recently pointed out some serious racist issues with a book published some time ago, and pointed out problems with the current behavior of the editor of said book. From there it gets very complicated, but the best I can tell is that someone within RWA egged the author of the problematic book, and a couple other authors, to file a complaint against Milan with the Board of RWA. Allegations of damaged careers (which have since been withdrawn) and hurt feelings (ditto) were thrown around, and Milan was suspended from RWA from one year and banned from ever being on the Board again.
There are a lot of problems with how this whole thing has gone down, and a dark streak of rot has been exposed in the very heart of RWA. I would strongly advise authors, editors, and agents to steer well clear of anything RWA related in the coming months. More than a few agents have publicly distanced themselves from RWA in the last few days, and I expect more to follow suit.
For better explanations, please check out the following:
I’ve tried to only offer reading that doesn’t involve a paywall. There are more articles for those who subscribe to various publications like the NYT and WaPo. I would also strongly encourage anyone who’s really interested to look up Courtney Milan on Twitter, and follow the ongoing conversation there. There’s quite a lot of information in the various threads, but I’ll admit it’s a time sink; if you haven’t been following this from the breaking moments, you may not want to go down that rabbit hole.
Let this mess serve as another reminder that “too big to fail” is bullshit, no matter the organization or business involved.