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  • Writer's pictureClyve Rose

Writing Love Responsibly

I’ve not blogged in a long time and there are a number of reasons for this. The most obvious is that I’ve been writing a lot. My head is full of words. The other reason that I rarely discuss, is that I had some healing to do. Sometimes my PTSD gets the better of me and I struggle to find my way back here, to where you guys are. My time away from the blog saw me shift perspective on the way I see - and write – Love and History.

I was prepping one of my new love-in-history posts for you, when I saw the Vivian award announcements from RWA (Romance Writers of America). I popped off to check out the new darlings of the romance writing world…and promptly fell into a slough, because it hurt to see another celebration of bigotry from a historical romance author. This award-winning novel cheerfully offers racist depictions of First Nation peoples, and a subsequent massacre by the hero. I’ll repeat that bit: By the hero.



Painting by Chyenne/Arapaho artist Brent Learned, from the exhibition One November Morning (2016)

Write Love & Reward Hate

Sitting here in Sydney lockdown with no one but myself and my grief, the pain is physical. It’s like I’ve lost an organ, or perhaps I’ve just lost hope. I’d hoped for better. I’d hoped for change and for a level of responsible representation. It’s too ironic to write Love and reward hate so systematically, so carelessly - it feels cruel and knowing. Yet I doubt this callous disregard is deliberate. I doubt those who refuse to listen, hear any voices but their own and I doubt their willingness to try.

It's the ultimate act of writer's hubris to assume the view from atop a well-worn trope cannot be offensive because it only bothers 'others'. If there's one message screaming loudly from the centre of this pandemic, it's that other people matter. Other peoples' pain and suffering matters. Stories were once written to diminish the truth of past brutalities. We know this. We also know we have an opportunity to widen perspectives, to depict previously ignored contexts and slandered voices. I see this as part of our responsibility. The very least we can do is avoid pouring salt over age-old wounds. That some in our industry refuse to acknowledge this is indefensible in 2021 (it's indefensible in any year but, well, see below):

Historical romance writers use context as a shield far too often. It's not subtle, it's not excusable, and it ought not to be acceptable anymore - yet here we are. Rewarding racism says the status quo stands. It says marginalisation is acceptable. It says we’re writing Love irresponsibly, and enabling harmful constructs.

It’s irresponsible to make a hero out of a mass murderer.

It’s irresponsible to use the Holocaust as a meet-cute.

It’s irresponsible to celebrate racism.

It's irresponsible to redeem the irremediable.


It’s also irresponsible to turn away from the truth that these choices are made in our industry every day. This book passed by editors, marketers, and publishers to birth such destructive messaging. It's irresponsible not to ask what we’re doing when we expect readers to accept a romantic hero who commits genocide.


Different Truths

I once worked with a mentor who gifted me the mantra 'Writing Love Responsibly'. These words beat in my brain every time I begin a new work. The dominant culture has the most power. The most choices. The most responsibility. Choosing to lionise a white Christian protagonist responsible for massacring First Nation peoples, is not new or unique in historical romance (sadly). It is not responsible either.

I am not suggesting we ignore historical context. In fact, I advocate for facing it truthfully - and with responsibility - to avoid harming those who’ve already been harmed. When we ignore this context, when we reward such loudly blatant bigotry in historical romance, we negate our chance to show a different truth. We betray our responsibility to both Love and History.

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9 Comments


lburrell1
Mar 08, 2022

We cannot forgive on behalf of the dead. And the issue is not whether one is "allowed" to write this or that. The issue is whether it is irresponsible to do so. And whether it is irresponsible to reward speech that distorts history. Stories are important. We expect to learn about the past through stories. (It's probably not an accident or co-incidence that we call the study of the past "history."


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lburrell1
Mar 07, 2022

By now we've seen the effects of this terrible mistake on Romance Writers of America. I was a member. Like many others I have not renewed. My reading and following the thrashing about after the mistake leads me to believe there were other serious issue that were not being taken care of. The deplorable endorsement of a book that celebrates the genocide at Wounded Knee may have begun the evaluation process, but it didn't stop there. The ignorance that allowed judges to ignore the iconic Wounded Knee war crime revealed a breathtaking incompetence.

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Clyve Rose
Clyve Rose
Mar 08, 2022
Replying to

I did not renew either. I agree their issues are far more serious than a single incident. The fact that no one paused throughout the process says a LOT. I spoke to several publishers last year as well, who no longer like working with them which makes the only real draw the organisation has, less compelling. I am of a marginalised people myself and I cannot be a member of an organisation that allows genocide to be lauded as heroic. We must do better - and if this means doing it without the RWA, then so be it. I am also a member of RWAus and have found this organisation vastly different when it comes to these concerns.

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Ron Hogan
Ron Hogan
Aug 04, 2021

As somebody who HAS read the book, and as somebody who does his best to keep the message of Jesus to heart, I will be blunt: The “hero” of At Love’s Command does not even REMOTELY begin to repent of his sins at Wounded Knee in a meaningful fashion, nor is he on a meaningful path to doing so.

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eileencharbonneau
Aug 04, 2021

Smithizzy dear--"We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist." -- Robert Jones The panic over "cancel culture," I believe, often is equal to protecting the "right" of powerful men to mistreat women and others. Other people matter. Their religions, their holy people matter. They should not be made "devils" who righteous Christians must fight against. The dominant culture has the most power, choices, and responsibility. Let's take this opportunity to widen perspectives, depict ignored contexts and slandered voices.

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smithizzy173
Aug 04, 2021

Thank you for posting about this and while I understand why people are up in arms about this, people are forgetting some important points too.


Before I start, I'd like to say that I haven't read this book. I'll probably never read it, just because I don't usually read inspirational stories. My comment is based on what I've heard, which may not be entirely accurate (as I'm sure applies to your blog too). I mean no disrespect, I'm just trying to show the other side of the coin, which people seem to have forgotten exists.


Today's politically correct culture has made people weak. They get offended by the past for heavens' sake. I mean, how ludicrous is that? Not only…


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Elizabeth Rolls
Elizabeth Rolls
Aug 04, 2021
Replying to

Like you I don't read inspirational fiction, but I strongly suggest that you should have at least read the opening of this book before coming out in support. I... tried to read the prologue which uses the Wounded Knee Massacre so I could have an informed opinion. In the end I had to skim because I was nearly sick. The description of the Wounded Knee Massacre was unbelievably insensitive. You say the author did "nothing wrong". Yes, she did. If she was going to use Wounded Knee at all, then she owed it to the horror and gravity of that event to get it right. To handle the material, and the victims, respectfully. Not use their murder merely to further…


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