The Romance Writers of America confusingly rule against criticising books for racism

The world of romance writing has fallen into a major dispute after an official ruling was made against author and advocate Courtney Milan apparently for criticising racist tropes in a book. News coverage here I say “apparently” because the gist of the finding against Milan is very unclear in the report of the committee.

The committee’s report itself is confusingly written (you can read it here ) but as Milan herself has explained on Twitter, the findings were not made by the sitting members of the committee but a specially convened group to hear the complaint.

Apparently (and I’ll be using that word a lot) the RWA board decided that as Milan was an influential member of the ethics committee it would be improper for her fellow committee members to adjudicate the complaint and set up a group specifically to hear this one issue. I can see why the RWA might do that but the net effect creates a different appearance of impropriety: establishing a special committee just to convict Milan. Is that what occurred? There’s no way of knowing but the report itself is clumsy and poorly reasoned. I’ll come back to that.

The complaint itself was from an author and publisher of historical romance fiction. They had become embroiled on criticism of their work on social media and were feeling that they were under an unwarranted attack (you can read the complaint here ) Milan had specifically focused on aspects of a novel by one of the publisher’s editors. The novel featured as a key character a woman of Chinese and European descent. Milan herself is Chinese-American and also very skilled in dissecting the cliches of racial tropes in romance fiction and beyond.

The complaint alleges that, among other things:

‘In these tweets, Courtney alleges the book is racist, inaccurate, and that Kathryn Lynn Davis is a “fucking racist mess.”’

This claim is simply false and is refuted by the tweet that is screen-shotted in the complaint where Milan says “Someone sent me a link to a book written by the other editor, Kathryn Lynn Davis, and is a fucking racist mess.” While the phrasing could be clearer, it would be really hard to read that as anything other than Milan calling the book a racist mess rather than than the person.

But we are in the age of what we might call the transitivity of racism, where to say “X is racist” is taken as being synonymous with “the author of X is racist” with no admission of nuance or degrees or of how the nature of implication works. Yes, there is a chain of implication there but it is the EXACT same chain of implication that exists with all book criticism and reviews. If I say “book X is badly written” then there is a degree of implication that “Author Y or book X is a bad writer” but the two are not synonymous. Nor is this just me engaging in my usual pedantic nitpicking: this distinction of the difference between book and author is absolutely essential to the nature of reviews, reviewing and book criticism in general (indeed art criticism in general and food criticism in general). Without this distinction then all negative reviews would carry with them potential liabilities of a legal or code-of-conduct nature.

What we have seen repeatedly though, is a special demarcation placed around critiques of racism or sexism within artworks that somehow places them beyond the pale. So weirdly I can write a scathing review that attacks a book for cliched plot, weak dialogue, poor grammar, typos, misspellings, plot holes, confused genre boundaries, anachronisms, poor editing, poor character development, thin plotting, infodumping and a poorly designed cover but NOT for racism without generating a counter-outrage.

The Ethics Committee report itself is best described as a confusing mess. A good report should make clear the core aspects on which the findings have been made and should be sufficient to make clear to members what particular actions they should avoid in the future. In particular, a finding should not be of a kind that has a chilling aspect on speech or behaviour beyond that covered by the spirit of the ethics code or code of conduct. Put another way, people bound by the code that is being enforced shouldn’t have to guess what the essence of the ethical violation is.

I used the word ‘apparently’ a lot at the start and I believe there is a hug amount of scope in the finding for people to say ‘no, they were actually ruling against X,Y or Z’ in Milan’s actions. That, in itself, points to a massive weakness in the report.

The report details four allegations:

  1. (Section 6.1.1) Repeatedly or intentionally engaging in conduct injurious to RWA or its purposes.
  2. (Section 15.9.1) Repeatedly or intentionally engaging in any other acts of a violent, harassing (as defined in or intimidating conduct that objectively threaten a member’s career, reputation, safety or well being. Specifically excluded from this section are exchanges of business information, true statement personal disagreements, honest discussions of books, non-RWA operated social media posts, and marketing materials.
  3. (Section 15.9.4) Board members shall not engage in or facilitate any discriminatory or harassing behavior toward RWA staff, members, Officers, Directors, meeting attendees, exhibitors, advertisers, sponsors, suppliers, contractors, or others in the context of activities relating to RWA.
  4. (Section Repeatedly or intentionally making a member’s personal, private identifying information public with the intent of harming the other member’s career, reputation, or well-being.

The report specifically finds for Milan on points 2, 3 and 4 (although with some caveats). Notably, these are the more specific complaints were there is a substantive aspect to compare between the content of Milan’s Tweets and how the complainant characterises them. The more general point 1 is where the report finds against Milan and upholds the complaint.

Now it is of course possible to not breach ethical standards in particular but still breach those standards in general. A code of ethics or behaviour has to accept that human behaviour is complex and also that people may exploit rules to behave poorly to others while sticking to the letter of the law. However, when making a ruling of that nature (i.e. that there is a general breach while finding that there are no specific breaches) requires a substantial argument to be made. You can’t just vaguely wave at things and say ‘we don’t like this’. Why not? Because to do so provides no indication to other members what they can and can’t do within the ethical guidelines but also creates a circumstance where an ethics committee is likely to make inconsistent rulings in the future. Precedent matters.

At Mad Genius Club, Amanda Green’s take is that it was not so much the substance of Courtney Milan’s criticism that was the issue but the manner of them:

“Here’s the thing. She might have done all this with the best of intentions. But she did them in the wrong way. She should have known it would blow up. She reasonably should have foreseen complaints being filed. Most of all, she should have thought long and hard before hitting the post button with accusations phrased in such a way any reasonable person would know they would bring derision on the person they were aimed at.”

Now maybe that is EXACTLY what the committee was adjudicating i.e. it was not that Milan was critiquing the racist tropes in a book but that it was the general manner in which it was being done. That is an interesting argument and I can see why Amanda Green is looking at it that way and it could even be a very defensible ethical stance for a committee to make. They key issue would be that maybe such a stance could be generalisable (e.g. you could substitute a different critique of a book such as bad grammar and still say ‘it’s OK to attack a book’s grammar in this way but not in that way’ and so on). However, the report does NO SUCH THING and makes no such distinction (at least from what I can see).

We shouldn’t be surprised that the vocal advocates of free-speech are very equivocal about which speech and by whose speech should be free. To look at what the report does say on allegation 1 I find something very odd indeed:

‘In the matter of engaging in conduct injurious to RWA or its purposes(Section 6.1.1), the committee determined that Ms. Milan’s comments were in violation of the organization’s expressed purpose of creating a “safe and respectful environment” for its community of writers. Most particularly, the committee considered the legal phrase of “invidious discrimination,” defined as “By word or deed likely to arouse, inflame,or incur resentment or anger in others; tending to cause discontent, animosity, envy; words that created an unjust comparison or were unfairly discriminating,” as being applicable to this case.In addition, the committee determined that Section 6.1.1 is not qualified by Section 15.9.4 (noted below).’

I say “odd” because the paragraph starts with a core idea: ‘Ms. Milan’s comments were in violation of the organization’s expressed purpose of creating a “safe and respectful environment” for its community of writers.’ That’s the proposition that the rest of the paragraph is intended to support. What we might expect is a discussion of the term ‘respectful’, as that does offer a range of avenues for finding against a member in a ‘its not what you said it’s the way that you said it’ way.

Instead the finding rests on the legal term “invidious discrimination”. The phrasing is weasel worded and avoids saying that Milan was engaged in invidious discrimination but by its presence and by stating that it was applicable (and most applicable because it is the only principle cited to support the finding) the implication is that Milan did engage in “invidious discrimination”. So why be weasel worded about it? The section reads like the committee wanted to introduce the concept but not commit to it and that is no way to make a finding in a ethics committee report. You phrase things in that way if and only if you want to be able to back-track from it later. Specifically, you phrase things in that way if you believe that the committee itself might face some liability of its own if it overtly stated “Courtney Milian was engaged in invidious discrimination”.

That’s not the only possible meaning of course but that’s the nature of weasel wording, to allow for ambiguous readings. Perhaps they wanted to say that the RWA itself would be engaged in ‘invidious discrimination’ if they didn’t find against Milan. Perhaps. However, if that is what they wanted to say then it would have been easy enough to simply say exactly that. Again, it would be a complex argument to make but I can see how somebody might make that argument. However, as the committee did not make that argument, we are left none-the-wiser and that is itself a fundamental failing in the report.

The term itself can be defined as:

“Treating a class of persons unequally in a manner that is malicious, hostile, or damaging.”

That’s just one definition of course and I am no lawyer. However, in every definition I have looked at and based on my (non-legal) understanding, it is very clear that while ‘invidious discrimination’ is a broad term designed to encompass many and varied kinds of discrimination, it necessarily implies that some CLASS OF PERSONS in general is being discriminated against. It is not a term that describes bullying of an individual as an individual but antagonistic behaviour to an individual that impacts on or is motivated by hostility to a group.

Put another way, you can’t claim “invidious discrimination” without stating what CLASS OF PERSONS is being discriminated against. Given that it is an almighty can of eldritch worms to summon from the depths of legalism in an ethics report. You simply can’t write a report citing the term and then not say who is being discriminated against in general. Is it authors? Romance editors? White people? Who? Should I leap to the conclusion that the committee meant white people but didn’t want to say that directly? I honestly don’t know but I can’t fault people for assuming that the committee did mean white people. I’ll have zero sympathy for whoever wrote that paragraph if they claim people are misreading it because it would take some skill to write something so full of dangling implications. An ethics committee report shouldn’t adopt the mannerism of a gossip column and slyly hint as mispropriety.

Nor is this the only example of wording in the report that might reasonably be called ‘snide’ but can definitely be called oddly unnecessary and open to interpretation. Take the finding on allegation 2 for example. Here the committee found for Courtney Milan but expressed themselves in a way to imply that is a technicality.

‘Specifically excluded from this section are exchanges of business information, true statement personal disagreements, honest discussions of books, non-RWA operated social media posts, and marketing materials),the committee finds with Ms. Milan, as it is presently unable to adjudicate postings on social media not operated by RWA. However, the committee was also made aware that Ms. Milan served on the Board when this exception was approved, and very likely understood she would be able to act in the manner she did, without being in violation of the code.’

