NOTE: You can download Christina’s Craving complete.pdf [link works as of 15 Mar 2012]
I am woman, hear me roar.
I am Blakely St. James.
Halloween was always important to my feminine identity AS Blakely St. James, since Christina’s Hideaway was released on Halloween 1983, and Christina’s Craving ends on a fictional Halloween, with the eponymous heroine dancing with the author behind the authoress, Blakely St. James.
I remember going down to World Book & News, just off Hollywood Boulevard in 1983, since they always got the new books first — as every paperback writer in LA knew. I went to the proper section, and there it was: Dwight Hooker cover of October 1975 Playboy Playmate Jill De Vries.*
[* Here, for the curious, are some R-rated shots of Ms. De Vries, who retains the title of the Playmate who showed the most pubic hair in history. Playboy famously backed down in the Great Pubic Hair Wars of the 1970s after pushing the edge of the envelope with De Vries' centerfold, ceding the (pubic) field to Penthouse. Playboy trivia: Jill De Vries' October 1975 appearance was the first issue with an 'autographed' centerfold. ]
How I became the female author Blakely St. James is a different story. It goes like this:
A friend of mine was supporting himself by writing “splatter” novels. You know, things like “The Eviscerator,” or “The Butt Whomper” — those male vengeance fantasies where bad people get their comeuppance at the hands of the vigilante protagonist and his fatal weapon of choice.
He and his agent — a scumbag named Schmucky Winkerbean (name changed to protect the innocent, i.e. me) of Lamprey Literary Associates (ditto), who I inherited with the deal — had nailed down a contract novel with an $8000 advance, which was pretty good wages for sin. It had been with Playboy Press, which had been swallowed by (MCA/Putnam) Berkley/Jove, along with Ace, Grosset & Dunlap, Berkley, and a gazillion other imprints in 1982. In one day, one third of all the editorial jobs in Manhattan received a pink slip, it was reported. Anyway in 1984, the whole shebang was known as the “Putnam Publishing Group.”
Only catch was, it was an “erotic” novel: there had to be one sex scene per chapter. OK. And there was a formula: Christina van Bell had inherited her father’s wealth — he was a famous race car driver — and bought WORLD Magazine (LIFE, one supposed). She liked cocaine (tooting was a requisite of the series) and her favorite euphemism/saying was “I’m feeling restless.”
His OUTLINE had been accepted, but there was a catch.
Well, I’d worked in format and formula for long enough that I had no problem in subverting any formula, but first I had to get the gig.
My buddy, the splatter-book writer, COULDN’T WRITE a convincing sex scene*. (Freudians ought to have a field day with THAT one). The veteran of a million exploding heads couldn’t master the explosion of the orgasm. It was known that I’d been an editor at Hustler and Players, and so, to save the contract, it was offered to me.
[* Added 8-25-2009: Evidently, neither could Stephen King, although I think his stated reasons are sheerest bullshit:
Besides Cavalier and Adam, [ King] also wrote for magazines with the titles Dude, Gent, Juggs, Swank, and Gallery … In fact, the editors thought so highly of his work that they asked him to try writing some of the porn stories; after all, they paid better than the horror stories. He made a valiant attempt, but writing about sex just wasn’t in his emotional toolbox. He wrote about fifty pages before giving up. “The words were there, but I couldn’t handle it. It was so weird, I just collapsed laughing ” he said. “I got as far as twins having sex in a birdbath.”
He said that it wasn’t due to being uncomfortable with sex, but rather from a discomfort in writing about sex outside of a monogamous relationship. “Without such strong relationships to build on, it’s tough to create sexual scenes that have credibility and impact or advance the plot, and I’d just be dragging sex in arbitrarily and perfunctorily,” he said. “You know, like it’s been two chapters without a fuck scene, so I better slap one together.”
Aside from the sloppy cut-and-paste ‘journalism’ of the author, Rogak — clearly you don’t have multiple chapters in short stories, nor do any of the aforementioned magazines (some of which I have edited) publish anything that long, which means that the quote was grabbed from an interview on writing books, out of context — Yeah. Right. Sure. The grapes were sour anyway. Writing about sex is icky and hilarious, but writing about people being torn apart and dying horribly, well, that’s ART. I think we can all agree on that. — HW]
I went out and bought four or five Christinas, and sat down to read them.
They were appalling. Not appalling as erotic literature — although they were NOT exactly The Pearl or My Life and Loves — but appalling as to who Christina WAS. She was a self-centered, vapid, jet-set boy-toy, a precursor to Paris Hilton, and, seemingly, a walking potential entry for a Darwin Award.
