Is This Practice Unreal or Unfit? It’s Both

Unreal and Unfit magazines use Thinkerbeat Reader to “chart… the authors that we thought did really well with a story submission.” But these are not stories they bought – six days ago they tweeted out a link to the list of stories they rejected. The page had names, titles, and a rating between one and five stars. One problem: none of the authors had given them permission to do so.

As we read the stories we rank them. For 1 star, not shown on the list, please try again. For 5 stars, we buy them, also not shown on the list. For 2 to 4 stars, we think you deserve recognition and have created this list to say thank you.

Benjamin Kinney called out the practice in “Writer Warning: Unfit / Unreal / Thinkerbeat Reader”.

If you’re an author out there submitting short stories, you should be aware of the things that the magazine Unfit and Unreal (via their portal Thinkerbeat Reader) are doing without your permission.

Here’s a screenshot from the page where they publish the authors, titles, and ratings for some stories they’ve rejected….

…I’ve edited the screenshot to only reveal the information of authors who’ve given me consent to share. I’m not providing links because there are dozens more authors on that page, who presumably never wanted this information publicized. Nothing in the website’s guidelines warns an author that their story may be publicly named & rated. In fact, their privacy policy states that they will not share your information with anyone.

(Yes, public. This page is visible to everyone, not only Thinkerbeat readers.)

…Maybe some authors are willing to have their rejections named & rated. I certainly wouldn’t be, but that’s your choice to make. But it’s DEFINITELY not okay to share information about individual submissions without asking permission. None of the authors in my screenshot were aware of this until I told them.…

After some subtweeting (see here for an example), Jason Sanford broke the news on Twitter. His thread about Kinney’s post has received numerous responses from editors and writers. Starts here.

Stephen Granade writes: “I was one of the authors on the list, and chose to out myself, as the editor hadn’t asked permission” – see his tweet here.

Interestingly enough, the magazines claim they won’t use your data in any way — see screencap of their policy in this tweet by Erin M. Hartshorn.

To add to this lack of professionalism, when Benjamin Kinney asked about this practice, the editor of the magazines replied simply, “Grow up.”

Victoria Strauss has added a warning to her followers about not submitting to those sites:

Alasdair Stuart, as usual, has cogent thoughts on the matter. Thread starts here.

[Thanks to Stephen Granade for the story.]

Naperville Library Hosts
4th Annual HWA Librarians Day on May 7

The Horror Writers Association (HWA) will host the 4th Annual HWA Librarians Day on May 7 at the Naperville, IL Public Library. Authors from the Summer Scares reading list and committee members will be in attendance.

Featured guests include: 

  • Danielle Trussoni
  • Stephen Graham Jones 
  • Daniel Kraus
  • Sarah Read
  • Cina Pelayo
  • Sadie Hartmann
  • Flame Tree Press Editor Don D’Auria
  • J.H. Moncrieff
  • John Everson
  • J G Faherty
  • Steven Hopstaken
  • Melissa Prusi
  • and more!

Price:  $75 / ($65 for Adult Reading Round Table or HWA members). All attendees get lunch, swag and free books. Co- Sponsored by: NoveList, Library Reads, Flame Tree Press, Sourcebooks, and Cemetery Dance. Complete panels with schedule and signup will be available via EventBrite the week of March 3.

Authors and Summer Scares program committee members will also be available throughout the year for on-site and/or remote appearances to libraries and schools to promote the Summer Scares program and discuss the use of horror fiction as a tool to increase readership and nurture a love of reading.

Romance Writers of America Board Resigns, Calls Special Election

[This is the seventh update in a series which includes “Courtney Milan Suspended by RWA, Banned from Leadership”, “Courtney Milan Controversy Decimates RWA Leadership”, “As Criticism Snowballs, RWA Keeps Trying to Justify Treatment of Courtney Milan”, “Kathryn Davis Says RWA Encouraged Her To File Ethics Complaint Against Courtney Milan”, “As More Issues Raised, RWA President Resigns, RITA Awards Postponed, and Many Publishers Withdraw Sponsorship of RWA Conference”, and “RWA Las Vegas Chapter Disbands in Aftermath of Courtney Milan Censure, RWA Appoints Interim Executive Director”.]

The remaining members of the Romance Writers of America Board of Directors resigned from office today, February 12. Prior to their resignations, the Board set a special election for the RWA membership to elect a newly constituted Board of Directors to serve out their current terms (through August 31, 2020). The special election will begin on Friday, March 13, and will end on Friday, March 20, at 11:59 p.m. CDT. Details about the election process are here.

The complete Board resignation announcement is here — “RWA Board Members Set Special Election, Announce Resignations”.

“We believe that stepping down to allow for new leadership chosen by the membership is in the best interests of the association. The Board has always wanted what is best for Romance Writers of America, and we still do. This desire has been the driving force behind every decision we have made to try to navigate RWA during this difficult time. We have tried hard to keep the best interests of RWA front and center as we have confronted the challenges of the last eight weeks.

“We believe that the Board must have the trust of the membership and that this is the best way forward to achieve that. We believe RWA can and will be a place of inclusion and respect. We tender our resignations in support of the organization and its mission.

“Under RWA’s Bylaws and the Texas nonprofit corporation law, RWA must be governed by a Board of Directors. In order to ensure continuity of governance and based on legal counsel’s advice, we voted to set special elections for all board positions beginning on March 13, 2020 (30 days from today) and ending one week later (on March 20, 2020). This will provide RWA’s General members with the opportunity to elect an entirely new Board of Directors. The new Board members will be elected to fulfill the remaining Board terms that end on August 31, 2020, and no individual elected will automatically accede to any other office following their term. This special election will not replace the normal 4th quarter election cycle as required by RWA’s Bylaws, which will occur in August 2020.      

“Our decision to resign will not affect the ongoing independent audit being conducted by Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, LLP, or the Board’s commitment to share the audit report with the membership in unedited, non-redacted form.” –Nan Dixon (Treasurer), Hanna Rhys Barnes, Kate McMurray, Maria Powers, Mellanie Szereto, Eliana West (Directors-at-Large)

PAST RWA PRESIDENTS RESIGN. Before the Board’s action today, another pair of past RWA Presidents Leslie Kelly and Dee Davis had proposed a way forward, which the Board did not accept. Now Leslie Kelly has resigned.

PAST PRESIDENT HELENKAY DIMON QUITS. Dimon, who served as President of the Romance Writers of America in 2018-2019, also announced she was leaving the organization after rejection of the Kelly/Davis plan.

FOLLOWING THE BOARD OUT THE DOOR. Immediately after today’s announcement, this member tweeted a resignation:

Ellie Finch

In the past few weeks many other members tweeted that they had resigned, are intending to let their membership lapse, or are resigning from a chapter position. Claire Ryan’s “Implosion of the RWA” lists over two dozen names in the entry for February 11.

CIMWRA HOLDING DISSOLUTION VOTE. CIMRWA, the Cultural, Interracial, and Multicultural Chapter of Romance Writers of America, a chapter dedicated to advocating diversity and inclusion within RWA and publishing as a whole wrote, is voting on whether to dissolve. Thread starts here.