[my emphasis added]

What the flip is that last sentence trying to say? If it isn’t meant pejoratively or implying some broader improper behaviour then why is it there at all. The only none negative reading is that they are simply saying that as Milan helped approve the rules then she knew that her behaviour was within the rules — which is just a plain odd thing to say. The more likely implication is that it is a dig at Courtney Milan’s role on the ethics committee and her role in establishing the code of conduct. Either way, it really shouldn’t be in the report because either it was meant innocently (in which case is irrelevant but likely to be misread) or it wasn’t (in which case it is just malicious as it suggest a new allegation beyond the scope of the report).

I am sure there will be further fall-out from this. As a starting point the RWA is in an unenviable position of having to defend a poorly argued and poorly expressed committee finding on a complex issue. That is the worst possible outcome because the report is so badly written that it is open to quite diverse readings where the ambiguities can be exploited to claim it is saying something quite different to the actual gist of it.

The net effect though is encompassed in the headline. Maybe, the RWA really is not trying to rule against criticising books for racist content. However, given the ruling they published even if a member was to take it as “with the best of intentions but she did them in the wrong way” there is zero sense from the findings in where that boundary between the RIGHT way to say ‘this book is a racist mess’ and the WRONG way to say ‘this book is a racist mess’. The net effect is a chilling of speech, specifically around claiming that a book is racist. That’s an appalling result and a clear failing on the part of this ad-hoc ethics committee.

ETA Various links:

Alyssa Cole’s Tweets where I got the links to the documents etc

This blogpost has more RWA context

According to K.Tempest Bradford, the RWA forums are shutting down discussion of the issue:

And some more context from Courtney Milan:


And File 770 has a good summary and round-up of reactions

ETA: And the RWA is now back-pedalling furiously:

And Cora provided in the comments this link that has a lot more background on the original source of the complaint:

Milan details some of the failures of procedure by the RWA:

John Scalzi pops up in this New York Post article on the on-going omnishambles

After what must have been a less than great Christmas, the RWA board has replied to the controversy in a couple of Google Docs.

File 770 has a new round-up of recent developments

This post has extensive links and a timeline

More evidence of the incident being a coup rather than a cock-up

A new statement from the RWA takes a stop-airing-dirty-washing tone while still saying nothing

105 thoughts on “The Romance Writers of America confusingly rule against criticising books for racism

  1. I have gottten an enormous amount of retweets about this and all of them are confusing in that they are just linking to other tweets with hints that somewhere there’s a tweet about what happened. Thank you for finding that article from The Wrap so I can get some sense out of them.

    But I do not agree with you with regards to calling a text racist is the same as calling out grammar. I know people are not supposed to feel personally accused when their book is, but that is dependent on how strongly worded the criticism is. When a book as a whole is condemned with such strong words as “a fucking racist mess”, it is hard to not see that as a judgement on the author too.


    1. Well, yes it IS a judgement on the author but it isn’t the same judgement – the author may have had the best of intentions and still write a racist mess.
      I don’t know if you saw Noah Berlatsky’s Twitter thread on anti-Semitic tropes in John Carpenter’s ‘They Live’. Whether you agree with his analysis or not, it was quite clear that Carpenter was not trying to make a giant metaphor based on anti-Semitic conspiracy theories but also his intent doesn’t change whether the film inadverntly works that way.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, I saw them and no, I do not agree with his analysis. For me it was more like he saw two dead dogs in an alley in a Rorschach test. It reflected his world view and what patterns he was looking for more than anything else.

        Not to say that his interpretation of an ink blot is wrong, it is one way you could interpret it. But calling out an ink blot for being an obvious dog whistle is weird.


        1. Yes, maybe but a random blot can still definitely resemble something even if it was genuinely random. What a thing resembles and what a creator intends it to resemble aren’t the same.


      2. And when one sees a pattern in an ink blot, he chooses to ignore all other hundreds of possible patterns. What he thinks it resembles might be obvious only for him and others actively looking for that pattern, instead of any of the other hundred possible ones

        His finding of two dead dogs in an alley is not more relevant or interesting than anothers finding of a butterfly. And if it turns out that the inkspot was created by a spilled horn, his searching for a hidden meaning looses all relevance.


    2. Yeah, gonna disagree here. A work can be racist by including racist tropes, even when the author doesn’t mean to do so. To use the antisemitism example because it’s the easiest to demonstrate this, there are a number of antisemitic tropes that can be mistakenly used by someone who isn’t necessarily antisemitic (accusing someone of being beholden to money is a classic one of these), which is why the distinction between the work and the author being described matters.

      And given the world we live in nowadays, where people should be trying to avoid racist tropes in published media, and editors should absolutely be looking for these things, it’s hard to argue that a critic should be more careful about the distinction here: the author should know better, so throwing in disclaimers is unnecessary and puts the onus on the person offended by the racist tropes rather than the writer writing them, which is the opposite of how it should be.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Not sure who you are agreeing with? Of course an author can add racist tropes without intending to. But there is a again a matter of degree. If a book is “a fucking racist mess”, then it isn’t 3-4 sentences. It isn’t the failure of noticing several tropes. Then it is something that impregnates the whole work, that is noticeable absolutely everywhere. For me, it is an accusation directed also at the author.


    3. Hampus, have you read Milan’s actual dissection of the book in question? She doesn’t stop at calling it racist. She provides examples a-plenty. She notes that part of the defense of the book is that the author claims to have studied China for 6 years. But at no point does she talk about the author’s intentions, just what the author actually put on a page. She does so heatedly, but she also discussed why she is heated, and again, without dissecting the author’s intentions.

      Unless you seriously mean to suggest nobody is allowed to call a work racist no matter how much evidence they provide, and that really doesn’t sound like you, arguing about how personally an author should take the criticism seems irrelevant. I don’t care if a review pointing out may horrible racism makes me cry into Camestros’ beer (I don’t drink beer) all night, it still isn’t a reasonable basis for an *ethics* complaint, and it still isn’t a reason to treat the response as any different from if they show an image of ritually burning my book for bad science and truck-weight plot holes.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I have now, it was included in the complaints report by Tisdale. I have no idea why Tisdale thought it good to send in tweets showing the book contained racist stereotypes and classic prejudiced orientalism.

        And I think you missed my point. I’m saying that when you use such strong words as “a fucking racist mess”, then you aren’t just stopping by unfortunate usage of stereotypes that can be shown by academic reasoning or accidental use of tropes. Then you are saying that the text was clearly racist in a way that can’t be missed. I.e, the person who wrote it also had a racist or bigoted world view.

        I do not believe in this clean break between author and text when you use the strongest word for condemning something.

        I do not suggest that you shouldn’t be allowed to call something racist. I do suggest that you shouldn’t pretend that this in no way casts judgement on the writer.


  2. “Specifically, you phrase things in that way if you believe that the committee itself might face some liability of its own if it overtly stated “Courtney Milian was engaged in invidious discrimination”.”
    That reminds me of one political writer discussing “the appearance of impropriety” — it’s the same sort of weasel phrasing because the speaker avoids coming out and saying definitively whether what they did was improper.
    Thanks for this — like Hampus I’ve only seen bits of the controversy. As I’ve often heard good things about RWA, disappointing to see it in a SFWA-style mess.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was in a similar position and hence thought I should make some notes so I could follow the on-going conversation. Part way through I saw the MGC post as well – which was a sign that I needed a post.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. r –

      I first came across the term “appearance of impropriety” in law school, where it was used for a specific purpose: to allow for punishment of a lawyer/judge if what they did looked wrong, even if it didn’t cross the lines into actual wrong. The reasons for this were two fold.

      First, back in the day, when that term was used, it was based on the notion that lawyers and judges were supposed to be more honorable and upstanding than your average human. The law was a profession, not just a job, and one was supposed to demonstrate honor and character while engaging in it. So looking like you were engaging in improprieties was bad enough, and damaged the aura of the legal profession as a whole.

      Second, it gave the bar association folks cover in case they came across somebody who skated really close to breaking the law/rules, but was smart enough to avoid crossing the line. Remember, we’re talking about lawyers here, who often know how to wiggle through loopholes. So the idea was that even if they relied on a convenient loophole, you could still nail them if what they did LOOKED bad enough.

      In the real world of course, none of this really was very applicable. But folks thought it was.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Cam wrote:

    While the phrasing could be clearer, it would be really hard to read that as anything other than Milan calling the book a racist mess rather than than the person.

    I’m glad you noticed that distinction, because I’m dead-certain Ms. Milan carefully limits her critical comments to thing/action rather than person as a matter of careful habit (except in the very rare case where her comment really IS about person), because that’s what lawyers do. And, frankly, that is what all people who are careful about fair comment do, and also those avoiding making enemies (not to mention avoiding accidental defamation) do.

    It’s good manners and diplomatic and elementary legal self-defence to say ‘you seem to have taken [x] action, which in my view is evil’, rather than ‘you are evil’.

    What we have seen repeatedly though, is a special demarcation placed around critiques of racism or sexism within artworks that somehow places them beyond the pale.

    Always strikes me as carefully cultivated infantilism: ‘Everything I touch is me, so finding fault with anything I ever did is exactly the same as finding fault with my beautiful blue eyes.’ Except somehow we’re supposed to find that fallacy less ridiculous if the fault is racism/sexism (or the speaker thinks a fallacy is on the approved list if some ideological opponent, somewhere, also favours it).

    Also, my headline is grammatically correct if you are British

    FWIW, this (admittedly, frequent traveller) Yank slipped into ‘organisations are plural’ mode without an implicit code-switch even registering.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. And now they’ve noticed the size of the hole they’ve dug for themselves, and are now frantically trying to dig their way out of it.
    But still only digging deeper.

    The membership isn’t having it.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I didn’t think it could get worse, but they found a way…

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I was just going to share about the RWA rescinding their initial acceptance in the face of enormous blowback. My dues are paid up until mid-2020, and I’m thinking hard about whether I’ll bother to renew. Basically, they have six months to show me they’ve fixed their mess.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Yeah, Courtney wasn’t simply critically reviewing a book on racism issues. She was looking at a small press and its editors in both producing romances that were particularly racist in approach and also possibly discriminating against authors of color. She was engaged in criticism of business practices, including conflicts of interest in authors also being publishers/editors. This is all work she’s done for a long time, for RWA, for which they put her on the Ethics Board and gave her a service award for it.

