Intro by Jae
I’ve recently blogged about the importance of not lying to readers & fellow authors. One author who definitely didn’t follow that advice is Adam Gaffen, who deceived the sapphic fiction community by pretending to be a young lesbian writer named AC Adams when he’s in fact a 50-something straight cis man. I have blogged about Adam’s deception over on my blog for readers.
One of the authors Adam harmed by befriending her as his fake persona is Nat Paga. Since Nat doesn’t have a blog of her own, she’s guest-blogging on the Sapphic Quill today so that everyone can understand the full extent of Adam’s betrayal.
As the title of Nat’s blog post says, this is not about an author using a pen name for marketing purposes. Please read the details in Nat’s guest post below.
It Wasn’t a Pen Name – Guest post by Nat Paga
For someone who calls themself a writer, I’ve struggled to find the words for this situation. It’s embarrassing, frustrating, and far too personal for comfort. I worried that if I shared my experience, people would think I was being dramatic or vindictive. I’m a relative nobody, with little experience and few contacts. Who would care what I had to say? Even so, I’d like to tell you about my friendship with AC Adams (aka Amelia, as she told me during one heartfelt exchange) and my begrudging relationship with Adam Gaffen through her. By now, many are aware that they are the same person. Adam has attempted to brush this aside since being forced to come clean, maintaining that his AC persona was a simple pen name.
I can attest that it was not.
AC Adams was a fictional identity made to more easily market Adam Gaffen’s own books that gradually morphed into something worse.
At first, it was normal.
AC and I started chatting on Facebook in spring 2022. KindleVella was and still is a small community, so we were in several of the same niche groups (AC moderated for at least one and had her own 300+ “krew”). She released what she claimed was her debut novel with more prepared marketing than your average “toss it on the pile” Vella-er, and her story quickly became one of the top-rated sapphic reads on the platform. From a self-proclaimed super-lesbian, go-getting young associate professor, it seemed possible. And, as another debut author with their own struggling sapphic story, I wanted to figure out what she was doing that I was not.
I also knew of Adam Gaffen after encountering one of his stories in an early KindleVellaMadness tournament. I did not care for his framing device—himself, a cishet, white, older male, biographing the adventures of space-adventuring lesbians (sometimes even authoring under his character’s female name). Still, sci-fi is all about people writing outside their own experiences, and he seemed to have been in the self-publishing business for a while. AC’s rabidly vocal adoration of him and his novels confused me. However, she was enthusiastic about most things, so it wasn’t too out of the ordinary yet. Below is one of the many times Adam used AC to push his books.
In late June 2022, AC gave away free ebooks of her then-ongoing KindleVella series. I messaged her about getting a copy. That was when she asked me to participate in an anthology she was putting together, and I was thrilled to be included.
She invited me to the private group, which Adam was also a part of as “her editor and mentor.” There, they interacted like completely separate people as they commented on each other’s posts and spoke with group members to coordinate the project. AC even posted a donation link for Adam, soliciting help to fund his trip to an upcoming convention, which I thought was sweet of her. In one particularly concerning exchange, AC and Adam discussed purchasing author copies. It was easy, she said, encouraging other group members to give Adam their credit card information and addresses. While I am not insinuating our info was stolen, how it was obtained is suspect at best.
Over the rest of the summer, AC and I talked sporadically about bookly topics, our upcoming anthology, and life. She was bubbly and complimentative, so I followed suit. It was fun; I thought I was making a new peer-friend, someone of a similar age and life experience who was also figuring out how to navigate the scary self-publishing world. She often gushed about her new teaching position, her enviably supportive parents, and her happy life with her loving wife, Leila. Overly personal things, including some wild sexual stories I now realize were meant to disarm me. It worked. I opened up about the difficulties I’d been having with deaths in my family, my sick cat (RIP Kitten), my sexuality, and impostor syndrome. We bonded over shared sapphic experiences, mundane things like workout gear, and menstruation. I shared aspects of me that I’m not ashamed of, but would not have said without prodding from a trusted source.
Conversely, with Adam, I had fewer and more professional interactions. I made my lack of interest, and later active distrust, apparent. Still, he continued to go deeper with me via AC.
Throughout the fall, winter, and spring, my messages with her escalated to the point where we spoke almost daily. I gave frequent beta reading feedback (had I known AC was a person nearly twice my age with loads more experience, I would have been far less gentle), and she gave me promotional (and personal) advice.
There were many instances where Adam used AC to attempt to get closer to me or sell me things. For example, AC told me that she had a Christmas “gift” for me, and that gift was paying for Adam to do half of the edits for my upcoming novel. I turned her down because I did not gel with Adam’s editing style, but I did feel pressured to accept. I still haven’t found a proper editor because I was afraid of posting online and having to explain to Adam that I didn’t want him.
Manipulative behavior, like AC prodding me to message Adam on his birthday. Or naming a character in her romance story after me. Or asking me to post book promotions while she was on a fake Hawaiian vacation with her fake wife (I wanted to help my friend, so I promoted her story more in a week than I generally promote my own in months). All tallied up, it makes me feel uncomfortable and used.
The fact that Adam, as AC, pushed “chart readings” by his wife, Mikki (someone who apparently specialized in human engineering), scares me because I believe it would have made me an even easier target. I can’t help worrying over how much worse it could have been.
