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.

    Stef

    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!

    L.

  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.

    Megan

  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.

    Thanks!

  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.

    Stef

  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.

    SarahS

  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!
    Dee

  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!

    Dee

  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.

    Stef

  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?

    Smooches,
    Dee

  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.

    http://www.rwanational.org/homepage/grantsdescription.htm

    Stef

  31. 31
    Reia says:

    First of all, I must admit, that I know Gayle and love her dearly.  She’s taken on a huge responsibility and will give it everything she has.

    As far as worrying about the RWA becoming exclusive?  I’m a little confused.  The RWA has always been somewhat exclusive hasn’t it?  Does the RWA not have an exclusive list of Rita Eligible publishers? Does the RWA not have exclusive requirements for PAN membership?

    These requirements are boundaries, not an attempt to discriminate against individual writers.

    Although Gail didn’t call for it, and I don’t want her blamed for MY opinion, I think a more clear definition of the genre would indeed be a good thing for RWA.  Otherwise, why stop at Gay/lesbian romance? 

    If there are no boundaries as to what may be included in the genre called “romance,” what exactly are asking for?  A non-genre genre? 

    If I get a book about a trampy stray kitty and her lusty boyfriends published why can’t I demand it be considered for the Rita if the genre is without boundaries? 

    How inclusive must the RWA be in order to please all members?

    Boundaries are good things in most areas of life.  Let’s not throw them out just to make sure we’re not offending anyone.

  32. 32
    Candy says:

    “If there are no boundaries as to what may be included in the genre called “romance,” what exactly are asking for?  A non-genre genre?”

    Come, now—that’s engaging in some slippery slope reasoning. Nobody’s calling for the RWA to be completely inclusive and without boundaries. The thing is, the RWA already has a definition of romance that I think does the job quite handily:

    “A romance is a book wherein the love story is the main focus of the novel, and the end of the book is emotionally satisfying.”

    From this page here: RWA Defines the Romance Novel.

    Now, if the RWA wants to dodge some sticky wickets, they might want to specify “adult humans and/or humanoids” (can’t forget those paranormal romances with aliens and were-critters), but otherwise, what’s wrong with this genre definition? Can you think of any other genre that would satisfy this definition? Near as I can tell, the whole “love story is central, HEA is a must” thing clearly defines the genre romance novel as we know it.

    If the RWA wants to further narrow its definition of romance, they are absolutely free to do so. It’s a private organization, and they can define whatever they want and accept or reject whomever they want. In my opinion, though, should they narrow the definition dow, they should be truthful in labelling their organization. “American Writers of Strictly Heterosexual and Monogamous Romance Novels” would be a nifty new name, perhaps.

  33. 33
    Robin says:

    “Nobody’s calling for the RWA to be completely inclusive and without boundaries. The thing is, the RWA already has a definition of romance that I think does the job quite handily:

    ‘A romance is a book wherein the love story is the main focus of the novel, and the end of the book is emotionally satisfying.’”

    Exactly, Candy!  You know, this generic definition thing in Romance fascinates me, especially since I come from a background of obsessively studying generic boudaries. 

    In general, a genre definition is meant to ensure formulaic coherence within a body of literature (all fiction is included in this broad category) and to maintain the central elements common to and definitive of the genre. 

    Romance is kind of an interesting word to begin with, especially when you think of its historical evolution.  And certainly, no conversation about generic definitions is free of ideology.  BUT I think sometimes in Romancelandia there is a confusion between what constitutes a Romance novel and what’s romantic to a particular reader.  If it’s not romantic to us, we may not see a book as a Romance.  Of course all sorts of ideological considerations play into this judgment (from the race and sexual orientation of the protagonists to questions of how dark is dark in Romance, etc.), but in terms of generic definition, I think it’s essential to divorce the notion of what’s romantic to each of us from what constitutes the genre of Romance, if for no other reason than basing the second question (what constitutes Romance) on the results of the first will, ironically, defeat the fundamental need for formulaic coherence in the genre, since so many of us find different things romantic.  IMO the centrality of the love story and its culmination in a happy ending is very distinctive (so as not to confuse anyone wanting to know what a Romance is) and yet broad enough to be inclusive of different tastes within a very large generic category.

