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.


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.


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.]

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

  1. Two things are clear:
    – the RWA leadership has no credibility left
    – the rats are turning on each other.

  2. Davis, among others, has a credibility problem. She calls the book 24 years old but doesn’t mention that it was reissued in 2014, 6 years ago. Love that bit about how she accepted criticisms of it that were made “calmly”. Thanks for the help with my bingo card, Davis!

  3. Ye gods.

    Inside that trash fire of a cover there’s an article, “We are All the Elephant in the Room” (Way to “both sides” there, wow), written by someone who once openly suggested that an author make their murderer a transgender person, using an incredibly offensive slur for transgender person, and then felt bad when people reacted badly.

    The article is all about how to be nice to people who might have accidentally used a horrifically offensive slur.

    It includes a long list of nice things to say to someone who has just called you a horrifically offensive slur, so they won’t feel bad.

    This is decidedly not the correct person to write an article, as Courtney Milan said, “”lecturing other people about How To Do The Diversity.”

    Frankly, that “we” in the article’s title is also pretty damned offensive. NOTHING about the RWA was “we” for the PoC authors, the LGBTQA authors, the authors hosed by Dreamspinner Press, the authors whose ethics complaints were thrown into the trash without ever being looked at, or any of the other many, many “out” groups.

    But now the RWA leadership been caught out in malfeasance, now suddenly it’s “we”.

  4. Also an article by president-elect and probable coup orchestrator Damon Suede on self-promotion and getting name recognition in which he reportedly says “artists are egomaniacs.”

    I swear, this is like one of those prop magazines that show up in conspiracy rpgs.

  5. NOTHING about the RWA was “we” for the PoC authors, the LGBTQA authors

    Well, most of the LGBTQA authors. There’s a horrible irony to the fact that a gay author seems to be inexpertly trying to hose a POC author.

  6. Well, most of the LGBTQA authors. There’s a horrible irony to the fact that a gay author seems to be inexpertly trying to hose a POC author.

    There has been a recurring phenomenon in the LGBTQA community where once white gay men get some power they peel off and throw the entire rest of the community under the bus.

  7. WOW. There are few times ever that that cover wouldn’t have come across as some degree of racist, but doing it right now is like waving the racism flag and screaming “I OWN THIS!”

    And someone linked to the stock art source for the cover. There are other versions; black woman helping a white woman, two women of pale hue (though sufficiently graphically ambiguous one could possibly read either as white or a relatively light skinned non-white), plus different graphics in the style with different depictions of “helping one another” that would not come across as painful and condescending.

  8. Blimey. Karen Miller, president of the Kiss of Death chapter, has weighed in.


    Tldr: In recent years lots of people have whipped up mob justice with “completely false” accusations of racism and bigotry. Wait and see and be patient. … “Waiting” … “rabid mobs” … “whining” … “sour grapes” … “agitation” … “bandwagon” … “lynch mob” … “waiting” … “take a breath and wait for the auditing process to work”

    Oh, and maybe those Black authors who were paid half what the White authors were paid to speak were not as big names as those White authors or spoke for less time. She really said that.

  9. That article about “the elephant in the room” could have been interesting, if it hadn’t been for the ending. Here we have a person who unknowingly uses a slur, is called out on it, goes through several sets of emotions and at the end concludes that the person who called her out was right to do so and was incredibly brave in doing so. All good and well.


    The ending of the article gives advice. Not on how to handle it when someone calls you out, how to think about unconscious biases, handle criticism, how to react when having done a wrong.

    Instead it give tips on how to be polite to others you hear using slurs, so they will not get defensive. Publishing this during the current kerfuffle, I will give it the grade of four facepalms and a burning heap of WTF ARE YOU DOING!

  10. This was my favorite quote from Karen Miller, a current RWA chapter president:

    That has been proven time and again over the last couple years in this country, in multiple cases where someone got a lot of publicity with an accusation of racism or bigotry, and it was almost always later found to be completely false.

    Like, I don’t actually know what to do with this information.

    I went to the National Museum of African American History and Culture for the first time a few months ago and came away from the experience wondering why the many black people who were also there didn’t go on a murderous rampage and off all us nice white folks.

    I’m deeply grateful it didn’t happen, but I don’t understand how it didn’t and doesn’t.

    How do you reach the age of majority in this country as a white person and think like Karen Miller?

  11. @Mike Glyer: Thanks for the new post about this ongoing travesty!

