Smart Bitches Interview with Gayle Wilson, President-Elect of RWA

We, the Smart Bitches Candy and Sarah, are proud to present the first in what we hope will be a series of interviews regarding the romance world, and who better to start with than Gayle Wilson, President-Elect of Romace Writers of America.

We asked Ms. Wilson a few questions, addressing recent events and other Very Important Issues, and here are her erudite answers, though she asks that we clarify that she is answering for herself, and not as a spokesperson for the RWA. We Smart Bitches love it when people are willing to speak for themselves, so welcome and thank you, Gayle, for being our first interview!

1. We read your apology and our readers thought it was a very appropriate response. What do you have to say to angered members of RWA who are still very upset regarding the recent decisions of the RWA, aside from the awards ceremony (e.g. the graphical standards policy, the survey of what constitutes romance)? What would you like to say to members who are outraged at the overall direction the organization seems to have taken?

Please understand that I am not the official spokesperson for RWA.  What I say here is only the opinion of one member in good standing, albeit one who attends a lot of board meetings.

I believe that one of the biggest problems this year has been our failure to communicate promptly and appropriately with our members.  In some cases, like the definition of romance controversy, the board was considering areas in which our financial resources should not be committed.  For example, should RWA provide space at our conferences for publishers who don’t publish romance, and if so, how do we define “romance”?  In this instance, because we evidently didn’t make that motive perfectly clear to members, some of them came to believe that the board was trying to shut them out of RWA.  On the graphical standards issue the board was trying to protect the organization from having extremely graphic ads in our publications that we were told might trigger postal regulations requiring different and expensive packaging for our magazine.  In that case, the board’s decision was rushed because we didn’t have complete and accurate information.  As soon as we received that, we suspended the standards until a member committee could consider whether there was a need for them.

I personally believe that if the members had been immediately informed of the whys and wherefores of some of the decisions made this year, much of the current distrust would not exist.  The board is made up of people who truly have RWA’s best interests at heart.  We have, however, made mistakes.  We regret them, and we have learned from them.  I know that simply saying that will not reassure outraged members, but I hope that by our future actions we can restore the trust that was damaged this year.  That’s one of my major goals.



2. Aside from the pressure of addressing decisions made by a previous board, what are your goals for the RWA? What key areas do you feel need to be addressed?

We need to get a handle on the innovations in technology, both for our own uses within the organization (such as the new software mentioned below) and so that we can understand the changes taking place within the industry. We have a new five-year strategic plan which addresses the need for us to be cognizant not only of what’s happening now, but of what looms on the horizon.  It also acknowledges that we need better communication with our membership, more education in the form of contract reviews and analyses to help them in their career choices, and perhaps even a for-profit subsidiary to provide them with services we can’t provide under our current tax status.  And *please* take note that we are only studying the feasibility and advisability of the latter right now.  It may not work out, but again, as an organization we must always be thinking ahead of the curve.

As writers, we’re living in a period of tremendous change in terms of technology, both in publication and distribution.  At the same time we seem to be facing an ever-shrinking market for print material of all kinds.  Society is rapidly evolving in terms of leisure pastimes.  The movie industry is facing some of the same problems we face.  Frankly, it’s going to be challenging to continue the great success romance has traditionally enjoyed, but we’re dedicated to doing the best we can to see that happens.

3. Based on reader and author comments, some people are concerned that there’s a communication disconnect between the Board and the rank-and-file members. Do you think there’s a communication issue? If yes, what do you think can be done to address these issues? Would an interactive website that allows members to track issues and proposals be an option?

I think we absolutely must communicate better, and that’s one of our primary goals for next year.  We need to use Chaplink, our chapter presidents’ loop, to get information to members quickly through their chapter leaders.  We need to use that loop to solicit ideas, as well.  The presidents have their ears to the ground, to use a cliché, and they often know what members are concerned about before we do.  Communication should always run both ways, and often, as in any organization, people don’t write the board until we’ve upset them.  In addition to that, the board definitely needs to do a better job of explaining the reasoning behind decisions and of letting members see, at the very least, the most compelling information we consider when we make them.

