50 Things About 50 Shades (of Grey)

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Fifty Shades of Grey is an erotic novel self-published by first-time British author E.L. James in 2011 which has already spawned two sequels and, maybe, a movie deal. I just read it and have, naturally, fifty things to say.

Updated 10/12 to add:  Vintage is publishing all three books in the trilogy in e and paperback:

Now American publishers have just concluded a battle over the rights to re-release the book in the blockbuster fashion they think it deserves. This week, Vintage Books, part of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, known for its highbrow literary credentials, won a bidding war for the rights to all three books, paying a seven-figure sum.

On Monday, the publisher will release new e-book editions of the trilogy. Weeks later will come a 750,000-copy print run of redesigned paperback editions.

Adults, read on:

 

1. The blurb:

When literature student Anastasia Steele is drafted to interview the successful young entrepreneur Christian Grey for her campus magazine, she finds him attractive, enigmatic and intimidating.  Convinced their meeting went badly, she tries to put Grey out of her mind – until he happens to turn up at the out-of-town hardware store where she works part-time.

The unworldly, innocent Ana is shocked to realize she wants this man, and when he warns her to keep her distance it only makes her more desperate to get close to him.  Unable to resist Ana’s quiet beauty, wit, and independent spirit, Grey admits he wants her too – but on his own terms.

Shocked yet thrilled by Grey’s singular erotic tastes, Ana hesitates. For all the trappings of success – his multinational businesses, his vast wealth, his loving adoptive family – Grey is man tormented by demons and consumed by the need to control. When the couple embarks on a passionate, physical and daring affair, Ana learns more about her own dark desires, as well as the Christian Grey hidden away from public scrutiny.

2. The cover is perfect for the novel. Why are we stuck with such literal cover art for contemporary erotic romance?

3. As reported in Publishers Weekly, Fifty Shades of Grey started as Twilight fan fiction. I have seen the first three Twilight films, and read part of the second Twilight book (it was a DNF), and, despite looking for it, detected almost no resemblance. If I hadn’t seen a link to the PW article, I would never in a million years have guessed the provenance of this book.

4. That said, for some readers the issue isn’t how closely Fifty Shades hews to Twilight, but the author’s use of the Twilight fan fiction community. Amazon.com reader Jennifer offers a good summary of the argument in her comment on Amazon.com:

In what was her most unethical act, EL James (aka Snowqueens Icedragon) also borrowed Twilight’s large fanbase on the condition that she would not profit from her fanfiction. She didn’t have to run marketing campaigns like Stephenie Meyer and other legitimate authors must do. She knew that people would buy her book due to her success in the fanfiction world, a celebrity that she attained under the deceitful pretense that she was simply honoring Meyer’s work and nothing more.

I would need to know more about timing and motivation to comment on this. To hatch the whole plot from the start would be pretty crafty. Jami Gold, a PNR author, asks When Does Fan fiction Cross an Ethical Line?

5. The price for, $9.99 for the ebook (see Amazon), from a debut author, self-published, is outrageous.I read Fifty Shades thanks to the generous Kindle lending of a friend.

6. Having read romances for the last five years, I’ve noticed BDSM romance, and BDSM elements, becoming more mainstream within the genre. With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, it’s obvious that someday a BDSM erotic romance would break out and become a phenomenon the way Fifty Shades has.

7. For evidence of the phenomenon, see Pornography for Mommies, an article about Fifty Shades in the Huffington Post. Or don’t, if you don’t want to be annoyed by the condescension (but it’s self-condescension, so maybe that’s ok? Or… maybe that’s the oldest and most hypocritical trick in the book? You decide!) in comments such as:

Also, I have been so busy reading “real” books that, no, I have not read anything dumb and erotic like this since college. And I think that’s true for many of my women friends. We read the latest historical fiction bestseller­s (like The Paris Wife, or The Help, which are definitely not bodice-rip­pers) and then we sip wine and meet for book club. So that’s why it is fun (and funny) to rediscover this stuff in our 40′s. Not sure why this one was the break-out erotica to “trip” on, as you say, but it has certainly crossed over.

8. People get mad at you if you like this book:  You don’t know good writing! You are part of the horde who encourage the publication of poorly edited books! You don’t care that the author ripped off her Twilight fanficdom and/or Stephanie Meyer! You are promoting work that encourages the stereotype that folks who are into BDSM are “damaged”!

9. And they get mad if you don’t: You’re an elitist snob! You don’t get it! You are some crazy Twihard who can’t bear the thought of Edward with a whip! You’re sexually repressed! You are trying to tell women which sexual fantasies are ok and which aren’t!

10. Boy, is this book popular. Check the number of reviewers on Amazon (4.5 stars, 180 ratings, 190 likes) or Goodreads (4210 ratings, avg rating of 4.41 out of 5). Just compare that to the latest book by New York Times bestselling romance writer Nora Roberts, The Next Always (published around the same time, also priced at $9.99):  Amazon (3.5 stars, 197 reviews, 1014 likes… the last number showing Roberts’ strong Facebook presence, something James can’t now, or perhaps ever, compete with), Goodreads (3687 ratings, 3.88 average rating).

11. But wait! Fifty Shades is not, technically, a romance novel (no happily ever after, although there is one at the end of the series). It’s not published by a romance publisher. The cover is certainly not romancey. And, I could be wrong, but I don’t think it was primarily romance readers that first discovered this book: it was members of the author’s fan fiction community. Indeed, my  romance reading “friends” on Goodreads give it a much lower average review.

12. If you want more Fifty Shades, you can read the next two books in the series, Fifty Shades Darker (supposed to be pretty good) or Fifty Shades Freed (supposed to suck).

13. If you need even more, people are saying you should try Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire, or The Realm of You by Tara Buckley. I don’t think it’s quite accurate to assume that readers of Fifty necessarily want more BDSM books. I think there are several themes in Fifty that readers are gravitating to. I have a long list of suggested post-fifty books suggested by this blog’s readers here:

14. The author repeats certain phrases and adjectives over and over. For example, Christian’s “long” fingers, the “unbelievably sexy way” his pants hang off his hips, how “beautiful” he is, Ana’s “flawless skin”, even the word “fuck” (Ana’s constant “Holy fuck!s”, Christian’s frequent, and decreasingly erotic, threats to “fuck” her “hard”). Here’s a tip: people notice the use of unusual words like “fractionally”. They really notice them after five or ten times.

15. Someone needs to take this author’s thesaurus and hide it someplace safe.

“Anticipation hangs heavy and portentous over my head…”

“‘So I brought you here,” he said phlegmatically.

“The ceremony takes another hour to conclude. It’s interminable.”

“Another mercurial mood swing; it’s so hard to keep up.”

“I’m lost in a quagmire of sensation.”

“I revel in his possession, his lust slaking mine.”

“Trepidation lances through me.”

“He’s got right under my skin, literally.”

Edited to add:[I CAN'T BELIEVE I FORGOT THIS ONE!] “I turn into my pillow and the sluice gates open.”

These words… I do not think they mean what the author thinks they mean.

16. The author had some rather– erm — creative ways of surmounting the inherent narrative difficulties of first person: Anastasia has a subconscious that’s not very sub:

“My subconscious is behind the sofa again, head hidden under her hands.”;

“I look to my subconscious. She’s whistling with her hands behind her back and looking anywhere but at me.”;

“My subconscious is nervous, anxiously biting her nails.”;

“My subconscious has her Edvard Munch face on again.”

17. She also has an “inner goddess”:

“My inner goddess is jumping up and down, clapping her hands like a five year old.”

“My inner goddess stops jumping and smiles serenely.”

“My inner goddess shakes her head at me.”

“My inner goddess pops her head above the parapet.”

18. 80 references to Ana’s subconscious. 59 to her inner goddess. I’d say there are four main characters in this book.

19. There’s a lot in Fifty Shades that reminded me of romance. In particular, the hero has some classic alpha traits, like the characters in Presents: controlling, possessive, jealous, wealthy, sophisticated, more experienced, sexually and otherwise. Like J.D. Robb’s Roarke, Christian insists on doing things for Anastasia: buying her an Audi, a Blackberry, a Macbook.

20. The references to brand names (see #13), be it food and drink, clothing, cars, furniture… is very unlike the typical romance novel. These things will date the novel but for now, they give it a more contemporary feel than most contemporary romances I have read.

21. Christian is not just alpha, he’s a tortured alpha. His claim that he cannot “make love”, but only “fuck…hard” echoes Zadist from J. R. Ward’s Lover Awakened.  The tortured alpha whose childhood abuses prevent him from having a normal romantic relationship is such a common theme in romance, especially in paranormal romance, that I’m surprised more PNR romance readers aren’t flocking to this book.

