Kay: Suzanne Brockmann at RWA 2018

Suzanne Brockmann

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.


9 thoughts on “Kay: Suzanne Brockmann at RWA 2018

  1. Diversity has been on my mind. In the spirit of opening doors to conversation, I’ll own up to my BIG, HUGE FEAR….that I will have diverse characters and someone will read my book and say, “Yeah, she included a black person or a gay person or a Latino person, but only just to include a black or gay or Latino person. It’s clear this author doesn’t know anything about being black or gay or Latino.” I suppose one can learn, but I’m still afraid that will be construed as superficial and trite and therefore an insult, as if I’m doing it for token purposes. “Diversity? Yes, I have a black character in my book.” Check a box. When that’s not really what I’m going for. I would want to be authentic, but what is that, really? How do I know? Am I the only one afraid of this? (Lord, I hope not.)

    In my particular circumstance writing Regency historicals, I endeavor to be historically accurate, but history wasn’t kind to gay men or women back then (sodomy was a capital offense), nor were they particularly kind to people of color. But in sitting here and mulling over that argument, it’s dumb. As in downright stupid. There also weren’t 4,000 dukes, but we seem to conjure up plenty of them in our stories. What I think I should strive for are historically accurate facts (i.e., the Battle of Waterloo happened in 1815, not 1817) and create characters and societies that reflect the sensibility of today’s audiences to a certain extent. After all, I’m not writing a history book. I’m writing fiction.

    I’m really just musing here. Please feel free to tell me I’m being stupid or close-minded. Or a scaredy-cat. There is a bit of that, I think. Mostly, I’m afraid of OFFENDING someone. But I’m afraid I’d be offending people whether I included diversity in my books or not.

    If you have tips and advice, I’m open to them. Please!

    • The overwhelming majority of Regency-set historical romances on the market today have very little to do with historical reality, but present readers with a straight white cis fantasy-land. Moreover, they idealize a social class that happily exploited and oppressed others, at home and abroad. At the same time they erase historical realities such as social unrest, economic depression, child labor, the anti-slavery movement, and what have you.

      But woe to the person who dares to write about POC in love or about LGBTQA+ people in love! *Then* you suddenly get a whole lot of people worrying about “historical accuracy”, as if happy blacks and gays were only invented in the 1970s. What’s worse, our contests celebrate historicals set in straight white cis fantasy-land as the only “worthy” books – just look at the RITA finalists year after year after year after year after year. Most authors who write diverse historicals know there is absolutely no point in entering their books. So many authors of color, in particular black authors, no longer enter their books in *any* categories because their books won’t final, no matter how good they are.

      That’s something that needs to change.

      • Amen, Sandra. And I think I just need to get over myself and any fear I have of alienating a particular audience (because someone is bound to be anyway) and remember exactly as you said…happy blacks and gays weren’t invented in the 1970s. I’ve been reading on and off a book called The Dark Days of Georgian Britain by James Hoburn and it’s been a great eye-opener to the wretched lives most people lived at the expense of the ton. I have plans for some of my characters to be involved in the social causes of the time, but that’s not enough. Will need to think on this some more. At this point, being unpublished, there are a multitude of avenues I can and will take to incorporate more reality (not simply “historical accuracy”) into my books.

    • I’ve been thinking about your comment all week, Neen, and I’m afraid I have no tips or advice, just thoughts and concerns and questions of my own. I’m going to write about them in my post for Monday.

      My HFF series takes place in the 1870s, during a period of great technological and social upheaval that only highlighted the long-existing economic inequities and social injustices. I chose that time period specifically so I could write about women’s issues of that time (eerily parallel to some things happening in the US today) and involve my heroines in important causes. It’s a fine line between writing a story and expositing on issues, and yes, I’m concerned I might short-shrift the important issues of women’s rights and economic justice.

      I do have a gay couple in one of the stories (their relationship was a happy surprise to me!), but theirs is not the central romance. Maybe some future books in a related series… Sadly, my series is, to paraphrase Sandra, a white ‘fantasy-land’, with a real lack of POC. Like I said, no answers or advice here.

  2. Pingback: Nancy: More Thoughts on Diversity – Eight Ladies Writing

  3. Pingback: Elizabeth: Diversity and the Historical – Eight Ladies Writing

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