This Is How It Starts: Kate Breslin’s For Such A Time

9 Aug
Are we really looking at the right thing?

Are we really seeing the problem?

By Alexa Day

I am, speaking very generally, encouraged by what Romance Writers of America is trying to do with regard to diversity within our genre.

I’ve checked out the Storify from one of the diversity-related panels at this year’s National Conference (and you should, too). I downloaded the handout from the excellent authors at the panel on writing multicultural romances. And I would be doing you a disservice not to mention that Beverly Jenkins was on NPR last week. Her reference to the Borg from Star Trek echoes a common complaint I have about black historical romance, both in print and in other popular entertainment. That’s not an RWA thing, but I want to mention it anyway.

With all this forward motion, then, it is discouraging to hear about For Such a Time by Kate Breslin.
In case you haven’t heard about this, I’ll catch you up briefly, but be warned that my summary here is incomplete.

For Such A Time is an inspirational romance between the commandant of a Nazi concentration camp during World War II and a Jewish prisoner. Much is made of the fact that the heroine is blonde and blue-eyed. I don’t want to give too much story away, but part of the HEA is that the heroine converts to Christianity.

I haven’t read it, and I’m not going to. I’m also not going to provide a buy link. If you want your own copy, it’s easy enough to find.

Anyway.

This book was a finalist in two categories for this year’s RITA competition. The finalists were announced a good while ago, and the winners were announced at the conference a couple of weeks ago. But apparently the subject matter of the book is just starting to make significant waves.

Now, I want to focus my argument. I’m going to depart from my usual pattern here by not delving into my issues with the book’s subject matter. Smart Bitches, Trashy Books does a better job than I will in its review. Sarah Wendell has a separate letter to the RWA Board on her Tumblr. If you’re interested in knowing *why* this is offensive, Sarah’s letter is a really eloquent explanation.

I think we are well served to consider two additional issues.

1. The RITA finalists are not nominated. I keep seeing this in press coverage for this book, and it’s driving me crazy. This is not how the contest works. Finalists become finalists because the first-round judges give them high scores. They are not nominated by anyone, least of all by the RWA.

2. The RWA is not really the problem here. Because the RITAs work the way that they work, it’s possible for any book that wows enough first-round judges to slide right through to the final round. If insensitivity or ignorance or anti-Semitism are poisoning this process, then they are working at the first round, when the entries are in the hands of those judges.

Skeptical? Well, consider this.

An awful lot of people have no problem at all with this book. I will concede that it may be beautifully written, and I will not be heard to discount beautiful writing. But I mentioned before that this book was below the radar until fairly recently, and I think the sea of excellent reviews, from Library Journal and RT and others, have something to do with that. Has no one mentioned how problematic this book is?

Has no one asked?

On Friday, the RWA released a statement. I looked at the statement itself, and at the Facebook announcement of that statement. At press time this morning, there were maybe 30 comments on both of them. One of those 30 responses expresses some disappointment, but not surprise, at how thin-skinned and easily offended people seem to be nowadays.

One out of thirty.

That attitude is our problem.

That’s not genuine confusion about why this is offensive or potentially offensive. This is acknowledgment that you might be offended — very casual acknowledgment, but acknowledgment nonetheless — followed up by the suggestion that if we are offended, we need to have a seat and accept that other people aren’t offended.

This position is diametrically opposed to diversity. At its absolute minimum, diversity is giving a shit about why people might be bothered by the things we might be doing or failing to do. And let us be clear — fewer and fewer people are satisfied with the absolute minimum at this stage of the game. I know I’m not satisfied with it.

For Such A Time didn’t final on just one judge. It didn’t impress just one reviewer. My suspicion is that there are an awful lot of people out there who understand exactly how offensive this book had the potential to be, but just don’t care all that much. I do not envy Courtney Milan and RWA’s leadership the job of dealing with that.

I am, as always, curious to hear your thoughts. I care a great deal about whether and why people are offended.

And follow Lady Smut. We’re all about heightened sensitivity.

10 Responses to “This Is How It Starts: Kate Breslin’s For Such A Time”

  1. Elizabeth Shore August 10, 2015 at 11:48 am #

    To me the issue is unrelated to censorship. Sure, as writers we’re against it. Freedom of speech and all that. I applaud it, support it, fight for the right of it. But just because we support freedom of speech and expression doesn’t mean we should be supporting and recommending offensive books. it’s upsetting to me that the judges of round 1 didn’t consider the larger picture of what this book represents.

