How long can the rich and famous ‘Gabriel’s Inferno’ author stay anonymous?

A presumed-Canadian ‘Twilight’ fan fiction writer gets a seven-figure book deal—and a lot of attention

by Rosemary Counter

How to be almost famous, by anonymous

Photograph by Jenna Marie Wakani

“Allow me to begin by thanking you for the invitation to join you and your readers,” author Sylvain Reynard writes in an email. This is not quite true. “S.R.,” as he is known (but never seen) around his publisher’s office, had his people reach out. Penguin Canada offered an interview with the curious, anonymous author, and only via email. The catch: they know nothing about him.

Here’s what we do know: last year Twilight fan fiction called The University of Edward Masen by Sebastien Robichaud popped up online. This S.R. has since disappeared from the web. The story reappeared as an ebook from Dallas-based Omnific Publishing called Gabriel’s Inferno by Sylvain Reynard.

Like Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey, Reynard’s novel features a love triangle between a too-pale, too-thin virgin, the kind boy-next-door she should date and the cold and damaged older man who dominates her. “I have a bad temper,” warns Reynard’s main character, professor Gabriel Emerson, “and when I lose my temper I can be very destructive.”

Reynard, however, adds literary sophistication. Inspired by Dante and his muse Beatrice, Reynard invented a dark scholar who seduces his innocent grad student. He set the whole thing at the University of Toronto.

“The journey of the book is almost as interesting as Dante’s journey through The Divine Comedy,” says Reynard. With the help of a supportive online book community—“E.L. James is a friend of mine,” he confides—it landed on the New York Times ebook bestseller list. After that, Berkley Books, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA), scooped up print rights in a seven-figure, two-book deal. One million copies hit stores this week.

For publishing folks, this is all very suspicious. The book is good, almost too good, and the deal disproportionately large. Rumours began swirling: did all of the above really happen? Could S.R. be an established author? A University of Toronto professor, perhaps? And, since the books are set in Toronto, could he be hiding out there?

“I am Sylvain Reynard and I am Canadian,” he writes. He laughs off being dubbed the “Canadian Fifty Shades,” imagining “characters in heavy winter clothing, drinking domestic beer while listening to CBC Radio.” His pen name—“Sylvain” is from the Latin for woodland, “renard” is French for fox—is Canadiana at its best. He’s an avid supporter of the Yonge Street Mission, and his favourite Toronto neighbourhood is the Annex.

“Have you ever won the Charles Taylor Prize?” he is asked. “No comment,” he writes.

“Should we look for a Canadian author mysteriously absent from publishing for the last few years?” “I can’t answer that,” he says.

Reynard self-identifies as male, and he’s chummy, almost flirtatious, with female Twitter followers. He sips single-malt scotch, preferring the pricey Laphroaig. But gossip lingers that he’s a woman, sparked by one website’s accidental pronoun slip and the stereotype than men can’t write erotica.

To prove the contrary, Russell Smith wrote the erotic novella Diana as Diane Savage in 2003 and then was immediately outed by the National Post. He believes readers should not be biased by their perceptions of the writer. “I believe knowing an author’s identity—or biography or gender or favourite colour—is irrelevant to the experience of reading his/her fiction.”

Michael Redhill published two mystery novels as Inger Ash Wolfe before unmasking himself in July as A Door in the River hit bookstores because his anonymous female writer “needed someone to speak for her.” He describes it as “an almost existential experiment” that was “fascinating while it lasted, but this is about books and publishing.”

Reynard says he has no desire to be a public figure, assuming he isn’t one already. “I can walk into major bookstores and inspect the displays of my novels then disappear into the crowd.” If the book lives up to its hype, Reynard’s secret will prove harder to keep. In the meantime, the woodland fox is enjoying the best of both worlds. “A short time ago, I might have thought that being anonymous would have prevented me from being interviewed by Maclean’s, and yet here I am.”




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How long can the rich and famous ‘Gabriel’s Inferno’ author stay anonymous?

  1. You can stay in you Wardrobe or Hobbit Hole SR ;-) Love these books!

    • Absolutely. ;)

  2. I on the other hand would love to know more about this author. I hope he doesn’t hide forever.

    • curiosity strikes. and who doesn’t want to have her books signed by the man himself right?! we can still hope…maybe.=)

    • Mark Kingwell?

      • How about Charles Foran?

    • The mystery behind SR is as seductive as our beloved Professor Gabriel O. Emerson. I hope his privacy will always be respected until he’s ready to say otherwise. Meanwhile, we can look forward to his next best seller, Gabriel’s Redemption.

  3. The author’s true identity aside, I find it interesting that men are perceived as being unable to write romance or erotica.

    If we think about it, men are often the ones who pursue, court and initiate romantic relationships. They tend to set the mood of a date by planning the details of an evening out. And it seems to me that the pressure falls on a man to ensure that a couple enjoys their time together. I find it perfectly acceptable that men could detail a romantic story in words for the enjoyment of a larger audience. It seems perfectly natural to me.

    SR”s books in particular are very well-written and captivating and not simply for the element of romance. There is much to be admired about SR’s exceptional storytelling.

  4. Why should it matter who wrote this book, whether it’s a man or a woman, and where he/she lives? If this person wants their privacy, so be it. But, of course, the media will have not rest until they hunt down the “writer,” so they can be first in reporting the story. Does it matter if he/she wrote under a different name? None of this matters except for the fact that SR has numerous followers who support him/her and will continue to do so. We are very hopeful and anxious to see if he/she writes another book. :)

  5. i dont know if i am on the right page i was doing a serch on a book called fifty shades of twilight trying to find out if the book can be bought or if it was just on kindle i would love to read this book. i do read alot always have. now i read more then i always did cause i am alone 24/7. right now i am on the first book of fifty shades of grey and i realy want to read 50 shades of twilight and was wondering if you could get it in book form or just on kindle

    • There is no fifty shades of twilight. The 50 shades series is based on the Twilight series. Fifty shades darker and Fifty shades freed are the second and third books in the series.

      • I think 50shade of twilight is a book. its a parody. I could be wrong but I am almost certain…

  6. Yes, I have mixed feelingsabout his this. For one I would love to meet him and thank him for such lovely books but in the other hand I understand why he would like to keep his anonymity. I’ve thank him plenty via social media but it would be nice to put a face behind the name. Oh well. I love the books and wish nothing but continuos success to the lovely SR

  7. SR we got your back. Love the books.

  8. Love the books! Have read them several times, and will again. Can’t wait for more Gabriel and Julia!! Thanks S.R <3

  9. Yes, SR is definitely male, as reflected in the last love scene in the first book Honestly, a one-hour massage when they both were already ready — it would never happen. Any female would know it was just too unnecessary and too overboard. I would have left, frankly. He’s male and he truly outs himself as male by some seriously nonsense foreplay.

  10. Now I know why I loved Gabriel’s Inferno and Gabriel’s Rapture more than my beloved 50 Shades…because the author is a man. Makes sense now :)

  11. Whether or not the author is really a “he” should not take away from the quality of work that was shared. These books, thus far, are absolutely amazing and inspiring. I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to the last installment of the Gabriel’s Inferno Trilogy. Happy Reading.

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