RJ Cavender quits the HWA after people take objection to him not providing editing work they’d paid him to do 1.5 years earlier –
In early 2015, I signed up for the Stanley Hotel Writer’s Retreat and was really looking forward to attending. Jack Ketchum was going and he had written the introduction for my debut anthology, Suspended in Dusk, so I wanted to meet him, thank him, shake his hand and get him to sign a copy for me. I was dreading looking like a crazy fanboi, but was looking forward to the challenge. I was also looking forward to many of the other attendees.
As part of the registration for the retreat, you could pay varying amounts to purchase an editing package from RJ Cavender (apparently, his real name is actually: Randy Joe Huff. Thanks Robert Wilson!) who was hosting the event. Before I registered I was warned by a friend that RJ Cavender was extremely slow to provide edits and they would not recommend purchasing a novel edit package from him. That sounded like a reasonable warning, but as I’m not a novelist (yet) anyway, I figured I’d purchase a short story edit package. As someone relatively new to the horror genre scene, I was under the impression that RJ was some sorta, over-worked rock star editor and this would explain why he might be a little slow on the edits.
In the months that followed from when I registered for the 2015 retreat, one colleague, a HWA member, began to confide further in me regarding issues she was having with RJ Cavender. He was not returning her novel edits. Months went by and the poor lady repeatedly prompted RJ to provide the edits and she was repeatedly assured that the edits were coming and it would not be long now.
I was unable to attend the 2015 retreat due to family matters that arose in the lead up to October. I contacted RJ Cavender and asked him if he would transfer my registration to 2016 instead. He agreed to do this. This was still good in my mind, I’d have a chance to meet cool and talented people like current HWA President Lisa Morton, Chuck Palahniuk [Author of Fight Club, Haunted, etc], Shane McKenzie [Horror and Bizarro author whose story Fit Camp I reprinted in Suspended in Dusk] and Michael Bailey [author and editor extraordinaire]. I did not submit a story to RJ for editing, and figured that I would do this in 2016 around the time of the retreat, as I always have a story or two lying around or in various stages of the submission process. The aforementioned colleague however was still experiencing delays and what really was beginning to look like the old fashioned run-around on her edits.
About a month ago now, two things happened:
1. This colleague received a HWA mentor who began working with her to address issues with her novel, thus completely abrogating any need she had for edits from RJ.
2. We began to ask the question of other attendees: Did you pay for edits and have you received them? Colleagues and friends began to confide in us as well. They were in two categories:
• Group 1: People who had submitted work to RJ Cavender at the 2014 retreat but had not received edits. One of these people had purchased two editing packages from both the 2014 and 2015 retreats and had *NOTHING* to show. This poor writer had given RJ Cavender hundreds of dollars for edits she didn’t have. These people had been badgering RJ for roughly 1.5 years and repeatedly met with a changing of goal posts. There was never any scope to refund monies on the basis that RJ could not perform the work as expected.
• Group 2: People who had paid for edits from RJ Cavender but had not provided him with manuscripts because they had heard from others that he was not returning work/providing the service he’d been paid for and they didn’t feel comfortable giving their work to him. (Note: As it turns out, their reluctance to do so was vindicated.). In addition the feeling was unanimous that these authors did not have established careers or reputations and did not want to make waves with someone was the acquisitions editor at a respected small press (Dark Regions Press). Kerri-Leigh Grady makes some fantastic points about THAT issue here on her blog, by the way.
In total I knew 6 people (including myself) who were in one of these two categories. There are likely more.
I’m not a HWA member, but I was very concerned about the treatment of these members. The people who had provided work to RJ 1.5 years ago were getting the run around, and the people who hadn’t provide work and wouldn’t press him for a refund out of fear, stood to lose significant amounts of money, not to mention all the time and emotional stress expended on the issue.
I was slightly less concerned about myself as I am blessed to be financially stable – but, on principle, I was not happy knowing that it was extremely unlikely that RJ Cavender could make good on the edits that I’d paid him for. I know one of the affected HWA members has barely has two dimes to rub together at the moment and could really use the money. A few hundred bucks in the hip pocket wouldn’t go astray right now, I’m sure. As for the others, the sheer amount of money owed ($200/$500/$700 etc) made the paltry sum I stood to lose on edits by RJ Cavender look dwarfed by comparison. It was at this point I decided that the best course of action was to do two things.
1. Refer the other people who are HWA members to the HWA Grievance Committee, chaired by Brett J. Talley.
2. As a non-HWA member, to email Lisa Morton and recount the history and let her know a bunch of grievances from actual members would be coming through.