  34. 34
    Reia says:

    “The thing is, the RWA already has a definition of romance that I think does the job quite handily:

    “A romance is a book wherein the love story is the main focus of the novel, and the end of the book is emotionally satisfying.”

    If the current definition does the job, and if a certain book meets that requirement why should the RWA or Gail be questioned about exclusivity?  (Sorry about taking your comment out of context, btw)  What RWA might want to consider is whether or not the definition is exclusive enough, and here’s why:

    “Come, now—that’s engaging in some slippery slope reasoning. Nobody’s calling for the RWA to be completely inclusive and without boundaries.”

    No.  My reasoning is totally sound.  Think about where RWA started and where it is now.  I’m revealing my age, but years ago an almost identical debate popped up on the old AOL Pet Peeves board.  The subject was whether or not RWA was being too vague in it’s definition of Romance.  I only lurked since I was more interested in the debate about whether or not Fabio helped or hurt the industry, so I’ll recap as best I can.

    There was concern that without firmer definition of the genre, RWA was not setting a clear boundary between romance and erotica and/or bondage stories.  The opposing view was similar to your slippery slope reasoning comment with a slight difference.  It was believed that the approved publisher’s requirement would prevent erotica or bondage stories from blending with romance.  The two genre’s had distinct publishers, or at least distinct lines within each publishing house.  That was considered enough to keep the boundary between romance and erotica standing strong.

    Well, now we have houses such as Elora’s Cave, which publishes erotica, bondage, gay/lesbian and romance all under the same house name.  EC is a Rita eligible publisher.  No distinction has ever been made that would not allow a bondage story to be Rita eligible.  Is that the route members wanted for RWA?  If it is, that’s fine, but if not, it’s too late.  Many bondage stories from EC meet the definition of romance set forth by RWA.  Those stories are technically Rita eligible.  Right now, it would be hard to get a bondage story nominated, but who’s to say what could happen in the future? 

    “Now, if the RWA wants to dodge some sticky wickets, they might want to specify “adult humans and/or humanoids” 

    Now that’s funny!!  But wait a second, Candy, please specify LIVING adult human or humanoirds in your new definition.  I really don’t think necrophilia should become Rita eligible.  EWWWWWWW!

    “In my opinion, though, should they narrow the definition dow, they should be truthful in labelling their organization.”

    I agree.  However, in my opinion RWA should be truthful about how porous their definition of romance as a genre actually is and what that means for the future.  Is there anything in the current RWA definition that strictly prohibits necrophilia, pedophilla, or bondage from being Rita eligible material?  Is that a label the RWA wants?

    Like I said, Gayle has a tough job ahead of her.

  35. 35
    Candy says:

    “There was concern that without firmer definition of the genre, RWA was not setting a clear boundary between romance and erotica and/or bondage stories.”

    Again, look at the definition:

    “A romance is a book wherein the love story is the main focus of the novel, and the end of the book is emotionally satisfying.”

    Let’s say a bondage story is submitted for a RITA. All the committee would need to do is determine the following in 3 easy steps:

    1. In a book with bondage elements, is there a love story, yes or no?

    If no, no love story at all, then it’s clearly not a romance.

    If yes, there is a story about people falling in love within the book, then it *might* be a romance. Go to the next question.

    2. In a book with bondage and a love story, is the love story central, yes or no?

    If no, the story focuses more on other elements, then it’s not a romance.

    If yes, then it might be a romance. Go to the last question.

    3. In a book with bondage and a love story that’s central to the work, is there an emotionally satisfying ending (fancy-talk for HEA)?

    If no, the story ends with the people parting company or other non-HEA scenarios, then it’s not a romance.

