80: Thoughts on Authors Faking Their Deaths
Updated: Feb 22
Howdy! I'm assuming everyone in the literary community has heard about some indie romance author faking her death, then outing herself two years later. It's been the discourse this week.
Trigger Warning: Suicide
Before jumping in to post, if you or a loved one are suffering from depression, I hope you will reach out to an appropriate hotline, to your loved ones, to the community of your faith if you have one. In the USA, you can Dial 988 to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are an LGBT individual in search of support, you can reach the The Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386. There are more help lines listed at Befrienders Worldwide (befrienders.org) if your needs are more specific or if you don't live in the USA.
If, by chance, you aren't chronically online and missed the story, the low-down, as far as I've gleaned, is this: Susan Meachen, indie romance author of over ten books (and cover artist, which may be relevant), was part of a Facebook group titled The Ward. Now, I've read The Ward described as both a Meachen fan group AND a community for writers. Could be either or both, but anyway, from Meachen's account, someone purporting to be her daughter announced Meachen's death. The post (now removed) stated that Meachen committed suicide as a reaction to having been bullied by others in the writing community. I'm unclear on the exact timeline, but Meachen's assistant, a moderator of the group, stated that it was Meachen's dying wish that her final book be published before her "daughter's" wedding. My understanding is that the final book was edited for free as an act of charity, and it was not her final book, as anticipated, but that her fellow writers finished more of her other remaining manuscripts too. Certainly, Meachen and her family didn't have to pay for it. There were fundraisers for funeral expenses. An anthology was compiled, with pieces from bestselling authors, published and sold in honor of Meachen, to raise awareness of the dangers of bullying. Also, the "daughter" complained that it was too much work and expensive to keep all of her late mother's books available for sale on all the ebook and print-on-demand sites, so she gave The Ward a due date to have bought her mother's books by, before she would be taking them down, leaving only the audible versions up, for sale. Meaning, Meachen's remaining audience was pressured to rapid fire purchase her books, or lose the opportunity to do so. While all this fundraising was going on, writers within the Facebook group were being vilified for bullying (that I can find no records of). This isn't to say all social media bullying occurs out in the open. DMs are a thing. Just adding, that at a glance, I can't find proof that any bullying ever actually took place. After two years of folks missing and mourning Susan Meachen, she posted from her own account, admitted she was alive, but stated that she really did attempt to take her own life, survived, and that her family took her writing career and legacy into their hands from there. Except, that in an interview (which, admittedly, it's unclear if the real Meachen gave, since the trouble with romance authors is that the majority use pseudonyms, making them difficult to ID), Meachen ceased blaming her family, announced that faking her own death was creating a new reality, aka, an author's job, advertised her upcoming book (that only she could write, now, thanks to having faked her death?), and accused anyone mad over having been scammed by her, as guilty of wanting her dead. Also, Meachen had at least one active sock puppet account that once offered to moderate The Ward. She posted from T.N. Steele's account, this week, stating she was done posting from that account now that she's using her own again. No, she has stated no plans to pay back those who fundraised for her. Lunacy, all of it.
Naturally, folks are curious as to why she threw away her reputation and career. Was it all just to sell more books? Well, maybe. There is a theory, however, that she was in legal trouble over stealing copyrighted images and selling those as her own illustrations to authors who commissioned her for book covers. The rumor is that she even used images owned by Disney, a corporation known for it's aggressive litigiousness. Supposedly, she also owed several authors cover designs they had already paid for when her death was announced. Again, these are just speculation tracing back to social media posts. Maybe she planned to come back from the dead all along, hoping to get a Netflix deal out of the hoopla. Heck, she still might.
Adding to the crazy is that this is not the first time this has happened. Other authors have faked their deaths, and at least one literary agent not just faked her death, but fled her homeland entirely to escape her past (monetary debts).
So I was thinking, why do I care? I mean, Agatha Christie essentially did the same thing, unless you take her fugue state at face value, and frankly I do not. What's the big difference?
The difference, is that Christie was either punishing her husband (who absolutely messed up) or taking some time to heal herself after some pretty awful news. The difference is of intent. Susan Meachen either faked her death to scam her peers and fans out of their money, or she hoped the eventual scandal would make her rich and famous, and enjoyed the benefits of her fraud in the meantime. Christie made no attempts to leach off the goodwill of others during her "disappearance." If Susan Meachen faked her death, but didn't try to benefit monetarily from having done so, my feelings would be different. Even if she benefited but off of fooling some corporation, rather than a bunch of indie authors and readers, I'd call it a victimless crime. But there are victims. Not only did she rob these people of their money, she used them for their proof reading skills, she stole their time, and she pointed the finger to vilify those who had supported her.
There are loads of situations where I wouldn't mind somebody faking their death. To get out of an abusive relationship, to escape student debt (since bankruptcy isn't an option), to get away from a toxic family, to seek opportunities in a safer country, out of boredom, etc. You do you, but don't hurt others in the process. Yeah, peers would mourn and that's a shame, but if your actual wellbeing (mental or physical) is in jeopardy, you do what you've got to do.
Susan Meachen did not have to fake her death. She could have simply logged out of Facebook and taken some time to herself. I've seen claims that she sought treatment for her depression and is now doing much better. I genuinely hope that's true, but just because she was hurting, does not absolve her of hurting the community that supported her. And, while there is certainly fall back already occurring, the only consequence I think she deserves is to lose whatever lawsuit is coming her way, so that she has to pay back those who funded her dream under false pretenses. That's it. Bullying her now won't convince her what she did was heinous. She either is capable of remorse or she is not. Calling her names won't help her grow. Neither will death threats. There is nothing to be gained in stooping to that level.
Again, if you or a loved one are suffering from depression, I hope you will reach out to an appropriate hotline, to your loved ones, to the community of your faith if you have one. In the USA, you can Dial 988 to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are an LGBT individual in search of support, I suggest contacting the The Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386. There are more help lines listed at Befrienders Worldwide (befrienders.org) if your needs are more specific or if you don't live in the USA. I drop a new blog post every Monday. Thank you for stopping by. Toodles!