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A writer knows a thing or two about plot twists, and Damon Suede, author of ‘Hot Head’ (named by Goodreads as one of the ‘Top 100 Romance Novels of All Time’), sure knows how to give a plot twist… but unfortunately not only in his books.

When I picked Damon Suede as the topic of this February’s Monthly Tea, especially after he resigned from his 14-day term as President-Elect of the RWA, I thought I had a good handle on who he was. I can’t help but laugh at my own naivety.

Queerly Asexual left a comment in part I that linked to Damon’s interview with Author Heidi Cullinan in 2016. In the interview, Damon talks about his inspiration for ‘Hot Head’ and let me assure you that it was not only illuminating but horrifying as well.

I was so enraged by that interview that I decided to spork it, but it’s only available to members of my discord server ‘The Purple Monarchs’. If you are not a member you are missing out.

Now, that’s all I’m going to say about that interview or ‘Hot Head’ in this post. So, without further ado, let’s continue to the long and sordid tale of Damon Suede.

The Climb to Power

Damon Suede started climbing the ladder at RWA from the jump. He joined the RWA somewhere around 2011-2012, just around the time ‘Hot Head’ was published. As I said earlier, from that period of time on, the man was everywhere in Romancelandia and in the further Book Community.

However, in 2019 the RWA was in need of another President. I don’t know much about how the RWA works. I tried to fill in the blanks with my anon source but if you are an outsider it is really hard to get a clear idea of how the hierarchy in the RWA actually works in practice.

I have searched high and low and could not find an announcement of the election or candidates for the role. As Helen Kay (former RWA President) said in her recent interview on the ‘Smart Podcast, Trashy Books’ podcast, it is very hard to find qualified candidates.

11.2.1. President-Elect. Candidates for President-Elect must: (1) have been General members for a minimum of five consecutive years immediately preceding filing for office; (2) be the author or co-author of at least five published romance novels as defined in RWA policy; (3) have published or contracted to publish at least one romance novel, as defined in RWA policy, within the two years immediately preceding filing for office; and (4) must have completed one full year of Board service but cannot have more than six years of accumulated Board and Advisor service.

The Romance Writers of America’s Bylaws

What I do know is that Damon Suede did not meet the second requirement. You see, while Damon was raking in the cash with his speaking gigs, it made him way too busy to write romance novels. His last romance novel was published in March 2017.

According to modern publishing standards (which RWA adheres to), a novel is a work of fiction that has 40,000 words or more. To date, Damon wrote 4 books that met these qualifications: ‘Hot Head’, ‘Bad Idea’, ‘Pent Up’, and his most recent novel, ‘Lickety Split’.

 A Still From Damon's Suede Interview with Under The Covers Book Blog - March 23, 2017

A Still From Damon’s Suede Interview with the Under The Covers Book Blog – March 23, 2017

Now, Damon and his defenders vehemently protested that he had actually had another book in the works that was intended to be published with DreamSpinner this year, called ‘Stud Planet’. Author Claire Ryan who has been doing the lord’s work in documenting and investigating the RWA shit show, decided to prove once and for all whether Stud Planet was a real book:

The point is Damon didn’t meet a huge qualification for the presidency, but the staff at the RWA in large part either ignored this or simply brushed it off. Now, the reason I’m going after the staff and not the Board is that I have seen a lot of accounts for former board members who are completely unaware that all of this happened. The people with real power are the staff and the President.

In the end, they gave him a grace period for his book,a privilege that a majority of marginalized authors never have in the RWA. Yet, Damon Suede – a middle-age cis white man – got a pass.

A stack of diverse romance novels (one of them is a A Prince on Paper by Alyssa Cole)

Marginalized authors still have to fight tooth and nail to be heard in an industry that is predominately white.

Unfortunately, if you think this situation can’t get even worse let me assure you it can! Alyssa Day said in a tweet that has been now deleted (so you can take this with a grain of salt) that Damon Suede manipulated all of the other qualified candidates out of their position.

It’s not really hard for me to believe that Damon Suede did this.