    If yes, then folks, we done have us a genre romance on our hands. A romance with bondage in it.

    “But wait a second, Candy, please specify LIVING adult human or humanoirds in your new definition.  I really don’t think necrophilia should become Rita eligible.  EWWWWWWW!”

    I deliberately left “living” out of it—think of all the paranormal romances involving ghosts and vampires, many by huge mainstream authors like Anne Stuart and Linda Lael Miller, most of them clearly romance novels. Vamps and ghosties are not quite dead. They’re definitely not alive, though. Perhaps “sentient” would work?

    “Right now, it would be hard to get a bondage story nominated, but who’s to say what could happen in the future? (…) Is there anything in the current RWA definition that strictly prohibits necrophilia, pedophilla, or bondage from being Rita eligible material?”

    Sure, they could tighten the definition up so strict necrophilia (i.e. screwing with a non-sentient corpse—because let’s face it, vampires and such are sentient corpses), straight-up bestiality (screwing non-sentient/non-humanoid animals) and pedophilia would be excluded.

    Why exclude bondage, though? I just got done skimming through a book with really heavy bondage elements that was also quite clearly a love story. I didn’t like it much, but it’s still a romance. I’m genuinely curious why you think bondage isn’t allowable as a romance category, much in the way pedophilia and bestiality aren’t allowable. The difference is, in the latter two, consent and legality are very real issues (though I was fascinated to learn recently that bestiality ISN’T illegal in many states after that case of the dude in Washington state who literally got fucked to death by a horse). In bondage stories published by most publishing houses that also publish regular romance(they usually have VERY clear guidelines about the age of their protags), age of consent and animal involvement is not even an issue.

    And the attempts to narrow romance so far that I’ve seen (and I speak this as someone who hasn’t ever been in the RWA) seemed focused on excluding polygamous relationships and gay/lesbian romances. Not a peep so far about excluding pedophilia and bestiailty, which, frankly, would be the first loopholes *I’d* close in the definition.

    But then pedophilia brings up some sticky wickets: how young is too young? Some Bertrice Small medieval romances I read had really, really young heroines. And Laura Kinsale’s absolutely wonderful Shadowheart (which won the RITA) had a heroine who starts out younger than 18 years old, if I remember right.

  36. 36
    Robin says:

    “However, in my opinion RWA should be truthful about how porous their definition of romance as a genre actually is and what that means for the future.”

    But aren’t you really talking more about taste here than generic definition?  When you think about different genres, you don’t immediately come up with long lists of requirements.  Even sonnets, which have notoriously restrictive requirements, aren’t as finely detailed as what some seem to be asking for in the Romance genre.  If the RWA wants to arbitrate what they feel to be “romantic” Romance, or morally upright Romance, or ideologically acceptable Romance, then I think as a dues-based organization, they have a right to do that.  But outside of that, I think we’re beyond the limits of generic definition and into taste.  I dislike Bertrice Small’s books, for example, and don’t find them romantic in the least, but I recognize that generically they’re clearly within the Romance structure.  Why isn’t it the same with bondage, for example, especially in the context of the excellent questions Candy constructed?

  37. 37
    Reia says:

    “If yes, then folks, we done have us a genre romance on our hands. A romance
    with bondage in it. “

    That’s right.  You do.  And even if there are sixteen bondage scenes, some nonconsensual, or even some bondage scenes that would be considered rape, you still have a genre romance according to the current RWA definition.  Is that best for RWA?

    “I deliberately left “living” out of it—think of all the paranormal
    romances involving ghosts and vampires, many by huge mainstream authors like
    Anne Stuart and Linda Lael Miller, most of them clearly romance novels.
    Vamps and ghosties are not quite dead. They’re definitely not alive,
    though. Perhaps “sentient” would work? “

    Hmmmm.  I thought vampires, ghosts and werewolves were non-human.  Or maybe ghosts are human spirits, but not humans as such, while vampires and werewolves are definitive species?  Geez.  Now I’ve got a headache.  Where’s Ann Rice when I need her?