    Fiction publishing in the western English language markets is deeply white supremacist with 75% authors being white and 90% of publishing folk being white. And in the category romance market/side of the industry, it’s worse, with 80% of the authors being white. Those aren’t natural figures; they are rigged under the racist myth held by many booksellers and publishers that the majority of the romance audience are middle aged white women who are deeply racist and obsessed with whiteness. This untruth is used to justify discrimination both in who gets published, who gets promoted, and what sort of aggressions authors of color face trying to market their works. And it’s hurt the growth of the romance market, despite some bright spots. After the shrinkage of the paperback wholesale market in the 1990’s, romance has continued to struggle to repair the damage, but the limitation of offerings to mainly white supremacy fantasyland has meant that young readers — necessary for the future — aren’t reading much romance and not enough new readers are being brought in to browse from the lack of variety. White supremacy hurts white authors too.

    The RWA has vascilated between making considerable progress on inclusion, reducing discrimination and widening their field and having regressive, unprofessional and discriminatory behavior and practices. As always, the combination of those who aggressively want to keep discrimination in place and silence discussion and criticism of those issues as a threat to them with befuddled people in charge who don’t want to deal with these conflicts produces destructive messes. In this case, two of the people concerned with this small press Milan criticized made claims in the summer to the RWA, some of which like intellectual property theft were clearly ridiculous. Rather than this going through the Ethics Committee, they made up a committee, whose report was clearly discriminatory, and then they rammed it through without the proper procedures and much of the Board not knowing what was going on and not given clear info, then declared the ban in the middle of the holidays. This seems to indicate a definite animus towards Milan and the work she was doing for the RWA and romance in general from several people who had controlling positions. Somebody abused their power in the organization, which tends to be what happens. And now people are leaving the Board and the RWA. Additionally, it’s come out that several other unrelated ethics complaints had been filed with the RWA but they were never brought to the Ethics Committee. So that means proper procedures have not been followed for quite some time.

    It’s not going to sink the RWA and new organizations for romance writers may be developed from this. But it is going to make them less relevant. And it does mean that currently English language romance writers have few options in having effective, professional and non-discriminatory organizations advocating for their rights with publishers. And it does mean that the romance market continues to slow their own growth by too many white people in positions of influence clinging to an out-dated and discriminatory model and trying to silence anybody who complains about it or tries to change it. This is of course what discriminatory demographic control does; it stagnates and whines when that stagnation is not accepted and considered normal and thus secure.

    Milan helped so many other romance writers and was an advocate for romance in fiction publishing in general. The RWA is really taking a loss on this one.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. And Sue Grimshaw actually made the lack of diversity in romance worse during her time as romance buyer for the Borders chain, because she refused to stock romances by black authors in the romance section, shoving them instead into the African-American Fiction section where no one would think to look for them.

      Speaking as someone who spent some time hanging out in online romance spaces, there is still a significant part of the readership and also of the writers that is very conservative and wants its white small town fantasies, alpha heroes and subservient heroines and people of colour depicted only as safely exotic others. I have read a few of those books and they might as well have been written in the 1950s, except that there is usually more sex.

      The genre is big enough that those who want that sort of thing can have their ultra white small town fantasies or their Christian Amish romances, but there is also room for works featuring people of colour, LGBTQ people and more modern themes and settings in genrral.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. There’s some things in particular that strikes me in what I’ve read about this issue:

    – Tisdale have picked out Courtney Milan among many who criticized Tisdale and Grimshaw, and (implicitly) accuses Milan of being the leader of a mob and responsible for the whole of the mob’s behaviour. And Milan is in some ways an odd choice for a target. She doesn’t seem to have been the first to criticize Grimshaw, she’s almost certainly not the most foul-mouthed, and she’s resourceful enough to be a very though opponent in a formal process.

    – The complaint bears signs of being written in bad faith. In particular, Suzan Tisdale leaves out the first stages of the controversy, she attempts to hide and minimize the behaviour her side was criticized for, and she writes as if there was a sudden and inexplicable uproar simply because “All Sue did was ‘like’ the tweets”.

    – The complaint is over-all so weak that I doubt Tisdale expected it to stand in a fair hearing. Unless Tisdale really is clueless enough to believe that the controversy suddenly broke out because someone liked a few tweets, she must either have known that someone in RWA would stack the process against Milan, or she filed the complaint in order to have it dismissed so she could take up the role of a martyr.

    – There seems to have been foul play in the way RWA have handled the complaint. Whoever handled the process of setting up that temporary ethics panel have been sympathetic to Tisdale and hostile to Milan. The latest reversal from the board suggests that someone at the board have now discovered that they’ve been duped. It’ll be interesting to see if it’s ever uncovered exactly what actually went on here.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I’m assuming this is part of some sort of wider rift within the org. I imagine Milan has drawn fire from some sort of old guard who see her as a noisy representative of new interlopers.

    Something that occurs to me is that the RWA and wider Romance-with-a-capital-R was already set up to commit discrimination through social and economic pressure, but for their chosen tight definition of romance. If you don’t meet the requirements of Romance then you can’t get published in the category, can’t join the org, etc etc. It was pretty much inevitable that a structure of that sort could – and would – be used to pursue other prejudices.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Mark H. wrote:

      I imagine Milan has drawn fire from some sort of old guard who see her as a noisy representative of new interlopers.

      Likely. Milan has a well-earned reputation for not taking retrograde humbug lying down, and is forthright and razor-sharp articulate in going after such things (you know, my favourite kind of person). I would further speculate (relative to Johan’s observation that she’s an odd choice of target) that Ms. Tisdale underestimated her through inattention — and, dare I guess, habit?

      There was a posting from my wife Deirdre’s friend Tymber Dalton somewhere that I wanted to quote, here, but I cannot re-find it. Something like ‘Romancelandia’s politics make the Sad Puppies look like a nice formal tea by comparison’, except more colourful. And that is true, and romance readers these days tend to be highly engaged, and their numbers utterly dwarf SFF fandom. Just sampling the rising tide of annoyed romance readers’ comments, today, is like drinking from a fire hydrant (just the forum comments on Smart Bitches, Trashy Books are really something else, and then there’s Twitter), and it appears that more and more damning aspects of this affair are coming out as people dig more and compare notes. Ergo, this is going to continue getting bigger.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yeah…I’m just reading some of the accounts of very formal gatekeeping of what-is-romance by RWA staff. Some of it makes our Sad Pup pals look positively generous in their genre definitions

        Liked by 1 person

      2. The romance equivalent of Nutty Nuggets is one white man and one white woman, no hint of interest in anybody else, once they have met their soulmate, an ending with marriage and a baby on the way.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I can’t find the tweet but there was a specific clause in a definition for work to count as romance for determining Pro-membership that the ending *had* to be optimistic. Sure, I get that is typical of romance but it’s absurd to rule out a work that was in every other way centered on romance but ends unhappily (or better yet TRAGICALLY) as not romance. Aside from anything else, it allowed books to be disqualified for not ending optimistically enough.


      3. Actually, romance readers are very vocal about the optimistic ending. The necessity of a happily ever after or happy for now ending is pretty much the one thing all romance readers agree upon.Romance readers will also quickly inform you that Gone With the Wind, Love Story and the various Nicholas Sparks books are not romances.

        The basic RWA definition of “A romance is a book with a central love story and an optimistic ending” is the most loose definition that everybody can agree upon, much like the definition of a mystery would be “There is a crime and it gets solved.”

        The debates are about what exactly that central love story looks like and what counts as an optimistic ending, e.g. only heterosexual marriage with children or also other forms.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. I suspect tragic love stories count as capital L literature now. At least, that’s what Love Story and those Nicholas Sparks books were marketed as. The Fault in Our Stars and other downer books along those lines are YA, where the rules are different. Gone with the Wind and Forever Amber are historical sagas, a genre that has largely fallen out of fashion. And Wuthering Heights and Romeo and Juliet count as classics now.

        A lot of people regard romances as comfort reads, so knowing that everything will be all right in the end is important to them, because no one wants to be depressed by a comfort read. Though I strongly suspect that the books rejected as “not a romance” by RWA were in fact romances with optimistic endings, only that it wasn’t the right kind of optimistic ending, i.e. the couple/menage did not commit firmly enough to each other (I recall conservative readers being furious at an unambiguous romance novel several years ago, because the male lead had not uttered the words “I love you” on the page) or the relationship involved the wrong kind of people or too many people or one part of the central couple/menage had sex with someone else after having met their future partner, which is a huge no-no to many, etc…

        Liked by 2 people

  9. Cam —

    I do wish I’d been able to re-find the deliciously worded Tymber Dalton quotation, and quote it verbatim. The thrust of it is that romancelandia’s tribal politics have always been contentious and something of an almost blood sport. She was not, IIRC, saying that the institutions of the romance publishing industry are reactionary. (Although she might have views on that, it would be a different question.)

    What she was implying seemed to be: Buckle up: Romance readers are fixin’ to have this out in a style that makes L’Affair Chiot (er, the Puppy Affair) look small, quiet, and civil.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Must confess this was exactly what I thought: “Anytime I am depressed about the infighting in SF/F I can just look at some of the romance controversies.”

      Liked by 2 people

  10. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t even think of wading into this kind of controversy. (I’m an Introvert who likes my privacy.) But I think it’s high time immature, middle school behavior by adults on social media gets called what it really is.

    I am a returning member of RWA. I came back after 20 years away. A few months after rejoining, I discovered the day after Christmas, I belong to an organization whose members seem to be incapable of understanding the true meaning of professionalism and support of their peers. Which is the core mission of RWA, for a genre of writing which already receives very little respect, because originally, they supported “women’s fiction.”

    There are many people definitely in the wrong here. Author number one, who created a character from a background they were not personally acquainted with, committed one crime, initially. LAZINESS. Grow up and take responsibility for your mistakes. Not doing so is unprofessional. Imagination will only take you so far. Otherwise, do your research. Even better, make friends with people from a different culture and take advantage of a personally satisfying learning opportunity. Then go one step further. Allow your new friends to critique your work for authenticity and accuracy.