How involved I did get is bad enough.
We released our first group anthology in November 2022. After that, she approached me about doing a side story featuring our characters for a reader magnet. Once we finished, she suggested Adam edit the project. If he charged us anything, she said, we would split the cost 50/50. He graciously fit us into his busy client schedule because, as he told me, AC reminded him of his daughter.
Unprompted, he sent me screenshots of himself and AC discussing the editing. Adam was intent on keeping the ruse going since, by this point, I had shown I had doubts about their identity.
After the edits were complete, Adam emailed AC and me to let us know the final cost. When I paid him over Venmo, he also had a payment from AC Adams to sell his lie.
At one point, I half-jokingly asked AC if she was Adam. It’s something that had been in the back of my head, but I try to believe the best in people.
She brought up the topic again, unprompted, a few days later. In my responses, I tried to convey that I would understand (although, be a bit thrown by the revelation). Adam decided to double down instead.
A couple of weeks later, she offered an explanation for how they met.
From there, having been told I was crazy for floating the idea that Adam and AC might be the same person, I (mostly) believed her. We organized a spring anthology, and she insisted on giving me the title of co-editor.
I managed to rope one of my friends (Lila, a real lesbian author who lives with her real, loving partner) into the project. An incident occurred between Adam and Lila in which he harvested her email from the group to add her to a networking site. After Lila pointed out (in a non-threatening manner) the illegality of what he had done, Adam cut contact and said all communication between them would go through the group. Of course, that spooked Lila, so she contacted me with screenshots. When I spoke to AC about it (without mentioning Lila), I expressed clear misgivings about working with Adam. She knew what had happened with Lila and played dumb, telling me to read more of Adam’s books to get to know him or “set boundaries.” At the time, I actually felt a little bad bringing it up because she was on her fake Hawaiian vacation.
When the issue later came to a head, AC continued to defend Adam. She mentioned the possibility of him “being burned before,” which makes me wonder if this behavior is a pattern.
AC ultimately dropped him from our third planned anthology when Lila and I both continued to show hesitation in doing the project. She never stopped defending Adam’s actions, but said that she wanted the anthology groups to be an inclusive space. To top it off, another author who would have participated in the third anthology claims Adam told her in person that he would still be editing the project.
There are so many layers of deceit, with more added by each person I’ve spoken to about it since.
I would have happily and obliviously continued working with AC. There were times I was annoyed by her pushiness and prodding for me to join her and Adam in book promotions, but I thought she was trying to help me. I thought she was a good, overly enthusiastic, oversharing friend who was always quick to reach out when I felt down. I thought she cared. She didn’t, couldn’t, because she wasn’t real, and active measures were taken to hide that truth.
Adam lied to me repeatedly and deliberately.
Was it a marketing tool to boost his writing and editing career? Adam, as AC, posted about his book constantly and raved about his editing services. An ego thing because he wanted the powerplay of a younger woman who idolized him? The way AC talked about Adam as her mentor is laughably gross to look back on. To use my name and willingness to post my face so he could have more legitimacy in sapphic groups? If he wants to be involved in those spaces, there are ways to join without causing such needless harm or places to roleplay that identity with willing participants. Or maybe it was something else buried under a mountain of bull****? The “WHY?” of this whole farce will bother me for a long time.
At one point, Adam reached out to ask if I was interested in being a guest at an upcoming convention. I turned him down, but he continued to bring it up in different ways to try to get me to agree to go.
He tried with a virtual con as well. And no matter how much I tried to politely decline, he never gave up on the original convention.
In our very last conversation, after nearly a year of “friendship”, just days before others forced the truth out, AC tried one last time to convince me to meet Adam.
After deleting AC’s accounts and sending out a blanket explanation to her newsletter subscribers (which went to my spam box), Adam unfriended me from social media so that I could not see his post coming clean. I only found out what happened when mutual friends reached out to ask if I was okay.
That is the professional and personal courtesy I received after a year of working closely with Adam/AC—a blanket explanation that minimizes the gravity of what he did and a halfhearted mass apology that places the onus on his victims to tell him how to fix a problem he created. At the same time, he continues to promote his other novels and plans convention visits where he’s slated to speak at panels about queer representation and gender identity. He continues to call himself an ally.
The self-publishing business is a massive, difficult-to-navigate space built on delicate trust between authors, editors, and readers. While it’s full of honest people who just love books, there are also those willing to take advantage and do whatever they can to get ahead.
Regardless of any other reasons for his actions, this is how Adam Gaffen conducted himself with me. I was lied to, used, and manipulated for an entire year. I put my own projects and things that I cared about on hold for his personal gain.
I will say one final time: It was not a pen name.
It was wrong.
For those concerned about the cat, Pixel… In the last author interview AC did, she spoke of her “orange Maine Coon cat.” To me, when we spoke of our cats, she never mentioned details of his color. Adam, to my knowledge, has a gray cat. I frequently spoke of my love for my orange cat before she passed away, so I’m pretty sure he stole that detail from me. Compared to everything else, it’s inconsequential, but it might be the thing that makes me the most mad.
A longer version of this post with more screenshots
Also, for those interested in a deeper dive, there is a longform version of this post with 30+ additional screenshots to provide more context.