WTAF, RWA: Courtney Milan Banned, Suspended From RWA

Updated as of 1.15.20 4:00pm EST – jump to latest: More information has come to light about the audit of RWA’s actions, which is being run by Carol Ritter.

New post: Where Does RWA Go From Here?


 

Disclaimer, first and foremost : I live at 341’ elevation above sea level. Currently I am with my family, at 8000’+ elevation, and I do indeed miss all that lovely oxygen. So please forgive any missing words or slight incoherence over here.

Earlier tonight Alyssa Cole posted that the Romance Writers of America received an ethics complaint against Courtney Milan.

You can see the documents here, here and here:

RWA has “moved to accept the findings of the Ethics Committee” and has recommended as penalty that Milan be suspended from RWA for a year, and be banned from holding any leadership positions on the national or chapter level.

Courtney’s response:

https://twitter.com/courtneymilan/status/1209296155852492800

I have the same internal crushed feeling as I did when JK Rowling tweeted something terribly transphobic and broke the hearts of so many people.

I’ve been a member of Romance Writers of America for years. Too many to count because altitude. And over the past few years I’ve been trying to highlight the work the RWA leadership has done to change the organization so that marginalized writers would feel more welcome, more confident, and safer for everyone who wanted to belong. I wanted all these changes.

I interviewed HelenKay Dimon about her presidency, about the changes that happened under her administration and prior board administrations (Episode 370).

I interviewed the RWA Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion consultant, Sunny Lee-Goodman (Episode 373).

I wanted to highlight what I thought were signs of positive change and indications that the organization and those leading it were trying to correct many, many years of problems.

I volunteered to be a judge for the RITAs, and I encouraged others to do the same, because in order to perpetuate change you have to show up and push it forward, right. Several SBTB reviewers were planning to judge the RITAs as well. Last week I watched a (really good) webinar that was mandatory for all RITA judges presented by Sunny Lee-Goodman, about recognizing internal bias.

Then tonight I learn that RWA has decided that Courtney Milan’s calling out racism is a problem that should lead to suspension. Not suspension of the racist members of the PAN (Published Author Network) who regularly post harmful shit. Not suspension of hostile members of the organization who make keynote speakers feel unwelcome and unsafe. The people who point out the problem are still, apparently, the problem.

Is there a bigger word than crushed? There probably is. I need more O2.

I’m posting this to say two things. No, three.

One: This decision is heinously wrong. Deeply awful, horrifying, and mind-numbingly bad on every level. It’s a slap and a 180-degree contradiction of every other effort made to make RWA more inclusive. The message seems to be, Confront your own bias. Recognize where you are wrong. But don’t call racism “racism” or point out anyone else’s bias, or you’ll be removed.

Two: You know how when a publisher or a company does something really, really awful, and you want to yell about it? I mean, I want to yell about this right now, loudly and I’m surrounded by trees and snow. I get it. But the thing is, whether it’s a publishing house deciding that a contract with a white supremacist is a good idea, or a writer’s organization deciding that white supremacy is the right decision ethically, when there’s yelling at an organization or company on Twitter, it’s usually directed at a publicist. No one with decision making power reads the Twitter feed. Twitter is powerful – I cited it here! But Twitter isn’t enough.

Three: So what to do? Email board@rwa.org and president@rwa.org. If you think this decision is utter shite (and indeed, I think it is) email them and say why and how and tell them what you think.

Twitter is wonderful for learning about situations, and for connecting with people who feel the same way I do (to wit: fucking furious). But for pushing back against bullshit, head to the email. And this is egregiously bad.

I have so much wanted to support the changes that RWA seemed to be making. Sunny Lee-Goodman is an incredible teacher, and I’m deeply grateful that I was able to learn from her both in an interview and in a webinar. I remember thinking after it was done that I was glad my dues were going toward her consulting fees.

I am not so pleased about where else my dues are going, or my energy in judging and reading and supporting and even writing all these words right now.  I’m deeply, painfully upset by the decision of the Ethics Committee, and the decision to ban and suspend Courtney Milan. I keep thinking I must be missing something because this decision makes no sense. It hurts.

And my reaction is 1/8000th of the pain of others who are harmed and threatened by this decision. This is wrong, and RWA will be hearing from me. If you’re upset (and, like me, thinking this was at first hallucination because what the fuck) I hope that they will hear from you, too.

Update, 12.24.19, 5:46pm MST

First, my apologies for the site slowness today. I think I’ve identified the culprit but I’m doing what I can to keep things smooth. I’m really sorry for the lag.

Second, in an attempt to put the toothpaste back into the tube, Romance Writers of America has apparently rescinded their vote to accept the Ethics Committee report and the penalties against Courtney Milan, pending legal opinion:

They also reiterated its “support for diversity, inclusivity and equity and its commitment to provide an open environment for all members.”

Absent from that statement: any apology or demonstration of awareness as to just how large a dumpster fire has been burning since last night.

I don’t think move helps restore trust in the leadership of RWA at present. I am guessing the hemorrhage of members and RITA judges will continue, judging by the commentary on Twitter. It certainly doesn’t restore any of my trust or belief in the organization and its current board.

And now I have that some fine vintage Johnny Mathis and Deniece Williams in my head.

Update 12.26.19, 8:50am MST:

RWA board members Seressia Glass, Tracey Livesay, Pintip Dunn, Priscilla Oliveras, Farrah Rochon, Erica Ridley, and Denny S. Bryce collectively resigned:

That’s either exactly half or more than half the board (again, altitude math is not always accurate). Meanwhile, many writers are sharing their letters of resignation on Twitter, on their websites, and on Facebook, citing this incident and their lack of confidence in the organization.

I’m really not sure how RWA can recover from this.

Update 12.26.19, 7:45pm MST:

Y’all.

The presidents, incoming and outgoing, of 27 RWA chapters, wrote a letter to the board asking for the resignation of RWA President Carolyn Jewel, President-Elect Damon Suede, and executive director Carol Ritter. That letter was shared as well.

https://twitter.com/ladrianaherrera/status/1210326771201138688

 

RWA president Carolyn Jewel has resigned, and current president Damon Suede has released a statement that is a lot of words though I’m not sure what good they do:

You can read the full statement on Google Docs. There’s an acknowledgement of lost trust (yeah, no kidding there) but no indication of what will be done to address what happened. There’s also a statement on the complaint against Courtney Milan that says a lot of nothing. It also creates further confusion given the statements from former RWA Ethics Committee members Ruby Lang, Rachel Grant, and Kwana Jackson, who say they never heard the complaint:

So if a separate Ethics Committee or sub-committee was formed and the full original Ethics Committee was never consulted, that appears to be a procedure designed to bypass the full Ethics Committee – which seems very strange. Also the repeated use of the word “ethics” in this discussion is approaching Alanis-Morissette-levels of “irony.”

ETA 12.29.19, 1:05pm EST

First, a HEA for me and near-sea-level oxygen levels. Coming home does mean that I can’t read updates and news and lean on the idea that some of this mishegas is a hallucination.

Damon Suede has posted a lengthy letter on RWA forums for chapter leadership but of course it’s been shared widely. You can read the full text at Claire Ryan’s site, as well as a very well annotated chronology of this entire mess. Claire is half of the duo who kept after Cristiane Serruya’s plagiarism scandal and invented software to combat piracy; you can hear an interview with her in podcast Episode 345. Readers Fighting Plagiarism: An Interview with Kristy Caffeinated Fae and Claire Ryan

I missed the absolute joy of updating some news due to travel home, but I can’t not add this: Chuck Tingle weighed in, saying that Damon Suede is lying about knowing him:

As I said on Twitter, reading this was like the moment Blues Traveler weighed in on The Handbook for Mortals scandal chronicled at Pajiba two years ago.

Laurel Cremant started a petition to recall Suede from the RWA presidency, and has indicated that the petition has reached the needed number of signatures. It will remain open until midnight tonight, 29 December 2019. (NB: I have signed it, and am carefully weighing the renewal of my RWA membership, which expires in a few days, in the event that my vote or presence as a full member is needed or useful.)

Meanwhile the story evolves and has been picked up by several media outlets including the AP, The Washington Post, The Wrap, and in another moment of ?!!??!, Perez Hilton.

Today, Nora Roberts posted her take on the situation, mostly focusing on her own history with RWA, and why she’s no longer a member.