    @PIMMN: I don’t have the link, but I loved the parody cover I saw on Twitter today, of the POC author throwing the NWL down the mountain instead. 😉

    Karen Miller’s tweet thread is mostly a pile of garbage, good grief. Thanks for linking to the Romance Sparks Joy! thread. BTW “Waiting for actual information,” as if we haven’t had more and more information come out every day and it’s all just worse and worse. What more is she waiting for?!

    Note: Miller apparently is not president of that chapter (Romance Sparks Joy! clarified in a follow-up tweet; someone pointed it out in a reply).

    @Hampus Eckerman: I thumbs up your grade for how that article went!

    Side Note: I don’t use Twitter and don’t login and am doing everything manually, and I’ve probably read more tweets in the past week-plus than I ever have in my life. 99% about the RWA debacle.

  12. Unrelated, but the last couple of times (including this post) I’ve used the “notify me of comments,” I’ve gotten no e-mail from WordPress. And the items are not “pending” in the “blogs I follow” list o’ posts I’m subscribed to. I just realized with this one that it’s doing this. (Not that I got reliable alerts, but for other threads, I get an e-mail with a comment once in a while, like 1/5 or 1/10.)

    I just found that a weird “Block all email updates from blogs you’re following on WordPress.com” setting was set that I don’t remember ever setting, so I’m hoping unchecking that will help. So I’m commenting once more to see if this fixes it, i.e., trying to subscribe to this post again.

    ETA: Yup that fixed it, yay!

  13. A bit surprised to see Karen Millar there. I’ve read a few of her books and wouldn’t classify them as Romance. They were more generic (and a bit bland) Fantasy.

  14. Hampus, it’s hard to tell but there may be two Karen Millers–an Australian writer who does fantasy and an American writer who is in the Wisconsin RWA and writes under the nym of Karen Marcam.

    For sure, the Australian Karen Miller writes fantasy that I’ve seen in bookstores (i.e. The Innocent Mage):


  15. Rob, thanks. I must have confused them. I was thinking of the one you linked to.

  16. Kendall: I have to do all of Twitter without logging in, too* and have usually been there only to peek at select accounts I used to follow since, and this situation has had me wandering through it. Means I cannot respond when I wish, but even just reading it is WORTH it.

    I was blocked by TERFs on Twitter. I wrote something an algorithm would think violated terms because it included the words “kill yourself” in that order, though a human would understand I was criticizing people who told others to do that. Attempts to start their appeals process failed because it’s supposed to start with them sending something to my email account to verify. It never arrived, at either of my working emails, in the course of multiple attempts and a help desk report. I’ve given up.

  17. Oh, Christ. I mean, they probably had to with the number of withdrawals they were getting, but it doesn’t exactly make them look good…

    And didn’t someone say that they have taken out several recent changes to the RITA contest rules meant to make them broader and more inclusive… but those changes would not come into effect until after 2020? So the 2021, if they happen, might not exactly be a flag of truce…

  18. @Cheryl S.:

    How do you reach the age of majority in this country as a white person and think like Karen Miller?

    1: Don’t go the museums like the one you went to — or go to one and say “That was all in the past.” 2: Don’t think; regurgitate your ancestors’ maunderings.

  19. @Hampus Eckerman (ETA: and Deirdre Saoirse Moen): Yes, that’s the parody RWR cover tweet! Thanks! 🙂

    @Lenora Jones: Oh yes, definitely worth the slog! I’m sorry their algorithm hosed your Twitter account. 🙁

    @PIMMN: Woah, well, I’m kinda surprised and not surprised about the RITAs being cancelled.

  20. I’d been curious about the letter from 19 past RWA presidents & board members to the current RWA president & board. If you were curious too: Here it is! (ETA: Apologies if it was already linked above and I missed it.)

  21. Given the… success… of the RWA’s recent policy changes, I’m surprised that “We’re going to rewrite the RITA rules from the ground up” is being presented as a selling point…

    And that letter from former board members essentially reiterates the same queries that have already been made, and carefully doesn’t apportion blame, but still it’s fairly strongly worded for an open letter written by the three previous rwa presidents!

  22. @Kendall:

    (ETA: and Deirdre Saoirse Moen)

    Yes, but can you pronounce it? 😉

    (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.)

  23. @ Rick Moen:

    Is it supposed to be hard to pronounce? Sure, it involves two distinct orthographies, but… I am willing to give it a try the next time I meet yourself or Deirdre, and would be happy for corrections.

    I am still not sure what everyone at the helm of the RWA debacle were thinking. Or if they were. Surely the current line of events was semi-predictable?

