No one saw this plot twist coming.
In September 2020, a Facebook post from someone claiming to be the daughter of indie romance author Susan Meachen announced the writer had died by suicide.
Ms Meachen wrote what she described as “perfectly flawed” romance novels and had fostered a tight-knit online community of readers and fellow authors who supported each other’s work.
As word of her death spread, author Susan A Cole recalled being shocked.
“When it came out that one of our own had taken her life, that was destructive enough, we were grieving for that alone,” Ms Cole told the BBC.
Then rumors began to spread online that Ms Meachen had been bullied.
“All the finger pointing started and it drove a huge wedge in the community that lasted for months,” Ms Cole said.
The group marked the anniversary of Susan Meachen’s death for two years. Fundraisers and book auctions were held in her honour and authors like Candace Adams contributed to an anthology of short stories that was dedicated to keeping “bullying where it belongs – in fiction”.
But that all ended this week, when suddenly Ms Meachen was resurrected.
She announced her return on social media – much to the shock and confusion of fans and friends – and admitted her suicide was staged.
“There’s going to be tons of questions,” the post said, according to screengrabs shared online. “Let the fun begin.”
Dead people don’t post
Susan Meachen’s shocking and abrupt revival has left her online community stunned and angry.
“To me it’s something that happens in fiction,” said Ms Cole.
“I will never be able to completely wrap my brain around whatever she might have been thinking because people just don’t do this.”
Ms Adams, who has been part of the online writing group Ms Meachen created since 2019, said the news has destroyed what once felt like a safe and supportive community.
“Now, everybody kind of feels like now they can’t take care of each other because they don’t know what’s real and what’s not,” she said.
In the wake of her alleged death, someone claiming to be her daughter used Ms Meachen’s Facebook account to ask for help completing her mother’s final novel and promoting her previous work.
When people questioned why Ms Meachen’s account was still active after her death, her “daughter” insisted that “dead people don’t post on social media”, according to screenshots seen by BBC News.
But Ms Adams said that over the years people in the group also began to have doubts, fuelled by a coincidence only writers would notice – a grammar mistake.
“Susan had a very strange spelling error. Whenever she would write ‘supposed to’, she wouldn’t write that, she would write ‘post to’,” Ms Adams said.
After Ms Meachen’s online death, Ms Adams said some noticed the posts on the accounts claiming to be from Ms Meachen’s daughter had the same error.
Now, looking back, Ms Adams said many in the community agree the mistake was a clue.
“All of us have come to the conclusion that it was her the whole time and it was not her daughter,” Ms Adams said.
‘Why Come Back At All?’
On Tuesday, someone claiming to be Ms Meachen revealed to the group that she was indeed alive and had been managing and posting in the group for years under an alias, according to screenshots shared with the BBC.
“I am in a good place now and I am hoping to write again,” the Facebook post said. “Let the fun begin.”
While the full circumstances around the whole affair remain a mystery, the post sparked outrage within the writing group. Ms Cole said she confronted Ms Meachen in a Facebook message and demanded answers.
“Why come back at all? Why not just stay under the alias you were using?” she wrote.
In messages shared with the BBC, Ms Meachen said her family was to blame, and said she chose to stay silent while she “worked with my psychiatrist and therapist to get in a better place”.
Others wanted to know if they would be reimbursed for their donations and support to her family over the years. Ms Adams said she has reached out to the sheriff’s department in Ms Meachen’s county to file fraud claims.
The BBC reached out to the sheriff’s department, which said it could not provide information about specific reports, and to call back at a later date for comment.
After news of the hoax went viral, Ms Meachen told writer Michael Gallagher that she felt the only way to find relief from the online bullying she said she experienced, was to fake her own death.
“The same toxicity pushed me to this in the first place proves I was morally justified, as soon as the world learned I still had a pulse the bullying resumed and the ‘piling on’ began,” she told Mr Gallagher’s outlet, Upstream Reviews.
She also maintained that she never impersonated her daughter and denied any knowledge of fundraisers in her honour.
“I plan to continue writing and this will be the backdrop for my next book,” she told the outlet. “I’m in a unique position of expertise to write a Romance about a woman bullied into ‘death’ who returns for a fresh start at life and love.”
The BBC asked Ms Meachen for comment in a message sent to her account. At the time of publication, the account had not responded.
Ms Adams said the entire experience has changed her perception of an online community she once relied on for support.
“I think she believed that if she died, her books would get attention,” Ms Adams said.
“Now, this is a new gamble: ‘Hey, if I come back, that will get everybody stirred up and maybe that will get my books popular’, instead of just being a good author.”
If you have been affected by any of the issues in this story, the BBC Action Line has links to organisations which can offer support and advice.