22. In contrast to a lot of alpha heroes in romance, especially of the Presents variety, Christian is often surprised, saddened, and amused by Ana. He is sometimes scared, vulnerable, needy. And he can be genuinely funny. Reading Fifty Shades made me realize how limited an emotional repertoire many romance heroes — especially alphas –  are allowed to have.

23. One of the things I liked about Anastasia was her tendency to say what she was feeling, both in the moment, and via email. She also teases Christian, shocks him, baits him (she compares it to “shooting fish in a barrel”), ignores him, forgets about him. I don’t think it’s insignificant that he asks her to sign a BDSM contract near the beginning of the book, and at the end, she still hasn’t signed it. My surprise at her actions and reactions made me aware that I had some different expectations for this kind of story. In short, these things made the book feel different to me than many contemporary romances I have read.

24. Despite #23, I don’t think Ana’s a model of the strong, autonomous heroine (too much of her behavior comes off as the bratty backtalker to daddy).

25. This book contains the line, “it’s the sub that has all the power.” I’ve seen that before and I don’t get it. It seems to contradict the common assertion that the Dom/sub relationship is built on mutual respect and equality.

26. I’ve read a few other erotic romances with BDSM, including books in which one party was introduced to the lifestyle/orientation. In other books, the narrative is one in which the protagonist “uncovers” the hidden D or s. The transition is pretty immediate. I thought this narrative was different — Ana enjoys the fantasy, to some extent, but she’s not a sub — and pretty interesting in its way.

27. Ana is underdeveloped as a character. There’s a lot of telling the reader how strong she is, how smart. I can’t say there was much showing. She likes to read British literature and drink tea. Not a lot to go on.

28. Christian’s status as a Dominant was not portrayed consistently, regardless of whether you read him as “Dom because he’s built that way” or “Dom because he was damaged as a child”. I think they had more vanilla sex than BDSM. And the complete control threatened by the Contract never materializes.

29. Fifty Shades felt different, or fresher in some ways, than a lot of contemporary erotic romance. A scene at a college graduation. The heroine works in a hardware store. An actual job interview. Etc.

30. I’ve never read an erotic romance in which a tampon is mentioned, let alone removed by the hero. Also, an ob/gyn exam.

31. I haven’t mentioned secondary characters. They exist. And that’s about all I can say about them.

32. The pace was very, very slow. I found Fifty Shades a slog after 50%.

33. I think a professional edit could have made a big difference.

34. Ana’s personality was often conveyed through her attitude towards food. If she was nervous, she wouldn’t eat. If she was aroused, she couldn’t eat. If she was tired, she wouldn’t eat. If she was feeling adventurous, she tried oysters… This was an attempt by the author to characterize the heroine, but Ana’s relationship with food is very concerning.

35. On the other hand, I do think college graduation is the perfect time for an English major to get wrapped up in an intense relationship. I’m not kidding.

36. Ana is a 21 year old in 2011. She often forgets to turn on or bring her phone. She’s not on Facebook. Really? Of course there are people like that, but those choices felt more like author’s decisions than coming from her character.

37. I had no problems with Ana’s age. Many people get married right after college graduation, never mind having a serious relationship. I’m puzzled by some readers’ complaints along these lines. Christian is less than ten years older than Ana. Am I missing something?

38. The emails between Christian and Ana were very effective and well done. They moved the relationship along and showed that the medium and the message, if not identical, intersect in interesting ways.

39. On the other hand, it is unusual for college students to use email in personal relationships. Students see email as formal communication, with parents and professors. They text in personal relationships. Perhaps the author was trying to make a point about Ana’s attitude towards Christian? Or not?

40. Thanks to Kindle, I can share some popular highlights, like “Never trust a man who can dance.”

41. The hero likes classical music, opera, and also Kings of Leon. Kindle readers highlighted each song named.

42. The most popular highlight is “‘Flower Duet’, by Delibes, from the opera Lakme“.

43. The most popular non-song highlight is a quote from Dale Carnegie: “A man who acquires the ability to take full possession of his own mind may take possession of anything else to which he is justly entitled.”

44. That reminds me … in one way Fifty Shades is very much like a lot of contemporary romance, especially Harlequin Presents: love of wealth. There’s a lot of vague protesting, but the reader is treated often to Ana’s joy in the perks of dating a wealthy man: private dining rooms, penthouse suites, upgrades to first class, etc.

45. I enjoyed this book, and I totally understand why so many readers refer to it as “crack” (bad but irresistible) but I  won’t be reading more in this series.

46. Stay tuned for a second post with 47-48. Then a third post with 49-50. ;)

 

Edited to add: Dear readers, there will be no additional posts on this book. I was trying to make a joke playing off the way the narrative ends so abruptly (really, it just ends), despite the fact that 90% of the traditional romance arc has been completed, and then two more books drag out what, in a romance, would be the last two chapters.

Edited to add: A new New York Magazine article about the phenomenon of 50 Shades.

Another Edit: More coverage in the New York Times

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100 responses

  1. Awesome overview!

    I’m surprised by the large fan base for this trilogy because it has so many stereotypical tropes we’ve seen time and again in erotic and romance over the past 30 years. Nothing new. There seems to be an equal amount of lovers and haters of these books, and the whole drama surrounding how they were written and how they were published. But James has sold a a massive amount regardless of the lacking editing issues and the ridiculousness of Christian and Ana. I can see more books like this being published in the next coming years and readers eating them up.

    50 Shades speaks to certain female readers, much like the bodice rippers from the 70′s and 80′s and the whole forced seduction or rape issue and the mentally unhealthy hero and they way the horrible way he treats the heroine. It’s like a guilty pleasure for some readers who enjoy that fantasy and I think that’s what James has done here with 50 Shades.

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  2. 34. Ana’s personality was often conveyed through her attitude towards food. If she was nervous, she wouldn’t eat. If she was aroused, she couldn’t eat. If she was tired, she wouldn’t eat. If she was feeling adventurous, she tried oysters… This was an attempt by the author to characterize the heroine, but Ana’s relationship with food is very concerning.

    *an unexpected flashback to those bad bad bad days of Mills & Boon*

    This is one of few things I disliked about M&Bs when I was younger. Heroine ALWAYS did this: “after a bite, she put her knife and fork down on a plate. She couldn’t eat any more.” Also, she would “feel full” after three bites. Three lousy bites! I even tested this in real life. After eating three bites and staring at the remaining food for a few minutes, I thought “No way in hell!” and licked the plate clean.

    What made it worse is that M&B authors constantly described how thin/slim/slender/physically fragile those heroines were. So often that I honestly imagined a blonde-haired twig in a black evening dress (heroines were always blonde). No joke.

    Actually, I’m now quite concerned I actually thought about that sort of thing when I was thirteen. Way too young to fret about body image and food in context of love and relationship. Curse you, M&B authors!

    “‘So I brought you here,” he said phlegmatically.

    I’m going to print and frame that. It’s the funniest thing I read today.

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  3. LOL… this was interesting to read…

    I haven’t read it, and really am not interested in trying, but this was fun.

    Re: #37, her age? I got married right out of college and it was technical college at that. Was married at nineteen. Now my guy was only three years older than me and we’d been together for forever, but still.

    Some people aren’t ready for marriage or a serious relationship after college, but others are. Shoot, some people aren’t ready for marriage at FIFTY. ;) Sixty. Eighty… Doesn’t mean that applies to everybody.

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  4. The more people talk about this book, the less I want to read it or its sequels. They seem to possess everything I have come to not enjoy about PNR romance over the years, not to mention just romance reading in general. I don’t want to read anymore heroes like Christian who’s excuse is they’re fucked up or tortured. And heroines that sound like Ana grate on my nerves. Her inner Goddess and subconscious sound over the top to say the least.

    I’m still absolutely confused how this series came from Twilight inspiration, too, and I got almost all the way through the whole Twilight series (stopped halfway into the horrible Breaking Dawn). I mean, Edward wasn’t fucked up, he was just a pansy ass. The idea of him ever wielding a whip for inducing painful pleasure is enough to make me ROFL.

    Anyway, great rundown of the book, thanks for sharing!

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  5. I’m not particularly interested in reading this book or its sequels, but I’ll chime in on fandom and also Ana’s relative youth.

    I have no problem with a serious relationship at 21. Most of my college roommates either married at that age to men (boys, really) they’d met in college, or were dating the men they would marry within a couple of years. The only thing that makes me hesitate is the signficant gap in life experience and maturity between a 21 year old and a 31 year old; it makes for (IMO) a not-exactly equitable relationship in some ways. But that’s just me, and it’s an issue I’ve had for years, especially with HPs and older romance novels, where 25 seemed to be as old as a heroine was ever permitted to be.

