This is the story of a shockingly unsuccessful novel that sold only a single copy worldwide, two authors with the same name who both ended up changing genders, and how one of them turned six sweetly spunky young heroines into a half-dozen omnisexual nymphomaniacs.
More than two years ago, I uploaded an original Young Adult fantasy to Amazon.com as a Kindle title. In the 28 brutally unforgiving months since then, exactly one copy of that unfortunate e-book has been sold worldwide. Somebody in the UK apparently stumbled upon my otherwise overlooked labor of love online and saw fit to part with the pounds-sterling equivalent of its paltry $3.99 price.
That means I’ve earned a not-so-grand total of roughly $2.80, based on a generous 70% royalty rate, for the eight on-and-off years it took me to write the thing.
You might think even the most obscure literary effort would attract at least a few dozen desperate-for-diversion readers from the multitudes of online millions. Because my unacclaimed effort is called “Six Kristens,” you also could be excused for assuming that scores of real-life Kristens (and possibly their parents, grandparents, legal guardians or BFFs) would be sufficiently intrigued to part with less than four lousy bucks based on that tantalizing title alone. Who is this Kristen? Why are there six of her? What are all of them up to?
But, alas, no. Sales didn’t improve when I made a paper-and-ink paperback version available later, either.
Also, none of my own flaky friends or faithless family members decided their lives would be incomplete without owning a copy. And I manfully resisted the urge to put a bigger number than uno on the Amazon tote board by buying up multiple copies myself.
That solitary paid download from across the Atlantic somehow has been sufficient to keep “Six Kristens” pegged at just under the 10,000 mark (and falling) in its genre category at Amazon.co.uk. At all of the company’s other country-specific sites — a list that includes Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, The Netherlands, Spain and China, in addition to the United States — my utterly ignored opus merits no ranking whatsoever.
Failure on that epic a scale might make some writers seriously reassess their hopes, dreams, skills, self-regard and/or sanity. In the old pre-Internet days, authors who couldn’t interest agents or publishers in a manuscript could tell themselves that only the whims of those misguided gatekeepers kept them from achieving fame, fortune and any number of prestigious awards.
In today’s more egalitarian online marketplace, however, anyone can upload anything from a short story to a multi-volume mega-series without going through any middlemen whatsoever, making their works readily available to the whole wide world.
But what if the whole wide world doesn’t care, or even notice? At that point, an author’s options include trying to drum up interest by mounting some sort of marketing campaign; hoping the book catches the fancy of an influential online tastemaker who can turn it into a viral sensation; or writing off the entire experience as an embarrassing mistake born of misplaced delusion.
Because I didn’t have the financial resources, faith in serendipity or simple common sense to do any of those things, I chose a different solution.
There’s another author with my name who writes Young Adult novels, but that’s not why I had used a pseudonym on “Six Kristens.” I already had been going by “James Dawson” in print far longer than that other guy had been around. Also, I’m happy to say that he now goes by a different moniker after having a sex change. (Seriously, that’s not a joke.)
My own gender switch was literary instead of literal. The reason I used the pen name “Angelina Troy” on “Six Kristens” was to keep anyone from associating that all-ages exercise with the more (ahem) adult-oriented material that had appeared under my true birth-name byline.
My dirty not-so-little secret was that I have banged out hundreds…and hundreds…of outrageously explicit XXX-rated stories for more than two dozen men’s magazines since the naughty 1990s. No less than nine separate Penthouse publications, along with other more-than-pulse-pounding periodicals such as Chic, Oui, Juggs, Hustler Busty Beauties, Nugget, Bust-Out and Gent: Home of the D-Cups, have printed my meat-beating masterworks. I’ve also written for more specialized markets including Leg Show, Babyface, Petite, Oriental Women and (God help me) Plumpers & Big Women.
Most of those wantonly wicked works are gathered in no less than 20 “Erotica Collections” compilations of mine bearing such unsubtle subtitles as “Lust in My Art,” “Beach Bitch” and the charmingly sophisticated “The Dirtiest Book in the World” (which, believe me, is no exaggeration).
And then there was my contribution to novelty-novella history: an e-book titled “FUCK,” consisting of that single four-letter word repeated 10,000 times amid various forms of punctuation. How remarkably droll!
Sure, I also had used my real name on a couple of mainstream suspense thrillers, a collection of gory horror stories and a tongue-in-cheek Civil War spoof. But the “Other Works by This Author” selections more likely to scare away the “Baby-Sitters Club,” “Harry Potter” and “Hunger Games” crowds (not to mention their mommies and daddies) were things like “Sex Machine,” “Boobs, Boobs, Boobs” and “Fuck or You’re Fired.”
“Six Kristens” was supposed to be above all that: a quirky teen adventure story with a family-oriented sentimental streak. (Are you throwing up yet?)
I had preposterously high hopes for it, too. I imagined my timeless tale of longing, love, sacrifice and redemption becoming a blockbuster movie, either in live-action form with one super-talented young actress playing multiple roles, or as an animated Disney-esque extravaganza.
I thought it even could become a Tony-winning musical, with the right songwriting team attached. Boy, was I ever wrong on that score.
