It took Lexington author Andrew Shaffer 10 days to write Fifty Shames of Earl Grey, his parody of the best-selling erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey.
Little did he know it would land him a lucrative book deal in about as much time.
Like any good satirist, he didn't spare himself the lash when announcing the news.
"As the size of the McMansion that publishers dangled in front of me became progressively larger and more ridiculous, my Artistic Integrity slowly evaporated into the California sun," he wrote last month on his blog, Evil Reads (Evilreads.com).
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He remained self-effacing when announcing his contract with Da Capo Press a few weeks later on Twitter. "Hack writer sells 50 Shades of Grey parody," he wrote.
"Gadfly" might be more accurate.
For those who follow romance literature, Shaffer, 33, is the genre's tongue-in-cheek critic.
Based in Lexington, he reviews books for RT Book Reviews, a magazine devoted largely to romance and erotic literature.
He's also known for his villainous alter-egos on Twitter: Evil Wylie, which dabbles in publishing gossip, and Emperor Franzen, a satirical character who pokes fun at the critically adored Jonathan Franzen.
"Bret Ellis calls 'Freedom' and 'Corrections' the two best novels of his generation," a recent post read. "(Bret: the $5 check is in the mail)."
The timing of his Grey parody couldn't be better. E.L. James' best-selling book and its two sequels, on which it is based, has stoked a media frenzy.
Modern feminists and others have criticized the books for their archaic portrayal of women — specifically the book's heroine, a young virgin who is swept off her feet by a billionaire sadist.
Shaffer was among the early mainstream critics.
"Most of the little things that hurt my head about #50shadesofgrey could have been fixed by a good editor," he wrote on Twitter in March.
He also calls the premise "an outdated romantic trope." "The heroine is so clueless ... Her validation comes from everything this man teaches her," he said in a phone interview.
He could have continued, but found the target too easy and himself "too hypercritical." So he began composing a parody instead, serializing part of it on his blog. The book will go on sale July 31, under the pen name Fanny Merkin. "I wanted to have a little fun with some of the issues I found with it, without really attacking," he added.
Unlike Anastasia Steele, the naïve heroine of Fifty Shades, his heroine, Anna Steal, is experienced and confident. Her lover, Earl Grey, smells like Coconut Lime Breeze body wash and has sexual proclivities that are shockingly tame.
James declined to comment on the satire, but her publicist at Vintage, Paul Bogaards, offered effusive praise.
"Erotica is hard," Bogaards said. "Comedy is harder. If anyone can pull this off, it's Andrew Shaffer."
It's a gracious sentiment, but truth is, Shaffer was largely unknown outside the world of romance and erotic fiction. Before the satire, he was an unpaid contributor to The Huffington Post, where he blogged about topics like "The 13 Most Obnoxious Publishing Stories of 2010" and "First Look at Justin Bieber's Memoir: Teen Pop Star Says 'I Really Like Girls.'"
In addition to writing for RT Book Reviews, he had a book excerpt published in Mental Floss and penned a quiz for Maxim about professional wrestling and porn. He also contributed an essay to a 2010 anthology The Atheist's Guide to Christmas.
As a continuing side project, he remains the creative director of an irreverent greeting-card company he founded called Order of St. Nick. (Sample greeting from the atheist Christmas card series: "Santa Claus ... descended from apes!")
He has also written several books, all of which took longer than 10 days and garnered smaller advances. (Shaffer declined to specify the amount but said the Fifty Shames advance was "not enough to buy a McMansion, but enough to buy a swanky double-wide trailer.")
Great Philosophers Who Failed at Love, published in 2011, took a year to complete, and was sold as an e-book and paperback that was carried by Urban Outfitters. Literary Rock Stars, due next spring, took a year and a half.
The paradox isn't lost on him. "Fifty Shames," he said, "paid more than my first two books that took several years to write. It's just kind of mind-boggling to me."