Twitter, message boards, and the cesspool of horror that is Facebook continue to bubble with discussion, but one point I want to make sure to mention: the problem isn’t Damon Suede alone. Yes, he should absolutely step down from the presidency, and the fact that he has not is deplorably bad. And yes, as HelenKay Dimon has stated, there should be a full audit of WTF Happened and How that allowed this tornado of terrible to reach F5 levels of horror.

But the problem isn’t one person, or one person’s actions. 

RWA and its membership has a problem with White supremacist actions and behavior to say the least, and blaming the recent events on one person (who for the love of missing socks needs to step down already) occludes the larger issue. This week’s revelations are a piece of a longstanding pattern of behavior directed at marginalized authors and voices in the romance community. Removing one person doesn’t solve that. Heck, removing two people doesn’t solve that.

I certainly do not have the answers nor do I have concrete suggestions as to how to go from here. There are so many possible options, and so many groups banding together to chronicle and organize. Which brings me to the other troubling issue behind the ongoing revelations of unfairness and deceit: RWA as an organization also has decades of standing and influence, coupled with resources and a deep understanding of and connection with other writing organizations, publishing houses, retailers, and other influential parties in the industry. It’s hard to rebuild that, to say the least.

And it’s deeply depressing to think of how much that has been built is so easily destroyed. Progress, especially recent progress, is so fragile, and “tradition,” especially racist, White supremacist, kyriarchical tradition, seems nearly fireproof.

ETA 3:12pm EST:

I received the following email from Laurel Cremant, regarding the petition:

Thank you for completing the request for a petition to recall Damon Suede from their board position of president of RWA.

Today we learned that there are efforts coordinated by RWA to ultimately invalidate and reject the petition that all of us signed calling for the recall of Damon Suede. While we are not surprised that our current national leadership has resulted to these actions, we are executing due diligence to ensure our voices are heard.

In an effort to ensure that the final submission of the petition is in compliance with all RWA policies and procedures, please complete the following form here or click this link: https://forms.gle/irpWJef1MK2gtrEc8

I’ve asked for clarification as to what efforts are being made to invalidate, but in the event that you signed the petition, the updated links are above.

ETA 12.30.19, 4:05pm EST

A letter has gone out, and if you thought the embers had died down to a manageable smolder, well, they brought more gas. Honestly, it’s like the entirety of the RWA leadership have forgotten just how many attorneys write romance. There’s a scene in the Disney animated Robin Hood where Little John finds himself in the position of asking, “Who’s driving this flying umbrella?” This is exactly how I feel right now.

A letter signed “RWA Board and Staff,” which I find really disingenuous as a signature, went out to RWA membership this afternoon. The full text can be found here on Google Docs, though the copy is suffering from significant  traffic at the moment.

Two key points in this letter that make my head hurt:

While the Ethics panel unanimously recommended a series of sanctions against Ms. Milan, the Board chose to reduce these to a one-year suspension and a permanent ban on leadership positions in RWA. After this private information was made public on December 23, it led to an intense backlash online – including the spreading of false information, threats, and personal information. The Board then held an emergency executive session, rescinding the remaining sanctions. That is where things stand and where they will remain unless a future Board decides to revisit the issues. Several Board members have subsequently resigned for a variety of reasons.

This seems to contradict earlier information: from the original documents, the RWA board didn’t “reduce” the sanctions; the recommended sanctions were identical to those that were approved. Those recommendations were present in the documents released 24 December from the November “Ethics Committee” report.

Secondly, this paragraph at the end:

Our members have strong opinions, which we applaud. But when expressed inappropriately, and in some cases far worse, by our organizational leadership – past and present – these can result in personal and financial harm to members. Other members have inappropriately shared personal and/or private information which has legal consequences and has resulted in members feeling threatened, exposed, and unsafe. This is unacceptable behavior. As writers we know more than most, words have consequences. 

OH, FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE.

The only response I can give at this time.

Beavis as Cornholio saying ARE YOU THREATENING ME

With every ounce of maturity I have in my possession, I have refrained from posting gifs to this update. I realize many of you are reading this to get a concise version of what is happening, but look, I can only take so much before Beavis emerges. This entire email is offensive, ridiculous, and embarrassing in the number of words it uses to say absolutely nothing.

“Don’t express your outrage inappropriately or with accurate representation of your rage.” “Be civil” is not the response I expected. Perhaps I should have. But the lack of clarity in that paragraph alone coupled with the high level of nonspecific threat makes me furious and exhausted.

 

As NK Jemsin said,

 

Repeating my earlier position, current president Damon Suede needs to resign; I’ve signed both petitions (and double checked my membership number!) to that effect.

This letter also states that a new board is being nominated, one of “strong, diverse candidates” (and then promises an audit and review of what happened, though the letter sent today attempts a recap of exactly that). I don’t trust the current leadership to appoint anyone, or do anything. Especially now. After that letter was sent to all RWA members, I don’t trust them to send email. 

Gif restraint is gone now, sorry.

Beavis and Butthead on the couch with the caption THIS SUCKS CHANGE IT and the screen going to black

I’m sure there will be more. So stay tuned, I guess?

ETA 12.31.19, 11:59am EST

CIMRWA, the Cultural, Interracial, and Multicultural Chapter of Romance Writers of America, has submitted the petition for the recall of RWA President Damon Suede:

You can read the full petition online. It’s impressive and very thorough, and in addition to recalling Suede requests that Carol Ritter recuse herself as membership has requested her resignation as well:

Due to Mr. Suede’s failure to honor the many requests for his resignation, we instituted our rights as members and issued a Recall Petition as allowed to members via section 10.3. of the organization bylaws.

Furthermore, we would hope that Carol Ritter, the Executive Director, recuse herself  from this Recall process as she presents a conflict of interest since the current RWA membership has requested her resignation.

Champagne and chocolate to C. Chilove, President of CIMRWA, Laurel Cremant, President-Elect, and Diana Neal, Treasurer, CIMRWA Chapter.

No response from RWA has been released as of yet.

3:59pm EST: 

New RWA board members have been announced:

Former Board Advisors Maria Powers (PRO), Mellanie Szereto (Chapter), and Barbara Wallace (PAN) will now move into vacant Director-at-Large positions. We thank them for their previous service to their constituencies and welcome them in their new roles as voting Board members. We also welcome new Board member Eliana West, filling a vacant Director-at-Large seat. All four will serve the remainder of the 2019-2020 term, which ends on August 31.

 

ETA 1.2.2020, 9:20 am EST: 

Happy new year. The dumpster fire continues. Damon Suede has not stepped down as of yet, there has not been a response to the recall petition which should be arriving soon if it hasn’t yet, and the board is being repopulated with appointed individuals.
“Blithe” doesn’t begin to cover it all.

Press coverage continues as well: Mikki Kendall (whom you may know as @Karnythia on Twitter) has written about the ongoing RWA ridiculousness: The Romance Writers of America racism row matters because the gatekeepers are watching.

…you can find writers from communities that have traditionally been marginalized advocating for access, opportunity and better work in any genre — I’ve done my share of that work in science fiction and comics — but you can also find readers doing the same. (In fact, perhaps especially in genre fiction, writers are the most voracious readers, and voracious readers sometimes become writers.)

But whenever the topic of more inclusion in an industry comes up, it feels like there’s always someone insisting that diversity means lowering standards — or that calls for inclusion are bullying, which is essentially what Milan was accused of when she pointed out the racism of Davis’ portrayals of Chinese women….

This is about writing, but it is also about our culture and whether we want the people who have traditionally influenced it to continue to do so without engaging with the consequences their work might visit on other communities. Everybody wants a little romance; what most people of color who read about it don’t want is romance novels written by white authors filled with stereotypes about people of color. If the RWA isn’t looking out for its non-white (non-straight, non-cisgender) readers’ interests, then it’s not helping any of its authors — and it’s not spending its members’ money particularly wisely.

(Emphasis mine.)

Resentfully I had to renew my RWA membership this week so as to preserve my vote. I am hoping I can do more with it than I can at present.

Courtney Milan and others are calling for Damon Suede to resign, and demanding a full forensic audit of the Romance Writers of America.

https://twitter.com/courtneymilan/status/1212564646034472960

I am looking forward to updating this post with news of audit, resignation, investigation, and formation of an entirely new board.

ETA 1.3.20, 11:30am EST: 

Well, it’s not the update I wanted, but I can’t say that I’m mad about this one, either.

