The Third Child – 06/14/2021
I can’t write about Miles and Ben and me without writing about the third child – the one that made me famous and cost me some important relationships, that led me up to the edge of a nervous breakdown and made me friends all over the world, the one with whom we all shared our lives.
The ovum of that child was released, I guess, when I wrote an article distilling my three whole years of experience into a few thousand words, called it “How to Be a Sexually Dominant Woman,” and fired it off to Cosmopolitan.
The sperm was the owner of a local erotic boutique. She’d invited me to teach a workshop for novice dommes and their partners. She asked me what name I wanted to use, and, more or less at random, I said “Lady Green.” I showed her my article, and she said, “This is great – can we use it as a handout?”
“I’ve already submitted it to Cosmo, so that won’t work,” I said. “But I could rewrite it and we can use that instead.”
And the zygote – I promise I’ll stop belaboring this metaphor now – began to form. The article grew and grew, and Jay said, “You know, that’s enough words for a small book” – and, well, things kind of took off from there.
But at the same time that Greenery Press was being born, my career in advertising was dying.
I was working as a copywriter at a small Silicon Valley agency specializing in high-tech clients. I’d been their cherished darling when they first hired me – the skills that later gave me a career in explaining weird sex to the masses served me well in talking to engineers, figuring out what they were trying to say, and translating that into fun, benefit-oriented prose that an executive or purchasing agent could understand.
I was having fun, I was making more money than I ever had before, I adored my coworkers and they adored me. Until, gradually, they didn’t.
Having just joined the actual kink community, I was newly in love with being able to speak what had formerly seemed unspeakable. Like many newbies, I wasn’t being terribly careful about the boundaries between my erotic self and all my other selves. The kind of issues that would have been unexceptionable if I’d been putting energy into the PTA or my bowling team were a problem when they were about scheduling a play party or mediating a community conflict – and although I tried to be careful to keep my personal business personal, it seeped through.
Things came to a head at a mandatory company retreat. I loathe, as a matter of principle, such exercises in forced bonding (I already have friends, and the reason they’re my friends is that I chose them), but at this one we were being encouraged to drink. A lot.
By this point in the book, you have probably figured out that I am not very inhibited when I’m sober. So you can just imagine what I get up to with four or five drinks in me.
The weekend is kind of a blur, but I have a patchy memory of a series of skits in which we were asked to pretend we were one of our coworkers. Which somehow led to my bright idea that acting my part involved grabbing the assistant media buyer by the crotch.
In short, the weekend was the end of any illusions the company might have had that they had hired a nice girl.
What happened next, quite quickly:
- A companywide memo went out forbidding personal calls on company time. It was summertime, the Dudes were in day camp but home with Jay in the afternoons, and I had been checking in with them once or twice a day to forestall mayhem – but I obeyed the rule and stopped making those calls.
- Jay began complaining that his work was being interrupted by six or seven hang-up calls a day.
- I was called into the boss’s office, shown a phone bill that included six or seven calls a day to my home number, and fired on the spot.
I suppose I could have applied for other copywriting jobs, but I was too shocked and dispirited to try – plus, I’d only been in the Bay Area for a year, and I had no career support network there.
I already had the Sexually Dominant Woman piece drafted. Jay had a manuscript he called SM 101: A Realistic Introduction that he’d been working on for years, and had submitted to several mainstream publishers to no avail.
With my salary gone (and no hope of receiving unemployment, as I’d been “fired with cause”), we were staring bankruptcy in the face.
For his first book, The Bay Area Sexuality Resources Guidebook, Jay had already figured out a strategy that presaged today’s “print-on-demand” system: he’d get an order from an erotic boutique or leather store, then call the copy shop to order that many copies of the book, photocopied and comb-bound. We’d pick up the books, deliver them to the retailer, and rush the resulting check to the bank quickly, before our check to the copy shop bounced.
So we had three books, and we had a (funky but functional) distribution system. I’d spent my decade in advertising looking over the shoulders of excellent graphic designers, so I had a smidgen of understanding of basic layout principles and techniques. I spent money we didn’t have on a copy of Quark XPress layout software and got to work – and within six weeks of my expulsion, we had camera-ready art on both Jay’s and my books.
We started out as two separate companies – Jay Wiseman Books and Greenery Press. It didn’t take long for Jay to realize that he had no ability or desire to be a publisher, so we combined the two companies under the Greenery Press banner, and I got busy.
Within a year or two, I was hearing from mainstream bookstores saying they’d like to carry our books, but couldn’t accept the comb binding – they needed books to be perfect-bound.
If Jay’s precognitive contribution to Greenery was print-on-demand, mine was crowd-funding. I found folks who were willing to front us money for a print run, in exchange for a credit in the book and repayment of the loan out of book sales.
The Sexually Dominant Woman: A Workbook for Nervous Beginners was our first “real” book, followed in short order by The Bottoming Book and The Topping Book. Our next big step was publishing a book that neither Jay nor I had played any part in writing, Miss Abernathy’s Concise Slave Training Manual. (All four books are still in print in some form.) By then, we were well and truly launched.