Yet, instead of the RWA board members appointing as a new President (which by their own bylaws they are obligated to do) someone more qualified, Damon won the presidency uncontested. This is a man who only had 8 years’ experience writing prose, 4 books, and had zero previous experience in running a non-profit trade organization.

I mean, with qualifications like that, what happened next was inevitable.

The Christmas Coup

It was December 23, 2019. Two days until Christmas and I was busy making cookies by the pound and wrangling my brood of unruly children when I got a notification on my phone. On twitter, Alyssa Cole dropped a veritable bomb on Romancelandia.

Suzan Tisdale, a white woman who is the owner of Glenfinnan Publishing (a small publishing house that specializes in historical romance), and one of her authors, Sue Grimshaw, filed a complaint together against Courtney Milan.

One day, Author Sue Grimshaw decided to like some tweets by Diamond and Silk of all people, and Romancelandia took note of that because anyone with even the basic knowledge of Twitter knows that your likes are public. J.K. Rowling found out that the hard way when she was caught liking TERF tweets last year.

Courtney realized that Sue was being published by Kathryn Lynn Davis, the author of such historical romances as ‘Once Upon A Highland Glen’, ‘Somewhere Lies the Moon’, and ‘Weave for Me A Dream’. Suzan was oh so helpful to screencap those tweets in which Courtney (a Chinese-American woman) pointed out Kathryn’s racism in describing an Asian character.

If you read the complaint, you can see Suzan practically clutching her pearls. Anyone who is BIPOC (especially in the south) has seen this particular breed of white lady.

A headshot of a white middle aged lady with short blonde hair - Suzan Tisdale Owner of Glenfinnan Publishing

Suzan Tisdale Owner of Glenfinnan Publishing

Suzan then goes on to complain that she lost three authors due to this scandal:

“Because of these outlandish, false, and vicious attacks, Ms. Davis lost a very lucrative contract with another publishing company. Please note that she didn’t lose the contract because the publishing house believes the lies Ms. Milan is spreading. Quite the contrary. Ms. Davis lost the contract because the publishing house is afraid of the backlash that could be thrown their way should Ms. Milan learn that Ms. Davis is now working for them. The other publishing house is afraid of getting into Ms. Milan’s crosshairs.

Additionally, I have lost three of my Glenfinnan authors—not because they agreed with Ms. Milan and those of her ilk, but because they are afraid of any backlash from Ms.Milan. These authors are afraid that if Ms. Milan starts attacking them, they will lose future contracts and sales. It boils down to them needing to make a living and these kinds of attacks have proven to be detrimental to those on the receiving end of this malicious behavior.”

I urge you to read the complaint in full. Alyssa Cole helpfully uploaded it to docdroid.

Now, if Damon Suede, Carol Ritter, and the staff at the RWA had in any way been competent they would have taken one look at this typical whiny white entitled bullshit and wiped their asses with it.

Instead, Damon Suede – President-Elect of the RWA – created a new ethics committee which he oversaw as a “liaison.” His defense was that since Courtney was the head of the RWA ethics committee and appointed the members of said committee, there was clearly a conflict of interest.

Let me be perfectly clear: The RWA does not take complaints from Publishers. They also, by their own bylaws, are obligated to allow Courtney to respond to the accusations against her.

NONE OF THIS HAPPENED!

What actually happened was that the new ethics committee found Courtney guilty for speaking out against racism. They not only suspended her membership for a year but also banned her from taking any leadership positions for life.

Damon Suede and Suzanne Stengl, at the Spring 2019 Calgary RWA Workshop

Damon Suede and Suzanne Stengl, at the Spring 2019 Calgary RWA Workshop

I’m guessing that Alyssa Cole took one good look at the new ethics committee’s judgment and knew what she had to do: She posted a copy of the judgment on Twitter. I’m not all being hyperbolic when I say all hell broke loose in Romancelandia that day. The aftershocks of Damon Suede’s decision still reverberated through the rest of the community even a little over a month later.

This judgment tore the most powerful organization in Romancelandia apart in a matter of hours.

