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Sunday, August 23, 2015

When Voters Vote and Judges Judge - Part Two: Let Us Pray

I find myself fresh out of humor on this topic. OK, I know its been ground into the dirt over on Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, on forums, Facebook and Amazon.

But as usual, I have something to say.

Growing up, my best friend's life was disrupted when her grandmother moved in with the family. Because her parents both worked, caring for the elderly woman fell on her shoulders (bear in mind, we were about ten years old) and eventually, her grandmother's sister moved in as well. They were Babcha (Grandma) and Chucha Manya. (Aunt)

Babcha was soft and round and tall. She had a temper, but got over it quickly. She loved to teach me naughty words in Polish. Chucha was thin, quiet and often dressed in black. Even as an elderly woman, she was beautiful and so very sweet. 

One day we were cleaning their little apartment and my friend put a book into a drawer at the bedside table. She found something else and brought it to me. It was a card, it had a photo of Babcha as a young woman. All the writing was in German, but we were able to make out her name, numbers and the word "Auschwitz."

Marta knew what that was. I didn't.

"I saw a tattoo on her arm but she won't talk about it. Its the same number on the card." My friend was very distressed and my education in horror began at that moment. You see, my father is a white supremacist. (never mind that he's largely Native American.) He's a holocaust denier. And that day, I saw incontrovertible proof that it was real and it happened. I went to the library and looked at books.

 I looked up Auschwitz.

And that's when I stopped loving my father. Because even when he couldn't deny anymore, he said it was necessary.

Babcha and Chucha weren't Jewish, they were Polish Catholics. During their time in Auschwitz, they endured brutal treatment, starvation, rape, illness, and in Chucha's case, surgical experimentation.

They sterilized her without anesthesia.

So when I read about Kate Breslin's book "For Such a Time" making the finals in the RWA RITA awards, I was floored.

If you haven't heard about it, its an Inspirational Romance in which a half Jewish concentration camp prisoner is rescued by the camp's commandant, who makes her his secretary, falls in love with her and they both convert to Christianity. And they lived happily ever after.

I have not read the book. I don't want to. I don't want the author and publisher to have my money. To get a grip on my revulsion with the topic, I tried to imagine what Babcha and Chucha might feel about this. And you know what? I have something to say to the author:

Kate Breslin, if real live concentration camp survivors like my friend's grandma and auntie heard about this book, they'd come at you with drawn blades. And if you don't understand why, then you lack normal empathy and I can only pity you. 

So how the fuck did this travesty make it to the finals of the romance genre's most prestigious awards?

Well, its my fault. And its your fault.

As I noted in my post about the Hugos, the fans voted this year and they knocked a toxic trainload of rabid canines off the rails. But here in romance land, we didn't see this coming. But we let it happen.

Its not the fault of RWA so leave them to the side. Oddly, its not the fault of the author and her supporters, because weird as it is, they are true believers. And true believers of any religion or philosophy lack the empathy to see the other side.

In romance, we tend to consider the Inspirational category as being Christian. Well, that's wrong. Inspirational should encompass all creeds as well as non-sectarian works with spiritual elements. I may not embrace religion, but I view myself as spiritual. I think it reflects in my writing, particularly in my m/m science fiction book The Prince of Faith. But you know, I would never consider entering that in the Inspirational category. All that sweaty man-sex would peel the skin off the judge's faces. How could a gay romance possibly have inspirational elements? Granted, mine is erotic, but even a sweet m/m romance wouldn't fly in that category.

And there we have the problem in a nutshell. The Inspy world is an insular one. When I got my ballot to judge, I asked not to judge Inspirational or YA. I don't like them. I would never consider entering my work into that category. My guess is, the vast majority of RITA judges do the same thing. Thus, Kate Breslin wrote a book that was offensive to most sane humans, except for the people who think and believe as she does.

And those are the people who judge that category of romance. 

Let that sink in and remember what George R. R. Martin said in my other post. 