    In terms of fandom, I can’t speak to whatever may have happened here specifically. But in the small fandoms I participate in, the feedback, editing, and support that readers and other writers give you is enormous. And it’s predicated on the understanding that this fanfiction is just that — fanfiction. Written not for profit, with no intent to profit. In fact, in good fan communities and with honest fic writers, there is a disclaimer at the beginning of all fic about who owns the copyright, lack of intent to profit, etc. While there may not have been a plot “at the start”, to take something written in that world and effectively negate promises and recitals made to the community that nurtured the work is pretty offensive and smacks of dishonesty and deceit.

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  6. Thanks, jmc, for the details on the expectations in fanfiction. Not having ever participated in a fanfic community, I’ve been a bit hazy as to why James’ use of her fanfiction was problematic.

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  7. Dear Jessica, as you know I hated this book with the fiery passion of thousand burning suns. My own review of this book is going up sometime in the next two weeks. Even though you liked it better than I did, I’m glad to see that you had similar concerns about the book. There was a while there where I was feeling like I was the only one who saw them. :)

    I had a very strong negative visceral reaction to this book which makes me see how others could have a strong visceral reaction, but positive. This book came off as very juvenile and immature to me, even though it was in many ways using similar tropes and cliches we see in PNR and HP. I know there are terrible, bad PNRs and HPs and BDSM eroticas out there. I’ve read many. But for whatever reason the way E. L. James put those things together enraged me.

    Maybe because I think 50 Shadeslacked any sort of nuance or subtlety what ended up happening for me was that these problematic issues we often see in romance were laid bare but did not have any solid characterization or ambiguity to soften their edges?

    I don’t know. Despite the fact that I’ve already written a review of it, I’m still trying to articulate to myself what precisely was so awful to me.

    And on the food thing: ugh. This is my most hated trope. I think it deserves a blog post in and of itself.

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  8. Boy, is this book popular. Check the number of reviewers on Amazon (4.5 stars, 180 ratings, 190 likes) or Goodreads (4210 ratings, avg rating of 4.41 out of 5).

    My favorite factoid about FSOG was how it was second in the GR Choice Awards for Best Romance of 2011 with 3800 votes. Yeah, I totally believe that 3800, ahem, individual GR-ers loved it so much to constantly vote for it through several rounds of voting when only 2200 could be arsed to rate it once on the book’s GR page at the time.

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  9. ive made a conscious decision not to read this series, even though i was initially intrigued, but i’d rather spend $ on books im more sure of. and it sounds like a huge time commitment for something im not sure i’d love.

    HOWEVER, im really enjoying all the blog posts and everyone else’s reactions to it. haha i almost feel like ive read these as they are so talked about all over the place!

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  10. When I saw you gave this 3 stars on Goodreads I was hoping you’d do a post, because reaction is so polarized and I wanted to read comments not fueled by the fire of a thousand burning suns. Thanks for that!

    I’m now thinking of JK Rowling–right down to the pen-name! It’s partly the saggy, baggy under-editing, which almost killed the Harry Potter series for me and which I take to be true of the 50 Shades trilogy because even people who love the books point it out. To me this is a sign that an author is too in love with her world and characters to discern, or allow others to help her discern, the weak from the strong, the parts that are serving the story from the parts that are not. I am discouraged by the fact that so many people will accept what they acknowledge to be weak editing for the sake of a good story. Why should we have to settle? And since that isn’t a trade-off that works for me, I’m worried that fewer and fewer writers/editors/publishers seem to see good content or copy-editing as important. For me one of the most irritating thing about the fanfic origins is that people are now being asked to pay so much for something that appears to be essentially unchanged from the free version.

    The other comparison I see to Rowling is that you have a book that is really quite derivative in a lot of ways but that “clicks” with a lot of people because there’s something fresh and appealing about the voice, characters, or world. (I thought this about Thea Harrison, too, which was meh for me but a lot of people raved about). I appreciate your comments because I think you capture what appeals even though you didn’t love the book. That appeal is so strong that even though everything I read about the book suggests to me that it is not my thing, I am still very tempted to read it.

    @seton: The difference between this avatar and the one you’ve got on Goodreads is so disconcerting.

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  11. @jmc:

    The only thing that makes me hesitate is the signficant gap in life experience and maturity between a 21 year old and a 31 year old;

    Thanks so much for the explanation of the norms of fandom. I will have more to say on that later. However, in my version of the book, Christian is twenty-seven.

    Thanks everyone for the great comments. Back tonight!

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  12. @Jessica: I meant to add (like I didn’t say enough already) I met my husband when I was a newly-minted English BA of 21. He was 26 and more experienced in many ways than I was, though thankfully not 50 shades of fucked-up (and we were also both grad students, which minimized a lot of the difference. Why was he not a wealthy businessman? Damn.) So it would depend on how the novel presented it, but that age difference in and of itself does not bother me.

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  13. I’m currently reading a (so far) extremely popular book that has many of the same issues and am starting to seriously wonder why this happens. Surely it’s possible to tell a compelling story without so many language errors, or to have them edited out? Do word repetitions and curious word choices actually enhance the book for some readers in some way? Because as you point out, the other stuff is not necessarily particularly original or exciting, as is also true for the book I’m reading.

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  14. I have seen the first three Twilight films, and read part of the second Twilight book (it was a DNF), and, despite looking for it, detected almost no resemblance. If I hadn’t seen a link to the PW article, I would never in a million years have guessed the provenance of this book.

    Whereas I’ve read snippets each of Twilight and FSOG and they SOUND exactly the same to me. They SOUND like the same person, thinking the same things about the same guy. Now, like I said, not much exposure to each of them, but it’s my understanding that fanfic is usually about taking the characters and seeing how true to them you can stay while putting them in completely Other universes and/or situations. I think that’s why it’s fanfic.

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  15. @Liz Mc2 – Yeah, I suck at branding :-)
    I do visit blogs of various subjects other than romance on WordPress (hence the girly avatar) while on GR, I mainly stick with the romance communities. That, and my pic of the pretzel vendor reading a Candice Hern novel never fails to amuse me.

    Christian being 27 sounds about right.

    I havent read or watched Twilight but I have read a lot of fanfic and FSOG is most obvious as fanfic in its desultory pace (you can practucally see all the places that originally ended with To Be Continued) and its Mary Sue narrator (every time Ana bit her lip and slayed Christian with her speshul ahsumness, I wanted to punch her in the face). Agree with Lazaraspaste that this bk came across as juvenile.

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  16. Am I the only person commenting that has read the first two books and enjoyed them? Seems like.

    I’m sure this will come across as the outlier opinion but about that eating thing. Does anyone remember reading Glamour and Cosmo back in the day and having the editors enthuse about the magical effects of the falling in love diet? I can remember being too up or too down or too something to do anything as mundane as eat. The fall in love diet is a transitory thing — once couples are comfortable in their relationship, food gets consumed :) I have read 50 Shades Darker and Ana is certainly eating this and eating that and taking lunches prepared by 50′s housekeeper to her job. So to me, on Ana’s side, it seemed not that surprising for a 21 year-old head over heels in love and angst and the pangs of first love to have an erratic relationship with food (especially when you’re eating with the object of your affection).

    However, Christian constantly harping on her to eat — that certainly struck chords of recognition with this romance reader. Roarke is always telling Eve to eat, bribing her with luscious chocolate if she’ll only eat her veggies. Every hero in Betty Neels is all about feeding the heroine — who usually enjoys eating altho occasionally her money (or lack thereof) and/or worries cause her to put food on the backburner. These are the only Mills and Boons I’ve really submerged myself in — I can well believe that the scrawny lettuce leaf eating blonde was presented as the female ideal — but I don’t think that’s what’s happening here.

    I thoroughly enjoyed your thoughts on 50. It does seem unfair that readers can’t get both a great book and exemplary editing but examples abound of readers gnashing their teeth at not getting both. I’m not going to avoid reading a book I think I might enjoy because of that altho it doesn’t go unnoticed. As for cost, a) this book is lendable. Don’t get me started on books that are not. b) it’s a generous size and a good read — yes $9.99 isn’t $7.99 but lately I’ve been drooling over a novella that’s a fraction of the size of 50 Shades of Grey that’s going for $5.40 (and I know there are often sales but I agree with the new folks at J.C. Penney — who wants to buy books and chase sales concurrently — not me).

