I figured that since so many journalists and broadcasters keep interviewing me and asking me for quotes about the recent publishing phenomenon of 50 Shades of Grey, I thought it was time I put in my two pence’ worth right here at my blog.
Now I’m the last person to rain on anyone’s parade, especially another author’s. Those of us who toil in this usually thankless and poverty-stricken profession know all too well how difficult it is to make a living, let alone garner the kind of phenomenal success now being enjoyed by 50 Shades author E. L. James, who, up until this time, wasn’t even a professional author (and there are many who would argue that she still isn’t). However, as a writer and editor who does quite a bit of work in the area known as “erotic literature” or “erotic fiction” or “erotica,” I’m truly in the dark as to what all the fuss is about.
James’s novel (and their many continuations) focus on a BDSM relationship between a “submissive” young woman and a “dominant” man. The book evolved from her fan fiction site for Stephenie Meyer’s bestselling novel Twilight. Though unlike Twilight, 50 Shades of Grey has lots of sex in it.
Explicit sex. And some of it is considered kinky depending on what church you go to.
Err… okay. So what? Is this anything new? Has no one ever written these kinds of novels before? Has no one heard of the similarly themed classic The Story of O? Has no one seen the gazillion erotic novels that have been published over the last few decades detailing precisely the same plotline, replete with salacious details? Has no one noticed the amount of explicit sex to be found on the pages of what are considered to be “mainstream” as well as “literary” novels, not to mention “women’s fiction”?
The fact that 50 Shades appears to be geared toward women readers also seems to have raised eyebrows. I guess all those Black Lace erotic novels written by women for women never existed, not to mention the many similar publishing imprints that have been doing the exact same thing for years, all vying for the exact same audience – an audience which appears to be reading content that has now become commonly known as (*gags*) “Mommy Porn.”
What I’d like to know is, where have all these goggle-eyed readers and journalists been living – in a cave? Even if you’re sweet sixteen and have no literary history under your belt, a visit to the local bookshop or a perusal of the steamy books on offer at Amazon will be sufficient to educate you that these kinds of novels have been around for eons. Some are well written, some poorly written. But this phenomenon is nothing new. For the media and reading public to suddenly make out as if Ms James has invented the erotic novel is a slap in the face for the multitudinous authors both past and present who have been doing the same thing – and quite possibly doing it better!
Of course many of these authors are hoping that the huge success of 50 Shades will translate into greater success for their own books. And perhaps it will. Whether it does anything to improve the actual quality of material being written remains to be seen.
Frankly, I have my doubts.