meeting erika leonard (aka e. l. james), author of fifty shades of grey
I walked into a ballroom with seating for over 1,000 – a black feather boa had been placed on each chair…that certainly sets a mood. Appetizers were passed and a line, too long to wait in, was formed at the cash bar. Where am I?
Tonight I spent the evening with 1,400 women listening to a conversation with Fifty Shades of Grey author E. L. James – the author responsible for number one, number two, and number three of the bestselling books in the country. A woman named by Time magazine as one of the most influential people in the world (really?! Come on!) You wouldn’t expect to find a black feather boa as a favor on your chair if you were coming to listen to an author with those credentials, would you? Or, expect that the biggest crowd response of the night was after a fan commented to the author “could you please package your Christmas trilogy with silver balls?”
Photo of Fifty Shades of Grey author Ms. James on the left and Ms. Coady, owner of R.J. Julia’s Booksellers, on the right.
Looking like any one of the many ‘housewives’ that graced the audience, the author participated in a casual conversation with Roxanne Coady, owner of R.J. Julias, a local bookstore in Madison, CT, that sponsored the evening’s event. It represented the third stop of the British author’s national book tour for the crazily successful Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker, and Fifty Shades Freed . The fiction trilogy details the love affair (sometimes sadomasochistic) between wealthy billionaire Christian Grey and the virginal Anastasia Steele.
Ms. Coady started the discussion by saying she disagreed with comments in the media that suggested the book Fifty Shades of Grey was a step back for women. She explained that Anastasia takes responsibility for her own sexuality (after all she doesn’t sign the sexual contract Christian proposed) and is depicted as having ‘all the power.’ The crowd roared in response…giving the room an atmosphere that resembled that of a pep rally, not an author discussion.
The ages of the fans ranged from college age to eighty-five! This is a mom and daughter that shared the front row with me.
Seeming totally comfortable with the crowd and dropping an occasional ‘f bomb’ in her British accent, Ms. James spoke to her fans as they hung on every word, describing her book as “a real escape..it’s a great holiday.” Inspired by the Twilight series books, Ms. James created her own personal fantasy in a series of three steamy novels of erotica dubbed throughout the media as “mommy porn.”
One woman in the audience bursts out “I just want to tell you that you are a genius.” Geez. According to the critics, the book is not even well written.
Ms. Coady referred to the books as a “gateway drug” – inspiring people that never read to pick up the books and read. With the type of media attention this cultural phenomenon has garnered, who wouldn’t be curious?
The movie rights already sold, Ms. James would not reveal her thoughts on which actor she had in mind for the lead role of Christian, saying it was way too early in the process to divulge any details.
As far as her thoughts on the media criticisms about how the book has affected views on feminism? The author simply said the critics were “giving it far more significance than it deserves.”
When fans questioned why the lead female character in the book was only 21 and not closer in age to the author, Ms. James responded “I think virgins are far more interesting” …then went on to blush when she was asked about women’s orgasms, responding only with “I guess I am really lucky” and left it at that. The mother of two teenage sons (who she claims have not read the book), commented on loving email banter and said “I am a terrible flirt and I really enjoyed doing the email conversations in the book.”
Ms. Coady closed the evening’s discussion by announcing to Ms. James “You have liberated so many women for thinking they don’t matter.”
The author was in tears, genuinely appreciating the standing ovation she received.
After the discussion part of the evening concluded, Ms. James remained very personable and accommodating to all her fans as she signed books. The line of people waiting to have books signed snaked all over the building… but, fans could keep occupied by purchasing a bottle of Beringer while waiting (Christian’s drink of choice).
The long line of fans waiting to have their books signed.
I went into the event wanting to dislike Ms. James, but realized that my beef is not really with her, but rather the media. The author is innocent enough. I do still think I will be disheartened come October when college girls are sporting their Anastasia Steele costumes, complete with bondage paraphernalia, at campus Halloween parties. It does still bother me that young tweeters are discussing the story and photos of the ‘rules’ page from the book are showing up on Instagram. And, I can’t say meeting Ms. James carries the same significance as meeting Khaled Hosseini or Wally Lamb, or even Bobby Flay, but, if Fifty Shades of Grey can bring the happiness I witnessed tonight to women all across the country…kudos to you Ms. James.
Photo of author E. L. James signing my copy of Fifty Shades of Grey.