Many eons ago, people used to make friends with those who lived close to them. Learning and developing friendships often begins when we’re very young and have no preconceived ideas about others. We just like them, for no other reason than they are fun to play with.
Then we start growing up and much of that precious innocence starts disappearing. Whose fault is that, I wonder? If children are born empty vessels, who really fills them? Parents are usually the first answer. Which is true until you send that child off to school. Perhaps from kindergarten until second grade, most of them get along pretty well. Though if you’re really paying attention, you might begin to notice slight cracks in their innocent shells. Small signs of selfishness, if you will. Perhaps name calling or bit of physicality against another child, because someone is playing with a toy they want. As anyone who has ever raised a child can tell you, the little darlings are not born patient. The only way a baby knows how to communicate their needs is by screaming in your ear until you figure it out.
Eventually, children start encountering the mysteries of public image. At that point, they are often faced with choices they aren’t always mature enough to understand, unless they have been given guidance which has been provided from a loving heart and always in their best interest. That guidance is sometimes wrong, because those providing it don’t always realize the lens guiding their compass has been compromised.
When I started this blog a couple of months ago, I made no secret of the fact I recently rejoined RWA (Romance Writers of America). Not long after, its board got drug into the middle of a mess created by some people who forgot they were part of the organization’s public face. (Published authors). It apparently got ugly from the beginning and involved the media darling word of the moment, Racism.
Let me point out right here and now, any word which ends with an “ism” or “ist” isn’t allowed in my vocabulary. Why? Because every single one of them comes from one source, and one alone; Selfishness. They are all covers, or excuses if you will, for what truly motivates every single unfavorable decision we make against others. (They have a toy we want, or we have it and they’re not going to get it). Both those that seem insignificant (using that blasted cell phone while behind the wheel of a motorized weapon); and ones which cause horrendous events which echo through history. (You know, wars which destroy millions, most especially the seemingly innocent. Gives new meaning to “He who has the most toys wins,” doesn’t it?)
The RWA members involved in their middle school tit for tat, forgot they were engaging each other in the modern equivalent of the village square, because they thought they were safely hidden behind their electronic screens. They not only overlooked the importance of protecting their professional images, and any previous good work they may have accomplished; they jettisoned the reputation of an organization whose core values are supposed to be about supporting each other’s successes, and providing the tools for achieving success. A very rare thing in this world. When another’s achievements are celebrated, we often sit back and pout because we weren’t just handed that big “***” toy chest. Sigh…
Due to the original intentions of the founders, the organization is made by the complete sum of its parts, whether we like it not. In other words, it goes beyond the board and extends to every single member. All members are expected to understand an organization’s core values and uphold them, otherwise why bother joining in the first place? That not only applies to what we do on social media, but the stories we choose to tell. There is nothing wrong with venturing into unfamiliar territory, as long as it’s being done for personal growth and greater understanding. An occasional gut check by the creator, for an honest evaluation of motivation, is never a bad thing; and shoddy work is problematic. At the very least, it opens up the door to erroneous interpretations.
When I joined RWA in the late nineties, I didn’t live anywhere near close. My nearest chapter was almost four hours away. Naturally, I couldn’t attend meetings every month, but when I did, I looked forward to the long drive. Why? Because those “local” ladies were fun to play with. Yes, RWA was all “women” at that time, and some of them seemed sexist, against men joining. It doesn’t bother me to see they’ve become more inclusive and men are also members, too. Afterall, they are half of that romance formula many of us like to write.
I don’t remember now, it’s unearthing in relation to when I started writing my book again; but that mouse pad sitting next to my computer is actually a 1999 issue of Romance Writer’s Report. Why did I keep that one only? I believe it was because of an article about tightening up those sagging middles. Still apropos and a darn fine bit of writing, if I may say so. Image my surprise, upon rediscovery twenty years later, to encounter a letter from Bertrice Small, answering a letter to a gentleman named Arnold. She suggested he would need to do a “sex change” if he wished to be a romance writer. Publishers wouldn’t give him the time of day otherwise. She even provided examples. Do the names Jennifer Wilde and Leigh Greenwood ring bells with anyone? Well, they might if you’re old enough. Double sigh… (No, dagnabit, I’m not a baby boomer. Just at the oldest end of Gen X.)