The idea of an interactive website might be possible with the new software the organization has just purchased.  That will be up and running in January, I believe, after all members of the staff have been trained in its use.  The software can track committees and their charges and even allow committee chairs to upload their own reports.  The office is excitedly trying to figure out all the ways in which the software can make information gathering, storage and dispersal easier and more useful to the organization.  I’m very hopeful about its possibilities.

4. Romance genre question: In your opinion, is there room at the table for erotic romance? Gay/lesbian romance?

In my opinion, it’s a very big table.  Our market share is the envy of every other genre, and I think that’s *because* of our diversity.  Within romance, we literally have something for everyone’s tastes.  Besides, as the board said in our statement at conference:  The organization doesn’t define the genre; the genre defines the organization.  And the genre is vibrant and growing and evolving.

Romance Writers of America is the largest writers’ group in the world because we have always been inclusive.  Personally, I would not want us to be any other way.  I know that most of my fellow board members feel the same way.  When someone joins RWA, we ask them to acknowledge that they are pursuing a career in romance writing.  That doesn’t mean that they aren’t free to write in other genres as well.  As an organization, we must be concerned with serving the needs of our core membership—those who *are* actively pursuing a career in romance—but we certainly aren’t out to deny to any of our members the incredible array of services that attract so many writers to this group.

5. Recently, some members (including Jenny Crusie) have expressed concern about the public image of the RWA, and some readers of ours have described the inner workings using terms such as “the ladies having tea, the cat-fighting, the country club snobbery.” Others are concerned about the potential decline in credibility after the recent Board’s decisions to address cover art and the definition of romance. Do you agree that the public image is tarnished, and, if so, how would you go about addressing this?

I would hate to think that our image has been tarnished.  I think most of these issues were within the membership, but I admit that when there are multiple internal issues, the controversy does begin to spill out into the industry and possibly into the public domain.  The internet has some effect on that with the popularity of blogging.  Authors talk about their concerns in their blogs and readers, editors, and publishers pick up on them.  The days of keeping the organization’s business known only to the organization’s membership are over.  But then that’s true for any organization.

“Cat fighting” and “ladies having tea” seem contradictions in terms to me.  I don’t believe most of us in RWA engage in those or in snobbery either.  In all honesty, most of us are too busy trying to keep abreast of changes in our industry and in making a living.

As far as addressing the image of romance, tarnished or not, I think we continue to do what we’ve done for the last ten years.  We publicize our market share, our diversity, and the incredible successes of our members.  We’ve just renewed the academic grant program for another year, and I think that will eventually pay big dividends in the area of image outside the community.  We’ve made huge strides in the last few years in letting people know the positives of romance.  We just have to continue to work as hard as we have been to spread that message.

6. Why do you think romance art departments think we want to read books with covers featuring men whose breasts are bigger than ours?

LOL.  I think you’d better direct that question to the art departments.  (Hey, something RWA can’t be blamed for!


7. Most important question: what are you reading right now? Who are your favorite “auto-buy*” authors and what genres are your favorites?  (*An auto-buy author is someone whose books you buy automatically with no inspection of the plot. You already know it’s going to be good.)

Right now, I’m mostly reading e-mails

I really wish I had more time to read more.  Before I began writing, I read probably 5-20 books a week, depending on whether it was summer (when I wasn’t teaching) or during the school term.  Now, being on the Board of Directors, trying to write, meeting family obligations—well, you all know that drill.  Also, after sitting at the computer all day, manipulating my own words and characters and plot, I find that I don’t grab a book to relax into as readily as I once did.  It’s harder to get into someone else’s story after being so immersed in mine.

That said, my all-time favorite author is Dorothy Dunnett, who wrote historical fiction and contemporary British mysteries.  The six books that make up her Lymond Chronicles and King Hereafter are my comfort reads.  I’ve probably read each a dozen times.