MEDIA COVERAGE. Quill & Quire interviewed Farah Heron about her resignation as Toronto RWA chapter president: “Farah Heron on stepping down as Toronto Romance Writers president and a future outside the RWA”.

…Until about six weeks ago, Toronto Romance Writers – an official chapter of the RWA – had been a thriving group, serving more than 100 local members. But the fallout of the group’s association with the U.S.–based parent organization has been severe. Many authors are choosing not to renew their memberships, and now Farah Heron, author of the bestselling novel The Chai Factor, is stepping down from her position as chapter president….

How has what happened with RWA affected the Toronto membership? 

Since Jan. 31, we are down 20 members, and by the end of February, we will lose another 15. These are all members whose membership was expiring, and they chose not to renew due to the issues in the national organization. And as rolling expiry dates continue, we expect to lose more members each month. Also, we have lost speakers for both our annual conference and our monthly workshops, and we have had agents and editors tell us they cannot support and attend our conference unless we disaffiliate with the national organization.

But more than anything else, our members are angry. They feel betrayed by RWA leadership, and are frustrated by the lack of communication, and poor decisions board and staff have made. Many of our members feel they can no longer support an organization that is so resistant to taking an anti-racist stance, and has long allowed ableism, anti-Semitism, and intolerance towards LGBTQ+ members to continue.

EXTENDED COMMENTS BY COURTNEY MILAN. Well before today’s developments, Sarah Wendell interviewed Courtney Milan on the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books podcast: “391. RWA One Month Later, Part IV: A Conversation with Courtney Milan”. It was released February 3. Here’s an excerpt from the transcript:

Sarah: So one of the questions that I’ve had from people in my community, people on my, my podcast Patreon, are, what can, what can readers do? What, what do we do to move this community forward?

Courtney: Mm-hmm.

Sarah: And I, I don’t have an easy answer for that! And I was wondering if that’s a question you’ve also received.

Courtney: I have. I, I’ve received this question often, and I don’t have an easy answer either, because it’s not an easy thing.

Sarah: Nope! Sure isn’t.

Courtney: It is a, it’s truly shitty thing, in fact, and if we had easy answers to any of this, we would know what was going on. And I think, I think that the, to the extent that there is an answer, and I’m not sure that there is one, I think the answer is, like, work to be less racist and to reduce the amount of racism in your community. That’s literally the only thing. Like, because what we’re butting up against here is this hard problem that I mentioned earlier that was in, like, the last part of the diversity report, like, bunches of people are racist! What do we do about it? Like, I don’t know! Like, one of the things that I think this has really underscored for me is that you cannot actually make someone less racist. And this is, this is one of those things like, I am such a process person in so many ways, it’s like, oh, don’t like this? Here’s a process for you!

Sarah: [Laughs]

Courtney: I’m going to fix it with a process! And, like, there is no process!

Sarah: There’s no manual.

Courtney: And – it’s not just that there’s no manual. There is a manual! But you can hand it to people and they’re like, okay, I read it; I hate it. Ugh.

Sarah: Yep.

Courtney: Nothing! Nothing you can do about somebody who determinedly does not want to change, right? Nothing. There is no process. And so, like, I think your choices at this point are, you know, what do you do with RWA – question mark. I think there are a lot of people in RWA who mean well? I think there are a lot of people in RWA who are committed to diversity. And I think there are a lot of people in RWA who have not examined what it means to be in an anti-racist community and what it means to be in one that is supporting white supremacy.

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Courtney: And the, the group of people that exists there is vastly overlapping. So I think one of the issues with RWA is this: I think a lot of people of color are going to leave, because it’s just not a safe place to be. Right?

Sarah: Yeah.

Courtney: And I think a lot of white people – not, not all white people – I think a lot of white people, including some very well-meaning white people, are going to see all the people of color leaving, and they’re going to say, well, we have to prove that this place is safe, so I’m going to stay here and make it better. And I’m going to tell you that what you are doing at this point is reinforcing white supremacy when that happens. And you don’t want to hear that, and it’s going to make you mad to hear that a group of all-white people staying in RWA and continuing to give money to an organization that is white by design at this point, you know – like, they specifically did a thing knowing the effect that this would have on the community of color.

ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

N.K. Jemisin

PRESERVING THE HISTORY. Meanwhile, my alma mater (BGSU, MA Popular Culture, 1975) made this appeal —

[Thanks to James Davis Nicoll for the story.]

RWA Las Vegas Chapter Disbands in Aftermath of Courtney Milan Censure, RWA Appoints Interim Executive Director

[This is the sixth update in a series which includes “Courtney Milan Suspended by RWA, Banned from Leadership”, “Courtney Milan Controversy Decimates RWA Leadership”, “As Criticism Snowballs, RWA Keeps Trying to Justify Treatment of Courtney Milan”, “Kathryn Davis Says RWA Encouraged Her To File Ethics Complaint Against Courtney Milan”, and “As More Issues Raised, RWA President Resigns, RITA Awards Postponed, and Many Publishers Withdraw Sponsorship of RWA Conference”.]

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY. Romance Writers of America, currently operating without a President, says they will determine a process for appointing an interim President to serve until the next election. Meantime, they have identified a replacement for Executive Director Carol Ritter. RWA announced on January 21: “Leslie Scantlebury Appointed Interim Executive Director”.

…As of February 1, Leslie Scantlebury will assume the role of Interim Executive Director of RWA. As announced earlier this month, the Board accepted the resignation of Executive Director Carol Ritter, and she will remain on staff until January 31 to ensure a smooth transition. In the meantime, she has recused herself from all duties pertaining to the audit, and Leslie is serving as RWA staff liaison to the independent law firm conducting the audit.

Leslie has nearly 20 years of association management experience. During her career, she has worked with volunteer leadership at both the national and local levels. Her background includes governance, member retention, education, and volunteer management for large nonprofit membership associations. Leslie also has served on the board of directors of several local organizations, including the Houston Society of Association Executives. Leslie holds an undergraduate degree from the University of South Carolina and a master’s degree from the University of Phoenix.

Leslie has been an integral part of the RWA team cumulatively for more than a decade, serving most recently as Chapter and Professional Relations Manager. The Board is grateful to have Leslie’s leadership at this important moment for RWA.  

Leslie will be working with the Board and a DEI consultant to determine a process for appointing an interim President that will allow our members to have input in the decision. We understand the importance of this decision, and we know it’s a priority for our members. 

In August, every Board seat and officer position – including the office of President – will be up for election by the membership. Once the newly elected Board is installed, it will then form a search committee to identify and select a new, permanent Executive Director, in consultation with a DEI consultant….

RWA CHAPTER DISBANDS. The Las Vegas Romance Writers will disband. The chapter president explained why in a public letter to RWA:

It is with a profound sense of regret that, as the President of Las Vegas Romance Writers, I write to inform you that the Las Vegas chapter has voted to disband. The circumstances leading up to the closure of our chapter can be directly attributed to the censure of Courtney Milan and the chaos that ensued.

