DA Kentner writes the column THE READERS' WRITERS for the (Freeport) Journal-Standard and GateHouse News Service. My alter ego KevaD lives under a stairway of dreams where he writes stories and grumbles about everything. Click the pic to visit KevaD's blog.
Drop me a line at dakentner@yahoo.com

I invite you to read my award-winning short story posted on Calliope Magazine's web site.

Monday, February 6, 2012

When Is Romance Not Romantic?

As readers, each of us chooses to enjoy the type of story that appeals to us as individuals. Whether it’s tales of aliens, dashing masked men wielding swords on a dirt highway, or an autobiography, we hold our choice of stories dear to us, as well we should. What we don’t think about are the people who would still the voices writing those stories. After all, this is the United States. We have freedom of the press where no voice can be silenced. Don’t we?

Apparently, yes and no.

In recent weeks a battle occurred. It didn’t make much noise in the press. No lawyers or courts were involved. This fight didn’t even take place between authors and readers, but between the authors themselves. An annual contest was to be held, one that had been around for several years.

A group of writers called Romance Writers Ink (RWI), a chapter of the national organization Romance Writers of America (RWA), announced its annual competition of romance stories. But this year the RWI membership opted to change the rules. The members weren’t comfortable with a specific style of story and no longer wanted those stories eligible for consideration.

RWA member Courtney Milan pointedly stated that the rule change didn’t prohibit stories about “aliens from another planet who have tentacles, or barbed sexual organs,” or “degrading rapes.” Nope. Those stories were still welcome by RWI. What RWI decided was beyond their ability to judge, to accept… what made them more “uncomfortable” than alien foreplay or back alley rapes and deprivation… were romantic tales of same sex partners. A man in love with a man, a woman in love with a woman, was suddenly beyond the membership’s comfort zone. So, RWI excluded same sex love stories from their contest – for the first time in RWI’s history.

Yes, in the past, same sex stories had not only been welcome in RWI’s competition, but actually won twice. Yet, this year, for whatever reason, the members had become “uncomfortable” with allowing those stories into their contest.

The fecal matter hit the oscillating blades. RWI and RWA were bombarded with emails, letters, and phone calls. The end result? The contest was cancelled. RWA will discuss the topic in an upcoming meeting.

Some authors are claiming a victory was won in the contest’s closure. RWI remains unapologetic. RWA will look into the matter.

The bottom line is… the contest won’t be held. No stories will be considered. I don’t see a victory in this. What I see is a gaping wound in literature. For the first time in a contest’s history, the rules were changed to exclude a specific genre. Instead of repairing the problem, acknowledging a mistake had been made, all authors suffered. A door that had been open to all forms of romance was slammed closed. Another door opened - one to segregation and discrimination, and it remains open regardless of whether this contest is ever again held.

No one won this battle. Because it had to be waged, we all lost.
DA Kentner is an author and journalist. www.kevad.net


  1. You're right, this isn't a victory. Love between two men may make others uncomfortable and they may not want to judge the book, but this is a contest judged by peers and there are plenty of peers willing to judge male/male romance. This is about them not wanting another M/M book to win the contest. Preventing M/M books from entering is the only way to keep one from winning, thus proving that most people don't really care if the love is between two men, two women, or a man and a woman. What matters is how those two people treat each other, not their sexual orientation.

    Thank you for writing this article. Forty years from now, we may look back and say this was a key moment, where M/M stories in fiction came out of the closet. Nothing is more beautiful than love, sadly too many people put parameters on love and twist it into something ugly. When this contest season is over and the dust clears, the real measure will be if people are willing to admit they enjoy reading M/M romance or will they hide their preference, denying to the world that they are okay if others are gay.

  2. An excellent article, David. Unfortunately, one of my favorite lines from any movie, is not true today... "No one puts baby in a corner." They certainly found a way to put all same-sex authors, myself included, in a corner... well in this case, they just closed the door and I was left standing outside. Why? Because their eyes may bleed should they think of a mans lips on another mans lips.

    Oh, I have read the books that were included in the contest, with the barbed genitals. Loved them. Was I uncomfortable with human breeds having sex that resembled dogs, wolves or large cats? Well, it was certainly different. I have to give the author credit for being original just as I would like to be given credit for making my male love scenes original.

    If RWI's judges are so "uncomfortable" with reading same-sex material, find judges who aren't uncomfortable with the subject matter. Trust me, there is at least one tolerant person in Tulsa. *rolls eyes*

  3. Thank you so much Sara and Patricia for taking the time to stop by, and for your comments.

    The truly disturbing issue for me is the fact these were authors, the very people who should embrace the freedom of the written word, seeking to censor sexuality from a writing competition.

  4. Great post, David, well thought out and too the point.

    There isn't an easy fix for this, but it can be fixed.

  5. Thank you, Lee. I really appreciate your comments.