“Fifty Shades of Grey”… My $.02 from an author’s perspective

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Two movies are coming out this Valentine’s weekend. Which one will you see?

Years ago when the whole “Shades of Grey” trilogy hit the scene, I was deep into writing my clean romance novel Broken Smiles. In my world, those risqué books seemed to be everywhere and the topic on every woman’s tongue, both religious and not. My employees were gushing over it, their mothers were gushing over it, and most of my friends were googely eyed over the smokey, dark, hero. Curious, I read a synopsis and a couple teaser chapters. Whoa, this is what some of my sixteen and eighteen year old employees couldn’t stop talking about at work?

But… I’m a sucker for romance and some friends said it spiced up their love life, so I teetered on if I should read the books or not. I knew it went against standards in my church and I knew it would mark me with a scarlet “R” for Reader (of sinful things). But… I’m a curious, inquisitive creature and so on my day off, I went down to my local grocery store where I had seen them for months staring up at me saying, read me/don’t read me. Read me/no… don’t. That particular day I finally rolled my eyes, grabbed the first book, and shoved it between milk cartoons and bread and continued to shop for food for my family. I was a crazed author by night, a full time working mother by day, and a broken soul constantly. I needed a get-a-way, and I’d heard this book could give me the escape I needed.

Something happened to me in the produce department. A feeling washed over me. I’m not even going to beat around the bush — no, it wasn’t a feeling, it was the spirit. At that time years ago, I was in a dark, vulnerable place. I hadn’t felt the spirit for a very long time. I was going through a personal, gut wrenching faith crisis. Writing my book was my way of saving me and sorting out who I was. Consumed in the creation of my words. I stopped in my tracks as the burning heat coursed through me. I had felt it before, and recognized its source. A voice came powerfully to mind. “If you read that, it will taint your characters and go against everything in your novel that you have been trying to achieve.”

For a woman who was writing a clean romance, that slapped me across the face. The spirit knew how to reach me. It knew to not scold me, or make me feel guilty. It simply and with profound urgency continued to say, “you can do better. The world needs your books, not this. You need to be a light. Not a darkness.”

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I placed the book back down and consequently, the debate of reading it or not, dissolved and I didn’t think about it again. In fact I had gained more confidence behind my words and when publishers told me I needed to add more sex to sale my book to their publishing house, I would think back to that day in the grocery store and shake my head and with assured resolute say, no, I don’t. You are wrong for me.

Okay, so fast forward over three years or so. Through a lot of hard work and a bit of luck, two of my books were published, including Broken Smiles. Recently, there was a free book exchange I stumbled upon, and staring up at me again, was a free copy of Fifty Shades of Grey. I honestly hadn’t thought about reading it since that day in the grocery store, although I had heard about it everywhere on the news, in my book clubs, on radio and talk shows. Most of the comments were negative.

I stood there debating, then picked it up. I didn’t have a strong impression one way or another about reading them. In a way I felt numb. I wondered why that was, as I have been actively trying to rediscover my faith in God and sincerely trying to live with the spirit. I stood there a while. This is where some woman would have placed it back down, this is where some woman would have jumped for joy at their free find. But I stood there curious as to what caused this crazed phenomena in our culture – enough to produce a movie and multiple best seller lists. Finally, I shrugged my shoulders. Hey, it was free and my husband was taking the kids out of town, so it found its way home with me.

What. The. Hell. Is that romance these days? I am not that old in body and mind to be that out of touch. No wonder my book sales haven’t been what I would have liked. Seriously, women, tell me, is this what readers want? I know I’m years late on this debate and quite frankly, I’m glad that I am. I read it objectively, without the crazed fans, the whirlwind of promotion, and the opposite seething negativity. I couldn’t get through half of it, not because of the kinky bits or the atrocious writing, but my fierce feminine warrior wants to fight this. The strong, independent woman inside me hated the hero. Hero? I laugh — he is a romantic hero? I would love to slay him. He romanticizes sexual abuse and violence. I did plenty of eye rolls (oh no!) and laughed at parts that were not meant to be funny.

Needless to say, I will not read the rest of the trilogy and I actually threw away my copy because it is not even worth reading if it’s free. It’s different, reading this through the eyes of an author, I think. It shouldn’t be — we should all be able to see it for what it is.

I get why women love to read about romance. A woman I loved very much was a widow for many years. After her funeral, when we were going through her things, we found 13 boxes full of romance novels. We had no idea. I get it, I understand. But these books… these books are a whole other level.

I do not wish to offend my friends who are into these books. I am only stating my own experience. In preparation for this blog post, and to attain other opinions, I sent a draft of this post to some of my fellow author friends who I knew wrote erotica and all different levels of heat in romance novels. Some points were brought up that I did not know about and want to touch on here. Click on this link for studies about how the books promote unhealthy behaviors. Click on this link for the numbing effects that this kind of literature has on future generations.

It angers us authors who work so very hard to learn the craft and then this comes along, trumping us all. Here are some of my author friends thoughts: (I have kept them anonymous, although I have their permission.)

