Last month, amid one of the more unusual scandals in publishing, a great mystery of the internet was seemingly solved for good.
After Handbook for Mortals, a book by Lani Sarem, was removed from the New York Times bestseller list following an amateur investigation into its fraudulent tactics to take the number one spot on the young adult fiction list (full disclaimer: I was part of said investigations), a truly bonkers thing happened. Many readers and book bloggers had joked that Handbook for Mortals was such a terrible book, so wildly inept in its prose, that it might have been written by the infamous Tara Gilesbie, the author of My Immortal, aka the worst fanfiction ever written. What started as a mere joke helped to pave the way for the unveiling of fandom's great myth, as the author herself seemed to come forward not only to deny that she had any involvement in Handbook for Mortals but to reveal she would soon be releasing a memoir.
The alleged author, who gave her name as Rose Christo, revealed some details about her past, and that her upcoming book Under the Same Stars would reveal the truth about My Immortal, a Harry Potter fanfic so hilariously awful that it's become as crucial a part of internet lore as cat memes and emojis. According to Christo, the fanfic was a troll fic written during her time in the New York foster care system, and she had provided her publisher, St. Martin's Press, with extensive documentation to prove her authorship of it. To say the internet got excited would be an understatement. This was one of the few unsolved mysteries of fandom, something not even the most ardent detectives had been able to uncover. Some people had come forward with claims of being Gilesbie in the past but had been quickly refuted. Most of us had just assumed this would remain a great story without an ending, so hearing that the truth would be available to us soon, and that Gilesbie/Christo was alive and thriving, was a true thrill.
Alas, it seems that things may have gone back to square one.
In a Tumblr post from October 2, Christo announced that publication of the book has been canceled due to actions she said she took to protect the identities of her family:
"But I did something pretty stupid during the publication process. I didn’t want my family’s real names getting out, largely because some of the things that happened during childhood were embarrassing. I wanted my brother, my grandparents, and even my parents to have privacy. So when it came time to provide documentation, I altered the photocopies to disguise their names. To be clear, I still own the original, unaltered documents and can provide them on request. But I’ve already been branded a liar, so it’s too late for that."
St. Martin's Press confirmed the cancellation of the book with Entertainment Weekly.
Response from the internet has been mixed. Many sympathise with Christo -- it certainly sucks to lose a major publishing deal -- and firmly believe her side of the story, while others are more skeptical. After all, this is the internet, and this was hardly a story that hadn't been mired in mistruths before. Some questioned Christo’s authority from the beginning, wondering about the timing of the story and of the story itself, especially her claim that she wrote My Immortal as a way to look for her brother, who was also in foster care at a different location. It wouldn’t have been My Immortal-related without a certain degree of oddness, but for some bystanders Christo’s claims stretched credulity.
It's hard not to sympathize with the publisher too. A book of this story would undoubtedly be a hit with readers of a key demographic, and inspiring memoirs have always been a solid cash cow for the industry, but stuff like this needs to be strictly vetted. They'd be giving money to someone who could be anyone, and those online detectives would sniff out a rat immediately if the author had gone on the promotional trail and started spreading lies. If they didn't have the full facts then it would probably be best to cancel the book before it has a chance to hit shelves. The memories of James Frey's lies about his memoir, A Million Little Pieces, still linger heavily in publishing.
Regarding this development, we have mixed opinions. It would have been wonderful if this story had come to fruition as the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. There’s nothing more satisfying than a mystery with a satisfying ending, particularly to a story that seemed to be steeped in such difficulties and unhappiness. It’s also true that nobody likes to be made a fool of, and if St. Martin’s Press didn’t have their utmost confidence in their client, then they needed to make that call. It would have been amazing to read Under the Same Stars, but now it seems it will remain another strange development in a mystery that may never truly be solved. Perhaps it’s better that it isn’t. We need to have some secrets in our loves.