In the wake of her censure, a member of the chapter board resigned immediately. Other chapter board members expressed their unwillingness to support an organization that was so clearly in violation of its stated purpose and its own bylaws. They indicated that they would be letting their membership in National lapse, leaving the board without the officers necessary, by law, to run the chapter.

As a result of the positions of the individual board members, a meeting was called of the general membership to discuss the circumstances with national and see if there was a way forward for our chapter. We had no volunteers to serve on the board, to replace the members who were letting their national membership lapse. In addition, over half of the members of our chapter have expressed that they will not be continuing their membership with RWA.

Given these circumstances, the board voted to disband the chapter. Subsequently, a majority of the general members also voted to disband.…

CHAPTER PRESIDENTS’ LETTER. Other chapters have not yet given up trying to reform RWA.  Adriana Herrera tweeted the text of a letter from 29 RWA chapter presidents demanding that the organization take a list of specified actions. Thread starts here.

Some of their demands are:

Give serious consideration and respond to Courtney Milan’s settlement offer dated 01/14/2020. Remove Carol Ritter immediately and with cause. Begin the process of hiring an independent firm to conduct a full forensic audit.

Expand the current independent audit to incorporate a review of all ethics cases handled (or not) by RWA since 2017. In addition, we request: A review of how Damon Suede’s eligibility to run for President-elect was determined and qualified.

A review of the Executive Director’s duties and apparent overreaching control of the running of RWA as opposed to the RWA Board of Directors. A review of the retirement of the previous Executive Director and her temporary (and possible continued) reappearance as Controller.

A review of the current Board of Director’s questionable execution of their fiduciary duty. A review of Damon Suede and Carolyn Jewel’s questionable execution of their fiduciary duty in the matter of the complaint against Courtney Milan.

COURTNEY MILAN’S SETTLEMENT PROPOSAL. Courtney Milan, on January 14, tweeted a copy of her letter to the RWA proposing a basis for both sides to dispose of some – but not all – of the potential grounds for litigation between them. For one thing, it sheds light on just how many there are. Thread begins here.

PROGRESS ON RWA INTERNAL AUDIT. Courtney Milan shared more of her communications with the RWA leadership. Thread starts here.

CAN RWA SURVIVE? Courtney Milan lists a few key questions. Thread starts here.

RESOURCES. Shari Heinrich steamed into MLK Day with a list of reading she’s doing, and a list of questions she’ll be posing to future conference organizers about diversity and antiharassment policies, Thread starts here.

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE. Sarah at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books tells why it’s hard to answer the question “Where Does RWA Go From Here?” (January 10)

…Setting aside the question of leadership for a moment (and again, the current RWA board should be removed and re-elected in its entirety) it’s important to ask over and over: whom does this organization serve?

Who is the priority?

Because it cannot be both.

If RWA serves the current membership of RWA, well, that membership contains a substantial number of people who:

  • openly embrace and promote racist ideologies
  • post on RWA Facebook pages and in internal message boards about their homophobia and racist views on people of color
  • write transphobic and racist articles for and letters to the Romance Writers Report
  • …and I could keep going but it’s depressing.

A substantial part of the current membership of RWA is a substantial part of the problem with RWA.

If the organization wants to serve any marginalized writers, it can’t also serve that portion of the current membership. It’s impossible. One side has demonstrated in PAN forums, email messages, and social media posts that it refuses to recognize the humanity of the other, and refuses to recognize their culpability in maintaining a White supremacist, classist, heteronormative, racist culture inside RWA. Nor can it commit to changing that culture.

The organization also can’t serve marginalized writers if the leadership has a documented history of not acknowledging ethics complaints from marginalized individuals, and of publishing and allowing screeds against those individuals in print and online. RWA can’t serve anyone if the organization doesn’t fully reveal what happened in the specific case of the ethics complaint and process against Courtney Milan, and what happened to the complaints from every writer who has reported a problem.

RWA can’t maintain its current membership nor its leadership and at the same time say it’s going to rebuild. Rebuilding requires people in leadership positions who are trusted by current and prospective members. And it requires trust in fellow members of the community.

IMPACT ON OTHER ORGANIZATIONS. Alyssa Day has resigned as President of Novelists, Inc: The International Organization of Multi-Published Novelists, which she says suffers the same failures of diversity a RWA. Thread starts here.

SKEPTICAL APPROACH.

In “RWA the Sequel,” YouTuber KirkpattieCake spends an hour challenging the criteria used to assert racism, looks forward to the results of RWA’s independent audit, and also takes a moment to scorn the cancel culture that fell on Vince Vaughn for shaking President Trump’s hand. (January 20)

And Sarah A. Hoyt scoffs at the issues in her blog post “De-Worse It Gets” (January 15.)

So, what was the last writer of color you read?

Hint, the answer is “whatever writer you read last, since I’ve still to find a single transparent writer.” Which is good, since it would be disturbing. And I hope one of the last you read is this chick Sarah A. Hoyt and her novel Deep Pink(which is profoundly weird, yes, but come on you guys, if you didn’t like weird, you wouldn’t hang out around here, would you?)

Anyvay….. I swear there are people who never read a book trying to dictate not just what the rest of us MUST write, but also what the rest of us must read.

I thought the “challenge to read writers of color” was stupid enough when I first heard of it 10 years ago, but it’s only gotten stupider. Now entire writers’ organizations (puts hat to chest and holds a minute of silence for RWA. I’d do it for SFWA but RWA was once far more useful including teaching and mentoring stuff SFWA never had. Besides SFWA is long dead and rotting, so I’m going to edge away from the coffin.) are falling into this insanity.  We’re hearing that BLIND-JUDGED-CONTESTS, where you can’t even guess at the name of the writer (and these days, honestly, it won’t help. I swear my kids, now mid to late twenties are the last properly spelled names in their generation.) are “racist.”…

MAINSTREAM MEDIA COVERAGE. These are some of the articles that have appeared since the previous roundup.

CNN – “A romance novelist accused another writer of racism. The scandal is tearing the billion-dollar industry apart” by AJ Willingham (January 13)

…The RWA also needs to fill several vacant seats and choose a new leader, a Herculean task made even more difficult by the erosion of trust and conflicts of interest the scandal has created. The RWA declined to comment when contacted, but directed CNN to the statement mentioning Suede’s resignation. In the statement, the RWA says the association has hired an external firm to conduct an audit of the events leading to the controversy and has brought on a diversity, equity and inclusion consultant to “assist RWA with diversifying Board and staff recruitment” as well as future programming and events….

Jezebel – “Inside the Spectacular Implosion at the Romance Writers of America” by Kelly Faircloth (January 15)

…RWA, an organization founded almost 40 years ago by a black woman, has frequently been an unfriendly place for marginalized writers, and attempts to change that have been met with pushback that now threatens to destroy the institution itself. Romance novels, at their most fundamental level, are about protagonists being seen clearly and loved—and this is a story about who gets to be seen and valued in the romance genre, and whose pain matters.

