CW: Depression and suicide
Hello friends and welcome to a deceptive edition of Just Another Struggling Writer. I’m just another struggling writer.
Well everyone, we are just four short days into 2023 and we already have our first case of Authors Behaving Badly.
Bring Out Your Dead
In case you were offline the last two days, or are far enough from the indie-romance writing sphere to not have heard, indie author Susan Meachen returned to her private Facebook group a few days ago to announce her return to writing after a two-year long hiatus.
The only problem is, that hiatus was precipitated by the news of her sudden and tragic passing.
Yes, according to an October 2020 Facebook post from Susan’s own account, made ostensibly by her daughter, Susan, a beloved figure in the indie romance world with a small but devoted group of fans, tragically took her own life. Susan’s daughter pointed the finger at bullying within the indie romance community, specifically other authors, as the cause of her mother’s suicide.
Susan’s daughter went on to explain that she would only be using the page to promote her mother’s books, as well as solicit assistance in completing her mother’s final novel – which had meant to be a wedding gift for her daughter.
Understandably, Susan’s friends and fans in the writing community were devastated to hear this news. Many rallied to donate funds toward funeral costs, and an anti-bullying anthology was dedicated to her memory.
So, when Susan suddenly reappeared to announce that she was not dead after all and was hoping to get back to writing, with little explanation for the last two years and lacking in any remorse whatsoever for those who mourned her death… Well. We all know what happens when shit and fans meet.
Many of the incriminating Facebook posts, including the original announcement of her supposed suicide, have since been deleted – but screenshots are forever.
It’s a wild story, but as I pored over the details, it didn’t pack the same sort of… schadenfreude-like punch that other writing/book community drama usually brings. There was no silver lining, there was no fun to be made. It was all just… very sad.
A Single-Use Solution
The writing/publishing (including indie) industry and ecosystem can be especially tough on writers with mental health struggles. The constant churn of rejection can definitely lay an aspiring writer low, even if they aren’t already down to begin with thanks to an accident of brain chemistry. In the indie publishing world in particular, the need to constantly promote your books, write new ones, and organize editing, cover design, and ads is a grind I certainly know I am not capable of. I can only imagine how it must feel to check Amazon for your sales numbers only to find nothing, leaving one to wonder if the hundreds of hours they put into their book was even worth it. It’s enough to beat even the most mentally healthy author down.
I’m not making excuses, of course. What Susan did was reprehensible. But I guess, as someone who has struggled with depression and anxiety pretty much my whole life, I can see how a person might reach a point where they want to blow everything up and walk away from it. In an especially low moment, yearning for something – anything – to give your life meaning again, I can actually kind of understand on a base level how pretending to have died so that you can watch the love pour in might make sense to a person.
Trouble is, it’s a single-use, temporary solution to an on-going problem. More importantly, it is not victim-free. Susan intimated in her Coming Back post that she is in a much better place mentally now (something we should all be happy to hear), however now that she is feeling well, she wants to return to her old life of writing and publishing. But, she can’t unbreak the emergency glass and she can’t undo the harm she caused to her friends and fans, no matter how hard she tries to point the blame at her daughter. She certainly could refund the money apparently donated to her fake-funeral expenses, but it seems like she’d prefer to pretend that she never received such charity. In fact, from her post it seems like she wants to pretend none of this ever happened, which, of course, she can’t. Even if she were to stalwartly ignore every attempt to guilt or shame her for the fake-suicide scheme, the internet won’t. I would be stunned if she ever sold another book. Her writing career, barring a new pen-name and a new brand to go with it, is likely over for good.
There are no winners in this tale. Not Susan, not the admin of her fan page who has been implicated in the plot, not the daughter who is being fingered by her mother for having initiated the whole thing, not the friends who genuinely cared for her – who posted to her fan page as recently as a few months ago that they missed her – and certainly not those who donated funds, provided free editing services, or spent their labor organizing that anti-bullying anthology dedicated to her.
So even while I cannot and will not defend Susan, or what she did, I do empathize with her. Because I’ve been in that place before, where something completely irrational and harmful seems like the only solution you’ve got. I hope she finds the strength to make the necessary amends. She’ll feel so much better for it.
Believe me, I know that too.
Oof this was a heavy one. Gentle reminder to all of my fellow depressives out there that you are loved and appreciated and seen, and that one woman’s poor behavior does not make your experience any less valid.
Until next time my friends (hopefully next week we’ll have something fun to talk about), may your writing be plenty and your struggles be few.