    As for every other person who actively engaged in this dispute, subjecting someone to a public flogging on social media, before trying to resolve differences in private first, will never reap the desired results. I don’t care about anyone’s supposed popularity. If I’m working with them, I care about their professionalism and ethics. In most physical work places, the behavior which has apparently been exhibited by several people in this matter, is classified as creating a toxic work environment. Being unprofessional used to get people fired. By playing the middle school popularity card on social media, these people ultimately ended up imploding an organization whose core values seem to have been eroded, since I belonged during the 1990s. Did any of these folks take the time to think about the possible consequences, of how many people they would ultimately end up hurting with collateral damage?

    Because I’m not a follower of these authors, and since I normally mind my own business, I had no idea any of this crap was going on. Until I got an apology letter in my email from RWA. In my case, none of these people have a new fan. If I have read any of their books, I certainly won’t now, because they publicly demonstrated their values don’t align with mine.

    I’m an Indie author getting ready to release my first book. Now, I will not only have the uphill battle of trying to find readers in an already crowded market, I will have to fight an image problem not of my making. Frankly, it is my goal to find readers who have never picked up a romance novel. How will I be able to do that when all of us look bad?
    Start of by being the bigger person, people. Even if you don’t think they deserve it, use some RESPECT when you have an issue with someone else. And never, ever underestimate the power of forgiveness. All of these authors could have come away with new and possibly real friends, had this matter been properly handled out of the public eye. I can assure you true friends are very rare; most definitely worth their weight in platinum, gold and silver.

    As for the way RWA handled this manner, is there really any way they could have come out on the other side not looking like the bad guy in all this? Unprofessionalism on the part of any authors involved in this brouhaha, is what they really should have been examining. Before social media came along, few of us had the option of resolving difficulties with others, unless we did it in person. And don’t fool yourselves race is the only kind of discrimination which occurs. Because human being are selfish at their cores, and disrespectful with each other because of it, we find a whole host of ways to minimize and ostracize others. All because we don’t think we’ve been given the all stuff we believe we’re entitled to. In the end, the only thing you can take with you is your good character. The higher power I believe in judges all of us on that one quality, not on race or how “successful” we are in this lifetime.


      1. I’m sorry, but public shaming doesn’t work either. Racism isn’t the only form of discrimination. The only way to combat discrimination of any kind is by being honest with with ourselves and getting to the core of what really motivates us. I wasn’t kidding when I said in the end the only thing which we have left is our good character. I don’t think discrimination of any kind, including rasicm, is an example of of good character. Neither is getting into a public mud fight. In the end, every single person involved ends up getting dirtied. If you throw enough mud, you end up dirtying others who weren’t originally involved in the first place.


        1. So, where you’re going wrong here is a form of “excluding the middle”. You’re claiming that pointing things out in public can only be “public shaming”. This is actually a slightly modified form of what the complaint against Milan was – that her saying that what someone had done was wrong, and offensive, was actually as wrong and offensive as the original act.



          Pointing out that someone just punched you isn’t the same as throwing a punch.

          Pointing out that a book is racist isn’t the same as being racist.

          Discrimination isn’t magically fixed by people being “of good character”. Discrimination is *perpetuated* by people who *think* they’re of good character, because they don’t get many public consequences for their discrimination. Being of good character doesn’t require you to keep quiet about things, and not complain that someone just punched you. Being of good character is standing up *against* discrimination, loudly if necessary, so people who keep on discriminating lose their good character.

          By trying to silence those who stand up against discrimination, you are showing your character.

          Liked by 4 people

          1. The problem with public shaming is that it puts peoples’ backs up and makes them defensive. Which I’ve apparently done, though it wasn’t my intention. I wrote my comment after being awake all night. There is no magic cure for racism or any other kind of discrimination because it comes back to the core of human nature. If humans as a species were honest with themselves about who they really are, we probably would have solved all our issues with each other eons ago.


            1. Yes, people who are told they are wrong often get upset about it. They’re still wrong. Telling them they’re wrong is still ok. Their reaction to the truth is their fault, not the truth speakers.
              Do you have any useful suggestions for targets of discrimination that aren’t “shut up and don’t make waves”?
              Pontificating about human nature doesn’t help anyone. These are real-world problems that require real world solutions.

              Liked by 3 people

            2. “Their mistake was in scapegoating one person, instead of disciplining every single individual who forgot what supporting a brand on a public forum really looks like.” Ah, the logic behind probably every single cover-up ever. Think of the good name of the organization! We can’t let this scandal go public! The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few! And we end up with the Army covering up friendly fire incidents, the Boy Scouts covering up pedophiles, countless organizations covering up sexual abuse, etc., etc.

              Liked by 2 people

            3. @mrharrybuns, have you ever heard of this quote from Martin Luther King?

              “First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.”

              That is basically what you’re advocating for here. That didn’t fly in 1963, and it won’t fly now.

              Liked by 3 people

            4. Don’t be so sure. I’m also familiar with a verse which says “You must remove the plank from your own eye, before removing the splinter from your brother’s.” I admire MLK a great deal. Very few people have the courage he did. At the end of the day, the only person you have any control over is yourself. Being that person of good character who always considers, respects and loves others, is not valued in this world. They’re seen as weak. Yet they are the ones who go quietly about their day, making seemingly small differences no one else bothers to notice.


            5. I’m going to add a bit more clarification, since it seems I was too tired when I first posted my original comment.

              First of all, I DO NOT support either side of the dispute. I think every single one of them was wrong. Just like any company most people work for, what you do in public matters. It’s especially important when you work for yourself to guard your public image (brand) very carefully. As has been proven over and over again, the moment you do something others believe crosses a line, you’re dropped like a hot rock. There is no such thing as time off, especially when you get on social media.

              Consider cautiously before accusing anyone of anything. Unless you have direct access to their innermost thoughts, you can’t make claims with any certainty whatsoever, about someone’s intentions. That kind of stuff is difficult to prove, and opens you up to defamation of character litigation. (Which is the number one reason I will not use anyone’s name when discussing matters of this sort.) And no, this isn’t a threat against you. I’m the full-time caregiver of a disabled veteran with plenty on my hands already. If you wish to truly know who I am, please read every post I’ve written on this platform so far. Then we’ll talk further, in private, if you have more to say.

              Here’s why every paying member of RWA should be unhappy with all peers who get embroiled in public disputes which burn out of control. RWA is not just a support group, it’s a group brand. People join organizations of this nature because they believe they are investing in their career/business. Either as a professional writer or writer/publisher. Claiming membership is a marketing tool. Its writing contests, both local and national, are marketing tools for those who win. The RITA entries were being collected recently. How many people who entered will feel like they’ve been awarded something of value now? Due to unflattering media/internet attention, serious brand damage has been inflicted on the group as a whole. No, it’s not just the board’s fault, and they already issued their apology to the membership. The so-called victims, again from both sides of the dispute, owe the membership an apology as well, for failing to remember they belong to something bigger than themselves.

              P.S. – You can call me Mr. Harry Buns all you want. He’s one of my rabbits. There is even a blog post about him. When creating my acct. I couldn’t find a single version of my name not already taken. Weird. I can’t imagine anyone wanting so many copies of a grumpy old broad like me.


            6. Like I said before putting the many before the one is the rationale for covering up every organizational crime and misdeed ever. There are times it’s not best to be a team player. And covering up to protect “the brand” is not the best approach.
              As for not knowing what’s in someone’s heart, that depends. Sometimes one can only speculate; sometimes it’s clear enough for government work (potential defamation litigation aside). If someone at RWA were to announce “As most black women are illiterate, there’s no point in writing black romance” it’s possible they’re really ignorant, but i’d be comfortable going with “You’re racist.”

              Liked by 1 person

            7. And again, I say that your attitude, to return to the MLK quote, “supports order over justice,” and I believe that this is, and should be, intolerable.

              Unless you have direct access to their innermost thoughts, you can’t make claims with any certainty whatsoever, about someone’s intentions.

              As various people have pointed out, intent DOES NOT MATTER. It’s the EFFECT that matters. I don’t care if you didn’t intend to step on my foot, it still hurts, and you need to get the hell off. An adult recognizes that s/he has hurt another person (and I don’t care if you think that person should not feel hurt, because you don’t get to dictate someone else’s feelings and reactions), apologizes, and tries to do better.

              Due to unflattering media/internet attention, serious brand damage has been inflicted on the group as a whole

              Considering the stuff coming out, perhaps that damage needed to be inflicted. Maybe that’s the only way things will change.

              The so-called victims, again from both sides of the dispute, owe the membership an apology as well, for failing to remember they belong to something bigger than themselves.

              This is a fairly weasel-worded synonym for “sit down, shut up, and don’t rock the boat.” Going back to our original example, MLK never did that. As I said before, in this day and age, that is simply not going to fly. Nor should it.

              Liked by 2 people

            8. My older daughter once had a friend try to involve her in a spat the young lady had with another girl. (While in middle school, by the way.) In typical fashion, they tried to make their mutual friends take sides. I advised my daughter to stay out of it, because ultimately there were going to be no winners on either side. My daughter did lose the first friend. Because her mother called me and asked why she wasn’t taking her daughter’s side. I told her flat out we don’t play games like that in our household. Bear in mind, this was before social media even existed. (Or perhaps it should be called anti-social media.)

              One should always bear in mind when accusations are made against others, accusers aren’t always doing it for altruistic reasons. Again, can’t know for sure, unless one is intimately connected to another’s thoughts and motivations. If it hasn’t become clear to anyone, I’m firmly anti-establishment in most respects. Because establishments are bound and determined to keep people apart. Not to mention, I believe corporations are the killers of imagination, unless the CEO can make money off it for them and their buddies. Ever hear the saying “Divide and conquer?” I can assure they aren’t being altruistic. It’s a diversion tactic to keep the rest of us from paying attention to what they’re really up too.

