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.]

93 thoughts on “Kathryn Davis Says RWA Encouraged Her To File Ethics Complaint Against Courtney Milan

  1. Re: linguistic drift and names: My maiden name is “Soukup”. My father pronounced it SOOK-up (rhymes with soup and cup). His two brothers both pronounced it SOAK-up (rhymes with soap and cup). As my father had a falling-out with his brothers when I was very young, I didn’t encounter this pronunciation difference until after my paternal grandfather and grandmother had died, so I do not actually know how they said the name (to me, they were “Bumpa” and “Mamie” <wry grin>, but given that it was the two older brothers with “soak-up” and the youngest with “sook-up”, I’m guessing my dad was the linguistic outlier here.

    I’ve never been to the Czech Republic to hear how they pronounce it there….

  2. (That was just a small but significant part of what was great about the Dublin Worldcon: Watching clerks hesitate slightly over the ‘Moen’ part for a change, rather than the other two bits.)

    Obviously you didn’t get me on the reg desk. I was being the straight white very English guy saying “I’m really sorry, I’m probably about to massacre your name.”

  3. @ Rick Moen:

    If you want actually-hard-to-pronounce Scandawegian, there’s a Swedish word that means “being laughing in the manner of someone from Irkutsk”, spelled ‘Irkutsksktskrattande”, with the only unpronounced consonant being one of the two “tt” in “skratta” (it’s there only to make the “a” after “skr” sort). The nine different, pronounced, consonants is genuinely hard to pronounce in a fluid manner.

  4. Next question: will RWA cancel the conference, or will that cost them more than losing the booths etc. that Harlequin would take? (Guessing by analogy to Worldcon, and fragmentary knowledge of other conventions — I don’t know anything about the organization or finances of the RWA conference.)

  5. @Chip Hitchcock: The loss of I’m-guessing-significant sponsorships may make it tough to put on the conference financially. On the other paw, hotel/etc. contracts. . . . Hmm.

  6. I suspect neither choice–canceling or going ahead with major publishers and sponsors having pulled out–is going to be bad financially, but I have no idea which is worse.

  7. @Kendall–

    @Lis Carey: “neither choice . . . is going to be bad financially”

    Did you perchance mean either choice will be bad financially, or neither choice will be good financially?

    Yes. Don’t know for sure now which of those I thought I was typing, but either version expresses what I meant better than what I actually posted. 🙁

  8. Kendall on January 8, 2020 at 9:18 am said:

    The RWA Board Secretary has resigned and her post about it is fascinating (and kinda sad):

    That an interesting statement. It implies some deep conflicts in the decisions she is being asked to be part of.

  9. We are in a maze of twisty turny passages:

    https://twitter.com/courtneymilan/status/1214975008004423680

    Background: Damon Suede needed five books to be eligible to become President-Elect (he was elected unopposed). However, when people started looking at his election during this crisis, it looked like he only had four books i.e. he was technically not eligible. People started asking what the fifth book was and along came an answer: https://twitter.com/JennLeBlanc/status/1214973766112931840

    “Stud Planet, Dreamspinner Press, Limited Release, 2016”

    Except…nobody can find any evidence of Stud Planet having existed. To be honest I’m surprised that aren’t hundreds of books with that title but it’s a Google desert for Stud Planet.

    STUD PLANET HAS GONE MISSING!

  10. The RWA Board Secretary has resigned and her post about it is fascinating (and kinda sad):

    There are actually specific meanings for the duties she cites as being currently incompatible. If I were on a nonprofit board and an officer of same resigned for these reasons, I would be calling my attorney and an auditor.

  11. (he was elected unopposed).

    Alyssa Day reports that a few years back Damon Suede privately approached her and several other board members with arguments to convince them not to run for president of the RWA.

    https://twitter.com/Alyssa_Day/status/1214610779024089088

    It’s possible Suede has pulled the same stunt on others. Without comparing notes no one would ever know.

