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Why the implosion of the Romance Writers of America matters

This article was published more than 3 years ago. Some information may no longer be current.

The Romance Writers of America (RWA) – the world’s leading guild of romance writers – has effectively imploded, and the future of the organization and its values are at stake, along with its major role across the North American publishing industry.

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Writer Courtney Milan has been at the centre of controversy among the members of the Romance Writers of America. The Canadian Press

A rapid number of events, starting with the censure of Asian-American bestselling author Courtney Milan, have occurred involving the international industry organization over the past three weeks, culminating in the resignations of both its president, Damon Suede, and its executive director, Carol Ritter, on Thursday. “It’s this ugly, raw, wound that’s surfacing, and on the whole, people are pretty upset,” Calgary RWA chapter president Emily Varga said.

Since it was founded in 1980, RWA has grown to more than 9,000 members, and holds a massive annual conference and its own annual awards, the RITAs. The first Canadian RWA chapter was founded in Ottawa in 1985, and there are now four more across the country. “I met my agent at RWA and I met my then-publisher at RWA,” said Ottawa chapter president Lucy Farago.

The growth of RWA is no surprise, considering that romance made up 13.5 per cent of Canadian fiction sales in 2017 and 23 per cent of the overall U.S. fiction market in 2016.

However, diversity, inclusion and the less-than-equal treatment of non-white authors have all been serious issues at RWA for many years, exemplified by how visible minorities continue to be stereotyped in titles by white authors. Toronto RWA chapter president Farah Heron, who made her novel debut with The Chai Factor last year, said she was tired of seeing Asian women portrayed as submissive in romance novels. “It chips away at you over time,” she said.

In late December of last year, this issue garnered a new level of attention after news broke the organization was disciplining Milan.

Last summer, Milan openly criticized depictions of half-Chinese characters in the book Somewhere Lies the Moon by Kathryn Lynn Davis on Twitter. Milan, who is half-Chinese, called the portrayal a "racist mess.” The RWA Ethics Committee found Milan to have “engaged in conduct injurious” to the organization. The ruling came with a punishment of a one-year suspension of membership and a lifetime ban on holding leadership positions within the organization.

There was massive, immediate backlash. Authors and RWA members flooded Twitter, especially after learning ethics complaints may have been filtered by RWA staff, leading to the possibility some did not reach the organization’s Ethics Committee.

In one example, a RWA member from Calgary who writes queer romance entered the RITAs last year. The author received feedback from the judges that the novel didn’t qualify because the story was between two male characters. Varga said the author reported that experience to the RWA but received no response. “There are systemic issues our members have had entering contests,” Varga said, pointing out that RWA has a significant number of members like her who are lawyers and had expressed concerns about the organization’s bylaws and protocols for ethics complaints.

Even though the RWA soon rescinded its ruling against Milan, there was still a cascade of negative consequences, including the resignation of authors who had previously signed up to judge the RITAs , authors pulling their books from RITA consideration, the resignations of members and directors-at-large, the withdrawal of at least 36 agents’ support from future events, significant global press coverage, as well as public support for Milan from superstar authors Nora Roberts , Neil Gaiman and N.K. Jemisin.

Dozens of RWA chapters across North America, including in Calgary, Toronto and Ottawa, issued public statements condemning the organization’s senior leadership and the actions against Milan. Several publishers also pulled their support from RWA and its national conference, including Avon , Berkley Romance , Entangled, HarperCollins Canada, Harlequin, Kensington, St. Martin’s, Gallery Books and Tule Publishing .

Last Tuesday, the 2020 RITAs were officially cancelled , citing the contest’s inability to “reflect the breadth and diversity of 2019 romance novels/novellas.” Two days later, RWA announced Suede and Ritter would step down from their positions, though Ritter would have a transition period of several months.

But the statement about the resignations did not include an apology to Milan nor go into detail about what happened. “Telling us that they’re going to be transparent and honest is not the same thing as showing us that they will be,” Heron said.

What has happened within RWA isn’t just about the future of a literary genre that has frequently been subject to misogyny and stereotyped as being frivolous or not as prestigious as other kinds of fiction, despite its massive sales. “This is about our livelihoods and our careers,” Heron said.

The situation has also highlighted how badly the romance genre and the publishing industry at large have treated non-white authors, even best-selling ones. Until 2019, there were no black winners at the RITA awards, despite several authors such as Beverly Jenkins and Alyssa Cole earning critical acclaim and appearing on several bestseller lists.

For many RWA members, most of their involvement and loyalty has been through their local chapter’s monthly meetings, training and writing seminars. Some chapters are considering no longer officially affiliating with the national organization. And even with the resignations at the senior level, Varga and Heron said many Canadian chapter members are not planning to attend the national conference in San Francisco this year due to the significant number of author, speaker and publisher withdrawals, and the cancellation of the RITA awards.