As an author of historical romances who served four years on the RWA’s elected board of directors, Milan has been one of the most prominent voices in the struggle to make RWA a more equitable environment. (In fact, she just won a service award.) She’s also known for her vocal Twitter presence, where she doesn’t shy from calling out injustice in very blunt terms, whether it’s around racism in romance or the strange plagiarism saga of #CopyPasteKris. The efforts of Milan and many others had put the RWA on a path to helping create a more inclusive organization, genre, and publishing industry more broadly. As 2019 drew to a close, it looked like years of dedicated effort and activism by many people, particularly by women of color, to build a more inclusive genre and an RWA equipped to fight on behalf of its marginalized members, were bearing fruit.

But that hope is collapsing. After Milan’s censure, board members resigned en masse; two presidents left under a cloud of controversy. Major publishers, including Harlequin, have pulled out of RWA’s annual national conference. Members are furious, and the work it will take to restore their trust in the organization is so enormous it’s potentially insurmountable.

…But since its inception, there has always been a certain amount of tension over RWA’s priorities. Was it a social club? A professional networking group? What constituted “professional,” anyway? (See: the great swan hat controversy of 2007.) Was it for published authors, or unpublished authors? Was it a conduit between writers and publishers? Or was it potentially a body for collective action, including against publishers? Equally important but less tangible was the question of the right way for a woman to act, even in an organization composed largely of women, and just how important it was to be nice and conciliatory, not to raise a big, disruptive fuss—even, or perhaps especially, over issues of racial and queer representation.

…The internet, too, has challenged RWA’s position within the romance ecosystem. RWA conferences are full of panels on various aspects of self-publishing, but nobody needs RWA to put their book on Amazon. They’re not a collective bargaining agent; they can’t, say, negotiate better self-publishing terms with Amazon. But romance authors need a fierce advocate more than ever, because they’re increasingly at the mercy of powerful tech platforms, as major channels for mass-market paperbacks like B. Dalton, Waldenbooks, and Borders have vanished. RWA’s presence at least means there’s somebody authors can call if they need an institutional voice to advocate for them. “If you are the member who calls in, who says, ‘Facebook for some reason shut down my author site, and I had 40,000 followers,’ we have contacts at Facebook and at Amazon and at Barnes and Noble that we can get in touch with at a micro level to help our members immediately,” former president HelenKay Dimon told me.

But in recent years, perhaps the central dispute within the industry has been about inclusion and intersectionality. While there’s always been a feminist thread in romance, the genre has also been dominated by straight white women for much of its history. Despite Stephens’s central role in shaping the modern romance, she was frustrated by bosses’ foot-dragging, even as she acquired diversely. Plantations abounded in historical romance well into the 1990s, as did books featuring appalling depictions of Native Americans with the word “savage” thrown around. Black authors have frequently been relegated to “ethnic” imprints and even shelved elsewhere in bookstores. And often, that “be nice” culture has suppressed attempts to fight any of it.

The article concludes:

…In the midst of the tumult, Bowling Green State University’s Popular Culture Library, which has an impressive collection of archival material related to the history of romance, tweeted out a picture of the first board of RWA. That board included two black women (Vivian Stephens and her sister) as well as a Latina author, Celina Rios Mullan. “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.

Kirkus – “Is Romance Writers of America a Sinking Ship?” by Jennifer Prokop (January 15.)

RWA’s handling of these complaints has brought the entire organization to the brink of collapse: Citing a gap between policy and process, the board voted to rescind the penalty against Milan; eight women of color on the board collectively resigned, saying they lacked faith in RWA’s leadership; the 2020 RITA awards were cancelled after hundreds of authors and judges resigned from the contest; and publishers, including giants Harlequin and Avon, announced they would not attend the national conference. Many predict that RWA will have no choice but to cancel the national conference entirely—a staggering financial blow to an already crippled organization.

Clarkesworld Removes
Isabel Fall’s Story

Isabel Fall’s short story “I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter” in the January Clarkesworld, the subject of intense discussion on Twitter this week, was removed from the magazine’s website today at the author’s request.

Editor Neil Clarke tweeted:

The story remains available to read at the Wayback Machine.

This roundup illustrates the sources of the discussion within the sff community, and points to some of the more frequently cross-referenced conversations.

IS THE STORY TRANSPHOBIC?

D Franklin challenges numerous passages as transphobic. Thread starts here.

D Franklin agrees the story should have been pulled. Thread starts here.

Another critic of the story as transphobic makes a detailed case for that viewpoint here.

Lynn E. O’Connacht communicates that “there’s a pretty big difference between “this story makes me uncomfortable’ and ‘this story caused me harm’”. Thread starts here.

WIDER CONTEXT.

Bogi Takács sheds light on some matters that drive the reception of this story and works by and about other minorities.

First thread starts here.

Second thread starts here.

POSITIVE RESPONSES TO STORY.

Phoebe North supports the story and author in “An Open Letter” at Medium, an autobiographical essay that concludes:

Whatever you decide to do with your story, Isabel, thank you for writing your story. Thank you for making me feel seen and heard. We don’t get a lot of ourselves in fiction. We often only get scraps. This was more than that. A mirror.

Alex Acks says North’s essay “articulates a lot of my own difficult to verbalize feelings” about the story.

Berry Grass believes the story has shortcomings, but aligns more with those who consider it to be thought-provoking. Thread starts here.

CONTROVERSIAL ART.

Carmen Maria Machado wrote a long, thoughtful thread about provocative stories in the context of art and literature, but while I was editing this together she locked her tweets to all but followers so those are not available to quote.

Malcolm F. Cross criticizes the story as having shortcomings as MilSF, too, but marks out more territory on the art vs. harm map. Thread starts here.

Warren Adams-Ockrassa’s thread seems to say that whatever the writer’s goal was, they should have handled it differently. Starts here.

PULLING THE STORY.

Cat Rambo is sorry the story was pulled. Thread starts here.

One of several eye-opening comments on Rambo’s thread:

ROLE OF AN EDITOR.

Setsu U finds the discussion about the story connects with many questions and concerns they are responsible for as an editor. Thread starts here.

ENDNOTES.

Several people have been circulating screenshots of a statement that’s represented as giving background about the story and author. I have neither found the source of the original post, nor confirmation that it is from a Clarkesworld spokesperson, so I am not posting these but you can find a copy here.

Alexandra Erin on why she won’t read the story. Thread starts here.

Cheryl Morgan says she hasn’t read the story, however, offered advice for holding the discussion. Thread starts here. Some of her points are —

There’s extended discussion at Metafilter. As a whole, I thought I learned more just by searching “Clarkesworld” on Twitter.   

As More Issues Raised, RWA President Resigns, RITA Awards Postponed, and Many Publishers Withdraw Sponsorship of RWA Conference

[This is the fifth update in a series which includes “Courtney Milan Suspended by RWA, Banned from Leadership”, “Courtney Milan Controversy Decimates RWA Leadership”, “As Criticism Snowballs, RWA Keeps Trying to Justify Treatment of Courtney Milan”, and “Kathryn Davis Says RWA Encouraged Her To File Ethics Complaint Against Courtney Milan”.]

