Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth

Have you heard we’ve gone a bit “post” queer?

I’m at the national RWA (Romance Writers of America) in Manhattan. It’s been absolutely amazing. I just got back from the Harlequin Ball and my feet ache from dancing but I had so much fun. It was terrific to see A.M. Arthur’s gorgeous cover for Finding Their Way up on the big screen with titles like The Billionaire’s Bargain. Tomorrow, at the awards ceremony, two books by gay romance authors are up for the “Oscar of romance writing,” something I didn’t think I’d see when I started selling gay romance eight years ago. (And I am going to go crazy happy to hear their names tomorrow.)

Today I was on a panel with some other fabulous writers (and a brilliant editor) talking about constructing authentic queer (LGBTQAI) characters. One of the points we raised was that things have changed regarding our (queer people’s) legal standing. It’s harder to fire us (in some states). We have marriage equality. Some people no longer struggle with their queer identity, so it’s important to be aware of that when constructing conflict for contemporary queer characters. Obviously for those characters who live in places or times where they risk their lives by being openly queer, things are different.
However, one conflict remains consistent. As my fellow panelist Radclyffe pointed out, something that cannot be achieved by laws protecting our equality is acceptance by our family and friends. Coming out to people still holds the risk of losing people close to you.

Sorry for burying the lead. If you’re still with me, let me show you the “ante” queer turn my life took when I got home for the party.

My wife is here with me. She’s touring New York mostly, but as I’ve made many friends among the romance-writing community, she’s become friends with those writers too. When I got home, she told me about running into one of my/our oldest “friends.”

This friend just signed her first contract with a publisher after years (16 of them) of trying. I was thrilled for her. Over the years, I’ve helped anyway I could with brainstorming and advice and support. It’s what we writers do for each other. Especially for friends.

This friend saw my wife in the lobby and exclaimed that it had been years since she’d seen my wife. We’ve missed the last two national conferences. My wife, recounting locations, mentioned that we were at Gay Rom Lit in Atlanta the same year RWA national was in Atlanta though not at the same time. Adopting a wise tone, our friend said, “Well, that’s smart. There’s really nothing for you here.”

Nope, nothing here for us queers. Not RITA award nominations for books with queer characters, not panels for current and aspiring writers of queer characters, and not all the readers and writers of queer romance I’ve talked to this week. Definitely not the fun I had with the rest of the authors at the party tonight. The one given by a publisher whose name is synonymous with romance novels.

So just an update for everyone who came to the panel, things might not be as “post” queer as we thought. When your queer characters feel like they’re living their lives equal to everyone else, someone will come along to remind them they’re not. And it will probably be someone with the ability to cut, just when they thought that wasn’t going to happen again. The panel had a word for this, microaggression, which is preferable to lots of aggression, but it tears a bit into a character’s psyche. And from a friend, it’s disappointing.

I will, of course, be like Daryl, but inside I wanted to go all Cookie. Especially as it bothered my wife.

And I Think to Myself

And I Think to Myself

Sometimes the world sucks, and I think it’s never going to change.  I stomp around and say, “People are why we can’t have nice things.” Then something cool happens. And I think maybe people aren’t so impossible after all.

Every year the Romance Writers of America give out their trademarked RITA award for best romance books. The books are judged by other romance writers in a bunch of different categories, kind of like the Oscars, but no one has ever taken out an ad that I know of that says “For your RITA consideration.” The one which I’ve always thought of as equivalent to the “Best Picture” award is in the category “Long Contemporary.”

Let me give you a little background of some personal experience with the Romance Writers of America. It was founded in the 1980s in Texas. About ten years ago, some members were outraged enough by the mere existence of happy-ever-afters happening for poly couples that those members tried to have the whole group vote on the definition of romance as one man, one woman. Sound familiar to anyone? A bunch of big-name authors came out against that stupidity and it never came to pass. But I’m sure you can imagine the resistance when gay romance started gaining steam. In fact, four years ago, a local chapter of RWA tried to say gay romance couldn’t be entered in their local contest. Initially, appealing to the mothership got us nowhere. Then pressure built through social media and they ended up canceling their contest.

So here we are in 2015. The finalist for the RITAs were announced today. And in that big, heavy duty category, the “Best Picture” of romance novels, is Fever Pitch, by Heidi Cullinan. Yup. A big ol’ gay romance waving at us from the top of the heap. For good reason, it’s one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. I could not put that book down. If you haven’t read it, go do that. It’s totally awesome.

I am so excited and thrilled for Heidi. I’m going to be at the awards ceremony jumping to my feet and cheering when she wins. And I’m so proud of the changes our books have been able to make on the world. An awesome love story can really do that.

What a wonderful world.

(Note for Heidi: You made Walter proud. Note for everyone: you’ll get this if you go read the book. Go, do that. )

ETA: Holy crap! Gay romance is all over the RITA finalist list! YAY! Four books and counting.