February 27, 2014

How do authors respond when they become the victims of stalking?



Melissa Anelli (via Flickr/Mr. Muggles)

As an author, you want to cultivate obsessive fans—fans who will buy each of your books in hardcover and patiently wait for hours to have you sign them without then dousing you in ink and ruining your outfit.

For some authors, however, the line is crossed in a big way, and obsessive fans turn into obsessive stalkers. Melissa Anelli has been dealing with an unhinged stalker for the past five and a half years, an ordeal that includes a daily barrage of graphic death and rape threats not only to her but also to her family and friends.

The situation started when Anelli wrote to a member of the forums on her Harry Potter fansite, The Leaky Cauldron, who had been posting graphic threats against an actress in the Harry Potter film franchise.

The poster, incensed that Anelli had chastised her, began an ongoing campaign of harassment and intimidation that has resulted in an FBI case and an international warrant of arrest.  Still the harassment has not stopped because New Zealand, where the stalker resides, has not enforced the terms of parole.

This week Anelli did something that stalking victims are advised never to do: she finally responded to her stalker in a very public manner. Eight months after the FBI issued an international warrant for her stalker’s arrest, nothing had happened. Sick of it, Anelli took to her personal tumblr and outed her stalker.

The response has been overwhelmingly positive—in no small part because Anelli has urged her supporters to be considerate of her stalker’s mental illness and to instead pressure the government of New Zealand to ensure that their anti-stalking laws are appropriately enforced in order to end the ordeal. The campaign is picking up steam but Anelli remains shaken by the experience, writing, “You may think, ‘I’ve seen her at LeakyCons, she’s not affected by this at all!’ Never make an assumption by the strength someone is able to project that they are unaffected.”

When authors become the victims of stalkers it threatens not only their personal safety, but the safety and integrity of their careers. Since being an author involves communicating with the general public on a mass scale, it isn’t possible to withdraw from the public eye without withdrawing from one’s career. And unlike famous actors, authors often don’t have the connections and financial resources to protect themselves, and have instead to rely on their local police forces and blind faith.

Peter James, a crime novelist from the U.K., has been stalked for the past ten years. His stalker followed him to various book signings and may have attempted to break into his house. He has a sense of humor about it: “Graham Greene said, ‘Every writer has to carry a chip of ice in their heart.’ I am more secretive about my location these days, but after moving house I felt, ‘Fine, I’m actually not going to be scared by you. I’m going to write this book about an obsessive stalker. If you don’t like it, come and find me. Make my day, punk.’ So far nothing,” he told Britain’s Independent. But the experience riled him enough to finish and publish the book.

James Lasdun is another author who processed his stalking experience by writing a book. Give Me Everything You Have is a memoir of how one of his former students, who initially approached him to ask for publishing advice, turned into his worst nightmare, spewing anti-semitic rhetoric and violent threats against him on a daily basis.

Stephen King is one of the more famous literary victims of stalking, and has suffered from a variety of strange fan obsessions over the years. (One of his stalkers still runs a website claiming that King was behind the death of John Lennon). In 1992 he backed an anti-stalking law and his novel Misery was in part based on his fears that a deranged fan might take things a step too far.

Some authors, however, are nonplussed by obsessive fans. When Will Self was asked about Sam Mills’s novel, The Quiddity of Will Self, which is stringently faithful to Self’s life and work and contains multiple sexual fantasies about him from a first-person point of view, he responded, “I just want to be misunderstood, so anything that contributes to the process is fine by me… It was less to do with me than the idea of me.”


Amy Conchie is assistant to the publisher at Melville House.