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  17. Haven’t read this — though I’d like to — but I’ll publicly admit to enjoying Twilight very much! And I honestly didn’t see most of the flaws people point out about it — nor those people claim about Cassanda Clare’s books, which I love. My main critique of Twilight is that Bella so constantly harps on Edward, it could only work if the reader is as into him as she is.

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  18. (Replying to myself) — which might explain why there are so few middle ground readers when it comes to Twilight. Unless it’s just that we’re usually too nervous to say anything.

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  19. @KT Grant: I’m surprised by the large fan base for this trilogy because it has so many stereotypical tropes we’ve seen time and again in erotic and romance over the past 30 years.

    I’m sure the majority of this trilogy’s fans have not read a steady diet of erotic fiction or romance novels, so all of the so-called tropes are brand new to them. The popularity of this trilogy reminds me of a blog/article I recently read (must track it down) where it discussed why major best-sellers can be the least well-written and/or original: non-avid readers don’t recognize tired tropes, genre cliches, or boring re-treads because they don’t read tons of books every year.

    They probably also do not think about discussing or reviewing books, so when they read something that really excites them, they’re likely to go over-the-top in praising it without knowing there are tons of books out there like this one exciting book. Plus, there’s the stigma against romance and erotic fiction, isn’t there? I’ll bet that most of the Fifty… fans (and even the Twilight fandom who followed James to this trilogy) would never ever think of browsing the erotic romance releases on Amazon or at B&N/BAM (so in a way, this innocuous but clever cover art works–it doesn’t scream “porn for women”).

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  20. Great review thanks. Felt I had to chime in to say I read the first 2 and enjoyed them. I really liked Christian as a character. He is what kept me coming back not the whole “pornography for women” thing. Really did someone make those comments about “real” books? I’m scared to click over but I will. Sigh.

    I thought though long and drawn out the author did a great job of making a tortured soul in Christian. All I wanted was to get in his head and see him find peace. I didn’t quite get the same love for Ana though (I think she needed more development) but with Christian I was sold.
    As for all the food, I think it directly came from his past and being left hungry as a child. I think he equated food with life. Just my take.
    As for the Twilight fanfic. I don’t know about how that whole thing works so can’t speak to it.
    Last comment: I do wish this one just one book and not three though. Yikes.

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  21. @willaful: I’m actually not a Twilight hater. I thought it was problematic but when I first read it my main reaction was, that was okay. Meh. I didn’t even start feeling sketched out by the underlying ideological issues until the second book, which I never finished. But the immediate reason for why I never finished it was because I stopped being able to tolerate Bella as a narrator.

    And perhaps, going to back to the fanfiction thing, that’s why my dislike of 50 Shades was so intense. Anastasia is a narrator is someone I actively despised. I could never get behind her. She did seem a lot like Bella to me, only turned up to 11.

    Or maybe this book was just the straw that broke the camel’s back for me.

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  22. While there may not have been a plot “at the start”, to take something written in that world and effectively negate promises and recitals made to the community that nurtured the work is pretty offensive and smacks of dishonesty and deceit.

    Agree completely with jmc on this. Unethical at a minimum and possibly fraudulent. There are at least two separate issues in the fanfic debates. The copright/infringement one is more long-standing and prominent, but I think that violation of fanfic norms and use of the community to develop and then seek profit without compensating the community in any way is an emerging issue and likely to grow. As far as evidence that James did this, I’ve read blog posts and LJ accounts that have quotes from conversations with her. People can believe them or not; I found the guts of the criticisms pretty convincing given the evidence.

    Not all fanficcers take this position. I was in a conversation about this issue on twitter a while back, and one of the participants said that her fanfic community (a small one) was supportive of her decision to move to published fiction. And I ran across a now-defunct group within a big fandom in which there were congratulations every time a member got a publishing contract. At least three of the members of that group are publishing with small epubs; I don’t know if they’re pubbing former fanfic or not.

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  23. @Evangeline: I have been thinking along similar lines.

    I have also been wondering about the role of the internet in adding in the enjoyment of talking and sharing feelings about a book, sometimes making some books into more than they are. So when we talk about a book like 50SoG we cannot separate it from the fandom and the generated activity around it. So is this about the book as a vehicle? Is that where it’s impact and value lies?

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  24. @jmc: @Sunita: Ok, thanks to both of you for explaining the informal rules of fanfic communities.

    Ok, let me play devil’s advocate, and you guys tell me where I’m wrong:

    Suppose you love some book series. You love it so much that you become a fanfic writer. After a while, you find you enjoy writing for writing’s sake. The line becomes blurred… are you a fan or a writer? Eventually, a story that you never intended to be anything but an expression of your love of this book series has become, over the months or years, something different to you. You look back on your months of work, and you really feel that what you were writing was something original, but you were too inexperienced or self-doubting to realize it. You see the strong positive reaction this work is get is getting and feel that it is different enough from the original source (let us accept this premise for the sake of argument) that you could see if new reader would be willing to purchase it. You self-publish it, and to your delight and joy, many thousands of people are willing to submit to highway robbery pay your $9.99 asking fee.

    What have you done wrong? You never lied to anyone. This thing happened organically. Let’s assume that you made an implicit (explicit?) agreement when you entered the community that you would never attempt to publish this work. True, you have now violated that agreement. But (again, assuming plagiarism is not at issue here) what kind of writing community attempts to prevent a member from taking an unexpected but fulfilling personal journey, from growing as a writer, from gaining a wide readership, and from finding financial security?

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  25. Hmmm….have read many reviews, and have been tempted enough to try a Kindle sample, but just can not get around the price……….

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  26. All of the FIFTY haters out there…you are rotten, jealous, miserable people. You are disappointed that you did not write this pure deliciousness. EL James has such a brilliant knack for painting a beautiful picture thoughout all three books – of her characters, their surroundings and their interactions.

    Not only have these books excited all of my friends and me, and basically every single person I know, and gotten us all talking and enthused about sex with our spouses AND reading, but they have done wonders for my marriage…sexually and emotionally…and it is two-sided, for both my husband and myself.

    All you haters need to grow up and give credit where credit is due! EL is a genius and FIFTY is a beautiful, elegant and completely fun masterpiece.

    Laters, baby! xx

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  27. I’m really interested in the fan fic thing too. I haven’t had much to do with the fan fic community so this is all so fascinating. I’m looking forward to the answers to Jessica’s hypothetical.

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  28. @KT Grant:

    I’m surprised by the large fan base for this trilogy because it has so many stereotypical tropes we’ve seen time and again in erotic and romance over the past 30 years.

    There is so much that here reminds me of romance. From “the polite smile that doesn’t reach his eyes” to the “ripping through” her virginity, to his moving “like a jungle cat”, to his asking Ana to “come for me baby”, to his somehow managing to both be a zillionaire at age 26, but having time to stalk this woman 24/7.

    @Maili:

    What made it worse is that M&B authors constantly described how thin/slim/slender/physically fragile those heroines were.

    Ana is not going to be anybody’s plus sized role model any time soon. She is described in similar terms.

    @Kwana:

    I thought though long and drawn out the author did a great job of making a tortured soul in Christian.

    I liked his character, too. He had a sense of humor! He could laugh at himself and I liked that.

    @Randee:

    you are rotten, jealous, miserable people

    What you say is true. I am a rotten, jealous, miserable person. Given that my life is so awful, perhaps you can take some pity on me? Thank you.

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  29. @Jessica: I’m sure jmc will have a much more nuanced and informed response because she knows fanfic way better than I do, but I’ll take a stab at this.

    Your hypothetical rests on the writer being essentially a person of integrity, who starts out sharing the norms of the community but then decides she wants to share her work with the rest of the world, and to do that, she has to violate one of the key tenets. This is a very common pattern, from what I have read. And as I said in my comment, lots of fanficcers are supportive of this trajectory, I’m guessing at least in part because the writers fit the profile you’ve laid out.

    In the actual case we’re discussing, there is evidence that the author accepted the hard work of others at free or reduced rates (web design, feedback on the written material, etc.) and then, when she decided to publish it and charge for it, she gave absolutely no credit to the people who had helped her get there. And when her fans went after the community members who criticized her and provided evidence, she did nothing, even when real names, addresses, etc. were posted online as part of fan retaliation.

    One can make a decent case, I think, that the fanfiction community provides value-added to the writer. In this case, the value-added was accepted but in no way compensated, not even with an acknowledgement.

    Does that seem entirely fair to you?

    I think *some* fanfic community participants are tired of being used. I don’t blame them.

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  30. I’m trying to decide if Randee’s comment is serious or if we’re being punk’d.

    Why is it people aren’t allowed to discuss books without being haters or jealous or whatever?

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  31. Jessica said

    … to your delight and joy, many thousands of people are willing to submit to *highway robbery* pay your $9.99 asking fee.

