What happens next?

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I was going to title this post “The Whiteness of Romance”, but that seemed a little on-the-nose. Instead, I figure what happens next is just as appropriate, because there’s a lot of stuff going on…

The post I wrote last month – Where is the line, exactly? – was deliberately vague, but now that the issue has resolved, more or less, I want to fill in some of the blanks. I wrote the post about the situation in the world of M/M romance, where Santino Hassell was revealed to be something other than the character in his author bio.

Instead of being a bi dude single father with health and money problems, he/she/they is a husband & wife team with a talent for manipulation and, it seems, very little conscience. In the weeks after my post, the testimonials describing their abusive behavior – in addition to questionable crowd-sourcing support for unlikely health problems – has been really appalling.

I don’t know for sure how many of the accusations are true, but the entity known as Santino Hassell has been dropped by their agent and most of (all of?) their publishers. That’s enough for me.

On the heels of that – like, literally the next week – author Xen Sanders came forward, and in painful detail accused Riptide Publishing of racist practices and sexual abuse. (You can read his full statement here.) His editor has been fired, and a substantial number of Riptide authors have asked for and had the rights to their work returned.

Riptide is (was?) one of the bigger LGBT romance publishers. Their principal editors put out a statement (read it here),vowing to do better, and they’re currently closed to unsolicited submissions.

All in all, it was quite a 1-2 punch for M/M romance.

And then RWA announced the RITA nominees.

The RITAs are the annual awards for published novels, organized by the Romance Writers of America (RWA). Think Academy Awards but for romance. As usual, and to the surprise of no one, the nominees are predominantly white. I did find numbers that suggest there’s a small increase in diversity; Alexis Hall’s blog post on the RITAs historical category goes into some statistics. But still.

But still, no black author has ever won a RITA.

And people are speaking up. Loud.

Maybe the shitstorm in M/M and the takedown of Riptide primed the pump, and maybe the #metoo movement laid some of the groundwork. For sure and for certain, the diversity report put out by The Ripped Bodice, a romance-only bookstore, added fuel to the furror.

This is the second year The Ripped Bodice has put out a diversity report that can be summarized pretty simply. Six of their top ten best sellers are written by authors of color, yet overall, only 6.2 out of every 100 romances published in 2017 were written by an author of color.  That’s down from 7.8/100 in 2016.

Here’s one of their other statistics: “80% of publishers had fewer than 10% of their books written by people of color.” Read the whole report. It’s food for thought. They debunk the most common excuses used to justify the disparity, and give credit to Crimson Romance, who at 29% had the highest percentage of authors of color.

Crimson closed the day the report came out. Not joking.

A few paragraphs ago, I said people – authors – were speaking out, but the thing is, I don’t want to put words in their mouths. Go to twitter and listen to the stories they tell, stories about the shit way they’ve been treated by publishers, editors, and the RWA and its members. Follow Courtney Milan, Rebekah Weatherspoon, or Alyssa Cole, and listen to what they have to say. Follow Xen Sanders. Follow EE Ottoman.

And while you’re listening, buy their books!

Because the best way to prove to a publisher that a book will sell it to buy it. To be honest, I think Ripper says it better than I ever could:

All books.

ETA….so what does happen next? I’d like to think we all wake up and start treating each other like Mr. Rogers thought we should. But…

Meanwhile, take small steps. Read outside your comfort zone. Listen to what the authors of color you know have to say. Systemic change will only happen when a critical mass of individuals push for it. Be part of that critical mass.

ETA2..here’s a link to RWAs statement, “Board Commitment to RITAs and Inclusivity”. And for more ideas on what you can do, check out this statement by the POC Queer Romance Authors Community.

Where is the line, exactly?

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So there’s a storm brewing in the world of [redacted] romance. One of the biggest authors in the genre {name withheld because drama} has been accused of catfishing – of creating an on-line persona that is substantially different than who they really are. While the last thing I need to do is throw myself into the middle of that pigpile, I think there are higher-level issues that are worth considering.

Issues around trust, and faith, and how much authors owe their readers.

I write under a pen name, because in real life, I’m a nurse practitioner (just like it says in my bio) and I don’t want anyone googling Amy D-C NNP to have to wade through a bunch of hits about vampire romance. I have two kids, a husband, and three ferrets, just like it says in my bio. (Well, the ferrets are technically my daughter’s, but…)

All that aside, I’m conscious of where I’m posting what. There are private Facebook pages where I’m comfortable identifying my kids by name, and others where I’m not. If we’re friends on Facebook, you’ve likely seen me tag my kids or husband in posts, or share stuff that names them, but I try to limit that kind of thing. I feel like people who are Facebook friends with Liv Rancourt get the real me, but that’s by my choice, and it’s within my comfort zone.

But what if, say, I was writing in a subgenre where it could make a financial difference if readers thought I was a man? Or anything besides a cis-het, married, middle-aged, woman?

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And what if there were other authors supporting me, vouching for me on social media, and telling readers I really was a [insert imaginary persona here]?

That would totally suck, and if I was found out, it could quite possibly ruin my writing career. (And I’d probably deserve for it to be ruined.)

Needless to say, the ongoing potential-catfishing situation has generated a whole lot of conversation. In the midst of a fairly heated enthusiastic thread, my friend Sadie framed the issue this way…

I find it interesting how much of this thread is actually about the generalities of trusting people to be who they say they are and internet negotiations of identity, not just about whether ________ is _______ or not. I think that’s part of why this situation seems to be such an inferno. Partly because there is someone willing to dig and put ‘facts’ out there for others to consider, partly because a lot of people seem willing to put a lot of emotion into it. But also partly because it hits at an insecurity in a lot of us. We all know we take chances when we trust someone to be who they say they are and scenarios like this one force us to consider where we’d fall if we found we were being duped.

Back in the day – like five years ago – most authors didn’t spend a lot of time on-line. (Okay, maybe ten years ago. Or fifteen. Something.) Regardless of the time-frame, there didn’t use to be the same demand to have a social media presence. If an author met readers at cons or book signings, it was a bonus. They exchanged names, and shook hands, and the author signed their book and everyone went home happy.

If an author was really a middle-aged, cis-het, married, woman she could tell everyone she was a twenty-something, single, ex-Marine and no one would be wiser. She might be found out – if, say, she got big enough that her agent demanded she make public appearances – but the unveiling of her real identity wouldn’t be as personally devastating to her readers.

Unless, you know, she let those readers raise money for her to treat her imaginary war injuries that she never sustained while fighting a fictitious war.

Or she played the James Frey card and faked her memoir and got called out by Oprah on national television.

There’s a line somewhere between the names on an author’s credit cards or birth certificates and the person they present in their pen names and on Facebook fan pages and Livejournals and Twitter and whatever other social media platform you’re into. Sometimes fans lose sight of that line, but sometimes authors do, too. Like Sadie said above, it’s an issue of trust.

Good writers open themselves wide, recording frank emotion on the page, but their honesty doesn’t give their readers to right to know how they think and feel 24/7. On the other hand, creating a safety net for their “real life” doesn’t give authors the right to fake the whole caboodle. I have no idea how this current kerfufle is going to shake out, but I recognize that the conversation is a necessary part of defining where that line is.

Regarding what’s expected of authors, the rules may have changed, but you know, the rules we learned in kindergarten will likely still apply.

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