Amid the continuing social media backlash galvanized by RWA’s decision to impose penalties on Courtney Milan, Damon Suede is out as President of Romance Writers of America and staff member Carolyn Ritter has tendered her resignation, the RITA Awards have been set aside for this year, and a host of publishers have pulled their sponsorship of RWA’s annual conference.

TURNOVER. Damon Suede, then RWA President Elect, succeeded Carolyn Jewel in December when she resigned as President.

Citing its “disagreement with the malicious actions, which lacked due process that were taken against RWA member Ms. Courtney Milan,” the Cultural, Interracial, and Multicultural Chapter of Romance Writers of America (CIMRWA) on December 26 called for the resignation of Suede and RWA staff member Executive Director Carol Ritter. And by December 31 they had gathered over 1000 signatures and submitted a petition to recall Suede from office.

Courtney Milan also listed experiences with Suede she believed showed his unfitness for office.  

Carol Ritter joined RWA in 2008, first as RWA’s professional relations manager, and then as deputy executive director. In November she moved up to Executive Director.

Today RWA announced that Suede and Ritter have resigned.

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.

STUD PLANET PROBE. One of the most unexpected issues to surface before Suede resigned was the challenge to his basic eligibility for office. Did he really have the five published books he needed to be eligible to become President-Elect? One researcher said it looked like he only had four books —  

Did Stud Planet exist? Was it a qualifying book? Courtney Milan asked:

The research has suggested Suede’s qualifications were unconvincing. Courtney Milan tweeted some information here and  here, and wrote another thread here. Adrienne also dug into Dreamspinner’s publication announcements on the Wayback Machine and did not find evidence for the book at the time it supposedly came out (see here).  

Chuck Tingle was happy to get in the last word.

Speaking of Chuck Tingle, he noticed that the RWA apparently didn’t buy up the obvious alternate URLs. So he bought https://www.romancewritersofamerica.com and has created a parody site there. The test for applicants to the Board is brutally funny.

OTHER RESIGNATIONS. The RWA announced that Secretary Donna Alward and Director at Large Barbara Wallace and Director at Large Renee Ryan, all resigned from the Board effective January 8.

PUBLISHERS PULL SUPPORT FROM RWA CONFERENCE. RWA2020 is scheduled to be held in San Francisco from July 29 – August 1. However, many sponsors have been pulling out.

Publishers Weekly reported as of January 9 these publishers and imprints have announced they won’t support the conferece:

As of this morning, publishers including Avon, Berkley Romance, Entangled, HarperCollins Canada and Harlequin, Kensington, St. Martin’s, Gallery Books, and Tule Publishing have all pulled support from the RWA and the national conference, and a tweet citing an email allegedly sent by Sourcebooks says that that house will also not support the conference. The statements all cite increasing diversity and/or inclusion in publishing as a priority, as well as condemning recent events at the RWA.

Harlequin’s statement, released January 8, is representative of the reasons being given: “Letter to RWA Board of Directors”.

…As a leading global publisher of romance fiction that is committed to diversity and inclusion, we at Harlequin believe it is important that all authors feel included, respected and heard. Recently reported actions by RWA leadership have therefore led us to decide not to sponsor or attend the RWA2020 national conference. We will reevaluate our participation in 2021 as the organization works with its members to address concerns that have been raised.

Courtney Milan takes it all with a grain of salt:

The New York Times’ January 8 roundup of RWA developments notes —  

The event, held annually in the summer since the 1980s, typically attracts about 2,000 attendees. It is a major source of revenue for the R.W.A. as well as a key networking opportunity for romance writers, agents and editors looking for new talent.

…According to HelenKay Dimon, a former R.W.A. president, the departure of so many major romance publishers is a major blow to the organization. “RWA plans conferences years in advance,” she said in an email, adding that both Avon and Harlequin are major sponsors — “tens of thousands of dollars worth” — and that losing them will likely have a “cascading effect” in terms of the authors and editors who attend.

RWA CANCELS RITA AWARDS. The “Status of the 2020 RITA Contest” announces the RITA awards have also become casualties of the organization’s internecine strife. Reminiscent of how the Nobel Prize for Literature was handled, the RWA says two years’ awards will be given in 2021.

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.

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.

JOURNALISTIC STANDARDS. The controversy has gained a lot of attention from mainstream news, prompting Linda Holmes to offer advice to anyone covering it. Thread starts here.

RWA FORUMS. People are recommending standards for the RWA forums, too – aimed at a different set of problems.

Beverly Jenkins

Alyssa Day and Carrie Lomax

DISSENTING VOICE. Meanwhile, in an alternate universe that nevertheless has the same zip code as our own, Sarah A. Hoyt warns about “Letting the Wokescolds Win” at Mad Genius Club.

If you take away the right of people who write to amuse other people — and as far as I can tell, Romance still has the largest audience of people wanting to be amused — without bothering to police their every word lest literature majors and mean girls throw a fit, you might as well shutter the whole enterprise.

All you’ll have at the end of the day is mean — but exceedingly privileged and well educated — young women trying to force the “natives” of the fun regions of writing and reading into their version of propriety and utility.  All the colonialist Victorian women who forced natives of tropical regions to wear pants stand arrayed behind those missionaries of woke scolding and power to truth nodding in approval. Which is fine since many of the current wokescolds are descended from these women. I just wish the current missionaries would return to their great great grandmother’s fervor. I can always wear pants — possibly on my head — but I refuse to give them an inch on what I can write, what I can read, or what I can think.

ALTERNATIVE ORGANIZATION. According to Publishers Weekly, Romance Alliance seeks members among those disenchanted with RWA.

As a result of the turmoil, a number of RWA members have joined the Romance Alliance, a group formed in an effort to create an alternative to the RWA. In a newsletter sent to members and subscribers, the group wrote: “We WANT the people who write what RWA’s practices ignored. We WANT diverse personalities and perspectives. We WELCOME the chance to succeed where RWA has systematically failed so many. And we WELCOME any input or suggestions as to how we can achieve our mission better and more meaningfully to YOU.”

The Romance Alliance is careful, however, not to imply that it hopes to replace the RWA. “From the beginning we focused on ‘can there be an alternative organization for those who feel excluded from RWA?,” author Sue London said. “Because there are a lot of us who joined and left RWA for various reasons.”

OBLIGATION OWED. Courtney Milan today described the work of black women in founding RWA and through the current controversy as creating a debt, and what she plans to do to help repay it. Thread starts here.

Kathryn Davis Says RWA Encouraged Her To File Ethics Complaint Against Courtney Milan

[This is the fourth update in a series which includes Courtney Milan Suspended by RWA, Banned from Leadership, Courtney Milan Controversy Decimates RWA Leadership and As Criticism Snowballs, RWA Keeps Trying to Justify Treatment of Courtney Milan.]