In romance, I read very widely.  Of course, I have favorite authors and favorite themes and friends who are auto-buys.  If I start to name them, however, I’m bound to leave someone out.  I know you don’t want me to cause hard feelings.

I also read straight mysteries—people like James Lee Burke, Elizabeth George, and James Patterson.  I like Gene Wolfe in Science Fiction, although I’m not perfectly sure that’s the right genre for what he does.  I read horror by people like Koontz and King.  Sometimes I just get on a reading kick because of a movie I see or an article I read.  For example, I read the Hornblower series by Forester because of the A&E movies with Ioan Gruffud.  So…I’m actually a pretty equal opportunity reader, but romance is always my first love.


Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Stef2 says:

    I’m alternately laughing and weeping for joy – Smart Bitches Rule!!!!

    And Gayle Wilson is my hero.  RWA is so lucky to have her stepping into the presidency, especially after the year we just had.

    WARNING: shameless campaigning ahead…

    Would this be a good opportunity to stump?  I’m running for the board – the one year term recently vacated by Linda Lael Miller – in anticipation of running for treasurer next year.  I need experience before I can Count deMoney.

    Vote for me!  I’ll be nice to Gayle.  And I love everybody.  Erotic, gay, whatever – like she said, it’s a big table.

    Stef, so seriously impressed that you guys did this interview

    Oh, and my whole name is Stephanie Feagan.  Pronounced like Reagan…

  2. 2
    E.D'Trix says:

    Hmmm…overall, very impressive and well thought out. I look forward to seeing what she can do in the coming year! However…(there always does have to be a however, doesn’t there?) seems to me that her answer to question four was that of course erotic romance and gay/lesbian romance authors are welcome, because RWA welcomes writers of all genres.

    I may be reading a lot into her very nice answer, but seems to me as though she does not at all view erotic or gay romance as sub-genres of romance, but as different genres of fiction altogether…

  3. 3
    Gabriele says:

    She likes Dorothy Dunnett and Hornblower! I already love her and I’m not even a member of the RWA.  :-)

  4. 4
    Anna says:

    Woo Hoo Dorothy Dunnett!  ;-)

    Impressive interview from a classy lady.  As an RWA member, albeit a distant one, I feel so reassured.

    And I voted for Stef last time and will vote for her again.

  5. 5
    Karen Scott says:

    Congratulations Bitches!

    It was good of Gayle to agree to the interview.  Me thinks she’d make a good politician.

    Unfortunately, I kinda agree with E.D Trix’s comments.

  6. 6
    Amanda says:

    Excellent interview, SBs. Interesting to read some of the details. My impression of Ms. Wilson’s answers is that they are quite glossy. Pretty to hear, but also not necessarily answering what was asked.

    It seems Ms. Wilson has quite a bit of diplomacy ahead of her. IMO, E.D. Trix & K. Scott have said it well.

  7. 7
    Stef2 says:

    Really?  See, I didn’t come away with that impression at all.  Perhaps Gayle will show up and clarify.

    I’ve tried and tried to keep my yap shut about everything, for several reasons – because I don’t want to spill my guts in public, and because I’m running for the board, so I try hard not to be too controversial.  And I guess this is a little like that old adage about family – I can call each and every one of them lousy bums, but let anyone else say anything, and I’ll spit in their eye.  I’m protective of RWA.  At least in public.

    But it’s not really much use, is it?  I have problems with things, and that’s one of the reasons I’m running.  I’m a sensible, open-minded person, so I think I can do some good and be of help to an organization that’s certainly been good to me.  By not saying anything, maybe I come across as not caring, or worse, agreeing with all that’s been done.

    Nothing could be further from the truth.  In fact, I could lay out some serious doo-doo and no one would have any doubt about how I feel.  But that’s of a perosnal nature, so I won’t.

