Note from Kiersten: In keeping with my unofficial military theme these past weeks, I invited military romance writer Jessica Scott to guest post at Lady Smut today. I first became aware of Jessica when she was serving in Iraq and Sarah Wendell from Smart Bitches, Trashy Books put together a book drive to send romance novels over to Jessica in an effort to ease the strain of war. Since then, Jessica has become a personal pal and a huge inspiration. I admire her greatly for her service, her writing, her many academics accomplishments (she currently teaches at West Point Academy while pursuing a PhD), and her emotional books that take a frank and often decidedly unromantic view of soldiers returning from war–and all they may bring back with them. I’m delighted to have Lady Smut host her perceptive reflection on the Romance Writers of America (RWA) conference and the concept of “tribe”–a watchword I heard a LOT at the conference–today.
At RWA this year, I noticed a pretty big shift in the conference. Well, there were several, but a couple really stood out to me.
We made room at the table. The Romance Writers of America has been struggling to find its voice when it comes to welcoming all members–authors of color have been remarking for years that there have been deep, systemic problems at the conference. But recently, the RWA board has started listening. This year, there weren’t just panels on diversity–diverse authors were mainstream, even featured at both the Keynote luncheon and the Librarian Day luncheon. Authors like Beverly Jenkins who started her speech by discussing slave narratives that had informed her writing. It was an amazing, powerful speech and what’s better is that she didn’t change anything because her audience was largely white women. Sherry Thomas talked about her journey from China to America and how she learned English through reading romance novels. But more, she spoke about her struggles with postpartum depression–a struggle many of us went through in shame and secrecy because what could possibly be so wrong with us that welcoming our child into the world wasn’t the joyous commercial break we saw on TV?
These authors spoke about the things that connect us. In our case, it was our collective love of romance. Each of us came to our place in the romance world through different means. I started writing when I was in officer candidate school, when I was away from my kids for the first time. I kept writing through my deployment in Iraq and through what were arguably the roughest years of my life as I transitioned back to being a mom after only being a soldier.
I distinctly remember an author posting a blog years ago when I was first starting out about how a woman wrote to her about the impact her books have had on her life. See, she was going through genital reconstruction after have been subjected to female genital mutilation. And this author’s books made her realize that there was hope, that maybe she could find pleasure one day.
Each of our romance journeys are different. Each of us comes to the table from a different place. But the thing about RWA this year that made me tear up several times was that we demonstrated there was room at the table for all of our stories. Writing and publishing is not a zero sum game. Sure, there are finite number of readers out there, but that’s not what I get out of the RWA national conference.
I get to reach out and connect with part of my tribe. I get to reconnect with women who get what it’s like to try and write when you’ve got kids in the house. I get to connect with fellow readers and gush about books we’re supposed to be ashamed of but aren’t. Because these are our stories. They come from a place within us that is very personal to each and every one of us. Our stories connect us with readers–men and women–out in the world.
That’s what was so important about the RWA national conference this year. We opened the hidden door and talked about our struggles. We acknowledged that depression is real and it’s dark and it’s scary–but that you are not alone. We made room at the table for diverse voices and learned that ours are not muted because we add to them, rather that we are all lifted up when our voices are combined.
I left RWA this year feeling re-energized in a way I haven’t felt in a long time. I needed this reconnection with my tribe. To sit around with other moms who were enjoying time away from mom duty and laugh about the crazy things our kids did. To be around other writers who were struggling. To be the voice in someone else’s head when they need someone to drown out their own because their own is toxic at the moment.
I hope the changes we saw at this RWA conference stick. I want us to continue to lift each other up. To stop pretending that life is the five minutes of perfection we see on Facebook and to connect with the real people out there in the world. To reconnect with our tribe. Who lifts us up.
Jessica Scott is the USA Today bestselling author of novels set in the heart of America’s Army. She is an active duty army officer, a veteran of the Iraq war, is the mother of two daughters, three cats and three dogs, and wife to a retired NCO. She and her family are currently wherever the army has sent her. She has written for the New York Times At War blog, War on the Rocks, PBS Point of View Women and War and has been featured in Esquire Magazine as an American of the Year in 2012. She has published 11 novels and novellas about soldiers returning from war and has hit the USA Today Bestseller list twice. She has compiled two nonfiction projects about her time in Iraq and the return home. She has recently completed a Master’s degree in sociology from Duke, a Master’s degree in Telecom Management from University of Maryland University College, and a BA in Cultural Studies from State University of New York. She is currently pursuing a PhD in sociology. Learn more at http://www.jessicascott.net