Kathryn Davis, who along with Suzan Tisdale filed the ethics complaints that triggered RWA’s penalties against Courtney Milan, has told The Guardian that she was “encouraged” by the administration of Romance Writers of America (RWA), to make a formal complaint against Milan: “White romance novelist in racism row says she was used”.

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

…Davis now says that she never wanted Milan to be punished by the RWA. She declined to say who precisely within RWA had encouraged her to file a complaint against Milan, but said it was “the administration at RWA” and that it was “not the membership” and “not the members of the board”.

“I do feel that the Romance Writers of America perhaps used Suzan Tisdale and I to accomplish something they wanted to accomplish and I was stunned when I saw the penalties. I didn’t ever expect that, and I did not want that,” Davis said.

“We were used in order to make the eventual penalties happen,” she said.

Although Davis is paraphrased by Guardian reporter Lois Beckett as having claimed that “she never wanted Milan to be punished by the RWA,” Davis’  formal ethics complaint urged in its conclusion that “She [Milan] cannot be allowed to hold a position of authority, or to use her voice to urge others to follow her lead.”

Davis’ statements to The Guardian also conflict with – and undercut – a claim in the formal complaint that “Because Ms. Milan attacked me in what can only be described as cyber-bullying, I lost a three-book contract that has been promised to me.”

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.

Two or three days after Milan tweeted about her book, Davis said, an editor at the publishing house in question advised her that the situation would probably get worse. “I was told to apologize to Courtney [Milan] and to remove myself from the controversy, and in that way to save both my reputation and that of anyone connected to me.

“I didn’t understand what I would be apologizing for unless it were for my 24-year-old book,” she said. “I did not agree with what [Milan] was saying and to apologize for something I did not agree with didn’t make sense to me.”

The editor was “not happy” with this response, Davis said, but the end of the call was not angry. In a subsequent conversation with the same editor about a week later, “it was offhandedly mentioned that discussion of the [new book] contract would have to wait until spring”, Davis said. The editor did not explicitly state there was any link between Milan’s tweets and the delay in the discussion of the contract, Davis said.

Davis said she still believed it was fair to say that she lost a three-book contract because of Milan’s tweets. “I am certain the discussions would have progressed into a contract had this Twitter explosion not occurred,” she said.

And although Davis devoted several pages of her complaint to defending the novel Milan had derided as a “fucking racist mess,” she told The Guardian the ebook has been republished with changes —

Meanwhile, Davis said she had decided to make some changes to the novel Milan had criticized, Somewhere Lies the Moon, and that she has republished edited ebook versions.

“Some people have contacted me and have told me calmly what it was that offended them, and it was very few things, and I have corrected those things,” she said.

Alyssa Cole responded to Davis’ statements in The Guardian. Thread starts here.

Courtney Milan’s commentary thread starts here.

RWA APPOINTS NEW DIRECTORS. The RWA announced President Damon Suede has filled some of the vacancies created by resignations: “New Directors Appointed to RWA Board”, posted December 31.

In accordance with our Bylaws and policies, the President of RWA nominated, and the Board of Directors (Board) approved, the appointment of four new members to fill the vacant Board seats. 
 
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. Please find their bios below. 
 
We are in the process of recruiting and nominating strong, diverse candidates for the remaining five Director-at-Large positions and the three open Advisor positions. 

SUEDE DISINVITED BY CONFERENCE. RWA President Damon Suede has been ousted as a conference speaker at the Emerald City Writers’ Conference. The Greater Seattle RWA chapter tweeted a long explanation of the process followed in making that decision. Thread starts here.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS.

Courtney Milan’s decision tree, in response to allegations there is more evidence that hasn’t been made public.

Alyssa Day, who has also been vocal on Twitter, gave a status report to her Facebook followers on January 2:  

…I resigned my membership in protest at RWA’s actions against Courtney Milan but then withdrew my resignation when the time came that my voice would be important as part of a recall petition to force current leadership to step down. I am a signatory, with several past presidents and past board members, to a letter calling for a full forensic accounting and answers to the questions that must be addressed before RWA can move forward.

We can do better. We MUST do better. Love is love is love. The romance genre is about hope, and I must continue to believe and be hopeful, especially now, at the beginning of a new year and a new decade, that we can build a professional organization for romance writers that is inclusive and welcoming to all who agree with and live this belief.

Avery Flynn reports a RWA board conference call is scheduled for January 12, but there’s an issue in that the program has not been sent out even though it has to be posted ten days beforehand. Thread starts here.

RWA AUDIT. On January 1, Courtney Milan called for forensic audit. Thread starts here.

The RWA website announced on January 3: “RWA Hires Law Firm to Conduct Independent Audit”.

Damon Suede, President of  Romance Writers of America, recently asked the RWA Board of Directors to authorize a review of the Member Code of Ethics and related enforcement procedures to ensure that these RWA policies support the organization’s mission to advance and protect the interests of all romance authors.

Today, RWA announced the hiring of the Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP law firm to conduct an independent audit of the recent matter involving its code of ethics and to make recommendations on appropriate adjustments moving forward on ethics policy and procedures.

Courtney Milan responded skeptically in a thread that starts here.

MAINSTREAM MEDIA.

National Public Radio took a stab at telling the story in “Racism Scandal In The Romance Writing Industry” — January 4

BATES: Well, the membership didn’t know about it for a long time because, as I said, this happened at the end of August. RWA initiated, which people are still kind of freaking out about, a subcommittee of its ethics committee. I guess they appointed some people kind of like a grand jury – impaneled them. So this committee met in secret and decided that most of what they said about Milan wasn’t accurate but that they did think that because of the tweets, she should be sanctioned. And so they suspended her for a year. And they said she’d never again be allowed in any leadership positions. And this was a woman who had just received a service award the year before for her leadership in the organization.

Someone leaked it, and a lot of writers of color were like, oh, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. A lot of allies who were white women said this is ridiculous. A lot of people – and publishing is like, girls, you need to get yourselves together. And within a week, because this was blowback that RWA leadership had not expected, they changed their minds and said on the 30 of December, we’ve rescinded our decision about Courtney for right now because we need to have a fuller investigation, so she can keep doing what she’s doing for the moment, to which Milan said, as you can imagine, yeah, no. Bye….

Mikki Kendall did a breakdown for NBC News: “The Romance Writers of America racism row matters because the gatekeepers are watching” — January 2

…Let’s talk about the power of romance. There’s power in the written word, even in a genre that we tend to consider — because of sexism — less intellectual than some others. And it isn’t just about hearts and flowers and candy; this is cold hard cash: Romance as a literary genre represents a quarter of all fiction sales and more than half of all paperback sales, and it brings in over a billion dollars in sales annually.

The impact of romance books on the culture is outsize because everyone is interested in romance, whether they admit it publicly or not.

…But there’s inevitably a small contingent of writers who simply can’t handle being criticized, whether directly or indirectly. Vitriolic responses to critics are hardly limited to well-known writers; those who aspire to become household names are equally prone to them. Having your work dissected, discussed and sometimes even demeaned, however, is part of putting it out into the world. All writers know this — or at least they should — and writing romance novels is no exception.