    “Why exclude bondage, though?”

    Bondage isn’t excluded, but should it be without boundaries such as rape or mutilation?

    ” I just got done skimming through a book with
    really heavy bondage elements that was also quite clearly a love story. I
    didn’t like it much, but it’s still a romance.”

    So did I and oddly enough, I did not think the book I read was romance at all.  It was well written, there was certainly the potential for a HEA, there was a progression of events involving bondage that may or may not have contributed to a relationship.  But the main focus of the book was not the growing relationship between the two characters—the main focus was the minutiae of their sex lives.  A detailed account of the mechanics of bondage with an “I love you,” and an “I love you, too,” at the end is not romance. 

    “I’m genuinely curious why you think bondage isn’t allowable as a romance category, much in the way pedophilla and bestiality aren’t allowable. The difference is, in the
    latter two, consent and legality are very real issues”

    I didn’t say it isn’t allowable.  Even if I wanted to, I can’t.  It clearly is allowable based on the definition given by RWA.  I paraphrased the discussion on the Pet Peeves board as I recalled it.  At that time, even keeping the heroine locked in her room, as used in Elizabeth Lowell’s UNTAMED was called bondage and criticized (by some writers) as demeaning to women and not romance.  Now here we are years later with you and I debating whether or not heavy/detailed bondage is romance.  We can do that forever and both be right based on the definition we have, because without specific boundaries what’s to stop any sexual act such as pedophilla, necrophilia, or my stray kitty from being qualified as a romance?

    “And the attempts to narrow romance so far that I’ve seen (and I speak this
    as someone who hasn’t ever been in the RWA) seemed focused on excluding
    polygamous relationships and gay/lesbian romances”

    Gay/lesbian romance is already being published by more than one Rita eligible publisher.  As long as the book fits the definition of romance and has a plot that puts it into one of Rita’s categories, it is eligible for nomination.  Ditto for any multiple partner story.  So where’s the focused exclusion?   

    “Not a peep so far about excluding pedophilia and bestiailty, which, frankly, would be the first loopholes *I’d* close in the definition.”

    Well, thereya go!  It looks like we agree that the definition of romance as put forth by the RWA may not be sufficient and reform is worth consideration.  That’s all I’m saying.

  38. 38
    Candy says:

    “I thought vampires, ghosts and werewolves were non-human.”

    I didn’t mention werewolves in my definition of the undead—werewolf mythology generally doesn’t have the person dying then ressurecting, does it? Vampire mythology, however, does. Vampires (well, it depends on how they’re written, too, I guess) are quite clearly corpses with superpowers.

    As for ghosts: think of The Sixth Sense. Did the little kid say “I see non-humans”? Nope, the kid said “I see dead people.”

    Ghosts = dead people.

    Ghost romances = romances with dead people.

    It’s odd, but eh, it’s fiction. Fiction in general is pretty odd.

    “And even if there are sixteen bondage scenes, some nonconsensual, or even some bondage scenes that would be considered rape, you still have a genre romance according to the current RWA definition.  Is that best for RWA?”

    If the love story is central to the story and there’s an HEA at the end, then yeah, it’s a romance. God knows we’ve had a few decades of loads—and I mean loads—of non-bondage stories that featured non-consensual sex. We add harnesses, dildos and whips to the thing and suddenly it’s all “ACK! NOT A ROMANCE!” any more?

    Furthermore, not all bondage stories involve nonconsensual sex—actually, in real life, the BDSM community seems reallly hung up on “safe, sane and consensual.” I’ve done nothing more than putz around on the Internet looking random crap up on this movement, so if someone who knows more than I do wants to pipe up because I’m speaking out of my ass, please do.

    Again, I’m interested in why you’re picking on bondage in particular. I haven’t read too extensively in BDSM love stories, but the few I’ve read all included only consensual sex, with a heavy emphasis on safe sex, safe words, etc. This means nothing, of course—anecdotal evidence and all that.

