Fifty Shades Author talks Men’s Reactions
In this second part of our scintillating interview transcript for Fifty Shades of Grey author EL James , she talks about the pleasurable research she did while writing the international erotic bestseller. She also talks about how men have responded to the book and the impact it has had on her family life and the sex lives of countless readers.
What feedback have you had from men about the books?
You have no idea how embarrassing it is to discuss my fantasies in a room full of male Hollywood executives. I can’t even tell you how cringe worthy that is. When I published this I did it to protect it in a certain way. It had been out there on the internet for a while and I felt like someone was going to steal it eventually. I never expected it to be this successful and I never expected men to read it either at all. In fact I get very embarrassed that men have read it. In fact I know there’s a guy in a hat here right now, what’s the guy in the hat doing here! (That would be our very own Russ)Weirdly more and more men are reading it now as their being forced by their wives or girlfriends. I’ve started getting emails from them. Their partners are apparently saying just read this now!! and sometimes… do some of this stuff!!!
Have you had any particularly memorable responses from men?
One example is that quite early on I got an email from a 26 year old guy I the US military that did make a point to tell me that he was not gay, but when on to say that he just really enjoyed the story. He was really captivated by it and he brought the book on deployment with him and wanted to tell me that. I also got a letter from a 71 year old man who said thank you very much for writing this book; it’s reminded me what it’s like to fall in love again. So there’s that side as well.
How close do you have to get to write about such intimate subject matter?
Very close! Lovely and close. I’ve always thought I’d be very worried if social services ever got hold of my computer. I’m sure my children would get taken away. I did a lot of research not only in words but also in pictures.
How much input did you have from editors in turning the stories into finished books?
There was a twofold editing process because the books were edited someone and unfortunately the first person who worked on them didn’t know what they were doing. But I didn’t know that at the time. But we’ll draw a veil over that. My second editor was lovely. The problem with writing something serially which is how the story was originally written, is that when you put it all together there are lots of issues like repetition that you can get away with more when you’re doing it a week at a time. It’s more obvious when you put it all together. When Random House got hold of it they did a very quick copy edit. I did more to it than they did really I was pretty surprised. But I had to edit Darker and Freed while I was having all these meetings as well. I wish we’d had a little bit longer to do it. But the demand for these books was feverish in the states so there was pressure to get them out there quickly. It is what it is. I think I learnt a lot going through that process. I just need a bit of time and someone to be stricter with me. Which you like now and again in life really.
The story is how I wanted it to be told. Nothing has been changed in terms of the storyline or the plot. I didn’t have anyone telling me to change tenses in the narration or tweak the plot. That was quite liberating and interesting doing it that way.
How do you feel about critics who unfavourably compare Fifty Shades to classic erotic literature?
I would say there’s a huge difference between Fifty Shade of Grey and the Marquis de Sade or The Story of O. Those are not love stories. I’ve written a love story. What the media, publisher or booksellers choose to dub the books is down to them. This is a love story; it’s a very old story. Its beauty and the beast and Cinderella all rolled into one. In terms of the erotic tradition in Europe the work of Marquis De Sade are not stories women particularly want to read. Maybe in Europe, maybe they do. But my book is number one in Italy, Germany and Spain so it’s not doing too badly.
What were the best bits of researching the book and is there anything you’d recommend?
Well if you’ve read Fifty Shades Freed there’s a bit in that I’d really recommend. The best bits weren’t just about the sex. It was everything. I’d never been to Seattle or Portland but Google Street view is amazing you can find anything on there. So I love doing that it was fantastic. I’m a History lover, I studied History at University and all of that kind for research stuff that you do as an Undergrad really comes into play. It’s extraordinary now because it’s all at the touch of a button; anything you want to know in five seconds you can find it out on a computer. You can find some really kinky f*ckery as well! It’s great and very educational. When I’m reading stuff I say Oh Look at that and my husband thinks, Oh no what are we doing now. He gets this wild and worried look in his eye.
What’s your fondest memory from doing your research?
I’ll tell you one story which is pretty funny it’s about the Audi car used in the books. I wanted to write a sex scene in an Audi car and I found out there was a dealership near to where I live. So I called up and I said to this sales guy can you have sex in that Audi car? I did explain that I was writing an erotic novel. I did introduce myself first. He said “No absolutely not, there’s just no way it’s possible”. So I though… sh*t!. I had a chat to him and thought I should check it out for myself.
So I went down to the garage and as they open the door there’s this beautiful big Audi sitting right there. So I went and looked around it. Then I popped up to the main reception and said can you st in the cars? They said of course. So I went and sat in this wonderful £24,000 car. I just sat there and though you could totally have sex in one of these. It might be a tight squeeze but yeah! Sp yes that’s real research for you!
Speaking about the sexual side of the story, do you think it’s made it more socially acceptable for people, especially women to openly discuss sexual desires and issues?
I didn’t have that in mind at all, but it does seem to have done that. It goes back to what I said about women getting together and talking about the book. I think the interesting thing is how word of mouth works. You get the book and you want all your friends at work to read it, you want to be able to discuss it. You have to discuss the sex and say My God this is disgusting or Wow can I do that! I think the thing is there’s a lot of erotic literature out there that isn’t at the savage end of fiction. There are a lot of books like this one. The books I read were all romantic books with an erotic side to them, albeit maybe not quite so explicit. But then these books are not really all that explicit for someone who’s used to reading erotica. I don’t use particularly graphic words, because I’m a bit of a prude funnily enough. I don’t think a lot of women like to hear that kind of language. That’s another reason why these books are more accessible I think.
How do you feel about being credited with improving people’s love lives?
I’m delighted but I think the only problem is that I suspect a lot of women are now pregnant because of it. It’s like Holy sh*t what have I done… that is quite scary. There might be a lot of babies born in 2014 all called Ana or Christian.
Do you think Ana’s innocence is part of what has allowed a mass market audience to see this as a comfortable introduction to BDSM?
I wrote the book for myself, it was random House that brought the book to the mass market. They were written for free. If anyone does set out to write a book just to reach a mass market audience I don’t think they’ll get very far. You need to write about something about your passion and what you like. It’s about what you want to do; I don’t think you need to think too hard about the end user. You are the end user; you are your reader so write it for yourself!
Have do your children feel about your success with the books?
My kids are hilarious they’re kind of completely bemused by all of this as well. They are incredibly proud of me. They know that I’m not around a lot at the moment and it’s great because my husband is also a writer and he’s always worked from home. So he’s always done the shopping and cooking. I do laundry that’s what I do. It’s been fine with him. My kids are great, embarrassed and proud. They’re not that interested in the actual book which is completely appropriate for a 15 year old and 17 year old kid. So it’s not actually that involve in their world. The supreme irony is that despite the fact both their parents are writers neither of my children read. It’s a badge of honour and a source of huge frustration for me and my husband. But they’re teenage boys and they just refuse opt read. In fact my husband wrote a book for teenage boys in the hope that maybe they’ll read that one.
Has it ever been awkward for you with them because of the books?
They’ve not expressed any desire at all to read my books. They know it’s very salacious. I was once writing it on my laptop and my youngest son came up behind me. I was pretty used to shouting at him to get away but apparently that time he managed to pick up the words nipple chumps! Because he misread nipple clamps. I just thought oh god! But perhaps most interestingly they’ve actually brought books home for me to sign that other people have bought to give to teachers at the end of term! That’s kind of doing my head in a bit. I wrote a nice inscription in Latin for the Latin teacher though. I hope he marks it well! But my kids have been great, they’ve been really supportive and their not teased at school or anything like that They’re fine.