I want to bend your ear for a minute or two about RWA, the National Conference, and the RWA writing awards.
Each finalist for the Golden Heart® and the RITA® awards got a certificate of appreciation from the RWA board. This happened the night before the ceremonies where the winners were announced (spoiler alert: I didn’t win my category, at least not as far as RWA was concerned). The certificate event was a really nice way for everyone to feel special, appreciated, and worthwhile.
The day did not start out that way. At the Annual General Meeting, the board announced that they were doing away with the Golden Heart award for unpublished writers. Due to prior obligations I wasn’t at the meeting, but people who attended said that more than a few people spoke out against the board’s decision. I’ve written in other places about the Golden Heart, what it means, and why it shouldn’t be discontinued. Most of my reasons have to do with RWA’s commitment to unpublished authors. They reasoned that with so many people seeking alternate routes beyond traditional, the Golden Heart no longer applies. However, it’s an award for unpublished authors. That means they haven’t decided to go either hybrid or self-published or traditional. Unpublished. I believe that RWA owes as much support to unpublished authors as they do to the published ones. So if they’re going to use different paths to publication as a reason for cutting out the Golden Heart, they need to take a long look at the RITA awards too. Most of the RITA winners this year were self-published.
So let’s don’t be hypocritical. You can’t fault an unpublished author for thinking about self-publishing when the top dog awards are going to self-published authors, can you?
That aside, there have been a lot of rumblings this year about RWA not being inclusive enough of writers who are not your standard CIS white writers. I mean, a lot of rumbling, and rightly so. Not a single African-American author won a RITA, although the video interviews interspersed between awards featured primarily women of color. The Golden Heart did marginally better in this category.
This has been a year for RWA being called out.
It’s a good time to show you the badge I wore at this year’s national convention.
If you look beyond the name and the bling at the ribbons I put on in rainbow-hued order, you can probably make out the words on the light blue one. In case you can’t, it reads LBGTQ+ ROMANCE. As I listened to lifetime achievement award winner Suzanne Brockmann’s RITA speech, my heart swelled about six sizes. You see, my Golden Heart novel, Duet, features an openly bisexual male main character. In my wildest dreams, I never imagined it stood a snowball’s chance in hell of making it into the Golden Heart finals. Once I found out it had, I kept expecting to get a phone call or email saying sorry, we made a mistake. That never happened, despite a general reaction of “oh, how interesting” from a great many people when I told them about Duet’s male lead.
My novel made the finals, but I knew its chances of winning were even slimmer. Winning in my category would have been lovely. It wasn’t my top priority, however, and I’ll tell you why:
A few months ago, I got a call from a dear friend. She was delighted to tell me that she had a new girlfriend. Of course, I was so happy for her, congratulated her. Then she told me that it was Duet’s bisexual male main character—someone openly out, someone who owns what he is and what he does, someone perfectly confident in his own skin and with his own sexuality—that enabled her to realize she was bisexual, and that it was okay.
Representation matters. That’s not just an idle phrase.
As writers, we aim to touch the lives and hearts of our readers. As romance writers, we aim to show them there is always the possibility of a happily ever after. In this case, I was lucky enough to hear that the life of someone I love dearly was positively influenced by my book and characters.
After that, who needs a necklace? I’m already a winner.
RWA National is exhausting, exhilarating, mind-numbingly busy. It can be fantastic; it can be a crushing experience. Now that you all know I wasn’t remotely crushed at not winning in my category, I’ll tell you that I came away from this conference more determined than ever to keep writing my own stories my own way. To never underplay or hide the queer characters who are part of the population of my books, and have been for as long as I’ve been writing.
I met a lot of people this year. I made a lot of new writing friends. I have so many ideas for things I can do personally to pay it forward to new writers, established writers, and to readers. Watch this space.