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    • Alexa Day August 10, 2015 at 10:16 pm #

      Oh, yeah, I don’t think this is about censorship at all. Censorship is being used as a distraction, honestly. I hope I’m wrong about this, and that we’re seeing a genuine lack of awareness about just how offensive this book is. But I think someone involved in the process that leads us to our current situation must have known better. I don’t see how a person can miss something that size.

      Like

  2. Denise Golinowski August 10, 2015 at 10:27 am #

    Hi Alexa and Lady Smut! Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I have been sorely distracted of late. I also thank you for the links, which I used to help supplement my knowledge-base on “For such A Time.” I am first appalled that such a book made it so far through the RWA membership/judges. You were very fair to point out that the writing itself may have been exemplary, however, I agree that it is shocking to find that judges in both preliminary and final rounds did not see the topic offensive enough to take off points? Yes, we don’t want to open the door to censorship (RWA statement) but to think that the Inspiration category judges couldn’t find a better representative of their genre than than this is sad. I cannot believe that there weren’t more deeply and truly inspiring Inspirational Category Entries. I don’t find anything INSPIRING about a woman being held against her will and faith being forced to pretend to be someone she’s not and then falling in love with a man who is systematically exterminating her own people. I guess there’s just no accounting for taste. Mine is to say NO!

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    • Alexa Day August 10, 2015 at 10:31 pm #

      Yeah, there’s definitely a mystery in the process somewhere. I’m just curious to know how all this happened, although I do suspect that a lot of the people involved in the publication process know exactly how offensive this book is.

      Like

  3. Denise Golinowski August 10, 2015 at 10:24 am #

    Reblogged this on Denise Golinowski's Blog and commented:
    My dear friend and author, Alexa Day posted an insightful blog about the controversy over the RWA Rita’s Finalist, FOR SUCH A TIME. The RWA has defended the situation citing a determination to insure no censorship in the RITA’S, and I applaud their position. What I don’t applaud is the fact that the JUDGES did not weed it out themselves. What does this say about the Judges, published romance authors? I shudder to think. What do YOU think?

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  4. Liz Everly August 9, 2015 at 3:16 pm #

    I just have to say that I was stunned to learn about this book. I was at the conference and didn’t stay for the RITA’s as I was completely exhausted by that point. I was so hoping that Sonali Dev would win that I thought momentarily about taking my shoes off and going in barefoot. The RITAs are mysterious to me. I guess you enter your own book? Or your publisher enters it for you? But when I found out about the book, the first thing I thought was WHAT THE FUCK. How did it even get published? It may be beautifully written. I don’t know and I don’t care. I mean I was told straight out I’d never get a Colonial romance between a white woman and an African-American man published–because it’s NOT a part of the accepted historical romance conventions. And yet this book gets published? This is acceptable? What’s really going on here? I’m getting pretty jaded–but I smell a rat. Someone is making a whole lot of money off the sales of this book. And, sadly enough, it is selling. Very troubling.

    Like

    • Alexa Day August 10, 2015 at 10:10 pm #

      You can enter your own books, although I think I’ve heard of people’s publishers entering them, too. When my book came out, there was no erotic romance category, and I didn’t like my chances in regular contemporary, what with the fuck buddy and all. But the option was there for me to enter my own work.

      I may be as jaded as you are, honestly, but I’m positive sales for this book are fantastic, especially with all the media attention.

      Oh — and if the idea of the book itself repels you, you might want to avoid looking at its promo.

      Like

      • Liz Everly August 11, 2015 at 8:12 am #

        Oh yeah–I looked at its Amazon page ONCE to see what all the fuss was about. Seriously? This book was not on my radar at all until this RITA came up.

        Like

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Subjectivity and Reader Shaming | Jami Gold, Paranormal Author - August 11, 2015

    […] people find problematic or offensive. There’s no end to the articles written about the Nazi romance that was a finalist in the RITA this year. (Note: Language at many of those […]

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  2. And Then Life Interfered | Lady Smut - August 10, 2015

    […] Elizabeth Shore delved into the man bun trend (I personally am not a fan) in All Bun Up while Madeline Iva talked hot FBI guys with author Leah St. James. Finally, Alexa Day took the bit between her teeth and weighed in on the ongoing discussion (or controversy, depending on which side of the byline you sit) on inspirational romance writer Kate Breslin’s RITA nominated book For Such a Time. […]

    Like

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