This was about the time that the world, especially the Bay Area, got wildly excited about a buzzy new concept called the World Wide Web. Huge amounts of money were getting invested in startups, and I wanted some of it.
I’d met a man – a former member of the Kerista family – at a polyamory conference, where he’d announced himself as a financial consultant specializing in publishers. With his help, I crafted a (wildly overoptimistic) business plan, incorporated the business, found some investors, hired some employees, and committed to a minimum of four books a year.
The odd thing is that in that couple of years, I published more books that would go on selling well for years than I ever did afterwards – but it still wasn’t enough. Greenery Press made itself an ironic name by running constantly in the red. I got incredibly lucky in the folks assigned to our tax accounts – the guy from the IRS collected vintage Chinese erotica, and the guy from the California Board of Equalization was the biological son of a publisher whose obscenity case had gone to the Supreme Court – and they truly did want to help me. But the fact was that we were hugely, terrifyingly in debt, and likely to go on getting more so. I owed money to printers, to authors, to suppliers, to back payroll. (The authors were a particular source of tension, as many of them were personal friends. I started to avoid scene events because of the likelihood of running into people to whom I owed hundreds or thousands of dollars.)
The constant financial and emotional stress (this was also happening concurrently with Miles’s illness) spelled the end of my relationship with Jay. But the company owed him a lot of money that we couldn’t repay, and I couldn’t see any way to separate without putting him out on the street.
Then, I woke up one morning with an epiphany: If I rented an industrial loft and moved into it, I could lose the monthly cost of the office Greenery was subletting, and Jay could have our place. I let go all but one employee and cut that one back to part-time, and started in on the next chunk of my life.
That was a very bad few months. I am not by nature an anxious person, but I’d been pushed far beyond the amount of stress I could manage. The breakup was the only really acrimonious one I’ve ever had; Miles was in and out of the hospital; I was drowning in debt; my closest friends were angry with me over the royalties situation. But slowly, aided by a lot of medication and the support of the friends to whom I didn’t owe money (and the few, god bless them, who were able to compartmentalize our friendship away from our finances), I gradually began to craft a new life. I sold my place in San Francisco, signed the proceeds over to the company, and paid off one debt at a time – first the printers, then the tax guys, and then the authors. Bit by bit, I clawed my way back from the brink.
I’d reached the point where I wasn’t living in a state of constant panic, but the company wasn’t in the black, or likely to get there anytime soon. After a couple of years of brinkmanship, I cut a deal with our distributor for them to buy the company from me over a five-year period. The proceeds were enough to get us caught up with the authors, and SCB took over all the company finances. They kept me on board as an editorial consultant, and we went on producing a book or two a year.
But the tide, inevitably, turned. We’d been very lucky to have caught the wave of kink culture just as it was cresting, and we rode that sucker for a couple of decades (with a huge boost, I regret to say, following the publication of 50 Shades of Grey). The Ethical Slut, which was our biggest title, had been sold to Ten Speed/Random House some years before, and the handful of other polyamory books we published never came close. Sales of all the kink books ebbed as BDSM stopped being a hot new trend (and as kink education became increasingly available on-line).
It was time. In 2019, I resigned my consultancy and Greenery stopped publishing new books.
There was, of course, the small issue of all the infinitely patient shareholders who had invested in us back during the halcyon days of the dot-com boom. I did eventually get them paid off too – I actually, no shit Sherlock, had a maiden aunt who died and left me some money. So that final debt was paid, and I was free to move forward into whatever comes next.
So, that’s how I raised Greenery to the ripe old age of twenty-seven. It’s still out in the world making a living off the backlist. Greenery made me famous (in my own odd way), and it supplied me with as much joy and as much misery as any human child could provide. It was a great run – but, honestly, I am so glad it’s over.
 Fat fucking chance. Cosmo accepts that kind of material now, but in 1992 its fare was more along the lines of “How to Make Him Like You as Much as You Like Him,” “Cover Girl Meets Rocker and… It’s Magic,” and “For That Fantasy Romance Among the Too Rich, Read Ivana Trump’s ‘For Love Alone’.” You can’t make this stuff up.
 This sector of the advertising industry is called “business-to-business,” and is looked down on as more workmanlike and less glamorous than consumer advertising. My talents have never been a great fit for consumer advertising. I was, however, a very, very good business-to-business writer.
 It may be relevant to note that only one other person in the company had kids, and he had a stay-at-home wife to take care of them.
 There was a small disturbance when the copy shop found that their practice of binding discarded pages into scratch pads for distribution at local schools had suddenly become a problem. Fortunately, it wasn’t our problem.
 The kind of binding you see on nearly all paperback books, with a flat, printed spine.
 Another Jay contribution: I was going to call it A Workbook for Eager Beginners. He was right.
 Too much to explain here. Look them up; they’re fascinating.
 He decided not to stay, but at least I’d made the offer.