Dr. Chuck Tingle has released a new no-sex Tingler.

Book cover of a dude pointing at an emaciated grey alien creature, with the words Not Pounded By Romance Wranglers Of America Because Their New Leadership Is From The Depths Of The Endless Cosmic Void

From the cover copy:

Gorblin Crimble is an aspiring romance author with a brand new novel that could be his first breakthrough hit. Of course, Gorblin is going to need some help getting his work out there, and starts by seeking likeminded creatives.

After attending a local writer’s group, Gorblin makes a new friend, Amber, who points him towards Romance Wranglers Of America. It sounds like this community is exactly the helpful, loving, supportive group that Gorblin is looking for, but when him and Amber arrive at the Romance Wranglers Of America headquarters, they quickly realize something is wrong. This once loving group has been taken over by a dark and mysterious force; lead by a man named Demon and his chanting coven of board members in jet-black robes.

Something horrible from the depths of the cosmic Void has taken hold, but is it too late to prove that romance is about love, not hate?

This important no-sex tale is 4,300 words of reasonable writers looking for a kind and supportive romance community that respects its members and treats them fairly.

I do like that last part. If you’re not familiar with Dr. Tingle, he was a guest on what is still the most popular episode of the podcast, Episode 206. Proving Love: An Interview with Dr. Chuck Tingle.

“Their leadership is from the depths of the cosmic void” is an assemblage of letters I am going to treasure for a very long time.

2:55pm EST: 

I keep hoping I’ll get to update with news of resignations but not yet.

The Nancy Yost Literary Agency has shared a copy of the letter they sent to RWA:

Romance Writers of America’s recent actions have made it impossible for us, as author advocates, to continue our support of RWA or its national events.

A national organization should strive to support its members equally. We’ve given great thought to our responsibilities and we feel that adding our voice to the call for positive change amplifies the message.

Therefore we’re withdrawing our membership as an agency and requesting a refund of dues.

1.4.20 4:02pm EST:

First, the story was on NPR’s Weekend Edition, “Racism and Scandal in the Romance Writing Industry,” featuring Leila Fadel, and Karen Grigsby Bates from NPR’s Code Swiich. Both sound and transcript are available at NPR.org:

FADEL: So is there a sense that the RWA is going to make changes as a result of this? Or are they doubling down?

BATES: I think the RWA isn’t sure what it wants to do yet. You know, they’re still dealing with the vertigo of how did this happen and what can we do to fix it? And so they have announced that they are going to have a investigation by an independent party to look at how this was done.

They have proclaimed their feelings – that they value the membership, that diversity is important to them and that they want to fix this. But things are changing quickly. And if they don’t adjust to change and format themselves so that the people that they want to reach, that they need to reach feel included and welcome, they will find that they have a much smaller organization, if they have an organization at all.

And then, there’s that Guardian article. Hoo, boy.

Again I have that feeling of “I should have expected this but I didn’t and so I am surprised,” which maybe has a name but I don’t know if I ever knew it. Either way, I’m surprised, and I probably shouldn’t be, that Kathryn Lynn Davis is calling herself a victim in a recent Guardian article by Lois Beckett, “White romance novelist in racism row says she was used: Kathryn Lynn Davis says in Guardian interview trade association ‘encouraged’ her to file a complaint against Courtney Milan.”

Now the novelist, Kathryn Lynn Davis, says that her original complaint about the professional harm she suffered was not accurate.

In an interview with the Guardian, Davis said she was “encouraged” by the administration of Romance Writers of America (RWA), a trade association for romance writers, to file a formal complaint against Milan, an influential former board member and diversity advocate. She now feels she had been “used” to secure a political outcome that she had never intended.

“They encouraged us. They wanted us very badly to file these complaints,” Davis said….

The allegation that Milan’s tweets had resulted in Davis’ loss of a three-book contract was shared widely, including in an email sent Monday to the RWA’s entire membership, explaining why the group’s board had originally decided to censure Milan.

On Thursday, Davis, 64, clarified her discussions with the publisher, which she has declined to name. She told the Guardian that after the allegations in her original complaint to RWA were quoted in news reports, “the publisher in question is very upset”.

Davis clarified that she did not have and lose a written book contract, but that a publisher had delayed further discussion of a potential contract in the wake of the controversy.

In the complaint, Davis also seemed to imply that the publisher told her they were afraid of being publicly linked with Milan, but in fact the publisher “never said anything” to that effect, Davis said.

So the items specified in the original ethics complaint, and cited in the ridiculous email to RWA membership, are untrue?

Am I reading that correctly?!

 

There’s an acronym coined by Jennifer J. Freyd in “Violations of power, adaptive blindness, and betrayal trauma theory” (1997) in the journal Feminism & Psychology: DARVO, which stands for, “Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender.” Certainly that seems to apply here.

Also seems like it’s DATSUB time, too: “Deflect Attention and Throw Someone Under the Bus.”

We’re going to need an entire fleet of buses by the end of this week, I think. This entire thing is ghastly and staggering: you have to try to fuck up this badly. It’s not just Damon Suede, either. As HelenKay Dimon has pointed out, the spiraling is yet another example of breach of fiduciary duty. And as Madge Miller has pointed out, it’s a failure of managing a crisis in epic proportion:

Now I’m wondering where and by whom the first lawsuits will be filed. That’s not fun speculation at all.


1.6.20 4:15pm EST:

HOW is this still getting worse. How.

A few links of much applause:

  • Lynn Spencer from AAR has been compiling all the RWA chapter statements from across the US and Canada in one Google:Doc location. If you’d like to see what your local chapter may have said, it should be there.
  • Tessa Dare attempted to counter the misinformation allegedly being spread in RWA loops and forums with an itemized list of facts, not rumors, and summarizing events since December 23.
  • IASPR, the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance, has announced that future conferences will be conducted without RWA support. Drawing from the call to action from Romance Sparks Joy, IASPR states, “In keeping with that letter’s call for a “boycott of any events sponsored by or affiliated with the national chapter of RWA,” and in order to forestall any use of our conference to whitewash problems with diversity and inclusion at RWA itself, we will budget for, plan, and, if necessary, hold our 2020 conference this summer without using the financial support that RWA has provided for it. We will reallocate resources and seek out other funding in order to minimize the impact of this decision on travel support for graduate students, untenured faculty, and independent scholars.”The 2020 IASPR Conference will be held at La Universidad de Las Palmas, Canarias, Spain.

And then there’s the latest RWR cover, which added fuel to the ongoing dumpster fire. Shared on Twitter by Madelina Rivera, it highlights some truly terrible choices on several levels.

Cover of Jan 2020 RWR prior to change: a graphic image showing a white woman helping a woman of color climbing a mountain

This issue attempts to highlight the new RWA mentorship program, but instead highlights…everything that’s been exploding since December 23.

There’s also a terribly transphobic (CW/TW, y’all, for the contents and screenshots in this link) article, “We are all the elephant in the room.”

The cover will be changed in the digital edition, per Erin Fry’s apology, which was posted to the PAN (Published Author Network) loop and then shared widely.

And, in one last item today, the petition to recall Damon Suede has arrived at RWA headquarters as of 11:34am, January 6. RWA has two weeks to validate and respond.

I don’t know how this situation keeps growing worse but it does. It’s egregious. And we are running out of gifs of dumpsters.

8:05pm: …and the RITAs have been cancelled.

Update to Selected Judges on the Status of the 2020 RITA Contest:

Due to recent events in RWA, many in the romance community have lost faith in RWA’s ability to administer the 2020 RITA contest fairly, causing numerous judges and entrants to cancel their participation. The contest will not reflect the breadth and diversity of 2019 romance novels/novellas and thus will not be able to fulfill its purpose of recognizing excellence in the genre. For this reason, the Board has voted to cancel the contest for the current year. The plan is for next year’s contest to celebrate 2019 and 2020 romances.

While we understand this will be disappointing news for some, we also understand that other members will support taking this step. Recent RWA Boards have worked hard to make changes to the current contest, striving to make it more diverse and inclusive, relieve judging burdens, and bring in outside voices, but those changes had to be voted on and implemented in a narrow window of time each year.

By not holding a contest in 2020, we will be able to move away from making piecemeal changes. Instead, we will have the opportunity to take a proper amount of time to build an awards program and process – whether it’s a revamped RITA contest or something entirely new – that celebrates and elevates the best in our genre. We plan on engaging a consultant who specializes in awards programs and a DEI consultant, as well as soliciting member input.

