I’ve gone back and forth on whether to add to the cacophony around the RITA nomination of Kate Breslin’s inspirational historical romance, For Such A Time. This is a book set in 1944, primarily at the Theresienstadt camp, with a love story between the camp Kommandant and a Jewish young woman at its core.
I’ve written and rewritten paragraphs about the book, the controversy, etc., but I don’t think I really have much to add to that part. If you’re on Twitter, if you follow major blogs, or if you read online magazines, you’ve come across the debate. Many of the contributors to the debate have not read the book. There are all kinds of things being stated as fact, sometimes after reading the book, sometimes not. There is also a lot of “well, that’s what inspirational romance is.”
I am almost finished reading the book and will be participating in a joint discussion/review of it at Dear Author. I’ll link to that post when it is published, and for people who don’t read DA, I’ll provide a brief summary here and we can talk about it in comments if people are interested.
In the meantime, I want to talk about where this book fits in the larger historical romance (and historical fiction with romantic elements) category. This book clearly brings together a number of volatile, offensive, and arguably beyond-the-pale factors. However, when we take each of these factors in turn, it appears that they are all fairly well established in the romance genre (or at least the part of the romantic fiction genre that is reviewed and recognized by romance-centric sites and organizations).
I have no desire to defend the book, either in terms of its premise or its execution. I am interested in challenging the idea that this book is a unique specimen. To the extent it is unique, its uniqueness lies in combining elements which have gone relatively unremarked (and often praised) in other romance and romantic novels when they appear individually.
Hello again! I’ve been delinquent about blogging, but I have been reading, and the mid-year point seems like a good time to take stock of my reading to date.
Reading diverse books and diverse authors (in terms of non-white and non-straight authors) has been a goal of quite a few online readers, in romanceland, SFF, and mainstream fiction more generally. There have been articles about reading only women authors, and the #weneeddiversebooks hashtag and its offshoots continue to flourish. When one of the major book conventions managed to pick 30 panelists and the only “diverse” member was Grumpy Cat, it’s hard to argue against that kind of initiative. I’ve tried to review more diverse books at Dear Author over the last two or three years, and for the most part I’ve succeeded, although obviously I could do more.
My reviews haven’t been universally appreciated (although whose are?). There have been authors who said flat out that they thought I was being harder on them (and more unfair) than I was to white authors. Which brings up another aspect of the “read more diversely” effort: are we supposed to review the books the same way we review non-diverse books? Are we supposed to give authors points for trying and go easier on their books’ flaws so that more people will take a chance on them? Or is our main job as readers to buy them?
I recently read a post about supporting diverse books, which talked about buying, promoting, and marketing, but said nothing at all about reading. I not only find that vaguely insulting (I’m not your publicist or your mother, thanks), I think it’s counter-productive in the long run. I remember buying romance novels by African-American authors years and years ago, when they were justifiably complaining that the big review sites didn’t review them. This was before I was a reviewer, but I could still buy the books and I intended to read them. But I never did. I bought them, announced via blog comments that I bought them, and then they went into the TBR. So the authors got a sale, but that was it.
When I closed VM and started this blog I said I wouldn’t write about Romanceland anymore. And for the most part I haven’t wanted to. But Wendy’s post about the broken nature of the community struck a deep chord, one that writing a comment at her post can’t fully address. If you’re interested, read on. If you’re done with thinking about Romland, skip this and come back to read the next post.
When DA Jane told Romland that she was also author Jen, I was obviously at ground zero for the announcement. It’s hard to avoid the feeling that the Jane/Jen revelation created a seismic shift. Not for everyone; some readers, mostly people who aren’t deeply invested in Romland relationships, will keep right on reading Dear Author and/or Jen Frederick’s books. They don’t care much about the connection. Other readers won’t. Authors and longtime members of Romland seemed to fall most frequently on the sense of betrayal side. Writing communities in this genre are a combination of professional development, friend circles, and expertise exchange, and the friend/bonding component appears to be stronger here than in many other professional settings with which I’m familiar. That, combined with DA’s loud and sustained emphasis on disclosure and reader-only spaces, led to a deep sense of resentment even among Romland people who didn’t personally encounter Jen Frederick.
I think that what the DA announcement did was put the final nail in the coffin of the idea and the reality of widely-followed, reader-run sites. if Dear Author is an author-run site (which it now turns out to be), then there are no water-cooler-type review and discussion sites in Romland which are are not author-directed zones (or industry-directed, in other cases). To a great extent I think this is a reflection of the way Romland has changed over the past decade. There is little incentive or ability for someone who is only a reader to own and operate a major review and reading blog, forum, or website. It takes an enormous amount of work and time, and you need to generate a lot of content to stay in the online public’s eye. At the same time, any site that does attract readers is also going to attract authors and industry professionals, partly for the conversation, but also because selling books is a difficult task and the word of mouth praise of readers is golden. So a reader-run site with a growing reach is going to face huge pressures to be coopted. Whether that’s by taking ARCs, featuring authors, running giveaways, or transitioning from reader-blogger to industry-blogger is going to depend on the individuals, but the incentives for cooptation are enormous.