I had a great time at the Romance Writers of America conference. I went as press for Book Riot and attended panels, spotlights, and social events with my blogging ears and eyes open. I have a lot to share about forthcoming books and current trends I’m excited about (and a few I wish would go away).
I’ve been following discussions in the aftermath of the conference. Just a few things I’ve seen so far: Rose Fox has been tweeting about being persistently misgendered. Tweets —trigger warnings for the Locke link — about the “Nazi romance” that was nominated for a RITA award (I recommend India Valentin’s and Katherine Locke’s excellent streams). Would love a Storify on those, but have no idea how to do it.
I recommend Alisha Rai’s Storify on one of the fantastic panels on diversity in romance publishing. I also recommend Suleikha Snyder’s RWA15 in NYC: A Tale of Two Conferences. She was either too kind or too overwhelmed with similar incidents to put it in her post, but when I was introduced to Suleikha at the conference, she was standing with Sonali Dev, and as I shook Suleikha’s hand I told her I loved A Bollywood Affair.
There was also a fantastic panel on writing and depression, which was the most crowded one I attended. Lots of questions from the audience. I remembered meeting one of the people who spoke out about her own struggle with depression (it may be have been a panelist or audience member. I don’t want to be specific). At the time, she seemed distracted/uninterested/cold. I realized after her comment that she may well have been suffering a depressive episode — or I’m just not interesting. The point is that it reminded me to be more aware of what people may be experiencing when I encounter them, and refrain from making an assessment of someone based on a brief encounter. It also occurred to me that while there are loads of panels at RWA on fighting procrastination and tools to increase productivity, the way that disabilities, including chronic mental illness, affects writers remains largely unacknowledged.* For example, what are the effects of the industry push to “write faster” on someone whose output is affected by their experience of disability?
*Edited to add: there wa sa panel on ADD/ADHD which many found very helpful. Thanks to Mary Lynne Nielsen for the reminder.
I’m sure I committed other microaggressions, but those are just examples to illustrate that I am not writing this post in any kind of a position of perfect ally-hood or moral saintliness. Far from it.
One issue I wanted to mention here that really struck me was socioeconomic class issues. Here are a few random examples:
1. Meetings at the Broadway Lounge in the conference hotel. So many meetings happened there, both scheduled and informal. A drink at the lounge will set you back $10-15 plus tip.
2. Dressing for the conference and the RITAs. There’s a lot we can say about the gendered nature of the term “business casual”, (does it ever apply to men?), the beauty norms, etc. But I’m thinking about the cost of showing up for the meetings, the cocktail parties, and the RITAs. And the issue isn’t even just having to dress up. I think a middle class woman can show up in casual clothes and not feel bad about it. Someone in a different situation might find it important to dress to hide her economic status (“Dress for success!” “Dress for the position you want, not the one you have!” etc.).
3. The conference hotels. It’s NYC. It’s expensive. Of course you can put 4 in a room or stay fewer nights, or stay outside of Manhattan or in a cheap motel, but all of those require tradeoffs in convenience, time, safety, privacy, and sleep.
4. The breakfasts. My understanding is that RWA conference admission used to include lunches. This year, it included a buffet breakfast. Lunch is a more substantial meal, around which someone trying to save $ could plan a snack in the morning and a light dinner at night. Breakfast as the only substantial meal of the day is a bigger challenge.
5. Lots of writers talk about the day when they’ll be able sell well enough to “quit their day job.” Of course, that’s a huge milestone. But what about writers who can’t even find a day job? Or who have a day job, but would really like a second or a third one (i.e. the “working poor” with all the scare quotes around that phrase) to make ends meet?
6. Many RITA winners thanked their (usually male) partners for their support. I was thinking how much harder it would be to come to the conference, or to even write on a regular basis, if you were on your own, single parenting, or were responsible for other dependants.
7. I participated in discussions where it was clear money was an issue. For example, I talked to people who, as individuals or with their chapters, are withdrawing from the national organization due to annual fees. Like a lot of middle class people, I tended to just nod and offer a bland reassurance. I wonder if asking outright how someone is doing financially, and helping co-create a safe space to share worries, when a person opens the topic, is a more supportive approach.
8. I went to the Harlequin party, which was held in the Waldorf Astoria. I was thinking about the many implicit social norms embedded in a situation like that. Just as a thought experiment, I wondered what a celebration of authors that didn’t yoke success and economic privilege would look like. A walk in Central Park? I don’t know.
9. When I walked through the Goody Room, I wondered how much it costs authors to provide “swag” for readers. As a reader, I tend to disdain bookmarks. Writing this post, it occurs to me that bookmarks are a lot cheaper for authors than some other options.
10. I’m writing this today because I’m too tired to get much work done. I chose not to go up to the office, but instead to deal with emails and other department issues from home. I talked to a lot of RWA attendees who planned to take today off to recover. I’m betting a good number of RWA attendees didn’t have that choice.
Because I’ve been interneting for a fairly long time, I’m worried about all the ways this post might be misconstrued. So:
1. I’m not suggesting socioeconomic class is a separate issue from the others mentioned in this post. To speak from my own field, I know that access to health care is associated with employment, and health status is associated with employment and education. And all of these are associated in pernicious ways to race, ethnicity, immigration status, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability.
2. I’m not saying writers who are struggling with economic issues or who identify as poor or working class (either presently or in terms of their upbringing) somehow can’t succeed, or can’t be very productive, or can’t have fantastic conferences, or can’t behave properly at swanky parties, or would rather walk in a park than go to a ball.
3. I identify as middle class and have all my life. I not only experienced, but enjoyed this privilege at RWA. Looking at socioeconomic issues from my limited perspective, I probably got things wrong.
With this post, I’m just trying to think out loud about the strong impression I had all conference that “RWA is fucking expensive”, and to begin to process the encounters I had with people who shared with me that money is a concern.
Comments, critiques and questions more than welcome.