The problem, I noted, was that problem that I always saw in the porn industry: those producing the product felt themselves “above” the product, and that condescension fairly dripped from the pages.
I remember one passage in particular where Christina is on a Hollywood Studio movie set, watching a love scene being filmed on a beach, and describing an actual hard core penetration scene, while the SOUNDTRACK is being played, an artificial rainstorm was being produced, and arc’ing lightning was being created by the special effects department.
This person had never been anywhere near a movie set in their lives. Indeed, the author thought that movies are shot sequentially, and with all music and effects at once. Seriously. It was embarrassing AND pretentious. It was supposed to be “high class” erotica. (And I take no responsibility for Christinas other than my own. One, I kid you not, has the following “plot”: Christina’s astrologer tells her that she has to screw one man and one woman from every astrological sign IN ORDER, for “luck.” And so, she jumps on her jet, snorts her cocaine and DOES JUST THAT.
Well, if she didn’t contract an STD in so doing, THAT would be luck, all right.
It was DREADFUL.
Now, the thing that distinguished Blakely St. James (this would be Christina #38, I never said I was the ONLY Blakely St. James) from your more Mickey Spillane sex-scene writers was that fancy words were used. Crude Anglo-Saxonisms, while acceptable, were less preferred than the soixante-neuf of prurient pretension.
Well, I KNEW how to write sex scenes, and I have always enjoyed vocabulary. (The first issue of Playboy I ever read was read with a dictionary on one side and the magazine on the other. Thirteen year old boys have zero opportunity to understand what “lascivious” means without a dictionary. )
I wrote my sample chapter — something about a “Marcus Musashi” kimono and various Kama Sutra positions — and sent it to Schmucky Winkerbean, the literary (lamprey-cum-) agent. About a month later, I was told that Berkley-Jove had accepted the chapter and outline, and that I would be getting the contract presently.
Contact came, along with the agent, who was avant garde in taking 15% instead of the traditional 10%. Half up front and half on delivery. Agent took his cut. My friend got $1000 for the contract and the outline, and the editor in chief decided to”lose the fish.”
The “kicker” in the outline was that there was this very severe penguin of a man who ran an artist’s colony, and at the end, it’s revealed it’s a woman. OK. Based on well-known women of Berlin in the ’20s. But the editor decided that he didn’t like it. Didn’t seem “plausible.”
So: “Mr. Melville, Herman … Hermie. Call me Butch. Hermie, baby, welove Moby Dick. Love Queequeg — that coffin gag is GREAT! — and Captain Ahab! Wow. Seems like a natural for Russell Crowe. Maybe Johnny Depp? No. Natural for the big screen, too. But we’ve been getting some complaints from the ‘Save the Whales’ bunch and the ASPCA. So, does it really have to be a WHALE? I mean, like, couldn’t we still do it, but lose the fish? Thank, Hermie. Love those new shades. They really highlight your cheekbones.”
And so I became Blakely St. James, who was pretending to be Christina van Bell, well-known wealthy nymphomaniac and party girl.
And, for the however many months it took to write it, I awakened every day, and wrote in the first person as Paris Hilton. (How did I do it? Well, you just hunker down … and get your legs waxed, have a facial, a manicure, a pedicure and go shopping. Together, they do wonders for the flagging self-image, honey. Take it from your girlfriend, Blakely.)
From start to publication, to the paperback in my hand at World Book & News, stamped on the bottom “31 October.”
It came out under the Charter Books imprint, which was then listed as a sub imprint of Ace Books. These names flow and change like junk bonds. The whole kerfuffle is now owned by and a wholly owned set of subsidiaries of The Penguin Group, which is a British publisher. The Charter imprint, unlike Playboy Press and HBJ, survives.
Christina’s Hideaway concerned an exclusive artist’s colony located on an old pumpkin farm on Half Moon Bay, just outside of San Francisco.There are chapters devoted to limericks, and to Carrollian parodies, including a stanza from the German translation of Jabberwocky:
Es brillig war. Die schlichte Toven
Wirrten und wimmelten in Waben;
Und aller-mümsige Burggoven
Die mohmen Räth’ ausgraben.
»Bewahre doch vor Jammerwoch!
Die Zähne knirschen, Krallen kratzen!
Bewahr’ vor Jubjub-Vogel, vor
(Not exactly your standard porno one-handed reading, of course. But universally sneered at nonetheless — without ever having read it. )
And an early and bad hacking of a computer network. But it doesn’t hold togather, it’s just chapters as short stories without a good flow.
