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.