RWA Fiasco in Reno

As you can tell by my four summaries of what I’ve gone through when I attended three previous Romance Writers of America Conferences, I remember the occasions in a fond manner.

I’m ever so happy I didn’t attend this year.

Managing the server that powers Romancing The Blog and a few other dozen romance related websites, I do get an earful from clients and also from my romance author wife.

So it comes to pass that the RITA ceremony was a complete and utter disaster from start to finish. Honoring past award winners is a good thing; putting pictures of disasters in the news as a backdrop behind each of the prior winners is not the way to hold a award ceremony.

So badly was the presentation written, that… get this… the master of ceremonies, the best known romance author in America at the moment, Nora Roberts, publicly resigned from the Master of Ceremony duties 24 hours before they were to begin at the end of what is reported to be a fairly heated argument at the Harlequin Party!!

From Selah March:

The story goes that the reigning Queen of Romance, THE Goddess of the genre, NORA ROBERTS herself, was slated to MC the awards ceremony, which was supposed to be an all-out celebration of the 25th Anniversary of the RWA. But after reading the script for the presentation, Nora flatly refused to participate unless allowed to do MAJOR rewrites.



What a diva, right? I mean, the nerve.


Because they refused to rewrite the script, and Nora didn’t MC, and what followed, according to some who WERE in attendance, was a horror show to end all horror shows. Instead of a celebration of RWA and romance fiction over the past 25 years, the RITA/GH awards ceremony included the following:

* a video and audio rehash of every national and international tragedy that’s taken place since 1980, set to a back-drop of kicky tunes from each year represented.

Imagine, if you will, footage of the tanks rolling through Tiananmen Square with “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” playing in the background. Apparently, only a last-minute edit managed to save the ceremony attendees from being forced to watch the shuttle Challenger explode in mid-air and…AND…the Twin Towers fall.

Think about that. All those NYC agents and editors in the audience. Think about it some more.

Yee-HAW. We’re celebratin’ NOW, baybeee…

** images of political leaders flashed on the screen, looking handsome and honorable.

Okay…wait. Let me rephrase. Images of REPUBLICAN political leaders–specifically Presidents Reagan, Bush I and II–flashed on the screen, looking handsome and honorable.

Word has it the only time President William Jefferson Clinton–you remember him? Rhodes Scholar? Two term president? Led the country through a time of exceptional prosperity? Had a little trouble keeping it in his pants, true, but left the nation with a JILLION DOLLAR SURPLUS?–was shown was in conjunction with the Monica Lewinsky nonsense. Biased much?

Read the whole blog post

Selah points us to Nora Robert’s letter to the Board of Directors of RWA, and it’s a doozy. It will either be published as a letter to the editor of the RWA publication Romance Writers’ Report or put in the next possible issue as an advertisement. As this is meant for public dissemination, I’ll repost the entire letter here – as originally posted on Nora Roberts’ own message board:

As Ms. Quinn refused to read my statement, as agreed, before the awards ceremony in Reno, then again reneged on her agreement to read it after the awards, I will write it here.

Nora Roberts declines to host tonight’s awards ceremony as she feels the content is inappropriate and believes the focus should be on the nominees and the organization.

Oddly, I wasn’t given a script by Ms. Quinn. One was provided by a member of the production team when I requested it on Friday afternoon in Reno. The only significant change I was able to implement, though I argued and debated with Ms. Quinn, Laura Hayden and Diana Pershing, was the deletion of the video containing the fall of the Twin Towers and the Oklahoma City bombing. How painful those images would have been to the many editors in attendance who lived though 9/11.

Instead of a celebration, a night of fun and anticipation for the nominees, and an entertaining and sparkling event, the audience was treated to a three-plus hour world history lesson, heavy on disaster, death, politics, war and tragedy–in one memorable moment, Don’t Worry, Be Happy was played over those images.

