This story has been updated.
Sherrilyn Kenyon, the best-selling author of the Dark-Hunter series, began writing as a child to survive her own bleak circumstances — poverty and neglect, punctuated by the shouts of her parents. “I’m gonna skin you alive the minute you fall asleep!” she once heard her mother bellow at her father.
“That’s why my books have a lot of dark places in them. I find that therapeutic,” Kenyon told the Tennessean last year. “As a small kid, you can slay the dragons. It was what gave me control.”
But the page offered no salve for the circumstances that the author, now 53, says befell her several years ago.
In late 2014, it became a labor for the author to breathe and walk. Her teeth putrefied. Her hair fell out in clumps. She endured tremors, stomach cramps, facial swelling and vertigo. There was an unmistakable taste of metal in her mouth.
“Again, as many of you know, one of the reasons I had to cut back on my appearances and stop doing my annual fan convention a couple of years ago was that out of the blue I was viciously and painfully struck down by a bevy of strange, inexplicable and baffling symptoms,” the author, whose works of paranormal romance and urban fantasy have been New York Times bestsellers, told her fans in a newsletter this month.
At first, doctors were stumped by her condition, she explained. But she said a new round of tests last year pointed to a disquieting cause: “Someone close to me was tainting my food.”
The person responsible for orchestrating “this Shakespearean plot” against her, Kenyon alleges in a lawsuit filed this month in Williamson County Circuit Court in Tennessee, is her husband, Lawrence R. Kenyon II. She is suing him, along with two people employed by the couple, for up to $20 million, claiming assault by poisoning and intentional interference with business relationships, among other causes of action.
She claims to have frequently choked after eating food served to her by her husband, who allegedly told their son on one occasion, as he watched his mother vomiting on the floor, “She does that all the time, ignore it.” He enlisted an assistant, originally employed as a tutor for their child, to ply her with “tainted food and drink,” the writer asserts.
Her husband’s motivation, the complaint maintains, went beyond “profuse insecurity and insidious jealously” of her success. He also “stood to gain millions of dollars upon her demise through life insurance and the value of her estate, including her copyrights and trademarks.” The filing accuses him of bleeding money from his wife’s business accounts, as well as taking out a life insurance policy on her and making himself its sole beneficiary.
In a statement provided through a lawyer to the Tennessean, Lawrence Kenyon denied the accusations, countering that his wife had “blurred the line between fiction and reality.”
“These astonishing and unsubstantiated allegations may stand as her best fantasy creation yet,” said Lawrence Kenyon, whose career as a lawyer has included a stint with a local office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. He said the prolific author, who has written under numerous pseudonyms, concocted the story to outmaneuver him in ongoing divorce proceedings.
In her lawsuit, the novelist says it was only after her husband had filed for divorce last year that she had her blood, nails and hair examined for toxins. It became clear to her, according to the complaint, that the longer her husband “was away from home,” the more her health improved.
The test allegedly uncovered high levels of lithium, tin, barium, platinum and thorium. The Williamson County Sheriff’s Office is investigating. But Kelly Johnson-Arbor, a medical toxicologist at the National Capital Poison Center, told The Washington Post that the possibility of external contamination raises questions about the effectiveness of hair testing, and that many of the metals apparently discovered “are not commonly associated with significant toxicity in humans.”
Kenyon wrote to her fans: “Rest assured, I am much better today as my symptoms have dramatically improved since this past March when it all came to light and the authorities were notified. Thankfully, I continue to get better every day.” She and Lawrence Kenyon have three sons, all born in the 1990s, who the author said sustained her through the ordeal.
Still, she said the fiasco created lasting professional hardship. She apologized to her fans, saying she couldn’t confirm an exact date for her forthcoming book “Born of Blood,” a tale of a tortured kinship between an assassin and bounty hunter and the target she is meant to be pursuing.
The supernatural stories spun by Kenyon make “Macbeth” and “Othello” seem quaint. Her books are populated by shape-shifters, heartbreakers and vampire slayers. Her 2014 book, “Son of No One,” which came out the same year that Kenyon says she began to fall ill, opens with this pithy warning from the protagonist: “There’s a fine line between important to me, and dead to me. And you’re currently stomping all over it.”
The suit against her husband is not the first time that Kenyon has taken high-profile legal action. In 2016, she sued Cassandra Clare, an author of young adult fiction, alleging that the fellow best-selling novelist had lifted elements from her books. Clare, who denied the accusation, claimed on her Tumblr page that the case was dropped, while Kenyon said in her January newsletter that it “was settled outside of court and was not dropped.” The copyright claims were dropped, court documents show, and a trademark dispute was settled in May 2018.
But this new legal row goes far beyond publishing grievances. In her letter to fans, Kenyon said it also involved “the dissolution of my twenty-eight year marriage.” She met the man who would become her husband in a sociology class at Georgia College, a public liberal arts school in Milledgeville, Ga. They married in a goat pasture in Virginia in 1990. They moved to Jackson, Miss., so he could attend law school.
“Marriage should not give one person the right to steal a lifetime of work or the thoughts from another,” she observed in the note to her fans. In an Instagram post last year, she said she believed she had been duped by her husband.
The lawsuit paints a picture of a spiteful man who took advantage of his wife’s success, hoarding her financial rewards for his own personal use, and yet also seeking to snuff out her talent.
The author began work on her celebrated Dark-Hunter series in the 1980s, “before anyone had heard of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Harry Potter,” as the complaint observes. “Because it was rare at the time for a woman to write ‘horror’ and because there was no established genre for what Kenyon was writing, she had difficulty finding a market for her trademark niche that defied and debunked the existing male-dominated marketplace.”
From her very first contract for a novel in 1993, the complaint holds, her husband insisted on negotiating it for her, allegedly proceeding to alienate so many figures in the publishing industry that she had to resort to using pseudonyms for several subsequent projects.
She almost quit writing in 1996, she recalls, after her husband’s hostility had grown so severe that she had to hide her computer in a closet “so that Mr. Kenyon couldn’t see it or else he would launch into a verbal attack demeaning her and negating her aspirations to have more of her works published.” She persisted in her efforts, she claims, when she was able to steal “a single stamp” from her husband’s wallet for a submission, which ultimately yielded a three-book contract with publisher HarperCollins.
Her husband’s decision to move the family to a rural area outside Nashville in 1999 further undermined his wife’s career, the complaint maintains. She struggled to promote her writing and contact agents while at the same time caring for a newborn, their third child. Sometimes her fans had to drive her to events.
The lawsuit enumerates his supposed tactics: shampooing the carpet 10 minutes before his wife needed to leave for the airport, hiding her laptop, misplacing files, shrinking her clothes and putting a “large flower arrangement” near her computer so that the cats would knock it over onto her work.
But the complaint also argues that he grew enraged when she wasn’t working hard enough. He attacked her for “goofing off,” the complaint says.
In fact, she says, she was merely pausing for a moment to peer out the window, “pondering the plot in her stories.”
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