Book Beat: Narnia Fanfiction, Representation in Romancelandia, and Waterstones Wages

Hello lovely readers, and welcome to this week’s Book Beat! As I’m sure you’ve noticed by now, Mercury is in retrograde and kicking everyone’s backsides. So of course, as is typical of my weeks, things in the publishing industry are really messy right now. Luckily, just like Marie Kondo, I love mess. So let’s take a deep dive into all the latest and greatest disasters of the week!

Narnia Fanfiction Attempts to go Mainstream

Book Cover Narnia

In 2019, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t know what fanfiction is. It has always been a rite of passage for any fandom newbie, and it has become so mainstream that everyone from celebrities to late-night TV hosts discusses it. Yet there is still a stigma surrounding the practice, a dismissive scrutiny likely stemming from the high involvement in and consumption of fanfiction by numerous marginalized communities.

But fear not! Fanfiction is finally cool and professionally lucrative, all thanks to Francis Spufford.

Growing up as a “passionately Narnia-loving child,” the author entered adulthood longing to stay in C.S. Lewis’ fantasy world just a little bit longer than his completed Chronicles of Narnia series could allow. So, Spufford wrote up a prelude to explain the history of Narnia between The Magician’s Nephew and The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. Entitled The Stone Table, Spufford’s tale specifically “explains why there are four empty thrones in the castle of Cair Paravel, and where the Stone Table came from.”

Notably, Spufford wrote his prelude novel without the consent of the Lewis estate. Yet at least according to his profile in The Guardian, he isn’t expecting The Stone Table to be published — anytime “soon” at least, a rather dogged implication of future attempts to be made.

If the Lewis estate still refuses his advances, Spufford already has 2034 bookmarked in his calendar: the year the copyright for Chronicles of Narnia lapses. But while he and his friends eagerly print his manuscript and share pieces of it online until this lapse, I’m left with a few questions.

First, I’m wondering why Spufford can’t just, you know, get an AO3 account and publish it there like the rest of us? Was his pretty basic story of being a nerd and fanfiction author worth a whole interview? And if The Guardian wanted to cover the practice of fanfiction, why not turn to the marginalized creators who significantly contribute to the practice — especially those who have gone on to publish their own original books, or were actually solicited to continue writing stories for other people’s fictional properties? I have some names of those authors if you need them, The Guardian. Just hit me up.

No Representation in Romancelandia

There is another major literary group that could use some advice on spotlighting marginalized creators, and that is the Romance Writers of America (RWA). As their name suggests, the national nonprofit is dedicated to celebrating romance as a serious — and seriously talented — literary genre. Along with their many workshops and conferences, RWA is most well-known for its annual RITA Awards recognizing the most excellent romance novels of the year.

The 2019 RITA Award finalist nominees came out recently, but there was little celebration due to some serious representation issues. Out of the hundreds of romance novels published within the past year, only three authors of color are represented among the 74 finalists. Out of the 149 protagonists featured in the nominated works, only eight are people of color and only 10 are queer. And these numbers mark a decrease from previous years’ finalist numbers, which historically have already been abysmally low.

The outcry from the romance community has been mostly regulated to their private loop channels, but what marginalized authors and their allies have been stating publicly reveal a very distressing situation.

Marginalized authors have been trying to educate their more privileged peers about the implications of these RITA statistics, especially since this is not the first time they have advocated for more inclusivity in these awards. Further, individual justifications from RITA judges have been rather concerning, with one judge anonymously admitting that they took points off certain titles that featured “unrealistic” plot points such as a black female character being a scientist.

Yes, I’m serious.

The response from some members of the romance community-at-large has been equally disturbing. According to author reports on the loop conversations, many RITA supporters are going above and beyond to defend the awards. Such instances (which are being summarized under the very informative #RITAGH hashtag) include questioning the quality of marginalized work in the genre and admitting the personal preference of avoiding titles by marginalized creators because, like the judges, they want “realistic” romances and not ones that feature things like thugs and drugs in the hood, or whatever black and brown authors write about these days.

Yes, I’m serious. And really disgusted.

Thankfully, I’m far from the only one. Romance authors online are now stating that they will no longer attend the RITA award ceremony in July. Further, several authors nominated for RITAs this year have asked for their books to be pulled from consideration as a sign of solidarity. Finally, RWA President HelenKay Dimon released a statement on behalf of the RWA Board acknowledging judging biases and committing to reevaluate the RITA review process with community feedback, among other initiatives that they hope will ensure future transparency. But at this point, only concrete action will win back the long lost trust of marginalized writers and readers.

Waterstones Booksellers Seek Increased Wages

Storefront for Waterstones

For certain literary lovers, working at a bookstore is the ultimate culmination of their passion for books. There’s just something really appealing about the cozy atmosphere, the endless supply of reading material, the special author events, and the community bookstores foster in the local area. However, it appears wages at some of these magical places leave a lot to be desired. That is why this week, the staff at the British book retailer Waterstones have drafted a petition calling for Waterstones’ managing director, James Daunt, to pay the retailer’s booksellers a livable wage starting at £9/hour.

This petition was signed by more than 6,000 people, and it justifies workers’ demands by stating that “working for a rate of pay that is below the living wage results in booksellers who are stressed, preoccupied and who have little spare time and energy to devote to buying books, reading them, and keeping up with news and trends in the industry – all of which activities are undertaken outside contracted hours, and which many staff consider to be (and are encouraged to view as) integral to their role.” More than 1,3000 authors also showed their support for Waterstones booksellers with their own open letter to Daunt, emphasizing the vital role booksellers play in keeping the publishing industry’s success.

On his part, Daunt has been… less than supportive. In his own public comments, he claims that the retailer cannot afford a wage increase right now, but the retailer has a commitment to a “progressive pay scale” based on promoting and paying booksellers more as they gain experience. He also doesn’t think this lack of livable wages within the company indicates that the business is not viable, as through their aforementioned pay scale Waterstones will promote “career advancement and pay progression within the company.” Or, you know, it will promote bookseller employees to eventually seek higher paying career opportunities at places that will respect and value their time as a baseline of their employment. But what do I know! I’ll be keeping my fingers to the pulse on this one, that’s for sure.

Out This Week

The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell
Sing To It
 by Amy Hempel
No Happy Endings by Nora McInerny
The Other Americans by Laila Lalami

Happy Thursday!

Paige Allen

Paige Allen

Adult-in-training by day, queer geek of color by night.