“You can get all these brand new or unreleased books signed by the author,” Heron said, calling the free giveaways one of the best and most fun parts of the conference, despite the long lines. “Those [major] publishers not coming means that won’t happen.”

Varga, Farago and Heron said the organization has a lot of work ahead of it to regain the trust of its members, including an actual apology to Milan and greater transparency about what happened. Varga said the choices RWA makes now, and which group it aims its changes toward, will determine its long-term future.

“Are you trying to make the people who say racist things happy?” she said. “Or are you trying to make people who call out racism happy?”

There’s also the possibility of starting an entirely new organization for romance writers with a new set of bylaws, board of directors and values. It’s an outcome many members aren’t thrilled about but understand might be necessary.

“I would be sad to see the organization go,” Farago said. "But if it needs to go to fix it then that’s what has to happen.”

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Home » Canadian Romance Writers, the Unsung Heroes of Canada

Canadian Romance Writers, the Unsung Heroes of Canada

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As you may have noticed, we here at Fangirlish LOVE romance novels. We love how they bring us joy and how there really is a romance out there for everyone. 

This time, we’d like to focus on Canadian romance novelists, aka novelists who write in Canada. The unsung heroes of Canadian literature. Sadly, Canadian media and big bookstores are missing out on an opportunity to promote these amazing writers – we will not .

So here are some books by Canadian authors you should absolutely check out:

Handymen Series by Rosanna Leo

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Rosanna Leo ’s AMAZING three-book Handymen series: A Good Man , An Irresistible Force and A Reluctant Attraction tell the story of the three handymen Zorn brothers. The brothers are the stars of their own renovation show, each bringing their own speciality and good looks. 

A Good Man tells the story of the eldest Zorn brother Michael and their client of the episode Emily Daniels. Leo’s characters are well-developed and truly interesting people. Michael has his own issues but the way he cares for Emily immediately is awe-inspiring. It is a joy to watch this story develop as they renovated Emily’s grandmother’s old house in Toronto’s Little Italy to make her soup business. This story like the others has a lot of heart. Michael and Emily are perfect together. This book is yum on every level!

The second book in the series An Irresistible Force is Eli Zorn’s book. This book is also set during a renovation but there is a twist – a woman has chained herself to the house. Let the fun begin! Eli is immediately drawn to Bernie Nolan. So is it really a hardship when he is voluntold she is his problem to solve? Eli knows there is more to Bernie’s protest than meets the eye and we get to learn right along with him that the episode’s project is not as expected. This book will make you laugh and cheer. 

The final book in the series A Reluctant Attraction comes out April 20, 2021, BUT I was lucky enough to get an advanced copy and it delivers!! We get the story of the baby brother Nick Zorn and widow Claire who runs a cat sanctuary. For their own reasons, these two characters needed each other. I really enjoyed both of their journeys and felt proud to know them by the end of the novel. Especially loved how Claire helped Nick get over his issues. You will have to read to find out!  It really was the perfect conclusion to the series. 

Roanna Leo lives in the Toronto area and this series was set there as well.

You can purchase the Handymen Series through Amazon and Kobo

Accidentally Engaged by Farah Heron

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This book will make you want bread. Like, you will need to eat bread, BADLY. So be prepared and READ THIS BOOK.

This is Farah Heron ’s follow up to her amazing book The Chai Factor and it did not disappoint. It tells the story of Reena and Nadim, the very hot man across the hall with a British accent. 

In this neighbour, turn friends, turn lovers with a Great Canadian Baking show competition in the mix you can watch the relationship rise – yep, I went there.

Reena is a woman who just wants to avoid her parents meddling in her life. Something, many can relate to. So when she meets the super hot guy across the hall it’s perfect, he can have no connection to her family, right?

This book made me laugh so hard I had to put the book down. Reena and Nadim are heartfelt and interesting, I love the quirks Heron gives her characters. Like Reena, we don’t know Nadim’s background and it was interesting to learn what led to him being the man across the hall.

The secondary characters in this book are great, loved her cousin Marley and friend Shayne in the building and the characters we met in The Chai Factor , Saira, Amira and Duncan.

Accidentally Engaged brings complex family issues, joy, romance, angst and bread – so much bread. It’s relatable and wonderful. 

Farah Heron lives in Toronto and this book was set in Toronto.

Accidentally Engaged is available through Amazon and Kobo

Sandcastle Beach by Jenny Holiday

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Sandcastle Beach is the conclusion of Jenny Holiday ’s Matchmaker Bay series. Mermaid Bay and Paradise Cove introduced us to the two main characters in this novel Law and Maya, these two characters have always been like oil and water but no one knows why.

This book gives us a deeper look at both, as business owners, they are forced to interact professionally, having mutual friends keeps them together personally. While they have always appeared to be enemies, it was never vicious. 