    Loath as I am to argue with the highway robbery tag — and really, how could I? I was given Fifty Shades of Grey so yeah! I ordered Fifty Shades Darker pretty dang quickly after I finished FSoG and the price tag, story crack captive that I am, didn’t stand in the way of my pressing buy.

    Is it that fans of erotic fiction often get the short end of the price tag stick? That novella that tempts me is 108 pages with a price tag of $5.20. Fifty Shades of Grey is 356 pages at $9.99 … I mean I’m so befuddled by all these price wars and analyses, I don’t know whether I’m coming or going. It does look, though, as if highway robbery prices for this hawt style of book are not exactly unknown. And the $5.20 novella is not self-pubbed so maybe there’s a price for editing … but I don’t know. What do other buyers think?

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  32. @Jessica:

    But (again, assuming plagiarism is not at issue here) what kind of writing community attempts to prevent a member from taking an unexpected but fulfilling personal journey, from growing as a writer, from gaining a wide readership, and from finding financial security?

    Very interesting question. I was asking about fanfic on twitter the other day. I’ve never understood the controversy. I wonder what fanfic communities think about authors who start there but branch out and find success with a project that never was fanfic. Is this also looked askance at?

    I think it’s nice to see an unknown author find success. I can’t drum up any interest in Twilight and I probably won’t read this, but I’m enjoying the discussions/buzz.

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  33. @Merrian: If understand what you’re asking, I think it’s a combination of the trilogy’s origins and the types of discussions that normally surround an overnight success (I point to the furor surrounding Lana del Rey as an example). I also think James’s books not originating within the romance genre may also play a role–if James were a member of the RWA, this trilogy was published by Carina Press or Berkley Heat, and romance bloggers discovered and reviewed the books, would the reaction within our community be so blustery? I would say the conversation probably wouldn’t be so intent upon the fanfiction community from whence James came, her intense fandom, nor dissecting the writing and tired erotic romance tropes had she been “one of us.”

    RE: Fanfiction and its community, I used to write Buffy fanfiction when I was a teenager (I found some of it a few years ago and it was a scream…I ought to put some of it back up) and some of the best writers were treated like gods. A few, like Little Willow, were able to parlay their fanfiction and fandom fame into writing careers, friendship with Buffyverse writers/producers/actors, etc, but I don’t recall any pitchforks being raised against them the way they are now.

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  34. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    I read this with an online book group and I swear that everyone else in the group absolutely loved it! And I mean loved it! Still talking about it two months later even though we have read two more books since then kind of loved it!

    I didn’t mind it, but I totally don’t get the rabid fan girl reactions that the series get. I am happy for other people to love it, that’s fine, but for me, as an individual reader there were a number of issues with it. For example, the whole inner goddess thing drove me crazy. I LOL’d at your assertion that there were 4 main characters in the novel.

    There were things that I did think were interesting, but not enough to keep me reading.

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  35. @Jessica: 27:21 doesn’t set off any alarms. I misread #37 and thought that Christian was around 10 years older than Ana.

    @Jessica: Here’s my gut response. I’ll probably come back tomorrow after I’ve had time to think more.

    Let me preface what feels like it might be a longish comment with a disclaimer. Every fan community is different, and the difference is driven in part by the subject and also by each individual’s engagement. I write (a very little) in one very small fandom with a hard, closed canon; I read several other small fandoms, and bits and pieces of one giant fandom. People with a longer history or more engagement will have a different perspective. (I feel like a primer might be in order, but I am definitely not learned enough to provide that. If you’re interested, there are some good anthologies out on the culture of fandom – I like Karen Hellekson’s most recent one – and Henry Jenkins’ blog is a great resource.

    My experience has been that writers who have an opportunity to move from fanfiction to original fiction are not reviled, they are encouraged. I can think of several who have done so, and have done it in a way that has not alienated their colleagues. The issue with FSoG appears to be one of transparency and integrity, as Sunita points out above.

    Some of your hypothetical questions are framed within the context of a writers’ community, but I’m not sure that fandom is, strictly speaking, a writers’ community. Within any given fandom, there will be a subset of writers of course, but the entire community is made up of many people who do not write at all. They may create fan art, or beta, or just read fic and give feedback. The key characteristic of the members of the community is their interest in the underlying material, not necessarily in the craft of writing. And that underlying interest or loyalty is possibly why members of fandom get bent out of shape when people who have written fanfiction suddenly publish for profit said fic as original fiction: it’s perceived as intellectually dishonest and outright theft.

    By definition, fanfiction is derivative of another’s work (book author, screenwriter, etc.). If the fic-writer is using another author’s characters and their canon, even in a crossover, AU, etc., how is that original? The words of the fic may have “originated” from the fic-writer, but the world- and character-building have been done by someone else. Growing as a writer as one writes fanfiction does not change the fact that it is still derivative of someone else’s work, piggybacked onto someone else’s intellectual property.

    While I can imagine a scenario in which a content began as fanfiction, was heavily edited, and then published for profit, that doesn’t seem to be what happened with FSoG or what you present in your hypothetical. Fundamentally (and perhaps I’m being too literal), I don’t understand how a work that began as fanfiction can possibly be considered original by a writer who is honest with him/herself. How can an author represent honestly to a publisher that what is being published is their own intellectual property when in fact it is not? Especially if there is a history of LJ/blog/comm posts indicating the contrary?

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  36. Ugh, just read over my comment and feel the need to clarify. I wasn’t talking about jealousy or sour grapes or anything–I was referring to the possibility that “our” attempt to understand why this series is so popular stems from exasperation and frustration. Exasperation and frustration that James’s trilogy, which would normally be classified as erotic romance had she come through that channels, is hailed and loved and read and discussed widely by people who would never touch the romance genre with a ten-foot pole. And then there’s the fact that because of this reality, better erotic romance writers than James are sneered at or ignored simply because their books are classified as romance novels.

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  37. About the fanfic thing. I’m not an active part of a specific fandom, but I’ve read quite a bit, and have also read a lot of posts about the Pulled to Publish phenomena. (There’s a whole group about it on GR).

    I think a lot of the frustration comes from the fact that there’s so many stories being pulled from the fandom to publish them. What you get is that you support a story by giving feedback and encouragement, you spread the word, you vote for it in contests and awards, and then one day, an author decides to remove that story from the fandom to better her/himself. Rinse and repeat until you get a fandom with a long and rich history, of which a lot of the famous stories are missing.

    So I don’t think it’s the fact that the author got published that enrages (some of) the fandom, but that the give and take has become a take only.

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  38. @Sunita:

    In the actual case we’re discussing, there is evidence that the author accepted the hard work of others at free or reduced rates (web design, feedback on the written material, etc.) and then, when she decided to publish it and charge for it, she gave absolutely no credit to the people who had helped her get there.

    I did not know about the web design and feedback. Or, rather, I thought the feedback was “I really liked it. Keep writing”, but it sounds like the feedback is more substantial, like a critique. Still, lots of writers get lots of feedback on WIPs without payment or acknowledgement, not to mention all those crowdsourced books we have been seeing lately. I suppose difference is the expectation is that the material won’t leave the community, that it’s “ours”.

    @Jan:

    What you get is that you support a story by giving feedback and encouragement, you spread the word, you vote for it in contests and awards, and then one day, an author decides to remove that story from the fandom to better her/himself. Rinse and repeat until you get a fandom with a long and rich history, of which a lot of the famous stories are missing.

    Thanks for this, and for the phrase, “pulled to publish”. Now I have something to Google! This introduces yet another issue, which is the … canon? … of the fanfic community. That’s really interesting. It would go to the question of what a fanfic writer owes the community. It sounds like *some* fanfic communities view fanfic as a product of the community not (just) of the writer, which raises really interesting questions for me.

    @jmc: I do need a primer, so thank you for the recs.

    The key characteristic of the members of the community is their interest in the underlying material, not necessarily in the craft of writing. And that underlying interest or loyalty is possibly why members of fandom get bent out of shape when people who have written fanfiction suddenly publish for profit said fic as original fiction: it’s perceived as intellectually dishonest and outright theft.

    I was trying to bracket the question of plagiarism, but I see now that it may be impossible to do so, when the fact that the community formed around a source material means that nobody in the community feels anything in it is the original provenance of one of the members.

    Thanks everyone, for helping me to understand what’s going on here.

    @Marg:

    I read this with an online book group and I swear that everyone else in the group absolutely loved it! And I mean loved it! Still talking about it two months later even though we have read two more books since then kind of loved it!

    Does your book group normally read books of this type? If not, what made them pick this one up?

