ARRC2017: Shining a Light

How romance novels bring social issues to light and discuss them.

Moderator: Amy Andrews
Panel:
CM – Courtney Milan
EM – Emily Madden
FL – Fiona Lowe
RJ – Rachael Johns

Is it the role of romance to shine a light on social issues?
EM – Not a role, but a consequence. What are we labeling as normal (in our books)? Does that make everything else into a ‘social issue’? People who don’t read romance expect fluff, but we as readers know differently.
RJ – I don’t set out to include issues. They are a natural part of life.
FL – I wrote a disabled child book, because I’ve worked with many families in this situation.
EM – Wrote about cancer and grief; and revisiting past friendship via grief
RJ – I wrote about autism as way of processing a personal experience as my son went through the diagnosis process. The guilt and resentment that comes with the impact of disability, while still loving someone, creates tension. I asked – how does something like that affect a community?
“In Suffragette Scandal, you wrote about the hero being tortured.” CM – I wanted to explain that torture gives false information. It’s outlawed, not because it’s cruel, but because the answers you get are useless. Often books use torture as a device to quickly arrive at a solution, and I wanted to push back against that. As a lawyer, I know that torture results in false confessions, not easy answers.

Do we use ‘tortured hero’ too lightly? Is wounded hero better?
CM – No. it’s not literal (usually). It’s more about a stress reaction.

Audience questions
Should books have trigger warnings?
Cm – I don’t want to give away the plot, but also don’t want to hurt people.

Do you get push back from publishers?
FL – It depends on the publisher
CM – I was told not to give a hero depression – it made him unmanly. I ended up re-writing the book to only hint at his depression, but it wasn’t the book I wanted to write. It felt like someone else’s book.
FL – It’s good to be polarizing because it attracts attention to the book. You just need to research well, and read over a broad spectrum of opinions on an issue.
RJ – I don’t set out to make every reader happy. The book will become too bland.
CM – If only 1% of all people read your book, you can make a good living. If you are polarizing, people will find you. Don’t be porridge. Porridge is fine, but you wouldn’t order it in a fine restaurant.

How do you deal with people disagreeing with you?
FL – In life, one issue has ten different experiences. Just say thanks (for reading the book).
CM – People who are truly upset tend not to email. Only people who feel entitled to the author’s time will email.

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