              I happen to live the in the most diverse city in the United States. Even before living here, I attended high school with Navajo Native Americans and someone from Japan. (She was just as excited to receive seaweed in care packages as I was to get cookies.) A lady from Bolivia taught me to knit. In exchange, my mom and I helped her study for US citizenship and attended her swearing-in. I’ve attended church with people from the Caribbean and other South American countries. One of my last employers had a Japanese wife, and I did a lot of graphic design work for a large Japan festival. I liked all of the “other” people I’ve met. In some ways, I got to travel without leaving home. They liked getting to know someone who was not only interested in their former homes, but wanted to know them as people. I have a new friend, courtesy of social media, who lives in Africa. He wants to be a writer, and asked to be my friend, because I reached out to him and advised reading everything he could get his hands on first. He’s also interested in Graphic Design and occasionally shows some of his projects to me.

              This was a legacy I received from my mom; a shy and quiet woman who was never unkind to anyone she ever met. When she suddenly died 4 ½ years ago, there were many who hated to lose her as much as I did. Will she ever be well known for her “good works?” Probably not. She never made grand speeches or led any marches. But all of the people who ever encountered her, will always remember her for the way she loved and respected them. Most especially me. I wouldn’t have been the same person without her.


            9. @mrharrybuns

              Look, just below here is an earlier comment by Kat Goodwin explaining that you’re being the epitome of the Nice White Lady. What you just wrote, is exactly that again.

              You want to characterise reacting to racism as like a childish spat? You really need to ask yourself why you just wrote that.

              You want us to know that you’re definitely not acting out of any unexamined prejudices here, because you live in a diverse place and have some diverse friends? I have to tell you that believing that is pretty much a working definition of having unexamined prejudices.

              Anyway, I don’t know if it’ll help you at all, but here’s a helpful twitter thread that addresses your idea that this should have all been done on private better than I have:


      2. The problem we’re having here, MHB, is what they call Nice White Lady syndrome (NWL). It is more important to you to hold on to the cultural reputation of being nice — a reputation you and I get for being white in a white supremacy society, not for your character — than to deal with accurate facts about the racism that authors of color face and particularly face in the RWA that are involved in this case. Racism and homophobia are serious issues that affect the careers of authors of color and queer authors. In particular they have had to deal with discrimination from the people who run RWA and who are supposed to be, professionally, including them, treating them ethically and advocating for them, not just white and straight authors. And that has not been happening.

        The discrimination they face is not always intended to be malicious as quite often it’s just nice white people “defending” their reputation by trying to silence people of color and avoid having to look at and change racist and homophobic attitudes and behavior. It’s still devastating and needs to change. But unfortunately the main way you get “nice” people in dominant groups to change their attitudes and discriminatory acts is by calling them out publicly and refusing to go along with that being okay — confrontation, criticism and reform. They certainly aren’t willing to listen to people in marginalized groups, no matter how those people talk to them. Because to acknowledge that they have unfair advantage and have kept it — a not nice thing — means facing facts people in dominant groups don’t want to face and haven’t had to face, thanks to the bigoted systemic hierarchy that protects them by silencing or dismissing the marginalized. As you are trying to do in this case.

        Many people in the RWA have been working on reducing discrimination, but it requires constantly bringing up issues of discrimination to dominant groups who are often retaliatory in defense of their niceness rep. Milan has been one of the people helping the RWA be not discriminatory; they gave her a service award for it this year. Which is why you misrepresenting the facts as justification for condemning her as “wrong” and “shaming” people supports repression and discrimination, even if that’s not your intent. It’s still a problem that you are placing on authors of color as a burden; it’s still attempting to sweep talk about racism under the rug as bad behavior not to be tolerated by white authors because white authors are scared that their reputation for being nice will be damaged. And that goal becomes more important than whether authors of color are being harmed by embedded and normalized discrimination in the RWA.

        This was not a “Twitter feud” as you keep trying to characterize it — and keep judging people on that incorrect basis. Milan, who is not white, was investigating and criticizing a publisher that hired as editors two women known to be very problematic regarding racial issues, in particular a former book buyer who openly and infamously discriminated against black fiction writers as a book buyer. The concern was that this publisher would therefore discriminate against authors of color. While Milan was not doing this as an officer of RWA, it was totally in line with other work she has done for the RWA and was relevant to the RWA’s mandate, which is to advocate and protect authors against problematic actions of publishers. Two of the people involved in this publisher who are also author members of RWA tried to bring a complaint against Milan that they did not have standing to do and which involved accusations with no evidence and some outright lies. That’s not a little spat with a bunch of authors behaving badly as you’re trying to paint it.

        The RWA has also stated that it was not Milan’s social media postings (which are exempt and not considered unprofessional under the Ethics Code,) nor the complaints from the two authors towards her that led to their initial decision to suspend her and ban her from RWA office — a decision they promptly rescinded when it was shown they had not followed correct procedures at all. Instead, some other complaint material that no one except the group of people who were not following procedures has seen — that Milan has not seen nor gets to defend herself against — supposedly led them to that decision. That’s what’s called a railroading, not a Twitter spat. And it’s used routinely to discriminate against people of color. So now a lot of authors of color are not sure that RWA can represent them at all. In fact, they are concerned that the RWA will deliberately try to hurt them as they did Milan or shut them out of the opportunities the organization gives to white authors. Many of them on the Board have resigned in protest at the RWA’s actions — and have been replaced by mainly white people.

        And yet that’s not what most concerns you, which is why you’re getting push-back here. What concerns you is that people of color are speaking harshly to white people about racism — racism that damages their careers and threatens their physical well-being in the society — and thus you are trying to characterize them as rude and unprofessional. That you are also saying that some of the white people were rude and unprofessional too doesn’t change the mischaracterization you are doing here. This was an incident of discrimination against Milan, one with serious implications for the RWA and the romance field. it has been compounded by more and more members of RWA coming forward with other instances of discrimination and cover-up from the RWA and the discovery that many of their formal complaints about discrimination were never given to the RWA Ethics Committee — more discrimination.

        So if you’re not taking a side and you don’t know the details of events, maybe you shouldn’t be condemning the non-white people involved here as “just as wrong.” Because the facts of the situation don’t support this, so it looks like you’re just trying to defend the discrimination the RWA got caught in. The anger you’re experiencing here is not because people are calling you mean and racist, etc. It’s because you’re being a blind, typical white person. You are cluelessly supporting the silencing of people of color calling out and dealing with racism because it’s supposedly not nice (inferior), unprofessional (inferior) and wrong (inferior.) White people, we do this all the time — we’re trained to do it. Dismiss, disapprove, delegitimize, fan ourselves in shock at the hullabaloo of those uppity marginalized people being critical of us. It’s a habit. And you can break it, but not as long as you are only concerned with your character rep and not the bigger systematic issues other people have to face and which you may wittingly or unwittingly support. You and I have to give up the nice rep we get for being atop the institutionalized hierarchy of race/ethnicity. And white fragility means it’s hard to get white people to do that instead of defensively denouncing their critics as unreasonable and not nice.

        Recently, Milan said, in regards to discussions about RWA, its treatment of her and starting new organizations in place of the RWA:

        I’ve been thinking a little bit, somewhat wistfully, about what an anti-racist organization would look like.
        Truth is, we all have things we need to work on. “Anti-racist” doesn’t mean “doesn’t have internalized issues to work out.” So saying, “no racists allowed” is, I think, not the answer. Because everyone’s going to trip on their shoe laces from time to time. I think a radically inclusive culture starts with a culture that teaches people how to listen to someone asking for them to do better. We have to normalize that behavior. We have to model it. We have to have explicit workshops where people practice it.

        Take a deep breath.
        Recognize your defensive thoughts.
        Ask yourself who you’ve hurt.
        Ask yourself who is hurt (if anyone) if you don’t hurt those people.

        Sit with the discomfort of having hurt people for a moment. Do the work to do better. We need to teach people how to break the downward spiral of call out -> defensiveness -> backlash -> anger -> call out. There are two ways to do that. One is, no call outs. But that places all the burden of bearing harmful behavior on the marginalized. We have tried that for….so long. It doesn’t work. Any organization that arises out of the ashes here needs to start with the understanding that educating people about how to sit with their defensiveness and breathe it out, how to sit with their discomfort and accept it and do better, is how we build a better place. These are skills. They really aren’t taught well, and many people don’t have them. But they *can* be taught, they *can* be learned. And I think we *can* do better.

        You’re arguing for no call outs — for us to let racism ride. And that doesn’t work. Milan was not unprofessional. She was doing the advocacy work helping romance authors she’s been doing for years. She was the target of an inappropriately filed complaint, she resigned from the head of the Ethics Committee because they claimed they needed her to do that for the case, she defended herself on the complaints that were presented to her — complaints that were then not apparently what she was judged on — and she was lied to by the organization. Your claim that Milan is unprofessional, rude, wrong and deserved what she got is not accurate and it supports discrimination and lack of procedure by the RWA as okay. All people here are trying to say to you is that you might want to listen more and think about that for a bit before you pronounce the judgments you are making.

        Liked by 2 people

    1. Protip: if you don’t want a “bad image” or you want to be seen to have “good character” – don’t stand up for unrepentant racists.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Did I say I’m standing up for racists? No, I said every single one of us is guilty of using some form of discrimination. Correcting it comes from recognizing its true source. People who remember the value of their characters, the only treasure we possess, are respectful everyone they meet. I’m a blog author and I don’t hide my character. I invite you to pay it a visit if you’re truly interested in getting to know me.


      2. In your desire not to be uncomfortable you have equated “both sides” as being bad. When you make this kind of false equivalency between someone calling out harmful tropes and those standing by those tropes and continuing to perpetuate them, you are complicit in allowing the discrimination to continue.

        Liked by 2 people

    2. mrharrybuns, I appreciate your articulate phrasing of your thoughts, upon return to RWA after a long absence. It’s appreciated hearing from a romance indy writer; I like probably many contributors here (but I’m merely guessing) am an outsider to the genre. Some reactions, intending the same spirit of contemplation and conversation:

      The term professionalism, it seems to me, applies a bit differently inside a workplace than it does among members of the public who have paid for membership in a trade association such as RWA or SFWA. As an employee, I fully understand that I’m obliged to avert open conflict with (and open criticism of the actions of) fellow employees, instead expressing those matters if at all within designated channels. Our joint objective to further the employer’s interests outweighs our urge for spontaneous expression of likes/dislikes.

