Monday, June 06, 2005

Some like it hot

Okay, okay. I wasn't going to do this, but "everyone" wants me to address the Romance Writers of America controversy du jour, so here we go. Sort of.

RWA is a professional organization to which almost 9,000 published and aspiring romance writers belong. A small portion of the membership is currently upset about a new rule the RWA board instituted in March without input from the general membership. From what I've been able to learn on the internet, it appears that nobody bothered to question the rule until just a few days ago, when it was allegedly applied in a way many deemed unfair. I won't say any more about that because I haven't come across any hard facts on the internet; only statements along the lines of "The author this happened to is someone I know personally" and "here's what I heard a board member say about the new graphical standards at our chapter meeting". This heresay moves me not at all. My analytical mind does not form opinions based on the opinions of others, but on facts. I want to know the author's name and the book title and a lot of other details about this alleged abuse. And then I want to see the board address the issue and clarify several things, including what this rule is, why it was instituted without input from the general membership, and how it is going to be applied.

Until those things happen, I probably won't have anything more to say on this subject. If you want details, let me tell you they're few and far between. Most of what's flying around the internet is speculation and (so far) groundless outrage. For two discussions that have been (at least until 9:00 this morning, the last time I looked in on them) polite and reasonable, go here and here.

It was never my intention to use this blog as a bully pulpit for whipping up interest in RWA issues, so this post represents a real departure for me. That said, I'll leave the comments section open in case some of you would like to weigh in on this. Just remember, please, that profanity is not appreciated on this blog; that means you can't quote the RWA "graphical standards" rule (because it spells out the Words That May Not Be Used).

June 11, 2005

On Thursday evening, June 9, the RWA board met by conference call and voted to suspend the Graphical Standards. They also voted to form an ad-hoc committee to study the issue. The board has tacitly acknowledged having overstepped their authority by instituting the standards without input from the membership, and they now appear to be making an honest effort to rectify the situation.

It bothers me a lot when bloggers take issues like this and egg each other on, glorying in their outrage and spreading it all over the internet. Those who participated in and encouraged all that wild speculation about the RWA board attempting to marginalize certain RWA members don't seem quite so eager to post on this issue now that the board has admitted to having made an error in judgment and is meekly returning to square one.

No, it's much more exciting to rant. People rush to "ranty" blogs like they do to train wrecks. So now that it's clear the RWA board did not have a hidden agenda, bloggers who love controversy will have to find themselves a new scandal. Or invent one.

Sadly, that's the way of the blogosphere.


Anonymous said...

Here's a fact for you:

Brenda Coulter said...

I did check Technorati before I posted this entry, but only three blogs (besides Booksquare and RTB, which I linked to) came up in a search for "RWA graphical standards", and none of them mentioned the author or her book by name. I was glad to see she has finally been interviewed. Thanks for the link.

I will add only that whether one agrees with the graphical standards or not, that cover clearly violates them, as it shows a man's face pressed against a woman's bare breast. ("...the following shall not be depicted or represented: ...hands or mouth covering naked female breasts...")

Chris said...

After seeing the cover on anon's link, I totally have to agree with the RWA on this. The dark roots on the woman with the "red" hair were terrible. No way is that appropriate.

Still, it's unfair to punish an author for a bad marketing decision made by her publisher.

Fortunately there's no CBA restriction on trailer-trash hair, so I'm still safe.

Brenda, she could have been wearing a pastie (or maybe a pasty and the guy's ravenously devouring it).

--Chris (dFm)

Anonymous said...

Chris only you could say something like that!

Dee said...

No comment about RWA. This is my last year as a member, but not for that reason.
However, I do have a comment for romancing the blog. You don't have a reviewer link on there. Why not?
I am a Romantic Times reviewer would love to get feedback from the authors I review.

Brenda Coulter said...

Dee, I don't have any connection with RTB other than the column I send in every month (I'll have one up tomorrow, by the way). But if you have a blog that focuses on romance--reading, writing, or the industry--they'll put up your link without even requiring a reciprocal link. I think several reviewers are listed under "Readers' Blogs".

Also, if you're interested in being considered for a guest-blogging spot, they're taking entries right now to post in August. I, for one, would love to see you do an essay over there. Go here for details.

der Fieldenmarshal, somebody really ought to take you down a peg. ;-)

Anonymous said...

You tell him Brenda, Chris I'm shocked that you would say something like that, just SHOCKED

Chris said...

What?! He can't hunger for her and lunch at the same time? He's an efficient multitasker.
--Chris (dFm)

Anonymous said...

Chris, your hopeless

Robin Bayne said...

I must get to know this "Chris" person.

Anonymous said...

Don't belive a word he tells you

Anonymous said...

RWA gave full recognition to publishers of romance-porn (eg. Ellora's Cave). Since they did so, how can they now say they don't want graphic covers? Graphic stories of boinking and general kinkiness--- ok?! We'll give it the "romance genre" thumbs up. Graphic covers showing not even 1/100th of what goes on inside? Naughty-bad-booboo? Oh, please. How hypocritical. If the romance-porn horse is already in the barn, you can't really start complaining about how its tail looks.


Camy Tang said...

I have to agree with Mir. Once the RWA endorses fiction like that, they can't backtrack and complain about covers. Besides which, a lot of Blaze covers aren't the most innocent.

Candy said...

Thanks for the update! As for this, though:

"No, it's much more exciting to rant."

