Anyone who aspires to be a novelist has got to wonder at the success of E. L. James, the author of the "Fifty Shades" trilogy that has sat at the top of the New York Times bestseller list for nearly two months and sold more than 30 million books.
This middle-aged, middle class mother of two teenagers who lives in an attached house in West London has written a love story you wouldn't want your teenager to read about a college student's attraction to a 27-year-old billionaire (Christian Grey) with decidedly BDSM proclivities.
Local demand for the book is evident in the multiple, ongoing requests for the many copies of the book that Greenwich Library has. (Surely the fact that the library has invested in so many copies is testament to how far we've come in intellectual freedom.)
When a rash of articles began appearing in the New York press recently about a new wave of single girls from Manhattan frequenting high-end Greenwich bars in search of rising hedge funders with McMansions, Ferraris, private planes and helicopters, I began to wonder if they weren't all looking for a Christian Grey.
I've found myself in certain settings asking hip young women what they think of "Fifty Shades," and their response is immediate: "We are so grateful to E.L. James for writing these books! They are the fantasy we need!"
Some said they know married couples that read the books aloud to each other to reenergize their sex lives. A recent e-mail at work had the subject line, "Fifty Shades Baby Boom." The content was a fertility counseling firm, reporting, "Many couples are turning to these steamy novels in efforts to have children and take the stress and struggle out of it."
And now those couples can add a musical component to the written work with E.L. James's new CD . . . "Fifty Shades of Grey - The Classical Album," . . . made up of selections (including Bach, Chopin, and Debussy) she listened to while writing her books -- to best drown out the noise of her teen aged sons.
Interviewed at the recent Manhattan release of her CD, James threw off one of her rare and offhand remarks on the state of her success. "It's nice," she said, "that people who don't normally listen to classical music are listening to classical music -- and that people who normally don't read are reading."
A.K. Rowling, another of those British female authors hiding behind their initials, may have turned green with envy that she didn't merchandise the background music she listened to (or did not listen to) while writing her Harry Potter books.
So, anyway, there I was on a recent vacation in San Francisco, where I found myself in town with the fabled author of "Fifty Shades" and finagled myself into a book signing line with 599 others.
The store manager instructed me that as Ms. James was giving only two hours of her time -- no doubt she was off to Hollywood to check on the blockbuster film in the works -- he had to divide everyone into groups of 50. I was in the "D" group, with groups to the letter "O" massing outside the bookstore.
Doing my math I figured as James was signing often three copies per person she could give approximately 12 seconds to each person in line. That meant I had one question I could ask her.
Standing in line with hefty women mostly in their 20s and 30s (I saw two men in the entire group of 600), I began my queries with the "Fifty Shades" readers.
"I'm obsessed," said a girl wearing the "Fifty Shades" grey tie that appears in some of the books sadomasochistic sex. "I got it on eBay," she said, adding "Fifty Shades puts you in a different place."
Before me in Group C was, believe it or not, a bondage model! "I do media," the pretty girl said. She knew a lot of married couples who she said are in a "master-slave relationship."
"I'm trying to make my husband read it," added a woman in her 40s . "Men should read it to teach them a few things!"
Other girls reported reading the trilogy in one week. "It's called fantasy land," they said, "Every girl needs a fantasy."
And then it was my turn to face the fantasy writer and I had my question ready.
"So, just what sort of S&M research did you do to write your trilogy?" I asked. Her answer was prompt.
"I haven't read anything on sadomasochism," she said, looking up pointedly from her signing. "I love love stories!" she declared.
For those addicted "Fifty Shade" readers who have to wait for James' next erotic romance, I suggest the spinoff soon to be released: "Fifty Shades of Chicken," by FL Fowler, featuring recipes such as Mustard Spanked Chicken and Dripping Thighs.