As my critique partner says, ‘only eight more sleeps to conference’. All around Australia romance writers are dusting out suitcases, making last minute wardrobe adjustments and praying that Vistaprint deliver on time!
In the run up to our conference, the RITA awards shortlists at the Romance Writers of America conference has stirred up some hotly debated controversy in the book world. Influential blogger Sarah Wendell of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books criticised RWAmerica for short-listing Kate Breslin’s novel For Such a Time in two categories, best first book and best inspirational romance. The book is about a relationship between a Jewish prisoner and a Nazi officer in charge of a concentration camp. Although it didn’t win any awards, the book’s premise offended many for a number of reasons including the imbalance of power hanging over the relationship and the fact that the Jewish prisoner converts to Christianity by the end of the story.
‘To put it mildly, I don’t see this set-up as an imbalance of power that could possibly be redeemed in a romance narrative, nor do I think the setting and characterisation remotely romantic. But I think this issue is much broader than my individual opinion,’ wrote Wendell.
In response, RWAmerica’s board said that ‘Censoring entry content is not something the board supports … If a book is banned from the contest because of its content, there will be a move for more content to be banned. This is true, even especially true, when a book addresses subjects that are difficult, complex or offensive.’
The line between ethical behaviour and freedom of speech is a fragile one. I understand the outrage of my Jewish friends. However, I can also think of other topics aired in romance novels that certain conservative groups would like to see banned, such as issues of gender, sexual preference and sexual activity preference. Where does one draw the line? What do you think?