Authors and Readers : Blurred Lines and Manipulation.

December 30, 2016

M/M Romance

 ADDENDUM 11 March 2018


IN LIGHT OF THE SANTINO HASSELL FAKE CANCER FRAUD/CATFISHING that has rocked the M/M Romance community in the past week I felt I needed to share this post again. Back when I first published this blog post I knew nothing of the toxicity that Santino Hassell -Now widely known to be Alicia Torres and her husband Marvin Hassell- had been secretly unleashing on the LGBTQI community for years. 


For those not up to speed :


In January 2017 the post below "Blurred Lines and Manipulations" came to the attention of 'Santino Hassell'.  Santino had set up a Patreon account and readers were donating towards it 'so he could become a full-time writer' . This post was not written 'about Santino Hassell' but about a growing culture of asking fans to cough up to help with daily life expenses we all have to endure - bills, moving house, car repairs etc. 


The LGBTQI community are well known for their generosity.  Members either identify as LGBTQI or are allies- mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, wives and husbands of LGBTQI people.  We all believe that love is love no matter the gender or orientation, and therefore, the community is very passionate and proactive about helping others succeed.  Alicia Torres and Marvin Hassell preyed upon that generosity, and the fact the community has so many vulnerable people in it to manipulate, bully, harrass, and gaslight (which for those who don't know what that means, it mean's read this:


I was pulled into a social media trainwreck about this post. I was accused of being part of a secret cabal who were 'out to doxx' Santino Hassell.  Santino was presenting 'themselves' as a "bisexual fuckboi from New York, who was a single father to two gay sons/ worked as a teacher/ lived in Texas...and had Liver Cancer.  If he was 'outed' he would lose his job and not be able to pay for Cancer treatment.  The only thing was, that ALL OF THIS HAS BEEN PROVED TO BE LIES. 

Santino Hassell does not exist and NEVER HAD CANCER.


By publishing this post I'd inadvertently happened upon the Modus Operandi of Alicia Torres and Marvin Hassell.  What they'd been doing for years, and will probably continue to do if they move into another genre like M/F or YA (shudders) is right out of the Psychological Warfare Handbook.  They manipulated readers, became friendly, learned secrets and personal information and then used that to threaten and bully them into loyalty.  The people who are STILL loyal to them are those who shared secrets and are afraid of their secrets being revealed.

By pointing out the fact that crowd-funding accounts could be used to manipulate readers into giving money, I'd  threatened Alicia. She'd come to rely on the fake Cancer fund for things like, buying a house, going to Con's with her husband 'the face of Santino' Marvin.  Alicia decided the post was all about 'Santino' and that I 'knew the truth'.  I knew nothing, it was all in her head.  Alicia became paranoid and jumped the gun, inciting authors, bloggers and readers to turn against me. People vanished from my social circle who are now coming back to apologize for believing that I could be involved in whatever nonsense Alicia concocted to blacken my name, and admitting that they'd taken part in bullying me/ shunning me/writing bad reviews for my work - all to seek the approval of Santino Hassell.


I am relieved that the truth is out in the open. I commend the tenacity of Nikki, Jenn, Susan, The Nasty Birds,Dani and all of the other members of our community who kept pushing this even though we risked and suffered from, on Nikki's part, daily abuse from the likes of Megan Erikson and Santino Hassell's brainwashed fan base. 


I do hope that those involved in bullying and spreading rumors take a long hard look at their online behavior and use this as an opportunity to make some positive changes.  None of us asked for or deserved this.  I just want to get back to writing my books.  - Isobel Starling.



This is a controversial post, so I know from the start that this is going to grate on some people, but it’s been niggling in my mind for so long I just have to be done with it.  I’m not posting this to start an argument.  This is my personal opinion on my own blog and I’ve written this because, in the light of all the bullshit that has happened in 2016, I believe we all need to take a step back and re-evaluate how we behave online – as authors and readers.


In the old days before the internet, the relationship between readers and authors was straightforward.  A reader could write a handwritten letter, and post it to their favorite author’s P O Box, or to their agent.  It may have taken weeks to get there, and months or years to be acknowledged.  (If ever)  But the point was for the reader to let the author know how much they enjoyed ... or detested their writing, and to share an opinion on their books.  If the author had the time they would read and reply to letters.  And so the simple exchange of communication was complete.  The reader felt special if they received a reply and nothing further was ‘expected’ on either side. 