COMIC RELIEF. There is now a bingo card for this debacle:

Scott Lynch provided the Reader’s Digest version of the RWA’s explanations.

And Chuck Tingle has written a book.

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.

[Thanks to Hampus Eckerman, Rick Moen, John King Tarpinian, Kendall, johnstick, and Cliff Ramshaw for some of these items.]

AbeBooks Most Expensive Sales of 2019

AbeBooks has posted a baker’s dozen of the most expensive items sold through their site in 2019. Topping the list is The Complete Works of Abraham Lincoln, $40,000, but genre works followed close behind.

Published by Bloomsbury, all seven volumes in deluxe bindings. All signed by J.K. Rowling. The Chamber of Secrets, and The Prisoner of Azkaban are signed by artist Cliff Wright.

This was AbeBooks’ most expensive J.K. Rowling sale ever. The previous record was a true first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, which sold for $37,000 in August 2005.

A set of unrestored first edition, first printings published by George Allen and Unwin between 1954 and 1955. All three volumes are in near fine condition. Epic high fantasy, the three volumes are The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King.

[Thanks to Michael J. Walsh for the story.]

As Criticism Snowballs, RWA Keeps Trying to Justify Treatment of Courtney Milan

[This is the third update in a series which includes Courtney Milan Suspended by RWA, Banned from Leadership and Courtney Milan Controversy Decimates RWA Leadership.]

Romance Writers of America’s remaining leadership and staff, under heavy criticism from members, today issued another statement in an attempt to retrieve the situation.

Meanwhile, incoming RWA President Damon Suede is the subject of a recall petition.

And top romance author Nora Roberts, who dropped out of RWA several years ago, reminded people why she left, but also apologized for (as a result) not being aware of the problems now surfacing:

Nora Roberts posted “MY POV on RWA” on December 29.

… Writer, the middle word in Romance Writers of America, is a word without gender, a word without color or race, a word without sexual orientation, without creed. We’re writers, and as such must expect to be treated, must demand to be treated, fairly and equitably by our professional organization.

…Again, I regret all the years I didn’t hear, didn’t see, didn’t listen, remained unaware of all the sad and unfair things that are now coming to light.

I hope that light continues to shine, and by doing so may change RWA for the good, may remind those in leadership positions what the purpose was all those years ago. To support and advocate for romance writers. Not specific kinds of romance writers.

Let me add, as a personal note, that over the course of my life, the course of my career, the couple hundred books I’ve written, I may have–most likely have–said or done or written something that was offensive, racist, homophobic. Without intent–but intent doesn’t mean a damn to those hurt. So I’ll apologize without qualification.

I hope I’ve learned along the way. I intend to continue to learn and do better.

RESOURCES. Links to new developments are continually added at these two sites:

DISCUSSION. Lynn Spencer’s post “Has RWA Lost Its Way?” at All About Romance is followed by a wide-open comments section with opinions from all sides of the issue. Spencer says in conclusion:

It’s obvious at this point that RWA screwed up. Frankly, as more information becomes available, it appears obvious that they made more than just one mistake. Their internal procedures are clearly flawed and while Courtney Milan is an author with a high enough profile to draw attention to the problems, one can only imagine how many people who are not so well-known may have been treated equally poorly by the organization. Story after story after story of alleged irregularities and bias at RWA(some going back to the early days of the organization) have been pouring out ever since this particular story broke and I can only imagine that will continue.

So, where does RWA go from here? Over the short term, I honestly think that the organization has broken trust with too many people. This isn’t a situation where they can apologize and hope we will all forget about it. Perhaps if they:

(1) clean house and start over by electing a brand new board who would then hire a new executive director;

(2) audit what has been happening not just with the complaints against Courtney Milan but with the ethics committee in general and make those findings publicly available, including the names of everyone on the shadow ethics committee, and

(3) show by their actions that RWA is willing to listen and to really do the work of becoming more diverse, inclusive and anti-racist, then over the long term they may survive.

However, RWA has damaged its reputation with a significant portion of its membership and with the romance community at large, and one can understand those of us who will be slow to risk trusting it again. There are lots of questions to be answered here, and from what is already known, it is apparent that once those questions are answered, the organization will have to change if it is to survive.

OTHER COMMENTARIES.

Ilona Andrews charts what she thinks is the underlying cause of the conflict. Thread starts here.

Ivy Quinn assembled a thread of screencaps of comments left on RWA’s Facebook page. The thread starts here.

Diana Hicks described her experience with racism in the RWA. Thread starts here.

Former RWA President HelenKay Dimon a few days ago tweeted a series of steps that, if taken, might let the organization move forward. Thread starts here.

RWA PRESIDENT DAMON SUEDE. He got his message out to RWA Chapter Leaders, but what he’s telling them has been challenged by Courtney Milan and others. An effort to remove him from office is under way.

Alyssa Day tweeted screencaps of RWA President Damon Suede’s message to RWA Chapter Leaders.

Courtney Milan contradicted some of what Suede wrote in a thread that starts here.

CIMRWA (Cultural, Interracial, and Multicultural Chapter of Romance Writers of America) is ready to submit its petition to recall incoming RWA President Damon Suede.

RWA has been caught swapping out its December 26 and December 30 statements at the top of the organization’s webpage.

The distilled essence of Tessa Dare’s take is –

REACTION FROM THE SFF COMMUNITY.

N.K. Jemisin contrasted how SFWA and RWA handled the challenge of racism. Thead starts here.

Mad Genius Club’s Sarah A. Hoyt and Dave Freer posted word salads disapproving the motives and purposes they imputed to Courtney Milan.

Meanwhile, Chuck Tingle is still pissed off at RWA President Suede for saying, in effect, that he is a pen name of two collaborators.

NEW RWA STATEMENT. On December 30 RWA leadership and staff emailed a Google Docs link to this statement (and also posted it on the RWA website).

December 30, 2019

The purpose of the Romance Writers of America (RWA) is to support, advocate, and provide resources for approximately 9,000 romance writers, advocate for the genre, and provide a safe and respectful environment for writers to discuss and express their ideas. 

We do not take positions for or against specific literary criticism or authors’ points of view. We do, however, have explicit policy for our members’ professional conduct. RWA’s Member Code of Ethics is designed to induce RWA members, especially RWA’s leaders, to exhibit integrity, honesty, and other good professional practices, thereby enhancing the romance writing profession.

RWA is fully committed to the confidentiality and integrity of the ethics process at all levels. Our Code of Ethics and procedures cannot be selectively or inconsistently applied on a situational basis. All ethics complaints received must be properly reviewed and addressed according to our policy manual, and the organization must apply a single standard consistently and equitably.  

Beginning in August of 2019 and subsequently, the RWA Ethics Committee received complaints filed by two members, Suzan Tisdale and Kathryn Lynn Davis, against former Board member Courtney Milan. These complaints allege several violations of the RWA Member Code of Ethics by Ms. Milan while she was serving in an RWA leadership position and that this led to the loss of a three-book contract by Ms. Davis. 