I didn’t think that either my actions or the lodging of grievances by those affected were particularly outrageous. On the grounds that RJ hadn’t returned the work of those who had provided him some in 1.5 years and everyone else knowing that if they had, they still wouldn’t have theirs either, there didn’t really seem to be any other choice.
I don’t have firm details about what exactly transpired next. Lisa Morton advised that she would seek a list of all those who had bought packages from RJ Cavender and advice from him as to what work was outstanding. I went to sleep that night and woke up and the HWA had severed all official ties with RJ Cavender, RJ had been removed from any role with StokerCon 2016 and RJ had quit the HWA. I’ll take his word at face value you that he quit and was not expelled from the organisation, but the whole thing really did come across as a “YOU CAN’T FIRE ME, I QUIT!” diva meltdown.
RJ then went on to make an official statement. The TL:DR of it is that he’s sick, woe is him, he’s so fucking hard done by, he was totally gonna do that work you could all totally take his word on that, and HWA are all a bunch of poopyheads. (Props to Paul Mannering for the last part).
As many of you may or may not know, I’ve been very ill over the last year-and-a-half. Because of my continued and chronic sickness I’ve gotten very behind on my editing work. And because I’ve had several author complaints to the Horror Writers Association Grievance Committee this week, I’ve now been taken off the StokerCon2016 event…one I’ve worked tirelessly on for the last couple of years. And while I do feel horrible that I’ve let many authors down, I am catching up on my work and I do believe my editing is the best it has ever been…I’m just working at a slower rate, because I’m not well and I’m not working at the break-neck pace I was able to over the last decade of my professional editing career. To those authors, I am very sorry…and I am working on catching up, I really am. I’ve never not finished a project, I’ve never bailed on my side of an editing agreement. I wouldn’t be working in this industry still if I had, trust me.
Suffice to say, I’m saddened by this decision on the part of the HWA. Not only because I won’t get to see so many of my friends next month in Vegas, but also because I’ve put my blood, sweat, tears and fears into StokerCon2016 from its early plotting phases with Rocky Wood, to the creation of Horror University (my idea), The Scholarship from Hell (mine, too), and The Lucky Thirt3en Horror Short Film Competition (ditto.) I’ve organized the pitch sessions, I’ve secured guests we’ve never had included at any HWA event or World Horror to date. I’ve created local authors events via the HWA at a book festival here in Tucson and I’ve been very involved with the organization for many, many years now. So punishment of this sort, at least to me, seems unfair and unjust treatment, especially when I’ve not even been told who the authors are who are lining up to complain about me…as the Grievance Committee is operating under some code of secrecy I cannot figure out. I mean, how do you take care of clients who are pissed…if you don’t know who they are? And how can I be expected to catch up on work when I’m being overloaded with more of it via the event and all this needless back-and-forth with the organization and this pointless committee?
So that’s why I’ve decided to leave the Horror Writers Association. They’re a good organization and they do a lot of great things in the community, but they didn’t have my back when I needed it most. Perhaps I’m not ‘sick enough’…or perhaps they just didn’t believe I could get caught up on my overdue projects by next month and were afraid there would be some backlash at the event. Which, let’s face it…they don’t really want/need or know how to handle at this point. I’m not sure.
But taking an event away from me like this is unacceptable punishment. I’m not a child who needs to be ‘taught a lesson.’ And I feel not only let down by the organization but betrayed and bewildered and goddamn upset, if you want to know the truth. Somehow I’ve become the worst thing to happen to the horror genre…when what we’re dealing with here is a person who’s had some very personal, physical, painful issues just functioning and getting out of bed each day…but an editor who is also quite determined to make right with my authors, finish up overdue projects in turn, but has had nothing but harassment and stress from the HWA over the last few weeks, additional stress and anxiety I did not need at this point. The sort of treatment that no one should tolerate or suck up, no matter who they’re working for (or in this case, volunteering for) under any circumstances. So, I’m through with the HWA. Again…I’m sorry to any authors I’ve let down, I’ll have your work finished to my standards as soon as I’m able to send them out. I’ll have plenty of time now, as I won’t be included in the event next month.
