|The original image for "The Grayskull Library"|
Nineteen-ninety six to nineteen ninety-nine was a magical time for me. Never in my life did so many people show interest in my fiction. Over one hundred thousand people visited my site, The Grayskull Library, and I was hooked on praise like an addict on heroin. At one point, the fan community was asked to list their favorite stories, and mine took the top three spots, winning 1st, 2nd and 3rd place. This only confirmed what I had believed since the third grade, that I was destined to be an author. But I was a young and idealistic student attending the University of South Florida, pursuing a BA in English and an MA in History, and did not have to worry about restaurants or mortgages or raising children. As far as I knew, my future was golden, and in a few years time my novels would surely be selling all over the country.
Of course, my first site, Nick's Story Page, did not go over well. It featured original content, including my first novel, The Nomad, but I was still new to the Internet and had yet to realize that nobody would ever find my book unless they already knew about it. This led me into the world of fan-fiction, through which I could connect to readers with similar interests. But for aspiring writers like myself, fan-fiction is a double edged sword. You don't have to come up with your own concept or setting, or even worry about readers liking your characters, but it's a lot like plagiarism, a major sin in the literary world. Of course, it wasn't like I didn't have my own ideas. Even as a child, I preferred my own imaginary sandbox. He-Man was strictly for playing "episodes" with my toys. When it came time for pen and paper, my own Red Panther and Dynotus were the protagonists. Given the dynamics of the Internet, however, I had no choice but to fall into fan-fiction, and even then I often strayed far from canon into new territory, to the point that fans sometimes criticized me for writing what was, to them, thinly veiled original content.
But for someone studying fiction at the collegiate level, my childhood inspiration, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe was flat and 2-dimensional. Anyone familiar with the cartoon will tell you that He-Man's motivation never extended beyond saving the day. He did not know love or regret and he certainly did not think of sex. From the very beginning, my goal with my fan-fiction was to bring my heroes into the real world, to turn them into 3-dimensional beings with all of the emotional nuance and psychological baggage that makes for relatable characters.
The second thing I discovered about the Internet was an interest in erotica, which seemed more prevalent at the time, given that pornographic content was difficult to come by without a credit card. Sex was also more taboo than it is today, so it was common for people to seek out Superman/Wonder Woman "action" unavailable at your local comic shop. But just like fan-fiction, writing erotica came with a stigma. While discovering that fan-fic + erotica was a recipe to garner readers, it was also a way to make enemies. For every ten letters praising my work, there was at least one piece of hate mail. To save my reputation, I went by a pseudonym, and for some inexplicable reason, chose the name of my childhood crush, Jennifer Thomas. It didn't matter one bit that my fan-fiction was not attributed to me, since the stories were not entirely original, and could never be published anyway.
I eventually found that writing erotica, with a focus on sex, was dull. And so I turned my attention to exploring other mature themes, like rape and death and parenting. In a way, I was still practicing, still learning how to write. In time, my He-Man fiction turned into a series of interrelated plot lines that became The Jennifer Thomas Canon, and it was three stories from this canon that won the fiction poll. By 1999, I figured I had enough fans to start my second original novel, The Dark Age of Enya. I planned to advertise it on my website, The Grayskull Library, and other He-Man related sites. Unfortunately, my pseudonym became known, and my prudish enemies found an even bigger ax to grind. I was not only a pornographer, they argued, but I liar. My reputation went down the tubes and nobody from the MOTU community showed any interest in my novel except for one person, David Pasco, who remains a great friend to this day. Afterward, I attended regular fiction forums, where nobody had any problem with erotica, though they did have a problem with fan-fiction, which became a badge of disgrace nearly impossible to live down. It did not matter to the forum trolls that I had shelves of original work and that even my fan-fic was much less "fan" than "fic".
Time, of course, has a wonderful way of changing perspectives. People are much more open expressing sexuality, and fan-fiction has lost much of its stigma, owing to the fact that many great writers started out the way I did. Most notable is E.L. James' Fifty Shades of Grey, which not only borders on pornography, but started out as Twilight fan-fiction. Publishers finally figured out what I had decades before, fandom + sex = readers. Maybe if I'd bothered to change the names in my Jennifer Thomas canon, I'd be a millionaire today.
After almost two decades and three original books, I finally feel the disgrace of my literary past wearing off. If there is anything truly embarrassing about The Jennifer Thomas Canon today, it's the quality of the writing itself, because I still had much to learn at the time.
|She-Ra related erotica doesn't seem so strange anymore.|
If you're interested in my work from twenty years ago, you can find links to the stories below (as I post them), all dated to the time they were written, except for The Amazon (sorry), which I admit to being too terrible to for anyone to ever see! Check back often as fiction is added!