Members who entered the 2020 contest will be refunded their full entry fee by January 22, 2020. We extend our deep appreciation to the judges who volunteered their time this year.

Will there be an RWA to administer a RITA awards for 2019 and 2020? No flipping idea.


Update, 1.8.20 10:15am EST: Oh, here we go.

HarperCollins Publishers are withdrawing from RWA national conference.

Via Anna Zabo on Twitter, Harlequin has sent email messages out to its authors that they are withdrawing from RWA National Conference:

Romance Sparks Joy posted a copy of the letter from Harlequin CEO Craig Swinwood to the RWA Board of Directors and Executive Director Carol Ritter, that says in part,

…we at Harlequin believe it is important that all authors feel included, respected and heard. Recently reported actions by the RWA leadership have therefore led us to decide not to sponsor or attend the RWA 2020 national conference. We will reevaluate our participation in 2021 as the organization works with its members to address concerns that have been raised.

Meanwhile, Avon Books, also part of Harper Collins as is Harlequin, tweeted that they are also not going to sponsor nor be present at RWA Nationals 2020 in San Francisco:

The Beverly Jenkins Diverse Voices scholarship funded the attendance of an OwnVoices author to the RWA National Conference:

The sponsorship, named after author Beverly Jenkins, a romance trailblazer and one of the most active supporters for diverse authors, includes registration fee, travel and lodging (up to $2,500). The winner also receives a one-on-one meeting with a member of the Avon Books editorial team and an invitation to several exclusive Avon events during the annual conference. The opportunity to enter the Beverly Jenkins Diverse Voices Sponsorship was made available to current members of the RWA who entered the Golden Heart or RITA® Award Contests and were verified by the RWA as meeting RWA’s definition of being from a diverse background. The active fostering of diverse voices in Romance is the current top priority for the genre, and Avon Books has made an initial commitment to support this sponsorship for five years, from 2019 through 2023.

The 2019 Scholarship recipient was Valen Cox.

Beverly Jenkins said in a statement that was also tweeted:

I applaud Avon for its advocacy and support of inclusion and #ownvoices.

To quote Librarian SuperWendy, This is a Big Fucking Deal:

Avon sponsors several major events at RWA, the type where the line to get in starts forming two hours in advance, reaches multiple times around itself, and usually includes wine, food, and massive amounts of signed books and nifty swag from authors. RWA Avon signings have been held as early as 8:30am, and the line formed to get in.

HarperCollins is also a major sponsor of the conference itself. Per this screenshot from the 2019 RWA National Conference page web cache, Sylvia Day, Avon, and Harlequin are listed as platinum-level sponsors.

A screenshot of RWA 2019 sponsors reading platinum - Sylvia Day, Avon BOoks, Harlequin, Gold: ACX and Kindle Direct, Silver Montlake Publishing and bronze Kathryn Leveque, Fresh Fiction, and Read Bliss

Please note: if this is your screenshot, please let me know so I can cite you! I couldn’t find an origin for this image. 

Per AmyJo Cousins, Fresh Fiction has already announced they will not be renewing at the Bronze level. ReadBliss is an initiative of Harlequin as well, so that’s a third sponsorship asset that will be missing in 2020.

No word from Amazon, ACX, or Montlake whether they plan to withdraw as sponsors, or attend RWA Nationals.

It also seems that it is only a matter of time before similar announcements come from Penguin RandomHouse, Grand Central/Hachette, Kensington, Sourcebooks, and other publishers.

Platinum level sponsorship is likely many, many thousands of dollars, possibly around $30,000 or more.

And given how much of the conference was tied to Avon – the conference-wide wifi was sponsored by Avon for the past few years, the keycards sometimes featured Avon books – to say nothing of the events hosted by both publishers, including the monumental Harlequin party, which was like a massive private prom for their authors, this is a major blow to the conference itself.

Without those events to look forward to, and the professional opportunities afforded by the presence of editors and executives, potential attendees have even more reason to ask what the expense of attending RWA Nationals offers them?

For that matter, what does RWA offer anyone at this time? So many of the people working to improve RWA and make it more welcoming, more inclusive, more aware of its own limitations, have bailed because since 23 December 2019, their work has been largely destroyed, and the organization isn’t taking responsibility for any of their decisions.

The conference was a one-stop location for professional advancement, learning opportunities, and community connection.

The organization offered access to editors, agents, and a pool of professional knowledge from other writers.

How many of those assets remain? Very few.

All of the people who have left RWA brought more to RWA than RWA can bring to them at present. They were more of an asset to the organization, while the organization itself more often brought them harm. 

Now RWA continues to harm itself professionally.

It’s awful to watch, and it’s been going on for more than two weeks. I still have no idea who is driving this flying umbrella, if anyone is, but the carnage grows more painful. Soon we’ll have a shortage on coffin nails, as they’re being used this week.

Two last links that I don’t want to get lost in the coverage:

Linda Holmes, author of Evvie Drake Starts Over and host of NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour, tweeted sage and appreciated words of advice to any journalist attempting to cover this story:

And Annalee, @LeeFlower on Twitter wrote a fantastic thread about calling-in versus calling-out when someone says or does something offensive:

 

 Update: 11:00am EST:

Beverly Jenkins has shared with me the individuals responsible for Avon withdrawing from RWA Nationals:

Pam [Jaffee] and my editor Erika [Tsang] were the ones who took the ball and ran with it.

In a corporation the size of Harper there were many hoops to jump through, but they did it.

Thanks to Liate Stehlik and Brian Murray for supporting them in their quest.

So proud of everyone involved.

Brian Murray is President and CEO of HarperCollins Publishers, and Liate Stehlik is President and Publisher of the Morrow Group, “overseeing the publishing operations for William Morrow, Avon, Dey Street and Harper Voyager.”

Update, 1:25pm EST: 

Entangled Publishing has also withdrawn from participation in RWA Nationals in 2020:

Their letter reads,

As an author advocate, RWA needs to represent all authors within its organization equally and fairly. Recent actions call into question the inclusivity of your organization.

Until the organization upholds its responsibility to represent all members in a fair manner, our publishing house cannot endorse RWA nor participate in any of the organization’s national events.

Anyone keeping a betting pool as to who will be next?


Update, 2:41pm EST:

RWA secretary Donna Alward has resigned her position, per a post on her Facebook page:

It is with a very heavy heart that I announce that I resigned my position on the RWA Board of Directors earlier this morning.

It has been one of the hardest decisions of my life. I won’t be crossposting or answering questions right now. Just know that I have always tried to follow my heart and do the right thing.

Key part of her letter:

My role in life is often the one of fixer, peacemaker, and caregiver. Members put RWA in my care and I have always done what I thought was right to move the organization forward and advocate for our members. I find myself now unable to fulfill that task. In short, my duty of obedience and my duty of loyalty are at odds, and when I can no longer keep my fiduciary duty, it’s time for me to resign.

 

Different people on Twitter are also reporting that RWA board member Renee Ryan has also resigned, but I don’t have definitive links on that one.

Got links! RWA updated their site today that “Secretary Donna Alward and Director at Large Barbara Wallace resigned from the RWA Board of Directors effective January 8, 2020,” and “Director at Large Renee Ryan resigned from the RWA Board of Directors, effective as of 6 a.m. on January 8, 2020.

And in more news, earlier today, 21 former RWA Board Members and three past Presidents of RWA sent a letter to Carol Ritter, Executive Director, and the remaining members of the RWA Board including Damon Suede calling into question his eligibility to serve as president based on the current bylaws of the organization.

That letter is reproduced in full here, along with attachments.

January 8, 2020

Dear RWA Staff and RWA Board of Directors—

We are writing to you about the issue of Damon Suede’s qualifications to be president of RWA. It has come to our attention, and to the attention of many RWA members, that he does not meet the requirements to hold the office.

The Bylaws state:

11.2.1. President-Elect. Candidates for President-Elect must: (1) have been General members for a minimum of five consecutive years immediately preceding filing for office; (2) be the author or co-author of at least five published romance novels as defined in RWA policy; (3) have published or contracted to publish at least one romance novel, as defined in RWA policy, within the two years immediately preceding filing for office; and (4) must have completed one full year of Board service but cannot have more than six years of accumulated Board and Advisor service.

