Thursday, July 26, 2007

Ah, the things you miss when you miss RWA...

My first-- and only-- RWA Nationals conference was the one I attended in 1994, at the tender age of thirteen years old. I went with my grandmother, Peggy Hanchar, who thought it would be a great chance for me to see New York and catch a few Broadway shows (my main aspiration at the time being a career in the theatre). I have fond memories of Nationals 2004. I saw the Statue of Liberty, toured NBC Studios (in the hopes that upon running into my bespectacled and braces encumbered thirteen-year-old self, Conan O'Brien would be instantly smitten and we would spend long romantic evenings bonding over our unfortunate gingerness), and met Rosie O'Donnell at the stage door after a performance of 'Grease.' I hated the thought of leaving and as I sat, dejected, on the plane that tore me away from the city that had stolen my heart (upon adult consideration of real estate prices in the city proper, I have since reclaimed said vital organ), my grandmother beside me breathed a sigh of relief and exclaimed, "I'm glad that's over!"

At the time, I couldn't understand why she didn't feel the sense of utter devastation I felt at being whisked away from the magical wonderland that was New York. Now, I understand. She was at that annual drama bomb that is the RWA national conference. I might have caught the matinée of Phantom, but I had missed out on the real melodramatics.

Every year, like Christmas, fall out from conference rains down on hapless and confused RWA members, stoked in recent times by bloggers and email loops. What once, back in 1987, would have been hotly repeated gossip in the ladies room of the conference hotel and discarded with the free promotional pens and bookmarks now lives on in pictures taken on cell phones and posted in online journals.

This year, I am speaking, of course, about the Shomi authors who *gasp* wore short skirts and thigh highs to the Literacy event and, to a lesser extent, the swan hat worn by a popular paranormal romance author.

With the exception of a few blog posts or comments saying, in effect, people can wear whatever they want to promote their books and as long as no ones' tits were hanging out, leave them alone, the reaction to these three individuals has been astoundingly negative. The worst attacks have been against the Shomi authors. The convenient anonymity of the internet has given some incredibly catty individuals free reign to vent their jealousy and personal insecurities on these women. Ridiculous accusations have been thick on the ground: These authors are unprofessional, they only got their book contracts because of their looks and male editor, they have single (double?) handedly tarnished the venerable name of RWA by showing their trampy, trampy faces at the conference at all, etc.

Some are easier to dismiss than others. Yes, the editor of the Shomi imprint is male, and yes, he has, on occasion, been seen surrounded by simpering females at various conferences (and at one notable RWA function was witnessed by yours truly playing pool with a group of middle aged attendees, one of whom openly ogled his backside whilst stroking a pool cue suggestively. It is a nightmarish scene that I cannot ever erase from my memory), but before I was published by Mira, I submitted material to this editor and never once in the submissions process did he request a picture of the author in order to make his decision. If these women are published by Shomi, it's because they wrote a story that appealed to this editor, not because of any favors they gained through their sex appeal and the flaunting thereof.
To say otherwise exposes the accusers as what they truly are: vicious bitches who have broken their leashes, out to attack and destroy anyone who holds what they covet, from professional achievements to youthful, well-toned bodies. And anyone who pretends that these nasty comments stem from anything other than blatant body insecurity brought to a head by the fact that these two women wore sexy clothes, looked good in them and garnered attention over their looks is living in a fantasy.

It's harder to crack the complaints of those who feel that these women (bird hat author included now) have somehow harmed the image of the genre. I have a very strong feeling that these are the same individuals who are fighting the inclusion of Erotica in the RWA definition of romantic fiction. The writers who claw their eyes out wanting to be taken seriously, who vehemently defend romance even when no one is attacking it. To these writers I say: mind what's going on in your own backyard and don't worry about the barbecue next door.

We are genre fiction writers. We make up stories about people who fall in love and have adventures. We entertain people, usually on their lunch break or right before they fall asleep or when they're on the toilet. We are not curing cancer. We are not fighting terrorism. Our work is only important to ourselves, and to our readers for the short time they spend with it. Why the near industry-wide push to ignore that fact and pretend that what we do is of the utmost importance to the world?

What's worse is that these individuals who cry to the heavens about the validity of their literary accomplishments don't just voice their opinions and leave it at that. They want the rest of us in the industry to not only uphold their ideals, but share their views wholeheartedly. And one slip will destroy the genre as a whole.

If you want to believe that your book about a fiery, red-headed daughter of a penniless lord (who has a temper to match those luxuriant tresses) being claimed body, heart, and soul by a sexily battle-scarred knight with anachronistically impeccable hygiene is high art, be my guest. But don't expect me to, and don't expect anyone else to treat their work with the reverence you do yours.

I have to pose this question honestly: Did the Shomi Harajuku girls or swan hat lady actually hurt anyone's livelihood? Will we see a significant drop in book sales over the next year because someone wore thigh highs and pleated skirts rather than business suits to the Literacy signing? I'm willing to bet not. And if they hadn't dressed this way, would a romance novel have won the Nobel Prize for Literature? Again, willing to bet not.

The average romance reader does not buy a book based on what the author wore to what signing. The average (good) librarian doesn't buy a book because they feel the genre is important. The reader buys a book because it seems like a good story. Ditto, the librarian, who buys what her readers want to see on the shelf. If I walked into a book signing wearing sack cloth and ashes, I'll probably not sell too many books that day. But is it going to affect the actions of a person who has never seen me? No. Because they have no idea.

Unless, of course, someone takes a picture of me and posts it to a blog. The actions of these bloggers who widely disseminate the images, then complain that the sartorial faux pas is going to destroy romance make absolutely no sense. If you honestly believe this, why spread the evidence around? No one will know if you don't give them the opportunity to find out. Yes, the Dallas newspaper carried the photo. That is one news paper out of the thousands in the country. And most people wouldn't know it was in the paper if they hadn't found out in the numerous blog posts about it.

The most incredible, mind boggling part of this whole controversy has been the way people have used their personally held beliefs as a license to say horrible, insulting things about these people in a very public forum. This is a business. I want some of the people bashing these authors to think very carefully about what they're doing. Your comments will get around. They might not effect your career. They might only cause a few uncomfortable moments at future
conferences when you run into these individuals and they know the hurtful things you said about them. But there might be an editor out there or an agent who you will want to work with in the future, and they might remember, also.

You are not hurting these authors with your criticism (professionally, at least. I'm sure the experience of being made fun of on numerous blogs for the past few days has been personally hurtful), you're actually giving them plenty of publicity that they can take, laughing, to the bank. But you might be hurting yourself. And you're also making yourselves look like total assholes.