Michaeline: Diversity and the Hugos

A shining priestess leads a minotaur through the darkness.

Margaret Brundage did win a Retro Hugo 1945 for Best Professional Artist at the 2020 WorldCon. Here’s something from the January issue of Weird Tales. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

I should have written about the Hugo Awards last Saturday when it was a hot fresh mess. But, I’d already written something, and was following the Hugo story from my car as my daughter popped into stores to get necessary items.

Now, it feels like the storm has died down. The last time there was a big SFF brouhaha, some wit on Twitter said (about cancel culture, not the SFF drama) if people would just shut up and stay off social media for four days, social media would forget and move on. It certainly seems true – I saw a lot of the villains of the last uproar commenting and getting likes this week.

https://twitter.com/HillaryMonahan/status/1280879423399628805

From my narrow perspective, it seems like the Hugo Award show, hosted by George R. R. Martin (you know, Game of Thrones?), was executed for a mostly white, mostly old live crowd of people who can afford to travel to New Zealand. However, due to COVID-19 concerns, CoNZealand (the 2020 WorldCon for members of the World Science Fiction Society) was virtual. Which meant younger, more diverse and poorer people could afford to participate.

The interesting thing about the Hugo Awards is that they are a fan-based award. Anyone who paid NZ$75 in time could vote for their favorites in the many categories. Heck, anyone who paid that fee OR was a supporting member of the 2019 WorldCon was eligible to nominate their true favorites to the ballot.

While the awards ceremony featured some huge gaffes and awards to racist, sexist white dead geezers, it also featured amazing winners and nominees from all over the spectrum of color and sexuality. And some of the acceptance speeches, such as the one by Rebecca F. Kuang for the 2020 Astounding Award for Best New Writer.


I think it bodes really well for the future of the SFF field as a whole. Readers like these people who put the nominees on the ballot are shaping the future of SFF.

(2020 Nominees and winners list at i09 website here.)

Elizabeth: Can RWA be Saved?

When I was growing up one of the women’s magazines my mother got each month had a “can this marriage be saved?” column.  I don’t remember the specific issues that brought each of the couples to such a turning point, but I do remember that the answer to the question was always, “yes it can be saved.”  Probably not a surprise; happy endings mean happy readers who are likely to keep buying magazines.  What I also remember (vaguely) is that saving the marriage more often than not meant that the woman made changes to be more appealing or more attractive or more accommodating.  Or, heaven forbid, not so sensitive.

Sounds a lot like some of the posts I’ve been reading in the RWA forums.

As we’ve been talking about on the blog recently, the RWA is at a crucial turning point after its spectacular implosion at the end of year.  (See last week’s post for details.)  The majority of the board has resigned, sponsors have withdrawn, and contests have been cancelled.  There is an independent audit in progress, trust in the organization has taken a tremendous hit, and it’s hard to see a clear path forward.

Things have definitely reached the “can this organization be saved?” stage. Continue reading

Elizabeth: Goodbye 2019 and RWA?

With the champagne all drunk, the countdown completed, and kisses exchanged, the book has officially closed on 2019.  It was very good year for several of the writers here on the blog who successfully launched books into the hands of eager readers; it was not, however, such a good year for Romance Writers of America.

As Jeanne mentioned in her post yesterday, the implosion of RWA started on Christmas Eve when details about the RWA’s handling of ethics complaints against popular author Courtney Millan were made public.   Following what happened next has been like watching an accident on the side of the road – horrifying, but hard to look away from.

While media coverage has focused on Milan’s comments about the racist elements of a specific book, the chain of events initially began months before with a series of tweets highlighting concerns about the biases of a specific acquisitions editor at a publishing company.  Many twitter followers appear to have weighed in on the subject, sharing their views, and at some point, both the publisher (who hired the acquisitions editor) and the author of the book that was called out filed ethics complaints with RWA.

What ensued was a series of events that I doubt even the most creative fiction writer could have come up with:   Shadow ethics committee.  Re-written policies.  Resignation.  Censure.  Backpedaling.  Mass resignations.  Uproar.  Chapter statements.  Petitions.  Cancellation of the RITAs.  And thousands and thousands of tweets.  If someone was intentionally trying to destroy the organization, I don’t think they could have done a better job.  And RWA has seemed intent on fanning the flames. Continue reading

Michaeline: Writing Multicultural Stories When Your Background is Monocultural

Colored crayons or beads, lined up.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

All of us Eight Ladies are white ladies.

I think as white writers, it’s difficult for us to understand what it’s like when a largely mono-cultural writer tries to jam in a character from a different culture in order to spice up a book, or attempt to be inclusive.

