11:00 am EDT, October 5, 2017

The ‘My Immortal’ mystery grows: Five new questions after the memoir’s cancellation

My Immortal, the horrendously bad Harry Potter fan-fic to end all bad fan-fics, was slated to have the true story behind it published. As of October 4 it seems the deal is off, but there are some serious questions still surrounding this tale of finding long-lost relatives via crowd-sourcing the fan-fic community that need answering.

In case the story of the My Immortal fan-fiction story is unfamiliar to you, here it is in a nutshell. Back in 2006, My Immortal gained infamy as the worst Harry Potter fan-fic of all time. It was filled with every cliche imaginable — from a goth, Mary-Sue heroine, to endless author notes, typos, to frankly, you name it.

The fic was so bad that it actually made people wonder if it was just a brilliant parody of bad fan-fiction on a whole. It even ended up in a course at Princeton on the rise of fan-fiction and its place in our internet society. Regardless of its true intent, it was known far and wide in all circles of the vast Harry Potter fandom.

Flash-forward to September 2017, and BuzzFeed breaks the news that Wednesday Books, a division of Macmillan Publishing, will publish the real-life story behind the creation of My Immortal. Wednesday Books had put out this now deleted description on its website:

In the early 2000s, Rose Christo was separated from her five-year-old brother and shuttled between foster homes in Brooklyn to the Bronx and back again. Desperate to be reunited with her sibling, she traveled the five boroughs, unable to find any trace of him, as New York State’s child care agencies failed to help her time and again.

Then, with the help of one beloved foster sister, Rose created an infamous piece of Harry Potter fanfiction titled My Immortal, posting it online under the pseudonym XXXbloodyrists666XXX. The “44 chapters and 22,000 words of hysterical, typo-laden hyperbole” went viral as the most notoriously terrible fanfic ever read by the community. For years, fans, writers, and editors researched, debated, and contested the story’s origin and its mysterious author: Was this grammatically challenged rant actually written by a suicidal goth teenager named Tara Gilesbe living in Dubai, or was this a hoax perpetrated by a group of professional authors making fun of fanfiction?

The truth is a gripping, compelling, and surprisingly funny story of how a young girl infiltrated and used the fanfiction community to search for her brother by baiting their attention with a deliberately badly written tale, creating a 10-year mystery that garnered pop culture media attention and remained unsolved — until now.

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This week, not even a month since the news broke, Rose Christo announced on her Tumblr page that the deal was off. “I did something pretty stupid during the publication process,” she wrote. “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.”

Still, there are a few things that don’t add up. We’d like these questions answered:

1. Who is Rose Christo?

Despite this being the modern internet age, there is next to no information online about Rose Christo. Even authors who had their starts in fan-fiction, and who go by pen names, such as E.L. James and Cassandra Claire, were traceable to real people before the height of their fame.

Try to find a photo of Rose Christo. There are plenty of the actress in the parody My Immortal web series, but none of Christo herself. Where are the people who have met her in real life? Where are the foster sister, the brother, or anyone who interacts with her in real-life?

When you’re selling a true story, usually there are details to go with it. Even if names are changed to protect privacy, those names are available for fact checkers to verify your story. It’s what responsible publishers do.

2. Why did the publisher actually cancel the book’s release?

This may seem obvious, but publishers are in the business to make money. For a book to have been given a detailed description on the publisher’s website, a specific release date, and cover art; considerable time, effort, and money had already been spent by the publishers. Make no mistake, there are real time and resource losses here that they won’t recoup. So why would they take the loss at this stage? The answer could be that they faced more trouble if they forged ahead.

It seems odd that Wednesday Books would cancel if the unaltered documents Christo references do exist. Did the publisher become suspicious the tale was false? Did the publisher do investigative work not involving the altered documents that called the tale into question? Were there other issues, and were the altered documents the straw that broke the camel’s back?

3. Could we be talking legal action?

Publishers have taken heat over true-life stories that later proved to be false before. Probably the most famous of these was James King’s A Million Little Pieces, which was exposed in a piece called A Million Little Lies. It later lead to a lawsuit on behalf of fans who claimed they were defrauded out of money thinking they were buying a piece of non-fiction.

Did Wednesday Books cancel the publication because they feared such a potential lawsuit down the line if the book’s contents were later revealed to have been embellished? On the flip side, is there legal recourse on either Christo’s or the publisher’s part for this book not being published.

4. What about this brother and other family members?

Assume for a second that the book was published. What about the family members mentioned by Christo? If there were wild inaccuracies, they could have brought a lawsuit for defamation of character, and perhaps more.

This could be a sock-puppet trying for fifteen minutes of internet fame, but there is a user on the Kiwi forums (a fandom gathering place) that goes by the moniker DawnDusk, who claims to be Christo’s brother. He says that while aspects of Rose Christo’s life are true, there are other items surrounding her story that seem sketchy at best (But since his identity is not verified, take this with a grain of salt). For what it’s worth: Admins at the forum have looked into DawnDusk’s identity and believe his claims are verifiable.

If it is a sock-puppet account, it’s certainly a well-researched one. Other posters seem to corroborate different aspects of the supposed brother’s version of the family tale rather than Rose Christo’s. The ongoing posts (two of them) are currently seven pages long, and worth the long read. Maybe it’s just another troll, or maybe it’s not. At the very least, it’s another bizarre twist.

5. Why not self-publish?

Clearly the interest in this tale is there. Why not self-publish it? If Wednesday Books is no longer interested, presumably the publishing rights have returned to the author. Christo has already self-published numerous books, why not this one?

In the end, the only thing we are sure of here is that there are more questions than there are answers.

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