Let’s talk about 50 Shades of Grey.
I’ve never read it beyond the sample chapter nor have I seen any of the movies. Not because I’m a prude who shuns erotica, but mostly because I have issues with the unhealthy glorification of an abusive relationship so I’m simply not interested.
Despite this, however, I learned a tremendous lesson from the book series.
It happened on a day when I was running errands for our construction company, making bank deposits, dropping off permit applications, and picking up materials. While waiting for a load of windows to be loaded in my minivan, I struck up a conversation about books with the supplier’s receptionist.
She told me her favorite was 50 Shades of Grey.
This caused me to immediately pinch my eyebrows together, cocking my head to the side as I launched into a diatribe about everything wrong with E.L. James’ books. The hideous writing. The creepy, melodramatic vibe and toxic misrepresentation of BSDM. The laughable overuse of the word ‘goddess’ and overworked lip-biting according to critics who’ve read it.
It’s just bad.
When I finished ranting, her eyes widened as she shrugged and said, “I don’t know about all that. I just loved the characters and wanted to read their story.”
Her response stopped me in my tracks and as I drove home, my van packed with windows and my face blushing with shame, I reflected on a few things.
First of all, how much of an asshole was I?
When she told me about her favorite novel, I should have just smiled and said, “Oh, I’m so glad you enjoyed it,” keeping my opinion to myself, but what did I do instead? I climbed up on my righteous high horse and shit all over a book she loved. Total douchebag move.
And second, her response.
I just loved the characters and wanted to read their story.
Yes, the writing wasn’t great. Yes, the overall plot is bad, the character development is poor, and Anastasia Steele is a horrible representation of women and a shitty friend, based on what I read in the first chapter alone.
But the gal loved the novel as did so millions of other fans. She didn’t care about the bad writing, the plotting, or lack of conflict. She just loved the characters and wanted to know their story.
As writers, isn’t that what we want for everyone?
And let’s talk about E.L. James, the author of the series who was slammed by the likes of Stephen King and many others. In 2009, the busy mom-of-two started writing fan fiction under the pseudonym Snowqueen’s Icedragon and eventually self-published a Twilight-inspired novel called Master of the Universe. Her story created a lot of buzz and eventually caught the eye of Random House, so what started off for her as fun fanfic led to the mind-blowing phenomenon, selling over 100 million copies followed by three movies.
Her success story is nothing short of spectacular. And E.L. James is also the reason why every Random House employee got a $5,000.00 bonus one year … at least at the location in my hometown. How many lives did that bonus enrich?
She was also brave.
She jumped into the taboo topic of BSDM, however misguided, with no hesitation, no holding back, no fear. I mean, I’m not a fan of butt plugs. But if I were, you can bet your sweet ass that I would never include it in a novel out of fear people would assume it’s something I’m into.
Pardon the sweet ass pun.
But seriously, I can’t help but admire her gumption. And I will always try to remember the lesson her novel taught me:
Create amazing characters that readers love and simply tell their stories.
Butt plugs are optional.
Now, does this mean that I will eventually read these novels? My answer, for now, at least, is still no. But if you tell me that it’s one of your favorites, I will smile and tell you that I’m so happy you enjoyed it.
And I will mean every single word of it.