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.
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.