Getting the characters backstories and learning about all the things we wondered about makes this book worthwhile on its own. But watching how Law takes care of Maya without her knowing, is just the start of the icing. Going from quasi-enemies to friends to lovers was a delicate path to walk but Holiday delivers.  

The final book in a series always feels a bit like visiting old friends and it was nice to see the old friends in this book help Law and Maya find their way. It was like things coming full circle. 

Jenny Holiday lives in London, Ontario and this series is based in a fictional Ontario beach town.

Sandcastle Beach is available through Amazon and Kobo

The Knockout Rule by Kelly Siskind

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The Knockout Rule is the fourth book in Kelly Siskind’ s Showman Series. This the first book by Siskind we’ve read but it won’t be the last!

The book tells the story of the physiotherapist daughter of a former heavyweight boxing champ Isla and a current heavyweight boxer Brick/Eric. Full disclosure, not a huge boxing fan but that didn’t matter because OMG Brick/Eric is one of our favourite heroes of all time. 

Isla knows all too well what being a boxer means, she has seen first hand what it has done to her father. Isla steers clear of all things boxing for personal reasons until her father requests she join him in Vegas in a lead up to Brick’s fight. For reasons you will have read about, Isla agrees and this is when she meets Brick. 

Brick is his show name, Eric is so much more than he appears and his reasons for boxing are even more complex. There are so many reasons to fall in love with Eric. And you will, right along with Isla. 

While we can’t deny LOVING Eric. His sidekick Whit the dog. He really did steal the show. LOVED them both. 

This is a book you can’t put down and NEED to workout. Boxing fan or not, this is the book for you!

Kelly Siskind lives in Northern Ontario and this book was set primarily in Las Vegas.

The Knockrule is available through  Amazon and Kobo

Still MORE Canadian Writers

Rosanna Leo, Farah Heron, Jenny Holiday and Kelly Siskind are just four of the MANY Canadian romance writers out there. There are so many that we’ve yet to read, always on the lookout for more. Some other Canadian romance writers we can recommend include Jackie Lau , Jacquelyn Middleton , Kelly Bowen , Marie Landry , Molly O’Keefe and Mary Balogh .  

So when it comes to romance novelists, don’t forget Canadians!

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Jacqueline Lee

'chicago fire' 9x10 pictures: "one crazy shift", 'grown-ish' season 4 to premiere this summer.

romance writers of canada login

Thanks so much to Jacqueline and Fangirlish for this fabulous article! I truly appreciate you sharing my Handymen series, and for the Canadian romance love!

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Much congrats to my fellow Canadian writers!

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Contemporary Romance Writers

About Contemporary Romance Writers

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Why join Contemporary Romance? As writers of this massive romance sub-genre, we feel it’s important for us to have an official presence and voice in the industry. We want to provide a place where all contemporary romantic fiction writers: Contemporary Romance, Suspense, New Adult, Young Adult, Chick Lit, Romantic Comedy, Women’s Fiction, and more, can not only be heard, but understood. Supported. Encouraged. Educated.

We are dedicated to keeping up with industry trends and helping all of our writers navigate the path to publication whether traditional, self-published, or a hybrid of the two.

The Contemporary Romance Writers organization is a place where you can mingle with other authors who understand you, your voice, and this popular romance sub-genre.

You’ll be networking with people from every walk of life, all over the world. From all 50 states, from Europe, Australia, Asia, Canada. We’re creating a global, online community of writers who share the same interest–writing and publishing Contemporary Romance. There are no limitations to our discussions, information sharing, support and growth in our genre.

Our Mission

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What You Get From CRW Membership

Anti-Harassment Policy

Contemporary Romance Writers is committed to diversity, inclusion, and equality. We are inclusive of everyone regardless of race, ethnicity, nationality, age, body size, physical appearance, disabilities, neurodiversity, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, religion, or any other category. We do not tolerate harassment in any form, and we take violations of this policy seriously.

Harassment includes, but is not limited to, hateful, offensive, or biased speech (including jokes); denigration of others; disruption of events; intimidation; stalking; harassing recording or photography; inappropriate physical contact; and unwelcome sexual attention. If members are told they’re engaging in harassing behavior, they must stop immediately.

To participate in our organization, you agree to conduct yourself according to this policy, to treat everyone involved with respect and consideration, and to notify the board should you observe any harassing or uncomfortable behavior. Violators of our Anti-Harassment Policy will be appropriately acted against, including the possibility of formal warnings, or expulsion from the event or organization.


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    Welcome to the Toronto Romance Writers (TRW), the home for romantic fiction lovers in ... including northern and southern Ontario and even across Canada.

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    Rosanna Leo, Farah Heron, Jenny Holiday and Kelly Siskind are just four of the MANY Canadian romance writers out there.

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    From all 50 states, from Europe, Australia, Asia, Canada. ... To educate contemporary romantic fiction writers at all stages of their careers – offering