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George had been really looking forward to judging all those "hot" covers.

Suppose you held a contest and nobody played…

It actually happened at Crescent Blues earlier this summer. In response to the proposed Romance Writers of America (RWA) advertising ban on "explicit" romance covers, we challenged our readers to find one -- just one -- cover from an RWA recognized publisher or published writer too shocking for our local bookstore. To sweeten the pot, we promised hot books and two cool $5 gift certificates for Maggie Moo's ice cream to the person who could show us the steamiest cover.

We planned to offer consolation prizes too. No one took us up on it.

Now admittedly, our editorials don't rack up the kind of hits we see on our top features. But our opinion pages do number at least a few readers, all of whom complain very loudly if the page gets posted late. So somebody read about the contest.

It could be that no such covers exist. This was what I thought we'd find when I came up with the idea for the Fun With Graphical Standards Contest. Frankly, I thought whole notion was just another attempt by a small but well-positioned clique within RWA to harass romantica and small press authors.

I still do, but the graphical standards initiative paled in comparison to the stunts pulled by this clique in the weeks that followed. First they attempted to define romance as "between a man and a woman" or "between two people." OK, forget the nascent alternative lifestyle romance market. Those definitions would eliminate every vampire and shapeshifter romance ever published, not to mention a bunch of paranormal and futuristic romances by some of the biggest names in the genre.

Then this same clique offers RWA members a RITA and Golden Heart Awards ceremony that juxtaposes visuals of the massacre at Tiananmen Square with a soundtrack playing "Don't Worry, Be Happy." Nora Roberts and Jennifer Crusie offered some choice words on that not-so-little debacle. I can't wait to see what the Canadian television crew filming this year's RWA convention for Bravo makes of the affair.

Finally, to cap off the summer, RWA stripped several publishers, including Ima-Jinn and Medallion -- but curiously enough, no inspirational publishers -- of their status as RWA recognized publishers.

In theory, the organization took this action because of reduced sales figures or the affected publishers' refusal to supply various proprietary documents they never demand of the big New York publishers. In the case of Ima-Jinn the action appears to relate to the publisher's shift from old style, trade paperback print runs to print-on-demand (POD) production. Under RWA publisher recognition rules, POD publishers must demonstrate about three times more sales than traditional publishers.

Don't ask me why. I just report this stuff. I don't understand it.

But I do understand why RWA retracted its action against Medallion almost before the pixels stopped glowing on the emailed announcement. Nobody messes with writer/publisher Helen Rosburg, the great-granddaughter of Wrigley Co. founder William Wrigley. Period. You can buy the official RWA explanation of missing paperwork that miraculously reappeared just seconds after the initial announcement hit the fan if you want. I won't try to stop you from believing in Santa Claus, either. But don't expect me to start sending letters to the North Pole anytime soon.

Which isn't to say I don't believe in Christmas in July…or September, in this case. What do you do when you hold a contest and nobody plays?

You eat the ice cream, of course.

Jean Marie Ward

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