Write on- It’s a shade of grey.


The art of writing

If you haven’t heard of, or read Fifty Shades of Grey, where have you been?  I took a look at the book after hearing all the hype and wanted to see what was the fuss. The first thing that I noticed was this book was set out front in the main displays. Prime position. Is this a first for women’s erotic fiction? Out front with all the bestsellers? Can anyone say that of male erotica? At first glance of the cover, I thought it was another one of those vampire books. Dracula was the best, and I will leave it at that.

I bought a copy and was a little surprised upon hearing the sales numbers. It’s not the greatest writing, it’s not the worst either. It is what it is. Women’s erotica with some purple prose thrown in for good measure, i.e.“ My inner Goddess is doing the dance of the seven veils.” Ah well, we’ve all done that!   It is a clever mix of romance, bondage and domination, and this time from a woman’s point of view.  I doubt that the Story of O was every sold near the entrance of any big box store, and is that because Shades is a tad bit tamer than The Story of O? Safer, if you like that word.

It’s interesting to note, that in this massive economic downturn that the theme of this book is domination. Hang on there…women’s lib where are you? Is it a primal need to need, or want the feeling that someone else is controlling the outer world, and this domination fantasy is the classical way of letting go of all responsibility for one’s life, even if it’s only for a few hours? Fantasy is escapism and nothing more, but I’ll let the psychologists play with that one.

But I can’t remember a time when a book like this was mainstream. I saw a copy at a waitress’s table, open to where she left off on her break. In the past, would the male version of erotica be allowed opened in the work place? Would an employer allow a male erotic novel on a table for customers to walk by and see? I doubt male erotica was ever placed in prime position in the front of all bookshops. Times change and now even the über giant Costco had Fifty Shades of Grey for sale. One can pick up a pint of milk and domination during the same shopping trip.

It is everywhere and soon a plethora of imitations will be flooding the market..or will they?  The cover is not something you would see in the back of a porn shop. It’s somewhat tasteful. One could argue the book’s success because of Ereaders, for what’s on yours is for you to know and no one else, but the hard version of this book is everywhere. I think it’s cover has aided it’s success. From a distance, it looks black with white text, Fifty Shades..nothing to alarm anyone there. Would this book have had it’s stunning success with a shocking cover? I think not.

Sex has always been in books, such as Jacqueline Suzanne’s, The Valley of The Dolls, which rocked its world, but the book was about women and excess and ruin, here we have a book that is about sex and not the vanilla kind and a woman actively seeking it.  There is no moral tale in this book. It is simply erotica.

In the past women for the most part, have not tackled erotica openly, even Anne Rice wrote under a pen name, A.N. Roguelaure, After all this was men’s territory. Women writing erotica, or even writing openenly about sex,  brought on horror and condemnation, think of Radclyffe Hall’s, The Well of Loneliness and the furore that caused.

English: Paperback book cover of The Well of L...

English: Paperback book cover of The Well of Loneliness a 1928 by Radclyffe Hall (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s interesting to note that this current erotica book is being treated as something new. It’s not, but it being sold mainstream is. You don’t have to look at the bottom shelf, or scrounge around the depths of fiction, or even troll the Harlequin books trying to figure out which line has the naughty stuff. It’s there right out in the open.

Anais Nin, Delta of Venus, Carol Queen, Jean De Berg, Emmanuelle Arsan, author of Emmanuelle, Erica Jong,  Catherine Millet and her book that rocked France, The Sexual Life of Catherine M, are all examples of women writing erotica that sold and sold well.  But erotic fiction was always well hidden in the past, from the Victorian male fantasy world of My Secret Life, to the stuff men ordered by post in brown wrappers. It’s always been around and will always be. The difference this time is, it’s in your local bookshop and that takes away the danger of the read. If it’s out there in the open, then you can read it and discuss it, and laugh with your friends. You don’t have to troll the internet for publishers to find what tickles your fancy. I’m sure the success of women’s erotica in the mainstream will be down to two things, decent writing and non offensive highly stylised covers.   I’d be curious to hear your feeling about this, although I am dreading the spam bots the minute I hit publish.

About susan sheldon nolen

It’s rare to catch me without coffee, a form of camera, or my beloved wire fox terriers. I love the history, the art, and it’s a massive part of my life, as I either paint, write, or get interrupted by my dogs, reminding me of the real world. I hope you enjoy your time here. It’s such a privilege to have readers.
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16 Responses to Write on- It’s a shade of grey.

  1. Carrie Rubin says:

    It was a treat to read a blog entry on this book that wasn’t devoted to trashing the author or the novel. I haven’t read the book and don’t intend to, but I think, regardless of how one feels about it, the author deserves some kudos for putting out something that obviously has an audience. I’m sure she’s laughing at her critics all the way to the bank.

  2. I’m not reading the book. I simply cannot, knowing everything I have put myself through to find a mainstream publisher, how many times I have heard that I need to hone my writing. Maybe I should give up and join the erotica bandwagon………NOT.

    • I hear you! Funny enough, mainstream publishers wanted her after she proved herself. Not much of a gamble there I say. You’ll be in good company, I’m not going to jump on that bandwagon, I would crack myself up too much to get that kind of novel written!

  3. I’ve heard of the book, Susan, but have never seen it anywhere. The only things I have heard about it are negative comments, but it must be doing something right as everyone is talking about it! Not that I’ll be reading it, however… I’ll read the reviews instead!

  4. Pseu says:

    I’ve read several reviews and have decided ‘not for me’ – I don’t have anything against erotica, but don’t like the idea of dominance and bondage.

  5. Cameron says:

    I’m writing a commercial romance, one or two steps down the sex-o-meter from Fifty Shades, but I’ve written erotica, and it’s tricky to balance story, character, and smut, as it were. I know not everyone wants a narrative arc with their sex, but I prefer the literary side of the coin. Additionally, though BDSM isn’t my genre, I’ve read a lot of discussions that hint that James’ portrayal is neither accurate nor safe as a primer for the curious.

    That said, she is most certainly laughing her critics to the bank, and it does make me want to bang my head against a wall.

    • I prefer the literary end of things! Never tried to write erotica, think I would just crack myself up too much. Hey, no head banging allowed! Have a piece of dark chocolate and glass of red wine instead! 🙂

  6. I steer clear of anything on best seller lists, which is why I haven’t purchased or read the latest “beach” read. (Just the term “beach” read turns my stomach!)
    My thinking is this…if the sheeple like it, I defiinitely won’t!

  7. Your theme reminds me of Sex, Lies and Videotape – remember it? Another phenomenon that spread like wildfire with so many subliminal messages playing in its shallows.

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