Monday, September 14, 2020

History of the Arizona Authors Association 2016-2020 - by Kathleen Cook

Misplaced Trust 2016-2018

The Arizona Authors board at the 2015 Literary Banquet. The theme was Western

Through the years, some members passed away, moved away, or left the organization. During the last year of Toby's tenure, the composition of the board had changed. It consisted of Lisa Aquilina as vice president and contest coordinator, Russell Azbill as treasurer, Deborah Hilcove as secretary (followed by Ron Tobin), Cherie Lee as newsletter editor, Vijaya Schartz as webmistress, and myself as proofreader. Our High-Country liaison was Nancy Scheneman-Brehm and our Southern liaison was Jan Cleere. 
Toby Heathcotte, Cherie Lee and Vijaya Schartz, having high tea in Glendale in 2015

When Lisa Aquilina was voted into the position of president at the end of 2015, very few people knew her. She was relatively new, in comparison to long-time members. She was congenial on the surface and people believed that she might make a good president. In other words, the membership acted on trust and elected her. She began her “reign” in January of 2016. 

Cherie Lee and her 2015 Literary Award
Cherie Lee, the newsletter editor, and I first realized that all was not smooth sailing when we were asked to revamp the newsletter, change its schedule (forcing us to work on holidays), use a new program with which neither of us were familiar, and finally, make arbitrary and frivolous changes at the last minute. At one point, Cherie and I received orders at 8:30 pm telling us to move several pages for no reason (thereby breaking all links and forcing a layout change) which prompted me to stay up until 2 am to have the newsletter proofread by the following morning. We both grew to resent Lisa's boot camp, "my way or the highway" mentality. Unknown to me at the time, Toby and Vijaya were going through even greater difficulties with Lisa.

Vijaya Schartz, Scottsdale Library book signing
Vijaya described this time by saying: 

"In the fall of 2016, Toby and I blew the whistle when we realized the money was disappearing, and the new president threw us out of the association. Then I was threatened with legal consequences if I didn't close the blog (opened by me for the association). 

"It took some time for the membership and the other board members to realize what was happening. By that time, Toby and I had moved on and started a small group with no political or financial concerns, just helping other writers. 

"When all the malfeasance of the last president came to light and we were called back, we were happy to return to the association." 

When these difficulties compelled us to act, the four of us, Toby, Vijaya, Cherie and myself, sent a letter to the general membership in September of 2016, to address such concerns. For this, Toby and Vijaya were especially vilified and accusations were made. The four of us were expelled from the association and I was sent an email which stated, "If you attempt to come within 500 feet of an Arizona Authors Association meeting or event, you will be prosecuted, sued, and/or arrested." I'm sure all four of us received such emails, and for Vijaya and Toby it was worse. My time with the Arizona Authors Association officially ended in September of 2016. 

During the years 2016-2018, Lisa installed her husband as both the vice president and the newsletter editor. She appointed a friend to another board position. She amended the Articles of Incorporation with the Arizona Corporation Commission, the first time in our history, according to available records, that it was ever done. She officially removed Vijaya as a board member, according to documents submitted to the Arizona Corporation Commission. Those years saw the loss of our members' website, which had been built up over many years. The newsletter ceased publication for an entire year. The contest was a mess; at one point a member was asked to throw her packet of submissions “over the fence and into the backyard” without any idea of where it landed, or even if it was the right backyard, given the difficulty of navigating behind Lisa’s Paradise Valley home. Most disheartening of all, we lost many of our members during this period. 
Exiled from the association, Connie Osterlitz, Cherie Lee, and Vijaya Schartz, at Toby Heathcotte's house for critique group meeting.
When Toby and Vijaya attempted to create a new organization, they were threatened with legal action for the use of a name that had belonged to the Arizona Authors Association, but never used. They changed names and forged on. I joined them in their Facebook group, along with Jane Ruby, Connie Osterlitz, and others. 

Rebuilding Stronger Than Ever 

Vijaya Schartz & Russel Azbill - 2019 Awards Banquet
Eventually, night passes and the dawn comes. Russell Azbill took over as president in September of 2018. When I was asked by Toby in early 2019 to return to the Arizona Authors Association, I discovered that the four of us were all reinstated with full rights restored, so I gratefully accepted. By then, Toby had returned to serve as vice president. It was like a belated Christmas present, since I had dearly loved this organization for more than a decade. Toby asked me to take over as newsletter editor, which I was glad to do. 

Since then, the organization has once again risen from the ashes. Considering this, perhaps it's appropriate that it's based in the Phoenix metro area. We are working on rebuilding the website as a professional tool for all of our members. We have created a newsletter of which I am proud. We are continuing to reconstruct all of the things that made the Arizona Authors Association such an important part of the Arizona writers' landscape for the past 42 years. As we continue forward, we know that no matter what, we will endure as long as there are people who love this association and realize its immense value. 

The current Board of Directors includes Russell Azbill as president, Toby Heathcotte as vice president, Jane Ruby as secretary and contest coordinator, Debbie Weiland as treasurer, myself as newsletter editor, and rounded out by board member Nicolas Lagrande. Many others, including Dick Waters, Connie Osterlitz and more, volunteer in various capacities. Vijaya Schartz is in charge of the AAA blog. Together with other member volunteers, we strive to be just as vital and thriving as we were in the days of Boye De Mente's presidency. 

Kathleen Cook
In 2008 when I joined Arizona Authors Association, I hadn't written or edited in nearly a year. Now, twelve years later, I can't remember a single week when I haven't done both. That is the benefit that I have received from this wonderful association. By remembering this history, we can look forward to even greater heights in the future. We're on track. With increasing membership and the website and newsletter available to all members, we will soon see what Vijaya and Toby saw in January of 1998, despite few members and a savings balance of a hundred dollars in the association's account. They envisioned a dream of what the Arizona Authors Association could be, with their tireless efforts, love and uncanny knack for leadership. I share that dream. 

Kathleen Cook
Editor of the Arizona Authors Association Newsletter

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