If just three moderately open-minded judges had agreed to judge Inspirational, this might not have happened. Because how can this book have a satisfying ending? How does one redeem a war criminal, who will probably stand trial at Nuremberg and be hanged? If just 3 judges had looked at that book with even a grain of empathy and historical vision, it would have been disqualified.

How can a novel about Jewish woman and a Nazi officer play out as anything but the echo of a tasteless porn plot? This "hero" has the blood of innocents on his hands. Jesus might have died for our sins, but damn. There's gotta be a limit. There's still a worldly price to pay. This guy would have stood trial at Nuremberg and have been hanged. Or imprisoned for life. This is not romance. He is not a bad boy or an anti-hero or a tortured soul. He's a war criminal.

And having them both convert to Christianity to make it all good? Fuck. Fuckity fuckfuckfuck.


Back to King George:

·         People have to nominate
·         People have to vote
·         People have to talk about and share what they love

IIn the case of the RITAs, and other juried awards, judges have to judge. Authors have to enter. And readers must get behind the books they are passionate about. 

Authors: Do you have a book with non-Christian inspirational, spiritual elements? I know it seems like a a waste of entry fees, but if your non-conforming romance feels like it qualifies, enter it in the Inspirational category. That is your right. And you know what? I think its our obligation.
Judges: When you get your application to judge, do not refuse any category, even if you hate it. Because we are the control group. We are the ones who keep this kind of shit from happening. 
Readers: Read. Talk. Review fairly. Don't go on Amazon or Goodreads and review a book you haven't read. That's opinion and there are other forums for opinion. If you want to review it, read it. Use your blog, your Facebook page or reader groups. Don't bully. That makes the offending author a martyr.  If you feel strongly about something, tell the author. If its offensive, tell the publisher. You are the heartbeat of the industry. Yours is the voice with the power.


We the readers, judges and authors are the only ones who can prevent this from happening again. Don't just blow hot air in the comments of a blog post, make a list of what you can do. If you qualify, apply to judge. If its a fan competition, nominate. Vote. If you are an author and you think your work is special, enter.  

We are not powerless. We are not without a voice. Use it and use it well. 



When Voters Vote and Judges Judge. Part One: You Made the Puppy Cry!

So evidently a bunch of like-minded “guys” (who knows, there might be a female or two in there)  didn’t like the way the Hugo Awards were getting so literary, PC and boring and decided to make a change. Well, that itself isn’t bad. But what they did was to create a slate, not much different from that of a political party. They listed their candidates, pushed their agenda, and crowned themselves with a treacly, cutesy name that insults lovable canines everywhere. Then some other like-minded, but more extreme individuals who are kinda creepy in that “never made it out of Grandma’s basement” kinda way got in the act and built on that platform. And lo and behold, they found a foothold out there in fanboy land. I’m not going into the whole nasty business. If you haven’t heard of it, just Google it. Or better yet, visit Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds blog. 

Next thing you know, the Hugo nominations close and when the finals are announced, several of the categories were stacked with their candidates. And the Hugos were declared dead. Ruined. *le sigh…*


Public outrage ensues. It’s all that anyone talks about…at least until the Nazi romance makes it to the RITA finals. More on that later. But yes, they’re talking about this on Facebook and Twitter and in countless forums everywhere. And the more people are pissed, the more get swept up in the community outrage. In spite of the fury, no one managed to get behind alternate nominees, other than in the novel section. 

Membership in the World Science Fiction Society balloons. When World Con convenes in August, they have record high attendance and voting numbers swelled. As always, controversy is good for business. 

Here’s where it gets very interesting. And this is what I observed.

The fans at this event are a tribe. For the first couple days I was there, it felt like a closed tribe, and I couldn’t find a way in. (especially since I’m a total social cripple.) But I was patient, put myself out of my comfort zone and just wandered around and listened. On Friday, I got pulled into two conversations about the Puppies controversy and speculation about how the voting would turn out. One of the men I spoke with was particularly baffled. He has been part of this fandom all his teen and adult life and he just didn’t understand the malice. He was broken-hearted.