Do you honestly think they would've rescinded the standards and taken action as quickly if there HADN'T been widespread outrage and rantiness on various blogs?

I doubt it. If you study how things have been handled historically, from relatively small things such as this brouhaha to larger things like the civil rights movement, action wasn't taken until people started yelling their heads off.

Robyn said...

It isn't the initial rants she's talking about, Candy. It's a fact that we will probably not see the same widespread coverage of the board's decision, nor letters of thanks with a gazillion names on it.

Sort of like newspapers that have a misleading story plastered all over page one, then print the retraction in a tiny box on page tweny-three.

Brenda Coulter said...

Well, Robyn, "letters of thanks" might be going a little too far. ;-) The board now realizes it stepped out of line in making up new rules without input from the membership. But I think that was an honest mistake, not an underhanded attempt to edge anyone out of the organization.

Candy, the board obviously needed to have their error pointed out to them. But once that was done, a handful of bloggers and commenters decided not to wait for a response but went on to incite fear and anger about what the standards might mean and how and where they might be applied. There was no basis for any of that garbage.

I don't believe the board suspended the standards because a handful of bloggers made them look bad. Those tactics sure wouldn't have motivated me, Candy, and I'm guessing they wouldn't have got much more than an eye-roll out of you, either. No, I think the board responded quickly because members contacted them through the proper channels to complain. Yes, the blogs and listservs can be credited with bringing the matter to light. What disgusts me is what happened after that--the unfounded accusations and ridiculous conclusions people were smearing all over the internet.

As Robyn suggests, few of those people are likely to admit having been unfair to the board members.

Robin Bayne said...

I have to agree with Candy. Without the various blog "rants," a different outcome might have manifested. I only wish blogging was as big an influence last year when another issue with RWA might have been swayed. I guess I'll never know.

Lee Goldberg said...

I don't write romances. I don't read romances. I'm not a member of the RWA. But I was outraged by the incredibly wrong-headed "graphical standards" policy because I couldn't believe an organization for writers, and governed by writers, would engage in this kind of censorship.

I can't imagine anyone on the board of the Mystery Writers of America (of which I am a member) or the Authors Guild (of which I am also a member) proposing "Graphical Standards." It would never happen. Because they are organizations run by, and serving, WRITERS. Frankly, I still can't believe the RWA board did it...or that they are even STILL considering it.

I don't think the RWA board realizes how bad this makes them look to other writers in other genres...or how negatively this reflects on romance writers as a whole...who are working hard as it is to get the respect they deserve. The Board is clearly out-of touch with their membership...and with the writing profession as a whole.

The "Graphical Standards" was a blunder. Continuing to explore the idea is compounding the blunder. There shouldn't be an Ad-Hoc Committee on Graphical Standards. There shouldn't be any "graphical standards" at all.

Candy said...

"I don't believe the board suspended the standards because a handful of bloggers made them look bad."

The blogging outrage might not have directly influenced the outcome, but you gotta admit, it made the issue very visible. So did the RWA take a look at some websites and go "EEEK! We were wrong! Let's suspend the graphical standards right now!" Very likely not. What is more likely was that a bunch of people picked up on the story, blogged about it somewhat angrily, which in turn caught the attention of a bunch of RWA members who were making their blog rounds, and they in turn lodged official complaints.

And as for the conspiracy theory speculation: I, for one, find it a very interesting coincidence that these graphical standards and language guidelines are implemented just when erotic romance is really starting to get going and people have been making noises about whether it's actually romance nor not. And given the treatment handed to Ann Jacobs and the accidental mis-handling of paperwork for Editors of a Certain Imprint, it's hard not to see a kind of pattern emerging.

kstar said...

Lee, I couldn't agree more. It is appalling that a writers' organization would engage in this kind of censorship. It is that issue and that alone that caused my own outrage over the graphical standards. As for the board's decision to back-track ... It is the only sensible and acceptable action and deserves no thanks imo.

sybil said...

. But once that was done, a handful of bloggers and commenters decided not to wait for a response but went on to incite fear and anger about what the standards might mean and how and where they might be applied. There was no basis for any of that garbage.

Writers using their blogs to write their thoughts and their fears?

Clearly we need to censor this. Should we form an ad-hoc committee so people will know what is ok to think and talk about?

Beverly said...

You said, "Those who participated in and encouraged all that wild speculation about the RWA board attempting to marginalize certain RWA members don't seem quite so eager to post on this issue now that the board has admitted to having made an error in judgment and is meekly returning to square one."

Of the 14 blogs I linked to when I made a post on this subject, 7 of them have posted about the "retraction". I would say that's a pretty good percentage, especially considering a good number of the ones who didn't post about the follow-up aren't members of RWA and thus have to hear it through the grapevine, just like the first time.

And what is wrong with posting what you think about something that concerns or interests you? Yeah, some of that were fears of concerns about what it meant or where it can lead, but those fears are not completely unfounded, especially when the decision comes from a group as conservative as the one in question.

Robin Bayne said...

I am one of those bloggers who posted my opinion, but have not done a follow up. Why? First, I am no longer a member anyway, so I feel no need to keep talking about it. Second, my opinion stands--even if they have "suspended" their policy for the moment.

Brenda Coulter said...

While I normally respond to all comments posted on my blog, I haven't answered the last several ones here because I believe I have already expressed myself pretty well. My retreat from this discussion is not meant as a snub to any of you; I've just moved on to things that interest me more than this little RWA contretemps.

Thanks, everyone, for visiting my blog.