      It is not at all clear to me that membership in the likes of RWA or SFWA imposes on a member the obligation to rein in public criticism of peers, or public criticism of their works, merely because members share the aim of book sales.

      I’ll have to next make an admission: Although intrigued by the present brouhaha, in part because of having been a follower of some of Ms. Milan’s past writings (such as her very effective dissections of the Ellora’s Cave scandal, a few years ago), I haven’t yet spared the time to get more than a vague grasp of particulars of Ms. Tisdale’s complaint filing. (Our host Camestros has done a good job, but I didn’t fully follow the details.) And, my point: Before judging that someone has been unprofessional, it seems to me one should be very clear on what that person has done specifically.

      Looking now through Ms. Tisdale’s complaint PDF, after much vagueness, on page two she gets around to reproducing one Milan tweet, expressing Milan’s view that a book long ago written by someone who is now one of Tisdale’s acquisition editors, Kathryn Lynn Davis, is a ‘f___ing racist mess’. Tisdale cites this as an example of Milan ‘tweeting about my company’ (Glenfinnan Publishing), despite there being zero connection between the book and the firm: Tisdale says Glenfinnan Publishing hasn’t published any books yet. Also, Ms. Davis’s book pre-dated the firm by some decades.

      So, the complaint is doubly fallacious: It flagrantly lumps in criticism of a work with personal criticism of the author, and then even more flagrantly lumps in the (imaginary) criticism of the author with (imaginary) criticism of a firm that employs that author decades later.

      Straining to be charitable, I see no alternative but to classify the complaint as either deeply incompetent or outright fraudulent.

      On page five, Ms. Tisdale claims (with no evidence provided) that Ms. Davis recently lost a contract with another unidentified publishing company because of Milan’s ‘attacks’. (Tisdale cited only one so-called ‘attack’.) Tisdale didn’t bother to state what the connection, if any, was between this alleged failed business opportunity and herself or Glenfinnan Publishing. Tisdale then followed up with a claim that she had ‘lost’ (with meaning unspecified) three unidentified authors because they feared ‘attack’ from Milan. Again, no evidence provided, just vague reference to alleged views of alleged nameless people.

      And that’s the entire complaint, except a lot of blustering and talk of litigation at the tail end. Oh, and I notice one other thing: On page one, cites the specific four sections of RWA’s ethics code she asserts that Milan violated, but at no point in the entire rest of the piece ties back her complaints about Milan’s Twitter post to show how specfically they constitute violations — which is particularly ironic given that the second ethics code section she cites explicitly says it is inapplicable to ‘non-RWA-operated social media posts’. Like Twitter.

      Now that we’ve considered the specific expression in question, you’re of course entitled to still hold to your view that Ms. Milan was guilty of ‘unprofessional’ conduct per your usage of the term. It’s a legitimate opinion. But I do feel that laying out the specifics should come first, and would urge some pondering about what metric you’re using.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. I should follow up on my own post to clarify that, yes, in my rush to look at the specifics of Ms. Tisdale’s complaint, I forgot that a separate, second PDF of sixteen screenshots was also part of of the formal complaint. (As mentioned, this brouhaha is in a fandom I’m not part of, and I hadn’t had sufficient cause to look at the underlying specifics, until just now.)

        However, looking at those screencaps doesn’t discernibly improve Ms. Tisdale’s complaint’s quality, in my personal view:

        In several of the highlighted Twitter threads, Ms. Milan voices her view about how racism works as a malign force in the publishing industry. Notably, at no point does she ever assert that any named person, let alone any so-far-no-books publishing house, is racist. (She does, as discussed, opine that one of Ms. Davis’s 1990s books, a title called Somewhere Lies the Moon, is a ‘f___ing racist mess’, after reading a sample — for reasons she then cites specifically.)

        RWA’s ethics committee also passed judgement on a separate complaint by Ms. Davis, on which I cannot at this point fairly comment.


      2. Let’s be clear, I’m not singling out Ms. Milan or naming names. Anyone who belongs to an organiztion who perports to represent us a group is a co-worker in a manner of speaking. Every single person who got involved in the Twitter fued is unprofessional. As I repied to Mr. King, RWA board’s mistake was scapegoating one person, rather than disciplining every single person who created the mess in the first place.


    3. I think RWA could have come out looking a whole lot better than they did.

      Transparency and proper process are the key to handling these sort of disputes.

      The process was highly irregular and secretive. The secret ad hoc committee’s report is vague and unclear. Even without judging the merits of the case this is all very bad.

      They may have had to look like the bad guys to someone, but they didn’t need to look incompetent and corrupt.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. You’re correct, they shouldn’t have. It’s hard to think straight when caught in headlights like a deer about to be creamed by a speeding car. Their mistake was in scapegoating one person, instead of disciplining every single individual who forgot what supporting a brand on a public forum really looks like.


      2. Lets remember that RWA was the car here. They were the ones punishing a member on faulty grounds concerning something they had no jurisdiction over.

        Disciplining absolutely every member who had said something mean about something connected to another member would have been a sisyphean task and thankfully RWA was not stupid enough to commit to such suicide.

        Liked by 2 people

    4. It honestly looks as though you’re STILL saying that calling out racism is as bad as racism. It doesn’t speak well of your character that you’re giving cover to racists on the grounds that it is impolite to call them racist when they’re being racist.


  11. well I may have been overly cynical about this not sinking the RWA. There have been a large number of resignations from the Board and the Ethics Committee, a petition to have the out-going president resign (she has,) and the in-coming president and executive director resign, and most importantly, the discovery that the in-coming president was appointed by somebody to be a liason between the Ethics committee and the mysteriously assembled separate committee, that he gave them information not in the report that was not necessarily accurate and affected their vote, that the Board didn’t see the actual complaints until they were posted on Twitter, whereupon they rescinded their vote against Milan, except no one has given her an apology or official account of the matter. This in-coming prez also keeps contradicting himself on statements about it.

    More and more accounts have also been coming out about discrimination in the organization, mess ups in procedures, about ethical complaints filed and not given to the Ethics Committee, violations of the organizational code, etc., including possible financial issues. This is a much bigger situation than just the Milan case and some related complaints.

    As for the happy ending stuff, that was not always a requirement. The majority of books in the category romance market do have happy endings. The category romance market, like the category SFF market, is an adjunct book-selling market supplied mainly by specialty publishers of the category and using specific sales channels (such as wholesale distribution and direct subscription,) special sections and displays in bookstores and other vendors and dedicated promotional channels, including category media that specializes in reviews and coverage of that category of fiction. The wider romance market includes titles sold in general fiction or things like YA, though they may be cross-marketed to the category romance market and vice versa. And in that wider market, you have romances with sad endings and works sold in general fiction as “women’s fiction.”

    So for instance Sam Sykes publishes fantasy works with Orbit, a specialty publisher which supplies titles to the category market/SFF sections of the bookstore. So Sam is a fantasy author and a category fantasy author. Christopher Moore, a fantasy author, publishes works with HarperCollins in a non-specialty imprint and his work is sold in general fiction. So Moore is a fantasy author and a non-category fantasy author but whose works sometimes are cross-marketed to category SFF media. Likewise, Suzanne Barclay is a category romance writer whose works appear in the category romance market/section, whereas Meyer’s Twilight and Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander are romances that are part of the wider romance market and are out of category, in YA and general fiction respectively. Who publishes you and where they sell it determines whether someone’s works are category or non-category (which is not the same thing as genre even though we call them “genre” categories,) and authors can publish both category and non-category works. Bestsellers in category markets are often moved into general fiction and there is lots of crossover.

    The RWA concentrated on category romance authors mainly, though they didn’t necessarily exclude non-category romance writers. The development of electronic works (which romance pioneered,) and wider, electronic self-publishing caused RWA to widen the parameters on what was professional level. The addition of having a happily ever after ending may have been to focus on category romance publishing, but it seems a strange requirement.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. An optimistic ending, even if it is not the traditional happily ever after, is still very much a requirement for many romance readers. Indie authors often get bad reviews for publishing something as romance, when it does not have an optimistic ending. What has changed is that the happily ever after no longer needs to involve traditional marriage and children and that series where the romance stretches over several books and the happily ever after only comes at the end of the whole series, whereas individual books in the middle may end with the couple not together, are now accepted as romance. And the definition what is and isn’t a romance will continue to widen. This year’s Goodreads Choice winner in the romance category was a gay romance.

      Also romance readers are fully willing to read books with tragic, bittersweet or open endings, but these books are usually published as women’s fiction, general fiction, chick lit (is that still a thing?), at any rate something other than romance.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. A HEA is and is not a requirement for romance readers, depending on the readers. Romance readers are a broad lot and they in general like to label a lot of things as romance that most publishers and booksellers have never marketed as romance. Romance reviewers are also very generous on that front, being often willing to review any story with a romantic sub-plot to alert romance readers about it. The category romance media has been a huge boon to both the category SFF market and SFF published in general fiction in that way. Books like A Discovery of Witches for instance got a lot of word of mouth mileage from romance fans. Books like The Goblin Emperor, which only has a slight romantic sub-plot, also get romance review coverage.

        But a professional organization that is supposed to be advocating for romance authors with publishers isn’t built on reader expectations for only some types of romance in any case. If they are only going to represent and bring in a sub-set of romance writers, rather than the wider field of romance writers, that limits them. They are the Happily Ever After Romance Writers of America, not Romance Writers of America.

        It appears that several things have been going on, to wit:

        1. Staff at RWA have been given full discretion and no oversight to decide who can and cannot join the RWA by being the ones who evaluate whether a work is a “romance” or not. And there is a substantial amount of evidence that these staff people have deep discriminatory biases towards various demographic groups on a regular basis, as well as trying to keep things narrow on HEA endings.

        2. The incoming president has apparently been doing a lot of manipulations to A) become president and put friends on the BOD and B) boot Courtney out, despite the fact that Courtney advocated for him to be on the BOD for better representation. (Plus lying about Chuck Tingle who has been/become the national treasure of several fields.)