Romance novel is defined in the Policy Manual as an “eligible novel,” which is defined as:

1.25. “Eligible Novel” means a work of Romance Fiction of more than 40,000 words (as determined by computer word count) that is or has been commercially available.

1.46. “Romance Novel” means any Eligible Novel.

Mr. Suede’s website lists his romance novels. They are:

Hot Head, Released June 2011
100,000 words

Bad Idea, Released October 2013?
136,000 words

Pent Up, Released November 2015
100,000 words

Lickety Split, Published March 2017
100,000 words

The word counts provided here are the same as those set out on Mr. Suede’s website. None of the other books listed on his website meets the 40,000-word threshold to be considered a romance novel under policy. A screenshot of the website is attached for your review.

At the time of the election, Mr. Suede failed to meet two of the specific qualifications needed to be president-elect then president. He has four romance novels instead of the five required under subsection (2). Also, he did not release a book within two years of filing for office as required by subsection (3).

HelenKay Dimon, one of the undersigned, was president at the time Carol Ritter, the then Deputy Executive Director, discovered this defect and has some personal information about this issue. Ms. Ritter realized the qualification issue and got in touch with Mr. Suede. He said he had a book coming out in January 2020 and that he would move up the release date to meet the qualifications. His election bio referred to this book as his 2019 release. That appeared to resolve the issue but it turns out that it did not because the book needed for Mr. Suede to qualify to run—the one he showed as his 2019 release on the election materials—was never released. A copy of that page is attached for your review.

Amazon shows an upcoming release by Mr. Suede, Prince Charmless, but the release date is listed as January 2021. Mr. Suede’s husband spent time on Twitter saying Mr. Suede did not have a recent Dreamspinner release and would not have one coming out in the near future. The Twitter screenshots are attached for your review.

Mr. Suede clearly did not resolve the qualification issue as he promised Ms. Ritter he would do. This is not a mistake that can be fixed retroactively. Further, Section 22.505 of the Texas Business Organizations Code suggests it would take a membership vote to ratify and accept a defective corporate act such as this.

While there may be a push to ignore or downplay the recall vote and the fiduciary duty violations, RWA cannot ignore this qualification failure. Damon Suede has no choice but to step down and we ask that he do so on or before the end of business Thursday, January 9, 2020.

Sincerely,

Former Presidents of the Board of Directors of Romance Writers of America:

Leslie Kelly (2016-2017)
Dee Davis (2017-2018)
HelenKay Dimon (2018-2019)

Former Members of the Board of Directors of Romance Writers of America:

Carol Prescott (1999-2002)             Janelle Denison, (2011-2014)
(2002-2004)                                           Pamela Moran, (2012-2014)
Stephanie Feagan (2005-2010)      Barbara Dunlop (2012-2014)
Julie Hurwitz(2005-2011)               Victoria Alexander, (2013-2015)
Trish Milburn, (2007-2012)              Alyssa Day, (2013-2017)
Lorraine Heath, (2007-2013)              Julie Kenner, (2013-2017
Jeanne Adams, (2010-2014)              Tessa Dare, (2014-2018)
Cynthia D’Alba (2010-2012)              Jamie Beck, (2017-2019)
(2014-2016)                                      Avery Flynn, (2017-2018)
Karin Tabke, (2011-2013)              Tessa Dare, (2014-2018)
Julie London (2011-2013)              Kelley Armstrong, (2017-2019)
Tracy Garrett (2011-2013)

Attachments:

ETA 5:15pm EST: 

Berkley Publishing will not be attending RWA Nationals:

https://twitter.com/BerkleyRomance/status/1215034474284617730

 

Updated 5:45pm

Per twitter reports from a few Sourcebooks authors, Sourcebooks has told its authors via email that they  will not be attending RWA national either:

https://twitter.com/KatieGolding_Tx/status/1215037423274598401

 

 

No official statement yet. Stand by.

Update 7:49pm EST: 

Via Twitter, Kensington CEO Steven Zacharius has announced they will not participate in RWA Nationals, either:

The letter reads,

We are extremely distressed by the recent events concerning RWA and the magnitude of the problems that persist in the organization. Kensington continues to be a leading advocate for increased diversity and inclusion in publishing. As an industry, it is clear that we have a great deal of work to do. We are committed to supporting our authors, however, we cannot support RWA or the national conference until you are fulfilling your mission to your members.

At this point, the remaining 2019 sponsors are Amazon and its subsidiaries, Sylvia Day, and Kathryn LeVeque.

Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, and Hachette have yet to make any statements regarding RWA National that I’m aware of – but if you have info, by all means, email me.


This post is now over 7300 words long. How is this still going on. How.

First, Macmillan/St. Martin’s Press has announced via statement on Twitter that they will not participate in RWA Nationals this year:

Statement from St Martins transcribed below

The image reads:

St. Martin’s Publishing Group believes in being a champion for our authors and in the very necessary work to make publishing more diverse and inclusive. Therefore, in light of recent developments, St. Martin’s Press will not be participating in the RWA national conference through attendance or through promotional opportunities.

I imagine that it’s hardly difficult to look at this situation and say, “Yeah, let’s not spend thousands of dollars on that.” As a business, I made that exact same decision. Nope.

Meanwhile, a number of folks including Angela James, Melissa Blue, and Courtney Milan have highlighted how much budget that frees up from each house that bows out, and how that fundage could be used to make those diverse and inclusive changes.

Elysabeth Grace offered a very sharp examination of RWA as a community and organization “colonized by whyte romance:”

And finally, Claire Ryan, who maintains a chronology of RWA’s meltdown, noticed that the book data for the title that was never published was edited yesterday.

Updated 1.9.20, 11:25am EST

UPDATE IT HAS FINALLY HAPPENED: 

Damon Suede and Carol Ritter have resigned!

Announcement from RWA Board of Directors

We know that this is just a start to a longer process of reform for RWA, and that process is going to require new leadership, which is why the Board is announcing some leadership changes, including the departure of RWA President Damon Suede.

Damon has offered his resignation, effective immediately, and the Board has accepted it. Damon, who has served on the RWA Board of Directors since 2015, as President-Elect from September 2019 through late December 2019, and then as President for the past two weeks, has been a passionate advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion issues for his entire life. We thank Damon for his service and wish him all the best in the future.

The Board of Directors has made a decision to not immediately fill the office of President while the Board – working transparently with its membership – determines an appropriate recruitment and selection process.

The Board also has accepted the resignation of RWA Executive Director Carol Ritter, who has decided to step down from the role she assumed in November. Carol, who has been a steady senior member of RWA management for well over a decade, has offered to stay on over the coming months to support a smooth transition to new staff leadership; the Board has accepted this offer. Carol has been instrumental in keeping the operations of RWA running and we are deeply grateful to her for the commitment and leadership she has brought to our association. The Board will appoint an interim Executive Director upon Carol’s departure and will form a search committee to identify Carol’s permanent replacement.

They commit to hiring a law firm to audit the ethics matter (not a full audit, I’d like to note), and bringing on (another) DEI consultant and some other steps that I’m not sure I buy at all.

This particular statement was rather galling to me:

The events of the past two weeks have been the most painful and tumultuous in the history of Romance Writers of America (RWA).

YOU MADE THIS MESS. They were painful and tumultuous because of actions YOU MADE. Argh. Now I’m yelling at a website.

https://twitter.com/courtneymilan/status/1215317288422797312?s=19

OK, so a number of things strike me as unsatisfying regarding this statement, not the least of which is the complete absence of actual apology. This statement is, to quote Linda Holmes, onomatopology: it sounds like an apology but it is not one. 

 

The remaining board – which is largely people that Damon Suede appointed – are not going to fill the office of the President, and will work “transparently with membership” to determine “an appropriate recruitment and selection process?”

Nah. Clean house, everyone out, start over with a new board.

Carol Ritter has offered to stay to support transition, and the Board has accepted? The Board will appoint an interim director upon Carol’s departure, but no timeline has been specified beyond “over the coming months?”

Again, this is not ideal. Clean house, everyone out, start over with a new board, and a new executive director. I’ve worked under transitional non profit executive leadership. It’s a whole field.

This part in particular:

We know we have a lot more work to do to restore the trust we have lost – and we are going to do whatever it takes to get there so that we can focus on the mission of this organization: to promote the professional and common business interests of romance writers. Our goal is to ensure the successful future of this association so it can be an even stronger, better and more inclusive professional home and advocate for romance authors.