It was an uneven performance. I did the best I could, injecting Christina with a moral center … a sense of purpose and a crusade against injustice. And she erratically screwed her way through the entire male cast of the novel, as per my contract, and solved the mystery, a pornographic Nancy Drew. Theodore Sturgeon told me “The talent shines through. But isn’t it sort of … repetitive?”
And I started to say something, but thought better of it, and thought long and hard about isn’t it ALWAYS kind of repetitive?
Now, somehow in all of this, I received my advance, from which half had been deducted, and I received my back end, which allowed me to buy a piano.
And then I was offered the chance to do a complete outline and chapter on my own, and I wrote another Christina, which was the easiest outline I’ve ever written. I just took the masks and kept going. Hart Williams pretending to be Blakely St. James pretending to be Christina Van Bell, looking for a man who called himself “Georgiades” but who had never been seen in thirty years, and so forth and so on, until Christina, having solved the mystery ends up dancing with Hart Williams on Halloween.
The contract that I signed was for “Untitled Christina #49.” I wanted to call it “Christina’s World” after the Wyeth painting, but they gave it their own title, which was an improvement over “Untitled Christina # 49,” but over just about nothing else. Or: Bleccch! The series would die with number 50, but nobody knew it at the time.
I wrote my pages and turned in my manuscript. Then my wife ran off with my best friend, and things exploded. I was in that strange post-partum state you get into after writing a novel. It takes a LOT out of you. You are emotionally exhausted. You have just cut loose a whole world. You are depressed. Naturally, the “breakup” was even more depressing. But that’s a different narrative altogether.
At any event, that’s what happened. Not tragedy, not complaint: just reportage.
Christina’s Craving was my strange pulpy masterpiece: a coked-out nymphomaniac goes in search of God. And I had managed to write EACH scene in a non-repetitive manner. My editor told me “Well, you’ve written a cult novel.” And never hired me again. (What he said, VERBATIM, was: “We aren’t doing any sex books right now.” And I have been professionally relegated to the ghetto ever after.)
The agent diverted $1000 to my friend, who took it as his due, and by the time the agent wrote me and sent MY check, he said “Oh, I sent him $1000 as a finders’ fee. you don’t have a problem with that, do you?” But by then it was too late. If I’d demanded my money back, my friend had already spent it, and there would have been a major blowup.
So, out of $16,000 for two novels, $4000 had been grabbed by the agent and my writer pal, and I had done all the actual work. Ambrose Bierce wrote at the turn of the century: “The immemorial relation whereby the publisher was said to drink wine out of the author’s skull has been rudely disturbed by the latter demanding some of the wine for himself and refusing to supply the skull–an irritating infraction of a good understanding sanctioned by centuries of faithful observance.”
Fortunately for the publishers, this quaint notion was quashed long before I started writing novels.*
[* The agent never lifted another finger to help me in any way. His bread was buttered on the publisher's side, and I had the great honor of paying him to screw me. Such is business in America. ]
When the paperback arrived at World Book & News, there was the requisite Dwight Hooker cover shot of Jill De Vries, but it was kind of a “nothing” shot. The cover to Christina’s Hideaway had been a great cover for a so-so novel. This was a so-so cover for a great novel.* (*But it contained sex, and, thus, doesn’t count as any sort of literature.)
The paperback came out long after the money was gone, and I bought a round of drinks for everyone in the bar at the Improv in Hollywood, on Melrose Avenue. Somebody asked me why I did it, and I said, “You never know how many opportunities you’ll ever get to do this.”
My luck being what it was, an editor from Knight Publications, where I worked, was in the bar, and ordered his Bass Ale, and thought — I later found out — “He has a novel, so obviously, he’s rich, and he doesn’t need any money” and he assigned several thousand dollars worth of “real letters” to, seemingly, every writer in town BUT me.
Which seems rather churlish had there not been a kicker. When all the other writers flaked out, and he was 48 hours from the mechanical deadline, he realized that his job was on the line, and he called me. We split the writing, and each of us wrote 72 pages of real letters in two days, and, at 25 cents a word, it came to a REALLY nice chunk of change.
Anyway, Christina’s Craving came out in the spring of 1984.
My friend, the splatter writer went to New York, to talk about another book with the publisher, and he got to the “master library” and had promised to steal copies of my two books for me (because I no longer had any copies, and could FIND no copies. Over and over, friends who visited distribution warehouses reported: “They’re all there, EXCEPT for your two”) and came back and said:
“Sorry. They’re all there, except yours. Someone already got them before I did.”
And there ended my literary life as a female author. (I have yet to experience this phenomenon as a male author, for some reason. I have the books, I just can’t get any agents or publishers to read them. Go figure.)