And to the HWA, I’m sorry…shit happens sometimes, people get sick, life’s a bitch. But if this is how you treat one of your biggest supporters, someone who has stood by through the good and bad, been a cheerleader for the organization, helped create content and events and scholarships…then I don’t want to be part of that sort of organization. People aren’t disposable, and I was of a lot more use within the organization that as an outsider. I still think you do good things, but I also know you can turn on a dime…and when someone is no longer of use to you, when the shit gets real…you’re going to bail, because you don’t really care at all. Because avoiding public scandal, embarrassment, or ridicule is much more important than taking care of your own. And in an organization of 1300 people, I know I made a difference. And I’ll continue to do so. Just without the HWA. Thanks for listening, guys. I’ll be seeing you around…
I’d like to address some of the points the points made in his farewell speech. I’ll comment on what I can comment on, but will not comment on the internal workings of the Grievance Committee or on HWA’s discussions with RJ because I’m not privy to either:
- Admission he was “very behind” on his work
RJ Cavender: As many of you may or may not know, I’ve been very ill over the last year-and-a-half. Because of my continued and chronic sickness I’ve gotten very behind on my editing work
Look…. I have chronic Illness. I have chronic psoriasis and, as a result, have arthritis through much of my body . I live on various immunosuppressant medications to treat it (fantastic drugs they give to cancer patients) and an array of anti-inflammatory and painkiller medications. On top of that I have mental health issues (not exactly rare these days either) and take various medications for those issues. I understand chronic illness and I understand chronic pain. What I don’t get is anyone using it as an excuse for not providing a service to someone who PAID THEM 1.5 YEARS AGO. For many professionals, a couple of weeks is ‘very behind’. A couple of months is ‘very behind’. Almost a couple of years is beyond the pale. When someone pays you large sums of money for a service, you either perform the service in a timely fashion, you subcontract someone to perform the service to the same standard or you return their money. It’s that simple. I do not consider chronic illness an excuse. Sorry Randy – you can’t pull that card with me, asshole.
Beyond that, I don’t believe RJ when he says that chronic illness was his actual excuse. If he was so far behind in his editing from the 2014 retreat no less, Why did he take on editing customers from the 2015 retreat as well? Why did he start additional retreats (Winchester Mystery House) and take on additional editing customers from that retreat? Why was he, only a week or so ago, advertising on the StokerCon Facebook group soliciting new freelance editing clients?
2. Several Authors had complained and HWA took action
And because I’ve had several author complaints to the Horror Writers Association Grievance Committee this week, I’ve now been taken off the StokerCon2016 event…one I’ve worked tirelessly on for the last couple of years.
5 authors complained, which, I understand, was in addition to existing names that the grievance committee already had.
What I don’t get here is his shock the HWA would expect him to service his paid customers over volunteer work in their organisation, particularly when the Stanley Retreat where these customers signed up for RJ’s services has events their sponsored by HWA, most attendees were fellow HWA members, and the HWA president was to be a guest of honour this year?
What I don’t get is why, if he cant even service his paid customers, was he even doing volunteer work at all? Surely the correct thing to do would be to say “Y’know what, I would love to help the HWA with this cool idea for StokerCon…. but I’ve already taken these people’s money… so I’m gonna do my job for them first/instead”.
3. He feels bad
RJ Cavender: And while I do feel horrible that I’ve let many authors down,
Yes he has let many authors down. I’m unconvinced he actually feels horrible about it at all. If it was a few months maybe. If he wasn’t doing his level best to hoover in as many new paying customers as he could find, all the while not delivering to existing customer he’d already taken money from, maybe. So I’m calling bullshit on this as well.
4. IT WAS ALL RJ
RJ Cavender: I’ve put my blood, sweat, tears and fears into StokerCon2016 from its early plotting phases with Rocky Wood, to the creation of Horror University (my idea), The Scholarship from Hell (mine, too), and The Lucky Thirt3en Horror Short Film Competition (ditto.) I’ve organized the pitch sessions, I’ve secured guests we’ve never had included at any HWA event or World Horror to date. I’ve created local authors events via the HWA at a book festival here in Tucson and I’ve been very involved with the organization for many, many years now
Apparently it was all singlehandedly RJ Cavender. Infact, I wonder why it was called StokerCon instead of RJCon.
5. He’s not sick enough for HWA
RJ Cavender: So that’s why I’ve decided to leave the Horror Writers Association. They’re a good organization and they do a lot of great things in the community, but they didn’t have my back when I needed it most. Perhaps I’m not ‘sick enough’…or perhaps they just didn’t believe I could get caught up on my overdue projects by next month and were afraid there would be some backlash at the event. Which, let’s face it…they don’t really want/need or know how to handle at this point. I’m not sure.
No one believed RJ Cavender could get caught up on his work within a month. No one. Not the aggrieved parties, not the HWA. Several people complained to me that RJ would forget details of their editing arrangements and they’d have to send him his own emails. In fact, most people aware of the issue or who were aggrieved parties involved wondered if he even knew all the people who had purchased packages from him.