I can’t comprehend how such tragic events and images had a place at a ceremony meant to showcase the nominees and the organization. Nor can I understand how it was thought proper to juxtapose those with presenters being driven on stage in a limo, walking to the podium to Joan Riveresque commentary in a format that gave more play to the presenters than those who were lucky enough to take home a Golden Heart or a Rita. The emcee’s place in all this seemed to be to recite endless dry facts and figures of RWA dues, conference fees and sites over the last quarter of a century, instead of relating the heart of our organization.

It was tempting to resign my membership. But it wasn’t RWA that pushed this agenda. It was a handful of individuals. RWA has, as always, my respect, affection and gratitude. The current president has none of those.

Nora Roberts

The current president in question, the RWA president that Nora Roberts resigned her MoC duties in front of, is Tara Taylor Quinn.

The RWA has made several bone headed moves of late, ones I have let others talk about, as I’m no longer a member of RWA. But this fiasco is a hoot, and there’s more to talk about here than just what happened this last Saturday evening.

To sum it up, the RWA board apparently was bending in a political direction with several key decisions reflecting a stricter morality BEFORE this politically charged Award ceremony. While I could have forgiven the RWA for the various alleged oversights concerning Graphical Standards, or the way that the RWA Board of Directors dealt with an e-publisher of erotic novels, the RITA Awards ceremony fiasco, and the reluctance of the President to compromise with the more sensible Nora Roberts leading up to that ceremony indicates an ingrained and resolute polarization of political opinion
in an organization that should remain unbiased.

Are the RWA rank and file members responsible for electing the Board of Directors, and therefore are ultimately responsible for their own leadership?

Why yes. Yes they are.

In my recent summaries of the RWA Conferences, I bemoaned the lack of Mainstream Media coverage of the conference. Sunday morning I saw more articles about the Women’s blog conference called Bloghercon than I did the RWA Conference. I did find one summary media piece in the Sacremento Bee for today, where it ends with the beginning of the RITA Awards.

I think every member of the RWA ought to breath a sigh of relief that this fiasco didn’t get picked up by the press.

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8 thoughts on “RWA Fiasco in Reno”

  1. I agree with you that everyone in the RWA should be grateful this hasn’t made the press. Yet.

    But wasn’t there a TV crew filming? What are they going to show?

    I am – livid – that the RWA ceremony was hijacked by bigoted Republican insanity.

    I’d like to encourage everyone to retain their membership in the RWA and make sure this inappropriate “leadership” is removed before they can do too much more damage.

  2. This sounds pretty bad. The nuttiest conference keynote I’ve ever been to was one at a conference for users and developers of business software that draws 10,000 annually in LA. Before the company’s president — came on stage, there was this cheesy dance routine, butchering Hooray for Hollywood into Hooray for XYZ Software. Then the keynote speaker comes out, and during his presentation talks about a UI upgrade to spruce up the product, about which he says, “Soon, the software will be as pretty as ze dancing girls!”

    I laughed so hard! I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. However, it was silly and tone deaf (the speaker was not a native English speaker and I doubt he really meant to come off as sexist as the comment sounded), the presentation you describe sounds…pretty offensive.

    BTW, I found this entry because I did go to BlogHer and was looking for that.

  3. Believe it or not, Lisa, I did pay attention to the BlogHerCon bits and pieces, as a lot of the female authors are getting more and more into blogging, and I was curious if there was ever going to be any overlap between the authors and other female authors. The two get togethers happened to occur on the same week.

    The insane CEO/Salesguy on stage bits can be hilarious, and I worked for a company that had the CEO, CFO, CTO and head Ad person dress up as the folks from the Wizard of Oz in front of the entire 400 person company.

    Getting a peptalk from the Cowardly Lion (complete with long tail) for the upcoming sales season is weird, and even cringeworthier when you know that deep inside that fur is your CEO…

    But getting the political message is one thing. Getting downer message is something else, and hearing the “Dont’ Worry, Be Happy” tune means that someone KNEW IN ADVANCE the material was a depressing subject.

    The tried and true is to use movie quotes – If they would have pulled a single movie quote from a single movie that had premiered that year, all would have been fine. It’s not rocket science.