We can get a tiny taste of it in the Bollywood movie, Bride and Prejudice (2004). I love this movie and have seen it more than once, so I’m not complaining. I’d rec this movie to almost anyone because the writing is fabulous, the cinematography is gorgeous, and if you were moving in society in the 90s and early 2000s, there are universal themes that will resonate with you. (Heck, let’s not be so limited. Being based on Jane Austen’s 1813 novel, Pride and Prejudice, means many of the themes cross cultures and time. Time-tested and highly adaptable.)

However, among the deep characterization and fun interactions, there’s a white guy who reads like he’s a piece of cardboard. He’s a bit whiny and a bit shallow . . . and maybe he’s the white guy a lot of people from India see. He’s somewhat believable, but he’s the only white person in the whole production, and he’s not exactly the hero type.

And when you think about it, that’s really unfortunate because he’s Will Darcy . . . you know, Fitzwilliam-fucking-Darcy. The hero. Continue reading

Elizabeth: Diverse Voices (RWA Conference Wrap-Up)

Last week’s RWA National conference is over and I made it home with twelve books to add to my To-Be-Read pile, some fun memories, pages and pages of notes from the various workshops I attended, and a lot of things to think about.  There will undoubtedly be much cogitating here at the Writing Castle in the weeks to come.

Today, however, I want to start off with a few facts:

  • In its 37-year history (1982-2018) no black author won an RWA RITA award.
  • According to the RWA’s own research, black authors have written less than half of 1 percent of the total number of books considered as RITA finalists.
  • Pew Research survey from 2014 found that the person most likely to read a book of any genre is a college-educated black woman.

Do you see the problem?

If so, you’re not alone. Continue reading

Elizabeth: The RITA© Diversity Problem

Last week the list of finalists came out for this year’s Romance Writers of America RITA and Golden Heart contests.  There was much happiness by those who saw their names on the lists, but there was also an obvious, elephant-in-the-room issue out there that couldn’t be ignored.

For all of the talk and focus in recent years on diversity, there was a distinct lack of it represented on the lists of finalists.

The topic of diversity was front and center at last year’s RWA conference, with a number of the RITA and Golden Heart award winners specifically commenting on the lack of diverse-author representation in their categories.  That same conference also included a Diversity Summit attended industry professionals, RWA staff/Board members, members of RWA’s Diversity Committee, and other leaders within the organization who represent marginalized populations.  According to the RWA website, the purpose was to “share ideas, identify roadblocks, and reaffirm a commitment to fostering a romance genre that represents the wide array of authors and readers that love it.”

And yet . . . it doesn’t feel like much progress has been made yet. Continue reading

Elizabeth: 2018 Diversity Results

I had a different topic that I was going to post on today, but then I saw the latest survey results from the Ripped Bodice bookstore on the state of diversity in romance publishing and I got derailed.

For the past several years there has been an increased emphasis on diversity in romance fiction at writing conferences, on writing blogs (we had a series of posts on it last year), and in the mainstream media.  The issue was even brought front and center by several of the awardees at the most recent RWA conference I attended. Continue reading

Elizabeth: Diversity and the Historical

A while back I wrote a series of posts about diversity romance writing/ publishing which included a discussion about the recent decrease in the number of books published by diverse writers (aka PoC); recommendations for some diverse authors to consider when looking for that next book to read; a perspective about diversity in romance from a diverse reader;  and finally, some things to keep in mind when creating diverse characters in your writing.

I didn’t think I had anything else to say on the topic, but then there was the recent RWA Conference, where diversity and inclusion were in the spotlight – from Suzanne Brockman’s Lifetime Achievement Award speech to Kristan Higgins call-out on the lack of diverse finalists in the RITA awards, to an “invitation only” Diversity Summit where “high level publishing professionals, key contacts at major retailers, and members of the RWA staff and Board” talked about . . . well, something.

All of that got me to thinking, as did Nancy’s insightful More Thoughts on Diversity post earlier this week, and Justine’s blog-post comment below. Continue reading

Nancy: More Thoughts on Diversity

Unless you’ve been living under a rock AND falling behind on your 8LW reading, you’ve heard about Suzanne Brockmann’s stirring acceptance speech for her Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2018 RWA national conference. On Thursday, our own Kay summarized the speech and Brockmann’s career. This launched a discussion about writing diverse characters and including diverse experiences in romance fiction.

One of our Eight Ladies, Justine, disclosed in the comments her own trepidation about writing diverse characters in a meaningful, inclusive, and non-appropriating way. This sums up a lot the discussions the Eight Ladies have had on this blog and outside of it. And Justine threw in a twist – how do we respectfully and conscientiously diversify our historical romances? As I said in a reply to Justine’s comment, I have no answers or advice, just some thoughts and more questions of my own.

How bad would it be to write an historical world where women, and people of color, and characters with non-straight sexual orientations, and those with neurodiversities, and those with disabilities, are treated equally? Continue reading

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. Continue reading