At the time of the complaint, Ms. Milan served as Chair of the Ethics Committee and was now subject to review by the Committee for allegations by the aforementioned RWA members. Ms. Milan was asked to voluntarily step down as the Ethics Committee Chair to eliminate any conflict of interest, which she did, and the Board appointed additional Committee members and a new Chair. Those members made up a diverse Ethics panel – the standard RWA protocol in RWA Ethics cases – that had not served under Ms. Milan because of the need for confidentiality and the potential for conflicts of interest.

In accordance with RWA policy, the Ethics panel met and delivered its report to the Board, dismissing all charges against Ms. Milan except one: a violation of the association’s express purpose of creating a “safe and respectful environment” for its community of writers. 

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.

RWA is not alone in trying to balance free speech with civil discourse and the damage – personal and financial – its absence can do. It is, however, up to us to find a pathway forward to meet the competing needs of free expression without subjecting our members to harassment, intimidation, and financial loss. 

To provide a path forward, we are taking or have taken the following actions:

  1. In an abundance of caution over confusion regarding RWA’s policies and procedures, the complaint against Courtney Milan has been closed and no action is being taken at this time. Ms. Milan remains a member of RWA.
  2. RWA affirms our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. We are in the process of recruiting and nominating strong, diverse candidates for the vacant Board seats to foster a Board culture rooted in transparency and accountability; all candidates are subject to Board approval.
  3. RWA will authorize a full, complete, and transparent review of the Member Code of Ethics and enforcement procedures. 
  4. RWA is hiring an independent, outside law firm to conduct an audit of the process and these events to provide a clear report of the facts.

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. 

The Board and staff remain committed to serving our members and fulfilling our mission. We can and will do better. RWA is not alone in these challenges, but as writers, we must lead the way.  

Sincerely, RWA Board and Staff

Courtney Milan tweeted two threads reacting to the statement.

Esi Sogah deconstructed the statement in a thread that starts here.   

Former RWA President HelenKay Dimon commented:

N.K. Jemisin also put up a thread about the latest RWA statement:

MAINSTREAM PRESS. The media are covering the RWA story. Some outlets are running the AP article, others have had reporters contacting the principals, or a local RWA member.

Associated Press – December 27.

“Controversy hits Romance Writers of America this holiday”  

There’s not a lot of love at the Romance Writers of America this holiday season. Lots of passion, but not too much love.

The organization, which bills itself as the voice of romance writers and cites 9,000 members, has been upended over the way it has treated one of its authors, Courtney Milan, a Chinese American writer and a former chair of its Ethics Committee.

The Texas-based trade association initially accepted the vote of its Ethics Committee that Milan had violated the group’s code with negative online comments about other writers and their work. Then, just before Christmas, it reversed course, rescinding its vote ”pending a legal opinion.” Now its entire leadership has changed….

Houston Chronicle – December 29.

“Houston-based Romance Writers of America sees board exodus after racism allegations

Nine board members of the Houston-based Romance Writers of America resigned this week in a startling exodus that took place during a holiday lull. The organization — which represents a billion-dollar industry and celebrates its 40th anniversary in 2020 — will enter the new year with decimated leadership and lingering questions about its focus and future after several romance authors questioned the association’s commitment to a diverse community.

“I knew this kind of thing could happen, but I certainly didn’t see it happening this way, over Christmas week,” said author Piper Huguley. “I knew there was a big push coming, a resistance against this. I believe we’re in a fight for the soul of this organization, which to a number of people who observe it is not unlike what’s going on in the country politically. Right now the big question is, ‘What’s going to happen?’”…

New York Times – December 30.

“Racism Dispute Roils Romance Writers Group”

…Ms. Milan, who is Chinese-American, took issue with the depiction of 19th-century Chinese women in the book, including a description of “slanted almond eyes” and a quote from a character describing them as “demure and quiet, as our mothers have trained us to be.” “The notion of the submissive Chinese woman is a racist stereotype which fuels higher rates of violence against women,” Ms. Milan wrote on Twitter.

Ms. Davis, who is an honorary R.W.A. member, disagreed with Ms. Milan’s assessment, saying her book was historically accurate and based on years of research. She filed an ethics complaint with the R.W.A., saying that Ms. Milan’s comments were “cyberbullying” and cost her a publishing contract.

…Ms. Davis, who filed one of the complaints, said she was “stunned” by the R.W.A.’s judgment against Ms. Milan and said the penalty “far exceeded the substance of the complaint.” “We asked for an apology. That was what we wanted,” she said.

HelenKay Dimon, who was president of R.W.A. until her term ended in late August, said that she thought there had been a series of breakdowns in the process and is calling for a full audit.

“People care enough to get that upset,” she said. Now, the organization needs to “step up and take responsibility and have a plan.”

“I think the organization and the membership and the people who drove this decision are not the same things,” Ms. Milan said. “The response of the membership should be heartening to anyone who cares about diversity in R.W.A. and romance.”

New Editor-in-Chief Chosen to Steer SFWA’s Publications

Michi Trota is the The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America’s new Editor-in-Chief.

Trota is a four-time Hugo Award winner, British Fantasy Award winner, and the first Filipina to win a Hugo Award. She also has over 25 years of editorial and production experience in publishing and communications. Trota is co-editor of the upcoming WisCon Chronicles Vol. 12 with Isabel Schechter (May 2020) and served as Uncanny: A Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy’s Managing Editor (2014-2019) and Nonfiction Editor (2019). Her nonfiction has been published in The Book Smugglers, Invisible: An Anthology of Representation in SF/F, and Chicago Magazine, and she was the exhibit text writer of Worlds Beyond Here: Expanding the Universe of APA Science Fiction (2018-2019) at the Wing Luke Museum in Seattle, WA.

Julia Rios (L), Michi Trota (R) at the Hugo Award Ceremoy at Worldcon in Helsinki (2017). Photo by Sanna Pudas.

Trota succeeds Neil Clarke, who stepped down earlier this year.  

SFWA President Mary Robinette Kowal welcomed the new editor:

After a candidate search, the board selected Michi Trota to head our publications. We were all impressed with her vision and understanding of how the magazine could serve, not just the SFWA members, but the larger science-fiction and fantasy community. I am very much looking forward to working with her as we revitalize the Bulletin.”

The Editor-in-Chief is the official publisher of one of SFWA’s key communications vehicles, The SFWA Bulletin, and provides oversight and direction regarding SFWA publications and communications that help shape and maintain the organization’s reputation. This critical position is responsible to help facilitate SFWA’s goals and mission statement of informing, supporting, promoting, defending and advocating for its members.

Trota said:

I’m thrilled by this incredible opportunity to take the helm of SFWA’s publications. It’s an honor to step into the role of SFWA Editor-in-Chief and I look forward to working with Mary Robinette Kowal and the rest of the SFWA Board and staff.

She will be the 20th Editor-in-Chief in SFWA’s 54-year history, and is the first person of color to serve as the organization’s Editor-in-Chief.

[Based on a press release.]