    Thanks for dropping by anyway, Lisa. I’m sorry I didn’t have any Bloghercon stuff for you! And while Lisa Stone is part of the Bloghercon organizers, and she and I share the same last names, I am NOT related to her… uh, that I know of.

  4. Angry RWA member, I had heard about the Brava crew roaming around, too. Since I wasn’t there, I didn’t know they had filmed during the Award ceremony. They may have been there for the thing, but unless they get the tape of the thing (does RWA still video the whole deal like they once did?) it’ll be hard to say much about what went on.

    No, the bloggers and the letter writers to the RWR will be heard first, I think. It will be interesting to see how this is going to shake out.

    But there’s no question that this will be the stinkiest mess the RWA has gotten themselves into yet.

    For all of the possible goodwill that the Board of Directors thought they were getting by trying to compromise over their prudish stance on slightly risque covers of romances, it’s all gone down the tubes by this mess.

    My first RWA RITA Award Ceremony in Orlando was punctuated by a skit by several interesting folks, including the ever outspoken Anne Stuart. It was “play” that had a novice author who had toiled to craft a great romance novel. But the meddling publisher (a not so veiled version of Harlequin Publishing) informed the budding author with the perfect book that indeed, it was a great book, but it needed a few “touches”. Which included changing the hero to a vampire cowboy searching for an amnesiac heroine with a secret baby… or some such. It was an hilarious skit that I’m certain had the Harlequin reps there all cringing.

    I’m an old audio / video geek, and I remember cringing over the various technical glitches that the productions would have. That kind of mistake was forgivable. The venue of Reno was chosen years before, and THAT kind of mistake is hard to blame on anyone on the Board of Directors now.

    But this? Whew, yes, Angry RWA Member, this trainwreck only has a few parents. Or Mothers in this case.

    And folks thought they’d be all clear of issues when Leigh Greenwood stepped down as President…

  5. Actually, this wasn’t the board’s doing, but only a very small committee including the current president. Many of the board members didn’t know a thing about it until it went live on Saturday night, and many have expressed as much shock as the audience and membership.

  6. Tell me how any organization of this size can get away with what amounts to a “surprise” Awards Ceremony?

    I mean, I understand that there are the Board of Directors that are doing the “Not Me!” dance and all, and here I am outside the organization with nary a clue as to the inner workings, but how on earth could an outgoing President (and a few others who have remained nameless so far) essentially tarnish the rest of the organization without challenge?

    Every positive thing that the RWA Board of Directors has accomplished over the last several years is essentially at risk over what transpired last Saturday night. Nora Roberts threatening to resign her RWA membership over this issue… no telling how many OTHER RWA members currently feel the same way…

    All because a lame duck president decided to make a statement…

    The Board of Directors has a duty as a whole body to look after the “Goodwill” of the corporation they head. It seems to me that a large portion of this goodwill vanished or was severely damaged. Even if a small portion of the head of the RWA are ultimately responsible for the thing, it’s the entire Board’s duty to make certain that this very thing doesn’t happen.
    To say that the Board of Directors wasn’t aware of such a potentially damaging presentation is to suggest that the structure of the present BoD isn’t set up to properly run the organization.

    However the Board is currently organized, any future change of the Board/Presidency should reflect some level of checks and balances. If that means a much broader prior review of such important events as the RITA Awards, so be it.

  7. The board isn’t responsible for the ceremony. It’s run by a volunteer committee. I have a feeling there’s never been a question that the awards ceremony would be appropriate so the committee who chairs the ceremony never needed to run anything by the full board. I don’t know for a fact, but I imagine there is usually a board member on the committee. This year – again, I’m talking out of my ass – it appears that board member had a statement to make about how romance IS a serious business, that we’re not all fluff, that we deserve respect because we pay attention to the important incidents in our history. Uh-huh. Anyhow, the letter Jenny Crusie wrote said much the same thing about having the script vetted in the future so this won’t happen again.

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