I was unable to attend the Romance Writers of America national conference this year, an event I haven’t missed in years. And it sounds like I missed a great speech.
Suzanne Brockmann received the Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award, an honor she richly deserves. She’s written 57 novels, 14 short stories, and three screenplays. She edits a romance line called Suzanne Brockmann Presents. She co-wrote and directed an off-Broadway play and has produced four indie movies.
In romance publishing, Brockmann is well-known for her LGBTQ activism (her son is gay) and her stories about Navy SEALs. In her acceptance speech, she talked about her publishing career, as writers do in this circumstance.
She recounted the time in 1992 when she sold her first romance novel, and her editor called with revisions. The first point: she couldn’t use the word penis. (Seems almost unbelievable now, doesn’t it?)
That same editor told her that a secondary character, a small-town sheriff, couldn’t be gay, as Brockmann had written him. The editor said that romance readers were very conservative, and if the sheriff were gay, they’d be offended, and she’d get angry letters. (Seems almost unbelievable now, doesn’t it?)
In 1998, Brockmann’s Harvard’s Education was Silhouette Intimate Moments book number 884, but it was only the second book in that line with a heroine and hero who were African American. Twenty years later, things haven’t changed all that much.
By 2001, Brockmann had written an out, gay FBI agent (Borders’s best-selling hardcover romance of the year), and in 2007 she married him off to the man of his dreams. But in 2008, when she was asked to give a speech at the annual RWA conference, she was told she couldn’t talk about this recent hardcover bestselling romance novel or the marriage of her all-time most popular characters, because some members would be offended. (Seems almost unbelievable now, doesn’t it? M/M romance is a category by itself these days.)
Btw, Brockmann donates all of her earnings in perpetuity from this book, All through the Night, including advances, sub-rights, and royalties—more than a quarter of a million dollars so far—to MassEquality.
Brockmann talked about how much work still needs to be done to be as inclusive as we should be, as inclusive as we can be. She pointed out that the publishing industry grew from homophobic and racist power structures and that it’s time to rock the boat for love and inclusion.
“Be strong, be brave, be courageous and kind, be willing to take a risk and open your heart to let in some stranger—some scary “other”—and only then will you win the beautiful gift of love, of connection, in the form of a romantic HEA,” she said. “That has been the message of romance since we first began whispering our stories around campfires on cold nights.”
If you believe in love, like I do, if you write romance, where the stories we tell are about the courage that it takes to open your heart, it’s time for you to do the same.
Open your heart and… [e]xamine all you were taught—usually by white men in power—and try to see exactly who and what they erased from the stories they then labeled truth.
Look beyond the fences that they claim will keep you safe—fences that are, in fact, your prison walls. Because the diverse, inclusive world that they’ve erased is vibrant and beautiful and filled with hope and joy and boundless love.”
And isn’t that the truth. Congratulations, Suz, on your award, and thanks for a powerful, thought-provoking speech and all the great books. For the full transcript, go here.