    I’ll simply say, I believe romance means different things to different people, and who am I to tell anyone they’re wrong?  Yes, I see the division of resources is important – I serve on the finance committee, so I’m well aware that we can’t afford to lend assistance to every Jo Blow who joins and wants us to support her, if she’s writing something that doesn’t fall under the romance umbrella.  I guess I just see that a lot of stories do fall under that umbrella, and I’m glad to let those in.

    I’m not going to politic here – it’s not a good venue to do that.  And I respect Candy and Sarah, so I don’t want to horn in on their party.  But please, anyone in RWA who has any question at all for me, to ask how I stand on any issue, please email me.


    p.s. Anna Of!  Thanks so much for your vote of confidence!

  8. 8
    Lani says:

    Excellent, excellent interview, SBs. And it looks like we’ve got a class act stepping into the presidency. Good news all around!


  9. 9

    It was great of Ms. Wilson to step up to be interviewed. Let’s hope RWA figures out its own image problem, and takes steps to address it.


  10. 10

    Stef, I wanna vote for you but that means I have to shell out my dues again. Wanna bribe me? (It’s a prestigious old american tradition, you know—buying votes.)

    Wait. Is that too tangential?

  11. 11
    Kate R says:

    I meant to say Thank you for the interview, SBs. I feel much cheerier about RWA. And Stef, I’m gonna steal that line about defining romance. I love it.

  12. 12
    Gina says:

    Great interview. Definitely was interested in what Gayle had to say. However, as a writer of gay romance, I’m interested still because I got the same impression E.D. Trix and others had about erotic romance and gay romance being consider different genres.

  13. 13
    RWA Member says:

    Sarah and Candy, great interview! I’m already looking forward to the next ones…Very good idea.

    And Gayle? Thank you very much for doing this interview.

    But—Candy and Sarah: Would you mind going back to Gayle and asking for a simple yes or no answer on the question several of us have noticed seems ambiguous?

    4. Romance genre question: In your opinion, is there room at the table for erotic romance? Gay/lesbian romance?

    Gayle talked about it being “a very big table…” but then also said RWA members were of course “free to write in other genres as well…[but the RWA] must be concerned with serving the needs of our core membership—those who *are* actively pursuing a career in romance—”

    Please feel free to say my exerpt of her answer isn’t accurate—but the issue is simple.

    Erotica and Gay/Lesbian Romance = Romance, RWA style. Yes or No.

    I personally don’t write erotica or Gay/Lesbian romance, but as a person and an RWA member, I won’t support any platform of exclusion.


  14. 14

    Good job, Bitches! I appreciate your bringing Gayle into the site to talk about RWA’s plans for the future. Lymond and _King Hereafter_ are two of my favorite reads as well.  Shows a lot of intelligence on her part, and that gives me confidence in our new prez.[g]

    Jeez, you guys seem so…so _legitimate_, arranging this interview and all.  I hope this doesn’t mean the SB’s are being co-opted by the mainstream!

  15. 15

    OMG!!!!  RWA has a grant program for us poor academics!  My Dean is on the ass of my department (English) because we’re not bringing in enough grant money (yah, you think?  Where’s the money in English, I ask you!).  But I write about romances (dream one day actually to write a romances, without the extra preposition).  And you can bet your bootie I’m applying for that grant!  Do you think that’s what my Dean was thinking about?  ;)

  16. 16
    SB Sarah says:

    There can never be too many “Sarahs.”

  17. 17
    Robin says:

    Some random and likely irrelevant responses:

    1. I have no heroes; is that sad? 

    2.  I think Gayle Wilson is in a really tenuous position (as opposed to “untenuous” or even untenable); she’s not yet taken on the official mantle of RWA president and yet she’s been put in the default position of association spokesperson because of, well, we all know why.  So it makes sense to me that her message right now is “we need to communicate with our members more” because it’s a way of absorbing blame without pressing a new agenda when she’s not yet got the authority to set one.  Plus, I think when you consider what’s happening with the current communication strategy, it’s a pretty smart angle from which to approach. 