We may not always get it right, but we will do our best, we will be honest and transparent, we will own our mistakes, and we will listen to our community. We hope you will join us – collaboratively and productively – in rebuilding an RWA that serves its diverse and talented members well into the future. We believe this community is worth saving.

What’s with the future tense in that past paragraph? You will own mistakes? What about owning the ones that were already made and making amends?

An RWA representative also told PW’s John Maher:

A representative of the RWA told PW that, in spite of the turmoil, “our 2020 conference is moving forward as scheduled, and we believe it will be a critical moment for our members to come together to discuss the important issues around diversity, equity and inclusion that have surfaced in recent weeks,” noting that while the organization is “disappointed to lose some sponsors and participants for this year,” it hopes “to regain their support in the months and years ahead.”

The representative added: “While these are not new issues for our community, we are at an inflection point and are committed to providing a transparent forum for our members and our partners to confront these issues so we can move forward as a stronger, more diverse organization. We held a town hall to hear from our members at last year’s conference and plan to expand on that dialogue this year with additional programming as we work to build RWA into a stronger, more inclusive organization for all our members.”

We’re gonna talk about DEI some more? Just saying the words “diversity, equality, and inclusion” doesn’t mean that they’re in practice, just like saying there was an “ethics committee” did not mean that sub-committee was allegedly formed with anything resembling “ethics.”

Based on what should I personally trust that this is a conversation that can be handled appropriately?

Let’s take a look at reactions elsewhere.

To that end, here are a few excellent points:

https://twitter.com/CChiloveWrites/status/1215326318780452864

HOORAY! So that likely means that the resignations were to pre-empt the recall election – which, well done. I can’t send enough thanks to C. Chilove, the President of CIMRWA, Laurel Cremant, President-Elect, and Diana Neal, Treasurer.

She Read He Said examined that remaining board:

Yeah, clean house.

Former board member Seressia Glass agrees:

And:

Tweet that says To whom it may concern: I am willing to waive RWA’s liability in this matter, of RWA moves to waive the confidentiality of executive sessions relating to this. (Among other things.)

Courtney Milan has stated that she’ll be writing a letter to request a waiver of confidentiality of executive sessions so we may learn exactly what happened, and people like the board members who resigned and have not been allowed to speak can finally do so.

It’s not over yet, but this is still a major, major victory and the work of a lot of people to move through processes that were difficult to say the least, and managed during a holiday week.

Update, 1/10/20, 4:00pm

New post: Where Does RWA Go From Here?

Update: 1.12.20 11:15am

It appears that the audit of RWA’s actions is being run in part by Carol Ritter, former Executive Director/sort of:

From the transcript:

In terms of the scope of our representation of RWA, we answer to the RWA Board and RWA’s Executive Director.

In terms of how this sort of thing works, the firm has to answer to the board of the non-profit, and the executive director. That is, to my understanding, how this has to be. (And if I’m incorrect, please let me know!)

The problem is that the organizational leadership isn’t fully trusted by the members, and has not demonstrated trustworthiness over the past two weeks and longer.

As evidenced by the reaction to this information: to wit, “WTF?!”

Oy.

Update: 1.15.20 4:30pm

Why an update?

Because...

Christine Baranski saying Because it's not over yet.

Yesterday, January 14th, RWA sent out another message from the Remains of the Board that repeated a lot of their last announcement, reiterated that they’re continuing without a president (is that even legal according to Texas nonprofit law or the bylaws of the organization? Pfft. At this point, why worry about things like that?) that Carol Ritter has been recused from overseeing the audit (which…why was she doing so in the first place? and that, oh yeah, they want to earn trust back.

And they need people to run for the board.

All of us at RWA recognize that the membership needs to not just have trust in the new leadership but also needs to determine who those leaders are. This August, every Board seat and officer position will be up for election by the membership. One important way to help shape the future of RWA and our community is to run for one of these seats. We need energetic, enthusiastic candidates who represent the diverse voices of our membership, and we encourage all of you to consider running for a leadership position.

K.

Speaking as a person who is an RWA member for the next 353 days, I can say they have negative trust from me. And what can the organization tell prospective board members about the people who put in thousands (literally) of hours of volunteer work only to watch it get destroyed in two and a half weeks? Bring extra energy and enthusiasm?

K.

Courtney Milan posted the text and a transcript of a letter she sent to the RWA, requesting that in exchange for releasing RWA from liability for…pretty much everything they’ve done since this clusterfuck began, she would like them to waive the confidentiality expected of former Board members – who are not able to talk about anything that happened in executive session, which is where a lot of this clusterfuck happened. That waiver would allow them to talk freely about what the heck happened, and create a lot more clarity.

Please take a moment and read the letter. It’s a thing of beauty. RWA has until Friday, 17 January, 2019 to respond.

Meanwhile:

https://twitter.com/Blackamazon/status/1217465813742977024

But in better news: Kelly Faircloth, who is beyond excellent, has written up The Whole Thing for Jezebel. I spoke with her for this article, and I’m absolutely gobsmacked at how fulsome her reporting is in Inside the Spectacular Implosion at Romance Writers of America: 

“The issue in RWA is not, per se, that we didn’t have diversity. Because we have diversity. Our issue was inclusion and access,” C. Chilove told me. That has been the case for a very, very long time. The photo testifies to a long history of missed opportunities to do better, in RWA and in the genre more broadly. For a while, it looked like the organization was finally getting it right, after years of chances that were thrown away. Then they blew it all up.

 

 

 

Categorized:

General Bitching...

Comments are Closed

  1. 121
    LenoreJ says:

    Well, I guess RWA is not going to be a 21st century organization. It’s a buggy whipmaker in a whole new world. Maybe authors should start over, elsewhere.

  2. 122
    Escapeologist says:

    Nora Roberts has published a statement.

    https://fallintothestory.com/my-pov-on-rwa/

  3. 123
    Escapeologist says:

    Lisa Kleypas’s book got called out by an SBTB review in 2018. The review pulled no punches, there was harsh criticism and swear words. Lisa apologized and updated the digital version of the book.

    https://smartbitchestrashybooks.com/reviews/hello-stranger-lisa-kleypas/

  4. 124
    Mary says:

    For those who keep harping on “the book is 30 years old,” it was republished in 2014. So is that recent enough for y’all that racism doesn’t get a pass?

  5. 125
    kat_blue says:

    My guess is there’s going to be a schism where some will stay with the RWA and those who left will form a similar organization.
    I guess my main concern is, how many people are supporting Courtney Milan because they understand the necessity of calling out racism and the ability to call out racism without backlash, vs. how many people are supporting her because they like her books better than those other people’s books. Or, will this lead to real lasting change in the romance community where racism is not glossed over and crying “it’s actually worse for you to call me racist!” is not accepted, or will it be seen as petty drama between authors/publishers that took down “a lot of good people” and will need to be re-fought in a few years when the exact same racist excuses are brought back out? If it wasn’t Courtney Milan, would it have gotten attention? If it’s not Milan next time, will we be back where we were before?
    Slight tangent after reading the 12/29 update, it’s not necessary to capitalize “white” while referring to white people. Black is capitalized to both recognize that there is a Black community and to show respect for a group of people historically (and recently-historically) disrespected. Neither of those apply to white people as a group. In addition, trying to sell the capitalization of “white” in reference to people is one of many white supremacist bulletpoints to derail conversations about race and racism as being about politeness and “both sides.” …And quite frankly, if white supremacists want something, nobody else should give it to them.

  6. 126
    Reba says:

    As someone who spent 15 years working in ethics and discrimination investigations, I am always amused by people who get up in arms because folks from minority/marginalized groups are asking to be heard and for their concerns to be addressed. They always say stuff like “Well, that’s why I don’t bother to include POC/gay/disabled/etc in my work, because I might get it wrong and then my career will be over.” as if it is impossible to reach out to people from those communities to ask them to suggest connections or ways to be inclusive. It would probably be easier, or at least more honest, to say “I am only interested in white folks as subjects of my work and will use any excuse to stick to that.” This can also be applied to those use metaphors of war when discussing people from traditionally marginalized groups pointing out current practices that perpetuate exclusion. What surprises me, even after all these years, is that people don’t understand how transparent they are being. (JK Rowling’s recent self-outing is a prime example.) As an older white lady, I can attest that it is very, very easy to make room in the tent for people who don’t look like you; and if we do this consistently our tent gets bigger and bigger until it’s the whole world.

