A week ago I got to go to George RR Martin’s theater here in Santa Fe, the Jean Cocteau Cinema. He’s doing really interesting things with it, having bought the old theater near the rail yard, rehabbing it and now, along with art house movies and screenings of Game of Thrones episodes, bringing in authors for signings and discussions. This was my first time to go, when Kim Harrison visited and George did a Q&A session.
And so interesting. I had the best time.
As you can see from the picture, the venue is an intimate one and listening to these two superstar writers discuss the business totally rocked my world. George is a terrific interviewer and I got insights into his career as well. All in all, a terrific evening and I greatly appreciate what he’s doing for both our community and for writers everywhere.
Yeah, you knew there was a “but” coming, right?
A funny thing happened that’s been bugging me ever since.
After about an hour of Q&A, Kim went out to the lobby to sign books. Because it’s a very small, cramped space (like most of the older parts of Santa Fe), George asked us all to stay seated so she could settle and then he excused us by rows to go out there gradually. My friend and I were a number of rows back, so we sat a fair amount longer and essentially chatted with George. Which was so fun. People asked him questions and he asked us who else we’d like to see visit. That was like getting to ask Santa Claus for a pony – and believing he’d deliver.
One gal mentioned Stephen R. Donaldson and asked if he’s still writing and living in Albuquerque. George frowned and said he had no idea. Now, if you follow me on Twitter and Facebook, you probably know I recently met Steve at Bubonicon and, in my capacity as VP of Programs, subsequently invited him to speak to my local RWA chapter, LERA. My friend, also a LERA member, elbowed me, so I spoke up and said yes! Steve is writing a new book in a new series, that he’d visited our chapter in Albuquerque and read to us from it and it’s wonderful. (It really is.) It was a great program and everyone really enjoyed hearing about his process and career. I probably forgot to say anything about it here.
George looked confused and asked where this was again? I said, you know, Romance Writers of America? Kim had referenced it earlier, though saying she was no longer a member as she doesn’t write romance. And he said, yes, he knew about RWA, that he was just having a hard time picturing Steve Donaldson talking to a bunch of romance writers.
I mean, here I’m having a conversation with one fantasy-writer legend about another, in front of an audience, so I was a little flustered. I explained that I met Steve at Bubonicon, which had also been referenced, and how I’m VP of Programs for LERA and how I write crossover between fantasy and romance and so do many of our members and blah blah blah. It was only later that it hit me what he’d really said. That it occurred to me to wonder exactly what he had been picturing. What does “a bunch of romance writers” look like? Somehow I get this image of a group of women dressed in chintz, sipping tea and giggling. With the, supremely frustrating leisure of hindsight, I wish I’d said something like “Why? We write books, too.”
I know what we’re talking about here and I don’t really mean to slam George Martin for this, because I think he simply and genuinely revealed a very common misperception. We all know that Romance is the least respected genre out there. Written largely by women, for women, there’s an idea that romance writers are somehow…not really writers. After all, it’s just formula, right? We plug in different hair and eye colors, maybe a new setting and a different order of sexual positions and BOOM – on to the next book! We don’t actually delve into the craft or anything.
So, over the last week, the more I thought about it (read: brooded a teensy bit), the more it annoyed me. Why on earth WOULDN’T we have a major league writer come talk to us, regardless of genre?? Writing is writing. A writer’s career follows the same general landscape regardless of the actual stories we write.
*deep cleansing breath*
Maybe that’s not what he meant. Maybe he wondered what on earth we’d get out of hearing Steve talk. The answer is that we got tons out of it. For days after, we traded notes on what we most got out of Steve’s talk. Steve himself emailed me after and said how much he enjoyed our group and how he’d love to come back anytime. In fairness, he may have been pleasantly surprised to find such a savvy, smart, creative and amazing bunch of writers who really appreciated what he had to say.
I think, in the end, this is just part of the ongoing effort to bring romance out from under the bed, hidden by lacy dust-ruffles and tucked in next to the sex toys. Maybe by having these conversations, by inviting writers from other genres to speak to us, we’re doing the work of demonstrating that we are writers, like any others. We’re invested in our craft and our careers. We work hard to learn, grow and improve.
Maybe I’ll invite George to come speak to us next.