I am still left reeling from all the revelations about Santino Hassell over this weekend. I am shocked and appalled and, quite frankly, angry about being taken in by this scammer. I am not one to get caught up in drama but I couldn’t not acknowledge what has become a veritable hot topic this weekend.
I was never one of the so-called ‘inner circle’, my involvement was simply being a fan of the books. I had interacted with ‘Santino’ or ‘Sonny’ or whatever he/she is calling themselves these days (I am going to use the pronoun ‘he/him’ for easiness) maybe once or twice on social media.
The Santino Affair: The Beginning
I adored In the Company of Shadows (ICoS). It got me through a really tough time in my life. My mum was dying (of cancer) and I needed escapism, something to take me away from all of the grief I was experiencing whilst trying to balance a job and my own failing mental health issues. I have talked about my love for this series various times on this blog.
This massive story written by Sonny and his co-writer Ais completely stole my heart and I eagerly lapped up every subsequent release that Santino Hassell wrote as a rebranded ‘m/m romance’ writer.
I enjoyed them a lot. The writing was excellent and the stories felt fresh and so very real. I am sickened to find out that a lot of these were pilfered from fans by this writer without any kind of permission. That he used his position to gain their trust and elicit from them their confidences makes me feel sick to my stomach. These stories were real alright. That’s because they were stolen from people and used shamelessly to sell books.
Some of the other stuff coming out is even more insidious. Catfishing, lying about having cancer and accepting money from fans under false pretences… this list goes on and on. A lot of people who are sticking with this author and not bothered that ‘he’ may in fact be a woman, and not a bisexual man as previously claimed, are missing the point entirely.
That a woman writing m/m romance under a male name (ala the Josh Lanyon debacle) is perhaps still something to side-eye, it is the appropriation of an LGBTQIA persona that is really what gets under my skin. Pretending to belong to a marginalized group is just… well, wrong.
I have no issue with authors writing under pen names and not giving away much of themselves online (some people do need to keep their private lives separate for many reasons) but actually taking on a whole other identity to dupe and deceive your fans just doesn’t sit right with me.
I am also really upset that the people who have been trying for well over a year to get the truth out were claimed to be doxxers by Santino Hassell who then saw fit to sic his author friends on these truth-seekers.
While many of these authors were clearly taken in by an accomplished manipulator and gaslighter, it still leaves a sour taste in my mouth and I’m not sure that I will be able to read anything else by these authors in the future (only time will tell).
I feel betrayed and I have to wonder to myself exactly why that is? I was not a super-fan by any means. I enjoyed the books and checked the author’s social media from time-to-time to get news about latest releases. I was not personally hurt by their actions though I do feel for the people most affected by this.
I was however completely blind-sided on Friday evening when I happened across a tweet mentioning a scandal in the m/m romance community. What followed was a long fall down the rabbit-hole into this entire mess. I feel ill just thinking about what has happened and I applaud these people who stood up in the face of threats and recriminations and had the courage to tell their story.
This is not a well-thought out post. It’s more akin to verbal diarrhoea if I’m honest. It’s not polished and I’m probably missing lots of important stuff out but I just felt I couldn’t stay silent on this. That is how Santino Hassell got away with it for so long.