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Sunday, September 30, 2018

Death of a Chapter and New Beginnings by Suzanne Rossi

Hi everyone.

I normally try to keep my blog posts upbeat, but today that isn't going to happen. I'm angry and sad. You see, as of September 1st, my RWA chapter, River City Romance Writers, disbanded. Our chapter number was #23. That's right--23--which means it had been around for a lot of years. For the past year, we tried to keep things going, but to no avail.

I've been a member since 2008. Even though I lived in Florida, I knew that eventually I would return to the city I called home. We have family here and there was always something about the Memphis vibe that appealed to us. We moved back in September of 2016.

Long distance membership can put you at a disadvantage regarding personalities and the month to month workings of the meetings. Our chapter information loop was taken down about four years ago, so any negative news often didn't filter down to me.

I should have known something was wrong when our once highly esteemed contest, Duel on the Delta, folded in 2015. The explanation was it was too hard to find judges. This I believed. I always volunteered to judge. It was my way of giving to the chapter because I couldn't attend meetings. That last year, I had sixteen entries to judge covering numerous sub-genres.

I could tell by the rosters I received that our numbers were steadily declining. Part of the blame lies with the board of directors. I've been a member of several chapters and have seen both good and bad leadership from micro-managing to weak follow-through on fellow board members. RCRW's main problem was a couple of board members who went rogue. I later learned (from numerous sources) the two of them made decisions and implemented policies without notifying other board members or the general membership. Nobody brought them to task about it. One of those decisions was to tell RWA the chapter was disbanding. They took it upon themselves to do this with no input from anyone else. When they returned from Nationals in 2016, they informed the rest of the chapter of their actions. That's when the you-know-what hit the fan. Finally, someone was calling them to accountability, but the damage was done. The toxic personalities had spilled over to include a cold-shoulder to guests. Valued long time members quit, no longer willing to put up with the drama. The two rogues disappeared shortly afterward.

I was asked to fill out the board in 2017 as Secretary, and again in 2018 as President-elect. I agreed, but knew it was hopeless. Oh, we tried. We spent what little money remained in the treasury to bring in well-known speakers. People would come to hear what they had to say, but no one joined. The poison had spread via word of mouth.

I also place a lot of blame on the shoulders of RWA. The rules regarding how long a person can sit on a chapter board and the insistence that board members be PRO or PAN just don't have the best interests of small chapters at heart. Sometimes the most enthusiastic leaders come from the ranks of beginning writers. Many of our members, including past RWA President, Patricia Potter, loyally attend the national meeting, but when they brought up the subject during the general session get together, they were brushed off like so many flies at a picnic.

So, we reluctantly made the decision as a group to put an end to our suffering. We had twelve members left, but due to RWA's ridiculous rules had no one who met their criteria to fill a complete board of directors. We turned in the proper paperwork and sent off what remained in the bank to RWA, which ticked me off no end. It was only a couple hundred dollars, but why should they get it? It was our dues. I'm sorry now we didn't blow it on one terrific farewell dinner for the final twelve.

But as with many things, there is a bright side to this. We aren't giving up. We simply formed a new group, Writing in the Bluff (Memphis is known as the Bluff City). We will eventually have a new board and collect dues for bringing in out of town speakers. But the biggest weight off our shoulders is that we will no longer be required to follow the rules and regulations of a national organization that obviously didn't care about us. Our first official meeting will be in November when Deb Dixon (one of RCRW's founding mothers) will give a presentation on deep POV.

We can do this. We will survive.

Suzanne Rossi


  1. We had a similar experience with our RWA chapter, Yellow Rose. I was so sad to see it fold. Even the group formed from the remaining members folded. I miss the group as it used to be when we had a dynamic president who verbally fought with RWA to allow us to skip some of the rules about who could sit on the board. We had 32 members then and a great camaraderie. In my opinion, RWA deliberately set out to delete small groups like ours. I cannot imagine why the RWA board thought this would serve anyone well. I no longer belong to RWA. The only reason I kept my membership was so I could be a Yellow Rose member.

  2. I've heard much the same from other small chapters. I've also heard that RWA is losing members, too. Indy authors feel unwanted, so don't join. My membership is up in October. I will not rejoin. I can think of better things to spend the dues on. I hope our new group works out. We've heard from a couple of former members that they'd be interested in it.

  3. Suzanne, I'm glad you have taken the lemons and come up with lemonade. Here's praying that this group, Writing In The Bluff, is even better than the former group. I'm sorry you had to go through this. We form bonds that are hard to break. But that proves we are compassionate human beings.


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