    But I’m willing to bet that the number of non-bondage romances with non-consensual sex far outweigh the bondage romances with non-consensual sex.

    If it’s the non-consensual sex aspect of bondage that’s bothering you, why bring up bondage at all? Why not just pick on the element that seems to be sticking in your craw, the non-consensuality?

    As Robin talked about, I think you’re moving beyond generic definitions and into personal taste. I, for one, hate hate HATE books with outright rape and most that feature forced seduction. This would include big-name romance novels like, ohhhh, Whitney, My Love and a huge chunk of just about every romance written in the 70s and early-to-mid 80s by people like Kathleen Woodiwiss and Karen Robards.

    Are they romances? Yes. Do I think they’re romantic? No, but that’s just my personal taste. Other women loooooove these books.

    “So did I and oddly enough, I did not think the book I read was romance at all.  It was well written, there was certainly the potential for a HEA, there was a progression of events involving bondage that may or may not have contributed to a relationship.  But the main focus of the book was not the growing relationship between the two characters—the main focus was the minutiae of their sex lives.”

    There you go. The book you read was bondage erotica, not bondage romance. Not all bondage stories are created the same.

    This applies for just about every sub-genre of romance, though. There are mystery stories that are clearly romances, such as what Linda Howard and Anne Stuart write. There are mystery stories that contain love story elements, but clearly aren’t romances, such as what Agatha Christie used to write.

    Can you dig the difference?

    “Now here we are years later with you and I debating whether or not heavy/detailed bondage is romance.”

    Frankly, I’m interested in reading, not your definition of romance, but your definition of heavy/detailed bondage. Because your definition seems to have “rape” built into it, but mine doesn’t.

    “It looks like we agree that the definition of romance as put forth by the RWA may not be sufficient and reform is worth consideration.”

    I brought up my examples mostly to point out the absurdity of the recent efforts to define romance. I still think the definition is fine as-is.  They seemed focused on excluding gay/lesbian romances and menage stories, which seems to be the equivalent of crying over a paper-cut when a big-ass knife is getting ready to chop off the whole arm, since there are two huge loopholes in the definition regarding bestiality and pedophilia.

    But I’d be interested to see any RWA-approved publisher attempt to publish and market any book featuring hardcore bestiality and pedophilia as a romance novel. I mean, there’s a layer of protection right there already, no?

    And frankly, I’ve never seen an organization get so het up about a definition for the genre. It all strikes me as sort of absurd.

  39. 39
    Robin says:

    “I, for one, hate hate HATE books with outright rape and most that feature forced seduction. This would include big-name romance novels like, ohhhh, Whitney, My Love and a huge chunk of just about every romance written in the 70s and early-to-mid 80s by people like Kathleen Woodiwiss and Karen Robards.

    Are they romances? Yes. Do I think they’re romantic? No, but that’s just my personal taste. Other women loooooove these books.”

    The importance of this point, Candy, can’t be stressed enough, IMO.  I also don’t enjoy most rape/forced seduction books (with a few exceptions, including Gaffney’s To Have and To Hold), but they’re very central to the whole Romance enterprise.  I always wonder when we’re talking about generic narrowing in Romance whether the same folks who want a narrower definition would then see these Romance staple rape/FS books as in or out of the genre.  My guess is that they would have to be largely forgotten in order for a new, narrower definition to be crafted. 

    But even if they were firgured in, how would you distinguish between authorial intent in using the device of rape/FS.  I HATED the way Christina Dodd used it in A Well-Pleasured Lady, but could deal with it in Gaffney’s THATH and To Love and To Cherish.  Others hate Gaffney but have no problem with Dodd.  What about the very mild bondage/SM in Kinsale’s Shadowheart?  Would that put her book beyond the genre, while, perhaps, Whitney, My Love would stay in? 

