Sunday, March 24, 2019

Cover Reveal, the RITA® Awards and Boring the Reader

Cover Reveal!!

So, my novella, THE DRAGONS OF SUMMER, which first appeared (and still appears) in the SEASONS OF SORCERY anthology is a finalist in the RITA® Awards! The amazing Ravven had only just completed the cover - and we'd been planning to release the standalone story in April - but we seized the opportunity to put that shiny silver Finalist medallion on the cover and we'll be releasing the stand alone story any minute now. I'm even doing a print edition for you paper purists. 

Since our topic at the SFF Seven this week is the open "On My Mind," I feel like I should say, also, that I share the concern about the RITA Awards recognizing diverse authors. It's a difficult place to be - wanting to celebrate that this story, which I truly love, received this wonderful recognition - while being aware that the finalists include only four authors of color (AOC) and no Black authors.

There is, without a doubt, bias in judging. Reading is always subjective to begin with. Worse, within RWA and the judging pool, there are judges with conscious and unconscious biases. Racism and homophobia absolutely come into play. From personal experience, I can confirm that THE EDGE OF THE BLADE, my book with a dark-skinned pansexual heroine, received a 4/10 from one RITA judge - the lowest score any of my books has ever received from any judge in this contest. This book is the sequel to THE PAGES OF THE MIND, which finaled for an won a RITA that year. I seriously doubt the judge who gave the book a 4 found that it was badly written compared to the others. Sure, that lowest score got dropped. (Five judges read and rank each book; the highest and lowest scores are dropped.) But if two judges impose that kind of bias, that can severely sabotage a book's overall score. Even the "I just didn't connect with the characters" syndrome can lower a book's score by a critical 1 point.

So, what do we do? A lot of people are working on this. I absolutely support the RWA Board's continued efforts to rectify this problem. The current Board of Directors is a diverse - color, gender, and orientation - and committed group who absolutely want to solve this problem. They have been working on it. Unfortunately, correcting this kind of systemic bias occur on the societal equivalent of geologic time. There are a lot of moving parts and ingrained attitudes that need correcting. I'm hearing a lot of "burn the RITAs to the ground" and even "burn RWA to the ground," and I don't agree with either solution. When you burn things to the ground you get a lot of scorched earth. I fully believe we can make this change - and the fire of all this passionate involvement can be rocket fuel rather than lighter fluid. 

On another note, because I promised a few people, I want to follow up on my post from last week on what I think is bad writing advice: "If you're bored, the reader will be, too." James said the following day that he disagreed, but he also didn't understand my point. He said he hates being bored as a reader. Well, of course! I never said it was okay to bore the reader.

What I said was that it's not valid to conflate the author experience with the reader one. 

The reverse situation proves this point: that what the author finds fascinating is not necessarily what will fascinate the reader. Witness the common mistake where a writer does a bunch of in-depth research - and then can't resist throwing it all into the book. This is such a pervasive phenomenon that "the overly researched historical novel" has been a category in the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest for an atrocious opening sentence to a hypothetical bad novel

That's part of why I think "If the writer is bored, the reader will be, too" is such bad advice, because it implies that as long as the writer is having fun, so will the reader.

And this is SO NOT TRUE.

Of course no writer wants to bore the reader - and a great deal of craft goes into ensuring this doesn't happen. How can an author know? Experience, refining the craft, listening to valid feedback. (The valid part is really important - you have to learn who to take seriously.) But a writer cannot assume that their subjective writing experience will translate to the reader's experience. 

Learning to communicate our stories so the reader receives something of what we hope to tell is a lifelong effort in refining voice and craft. 


  1. I wonder if RWA will move to more of a blind judging for the RITAs, like the Golden Heart, no name or author information, they could even assign a generic entry name instead of including the titles. It will be interesting to see what steps the Board takes.

    1. It's an option, I guess - but with a published book, any attempt at anonymizing it will only go so far. They'd have to strip out headers, frontmatter, back matter and copyright info, too. I seriously doubt the trad publishers would go for that...