I can’t dismiss it as a cynical attempt at going mainstream cash-grab commercial, either. The ridiculously wholesome book was nothing if not a sincere effort, written with the purest of sappy intentions. Married friends had selected my wife and me as “in case of emergency” replacement parents for their daughter, should anything tragic ever befall them. Inspired by that unexpected honor, I embarked upon writing what I thought would be a unique gift for the 13-year-old in question’s 14th birthday. Finishing it took so long that I started shooting for making it her high-school graduation present instead, which also didn’t happen. Four years later, it became a college graduation gift.
As to whether that long-delayed tribute was appreciated by its recipient, I’m still awaiting her reaction. Yes, even the manuscript’s own muse has ignored its existence, despite repeated requests for her feedback. So have her parents. Like a crazy aunt locked away in an attic, a humiliatingly unforgivable social faux pas or a bad loan between friends, the book has become a topic that simply isn’t mentioned anymore.
Now I know how an aspiring musician co-worker of mine felt when I was an editor many years ago at the newspaper Radio & Records. He paid to have actual seven-inch vinyl singles of two of his songs pressed, which couldn’t have been cheap, and passed out copies to everyone in the office. A week later, I overheard him telling somebody that not a single person had given him any feedback. Sadly, that includes Yours Truly. I didn’t want to discourage the guy’s dreams just because his stuff wasn’t my cup of tea, but I also didn’t want to lie and give him false hope. Today, I realize that getting no response may be better than hearing “it stinks,” but it still stings.
As months of universal disinterest in “Six Kristens” mounted, I began to wonder if my talents may have been misapplied. That’s when I got the irresistibly perverted notion that a top-to-bottom rewrite, using the tools of the tawdry trade I knew best, might be just the thing to turn my neglected lemon into lemonade.
I resolved to transform the innocuously innocent “Six Kristens” into the flagrantly filthy “Sex Kittens.” Instead of six sweet schoolgirls stuck in a mystifying fantasy world, my protagonists became six horny 18-year-old nymphos in a much nastier neverland.
I may not be the first author in history to write a novel-length parody of his own work, but I’m probably the only one who ever converted one of his bedtime stories into…well, a different kind of bedtime story. Imagine if J.K. Rowling had turned the grown-up versions of Harry Potter and friends into insatiable magical sex maniacs, or if Suzanne Collins felt compelled to carnally corrupt an age-of-consent Katniss.
Figuring that anything worth doing was worth doing as shamelessly as possible, I resolved to make “Sex Kittens” a licentious lollapalooza of lust. Perilous PG-rated predicaments were replaced by over-the-top orgies, acrobatic triple-penetrations and generally rampant sodomy. One of the title characters metamorphosed from a precocious female into an eager-for-experience she-male. Another got gratification from lactation. The gender-free good luck trolls that served as supporting characters in “Six Kristens” became well-endowed winged fairies in “Sex Kittens” that enjoyed mindlessly mating in mid-air. And then there was the skyscrapingly tall cylindrical pink tower near the new book’s climax that looks exactly like a…well, you probably can imagine.
For a comparison of how things went from Newbery Award bait to not-safe-for-work ballsy, here’s a scene from the original, in which a worried girl revives one of her unconscious look-alikes:
Princess tilted KK’s head back, held her nostrils closed and covered KK’s open mouth with her own. She exhaled a big breath into KK’s lungs, making her narrow chest rise. Princess took her mouth away for a few seconds, then repeated the process.
“Come on,” she whispered. A big tear ran down her left cheek. “Come on and breathe. Come on, KK. Don’t leave me here alone.” She put her mouth on KK’s for a third try.
KK sputtered, gave a small cough and half-opened her eyes. When she was able to bring Princess into focus, she mumbled, “Jeez, were you just making out with me?”
Princess appeared both delighted and genuinely shocked. “No, no! I was only trying…”
KK cut her off by weakly saying, “Relax, I’m kidding, I’m kidding!” She woozily tried getting to her feet.
And here is what that scene became in “Sex Kittens”:
Beautiful formed a seal with her mouth on DD’s. She exhaled a big breath into her limp look-alike’s lungs, making DD’s chest rise. She took her mouth away for a few seconds, then repeated the process.
“Come on,” she whispered. “Come on and breathe, DD. Don’t leave me here alone.” She put her mouth on DD’s lips for a third try.
DD sputtered, gave a small cough and half-opened her eyes. When she was able to bring Beautiful into focus, she mumbled, “Hey, were you just making out with me?”
Beautiful appeared both delighted that DD was alive and alarmed that DD thought she might be trying to take advantage of her while she was incapacitated. “No, you’ve got it all wrong!” she protested. “I was only…”
“Oh, shut up and come here, you big stupid.” DD hooked an arm around Beautiful’s neck and pulled her head down so their lips met again. DD’s tongue found Beautiful’s for a long, passionate French kiss that Beautiful soon found herself eagerly reciprocating.
And so on. And on and on.
Where laboring over the sugary “Six Kristens” felt like discharging an agonizing obligation, spicing everything up as “Sex Kittens” was genuine fun. I’m actually happier with the unrepentantly indecent new version than I was with the original. It’s not only more amusing but faster moving, which makes it better bathroom reading for more than the obvious reason.
I didn’t know if “Sex Kittens” would sell any better than its different-as-night-and-day cousin, but I sure couldn’t imagine it doing any worse.
As it turns out, first-day sales of the porn parody matched the total sales of the original novel (a big fat “one,” that is), which I took as encouraging news.
And whether it eventually becomes a bawdy bestseller or is only another embarrassing bust, I was proud to put my name on it.