    One wonders if he pulled shenanigans in order to run unopposed.

  12. @Cassy B
    One of my multiply-great grandmothers, from the Lowlands of Scotland, was a Loukup. It was also spelled “Luckup”, but the pronunciation was likely closer to “Look-up”. (I’ve never heard it.)

  13. @Peace
    If they weren’t comparing notes before, they will be now. And I’d bet it’s not his first time. (Can we say “abusive”?)

  14. @doire
    It appears to be a fixup based on two novellas he wrote years ago – as far as anyone can tell so far.
    What a mess!

  15. Oops. That was supposed to be a quoted tweet, not me getting all capslocky.

    Worthy of capslock though

  16. @PIMMN: “One wonders if he pulled shenanigans in order to run unopposed.”

    I presume yes. From the related tweets I read days ago, the reasons seemed bizarre and self-serving, but under the guise of “for the good of RWA!” Which we now know he cares little about, eh?

    @Doire: It shouldn’t qualify him, since it wasn’t published at the time he ran/was elected, ISTM. The requirement is 5 novels at the time (and either one of them within the past 2 years or another one about to come out), no? Granted, I may be misremembering the quoted requirement, but . . . making a book up now doesn’t seem sufficient since there’s no time machine. DSP can collude with him and put 2016 on the release all they like; it didn’t exist before, no?

  17. Two more board members resigned today, BTW: Barbara Wallace and Renee Ryan. Barbara Wallace was one of the newly-appointed directors.

    Tons of other stuff today, yes, but I felt this needed adding to the thread.

  18. Will the last pixel to resign from the board of the RWA please scroll out the lights?

  19. You know, about the time that Peace is My Middle Name linked to the RITA Awards cancellation, I thought that that was the only sort of thing we’d be seeing from this point onward; logical fallout from the extant shenanigans. Resignations and revelations about who really knew what when, the expected.

    Having yet another spate of revelations that make Demon Velour look like he’s working hard to emulate Trump’s degree of honesty… it’s almost too much.

  20. Holy Moly, reading todays fallout… I think Suede actually managed to destroy the whole organisation!

    RITAs cancelled. Sponsors for RWA conference leaving, authors cancelling, volunteers unlikely, costs for hotel bookings remaining. Even more costs for lawyers and consultants to handle the fallout. And still he insists on staying. What the hell does he think he gains by that!? Is he stealing from the coffers?

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a lunacy as this.

  21. Holy Moly, reading todays fallout… I think Suede actually managed to destroy the whole organisation!

    RITAs cancelled. Sponsors for RWA conference leaving, authors cancelling, volunteers unlikely, costs for hotel bookings remaining. Even more costs for lawyers and consultants to handle the fallout. And still he insists on staying. What the hell does he think he gains by that!? Is he stealing from the coffers?

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a lunacy as this.

    Pride is a hell of a drug.

    Some people really would rather see everything burn than admit to error, or face what they’ve done, or acknowledge being exposed as a humbug.

    Some people would gladly ruin everything on their way out as a kind of revenge for the humiliation of being caught out,

    (I wonder if we are seeing a small-scale preview of the sorts of things that will happen once the current occupier of the White House faces eviction.)

  22. @Hampus Eckerman: what @PIMNN said, but ISTM there’s another factor: outright self-delusion. DV (thanks to @Lenora Rose for the pseud) may well rilly rilly beleeeeve that if he lies and … paddles … hard enough, there will be something left (no matter how small) for him to be the Big Frog of. He may even be right; there are enough NWLs on his side that I can see a much-diminished organization lasting for some time, even if enough people get behind a new organization that would supplant RWA’s purposes. I’m remembering a local example from 40 years ago, when a Proper Bostonian orchestra fired a brilliant conductor for doing Mahler and planning to do more (I’m told one board member told him he should program Chopin symphonies); he formed a new orchestra (the old one doing its best snowball-in-August imitation) and has had a great career, but the old orchestra still exists and even gets reviewed (web only) occasionally.