 Over at the costume display, clusters of fans were quietly circulating, informing the uninformed. A young man nervously approached me and handed me a cheap plastic kazoo. On it was printed, “The Hugos Matter.” He told me, “This is important.” 

And yes, they really do matter. And I could tell it took all his courage to walk up to this strange woman and say something that might be controversial. I wanted to hug him.

I took notes at the award ceremony. Several luminaries weighed in on the situation. (I’m sorry, I didn’t get names, but you should be able to view the podcast.) It was like the elephant in the room. The groups who shall not be named. Once George RR Martin said the word “puppies” it loosened the rest of the panel up. No one choked and died. Vox Day didn’t suddenly manifest there on the screen. They discussed changing rules and the long term implications the controversy might have. They talked about what might happen at the evening’s ceremony. (They were spot on.)  Here are salient points the guests made during interviews:

  • ·         To campaign for a Hugo is an empty victory. (In this case, it was a Phyrric Victory)
  • ·         It’s fine to get behind a book or artist or other candidate, but do it because you love their work, not because you want to block everyone else.
  • ·         The Hugo Awards are the will of the fans.
  • ·         The Hugo finalists should be raised in prestige simply by being on that final list. Make this your reading list for the year. 
  • Don't write for the award. Never write for the award. Write for the joy and to write the best damned story you can. 

From George R. R. Martin: 

  • ·         People have to nominate
  • ·         People have to vote
  • ·         People have to talk about and share what they love
  • ·         The 2017 World Con will be held in Helsinki, Finland! (they beat out DC, Montreal and Osaka, Japan)

The Hugo ballot lists the five nominees in the category, and in addition, has a selection where the member can vote that no award shall be given. In the entire history of the Hugo awards, this option has been the voter’s selection a total of five times. 

Last night, the voters withheld the award from five categories, thus shutting out the slate of finalists supported by the puppies. Yes, some other candidates were shut out too, and that’s sad. But in the novella category, all five of the finalists were from Castalia Press. (Seriously…is no one else writing novellas?)  As the hosts read those results, they said, “And the voters have decided no award will be given in that category.” And every time, the audience cheered. There were a few “boos…” but David Gerrold quickly shut them down. 

Two major wins went to translated works. In spite of the dearth of women nominated, they were actually well represented in the wins. In spite of all the efforts to hijack the awards, it wound up being truly diverse indeed.

I actually did my homework for these awards. I read the entries and voted for my favorites. Some of my picks won, some didn’t. I won’t hide the fact that I voted to withhold on several categories, and so did the majority of the voters. 

I’ve heard it said that passive aggression won the night and I strongly disagree. To withhold the award is an active vote. And I’ve heard it was a wash. In what way? I’m sad for the few finalists caught up in those categories, but at least three nominees had the wisdom to withdraw their names from the vote, presumably because they were backed by the petulant pooches.  Good for them. I’d have done the same thing. 

I think. 

The Hugos are not a judged, juried contest. Its winners are decided by the fans. The voters. And that’s us. And if you care, pay for your membership, join the conversation, nominate and vote. We live in an anti-PC world where Americans are falling in line behind an ugly, bombastic, arrogant businessman. We are being told it’s not okay to be “other.” To be brown or female or to embrace alternate sexuality or gender or faith is wrong. We’re told its bad and our fault if we are poor. We are told that teachers are vile and greedy and that billionaires have our best interests at heart.  We are encouraged not to think…just to listen to sound bites. 

 The world of science fiction is better than that. We are about ideas. Hope. The journey to becoming one people, in spite of….or perhaps because of our diversity. 

I’m tired. I don’t know if I want to write about Nazis right now. Maybe later. *sigh…* 

But I have something to say about that, too. Part Two is on its way. And yes, in a strange way, it relates to all this.