I’m going to tell you a story in today’s post, but I first want to provide some context, as the topic is out of the norm for me. This post is part of Stina Lindenblatt’s Tell Me When blog hop. Her debut releases January 20th from Carina Press, and as Stina mentions on her blog, Tell Me When is about “a college freshman who struggles with the aftermath of being stalked and kidnapped during her senior year of high school.”
In light of that premise, Stina’s focusing her release around raising awareness of the issues and dangers of stalking. Stina’s a friend of mine so I knew I wanted to support her debut, but I also support the idea behind her blog-hop focus.
Stalking in Fiction
From Twilight on down, many, many Young Adult, New Adult, and adult stories contain the subtext that stalking behavior (usually from the romance hero) is sexy. In Twilight, Edward breaks into Bella’s room and watches her sleep. In an adult (non-paranormal) romance heavily discussed on Twitter last week, the hero breaks into the heroine’s home and wakes her for sex, and this goes on for almost a year without them even exchanging names.
The pretext of fiction—that we know the author has a plan—can allow us to see such behavior as sexy. Following the heroine around? His obsession shows how much he wants to keep her safe. Tracking her phone? His invasion of privacy shows how much he worries about her. Forcing himself into her life? His controlling behavior shows how much he loves her.
In fiction, we can close the book. Some readers will sigh and think the hero must really love the heroine to do all that stuff. Other readers—readers who have had a real-life stalker—might not see that behavior as sexy at all…
A Story of a Romance Hero Wanna-Be
Once upon a time, a woman was facing trouble at home and a stalker at work, and she wanted nothing more than to escape. When the promise of a better life beckoned from across the country, she took the chance and settled in a place where no one knew her and she could get a fresh start.
At first, all seemed brighter. New apartment, new job, new friends. Then her stalker from her old job tracked her down.
In tears, she poured out her story to one of her new friends at work. The man who shared her friend’s office overheard every word. He came over and introduced himself. “I’m the security supervisor here. I’ll make sure he can’t get to you.”
Grateful, she handed over all the information she had. She didn’t know if the man contacted her old stalker or not, but the stalker didn’t call again. Maybe things would work out after all.
Then flowers showed up at her work. Flowers that weren’t signed except for a bizarre note that struck her as a reference to “Peeping Tom” type behavior.
A mantra started in her head. She wouldn’t freak out. She wouldn’t freak out. She couldn’t afford to lose this new job or move again.
Could that security supervisor do anything? It was just flowers after all. Feeling foolish, she called the security supervisor and expressed her concern.
He confessed that he’d sent the flowers. The signature was supposed to be a pun on his name. He thought he was being charming.
A wave of cold stiffened her muscles, and she stood, silent, the phone hanging loosely in her hand. The flowers and the signature card on her desk mocked her with their innocence, yet it all still felt ominous no matter the explanation.
Over the next few weeks, the calls to her cellphone started. The security supervisor called “just to make sure she was okay.” He’d call when he was in the area to “check if she needed anything.”
All perfectly normal and caring, right? The stuff of romance heroes everywhere. How could she say she didn’t want his attention when he was only keeping an eye out for her?
Then the frequency of calls escalated. He’d call her late at night “so her voice was the last thing he heard before going to bed.” Ditto for the early morning calls.
Maybe he was trying to be sweet. Plenty of women would swoon over such declarations. No matter that she told him she wasn’t interested or that his attention wasn’t wanted, he acted like he thought it was just a matter of time until she changed her mind.
Suspicions grew in her mind that her “protector” from her previous stalker had turned into a stalker himself. Despite her fears, she was reluctant go to his boss. Her job required her to beg favors from his boss on a near-daily basis, and if she caused trouble, his boss might put her requests at the bottom of the pile and then she’d lose her job.
She couldn’t go to anyone else at work either. After all, he was Security.
It was easier to tell herself that he was harmless. That he did fancy himself a hero out to protect her. Even though she’d made it clear she wasn’t interested. Even though she’d made him repeat her protests back to ensure he was listening to her. And even though she wasn’t reporting him only because she was intimidated and scared of the repercussions.
One evening a severe illness left her dead asleep in her apartment. She didn’t answer when he called that night.
She woke in the middle of night with him at her bedside, “checking on her.” He’d talked her apartment’s security office into letting him into her apartment. And now she was too sick to make him leave.
A caring friend? Or a stalker who used every excuse to go over the line?
Real-Life vs. Fiction
I won’t tell you how the story ends because I’m making a point. If we were to read that story as fiction, we could easily see the man as a romance hero: caring, protective, willing to do anything for the object of his obsession. We’d trust the author would make everything work out in the end.
Maybe the heroine would have it out with him for freaking her out so badly. He’d grovel his apologies and declare his love once more. And then she’d see him for the great guy he was and they’d live happily ever after. The End.
But real life isn’t fiction. If we read that story as a real-life event, we see a man who purposely made someone uncomfortable, became demanding of her time and attention, manipulated his way into the apartment of a helpless woman—and there’s no promise of a happy ending.
It feels threatening because it is threatening. And her vulnerability at the end of the story only makes the situation worse.
Overcoming the “Stalking Is Sexy” Myth
As an author, I feel I have a responsibility to ensure that when the heroes I write about engage in questionable behavior, I make it very clear how the heroine feels about it. I don’t want to perpetuate the “stalking is sexy” myth.
If the heroine doesn’t want (on a conscious or subtextual subconscious level) the attention, the hero is a stalker, and some readers will be turned off or triggered. On the other hand, if the heroine is fine with the behavior, or if the reader can tell the heroine is into him and the heroine calls him out on the behavior at some point, the reader can trust in that happy ending without feeling squicky.
In real life, we have to pay attention to that wanted vs. unwanted line even closer. Yet popular culture encourages us to “go for what we want,” too often regardless of whether our actions infringe on what others want. No doubt this can be a tricky issue to navigate, especially when young and inexperienced.
So when the opportunity presents itself, like with this blog hop, I bring up the difference between fiction and real life. Just as much as real-life “bad boys” aren’t waiting to be “redeemed by the right woman’s love,” real-life stalkers aren’t romantic. They’re creepy. What’s acceptable behavior in stories does not match what’s acceptable in real life.
In the words of the heroine from my story Pure Sacrifice, “Unwanted or obsessive attention is stalking. It’s harassment and intimidation.” Raising awareness of these truths online and in real-life conversations might help.
And yes, we should have these conversations about acceptable behavior and the differences between fiction and real life with males and females. Unwanted attention can go either way, and either way is wrong. And definitely not sexy.
P.S. That story wasn’t fiction.
P.P.S. Be sure to check out the other posts on Stina Lindenblatt’s blog hop for her debut release Tell Me When. Participants are sharing not only their stories, but also tips and advice for dealing with stalkers.
P.P.P.S. If you haven’t answered my poll questions about your ebook buying and reading habits, please check out that post.
Have you read books that perpetuate the “stalking is sexy” myth? Do they bother you or are you able to read them as pure fiction? Do you think authors should be careful of the impression they give readers in this regard? What else could authors do to prevent continuing that myth? Do you have a stalking story or advice you’d like to share?Pin It