50 Shades of Grey. Do you know what these four words mean? Well, yes, okay, we know about 50. We know about shades. We know that OF is a preposition. We know that grey is a color.
But 50 Shades of Grey is also something else, a phenomenon, en erotic trilogy written by E.L. James, which details the relationship between a billionaire control freak and a college student. It was originally self-published, had over a million downloads before a traditional publisher took notice and bought the trilogy for 7 figures. The books then sold to Hollywood. As of July 2012, 50 Shades of Grey has sold more than 20 million copies worldwide.
I love these kinds of success stories. They illustrate how technology benefits us, the people, by enabling us to reach for and achieve our dreams. I first heard about the book maybe six or eight months ago, when someone asked if I’d read the book. I hadn’t. I thought the title was interesting and asked my friend what the book was about.
“Kinda hard to say,” she replied.
Then I read an article somewhere about how erotic fiction had been banned from some site and 50 Shades was mentioned. A censored book somewhere, some way. I checked it out and thought about how diarist Anais Nin was censored in her day, particularly when it came to her erotic writing, like Henry and June, which eventually became a movie. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0099762/ It’s about Henry Miller, his wife June and their sexual relationship with Nin.
“Okay, who has read 50 Shades of Grey?” I asked one afternoon at the dog park. The ladies, who range in age from, oh 25 to 75, suddenly looked collectively guilty. And I knew all of them had read the book and were totally shocked that I, the writer of the group, hadn’t recognized the significance of the book. So that night I downloaded the novel to my iPad.
50 Shades of Grey is written in a single voice, the I voice, in present tense. It’s not the easiest point of view or tense to write, but in this novel, it works. The protagonist, Anastasia, is a self-effacing college girl with a bossy roommate, a journalist major. The roommate can’t make a particular appointment with Mr. Grey, a young billionaire who is the whiz kid of Wall Street or its equivalent somewhere, so Anastasia goes in the roommate’s place. When Anastatia meets Grey, the physical chemistry is powerful. Their physical attraction to each other is written masterfully.
At the dog park, Colleen asks, “Did you get to the playroom yet?”
“Nope. But she blushes a lot, Colleen. It bugs me.”
Colleen rolls her eyes. “Keep reading. The first book is great. I just sat down and read it. By the third book, I had to stop to take two cold showers.” She rolls her eyes again and laughs. “The instant I saw that playroom, I knew I’d be gone. I don’t do submissive.” And by the end of the trilogy, the protagonist doesn’t do submissive, either, Colleen tells me.
But in the first book, she – a virgin – is the Submissive and Grey is the Dominant. That’s how it is spelled out in their contract. The first sex scene happens after her reactions to and their discussion of the contract.
The contract. It was probably conjured when Mercury, which rules contracts, communication, and the conscious mind, was moving retrograde. These scenes are definitely retro in that hurl women’s rights back to the dark ages, when men and women were locked in social-sanctioned power struggles: the man told the woman to jump and she jumped.
So at the dog park, Karin says, “Hey, did you see that article today in the Palm Beach Post about 50 Shades of Green?”
Nope, didn’t see it. Well, the focus of the article was that 50 Shades of Grey has sold 20 million books since March. The article didn’t say whether these had been actual book sales or downloads, but either way, it doesn’t matter to the author. She is already a millionaire add a few dollars in either direction aren’t going to impact her bottom line.
As of mid-July, Amazon lists nearly 8,500 reviews that bring the book to three stars overall, and some of then are comical. One guy notes that the writing is awful, the plot too simple, and that Anastasia blushes way too much But women for the most part, seem to love the book.
James has tapped into something important with her books. She has provided insights into the female psyche – the old paradigm psyche and the new – and given it a name. Like Nin before her, James doesn’t hold back. She is far less poetic than Nin, but what she has to say appeals to women across the board.
When James did her first book signing at Books and Books in Miami, several hundred women were lined up to have their books signed. Twenty to eighty years of age, the paper said. An unprecedented number for a book like this. I point this out to our daughter. “I’ve been hearing a lot about this book. I’m going to download it.”
And she did. Her take? “Wow, this is a racy book, Mom. But I love the protagonist.”
Yes. So do I. Anastasia feels what you felt in your twenties. She is the archetype of angst personified, but greatly exaggerated. And Grey, also greatly exaggerated, is the archetypal bad boy. Bring them together, with the ebook background, the 7-figure contract for James, and you’ve got a mega bestseller.
Tipping point. Now there are 50 Shades of Grey vacation packages, http://www.thestar.com/travel/article/1225834–50-shades-of-grey-inspires-upscale-hotel-packages flights, cruises.
Colleen assures me that by the end of the third book in the trilogy, we understand why Grey is the way he is, that Anastasia never signs the contract, and that she is not the submissive Grey hoped she would be.
But you know what? Regardless of what these books are or are not, James hit a big time nerve, a tipping point sort of nerve, a this is your juncture sort of nerve, babe. And from my point of view as a writer, that’s saying something.