I used to be a member of an organization with the primary mission of supporting and promoting women in SF&F. Until it imploded.
Well, it still exists, but it’s quite a bit smaller now. I won’t go into details because there are still legal matters outstanding, but it was an unpleasant mess.
Which means that I’ve been watching the kerfuffle surrounding the Romance Writers of America with a mixture of amusement (where’s my popcorn), sympathy for those involved (especially innocent chapter leaders), and resignation.
Now the RWA scenario is much worse at many levels. We’re talking about the largest writers’ organization in the United States, with thousands of members, an operating budget of well over three million dollars. So, how the heck does an organization like that screw up this badly?
So, here is the saga so far, which started just before the holidays and is still ongoing:
- An author named Courtney Milan, who was of Asian descent, accused a white author, Kathryn Lynn Davis of racism in an older novel, published in 1999. I’ve had to correct bad stereotypes in my own books, and if anyone finds one, please let me know and I can fix it because I have control. Milan was chair of the Romance Writers of America’s ethic committee. (I have not read the book concerned, but am taking Milan’s word for it that there were problems).
- Davis filed a complaint against Milan for “cyber bullying,” claiming the tweets caused her to lose a three book contract.
- A separate ethics committee was created just to “deal” with Milan.
- Milan was suspended from membership for a year and banned for life from leadership for “violating the group’s core mission of creating a safe and respectful environment.”
- The news exploded on Twitter. Nora Roberts weighed in and revealed systemic discrimination was part of the organization’s past (she left because they defined romance as M/F only).
- The President and 8 board members resigned. President-Elect Damon Suede (more about him later) became President. Numerous writers left the organization.
- The censure decision was reversed, but the apologies given were very backhanded.
- A recall petition was put out against Damon Suede. It also came out that Damon Suede’s publishing house, Dreamspinner Press, was not paying its authors. (Some of us already knew this, but…)
- The (in)famous Chuck Tingle weighed in by creating a book titled “Not Pounded by Romance Wranglers of America Because Their New Leadership is From the Depths of the Endless Cosmic Void.” Don’t ask me who Tingle really is. I have no idea. If you haven’t yet encountered him, just check out his Twitter.
- Davis admitted she had not lost a book deal as a result.
- The RWA canceled the RITAs because so many writers and judges pulled out they couldn’t run the contest.
- Harlequin and several other publishers rescinded their sponsorship of the RWA’s annual conference. Whether it will happen is now up in the air.
- Suede made the threat that if he resigned the RWA would “cease to exist.”
- Questions were raised over Suede’s qualifications to be President, with some arguing that a book not yet published was being counted and one group of people locating a title (Stud Planet) that was “released” on April 1, and may or may not actually exist. It is in fact possible that I am personally more qualified to be President of the RWA than Suede was, except for the small detail of not being in the RWA.
- Suede and the executive director resigned to peals of laughter led by Chuck Tingle.
- Chuck Tingle weighed in again by buying romancewritersofamerica.com and creating an entire troll site.
So, the one bright light in this entire thing is Chuck Tingle. Ahem. The RWA is now left with basically no sponsors for their conference, no leadership and a constitutional issue: Only the President can choose board members and only the Executive Director can call for the required election for a new President. Somebody remaining on the board is going to have to be the RWA’s Theresa May at this point.
Will the RWA Survive?
Most likely, yes. I hope so. Their substantial legal fund has helped support the entire industry when things like Cockygate happen.
But this entire thing has revealed systematic issues in an organization that has, or had, over 9,000 members, but has consistently had issues with diversity over the years. Maybe this crisis was what needed to happen. Either the RWA will be replaced and slide into irrelevance, or it will get its act together and end up a better, stronger organization.
I have no idea which, but the entire thing illustrates that no organization is too big to have problems.
And that you should listen to people of color about what is racist. None of this would have happened if RWA’s leadership had simply left well enough alone.
But they didn’t, and now we all have this huge mess to watch. (Again, I feel truly sorry for many of the people in RWA, especially chapter leadership, who aren’t responsible for any of this and have only been able to watch helplessly.
Nobody and nothing is “too big to fail” and no organization is so powerful that they can’t be brought down by their own stupidity.