        3. The two authors who advanced the original complaints against Courtney — complaints that when fully shown to the BOD caused the reversal of their vote against Courtney — filed the complaints as publishers, not author members, which means they didn’t have legal standing to do it.

        4. There have been a lot of aggressive incidents throughout the RWA, and their contests particularly, that have been highly discriminatory.

        This Twitter thread has a really good summary of the specific Courtney case with links to various factors:

        Liked by 3 people

    2. If I understand it correctly, the former members of the board are not allowed to give an explanation, because they have obligation to silence as the meeting discussing the report was discussed during Executive Session.

      Which is yet another strange thing.

      Liked by 2 people

  12. Cora, thank you for the reminder, and for providing the Teach Me Tonight link in the first place. I’ve had a browser tab open to it for a day or so, but until just now hadn’t done more than skim it.

    Yes, the plot does thicken, a bit. Deirdre (my wife) had mentioned that bit about corporate book buyer Sue Grimshaw’s problematic book-shelving practices at Borders for most of a decade (specifically, filing any romance book about African American characters outside Borders’s Romance section). So, attempting to produce a (sorry!) Reader’s Digest Condensed Books version: Grimshaw gets an RWA award, but then get deserved scrutiny about shelving practices during her Borders tenure, she bounces around, and ends up at Tisdale’s Glenfinnan Publishing. Some Twitter squabble involving US current politics (plus her ‘liking’ some fairly odious tweets) ensued.

    The Borders matter drew Courtney Milan and friends’ attention on Twitter in August, noting Grimshaw’s new roost with Tisdale’s company, commenting on a then-recent video statement, and critical of implications of Tisdale’s statement about Glenfinnan Publishing insisting on colour-blind acquisitions: The critics found likelihood of structural bias, e.g., via publisher insistence that characters’ ethnicities be hidden. Tisdale went on to aver at length Grimshaw’s good and non-bigoted character, about which Milan pointed out the non-responsive nature of Tisdale’s commentary, calling it ‘gaslighting’. Separately, Milan took a shot at setting one’s rejection bar as low as ‘want[ing to] see the annihilation of a specific group of people’ (Tisdale’s phrasing) and nothing better as then ‘you are definitely a racist’.

    Well, that certainly does lay some groundwork for Tisdale going on the warpath against Milan thereafter.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Intending no slur against our good host’s considerable powers of explanation: Folks hoping for an additional lucid and concise explanation of this entire affair, one from inside the Romance field, can IMO do no better than Has RWA Lost Its Way? by Lynn Spence at All About Romance. This piece helped me (better) understand the whole story.

    Also worthwhile are some of the reader comments, including several pointing out the distortive nature of Tisdale, Davis, and sundry apologists’ claim that Courtney Milan had gratuitously picked on a 1999 book (Davis’s), to rag on for its antiquated stereotyping: The novel is in fact Davis’s 2014 reissue of one of her 1999 books, that she could have revised if she wished, but hadn’t. So, it’s not as if Milan borrowed a TARDIS to find it.

    Liked by 4 people

  14. Welp, the RWA have done it now, they’ve got Chuck Tingle mad.

    (If we get any more crossovers with the pupfluffle then my sense of irony will explode)

    Liked by 4 people

    1. (I should really finish scrolling through twitter *before* I post, then I would have seen that you’d already mentioned it!)

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Mark H. —

        I’m sure everyone in these parts (and Filers, etc.) had that ‘It’s old home week!’ double-take reaction. OTOH, it’s decidedly good to hear from The Chuck.

        Liked by 3 people

    2. Given that the RWA might well need another president-elect soon… it occurs to me that they could do worse than choose a prolific, articulate and passionate writer who believes (and openly states) that Love Is Real. Just sayin’.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Well, they were fine with setting up secret committees, so a pres with a secret identity should be fine…


  15. MrHarryBuns, I don’t think that the RWA were “caught in headlights like a deer about to be creamed by a speeding car” until it all blew up.

    So far as I can see, a few people were (justifiably) criticised for racism by a number of others.

    Two of these decided to raise a bogus complaint against one of the critics. A complaint that was completely invalid on at least two grounds before the evidence is even considered. And considering the evidence only makes it worse.

    At this point there is no need to panic. The complaint can be handled properly. That will lead to it being rejected, which would upset the complainants, but the RWA can point out that they did handle it according to their rules. Transparency and good process. Most people will be happy. The RWA can also set up a committee to consider modifying the ethics code, which should go some way to pleasing the people who feel that the complaint – despite its major deficiencies – addressed a genuine problem.

    However, the RWA didn’t do that. Instead, somebody secretly sets up a committee to consider the report and that committee railroads the complaint through, releasing a report that is lacking the necessary clarity. The president-elect then manoeuvres the report through the board without the board understanding just what is going on.

    Unfortunately the chosen target is a very smart lawyer with a strong social media presence. The RWA has a lot of skeletons lurking In the cupboards. The president-elect is looking a bit shady for other reasons. Then the panic sets in as everything starts to come out, and there are serious consequences.

    I don’t think that panic is an adequate explanation. The actions at the RWA were too underhanded to be explained by panic alone. There seems to be no immediate threat to the RWA itself which required drastic action – at least not until after it all went down.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. “Their mistake was in scapegoating one person, instead of disciplining every single individual who forgot what supporting a brand on a public forum really looks like.”
      To paraphrase Desmond Tutu, when the elephant steps on the mouse’s tail, criticizing the mouse for lack of respect means siding with the elephant.

      Liked by 3 people

  16. So this just gets more and more byzantine, though not at all a surprise to writers of color who have been dealing with this sort of stuff for years. Two major things have come out:

    1) That when members filed ethics complaints against other members, and even sometimes publishers, RWA staff, under the direction of the Executive Director, urged the filers to try to resolve the complaint with the party being accused in informal mediation (having a talk,) without a mediator. And if the filer refused to do the Informal Process, the RWA Staff then routinely denied the complaint and booted it, rather than taking it to the Ethics Committee. This particularly occurred with complaints related to racism and to LGBTQA+ issues.

    2) The complaints against Courtney Milan — one of which was filed by the author member as a publisher, which isn’t kosher, and the other as an author but also an editor of said publisher, also not kosher — were essentially handled back in August, but a decision was delayed. The out-going president of the time (who is on Team Courtney,) was told by RWA’s attorney that Courtney had to not only recuse herself from the Ethics Committee for the complaints but step down entirely and so asked Courtney to do so, which Courtney did. This the out-going president realizes was a mistake and she should have looked into it more closely.

    The rules governing the particular situation with Courtney were then rewritten and revised in October and retroactively applied to the complaint against Courtney from August and the decision was then implemented. This was at least partly engineered by the current incoming president, but was not solely caused by him.

    So what we see from this is the kind of stuff we see so often. On the first one, the RWA staff sought to protect the RWA’s reputation, including of its regional chapters, over the needs and situations of the RWA members, particularly in matters involving discrimination. They sought to make problems go away by having possible victims talk to their possible harassers “informally” — a mess of a situation that didn’t follow the formal rules, and then deep sixed many of those complainers who insisted on formal procedure. We’ve seen this all the time when it comes to conventions where the staff don’t follow the Code of Conduct procedures, where they try to get those filing complaints to “talk it out” with the people they are filing about, without a record, and with no need to make any real changes to the convention organization so that these situations don’t keep happening and an equal space is accessible to all. It effectively invalidates the convention’s Code of Conduct, and in this case, the RWA staff invalidated the advocacy work of the Ethics Committee.

    On the second one, we’ve also seen this sort of thing on a more individual basis. The main impetus there is to delay things in hopes they’ll go away and people will forget about them or be unaware of them so they can be manipulated. In this case, the people involved have created a “gap” in procedure that opens them and the RWA up to legal liability. And again, we’ve seen this happen often because many of those in charge simply do not want to deal with a discrimination issue and try to wish it away, creating a larger and larger mess.

    What’s also interesting is the complainers in Courtney’s case try to assign her magical superpowers. The author-publisher tries to claim, without any evidence presented, that Courtney personally and specifically was able to block authors from working with the publisher (which isn’t a complaint that should be filed with the Ethics Committee in the first place.) And the author-editor claims, without any evidence presented, that Courtney personally and specifically was able to block her from getting a three book deal with a publisher. This is highly reminiscent of the Puppies claiming that an ever shifting cabal of authors somehow had the power to control and rig the Hugos, without presenting any evidence, and of various claims that the targets of Gamergate had supernatural powers to control the gaming industry. The Puppies’ narrative shifted, since they had no evidence, to the claim that Tor, the big mean publisher, rigged the Hugos, also with no evidence, which is a claim that continues to pop up today as a vague myth.

    In these cases, the mere act of speaking about bigoted attitudes and discrimination — with the possibility that organizations and industries as well as individuals might listen and then try to deal better with discrimination and equal opportunity — is presented as powerful, targeted conquest, as speech too dangerous to exist, and so needs to be squished. Many people at the RWA seem to have been doing a lot of squishing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Kat, one thing that caught my eye:

      The out-going president of the time (who is on Team Courtney,) was told by RWA’s attorney that Courtney had to not only recuse herself from the Ethics Committee for the complaints but step down entirely and so asked Courtney to do so, which Courtney did.

      This is almost but not quite what happened. The outgoing president was told by Damon Suede that the RWA Board’s attorney had insisted Ms. Milan resign — the same Mr. Suede who seems to have been behind many machinations during this affair. In retrospect, she has realised she never checked this assertion with said attorney, and IIRC this was one of the final events of her presidential term. As she is no longer on the Board, she has lost the necessary access and can no longer see whether Mr, Suede was manipulating her on this matter. (I don’t think I need to dwell on Mr. Suede’s record of accuracy.)

      I believe I mentioned on File770 that there are advantages to having grown up with a sibling prone to habitual dissembling: One learns to at least spot-verify and not just assume people are both truthful and in possession of reliable data.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. He does seem to have been a busy boy and it’s very sad. RWA has not and is not now a great place for queer authors, though there have been efforts, so having a gay man as president would be a step forward for them. Nora Roberts in her comments detailed how when in 2005 the RWA tried to ban gay romance from the organization and she complained, the president at the time tried to convince her that not banning gay romance would lead to lesbians “taking over” the RWA. This is the thing that marginalized authors regularly have to deal with — their existence, participation and having equal opportunity is seen as a threat. So maybe Suede thought he had to do it to accomplish his goals, but it simply reinforces the bigotry of many members towards queer authors and created new strands of bigotry against non-white authors.