    @Janet W: interesting. I have no idea but for me, the self-pub and debut author should mean a lower price, because it is more of a risk for the buyer.

    @Evangeline:

    I also think James’s books not originating within the romance genre may also play a role–if James were a member of the RWA, this trilogy was published by Carina Press or Berkley Heat, and romance bloggers discovered and reviewed the books, would the reaction within our community be so blustery? I would say the conversation probably wouldn’t be so intent upon the fanfiction community from whence James came, her intense fandom, nor dissecting the writing and tired erotic romance tropes had she been “one of us.”

    I think the reaction from Romanceland (I have seen authors and editors dissing this trilogy on Twitter in a way they would never speak of a traditionally published romance) has been really interesting. There is worse stuff being published under the name “Romance” that doesn’t get called out in this way. To me, it has the feel of closing ranks.

    And, in response to your second comment, I, too, have found it hard to frame this in a way that doesn’t suggest I am calling people “jealous.” In fact, I had a bullet on this issue in the original post and pulled it. To me, jealousy is not what is at issue. Your mention of “exasperation and frustration” seems closer to the mark. It might be frustrating for some to know that you have better books in your home genre that nobody who doesn’t read it will look at because of the label, the title, and the cover.

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  39. Jealousy is a normal human reaction and there’s nothing wrong with it. Not every person who objects to fanfic being published for pay is jealous, but surely it’s an element for some?

    Although I haven’t read either book, I have a hard time seeing it as intellectual dishonesty or outright theft. Where are the similarities between Fifty and Twilight? I’d like to read a post that analizes this relationship with textual evidence. Quotes.

    If the objection is to using the community for feedback/help, I don’t understand this either. It’s been my experience that most writers give advice and feedback without any expectations or group ownership. I’m also wondering why diehard Twific fans would even be interested in material that detours so much from the original.

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  40. @Jessica: No, I wouldn’t say it was a normal choice for the group. Recent choices for the group include The Darling Buds of May, The Scottish Prisoner by Diana Gabaldon, The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley, so I was kind of shocked when it was chosen and even more so that my library had it!

    It was suggested by a couple of the girls who had read it previously.

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  41. Wow… as I am in my 4th (count em, folks) read of FSOG today I guess that puts me square in the fandom circle. Love these books. Perfect editing? Heck no! Repetitive language? Yes Yes Yes. But I adore these books… all three of them. I for one really enjoyed the third one. It’s not like (as a few others have posited above) I’m not well steeped in reading romance novels — I read about 10 a month and have done so for the last 4 years or so. I understand this is no Kinsale or Duran we’re talking about, but sometimes a book just GRABS YOU and this one did that to me despite it’s flaws. I bought the characters hook, line and sinker. Ana might seem a little unformed, but she’s a sheltered 21 year old and she does come into her own particularly in the 2nd book where she has to take the reins and grow a pair. Fifty? OMG, Fifty… words CANNOT express how much I love this character. (insert fangirl squee).
    As far as the fanfic question goes, I recognized the Twilight set up in this one, but appreciated how it took the relationship in a different more adult direction (emotionally and physically — fans self). I don’t think this kind of fanfic represents plagiarism any more than the latest Regency Rakehell Duke falls in love with a Bluestocking commoner is plagiarism of the last 20 such books. Authors often borrow themes and build on them to their own ends. The fact that this book started out openly as fanfic while LOADS of other books just plain jumped on the Twilight bandwagon carte blanche (read the descriptions of every 5th YA paranormal out there and see the similarities!) makes this seem a little more palatable to me. Of course I’m not in a fanfic community and I don’t profess to know the ins and outs and some of the complaints seem valid to me, but as I have no personal investment in them… well, I guess they just don’t resonate especially when I get so wrapped up in this trilogy I have to re-read it every couple weeks.

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  42. @pamelia:

    It’s not like (as a few others have posited above) I’m not well steeped in reading romance novels — I read about 10 a month and have done so for the last 4 years or so. I understand this is no Kinsale or Duran we’re talking about, but sometimes a book just GRABS YOU and this one did that to me despite it’s flaws.

    I’m so glad you commented about this, because I’ve been puzzled by the implication that readers of this book (or fanfic writers more generally) aren’t genre romance readers. I had a different impression, but it wasn’t based on any solid evidence.

    And while this book by itself is not technically a romance, since it doesn’t have an HEA, it’s just the first of three books. The original fanfic has a happy ending, right? No cliffhanger. So you read to the end of Book 3 and get your HEA? As originally written, then, it does conform to genre expectations. And as Jessica and commenters have noted, it shares a lot of characteristics with genre romance.

    Since the book came with a built-in fanbase, it’s not surprising that non-Twific-reading romance readers were later to the party, but it makes total sense to me that so many like it.

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  43. @pamelia: Thanks so much, Pamelia. I’m delighted that you expressed what worked for you. I keep meaning to post excerpts I especially liked, but, alas, haven’t had the time, so thank you for taking the time.

    As for the Twilight thing, I agree that much YA feels the same, but probably this is true of every little book that comes after every big book in a literary genre. If I didn’t know the provenance of 50SoG, at most I would have thought, “well, the sophisticated older man, the accident-prone introvert woman, first person, mutual obsession, that’s what’s up in the YA/erotic romance cross-over these days!

    @Jill Sorenson: I sort of feel that JMC actually answered most of your questions upthread. Er, didn’t she? I think @Merrian‘s comment was helpful in regards to your questions as well, namely that “writing” and “feedback” mean different things and have different significance in a fanfic group than in a writer’s group. I almost think critique in a writer’s group is premised on the idea that you are helping someone bring their work to the point of being sellable, while in fanfic, the opposite is true, and the feedback is about a mutual love — and, perhaps importantly, unpaid labor on behalf of — the source material and its author.

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  44. You know, I never really thought about the readership. Since I heard about the book through the romance community, I just assumed that it was being read by people who read romance as well as a Twilight fan base. As such, I think my exasperation and frustration with the book comes far more from the way James deployed familiar tropes and cliches rather than that she used them at all. If that makes sense.

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  45. Thanks Pamelia —

    It’s not like (as a few others have posited above) I’m not well steeped in reading romance novels — I read about 10 a month and have done so for the last 4 years or so. I understand this is no Kinsale or Duran we’re talking about, but sometimes a book just GRABS YOU and this one did that to me despite it’s flaws. I bought the characters hook, line and sinker

    You took the words right out of my mouth. It’s as important to me to ponder the differences between FSoG and genre romance as the similarities, because for me it’s the unexpected that piques my interest. Jessica mentioned many of them but they bearing repeating when we ask ourselves why these books, so similar in many ways to the rom we love, have hit a wider audience than the rom and fanfic community. Right off the bat, the title — and the cover — how often are we told that titles and covers are carefully chosen to maximize sales and not to blame the authors. Well, maybe there will be a good backlash here. The dark humour and the imperfections of the hero. Sebastian in To Have and To Hold is funny, Christian in Flowers from the Storm is funny. Not funny haha but ironically funny. Christian fucks up a lot in these books and Ana, especially in Book 2, calls him on it. I don’t want to bore everyone with a shopping list of the differences that I enjoyed but they’re there, just as are the similarities.

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  46. @Jessica: I guess I don’t agree on the issue of originality. From what I gather, @JMC is saying that a fanfic project can ever be original. But Ana and Christian are not Bella and Edward, in this published version. Even if they started out that way, at some point they became James’ characters, rather than Meyer’s. There is a point of…inspiriation, or inception, I believe, when a work becomes original. As long as the author takes care to remove the similarities, I feel she has done just as much character and story building as anyone else.

    My assumption is that fandom doesn’t care how similar or dissimilar Fifty and Twilight are. It started as fanfic, so publishing it for pay is wrong–no matter what.

    The more I think about it, the more questions I have. Does an author have to post the entire work as fanfic for it to be considered such? What if it’s just one chapter, or one page? If the author takes direct quotes from fans and incorporates them in the work, I would consider that theft or dishonesty. Using feedback, not so much. And if the focus is on love for the original (Twilight) wouldn’t most of the feedback be: “make these characters more like Edward and Bella”?

    I’m trying to relate this to a community I’m more familiar with–romland. If I traveled around, using sockpuppets to chat up my books with the intention of fooling people/gaining readers, that would be dishonest. I can see how it looks fishy for an author to cater to Twilight’s huge fanbase with the possible hidden agenda of promoting her own work.

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  47. I would also add that fan writing is about enlargening (is that a word?) the shared world and at the same time is an homage to the founding narratives of that world. I don’t think you can do a direct compare with romancelandia because while romance genre readers will campaign for more stories in a series, or lament the turn a character’s arc took, they don’t then go off and write the stories/paint the pictures/copy the clothing/learn the language – that is, do things to strengthen their connection to this world and characters to which a passionate connection is felt. ‘Fandom’ is about active appreciation and connection not just consumption.