    3.  The only powerful “huh?” moment I had in the interview was the explanation for the Romance survey.  I’m wondering whether there were a couple of motives, some spoken and some unspoken and coming from different individuals, that resulted in an instrument that so many felt was exclusionary and overtly politicized.  And maybe that was the case for a lot of what happened.  Because let’s face it; to most of us, our views seem so natural, so reasonable, we don’t always recognize that to someone else, someone with radically different views, our “truths” can be construed as political (and that political is a bad thing).  Now I personally think that when one is in a position to represent an organization, one has a responsibility to be very self-aware and extra careful about how their views dovetail with and diverge from other individual members or the mission of the organization (a reason I never want to head anything up or supervise anyone).  There may not have been a completely conscious political agenda behind a lot of what went on, but if someone has strong views and little self-awareness, it’s a miracle if their actions DON’T have political overtones or import.  Frankly, I wonder if that’s what happened with the RWA ceremony (for no other reason than there seemed so little finesse to the program).  There are a lot of smarter, subtler, and more effective ways to front a political agenda, ways that don’t ultimately make it a suicide mission.

    4.  Whatever actually did or didn’t happen with the RWA throughout the current presidency, there’s a lot of hostility, and right now I imagine that it’s a huge feat for someone who is not a professional politician to say anything that won’t fan the flames from some direction or another.  There weren’t a lot of meaty or frankly detailed answers to questions, but I thought Candy and Sarah asked some really good questions, and IMO Gayle Wilson tried, as much as she could, to reassure everyone that the leadership will be more communicative with the membership of RWA, which, IMO translates to more accountability.  At least that’s how I read it. But then again, I always feel like I only have one or two pieces at a time of any of these organizational puzzles.

  18. 18
    Sarah F. says:

    There can never be too many “Sarahs.”

    Especially when you spell it the only way it should be spelt!  Do you get those idiots who, when you say “Sarah with an h,” spell it “Shara” or even “Sahra”?  People amuse me, because it’s either that or I have to take them out back and shoot them.

  19. 19
    Suisan says:

    Especially when you spell it the only way it should be spelt!

    My maiden name was Christian. “How do you spell that?”
    “Like the religion.” (joke)
    “Is that with a K?” (serious)

    Suisan runs screaming into the street…

    But on the Subject of Gayle, I agree with Robin—her answers can really only point to increased communication at this point, and she did a good job of spreading that message, which, in and of itself, demonstrates her understanding of how to approach RWA’s current problems. I can only wish her luck. There will be a lot of scrutiny directed her way.

    Smart Bitches—how did you score this interview? Interesting that you did.

  20. 20
    Stef2 says:

    Robin, in her usual, intelligent way, has summed things up nicely.  Well said! 

    Kate, thanks for stealing my line.  But that vote buying thing – can’t do it, or I’ll screw up my karma.  I’m being completely philosophical about this election, just like I was last year.  Linda Lael Miller decided to run at the 11th hour, and as soon as she threw her hat in, I knew I was toast.  I spent about ten seconds worrying about it.  Turned out, losing was one of the best things that ever happened to me.  Had I been on the board this past year…well, you see what I mean.

    If you DO happen to fork over those dues, however, please pray to the gods of man-titty and ask how you should cast your vote.  I’m certain they won’t steer you wrong.


  21. 21
    Robin says:

    “There may not have been a completely conscious political agenda behind a lot of what went on, but if someone has strong views and little self-awareness, it’s a miracle if their actions DON’T have political overtones or import.”

    Not that anyone likely cares, but I should have said “partisan political overtones” here, since, as I suggested, I think everything can be construed as political to those who don’t find certain views completely natural or reasonable sounding to them.  I’m not sure how I feel about the fact that the word “political” like “political correctness” has become a bad thing, but since political views are held by virtually everyone who is part of the body politic, I think “partisan politics” better expresses what seems to be at the center of the RWA/TTQ mess.

  22. 22
    SarahS says:

    As a member of RWA, I really appreciate Ms. Wilson taking the time to do this interview.

