Not long ago, I declared 2020 The Year Of Minding My Own Business.
But it ain’t 2020 yet.
If you haven’t been following the coup taking place behind the scenes at Romance Writers of America, you’re probably going to want a primer. As always, Smart Bitches, Trashy Books has a great explanation of what went down, and Clair Ryan broke it down Barney-style for those of us who couldn’t keep up. So many people who are more familiar with the RWA than I (a non-member) am have written eloquently about the problems in the organization that are systemic and extend far, far past any one individual. I have no real contribution to make and didn’t plan on blogging about any of this. My voice is not so unique and insightful that I could somehow stampede into the organization’s business after leaving it in 2005 (and briefly rejoining a couple of years ago for one year before I bounced again) and say anything other people haven’t already said better and with more authority. I’m 100% on Courtney Milan’s side in this and staunchly against the trash fire RWA has been for a long, long time, and that’s really all I have to say about the overall kerfuffle.
But Damon Suede. Boy howdy.
In addition to sending his husband into a social media battle on his behalf, Suede has been revealed to be a name-dropping opportunist and outright liar (which you can read about in Ryan’s post). Suede has always been a gifted self-promoter. A constant fixture at the biggest conventions, charismatically holding events and speaking on tough-to-get panels, he somehow managed to book speaking gigs and keynotes throughout the ’10s despite publishing his first book in 2011 and not releasing any new romance fiction since 2017. After writing only five novels in a genre that routinely sees authors putting out that many books a year, Suede decided to write books about writing and charge a rumored $3,000 per day to give workshops to whatever certified MacArthur Fellows would pay that ridiculous amount of money to him. Then, with the unwavering confidence of a mediocre-at-best white man, he decided that with less than ten years as a romance novelist, he was ready to lead the genre as president of the Romance Writers of America. Which he ran for unopposed. Because he manipulated the other candidate into dropping out.
Since straight cis white ladies love nothing more than the idea of having a Gay Friend™, Suede managed to rise to elite circles in Romancelandia, like a genre fiction Anna Delvey. Anyone who criticized him or had negative experiences with him were hushed up with accusations of homophobia (even if they weren’t straight, themselves) or by the mere power wielded by people in high places. One friend remarked to me that she’d “always had a bad feeling” about Suede but was too afraid to voice it to anyone because “he hung out with all the big names.” Now that his desperate power grab to turn Romance Writers of American into RWKKK has been exposed, people have started airing their grievances in public, including passing around this interview from September, which…shouldn’t have reflected well on him at the time but for damn sure doesn’t now.
Damon Suede is not the sole cause of the Make Romance Racist Again initiative. He’s just trying to direct the current assault. The genre and organization have been rife with white supremacist ideals for a long time. In no way should the Suede narrative drown out the much, much more important issue surrounding how and why Milan was removed from RWA or the numerous stories from RWA members of color who have been victimized and discriminated against (check out the links on Ryan’s blog). While I have no vote in RWA, no experience or helpful insight in repairing an organization that has been damaged by Game of Thrones-level maneuvering, and nothing that could even remotely resemble any kind of even hypothetical solution that a smarter person hasn’t already come up with, I am super bitchy, hold big grudges on behalf of my friends, and have long been waiting for this dude to step one damn toe out of line. In the midst of all this heartbreak and chaos, my contribution is mockery. For we must laugh, even in the darkest of times.
Theydies and Gentlethems, I give you…
The Top Ten Most Bonkers Moments From This Weird-Ass Damon Suede Interview
- He claims to have read 1200 words a minute in childhood. 1200 words a minute is 72,000 words an hour, which means that as a child, Damon Suede would have been capable of reading Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables in a little under twelve hours. The target reading speed for a third-grader in the United States is 107 words per minute. The average for adults hovers around 200 without any speed-reading training.
- He believes acting is a “blue collar” job. There are many reasons child actors drop out of the game in their teen years. I guess we have to add “too posh for it” to that list now?
- The interviewer is super psyched about kids committing suicide at college. At around the 1:47 mark, Suede begins explaining why he didn’t go to Cornell, a.k.a. “Suicide U,” to begin his career as a theme park designer (seriously). For some reason, perhaps it was just an inability to follow Suede’s frenetic conversational pace, the interviewer gives a long, slow, “Niiiiiiice,” upon learning that the university has a high suicide rate.
- Suede’s jewelry-obsessed Disney-lawyer family apparently inspired him to destroy the RWA. “For me, I wanted to take everything apart and then put it back together and make it tick. And so, it’s that Aristotelian biology thing.” A man can reveal a lot about himself when he opines on his desire to destroy everything made by others and resurrect it under his own power. Honestly, maybe we all should have seen this coming, at least since September. Special recognition goes to comparing himself to a legendary Greek thinker while also inadvertently implying that Aristotle was some kind of Dr. Frankenstein. Perhaps most chilling is the smile he gives when the interviewer asks if Suede is still smashing things apart. Suede’s reply? “Everything I do.”