        Milan does not seem to want the entire thing to focus on Suede and be dismissed as just a feud between him and her. This incident has opened a far wider picture of discrimination and organizational breakdown, including of the hired staff and apparently the executive director in charge of the staff. It seems clear that the structure of RWA has allowed a lot of individuals to run their own agendas and toss the procedures with nobody looking — and quite a lot of money involved. Again, this is what we see so often in conventions, author groups and many other non-writing groups and communities — people put in charge who think they can just handle things however they see fit and who bring their biases to the party. People who think they can just swipe problems under the rug or have informal, “civil” talks with their buddies and that everyone should be alright with their decisions. These people may be manipulative or well meaning, but their privileged attitude that it should be about how they want to run things while they are around instead of setting up standard and followed procedures and structures that ensure fair treatment, causes huge losses and breakdowns for those organizations.

        In many ways, the RWA was one of the most advanced, tech savvy author organizations and one that often aggressively advocated for authors against bad policies of publishers. When Harlequin, the big bear of category romance, set up a self-pub services and pub arm that tricked would be authors with the hope of then being published in Harlequin’s lines, RWA took them on and boycotted them from being a qualifying publisher for RWA, which got them to change the marketing to be more honest and less predatory. They definitely need an organization like the RWA for many things. But when the people running the organization can’t deal with the reality of humans over myths and with modern developments, then the organization becomes a liability. So we’ll see what happens with it. I still think it will probably survive in some form, despite a lot of major people leaving. But there may be some better, newer organizations coming out of this too. Lot of work either way.

        Liked by 1 person

  17. “the president at the time tried to convince her that not banning gay romance would lead to lesbians “taking over” the RWA.”
    Kevin Kruse’s book on desegration in Atlanta, “White Flight,” really foreshadows everything the right has done in the past 50 years. Atlanta’s working-class whites took the view that if blacks could use the parks, schools, streets, then those spaces had been taken away from white people. The logic here seems similar. It’s the bizarro-version of calling for safe spaces.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. And now those who are running the RWA have essentially dedicated themselves to burning it down to the ground and whining at Milan about it:

    Meanwhile all the major media outlets, thinking they’re getting another Gamergate, are covering it. And Milan is about to have way more right wing trolls in her mentions for New Year’s.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I presume that Hoyt and Freer, given their pro-free-speech tendencies, are firmly supporting Milan in her attempt to actually engage in criticism of another author’s (racist) work.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Naturally, particularly when it is an author standing up to a publisher and criticising a former buyer for Borders bookstore. The basic sides are clear for them both who they should support and absolutely they are on Milan’s side on this…Hold on…just got a note across my blogging desk…it turns out that on this occasion they are both making an exception to the stalwart defense of athours free-speech! Gosh! A suprising twist!

          Liked by 1 person

  19. Kat, thank you for making the necessary and important point that the problems at RWA go far, far deeper and further into its history than just the machinations of its new president. It’s a point that many other informed observers have also been making. The group’s recent history and role of the staff in deflecting critics / hiding problems have been troubling, as you suggest. (Unlike me, you might be much more connected to the Romance community. In any event, I suspect we’ve been reading some of the same reporting and industry critiques.)

    The bit about the use of ‘informal’ talks puts me in mind of Elise Matthesen’s 2013 experience, concerning a harassment incident at Readercon. That was the one where she pointed out that if an incident gets ‘informally’ disposed of with no formal report (a handling method towards which persons attempting to file complaints are often nudged), then the problem situation merely becomes invisible and will tend to recur. Each time will appear to be a one-off and get handled ‘informally’ with no record, again. Nobody gets to compare notes, and patterns of badness are just swept under the rug and never dealt with. And this playbook seems to have been routinely applied by the RWA staff, by all accounts — a troubling sign of personnel problems way below the group’s executive staff.

    (I finally had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Mathesen at a Filer gathering near the Kansas City Worldcon, and to tell her how much I appreciated her leadership on that matter. Also, any friend of the late John M. Ford is a friend of mine, so to speak.)

    What still puzzles me a bit is how RWA insiders (be they the new president, the staff, or both) thought that their ramshackle handling of the (blatantly defective) complaints against Milan would work out well. My wife Deirdre speculates that it’s the Nice White Lady (NWL) standard playbook at work, where the assumption is that a critic is part of a shame culture (e.g., many church-oriented cultures), and can be silenced by having a scandal, real or artificial, visited upon him or her to bring the critic into line. People living in that cultural bubble might well be blindsided by this ‘handling’ method backfiring spectacularly when attempted against someone lacking those hooks, not to mention being blindsided by the Internet taking the attempt poorly.


    1. I’ve worked with a lot of romance writers. They’re the most organized and dedicated group of fiction writers. A lot of the stuff the market conscious self-pub authors are doing they borrowed from the romance writers. But on this, I’m probably reading the same material on the Net. I loosely follow Milan’s social media, because she’s a very sharp commentator and former lawyer, and if you had to pick a romance writer to try to screw over, she would not be the one you should first go for. And going after her in the way that was done has angered major figures in the RWA and the romance field in general. (La Nora is pissed.)

      There are definitely a lot of NWL problems in RWA, but I’m not sure we can throw Suede in there with that. But it is certainly the general attitude of hey, we’ll take care of the problem if stuff comes up and we don’t need to follow standard procedures that then tends to have people sweeping stuff under the rug, then defensively trying to ret-con how they messed up. In this case, the claims against Milan in the summer happened to coincide with several execs being out-going from office and so not handling things as thoroughly as they should. The case was delayed and then some of the in-coming folk decided to squish non-white authors and Milan in particular, going outside procedure and trying to do it during the holidays when folks were busy. Then they tried to reinstate her and backtrack while asserting they’d done nothing really wrong and outside procedure.

      Which is the usual pattern of these sorts of things. Whether they did the mess up because they thought they could sweep it away, or had it in for Milan, or wanted to get new abilities to deal with certain members, or whatever, the result is that they now have a legal mess on their hands, not only with Milan, but with the two author/publishers who filed the original complaints against her. And more, there was a big petition of members to recall Suede and others over this and the RWA effectively erased the petition, so they’ve started a second one. The RWA has also been erasing posts in forums about the case, while leaving a bunch of bigoted nonsense up on its Facebook page. This is angering a lot of members who might not otherwise care/notice what’s going on. And with major media coverage, the RWA can’t back out of the whole mess by claiming it’s all private and confidential — not with their execs having sent conflicting emails to the entire membership within the course of a week and those emails being widely shared on the Net.

      So there’s going to be some kind of overhaul, but what form it ends up taking is uncertain. But Suede’s effectively lost control and if he’s smart, he’ll resign “for the good of the RWA” while admitting no wrong-doing and backing away. But as we know, people aren’t always smart in these situations. It all definitely shows how important standardized, clear and enforced procedures for these issues are to organizations, to have professional and equal operations. You need codes that anybody can follow and then make sure they follow them.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Kat, thanks again for the thorough assessment and surmises, which certainly seem likely. And I appreciate the informed views from someone who’s connected to the genre. Practically my only tenuous connection is having closely followed blog and Twitter coverage by my wife Deirdre, Courtney Milan, and others of the flap in 2014 when Romance publisher Ellora’s Cave Publishing sued the Dear Author blog and its principal Jane Litte for defamation over coverage claiming authors weren’t getting paid royalties. That suit was settled privately a year later, terms not disclosed, but, well, notice the coverage remains up with no retraction in sight. (The craziness continued with the troubled publishing house making a similar threat against RWA a year later. The firm shut down, a few months later, having in essence made some fatal business errors.)

        Anyway, I’ve consistently been impressed with how Romance fans have it together as to effective collective action, at least compared to us SFF fans: We can and ought to learn from Romance fans. And thus, I wanted to stress that I gratefully defer to the views of well-informed people from that fandom, such as your good self.

        In that spirit (as interested outsider), I’d speculate that, if RWA’s internal dynamics are typical, there may have been just a whole lot of incremental steps to get by, without much overall plan or foresight. That’s how the biggest screwups tend to happen, one unwise step at a time.

        As to RWA’s future (with or without Damon Suede at the helm), I fear that the instincts to double down and to hush things up is going to prevail for a while, yet, and I’m quite sure there’s more interesting times and Happy Fun Demolition to come.

        Liked by 1 person

  20. Well, it’s getting worse. They’ve replaced Board Members who resigned over the Milan-aimed malfeasance with mainly white women who are apparently mostly friendly to Suede. And they’ve told unhappy members that Milan was not initially sanctioned due to her social media posts (since that would be against the Code of Ethics,) or the complaints made public (one of which was made by an author acting as a publisher which is not appropriate as an ethics complaint,) but on something else, other complaints. Milan was not presented with and given the opportunity to respond to these additional complaints on which the Ethics Committee and Boards based their initial judgment. Nobody except for the few handful of folks running RWA know what they were, (assuming they exist.)

    So basically this was a scam to get rid of Milan looks like and then also an opportunity to dis-empower or get rid of various authors of color who were active anti-racists in RWA. At every stage it’s been completely unorthodox and frequently contradictory. Unfortunately, a lot of category romance writers who aren’t that active on social media only know what the RWA told them in emails. So even though the RWA rescinded their suspension of Milan and banning her from holding office in the RWA, they’ve been effectively still defaming her to 10,000 romance writer members (and by extension their fans.) They’ve been attacking Milan with what are essentially rumors of vague wrong-doing, creating a template that they could use against a lot of other authors of color or queer authors the execs don’t like, etc.

    This is going to drive most of the younger romance writers away from the RWA and their younger, much needed readers with them. Who wants to join a professional organization that’s going to pull this on you instead of advocate with publishers for you? Very sad.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. //Well, it’s getting worse. They’ve replaced Board Members who resigned over the Milan-aimed malfeasance with mainly white women who are apparently mostly friendly to Suede. //

      sings: It’s beginning to look a lot like coup-mas

      Liked by 2 people

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