Fade forward in time to the internet age. I started looking for copies of my novels on eBay.
And the prices were getting outrageous. And the word spread. Pretty soon, you couldn’t get any Christina novel in its American printings for less than $50. (There were 50 in the series. W.E.B. Griffin and Charles Platt both have admitted to writing two or three Christinas. I’m sure that other authors played Blakely St. James on other Halloweens.)
Pretty soon, Christinas were going for no less than $100. IF you could find them at all. (Highest price I ever saw, circa 2005, for Craving was over $200 on Amazon UK. Of course, it may have helped that Christina’s Craving was BANNED IN IRELAND, according to “We Are But Women”: Women In Ireland’s History, by Roger Sawyer, 1994, p. 148 )
And then the English Christinas came on the market — although they never sold for the prices that the American paperback originals did. There had been TWO Commonwealth printings in the UK, Arrow Books and then Sheridan Books a couple years later. Christina’s Craving had been chosen. I bought ten copies from Alice Springs, Australia. I read about an American blogger finding a stack of copies in La Paz, Bolivia. And DUTCH reprints came out, but I never was able to find out if Christina’s Craving had been one of them.
In a bizarre twist, Powell’s Books up in Portland is selling the British Sheridan Reprint. (Talk about hauling coals to Newcastle!) Here’s the synopsis from their Christina’s Craving catalog page:
Sometimes too much of lots of good things can make a girl feel reckless. Christina was certainly in a mood of gay abandon, different to her usual sort, when she decided to track down the most mysterious man in the world and get an interview from him. After all, she’s got a reputation to uphold for doing the impossible. This time, however, Christina gets a little more than she bargained for.
Let me tell ya: I WROTE it, and I couldn’t recognize it from that synopsis. (“Get an interview from him”? “FROM him”?? Urgh.) Writers don’t write their own cover copy, and, very often, don’t have any control over the title, either. Neither are they generally responsible for misspellings. Those are all the Publisher’s bailiwick.)
Christina’s Craving had traveled once around the world, opposite the direction of the sun: from Los Angeles to New York, to London, England to Alice Springs, Australia, to Oregon, USA. Not bad for a novel with no advertising, that sold out its press run. Vox populi and all that.
Ted Sturgeon had ASKED to do a blurb for the cover of Christina’s Craving. He was, at the time, the book critic for HUSTLER Magazine and the blurb had actual commercial value, but the smug editor was, alas, ALSO too good for what he was doing, and told me “Naw. We don’t need it.” All they were asked was to send a copy of galleys and a free blurb was theirs. Naw.
And so, he ordered me to “lose the fish” yet again. Ted never saw the galleys, and, because of the timing of things, he never saw the finished book, either. He was in Hawaii, and then he came back to Oregon, and then he died.
Thanks, Berkley/Jove. ‘Preciate it!
Christina’s Craving has taken on a life of her own. And, as Blakely St. James, her mother, I couldn’t be more proud and pleased. Momma’s little girl done good. Mama be happy.
Some churlishly ask me if I can prove my patrimony/matrimony. But I always answer, “sure.” (I had anticipated just such doubts while writing it.)
Open any English language copy of Christina’s Craving and turn to page 49. Read the first letter of each line of dialogue DOWN (the CAPITAL LETTERS) starting with “How to win friends and influence people.”
The technical term for this technique is “acrostic.” (What else would you expect from someone whose homepage and blog are named ‘his vorpal sword’?)
But not as Blakely St. James.
Even though I am Blakely St. James.
NOTE: Christina’s Craving is available today at Barnes & Noble used for $95. Please note that I don’t get a penny for it. It was written as a “work for hire” and that “advance” was all the money I’ll ever receive. On Amazon UK today, you can purchase Christina’s Hideaway for £177.27 (‘LOW PRICE’ it says, with the high price being £179.98, or, at the current exchange rate: $370.920 USD, a new world’s record for my work. Another converter says $371.66, still another says it’s US $372.04.) But please ALSO note, that’s for the AMERICAN Charter Books first printing. There are two UK versions, from Arrow Books, and then from Sheridan Books, both of which are usually available cheap, around $10 USD.
UPDATE Jan 16, 2008: Amazon lists a “new” copy for $198.93. Added .pdf of page 49 with relevant letters circled in blue. 139k.
UPDATE July 13, 2008: CHRISTINA’S CRAVING by “Blakely St. James” — a 32 megabyte .pdf (Portable Document Format) file with searchable text.
Christina’s Craving complete.pdf (click to go to download page)