“…I wrote a XXX once on a dare, and I won’t do it again. The characters were shallow, the plot lacking in energy and it was boring to write. It did, however, give me a much-needed income boost at the time. My opposition with FSOG (Fifty Shades of Grey) has much more to do with an author who essentially stole the characters, wrote a very badly presented story that needed a LOT more editing, and her lack of knowledge on her subject could be dangerous to the health of those reading it if the try some of the things she portrays. She is an irresponsible author.”

“I write stories for other publishers that want heat in their story lines, too. It is part of the business. I read those three books to see what all the fuss was about when I could not ignore the phenomena any longer. It angers me. The writing is horrible and the storyline… well, a bit of one finally shows up in the third book. The rest of us struggle with our craft to improve it. These books come along and make millions. To each his/her own. I am not a censor. I am not jealous. Just frustrated all writers don’t take the care to do their craft to the best of their ability and give more thought to the readers who will be influenced by what they write.”

“It’s porn, and badly written porn at that. No, no, and no.”

“We struggle to give our readers a quality product and along comes sloppy writing that makes millions. I actually cringe for the dumbing of society to know how many people read it and thought the quality was great.”

“The snippits I have read of it were poor at best. I almost cried when I mentioned the poor writing to someone and she stated that she didn’t notice it and found the trio very engaging and a wonderful read *head desk*”

“I’m a bit more liberal in my reading and writing in that to me it’s just words and it’s about the craft and I either like something and will read it again (or similar stuff) or I hate it and will not. BUT. And this is the BIG BUT here. The author (by her own admission) did NO research into the BDSM culture. Thus, some of the things she portrayed are actually considered DANGEROUS. So on that level, people emulating the book can potentially hurt themselves. As to the writing, well, it’s horrific.”

“I know a lot of NYC authors who really would rather not write sex scenes. But I think the pendulum is going to swing back a bit quite soon.”

“I think it’s a little unfair to fault EL James, though. I mean, she just wrote the book. It could have died on Amazon like millions of other books, but it was something that hit a sweet spot (no pun intended) with the readers and became successful. She gave the world what it wanted at the moment. I think that with the internet generation, we want 2 things: 1) to see horrible stuff (American’s funniest Home videos comes to mind… laughing at other people’s pain) and 2) to be part of the crowd. The big draw to 50 Shades was people saying, “OMGOsh, have you read it?” And no one wanted to be left out so they read it and whether they liked it or not, they said they liked it (most of them) because they wanted to be ‘in’. To be honest, I never even thought about reading it until I kept reading Christian or other author sites talking about how bad it was– and THAT is what got me interested.”

The last comment, especially the last sentence, reminded me of conversations I’ve had over the years. It reminded me of the times that snippets of the books were read secretly between women in church services. I think back to the many hushed conversations I’ve had with guilt ridden women at book conferences, book and critique groups, and small gatherings.

I could have kept my admission about reading this awful book a secret, like so many others, but what good would that do? I’ve always read a massive amount of books — it’s another title on my long list. So be it. The problem is the effect it had on me afterward.

Do I regret reading it?

Yes. A part of me died. A hope in me, dimmed.

It leaves me to wonder what is next in the literary world. What is the next shock factor?

My friend, out of a joke, sent me a link to an article about a woman who writes erotica with  dinosaurs, bigfoots, and sea creatures. Haha! I laughed and laughed until I read the article. People, she makes $35,000 a month selling her books!!! What! That is not funny, that is depressing and sad. Her books have been pulled from Amazon and other online sites because of the questionable material. Oh great, every author knows that if you have a banned book, it is a guaranteed seller. How do these books find interest with people?

That, my friends, is the evolution past “Shades of Grey”. The next shock factor.

I’ve hesitated to hit the publish button on this blog post. Both because of the fear of being marked with a big red letter R (Reader of garbage) and because I don’t want to be thought of as a prude. That has been the story of my life though. I’ve always teetered in grey areas. Maybe it’s the critic within me and being the victim of criticism, that has made me not care what people think of me anymore. Or maybe it is the warrior woman which screams against my skin — that does not see grey when it comes to this topic. I want to slay this ugly, dirty, abusive monster. I have even created a new romance rating system and wish books would adhere to the ratings I have shown HERE.

I want to produce books that can go into epic battle with books that hide in the shadows, but somehow end up on grocery store shelves in plain sight. I am building an army of like minded authors. I have had at least a dozen people contact me after reading the pre-release of this article, encouraging me. There have also been people who have said my words encouraged them to also speak up. That makes me happy and more courageous.

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Who’s with me! I yell in battle gear with sword pointed to the sky. I gaze across the battlefield to the opponent bound in straps and chains, with whips and leather as weapons. Upon my steely gaze they look helpless and weak, but don’t be fooled. It will be bloody, it will demand courage. I know this post has started the war for me. Fiery arrows will come early, followed by cannon fire, then hand to hand combat. But I stand on this pre-war hill with hope and determination that “The world needs our books, not theirs. Be a light. Not a darkness.”

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I’d love your comments, even if they are different than mine and the other authors on this post. However, I do demand respect, as this is such a heated topic.

Thanks for stopping by –

Tara