  24. Ingvar:

    If I understand correctly, the decisions of the cover and the article were from November, before the kerfuffle – in its public form – got under way. And people responsible for the cover and the offending article are not supportive of the current board.

    So I can understand that it wasn’t as predictable for them then as now. They are also the only ones that have apologized which makes a clear difference from the board.

  25. @ Hampus Eckerman:

    Less the cover specifically, more the whole ongoing controversy in general.

    I suspect it was “nah, this’ll be fine”.

  26. Well the person who chose the cover apologized. The one who wrote that article… tried, but with exactly the same result as the article itself; she revealed that she has not learned as much as she thought she had and does not understand “intent does not trump impact” .

    (ETA: screw trying to write an expression using html. Just writing it out works far better especially when screwing up the html makes it read in reverse….)

  27. Lenora Rose: She has also resigned from her position as DEI co-chair. I think that marks a clear difference from the reaction of the rest of the current board.

  28. It does indeed. She seems to be aware she did wrong, and straining to understand how. She hasn’t succeeded in understanding but I don’t think any of us did when we were new to this. I hold out hope that she will take her chastisement and think on it some more, and make amends. I just really hope she doesn’t try to take her personal journey as fodder for more articles.

  29. @Ingvar:

    I am still not sure what everyone at the helm of the RWA debacle were thinking. Or if they were. Surely the current line of events was semi-predictable?

    I blame patterned behaviour and incrementalism. If your experience is that slapdash and ethically dubious methods of social control work fine, they become habit, and the possibility of inconvenient publicity leading to a worsening spiral might not be foreseen for lack of bothering to plan (incrementalism). Afterwards the urge to double-down and justify does the rest. Also, laager mentality.

    Is it supposed to be hard to pronounce?

    It can be entertaining to see people unused to Irish orthography take a running leap at ‘Saoirse‘. (Sometimes also ‘Deirdre’: Many Murricans seem to totally drop the initial r.)

  30. @Rick Moen: Hahaha, I copy/paste well, at least. Fortunately, I don’t usually call people by their full names, so I’d get by with “Deirdre” fine, methinks. 😉

    I Googled how to pronounce “Saoirse” and I watched your video link. There are several ways to pronounce it, but based on your link, I’m guessing the first part for @Deirdre is pronounced “sair,” not “seer” like the main pronunciation at Wiki How?

    The great and terrible thing about names: Many names have multiple ways to say them. 😉

  31. P J Evans: My link in the post immediately above yours is to film actress Saoirse Ronan answering the question on ITV’s This Morning programme.

    Turnabout’s fair play, though. I can always challenge the Irish to pronounce perfectly straightforward, simple Scandinavian placenames like Eyjafjallajökull and Svalbarðsstrandarhreppur.

  32. @Kendall
    I was looking at church records, baptisms done by a German minister in southeast PA in the 1780s, and found he was spelling “Evans” as “Ivans”. Told me how it was pronounced then and there. (Now I’m going to have to look through them to see what other phonetic spellings I’ve missed.)

    I looked at Wikipedia, but like Kendall, I’m betting that their first siyllable is wrong. (It doesn’t look to me like it would be “Seer” – what I know about Irish – not much, but a little – would have me guessing something closer to “Sahr”.)

  33. P J Evans: Saoirse Ronan’s video clip details the variability pretty well. How she says she pronounces her own name at the 4:08 time mark is pretty typical.

    (I’m told that there are four distinct dialects of the Irish language still prominent in the Gaeltacht, and that the official orthography is a compromise among those. But don’t take my word for that, as I’m just a dodgy foreigner.)

  34. @Kendall: The great and terrible thing about names: Many names have multiple ways to say them. Sing it, brother! And the problem gets worse when names get moved out of their linguistic home, with or without interference from immigration managers.
    Direct case: my mother’s ancestors were Zwingli (no idea whether I’m related to the reformer); I can make a fair hand of pronouncing this because I’ve been singing in German for half a century, but to North American tongues the “tsv” combination is a twister. Maybe I should go to a Singley family reunion one of these years and ask if anyone knows whether this changed by fiat or by assimilation.
    Indirect cases: Tim Szczesuil (Birthday’d here recently) pronounces it “SETCHull”, and a long-ago manager married to a Markiewicz pronounced it “marKEEwee” (I’d have guessed it was originally something like “MARkevitch”, but I’m no expert); however, another local NESFAn whose name requires a character I don’t know how to invoke pronounces it vaguely as I’d guessed (although I don’t know whether the family held to that or this person reverted as a matter of ancestral pride).

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