    If anyone else remembers Waiting for the Galactic Bus — think how Roy Stride ended up. That required supernatural intervention, but I expect there are plenty of cases in the real world.

  23. I still say Demonic Velour is a bullshitter – someone who doesn’t care about the truth, but only uses words and arguments to get what he wants.
    And now he’s in a public position, and he’s dealing with folks that pay attention, save the receipts and know the law.
    I suspect he’s having a really rude awakening and currently trying to hold the pillow and blankets over his head.

  24. The announcement Hampus linked, which includes Demon Velour’s resignation (And thanks, Chip, but I picked that one up from someone on twitter) is the first thing I have seen by way of official RWA correspondence that didn’t seem empty of substance or decidedly mealy mouthed.

  25. @Hampus Eckerman: I just came here to link that! Him and Ritter both. OMG can’t believe this took so long. I wonder who convinced them. 😛

  26. Well, the pillow just got ripped off.
    I suspect he’s about to have a lot of fun…

  27. The good news in all of this is that the title Stud Planet has become freed up for constructive re-use. I suggest it immediately be drafted by Filers as the name of an award for the year’s greatest act of effrontery, the past 12 months’ peak chutzpah, within SFF and adjacent fields.

    I’m willing to yield my prior claim on the name. Before Demon Velour stole it, it was going to be the name of my next garage band.

  28. @Mark:

    Chuck has already made a good start, by tweeting:

    “despite similar themes main difference between SPACE RAPTOR BUTT INVASION and STUD PLANET is that space raptor butt invasion is real.’

  29. They should have known the game was over when Chuck Tingle entered the fray. But like the puppies, they learned too late. Never go up against Chuck Tingle when real love is on the line.

  30. “Never go up against Chuck Tingle when real love is on the line.”
    ————– one of the Classic Blunders. First codified by Hampus Eckerman

  31. The Ballad of Planet Stud

    A traveller rode into town
    With a wrinkled brow
    And a puzzled frown
    And stepped into a crowded old saloon

    “I’m searching high
    I’m searching low
    But I’ve found nowhere left to go’
    He said as he strode up to the busy bar

    ‘For a hundred days
    I’ve been on my horse
    Charting a mysterious course
    To find a book no one else can find’

    ‘A story of a manly man
    On a far distant world
    and with an erotic plan
    Surrounded by other very handsome men’

    ‘By gosh’ another cowboy said
    (Though the traveller’s tale
    filled him with dread)
    “That story sounds actually rather good’

    ‘By what name pray
    does this book go by?’
    The traveller let out a weary sigh
    Then stated very plainly: “Planet Stud”

    [chorus]
    Planet Stud, Planet Stud
    It was the book nobody wrote
    and no one read
    Planet Stud, Planet Stud
    It was a book that just lived
    inside someone’s head

  32. Speaking of Chuck Tingle, he noticed that the RWA apparently didn’t bother to buy up the obvious alternate URLs. So he bought
    https://www.romancewritersofamerica.com

    Check out the parody site, aimed at Damon Suede, revealed today.

    Carla (long-time lurker, now retired and hope to actually participate instead of just reading comments days later)

  33. Carla Readsalot: Amazing. Thanks for the link — I just added it to the roundup I published a few minutes ago.

  34. The problem with “buying up the obvious alternate urls” is that it has become impossible, what with the proliferation of domain extensions on top of reasonable variants of the base name.

  35. Pingback: As More Issues Raised, RWA President Resigns, RITA Awards Postponed, and Many Publishers Withdraw Sponsorship of RWA Conference | File 770

  36. @Heather Rose Jones:

    I agree that buying up all variations on a organization’s name and all domain extensions is an unreasonable expectation, especially for an NPO. However, in my opinion, since the name of the organization is Romance Writers of America, the RWA was foolish not to make sure they had control over romancewritersofamerica.com.

    (I worked as the webmaster for an NPO; we made sure we had the .com, .org, and .net variations.)

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