An open letter to RWA’s president, BOD

An open letter to the RWA’s staff, executive director, board and Damon Suede, current RWA president:

While I doubt I am the first person to contact you about this, I would like to add my voice to those demanding answers over recent issues regarding the actions taken against Courtney Milan by RWA on behalf of Suzan Tisdale, who while a member of RWA is also a publisher, and Kathryn Lynn Davis, another member who currently acts as an editor for Ms. Tisdale.

I am fully aware that the decision was reversed and according to the statement, I see the decision is ‘pending litigation’ although frankly I am confused as to why.

The RWA membership deserves to know why this even made it to the ethics committee to begin with.

First, Ms. Milan’s statements on Twitter were clearly referencing a book. It states in the bylaws that honest discussions of books are allowed.

From section 7:

Specifically excluded from this section are exchanges of business information, true statements, personal disagreements, honest discussions of books, non-RWA operated social media posts, and marketing materials.

RWA Code of Ethics

Ms. Milan’s statement regarding Ms. Davis’s book, and I quote,

“Someone sent me a link to a book written by the other editor, Kathryn Lynn Davis and it is a fucking racist mess.”

Courtney Milan, Twitter

That, clearly, is about the book and surely, Ms. Milan, a Chinese American woman, is qualified to decide whether a book involving Chinese characters is laden with racist tropes.

Are we no longer allowed to point out problematic issues in books?

If that is the case, then why haven’t I been brought up on ethics complaints? Is because I’m white? Did I not piss off the right member? Should I have offended somebody who was a friend of Sue Grimshaw?

Or was Courtney Milan simply targeted? I’ve got to be honest, it certainly seems like Ms. Milan was targeted.

Second, Suzan Tisdale has absolutely no business filing ethics complaints against anybody within RWA. She should no longer even be a member of the PAN loop and her membership needs to be changed to an associate.

It was obvious in her complaint that she is no longer simply an author. She is a publisher who is actively acquiring.

Why did RWA even consider an ethics complaint from two members who don’t belong in the general membership, but should be listed as associates?

By definition, they aren’t actively working solely as romance writers anymore since they are publisher/editor for Tisdale’s publishing house.

Since when did Romance Writers of America become an advocate for the publisher over the writer?

What’s next? Can Harlequin come in and target writers next or did Ms. Tisdale get special consideration?

Third, I would like to know more about how this secret ethics committee was formed. If we are governed by our bylaws then please explain where in the bylaws we can find more about the process that was used to select these members.  We do have a right to know that.

The unsigned statement to the general membership claimed:

We answer first to our members, and so we would like to take this time to provide clarity and a path forward.

RWA statement

Clarity. That’s a funny word. It’s kinda like…clear. Which means transparent.

If the BoD really wanted to provide clarity, the letter would have been signed. More information would have been provided. And there wouldn’t be resounding silence…still.

So, in the spirit of the clarity RWA’s statement claims to be willing to provide, please give more information about why this secret ethics committee was formed, what process was used, where the guidelines for said process can be found—for clarity, of course.

Fourth, I would like to know why legitimate ethics complaints, particularly from women of color, seem to go ignored by either the staff or the ethics committee. It would almost seem as though the staff is weeding through them and not passing them on. This is beyond troubling and I believe an audit is in an order and that answers must be provided to the membership.

Fifth, the membership deserves to know why there seems to be a disconnect between the members who resigned from the board in protest over these actions and those who stayed.

With the exception of Carolyn Jewel, the former president, the members who resigned are all women of color. I find it impossible to believe that these women would have acted against Courtney Milan, another woman of color, for calling out racism unless they were not fully informed of all circumstances.

Sixth, why in the world is the board and current president so quiet right now? Yes, it may be a holiday weekend, but RWA’s house is currently burning down for all the world to see. Are you going to wait until there’s nothing but ashes before you address the general membership?

If so, let me just say I hope none of you are involved in volunteer work with your local fire departments.  Typically, action is taken while the blaze is going. Not long after.

This hit national news in a way nothing involving the romance community ever has, not even the plagiarism scandal from earlier this year involving Nora Roberts.

This is not the time for a strong and determined leadership to be quiet.

We deserve answers and you owe them to us.

Seventh, and last but most certainly not least, I think it’s time for Damon Suede, Carol Ritter and all staff, board and committee members who were associated with the ethics complaint against Courtney Milan to step down.

This isn’t personal. It’s business.

The unsigned letter addressing the RWA membership harped on and on about rebuilding trust.

Well, this is how you start, ladies and gentlemen. You step down. You broke the faith and trust of thousands of members and the faith and trust that RWA had in the publishing community is now in shambles.

It cannot be rebuilt on tainted ground and the current board, executive director, president and all parties associated with that bogus ethics complaint are tainted.

As the saying goes, the buck stops here. You want to act like leaders, this is probably the only way to do it. Step down.

Shiloh Walker