Nowadays, social media facilitates interactions between authors and readers.  But the single, written letter has been replaced by a tennis match, in the back and forth of comments, tweets, and emails.  Unprecedented access to authors has led to greater expectations on the part of readers, and a fan is no longer just an anonymous name, because authors can see their fans lives played out online, just as the fans can see the authors life. And this is where things get tricky.


Writers are told that the only way to be successful is to have an 'author platform' on multiple social media outlets and to nurture the fan base by sharing, sharing, sharing It’s all about the content baby!  Authors judge one another - and themselves - by the number of followers they have and the ‘likes’ they get on a post/page.  Therefore, what was supposed to make communication easier has in fact made things very, very complicated


If like me, you are an author because you love writing, and, also like me, are a very private person, social media can be very tricky water to navigate.  Working out how much to share is always difficult and each author needs to find their own comfort zone.  I rarely share anything personal.  My rule of thumb is to never share anything on social media that I wouldn’t be comfortable sharing with a stranger at the bus stop.


The internet is full of people who have no idea about what is appropriate and where to draw the line.  There are creepy authors, just as there are creepy fans. 


I have been blessed with delightful fans and enjoy interacting with readers and reviewers.  I do feel lucky to have become real friends with a few people along the way.  But I’m online primarily for the writing and to discuss books. 


The thing is though, when you start to share, you may find you are constantly feeding the beast.  Some fans will always want more. I don’t believe any author should feel compelled to spill their guts and keep fans up-to-date with the minutia of their personal lives.  And as a reader, I don’t want to know what my favorite author had for dinner, where they’re going on holiday, their relationship status, or the ins and outs of their sex life (ugh!).  So, as you can see I struggle daily with social media.


The lines between ‘friendship’ and fandom have been irrevocably blurred by social media and the race to the gutter with what some are prepared to share to make a buck makes me uncomfortable. 


Authors…  This may sound harsh but, I REALLY don’t give a crap about your sex life. I have never purchased a book because an author told me of bedroom happenings via social media. I've seen this oversharing used more and more, so what’s it all about?


No one who’s ever read my work could ever call me a prude, but I find this oversharing trend really distasteful and disrespectful. There is a double psych element to it, first, it’s as if these authors are trying to feed a deeper insecure need and are sourcing validation for their personal relationships through their fans… which is weird. Um… maybe I’m wrong, but isn’t being an author supposed to be about WRITING?  And secondly, it's as if they're trying to draw readers into a special club by making them privy to 'secrets'... and again, that's weird and manipulative.


Then, there are the authors who complain about readers overstepping- citing boundaries and ‘dance space’.  But they can’t seem to fathom that the readers who overstep believe they ‘know’ them because the author is facilitating the perceived relationship by sharing too much intimate information. *head desk* You can’t have it both ways… no, you really can’t unless you want a huge headache. 


But, and here comes the controversy... What sickens me the most is when authors manipulate their fans for money.  This manipulation comes in the way of crowd funding.  I've seen more and more authors using this as an income stream and it disgusts me.  Readers who were once ignored and shunned online by an author are suddenly accepted with open arms when they are pledging a regular $50 every month -- which maybe gets them a personal postcard or VIP insights into the author’s life.  Way to make a girl feel special!  (And sadly, it is generally female readers who sign up for these scams)


It’s REALLY hard to make money from publishing, I get it.  We all try hard to make ends meet.  Telling readers that the only way you can continue writing is if they pledge their hard earned cash is bullshit.  If you love writing you’ll do it for nothing.  Here's a thought, maybe spend less time on social media. Quit whining and start writing. 

Hell, if I disclosed my current living/health/life situation you would all be wondering how/why I continue writing.  But I do it because it's the only thing keeping me sane.  And would never stoop to begging from fans.  My author earnings will come via selling books.


Readers, if your ‘support’ for an author involves paying each month to be the authors’ special friend, here’s a reality check. 


If you have to pay monthly for friendship, this person is not your friend.

They don’t care about you.  They just want your money.


Everyone has the right to choose what they do with their own money, but don’t be deluded into thinking the connection to an author is greater if you crowdfund them.


Authors please, don’t be dicks.  Be about the writing, be good to your fans.  Readers will stick with us and pay for books and merchandise if we treat them respectfully and understand the professional boundaries.  Fans and reputations are hard won and easily lost.


©Isobel Starling 2016

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