  7. 127
    jaymzangel says:

    https://twitter.com/cimrwa/status/1211380895535501313?s=21

    The (thankfully few) people in the comments here telling on themselves in terms of their racism is gross. Clearly if it were just a case of Courtney “being mean” RWA wouldn’t be scrambling to invalidate memberships in order to try to reject the petition. Doubling (tripling?) down on their bad behavior by manipulating things to their benefit really screams transparency and being on the up and up, eh?

    As many others have said previously and much better than I ever will, calling out racism and racist behavior is not ‘bullying’ or ‘being mean’. Your racist bullshit is the problem. Go cry wolf somewhere else.

    Neil Fucking Gaiman has tweeted about this shit now so what else is there left to say really?

  8. 128
    Gina says:

    Sarah can I just say in a very dark world your comment ” for the love of missing socks”
    Brought a smile to my face, thank you.

  9. 129
    Verna E Leep says:

    Wow, I was searching for a delicious regency romance to read over winter break, but Stacy Reid’s new book doesn’t come out until 31st. I must say, reading these comments is far more engrossing than a second rate romance free with Kindle Unlimited. And of course, I Stand With Courtney. Like others have said, she is why I began to read historical romance again. Love her Brothers Sinister….

  10. 130
    Miranda says:

    @SB Sarah: Word on Twitter is if the name is not an exact match to their member rolls, the petition signature is rejected. Authors have their number but aren’t sure whether RWA wants their real names or pen names. I’m sure you’re also aware that they are pushing through member “resignations” at record speed to undermine the recall effort.

    It’s hard to believe how underhanded Damon Suede has been. They forced Courtney to step down in August and justified it by changing the rules at the October board meeting and giving all the power to the President-Elect according to Leslie Kelly. Read her thread here: https://twitter.com/lesliekelly/status/1211362062137360384

  11. 131
    Verna E Leep says:

    I learned to read by sneaking into my grandmother’s stash of Harliquin romances. As I have grown as a human being, my understanding of how limited and distant from reality those books were has grown also. I put down my historical romance decades ago, and only recently started to read the genre again because of new kinds of characters and situations, ones that seemed more in keeping with the world around me. Amazon is full of books like Ms. Davis’s book, and it takes time and discernment to wade through the garbage to find a gem.
    One can always reject the bigoted author, but of more concern in the publisher. How do we, the reader, know what is being pushed at us, and what we are missing out on because of biases? As an 8th grade English teacher my worry is that we are producing a generation of nonreaders who cannot think critically enough to find the gem. The average reading level of a middle schooler is 4th grade. They just don’t like to read.
    I teach on a Native American reservation and it’s important for students of color to be able to make connections as they read. They need characters and situations they can relate to, both in the past, present, and future. I have one important question I put to all the authors on this thread. If we are raising a generation of nonreaders, who exactly will be buying and reading any book 20 years from now?

  12. 132

    […] In looking up [TRIGGER WARNING FOR: discussion of child abuse, statutory rape, transphobia, racism] some of the current issues in the writing world (which I now feel compelled to keep up to date with), I […]

  13. 133

    @Verna E Leep

    For what it’s worth, I give all the kids in my life books for their birthdays (and Christmas). Almost all of them love to read. The older teens aren’t appreciative, but then I didn’t read much as an older teen either.

    Despite the fact we’re white, I try to give the kids books with own voices, and stories that are experiences other than their own. Those books aren’t as easy to find, but they’re out there, and I find more and more every year–many of the books I remember most clearly from childhood were such books: Island of the Blue Dolphins, Folk & Fairy Tales from Around the World.

    And when we took my 9-y-o niece on a trip to visit family last week, she spent most of the drive reading–even when I offered her the opportunity to chat with one of her cousins on my phone.

    In short, there is hope. It’s just sometimes hard to see.

  14. 134
    Escapeologist says:

    John Scalzi, a hugely popular SF author: “Nora Roberts is a badass. And also, as I delight telling people in the SF/F genre who feel snobbish about the romance genre, one of the bestselling science fiction authors working today, via her JD Robb books.”
    The Twitter thread brought me joy as a SFF / romance genre hopping reader.
    https://twitter.com/scalzi/status/1211610922449551360

  15. 135

    […] romance author Courtney Milan was censured by romance writers’ professional organization, the Romance Writers of America (RWA). Milan, […]

  16. 136
    Lily says:

    I think the fact that Neil Gaiman retweeted about thus and wrote a successful book with an African American lead character, says that it’s not about being white. Those of us that have a problem with a 30 year old book are not bullying and white shaming. It’s about caring enough about your readers to be true to the culture or race you’re writing about, especially if it’s not your own.

    White people do not have the market for racism. People of different races and cultures have their own form. If we never say anything, everyone will assume it’s okay. If you tell someone that they are bullying you for speaking their truth, you are shutting then down. Why not just tell them, you understand, but you don’t appreciate the manner it was spoken to you and if you can discuss it in a civil manner? Two wrongs don’t make a right. Davis, Tisdale and RWA have making wrong turns all over the place. No right to be seen. This has the making of a telenovela.

    As for Milan, yeah, she could’ve said it in a less confrontational manner. However, it was on her personal Twitter account, outside the boundaries of RWA. Second, Tisdale and Davis are from a publishing company, who essentially told RWA to punished Milan for expressing her 1st amendment right. RWA, who are supposed to support and represent writers, who pay dues…not publishing companies.

    Also, a good example is Walt Whitman. Read a recent article how they wish to make one of his old homes a historical monument. He wrote the Leaves of Grass there. Still, he was racist, but also was everyone at that time. There pros and cons of the value he contributed despite the view he had of African Americans. However, if we are to go with the argument that Davis wrote this book many years ago, it was a different time…unlike Whitman, she’s alive and can confirm whether or not she still believes Asians to be as she wrote them 30 years ago. Or she could’ve acknowledged that she didn’t by either editing the text or writing a note that the views of 30 years ago are not longer her views and she’s sorry if she offended anyone… Unfortunately, no one can be as classy as Ms. Roberts in doing just that.

  17. 137

    […] the scenes at Romance Writers of America, you’re probably going to want a primer. As always, Smart Bitches, Trashy Books has a great explanation of what went down, and Clair Ryan broke it down Barney-style for those of […]

  18. 138
    Cristie says:

    I’m kind of surprised that they actually found people to agree to serve on that board. This is probably unfair, but it makes them a bit suspect in my opinion.

  19. 139
    Nema says:

    The thing I find noteworthy is that it is allegedly “gay and inclusive” Damon Suede who more or less threw Milan under the bus – to his personal gain.

    And just to state this: I’m fine with JK Rowling. She spoke out for the freedom of speech. Not against it, nor against inclusivity. It’s not even close to being okay and self-evident to link her and RWA.

  20. 140
    hng23 says:

    @Nema: Rowling supported a woman who repeatedly mis-gendered a trans co-worker. She was not fired; her contract was not renewed. She appealed & lost the appeal.
    This is not about free speech. The judge ruled that “there is nothing to stop the claimant campaigning against the proposed revisions to the Gender Recognition Act or, expressing her opinion that there should be some spaces that are restricted to women assigned female at birth. However, she can do so without insisting on calling transwomen men. It is the fact that her belief necessarily involves violating the dignity of others which means it is not protected under the Equality Act 2010.”

    Cite: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/dec/18/judge-rules-against-charity-worker-who-lost-job-over-transgender-tweets

    Also, let’s not derail this discussion.

  21. 141
    hng23 says:

    @Nema: Rowling supported a woman who repeatedly mis-gendered a trans co-worker. She was not fired; her contract was not renewed. She appealed & lost the appeal.
    This is not about free speech. The judge ruled that “there is nothing to stop the claimant campaigning against the proposed revisions to the Gender Recognition Act or, expressing her opinion that there should be some spaces that are restricted to women assigned female at birth. However, she can do so without insisting on calling transwomen men. It is the fact that her belief necessarily involves violating the dignity of others which means it is not protected under the Equality Act 2010.”

    Cite: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/dec/18/judge-rules-against-charity-worker-who-lost-job-over-transgender-tweets

    Let’s not derail this discussion.

  22. 142
    Nema says:

    Rowling defended the privately stated on Twitter (sic!) free speech of someone who said that biological sex is immutable and can’t be changed. That is a fact as far as the most up to date biological and medical science goes. One can’t change the sex one is born with.

