There has been a disturbing development over at Romance Writers of America. Before I get into it, let me talk about why this organization is important to me.
I write science fiction because I love the idea of space travel and civilizations on other planets. I grew up reading the writers of SF’s “golden age,” and Star Trek was the coolest show to ever hit TV when I was young.
I write fantasy because I love magic and fairy tales, and elves. I love the quest nature of fantasies, and I love the (usually) nature-centric fantasy worlds. Tolkien was a hero of my youth.
I don’t see a contradiction in loving both of these genres. I’m a big believer in the saying that “one person’s magic is someone else’s science.” Sorry if I didn’t get the quote exactly right.
What does all this have to do with RWA? Well, darn it, I also write romance. Not romance, you understand, as in girl meets hot guy, does he love me, does he not, bodice-ripper kind of stories. But my books all have romance in them. Relationships are part of life. Stories are about life. For me, it’s impossible to explore a world or idea with characters who have no connections to other characters.
So somewhere in my stories, there are always people falling in love. Or being in love already. And these relationships are an important part of the story. Maybe not the most important part. But more than what you would find in a book of regular space-type SF.
So I joined RWA. They have chapters for SF Romance, and Fantasy Romance, and best of all, something called Novels with a Strong Romance Element (NSRE). That’s me! And RWA is a large, respected organization. Being a member adds professionalism and clout to one’s resume. They have lots of workshops, chapter meetings, an annual conference, a magazine, and loads of contests. Including two of the most respected contests in fiction writing: the RITA (for published novels) and the Golden Heart (for unpublished manuscripts).
These two contest carry a lot of clout. Winning the RITA really boosts sales. If a new author places as a finalist in the Golden Heart, she will almost certainly land an agent, and probably a publishing deal. Winning the GH is practically a publishing guarantee.
So I had no doubt that my $95 membership fee was worth the price. That’s why the board’s latest decision knocked me right over into the gutter.
RWA board just voted to eliminate the NSRE category from the RITA and GH contests.
No warning. No discussion. Just… wham.
Mind you, they’ll let me pay the $95 and be a member. I just can’t enter their very prestigious contest. Because the books I write are not really romance.
To me, this is a step backward. This says that RWA wants to represent only those bodice-ripper type stories. The ones with the simple plot that you can write with your eyes closed. (Edited to add: I don’t mean to be insulting. Take in the spirit of frustration with the board. If you write or read normal romance, it’s because you like it, same as I like SF & F. That’s all that matters).
The story can be in outer space. It can be in a witch’s cottage. But evidently, it can’t have more story than “will they or won’t they?”
I think that’s sad. I’m not alone in that thought, either. There are thousands of RWA members like me, and they are all upset about this. I know that I can enter my novel in the category for Paranormal Romance (which encompasses SF). But all those other bothersome “things” going on in my stories will not compete well against books using the basic romance template.
I’m waiting to see how this all pans out. I already paid my dues for the next year before this happened, so I’m still in RWA, for now. But the future is in doubt.