Last Dance

 

At the Welcome Breakfast for the 2018 Romantic Times Convention, Kathryn Falk announced that this convention would be the last.

Really bummed, at first. RT was my big travel convention. For the six conventions I attended, RT was in a different city each year, and a lot of the cities were places I never would have traveled to otherwise. RT was also my big “learning” convention of the year. 3 days of craft and marketing panels. And lastly, RT was a lovely way of planning out my writing year. By next RT, I want to… finish short story X, or have read three books on craft, or write the 1st draft of XX.

RT was my first primarily female-attended con. And, fuck yeah, for that experience. Seriously. Six years later, I am still inspired by that first bout of being surrounded by women who were excited by and rewarded for their creative work.

And being that romance isn’t my go-to genre, it was also my first con where I was able to study the goings-on without any personal bias. Okay, okay. Minimal personal bias. At least for the hundreds of prints ads, cover flats, promo tables and direct-to-my-face marketing.

Cliches were fresh to me. No copycats, just who did it better. Branding was judged on recognition—oh, all her titles are plays on country songs—rather than “do I like this brand?” Swag sans fandom showed me the power of advertising, the thrill of the unexpected “good thing”, and just how many authors waste a tremendous amount of effort and money on junk nobody wants.

And while there were plenty of panels concerning alpha males and wolf shifters and sassy historical heroines, more focused on plain old crafting fiction. Good writing is good writing, no matter the genre. And the elements of good writing are nearly universal, anyway. For me, the most interesting takeaway—and perhaps this an outcome of how women have been forced to create throughout the ages: by staying within certain boxes and adhering to rules handed down from on high, is that despite romance’s exacting requirements for certain story beats and formulas and need for HEA for each story, romance authors have shown an inexhaustible talent for crafting a tremendous variety of wonderful stories within those boundaries.

Romance authors work in narrow rows on a crowded field. And they make their readers squeal, swoon and line up hours ahead of time to get their autograph. There’s a lot to be learned from them. And not just the obvious: almost all stories contain a romantic plot or sub plot. But how the themes and working tactics of good romances can be put to use in other stories.

Romance panels tend to stress that the hero needs to treat their partner kindly, with respect, seeking consent and showing interest within interactions. How about a little of that in all stores. And not just to their romantic partner. Show me a wizard who befriends the town gong farmer. Show me the spaceship captain who knows the names of the sanitation crew. Show me the detective who flirts with the shy librarian. Show me the superhero who also creates gadgets that fight climate change.

All genres can be improved by characters who are kind, respectful, consent-motivated, and interested in others. Even grimdark. Think of the internal conflict to be had for a character who chooses to swim against his culture’s grimdark tide. Swoon.

And all genres can be improved by an active and excited contingent of female voices. This is not to discount or ignore the already active and excited female voices present in those genres. All I’m saying is I want there to be the assumption that there are active female and othered voices in all genres rather than needing evidence first.

And this is not to say I am not aware of the ghastly amount of social problems within the romance genre: racism, underrepresentation, staunch refusal to be part of the change in fixing either, silencing of other voices, vocal and public shaming of those who are working for change, and ghastly insincere apologies when called out on such behaviors.
It shows in the difference in line length between black and white authors—even at signings where every book is free; yours for merely standing in a line. It shows in the attendance for panels held by authors of color versus those hosted by white authors. It shows in the wording and gendered language used in panels that are not strictly announced as rainbow. It shows most blatantly on book covers. Both the lack of representation, and the theatrics and chicanery put forth to both earn woke points for putting a poc on a cover while completely disguising their appearance. Pro-tip when looking at book covers: if a clothed character is only shown from the neck down, or a white character’s stance almost completely obscures the character behind them, or there’s no people at all, there’s a good chance the characters are poc.

Romancelandia—as with the society it dwells in—has miles to go. Both in representation in books and on covers, and in the treatment of marginalized peers. We are lucky to have countless people willing to Be the Change. We are lucky to have countless people with hearts stout enough to surge through the streams of bullshit and share their stories, their wisdom, themselves.

So, I am proud to have attended six years of RT. And though I will miss it, I am choosing to view this as an opportunity. RT wasn’t a cheap con, and its costs were compounded by airfare and hotel restaurant prices. My con budget suddenly has travel and financial excess for other cons. WisCon, most likely, or the RWA mega events. There’s the Surrey Writer’s Conference and the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold Conference and the Writing Excuses Cruise—which the one year I planned to go I was waylaid by family issues. Or Phoenix Comic Con to finally see one of my friend, Kyle’s, performances. So many places to go.

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