    What I wish more than anything is that we could talk more objectively about the way sexuality functions in Romance, especially women’s sexuality.  Although, for example, I have a really really hard time reading rapes in Romance, I feel that in many cases the device is used as a way to empower women, to make what is one of the greatest violations against us less horrific.  I’m not weighing in on whether it works or what I think of it, or if the device co-opts patriarchal assumptions; I’m only suggesting that the issue of sex and sexuality in Romance is far more nuanced and important to the genre than it’s sometimes treated, IMO, especially when it becomes the focus of a discussion of generic boundaries.  In other words, let’s not disguise the ideological implications of sex, sexuality, sexual orientation, etc. in Romance; let’s drag them out into the open and discuss them in more open terms.  THEN let’s get to the question of generic boundaries and see where we all land.

  40. 40

    The course of this discussion, especially Robin’s post, reminded me of a story I read several years ago (M&B Temptation) which included a foreplay scene involving heroine, male ghost and hero. At the time, it started me thinking about the implications involved when “forbidden” act, either sexual or moral, becomes permissable in fiction through a plot device.

    For example, werewolf or other shapeshifter romances escape the charge of bestiality, just as vampire or ghost romances aren’t about necrophilia although most vampire mythologies require them to at least technically die (will gloss over the whole tricky theological debate on nature of soul here). Anyhow, human form in sexual relations does seem to be a key factor in what is acceptable.

    Admittedly, I’ve not been looking, but I’ve never read a romance where the characters have sex in their animal form. The Fire Rose skirts the boundaries, but the protagonists don’t actually have sex in the book. Meredith Lackey’s description of Jason Cameron as human from the neck to the knees or thereabouts and the HEA suggests to my grubby mind that they will at some point, but much like with my parents, I try very hard not to think about it. Frankly, non-humanoid sex in a novel would be for me at best akin to reading a back copy of “Nature” in a doctor’s waiting room and I suspect the experience would plummet rapidly through the awkwardly ridiculous down to the ninth gloopy circle of severe ick-dom. Take into account the axiom that emotional involvement is what raises sex from the biological to the romantic and I’d conclude that it’s a human characteristic to assign higher emotions to sex. So my vote would be to stretch sentience to include a developed or mature emotional capacity, which would also helpfully eliminate paedophilia too. 

    Actually, the use of such plot devices often will make or break a book for me. If they merely serve to make the forbidden acceptable or are used to make judgements within a particular moral framework, this smacks of cheap titillation. Alarm bells ring and my firmly suspended disbelief loosens its grip and gets ready to run like the wind. I strongly believe that rape and forced sex are about power and its abuse. So assigning to characters involved in these acts the warm fuzzy feelings that I normally associate with sexuality feels perverted and wrong. At the very least, characters need to be using the same emotional lexicon in a believable way or the situation strikes me as unbalanced. They aren’t communicating in a way that I’d associate with what is often then portrayed as emotionally satisfying sex.

    But when using a device creates a situation which develops the plot and characters in an original way, or has meaning because of what it represents beyond the sexual mechanics, I do a mental happy dance and read on. And then only the most luridly purple prose can spoil it. Or possibly a sandal-shod sociologist stepping into the scene to explain with slides and a laser pointer just why this particular encounter involving leather, shaving foam, three elves and a fridge magnet is a metaphor for the virginal heroine’s need to express her desires openly in a paternalistic society.

    All of which might explain why I find it can become tedious when books use skanky/transgressive sex as the metaphorical equivalent of stomping on bunnies in hobnailed boots to indicate just how eeeeevil someone is, or where characters just hop to it at the drop of a faked marriage certificate and/or need-to-mate-to-save-the-universe-and-fill-up-this-boring-bit-in-hyperspace. And perhaps this is not only why Anita is now dull, but can also cause dullness in others.

Comments are closed.

By posting a comment, you consent to have your personally identifiable information collected and used in accordance with our privacy policy.

↑ Back to Top