When I first joined my local romance-writers group in 1996, one thing I heard almost from the beginning was not to talk publicly about politics or any other ‘controversial’ (the quotation marks are mine) issues. The well-intentioned reasoning I was given was if you did then readers would turn on you and never buy your books, and in turn publishers wouldn’t publish your books and you would never have a writing career. I see that for what it is now: wrong as fucking hell.
One, no writer will reach, please, or satisfy every single reader on the planet. That’s called reality and there’s nothing wrong with accepting that. But living in fear of readers who won’t get into your work is bullshit and a huge waste of time.
Two, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution hasn’t been repealed yet, you know the one about Freedom of Speech. And yes, this does govern speech you don’t agree with or like. It means everyone has a right to speak, bitch, complain, or even talk out of their asshole if they want to.
Three, this indoctrination into not speaking out against issues like racism, sexism, rising fascism, etc. is not helping the cause of freedom. Silence on these issues aids the oppressors. In the romance-writing world, it kept racism and homophobia in the romance-writing community from being exposed and dealt with for far too many years. It created an incredibly hostile environment against authors of color and LGBTQ authors. Because of that, racism and homophobia are deeply-entrenched not only in the romance-writing community, but in our society as a whole. Silence is a form of fear-mongering and the good-intentioned way it’s presented is that if you stay silent then you won’t be hurt.
Like I’ve said before, I’ve been silent and that didn’t prevent me from being hurt in any way, shape, or form. What it did prevent me from doing was putting up a shield against thoughtless bullshit and casual cruelty, and it prevented me from keeping people from sinking their razor-sharp talons into my heart and soul.
I’m going to say this right here and now: if more people had spoken out over the last twenty-plus years against institutionalized racism and other shit like that, maybe most of the shit that’s happened since 2016 wouldn’t have happened. Maybe reforms and changes would have begun two decades ago and we’d be seeing some results now. Maybe we would respond so much better to crises like pandemics. And maybe so many people wouldn’t have died.
Yes, I know that sounds brutal. And I know some readers here might be thinking how do writers, especially silly little romance-novelists play into this?
Well, us writers, and yes, us silly little romance-novelists have audiences. And yes, we may have pissed off some of those readers if we had spoken out sooner against all the awful shit in this world but it would have been better if it happened back then and not now when we’re not even on the road to making any real changes. We are living not just through a shit-show, but in a dumpster fire. The problem is, the stuff we’re burning in the dumpster isn’t what should be burning. The contents of this dumpster we live in are fear, hatred, deflection, and gaslighting. This is what should have been written about two decades ago when I and many others were told to stay silent.
My fears of being exiled for speaking out are rapidly dying now for I know I’ve been an exile all my life. I’ve never fit in completely anywhere and I don’t know if I ever will find a place where I would fit in. But I’m okay with that. I’ve made it this far and as I write this I hear a thought in my head: you’re so much stronger than you have ever realized and don’t ever forget that.
Strength comes from facing fears and seeing they weren’t the fifty-foot fire-breathing dragons, or the huge smothering blankets of good-intentions you thought they were. In reality, they were nothing but smoke and mirrors. The smoke can be blown away and the mirror can be smashed to pieces.
Writing through this is hard and I’m not going to sugar-coat that in any way. But it’s worth it to me because the truth will set you free. Strength can come from a racing heartbeat and tightened lungs, from shaking jangly nerves, and from unshed tears. I know even as I keep writing in order not to lose my shit that solutions will come to me. They always have no matter how down I get.
I once saw this saying and I still love it now as I’m learning to live it:
Feel the fear and write anyway.