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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The patio at the HeidOut and other Cranbrook restaurant patios will still be open for business during the circuit breaker restriction period. Corey Bullock photo
Indoor dining restrictions likely to be extended: Industry group

Restrictions to in-person restaurant dining that were implemented as part of a… Continue reading

1914
It happened this week in 1914

April 11 - 17: Compiled by Dave Humphrey from the archived newspapers held at the Cranbrook History Centre and Archives

FILE — In this March 31, 2021 file photo, a nurse fills a syringe with a dose of the Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose COVID-19 vaccine at the Vaxmobile, at the Uniondale Hempstead Senior Center, in Uniondale, N.Y. The U.S. is recommending a “pause” in administration of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to investigate reports of potentially dangerous blood clots. In a joint statement Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration said it was investigating clots in six women in the days after vaccination, in combination with reduced platelet counts. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)
72 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health

This brings the total number of cases in the region to 9,666 since the pandemic began

Photo collage of loved ones lost to substance use and overdose. (Photo courtesy Moms Stop The Harm)
B.C. overdose deaths still rising 5 years after public health emergency declared

Moms Stop the Harm calls on B.C. to provide safe supply in response to deadly illicit drug use

Kootenay-Columbia MP Rob Morrison. Photo courtesy Conservative Party of Canada.
MP Morrison hopes for economic recovery plan in upcoming federal budget

Kootenay-Columbia Conservative looking for post-pandemic recovery plan in next week’s Liberal budget

A person receives a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C. sees 873 more COVID-19 cases Tuesday, decline continues

Hospitalizations up to 377, two more deaths for 1,515 total

An unidentified B.C. man said he was refused the job after refusing to wear a mask when asked by an on-site manager. (Unsplash)
Religious B.C. man lodges human rights complaint after fired for refusing to wear a mask

‘To cover up our face infringes on our God-given ability to breathe,’ the worker claimed

This 2013 Dodge Ram 1500 was stolen from Black Creek Motors at approximately 2 a.m. Sunday, April 11. Photos via blackcreekmotors.com
VIDEO: B.C. car dealer posts clip of thieves towing a truck right off his lot

Video shows one white truck towing another off Vancouver Island lot

FILE – People hold signs during a memorial march to remember victims of overdose deaths in Vancouver on Saturday, August 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. to request federal exemption for simple drug possession

Announcement comes on 5-year anniversary of B.C.’s first public health emergency

(AP Photo/Matthias Schrader, FIle)
Rare blood clots ‘may be linked’ to AstraZeneca vaccines: Health Canada

One case of the adverse effect has been reported in Canada

Restaurant patrons enjoy the weather on a patio in Vancouver, B.C., Monday, April 5, 2021. The province has restricted indoor dining at all restaurants in B.C. due to a spike in COVID-19 numbers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C.’s COVID-19 indoor dining, drinking ban extending into May

Restaurant association says patio rules to be clarified

Two men walk past a sign on Main Street in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Monday, April 5, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Calls for government transparency in COVID data continue as B.C.’s 3rd wave wears on

Social media, where both information and misinformation can spread like wildfire, has not helped

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

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

Most Read