As for being sick enough…that doesn’t even hold water. Refer above to Point 1.
Nickolas Furr: If he was too sick and frankly overwhelmed to do the edits he’s already been paid for, how does he have the time to spam every single group I’m in 80-90 times a day about every single upcoming writer’s retreat… and how does he have enough time to do all this (non-editing) work? Claiming that he’s been too busy with the HWA to avoid screwing over other writers is a pathetic game, and , even though I don’t know who’s gotten screwed, it pisses me off in a big way
6. He’s not a child to be taught a lesson and is not the worst thing in the horror genre
RJ Cavender: But taking an event away from me like this is unacceptable punishment. I’m not a child who needs to be ‘taught a lesson.’ And I feel not only let down by the organization but betrayed and bewildered and goddamn upset, if you want to know the truth. Somehow I’ve become the worst thing to happen to the horror genre…
Taking an event away from you? It’s not your fucking event, you’re a volunteer in an volunteer organisation. You’re one cog in a machine. You play your part and you get to help out. You don’t and you don’t.
You don’t need to be taught a lesson? How many people do you need to defraud before you do, then? How many rounds of grievances do you have to go through at the HWA (yes, we all know this isn’t the first time), before you stop acting like a charlatan? The reality is, you’ve been conning people and now you’ve been called on it. We all know it. No on will go to your retreats any more. No one will pay for your editing services any more. Game over, man.
As for being the worst thing in the horror genre……….. Right now, that’s EXACTLY WHAT YOU ARE. And while I may or may not blog further about the allegations against you and the sick things you’ve done (In truth, some people would do a better job as they’re more conversant with the events that have transpired) that doesn’t change that you literally are one of the worst (if not the actual worst) thing in the horror genre right now. Well done.
7. Life’s a bitch
RJ Cavender: And to the HWA, I’m sorry…shit happens sometimes, people get sick, life’s a bitch.
If you were an actual man, or decent human being, you’d do the work you were paid for in a timely fashion, or give them their money back. Not whine on about how life is so fucking hard and you’re sick. Everyone is sick. Everyone has lives. Everyone has commitments. You’re not a fucking special case.
No Randy Joe, you’re the bitch.
8. HWA is avoiding public scandal and not taking care of their own
RJ Cavender: Because avoiding public scandal, embarrassment, or ridicule is much more important than taking care of your own.
The HWA isn’t avoiding public scandal and isn’t not taking care of their own. By taking firm action against you, they’re protecting their wider membership that you have been defrauding for several years now. They’re taking action against you to protect themselves from you pattern of fraudulent, unethical and damaging behaviour. The HWA should be applauded, in particular President Lisa Morton who was incredibly receptive and open to hearing complaints and concerned by the serious complaints that were made about you, RJ. The HWA comes out of this very well indeed. You however? Not so much.
The HWA have released the following statement regarding RJ Cavender and his activities and the grievances regarding his dodgy editing practices. I suspect it was so long coming as, as Hal Bodner has rightly pointed out on several occasions, they probably had to receive legal counsel and then get all members of the board of trustees to agree on the text. If he doesn’t end up on Preditors and Editors and Writer’s Beware, he should, but let the following serve as warning to avoid this guy and his “services”:
I don’t know if I’ll write a part 3 to this series, one that goes into the Sexual assault allegations against RJ Cavender and the alleged cover up of another incident by RJ Cavender. Most of the information about it is spread across a lot of different threads and I’m not conversant with all the traumatic details.
I highly recommend everyone check out The Horror Show With Brian Keene as I believe Brian will be talking about this in great detail and following up on this issue in coming weeks. In the meantime I would recommend reading the thread where these serious complaints were made and I would also recommend reading Wrath James White’s statement about that issue.
In conclusion, I’m really really glad that I took a stand against Randy Joe’s unethical, predatory and fraudulent behaviour. I’m glad I reported it. I’m glad I encouraged other affected authors to report it via their channel in the HWA. And, while I knew nothing of the other issues that have been going on, I’m super glad that the action HWA took in disassociating with RJ and his subsequent leaving of the organisation appears to have given Kelly Laymon and others the breathing space they needed to bring RJ’s more serious crimes into the light of day.
I will be referring this blog post to Writers Beware and Preditors and Editors and encouraging affected authors to submit corroborating evidence. I would hope that since the HWA is a sponsor of Writers Beware, their own official statement highlighting the bad practice of RJ will hold some weight.