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  48. @Merrian: Thanks Merrian, that is my sense of things, too.

    The more I hear about this particular case the more I think it is impossible to separate the norms of fandom from the personal behavior of the author. I do think fandom norms are salient, but a different author who went about things a different way would have had a different response.

    Apparently the author is trying to refuse to give “blogging book tour books” to bloggers who give her latest book a low grade. See Nicole of the Book Pushers’ comment:

    We were told (via email) by the publisher that our giveaway wouldn’t be honored because the author didn’t like our review. We’ve since spoken with the appropriate person at the publisher, and have resolved the problem. Our giveaway’s still on!

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  49. @Jill Sorenson: I think the Romancelandia version would be a former romance author disowning of slagging off Romance, which were once her stomping ground, to improve her standing in a new genre while expecting her ‘fans’ to follow her to that new genre.

    (My favourite example: I can’t remember her name, but she completely burned all the bridges to Romance by slut-shaming the entire Romance community in a newspaper interview. She talked about the shame she felt having penned sinful western historical or native American romances after finding God. Or something. Heh!)

    Back to the topic: I’m struggling to remember the name of one former category romance author. She somewhat openly admitted that she had zero interest in writing romance. She didn’t do it for the money. She chose Romance to build a fan base.

    Apparently, she learnt from an author workshop that NYC editors would be interested if a new author had a huge fan base. She also learnt that romance readers were the quickest in becoming loyal to an author than other genre fans would be. She opted for two popular HQN lines and wrote quite a few titles until she left for a contract with a NYC publisher as a mystery/suspense author.

    And when some romance readers read an interview in which that author denying, disowning and slagging off Romance? *boom!* An army of pissed off romance readers was born. :D

    It’s definitely not Lisa Gardner (a.k.a. Alicia Scott), Lisa Jackson, Tess Gerritsen, Karen Rose (she was never a category romance author), Carla Neggers and Linda Castillo. I don’t think it’s Kay Hooper. I hope not. Curse my crappy memory.

    But yeah, I think – if I understood the thing about E. L. James right – that author is probably the nearest thing to E. L. James in terms of fan base, trust, etiquette and partnership?

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  50. ^ Sorry, clarification: Robin Lee Hatcher is the one who found God and slut-shamed romance novels and readers. She isn’t that suspense author.

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  51. I can never decide if the good old days were better or worse *in terms of flames* than now, with meltdowns happening so quickly and publicly. Was there something to be said for that slow simmer and the build-up, before it burst into flame? Fanning myself :) Seems like in the past memories of author “transgressions” were longer. As Jane posted today (Thursday, 2nd February), the author who not so secretly planned a #goodreads reviews take down campaign last week was offered a contract by the CW this week.

    So who’s the suspense author? I don’t think it’s Sandra Brown — she’s hugely popular isn’t she?

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  52. @Jessica:

    I actually think this is the factor about the whole fandom thing. For some fans you forgive a lot flaws or ignore them because it is much more personal especially when there is a criticism. I have been involved with several fandoms but I never got sucked in over that line to look like a total idiot over flamewars or not to see the other POV.

    And the reaction this caused – I do think it is like a personal attack on the fandom when people criticize the books which is why there is much bigger meltdowns when there is a negative view that opposes theirs. I think that can colour perspective. But I am definitely seeing this aspect with this series.

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  53. I think it’s Iris Johansen. IIRC, the “wind dancer” books were even rewritten to take some of the romance out.

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  54. Regarding the pricing of the 50 shades books. I couldn’t resist so I checked the Amazon ebook prices and was surprised. These are the prices that I’d have to pay for the books (that is, the prices for my country)
    50 shades of grey $11.99
    50 shades darker $11.99
    50 shades freed $11.99
    Where as the Twilight books are actually a bit cheaper.
    twilight $9.59
    new moon $9.59
    eclipse $9.39
    breaking dawn $9.59
    So everything else aside, if the books started out as twilight fanfic shouldn’t common decency suggest that the author set a price that is less then the price of the “originals”? Or do I have a serious flaw in my logic?

    Like

  55. @eva: Thanks for breaking that down. I agree the price for Fifty Shades it too high, but I had not thought of it that way. Maybe in a perfect world books would be priced based on how good or how original they are, but right now, I guess demand is such for this book that the price is not a barrier.

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  56. @Janet W: @willaful: @Sarah Frantz: No, it isn’t Sandra Brown. I can’t even remember if it was Iris Johansen. She was one of authors who disowned their romance writing careers, right? But I don’t remember if it was her who used Romance as a launching platform for her other career. I think I just should admit defeat and say that my recollection is lost to the ravages of time.

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  57. @Merrian: Thanks for the info.

    I’ve heard of authors getting started in romance and then distancing themselves from it, but I can’t remember who specifically. Not Sandra Brown! She’s my idol. I follow her on Goodreads and she still reads romance (and writes sexy sex in her suspense), so I can’t imagine it’s her.

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  58. Pingback: Around the Bookish World : News Week-in-Review | Book Lovers Inc.

  59. Jessica, thank you very much for your review which to me seems quite unprejudiced. I discovered your blog only today.

    I read the book and loved it A/5* for me. Tonight I am going to buy Book 2.

    I am still reading the comments so if anyone has posted about this already, I apologize but I bought the book at the publisher’s website for $7.99 (ebook), here’s the link

    http://ph.thewriterscoffeeshop.com/books/detail/23

    Like

  60. @eva: I doubt pricing really takes things like that into account. In this case, the Twilight books haver been around for a while and are available in multiple formats, which would tend to bring their value down. You can pick up used copies pretty easily.

    I don’t see the pricing of these as any more outrageous than other erotic ebooks. I’m often staggered by how much those cost.

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  61. Pingback: Misc., links, the week that was | Read React Review

  62. Well, I’m late to this party but you know me. This is the first I’ve heard of this book since I’ve been, erm, neglecting being online in a book blogging sense (damn thesis), but nos. 20 and 44 caught my attention. I just finished a reread of Jude Deveraux’s Sweet Liar, of all things, and found those in parallel from 1992. In that novel it struck me as elitist and very much in line with the themes of possession that I hadn’t noticed when I was 14. Having not read this book or any reviews or discussion other than this one, I wonder if that the wealth and name-brand materialism fits into the possession theme of FSOG, or is it a larger contemporary phenomenon? Or just descriptive as the case may be?

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  63. After reading your post today on your talk at the library re: blogging and what makes a good blog post, I think you should have just showed this post. :) It was funny, thoughtful, and clever. I knew nothing about the controversy or this book at all, but now I am intrigued. I am kind of a sucker for the “so bad it’s kinda good” book.

    Like

  64. @Kate:

    I wonder if that the wealth and name-brand materialism fits into the possession theme of FSOG, or is it a larger contemporary phenomenon? Or just descriptive as the case may be?

    Well, the author didn’t characterize Christina in the way some Presents authors do: “He is a man who must possess everything he sees. Including her!” To me, it was more a sign of his success in life. Maybe there was also a bit of that “chick lit”, giving the reader a few enjoyable minutes in the world of the superrich.

    @Amanda:

    I am kind of a sucker for the “so bad it’s kinda good” book.

    The controversy, and that, is just why I picked it up. It seems to be a love it or hate it kind of book for most. And thanks!

    Like

  65. Twilight fanfic fandom member here.

    I feel like a lot of our anger over p&p’s (pull and publishes) has been adequately addressed above, but there was something I’d like to add:

    The characterizations of published former fics are largely stolen straight from Twilight, which makes up just one of the many problems of p&p’s.

    Christian’s vast wealth, commanding attitude, and almost disturbingly beautiful good looks are stolen from the exact same characteristics of Edward in Twilight, but can be more obviously played off. However, his “long fingers” and many of his facial expressions (crooked smiles, quirked lips, distinct eyebrow or lip movements) are taken literally from well-known characteristics of Edward, some of them even matching up exactly in wording.

    And Ana’s constant bumbling, tripping, and blushing are stolen straight from Bella, who is perhaps best known for those exact traits.

    That’s the thing about Twific. It doesn’t matter if the plots appears to be different and the characters are slightly different. In order to keep fanfic at least partially derivative, it is those small sorts of character traits and attributes which are common among all fanfics, to make them relatable to Twilight. When pulling and subsequently publishing former fanfics, the names and obvious physical traits (hair and eye color, etc) are changed, but almost always, those built-characterics remain the same because many times it would change the whole story if they were removed. Therefore, a lot of characterization is technically stolen (perhaps even so far as plagiarized?) in the final product.