Interlude: Introducing the Husband

A Headshot of Author Geoff Symon

A Headshot of Author Geoff Symon Courtesy of The Creative Penn

In part one, I briefly mentioned Damon’s husband and partner in crime (now both literally and figuratively), Geoff Symon.

In my monthly tea posts, I made it a point to not target the spouses or family members of the authors. I personally feel like it is a dick move to target people who are basically innocent bystanders for the usual fuckery authors get up to.

I would rather put my full attention on the author who behaved badly. Unless, of course, a spouse willingly and knowingly profits from his spouses’ crimes, and goes out of his way to publicly defend his husband when the husband’s crime comes to light.

Geoff Symon did all of these things.

However, let me back up for a moment. Geoff Symon is a 20-year Federal Forensic Investigator and Polygraph Examiner. According to his bio on his website:

His participation in high-profile cases includes the attacks on September 11, 2001, the War in Iraq, the Space Shuttle Columbia explosion, the 2002 bombings in Bali and the Chandra Levy investigation, among countless other cases.

When Damon started to become a public speaker and climb the ladder within the RWA, he encouraged Geoff to start taking speaking gigs and to open a site consulting business. Geoff also wrote a few non-fiction books in his Forensics for Fiction series: ‘ Autopsies’, ‘Crime Scenes’, and ‘Blood Splatter’. He had a consulting service in which he helped authors of thrillers, mystery, and suspense novels make the forensics in their books as realistic as possible. 

With his many qualifications it would have been fairly simple work for Geoff to start booking speaking gigs and workshops, and my speculation is that Damon was all too happy to help grease the wheels.

Rumor has it that Geoff was making a hell of a lot of money from his side-gigs, and we all know that cops aren’t paid all that well. So, Damon and Geoff had a significant income increase, partly funded by the monthly dues of RWA members.

Geoff Symon Books (The Forensics for Fiction Trilogy)

 

The thing is, this would be enough to give the whole thing a side-eye; even though Geoff is more than qualified to have those side-gigs, it still stinks of nepotism. Yet, I was willing to let that go. Again, if Geoff was unknowingly complicit in Damon’s schemes I wouldn’t be writing.

However, Geoff – who proudly loves to state that he is the #1 Damon Suede fan – showed his ass by trying to publicly defend him when it was revealed that Damon had been behind the coup that ousted Courtney Milan.

He made it very clear it was his own decision to go after Damon’s critics. So, guess what? Geoff Symon gets his own section in this mess. Congrats!

The rest is all on his Twitter profile for everyone to see. However, now he’s only tweeting about regular things and pretending nothing happened. I also could talk about that MLK quote he has posted but that would derail me into an hour-long rant about Hoover and the Feds and no one wants that. So, in the end, I’ll let you decide for yourself.

Crickets

Damon Suede worked hard to gain the fame and prestige that he has accumulated over his 8 short years in Romancelandia. Yet when Romancelandia turned on him, Damon Suede was all too silent. Oh, he had defenders (the biggest one being husband) but Damon himself went quiet. Damon had always been pretty active on both Twitter and Facebook but from December 23rd to Jan 28th – almost exactly a month from when Alyssa had posted the judgment from the new ethics committee.

Now in his defense, his attorney probably told him to shut the fuck up. Damon can’t incriminate himself or give any privileged information if he keeps his mouth shut. Yet, any crisis public relations expert worth their salt knows you have to get in front of a shit storm like this.

Damon Suede Standing in the middle of a book conference

The whole RWA shit show went from being covered just by blogs and vloggers to being picked up by Publisher’s Weekly and then later pounced on by mainstream news organizations such as CNN, CBS News, Jezebel, Vulture, and The Huffington Post. Damon’s brand, which he spent almost a decade building, was mud in a matter of three or four days.

Unfortunately for Damon Suede, the Civil War happening in Romancelandia was only just heating up and no one could anticipate what happened next.

 

To Be Continued in Part 3.

 

Note: 2/8/2020 This post has been edited by E.B.  Thanks so much to her, for doing it not once and but twice!  

 

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