My update about Melissa, with a long extra post by Sarah Rees Brennan about potential perils of fandom (and how we can thwart them)



Today, with all the press around the Twitter rape threat case, I wanted to give an update on my friend Melissa.

As you may or may not know, Melissa has been subject to five years of stalking. There have been several news articles about it. None of them really touch the depth or…

What’s happening to Melissa Anelli is truly horrible. 

Fandom is a really cool place a lot of the time. But people in fandom can also be truly mean to other fans. Fans who disagree with them about characters and storylines. Fans who are ‘getting above themselves’—who are seen as thinking they’re great, or who are popular and who don’t ‘deserve to be.’ In fandom circles, attention is the primary form of currency—one doesn’t generally get paid for fannish essays, or for fanfiction, and not often for fan art. So I can see how some people getting more attention than others seems important… but it’s not, really. Everybody’s in it for the love of whatever thing they’re a fan of. And it’s such a pity when that love gets twisted or obscured.

I used to write fanfiction. I’m very open about that. 

I have never been treated so badly anywhere as I was in fandom. Not in publishing, not in fencing class, not in any job I worked or hobby I was part of. I was stalked (not like Melissa was, but someone did track me down and follow me around for a day, and it was very scary and upsetting, and it was at my job where I was a library assistant—I had to go back). I got rape and death threats. I remember someone explaining to me that it would be a better world if I was struck by lightning. (I mean, not a death threat. Unless said person was secretly Zeus…) It’s been no good at all for my actual career. A few weeks ago someone was discussing what a bitch I was (quote) with a magazine editor, because they didn’t think I… cared enough about people who used to read my fanfiction but don’t read my books?

(I may not have understood the issue entirely, but for the record, my feelings on the subject are—I don’t really like thinking about the stories I wrote back then because all the bad experiences tainted them, but I’m happy if other people still like them? In a general way I am happy to make anybody else happy. ;) I assume the people who didn’t go on to read my books weren’t that into my writing, and that’s okay. Of course, I like it best when people ARE into my writing. Which is to say, I love and adore all those who read my books. Those are the people I care about, and I think that’s pretty natural. ;) I don’t mind if they bought them, took them out from a library, borrowed them from a friend, passed the book around among ten friends. I love my books and I love people who read them. If they read my fanfiction and decided to read my books, great. If they picked up one of my books randomly in a bookshop, great. If they read a story synopsis somewhere and liked the look of it, great. If a friend recommended it, great and I also love the friend. If tiny magical alligators told them to read my books… I love the tiny magical alligators. And if people like the books enough to consider themselves fans of them—I feel very lucky. Because I do know, from the inside out, that fandom, the coming together out of love for something, is a beautiful thing.)

Anyway! Enough about me, I just wanted to get back around to the ‘beautiful thing’ point. I have talked about my fannish experience and the complications of it before. I am not saying all this so you guys come and fan me with palm leaves and coo ‘poor Sarah.’ There were other people who got way, way worse than me. Poor Melissa Anelli is definitely among them.

I am also not saying that being a fan is a Terrible Scarring Experience and nothing else. In many ways it was lovely: people read what I was writing, and even though I’d been writing books (many many unpublished books ;)) for years, having an audience was wonderful. I felt like people really liked what I was writing. I made friends who matter a lot to me, to this day, and that’s more important than anything else. I’m not saying fandom is a bad place. 

Soccer fans are a fandom, too. (Look at me saying soccer like an American, but trying to get the point across.) ‘Soccer’s the worst and people who really like it are the worst!’ isn’t true. ‘People get hurt in soccer riots and we should think about how to stop people getting hurt’ is more reasonable.

I am saying that I think fans should be kinder to each other. Often fans are really young (I was seventeen when I got my first fannish death threat, and there were younger than me), and this kind of behaviour leaves marks on kids. Fans, especially those centred online and around books, especially those involving a lot of fanfiction, are often women, and women-on-women hate makes me sad. Especially if it’s hate for a woman seen as successful, because it perpetuates the lie of women as jealous and spiteful.

I tend to live by the thought: if you see a woman getting a ton of hatred, always question it. (If everyone jumped off Ladyhate Bridge, would you?)

There are people who write fanfiction who are published now. More will be published in the future. Not because writing fanfiction is a ticket to fame and fortune. But because people who write fanfiction, or who engage with fandom by writing about it like Melissa Anelli, are generally people who love books, who love writing, who are dedicated to it. Often those are people who will write books and pursue publication. ;) And that’s okay. There are people who are fannish and will never want to pursue writing or art or journalism professionally, and that’s okay. (And if they get really popular… or if they disagree with another fan about a character or a story… and they get hate, that’s not okay.)

It’s good to protect yourselves, and it’s good to protect each other.

When things have escalated to the degree they have with Melissa Anelli, the law has to be involved. I hope to goodness that Melissa Anelli’s stalker will be stopped and Melissa will have some peace of mind.

I also think, well, fervent love for something is a wonderful thing. Fervent hatred for someone is a lot more worrying. For those in fandom, if you see your fellow fans be targeted, getting lots of hatred, well, it would be great if you said ‘hey, hey don’t do that, that’s not cool.’ If expressing hatred for other humans, and DEFINITELY expressing a wish to harm other humans in any way, was just something that people watched for and frowned on.  

I think a community forming around shared love for something is beautiful, especially if that something is a book. (I love books okay. ;)) It’s a shame to see it turn ugly, and I think such communities can be kept beautiful, if people can only remember to be good to each other, and remember that love drew them together.