    So I hope that answers part of why it is generally looked down upon in our fandom for p&p’s to take place. When a current or former Twific author publishes original writing and gains success from solely her own merit, we are very supportive. However p&p’s are abhorred by the vast majority of us.

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  66. I just bought this for my NOOKcolor at B & N for $6.99. After reading some of the comments I hope it wasn’t a waist of money.

    I have a question though. What was the color and name of Ana’s VW Beetle in “FSoG”?

    Like

  67. @gem: Thanks a lot for sharing what it looks like from your point of view. This is really helpful!

    @J-Lady: Well, they have an argument after a bout of especially rough play, and it just sort of ends (as far as I can recall).

    Like

  68. Pingback: Fifty Alternatives to Fifty Shades of Grey | Read React Review

  69. I’d just like to point out that when you write fan fiction, you don’t need to follow what’s in the books, you can use the characters and imagine a whole new world with them as the protagonists. That is what Snowqueen Icedragon did with Master of the Universe (which became her trilogy), and that is also why you couldn’t find much similarities between Fifty Shades and Twilight (although if you had read the complete Twilight series several times, you would have found a lot, mind you). Basically, fan fiction authors (and I am one in my own rights) will write any kind of stories featuring their favorite characters, and if their stories become very popular, they will change the names and they will publish it as a book (or many). It’s as simple as that and it’s called opportunism, and in that sense, E.L. James was indeed an opportunist. And good for her, although she really did betray her fans, somehow, and I personally don’t give a s*** about her books as I was only interested in her story when it was about Edward and Bella. But thank God, there are a lot of other great stories over the Twilight fandom and we can all read them for free.

    Like

  70. @Milk40: Thanks for this. I am learning a lot about the informal rules and expectations of fan fiction communities — or at least the Twilight one — by these comments.

    Like

  71. Pingback: Fifty Shades of Grey | theloop

  72. I love your blog and I really love what you have to say. When I want to read something else than Twilight fan fiction, I don’t read romance novels, I read Dennis Lehane, which should explain pretty well why I’m not compelled to read a book about a young girl of 21 who’s never experienced orgasm before meeting the king of Kink. Just not credible from my standpoint. Not in 2012 anyway.

    Like

  73. I just wanted to say that all those cute references to what “my subconscious” and My inner goddess” are doing, are very typical fanfiction conventions. As is the present tense construction.

    Like

  74. I am not into BDSM stories, but I have to say that I really loved “Fifty Shades of Grey”! This was one of those books that keeps you glued to the pages; staying up reading into the early morning. I found it to be very addicting which is really disturbing for me.

    This is the love story of Anastasia & Christian. Christian is such a complex character. You love him and hate him at the same time and it’s really confusing. He’s the ultimate alpha male, bad boy with a very dark and disturbing desire to inflict pain. He literally gets off on it. He meets and falls for Anastasia. When they meet she is an innocent college student and happens to still be a virgin. This is their love story and its deeply disturbing. Our boy Christian has some serious demons and its making Ana think long and hard about their relationship. This is not your typical boy meets girl let’s date and fall in love romance. He wants to dominate her and he wants her submissive. He comes up with a contract that he wants her to sign. She’s torn between her love for him and her fear of him. She wants to know why he is so Fifty Shades of “f’d” up. She wants to get to the bottom of what happened in his past to make him need this type of relationship and why he hates to be touched. He introduces her to the “dark side” of his sexual habits and in his desire to keep her and make her happy, tries for the “vanilla relationship” she desires. Will Ana embrace Christian’s dark side or will it be more than she can handle? The way he makes love to her is so erotic, steamy, sexy and scary all at the same time.

    I know it does not sound like it, but there is a real love story in this book. Ana brings out feelings in Christian that he has never felt with anyone else. As crazy as it sounds, I have a lot of hope for these two and I am eager to read the next installment.

    Have a lovely day,
    Wendy

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  75. Pingback: Master And Servant: The X-Rated Book Wives Are Obsessed With - StyleCaster News

  76. Hi, Jessica! This is one of the best reviews of this current Fifty frenzy I came across. I read first book and I wasn’t intrigued enough to read other two in trilogy. I still don’t get what’s all the fuss about. Romance plot- nothing new, tortured hero (Zsadist reference is great, I knew I saw that somewhere). Sex/BDSM plot- also nothing new and scandalous. At least not for me. I wasn’t shocked at all… I did have trouble with ages of characters, but I have to explain myself. It’s connected to James’s character developing. Christian is 27, but in some scenes I had a feeling she wrote him as older character first and then returned to beginning and insert one sentence with number 27 in it. It wasn’t consistent. I think that sometimes she put words in his mouth she would say in similar situation and not her character. She did this with Anna, too. For me, James didn’t write love story with 27 years old troubled hero, she wrote a story with character she told me is 27. And I’m 26 years old; I met my boyfriend when I was 21 and he was 27, so I don’t think that 21 years old girl isn’t mature enough to have a serious relationship.
    I liked e-mail thing, too.

    Like

  77. @Milk40: 10% of women (depending on whose stats you cite) do not reach orgasm, for a variety of reasons. So that part wasn’t hard for me to believe.

    @Katarina: I guess that depends on your definition of porn.

    @Stella Omega: That is so interesting. Thank you!

    @Wendy: I agree there is a real love story in the book. No question, it’s a romance. It’s too bad the sex is what the media is focusing on, because, while that is certainly a large part of the appeal (based on what I have seen women readers actually say online and in print), these women could be watching porn films or reading straight stroke lit if that is all they wanted.

    @Lege Artis: I do think many seasoned romance readers are scratching their heads at the idea that Fifty sprang up whole out of nothing and is totally unique. That makes no sense to people who have been reading erotic romance, or even straight romance with intense heroes.

    As for his age, I agree completely with what you say.

    Like

  78. Lots of people who aren’t familiar with fanfiction have been saying they don’t see the connection but most fics, especially from Twilight, are very au or alternate universe. that means, the story features the characters name and just enough of their traits to keep Twilight fans happy.

    Here’s are 2 links to videos made celebrating the original work “Master of the universe” that might help people understand the controversy: http://youtu.be/ziAwX2IwA3M http://youtu.be/1A1HGsNdays

    And there are tons of others. Publishing a fanfic is hard to classify because if they hadn’t used characters already known and loved, few people would have read their story and there is no denying that the published work would not have taken off as quickly without the link to the original story.

    Like

  79. This story is not about a woman who can’t reach orgasm, Jessica, it is about a naive girl who never explored her body, that’s all.

    Like

  80. These books are HARMLESS — unless you’re a nun and/or have never had sex, or never had sex in any other position than missionary.

    I am SO NOT the “romance novel” type (CANNOT STAND TWILIGHT movies so I’m POSITIVE I couldn’t stomach the books) — I’m mostly into reading about history or autobiographies, but after seeing the VERY SAME “Today Show” segment you referred to, it piqued my interest.

    Savannah Guthrie’s prudish admonishment were CLEARLY based on total ignorance. She OBVIOUSLY didn’t read the books. I read the first two in about a week and am now halfway through the third. Although there are certain areas that are a little “unrealistic” as respects some of the relationship/interpersonal aspects, it’s VERY well written, well executed and the way the relationship between the two main characters evolves is endearing — sort of unrealistic, but endearing nonetheless.

    As respects “violence against women” — NOT EVEN CLOSE. I’ve NEVER been a victim of ANY type of domestic violence, but I have very close relatives and friend who have. This has NOTHING AT ALL to do with domestic violence and even the supposed “sexual violence” that the media is suggesting is NON-EXISTENT. DOES NOT EXIST, in other words.

    I WILL say, though, that these books are geared toward housewives, or even working women that want a little fantasy added to their mundane, predictable lives. I admit to being a little of both. The book is VIVIDLY descriptive and so you definitely feel like you’re in the places and know the people — that’s great writing as far as I’m concerned. My ONLY complaint, other than the few “unrealistic” relationship situations, is that the author overkills the usage of certain words and phrases. It gets old fast and along the same lines as being unrealistic, are the ways the characters speak — I guess because the author is British — a lot of the phraseology is not American — ESPECIALLY not Americans living in urban Seattle.

    I’ve said a LOT, but I hope you all give it a shot. They’re $9.99 on Nook — so not too bad — but you WON’T BE DISSAPOINTED.

    I’ve created a Facebook page, if you all would like to join and give feedback: https://www.facebook.com/pages/50-Shades-of-Gray-Trilogy-Fan-Page/256801707742814

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