You’re either a fan, or you’re not. But there is no denying that E L James, with her breakthrough set of novels, the “Fifty Shades of Grey” series, blew the lid off convention, sales records, and some would say, morals.
No one other than James herself was more shocked by their popularity in both publishing and movie land. Publishing records for adult books scored 150 million copies worldwide with her somewhat-acceptable enactment of S&M presented as a form of courtship among intriguing and attractive subjects.
The British author is back with “The Mister,” a contemporary romance set in Eastern Europe, Cornwall and London. She appeared, as many bestselling authors do, at the Marcus JCC’s A Page from the Book Festival May 30.
Bantering on stage with publicist and consultant Alison Law, James displayed her off-the-cuff ease chatting about “lust at first sight,” getting her nails properly repaired in Atlanta, visiting the Atlanta History Center and the Margaret Mitchell House. She dropped the “f” word and laughed that she used the Tinder dating app as research. When asked about her financial success, she demurred, “Being wealthy means you can’t complain about anything and your voice may not be heard.” When queried from the audience if she gives out sex advice, she said, “Tell your men to just listen to women.”
Some claim to read the James books at work or on a plane with a brown wrapper to obfuscate the topic, but who’s judging? In her latest novel, Alessia, a Balkan maid, known as a “daily” in England (hired to regularly clean someone’s house), winds up working for Maxim, the aristocrat. One can imagine what they get into down the road.
Prior to her MJCCA appearance, James took time to talk with the AJT. While she’s not Jewish, she said “Jewish women have been among my readers from the very start. In fact, my earliest events in the U.S. were in New York City and Long Island, with a very dynamic, predominantly Jewish women’s group comprising much of the audience.”
One of the astounding things about James’ rise to fame is that she was an unknown office worker who wrote some of the story that became “Fifty Shades” on her phone while riding the Tube to work.
“If I have an idea and I’m out and about, I will quickly write an email to myself, or jot the idea down in a notebook (I always try to carry one with me). I started a rough version of ‘The Mister’ in 2009, and tried to rewrite it many times. I realized that I couldn’t get a handle on Alessia, unless I went to her home country. So my husband and I went to Albania in April 2018, and then I finished the first draft of the book in July that year.”
She said she is happy with her noncelebrity, unidentifiable looks. “As a middle-aged woman I am totally invisible, and very rarely get recognized. But I really value my anonymity, so this is a good thing.”
In terms of her connection to Atlanta, she said she’s been before. “I went to the Romantic Times convention there a few years ago. I had the best time. Everyone was so friendly and hospitable, … and I swooned when I got called “ma’am!”
As for what’s to come, she concluded, “There might be a future follow-up book or two. We shall see.”