- Suede comes at writing from the unique perspective of being aware that readers exist. Due to his extensive background in theater and movies and television and comics and watchmaking and living at Disney World like a special, special boy, Suede thinks about how readers are going to read what he writes. Unlike the rest of us, who don’t have such a learned and interesting background (or seemingly endless disturbing metaphors about splitting readers open) and who are uniformly shocked at the revelation that other people can see the words we put down in the books we write. While most of us are concentrating on writing stories just the right length to level our coffee table in paperback form, Suede has figured out that the true secret to great writing is putting the words in the right places to make a reader enjoy what they’re reading. I’m so glad a man has finally explained this and apparently gets paid $3,000 a pop to explain it in person.
- Despite the fact that he’s only published five books and never made a bestseller list, he has the type of fans only a rockstar could love. Suede claims that his readers are so unhinged in their worship of him that he’s been chased Beatles-style through hotels, ripped out of taxi cabs, had fans camped outside of his home, and thirty-nine people have tattooed his name or book covers on their bodies. In other words, Suede is in that exclusive sphere of author worship usually reserved for authors like Stephen King, Anne Rice, or Cassandra Clare.
With five books.
And no bestsellers.
- His readership is a lot cooler than the old fuddy-duddies who follow much, much bigger names in the genre. Name dropping Eloisa James, Suede says she complained that her fan base is made up of “gentle, seventy-year-old women who cry over their walkers,” while his readers are “young, browner, cooler,” and have piercings and tattoos. Now, I don’t know Eloisa James but I know that she writes historical romance and that “gentle, seventy-year-old women” basically sign her paycheck. If his claims are true, that would make James a real dick to talk about her readers in such disparaging, misogynistic stereotypes. If his claims aren’t true, he’s a real dick to talk about her readers in such disparaging, misogynistic stereotypes and attribute them to her in a damning soundbite. But hey, at least he managed to work in that people of color read his books, right?
- Gay romance is anti-patriarchal despite being all about men? Somehow? Girl-on-girl books, though, not so much. Suede asserts that women are the primary readers of M/M romance because the stories involve relationships where “everyone has power.” Not only do power imbalances in gay relationships exist, but that imbalance also exists in tons of M/M fiction aimed at a predominately straight female audience who want to read a hetero relationship they identify with, but without any women in it. Still, Suede considers f/f books a tough sell due to the lack of male vulnerability in the narrative and not, like, straight lady homophobia and internalized misogyny. Considering the fact that publishers used to reject f/f books with phrases like, “no pink parts,” I’m inclined to say that misogyny, not feminism, drives much of the m/m romance market. But what do I know? I’m just a queer person with a coochie.
- The first reference made to a female author’s work comes seven minutes into this ten-minute video about a genre pioneered and dominated by women. And the reference is to Jane Austen.
- Suede’s vision for Romance Writers of America is…wait for it…diversity. After the interviewer asks Suede what his vision is for RWA, Suede rattles off a lot of statistics about the genre, followed by, “Somebody asked me what my vision is for RWA […].” Like, dude…the guy sitting across from you, desperately trying to get a word in, is the one who asked you that question. But the rest of Suede’s answer is somehow even more shamelessly lacking in self-awareness. “I believe everyone deserves a place at the table. Everybody,” he insists, turning to the camera to clap his hands and issue the directive, “We need to step. it. up.” Of course, he’s very careful to insert the caveat that while everyone deserves opportunities, that doesn’t mean everyone gets to be successful and every author is responsible for their own success. And we’ve seen proof of that philosophy in the past week. Apparently, Suede is fine with his “browner” fans tattooing his name on their bodies and hell, they can even have a seat at the table if they want to try their hands at writing, but god forbid they criticize an RWA member for overt racism. God forbid they take up too much elbow room at that table, or speak too loudly. And by the way, if you don’t succeed, it’s probably not due to any systemic issue in publishing. You’re just not self-promoting as hard as Jacqueline Susann.
Watching this video, I can only shake my head. This man has been telling everyone all along exactly who he is. Why did so many people ignore it? Why did so many big names signal boost him and bring him into their cliques? How did someone this obnoxious win so many hearts? And how much OTC allergy medication can an adult male take before he turns into Tom Cruise jumping on Oprah’s couch? This interview was from September. Has it worn off yet? When it does, will Suede regain the power to feel shame? Or was he born without that gene? So many mysteries. Sadly, they probably won’t be solved before the clock strikes midnight on January 1st, so I’ll be left to wonder while minding my own damn business in 2020.
Bitchy New Year, everybody!