When I first received the apology letter from the board the day after Christmas, I initially thought. “Huh, that’s too bad, but it has nothing to do with me. As my day continued to pass, and I laid awake in bed until 3 a.m., I came to the realization I was involved whether I liked it or not, with an organization whose core values no longer seemed to align with mine. It had dissolved into something unpleasant, instead of being a joyous group of people united in a common cause, the promotion of “women’s literature”. Darn thing caused a huge pit in my stomach and gave me a nasty bout of acid reflux which lasted almost 24 hrs. I ultimately ended up leaving a comment on another blogger’s post pointing out the true infractions of everyone involved. I really didn’t want to write or leave that comment. Since he moderates like I do, it wouldn’t have bothered me in the least if his eyes had been the only ones to see it. Otherwise, I knew there was a very good likelihood I would be in put in a position of needing to provide more clarification.
There were some who responded. I must thank them for taking the time to read the ramblings of a crabby woman crying her eyes out at 3 in the morning. Even if some of them didn’t fully understand the message, or didn’t want to because it may have unintentionally come a bit close to home. I even got accused of defending a racist. Did they make that comment because I said that person’s true crime was laziness? (One of the seven deadly sins, also known as Sloth) Or did they see the picture with the cute, fuzzy bunny being held by a white woman and make a judgement based on appearance? As I mentioned to one of them, one must consider carefully before making accusations, including our own motivations for doing so, especially when you aren’t personally acquainted with someone. And never name names. Those people don’t have to come out in public to defend themselves, but if they do happen to visit, and need a friend who is willing to listen on occasion, I’ll figure out a way to do so in private. In the spirit of any possible new friendships, I will let them know up front, I consider laziness a deadly insult; and I might forget myself enough to slap anyone who calls me lazy.
So, why did I bother wading into the middle of any of this? Like it or not, it was high time to for someone to speak up. Not just over the immature behavior of a few writers, but the immaturity many of us indulge on social media. The minute we think no one is looking, we believe it OK to revert to childhood. Not the good, nostalgic kind either. There is a reason why parents who care about the characters of their children, call them little heathens until they finally start figuring out the true value of respect. Not just for themselves, but everyone they encounter. Don’t forget this timeless adage, either. “Never hang your dirty laundry out to dry.” Poopoo undies are the least attractive thing to expose for all the world to see.
(Sorry, I had to do it. If that’s not an image guaranteed to make someone think twice, I don’t know what is. Dirty laundry exposed in the “real” public sphere is even worse. Anytime my brother and I forgot ourselves and used certain speech, my mom reached for a bar of soap. Not to mention it exhibits a lack of vocabulary and true creativity. Why would anyone want to color with one of those dinky boxes containing 8 crayons? Unless you are well versed in the science of color.)
Like or not, fixing RWA’s “mess” isn’t going to occur at the national level. It’s going to require a whole bunch of disheartened members rolling up their sleeves and getting to work on the local level. If you are an RWA member who happens to read this, support your local chapter and board members. They were actually the ones I thought of, when the first thing I encountered while searching, were news media stories, who caught wind all wasn’t well in the land of happy endings. (I believe that came from the New York Post)
Right now, I wish I was in a better position to do more for my local chapter. Our president, Jenn, tells us at every meeting, “This is your chapter. Tell us what you want.” I’ve been to every meeting since I rejoined. Having access to a physical writers’ group is the real reason I rejoined RWA. You are required to have the national membership to join a local chapter. My local chapter is now only five minutes from my house. I’ve had no complaints, since they seem like fun people to play with. I’ve also learned from them, and the book I’m readying for publication wouldn’t be the same without them.
Frankly, if there is going to be any rebranding going on, I would far rather be known as a relationship novelist (notice I did not say Guru.) Romance has the dubious distinction of being somewhat fleeting. Yeah, yeah, I can hear some of you now, “I don’t know, that seems like a rather broad category…” Not really, it’s existed all along. (See, divide and conquer has been going on for eternity. Even in the publishing world.)
If you have read all of my posts, I’ve mentioned reading lots of stuff, from many so-called genres. I’ve noticed something kind of odd about all of them. At their cores, they are ALL about relationships. In fact, there would be no story at all, without a relationship at its heart. For everyone who has ever read an epic fantasy series, you know full well those relationships will be tested to their limits, and not everyone will make it to the happy ending. Those characters watching each other’s backs, will be the only ones who will pull their friends to the other side. (Frodo Baggins never would have completed his mission without Samwise Gamgee.)
My dream in a book store? Two sections. The really interesting “Look at all the Cool Stuff You Can Learn” Side; and “Really Good Stories” in the other half. Not necessarily in alphabetical order. That way readers have to explore a bit, and “Gasp!”, occasionally discover something new.
What’s that? Three sections? Fine. The kids still get their section, too. I am all for fostering reading at a young age, after all.