    I agree with some of the other posters who said they would have preferred a more direct answer to the whole erotica/gay romance question.  However, I think a direct answer at this stage would only have served to alienate one half of the organization.  TTQ made the mistake of making her views rather too clear to the general membership.  Look where that led. 

    Gayle Wilson will be president of the RWA in its entirety (i.e. including the more conservative element).  While my views on this question are liberal, I speak only for myself.  The president, in my opinion, needs to remain as objective as possible.  We want effective communication here, not another slanging match.


  23. 23
    white raven says:

    Okay, Gayle Wilson rocks!

    Great interview.  I like her style, her commitment and her straightforward responses.  And hot damn!  She’s a Dorothy Dunnett fan!  King Hereafter is my absolute favorite book ever written.

    Thanks for posting this Smart Bitches!

  24. 24
    Candy says:

    Smart Bitches—how did you score this interview? Interesting that you did.

    Don’t ask me, ask Sarah—it was her idea, and she was the one who set it up. I contributed one question and came up with the text of the e-mail that went out to our Smart Bitchery members soliciting questions, and that was about the extent of what I did.

    So c’mon, everybody now: SARAH ROCKS! SARAH ROCKS!

  25. 25
    SB Sarah says:

    Actually, credit for the idea of interviewing Gayle Wilson goes to the Hubby, who said, “You should email her and ask if you can interview her for your site.” He’s brilliant, I tell you. And he reads the site (though he doesn’t comment).

    I emailed her, but don’t underestimate Candy and our missive that went out to membership of this site soliciting questions. Gee, we’re so back-pattingly friendly it makes me blink. Yay us, yay us!

  26. 26
    Dee says:

    Wow, SBs! This was a BRILLIANT idea!

    First off, I’m not an RWA member, but as I work for a romance publisher, you find yourself hip deep in RWA issues whether you like it or not. Usually, I hear about them and go, pfft, it’ll blow over.

    This year, though, has been one nightmare after another and for the first time, I’m seeing as straightforward a statement as one can make while not being the President of the organization.

    Big kudos to Gayle Wilson for trying to address things without a) tossing the blame on anyone else, b) making secondary excuses to try to make sense out of the first excuse, but gives a completely other reason that also makes no sense and most importantly, c) making promises she can’t keep—something I think the soon to be previous administration could learn from.

    While there is something worrisome about the non-answer for erotica and gay/lesbian romances being part of RWA’s future, I also think it would have been far worse for Gayle to give an answer she can’t be sure will hold. I’m willing to wait for the final answer than falsely get my hopes up because she wanted to build morale.

    All I know is that the more I see of Gayle, the better I feel about next year.

    Hugs all!

  27. 27
    Dee says:

    PS—RWA has some kind of scholarship program? Good lord, how’d I miss that? I’m poor, I’m poor! Hey Stef, you’re the money gal, lol, fill a sistah in!


  28. 28
    Stef2 says:

    Hey Dee!

    Actually, what Gayle’s talking about is a grant program RWA has done the past few years (maybe 2?), wherein we give grant money to scholarly types at universities, for the sole purpose of studying romance and writing dissertations about it.  I’ve yet to see what’s come of past grants, but I understand there’s to be some kind of report in the near future.

    As for scholarships, I’m not aware of one for dues, but there is one for the national conference.  Usually, an ad is run in the RWR in the fall, asking for essay entries.  However many scholarships are donated is the number of essays chosen.  The essays are read by a committee, made up of the scholarship donors.  This isn’t actually a service of RWA, but of the individuals who donate the scholarships.


  29. 29
    Dee says:

    Hey Stef! Thanks! I’d vaguely heard of the conference one, I didn’t think y’all donated memberships—lol, can’t blame a cheap gal for wishin, lol! That’s pretty cool about studying romance in college. But, and this is nothing against the genre I love and admire….what can you DO with a degree in romance?


  30. 30
    Stef2 says:

    Dee, here’s a link to the RWA page that tells about the grant program.  It’s not like a scholarship, but a research kind of thing.


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