Fifty Shades of Fan Fiction

Booknotes looks at the rise of Erika Leonard James.

Mike Selby

She really, really, really liked ‘Twilight.’

OK, she loved it. Erika Leonard James, a part-time television executive and full-time mother of two, picked up the first ‘Twilight’ book after seeing the movie in 2009. She was so taken by the teen vampire romance novels that she read all four books in the series over and over. Since no new ‘Twilight’ books were forthcoming, James decided to write her own.

She wrote what is commonly known as fan fiction, which is simply taking characters and settings created by someone else, and writing one’s own story about them. While literary historians trace this practice back to the 16th century, fan fiction really didn’t become a phenomenon until the late 1960s, when all kinds of Spock-based stories began to be inflicted on a would-be writer’s family members after the original Star Trek television show first aired.

Thankfully the internet would go to save countless family members from torment as fan fiction authors could now post their stories to the web for anyone to read. This is exactly what James did.

Calling her story ‘Master of the Universe,’ she posted it online at fanfiction.net under the pseudonym Snowqueens Icedragon. Now anyone who wanted to could read the continuing adventures of Edward and Bella — the two romantic leads of the ‘Twilight’ books. While James was merely one of thousands posting their ‘Twilight’ fan fiction, readers of her webpage quickly noticed a huge theme to her stories not found anywhere else: there was a lot of sex and a lot of ropes.

Since the original ‘Twilight’ series was written for teens, the characters barely even kiss. Yet James’ story had the characters explore their relationship through bondage acts.

Many readers were not amused, so James took her story offline, completely rewrote it with her own original characters, and then reposted it. However by this time, the story had grown so large she had to split it into three different books. She called the first one ‘Fifty Shades of Grey.’

And we all know what happened next.

E.L. James became the fastest selling author in history.

At first her books — ‘Fifty Shades of Grey,’ Fifty Shades Darker,’ and ‘Fifty Shades Free’ were available only as a digital book, offered by a coffee-shop in Australia. Then Random House published the print versions, and 70 million copies absolutely flew off the shelves. James quickly outsold (and out-earned) Stephen King, Danielle Steel, and even J.K. Rowling. These books continue to have a strong shelf life, with James being named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World. A big budget film of the first book is currently being made.

Despite all this, ‘Fifty Shades’ continues to receive negative reviews. It is the writing, though, and not the sadomasochistic sex acts, which attract most of the book’s derision. The entire trilogy is often characterized as “poorly written,” “degrading to women,” “mommy porn” (is there a daddy porn?), “a sad joke,” “exceedingly awful,” “asinine” and “depressing.” A New York Times writer even stated James’s books are “the end of civilization.”

These reviews fail to address the undeniable fact that more people have read these books than have ever read ‘Harry Potter.’

Some writers — regardless of their prose style or subject matter — are just compulsively readable, page after page after page.

After all, when was the last time a book caused numerous hardware stores to run out of rope?

Mike Selby is Reference Librarian at the Cranbrook Public Library

Just Posted

The Kimberley Aquatic Centre is set to reopen its doors to the public on July 6, after being shut down due to the pandemic in March, 2020. The Centre will be initially operating with reduced occupancy and limited program offerings. Bulletin file.
Kimberley Aquatic Centre set to re-open July 6

New safety infrastructure, limited guests and programming allow facility to open again

Interior Health is reporting a COVID-19 exposure at Selkirk Secondary in Kimberley. Bulletin file.
COVID-19 case identified at Selkirk Secondary in Kimberley

Interior Health is conducting contact tracing

The Kootenay International Junior Hockey League met for their AGM and announced a number of new initiatives, new awards and changes in their executive committee, as well as the starting date for the 2021-22 season. Paul Rodgers file.
KIJHL announces start dates for 2021-22 season

Season set to begin Oct. 1 with league still following all health guidelines

Calvin Dickson photo.
Severe thunderstorm watch in effect for East Kootenay

Conditions favourable for the development of thunderstorms, hail and heavy rain

The Independent Investigations Office of BC is looking into a Castlegar incident. File photo
Police watchdog investigating Castlegar incident

IIO: Woman sustained a reportedly self-inflicted injury

People watch a car burn during a riot following game 7 of the NHL Stanley Cup final in downtown Vancouver, B.C., in this June 15, 2011 photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geoff Howe
10 years ago: Where were you during the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup Riots?

Smashed-in storefronts, looting, garbage can fires and overturned cars some of the damage remembered today

Children’s shoes and flowers are shown after being placed outside the Ontario legislature in Toronto on Monday, May 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Ontario commits $10 million to investigate burial sites at residential schools

Truth and Reconciliation Commission identified 12 locations of unmarked burial sites in Ontario

Singer-songwriter Jann Arden is pictured with a draft horse. (Canadian Horse Defence Coalition)
Jann Arden backs petition to stop ‘appalling’ live horse export, slaughter

June 14 is the International Day to End Live Export of Animals

Two hundred and fifteen lights are placed on the lawn outside the Residential School in Kamloops, B.C., Saturday, June, 13, 2021. The remains of 215 children were discovered buried near the former Kamloops Indian Residential School earlier this month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Days after Kamloops remains discovery, Tk’emlups families gather to unite, move ahead

‘We have to work together because this is going to be setting a precedent for the rest of the country’

In this Saturday, May 29, 2021, file photo, people crowd the Santa Monica Pier in Santa Monica, Calif. California, the first state in America to put in place a coronavirus lockdown, is now turning a page on the pandemic. Most of California’s coronavirus restrictions will disappear Tuesday, June 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)
With COVID tamed, it’s a ‘grand reopening’ in California

No more state rules on social distancing, no more limits on capacity, no more mandatory masks

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

x
It’s hard out there for a billionaire

I’m sure you’ll be happy to know that while many, many people… Continue reading

Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price (31) is scored on by Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Alec Martinez, not pictured, during the second period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup semifinal playoff series Monday, June 14, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Habs fall 4-1 to Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of NHL semifinal series

Match was Montreal’s first game outside of Canada in 2021

Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick, assistant deputy speaker at the B.C. legislature, presides over committee discussions. The legislature is completing its delayed spring session this week, with most MLAs participating by video conference. (Hansard TV)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 infections dip below 100 over weekend

Only 68 new cases recorded Monday, four additional deaths

Most Read