    And it’s not derailing anything, when we are talking a) about an article with EXPLICITLY mentions Rowling (if you do not want to discuss her, then please do take her out of this article), and b) discussing a WoC who gets thrown out of RWA for daring to voice her disenchantment with racism on her private Twitter account (sic!) and how RWA quelled that statement and discussion.

    So.

    If you want to draw any sort of parallel between Rowling/Forstater and this case here, then Milan was treated EXACTLY THE SAME WAY by RWA as Forstater was treated by Forstater’s employer. It is the absolute height of hypocrisy to want for Milan, what you deny Forstater.

  23. 143
    hng23 says:

    Milan was suspended for calling out a racist.
    Forstater refused to call her co-worker by their preferred pronoun.
    Not the same thing.
    You & I will just have to agree to disagree & move on.

  24. 144
    Nema says:

    hng23, no. Please read up on the actual tweets:

    https://threadreaderapp.com/thread/1209914779973931010.html

    You will, hopefully, notice, that what you believe Forstater said and what she actually said (and Rowling defended), are two very distinct things. It’s enervating how much this keeps being misrepresented.

    BTW, neither the Guardian (which is extremely onesided on this matter), nor the verdict are the last words on this. There will be an appeal, and hopefully the judge of appeal will be able to differentiate between biological sex and societal gender, and be up to date on actual science.

    If you want the private opinions by someone like Courtney Milan shielded by freedom of speech (something I absolutely agree with), then you need to accept that people like Forstater also can have private opinions and that these also must be shielded by freedom of speech.

    Because, let me repeat, Forstater did not offend anyone on the job. She stated generalised opinions on the difference between gender (sociological) and sex (biological) just as privately as Milan.

    Freedom of speech isn’t and never was “my way or the highway”.

  25. 145
    SB Sarah says:

    @nema:

    WHAT DID I SAY EARLIER IN THIS DISCUSSION. I said that transphobic bullshit and wrong opinions are not welcome, and are harmful to the trans people we want to feel safe in this space. Your opinions are wrong and you are are not welcome here. You will fuck off immediately with your utterly execrable understanding of what freedom of speech actually means, let alone trans rights and compassion.

    @hng23: I am sorry you engaged here before I had a chance to. Thank you for helping maintain the boundary of welcome in the comments section.

  26. 146
    hng23 says:

    @SBSarah:
    Nothing to apologize for.
    I’m a white cis woman: it’s my right & privilege & duty to stand up for others.
    Thank you for making this a safe space where I can do so.

  27. 147
    Jaws says:

    “Free” (as in “permitted without prior restraint or criminal sanction thereafter”) is not the same thing as “cost-free” (as in “speech sometimes has civil, not governmentally imposed, consequences”).

    As a veteran and one of those people with a J.D. who has actually litigated freedom-of-speech matters, I’m offended at the misguided attempts on many “sides” in this fiasco to justify their self-interests (and egos) by claiming “free speech.” Chronologically, at least for this striking of a match near a gasoline can, that begins with the 1990s novel (republished in 2014). Prior restraint on the allegedly authentic, racially invidious statements, and criminal sanctions for them, would have been inappropriate and indeed dangerous. That doesn’t mean there would/should/could be no other consequences for an apparent expression of racism, even supposedly “authentically” in a work of fiction. Bluntly, the best indicator that consequences were appropriate was the unaltered, nondisclaimed republication in 2014. The whole “conversation” has gone downhill from there. Especially on the part of the alleged “leaders” (both elected and staff) of RWA, who are showing exactly zero leadership, crisis management, and public communications ability.

    If you actually care about the issues, don’t change the subject to something that you’re more interested in or that more closely matches your own self-interest. This is exactly what appears to have happened here (and we can only say “appears” due to the lack of transparency). Ms Milan pointed out a individual’s written depiction of invidious racial stereotypes, and the author/publisher of those statements took Ms Milan’s objections as an accusation of inherent racism in every aspect of their very beings and commercial activity. At some point or another, Queen Gertrude’s lament at overacting in the play-within-a-play comes to mind: “Methinks the lad[ies] doth protest too much.” Whichever lady/ladies one has in mind, precisely and only because this is not at all transparent… and nobody knows what the Special Secret Ethics Committee considered, or whether one or more of its members had already put Ms Milan on double secret probation.

  28. 148

    […] Sarah Wendell on Smart Bitches, Trashy Books wrote about it on Tuesday and included several updates […]

  29. 149
    Jane says:

    The current climate of romancelandia is the reason I haven’t read any romance in the last 3 years.

  30. 150
    Sharon says:

    I’ve said this more than once, but I’ll repeat how appreciative I am that site moderators firmly take a stance here against discriminatory language. It is the kind of moderation necessary to lead everyone toward a more inclusive and respectful culture.

  31. 151
    Mary says:

    So, I’m a white 48 year old mom who loves to read. I like paranormal romance, sci-fy, contemporary romance, and historical romance to name a few. I am not a writer, just a consumer.

    Anyways, just wanted to post as a reader. I’m watching. My friends are watching. My 24 year old daughter who is a huge, huge reader is watching- cause I told her too 🙂 and so are many of her friends. These are the friends with whom she recommends and shares books. We are watching.

    And we are very unhappy with what the RWA is doing. We like reading diverse stories with diverse characters from diverse authors. We really don’t appreciate anyone squashing our ability to read these diverse stories. And I imagine some narrow minded bigoted authors are gonna feel the repercussions of their actions in this for a very long time to come. Especially as we point out to friends and total strangers, “don’t read that, that author is a bigot. Google that asshat’s name and see what they did not long ago!”

  32. 152
    Mary says:

    Also, if yal could please include more vegan characters in your stories, my daughter and many of her friends would be much obliged.

  33. 153
    Nancy Drew says:

    Has anybody checked Suede’s husband Geoff Symon’s credentials? Is he really a federal forensic expert? How about running his books through a software plagiarizer program?

  34. 154
    Ann Somerville says:

    Nancy Drew: that is not a helpful tangent to set people onto. Attack Suede and the leadership, not his husband, however much of a twat he’s being on Twitter.

  35. 155
    Mary says:

    It might be helpful for some of those in power at the RWA to think about how us readers might want books reclassified at our local libraries and book stores in the future depending on how things play out. For instance, some who read Lord Ruin back in the day might want that book moved to a romance for incels category. Or perhaps they may want Diana Palmer books moved to romances for climate/ science deniers. Just a thought.

  36. 156
    hng23 says:

    Heads up, everybody, Chuck Tingle’s just published a new Tingler & it is a thing of beauty: https://twitter.com/ChuckTingle/status/1213120260859023360

  37. 157
    Ariella says:

    SB Sarah, could we get a list of authors that are really stepping up, or a list of those that are part of the problem? I’ll clearly never buy a Damon Suede book going forward but are there other authors that are fighting this? I think it’s important that authors know that readers are watching, and how they act now is going to determine if I’ll be willing to try a new author or never buy from them again.

  38. 158

    Ariella:

    Check this twitter thread for authors who have withdrawn from the RITAs.

    https://twitter.com/i/events/1211315410131402755

    I have yet to see a list of authors to avoid–and I’ve been looking.

  39. 159
    Jazzlet says:

    I find it hard to believe how badly Suede and the senior RWA staff are continuing to handle this, but then I look at BJ and Trump and Morrison and Erdogan and too many more of our political leaders and realise it’s no more crazy than what they are doing.

    Also just a couple of notes on the J K Rowling thing:
    – this all happened in the UK, we do not have any free speech legislation and American law is not applicable, it is the height of imperialism to assume your laws apply elsewhere in the world.
    – The Guardian certainly has not been wholly supportive of trans* people, it does not have a simple view on the subject and you will find trans* people who insist that it is strongly against them because they have published articles from both sides of the debate.

  40. 160
    Miranda says:

    @Ariella There is also a thread of the authors that are stepping up here as well as the one that Random Michelle listed: https://twitter.com/rangegrrl/status/1212460427373735937. And @HeatherReadRom on Twitter keeps a running list of authors behaving badly, and she is trying to keep up with the current situation. You can find her at https://twitter.com/HeatherReadsRom.

    Also, Courtney Milan is posting screen shots from the Guardian that show Davis backpedaling on her claims of losing the publishing contract. Apparently, she never had one, and they never said they were afraid of Milan. Check out this thread to see them: https://twitter.com/rangegrrl/status/1213511033836302336

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