There’s been endless debate about 50 Shades of Grey. And when I say endless, I mean as in a day has not gone by when an opinion hasn’t been shared. To some it is the ultimate in titillation, the uber romance between two people whose issues are so monumental as to be Hulk size, and who overcome them to become happier than happy. To others, it is word salad with a little BSDM lite thrown in for the erotic romance crowd.
When I first heard about the books (yes, I was as usual behind the trend) and found out E.L. James had self published the first one, I threw out a huzzah to the universe. It gave me a thrill to know that self-publishing was doing well, that someone had broken through the snobbish publishing world and shown the big boys how it was done. Then I borrowed a copy from a friend to read it, rubbing my hands together gleefully, ready to write a fan letter, the first ever in my life. (This includes my epic crush on Tom Selleck, about whom I still have palpitations even though he turned 70 this year.)
Talk about bone crushing disappointment. I did a little research as I read. I found out it was re-worked fan fiction, from Twilight no less, (yet another disappointing story, about vampires who sparkle and is so bland, it’s no wonder they’re whiter than white). I found out that E.L. James had told her fanfic fans that she didn’t need their opinions or a beta reader or an editor and took a bit of the high handed route with them when it came to concrit. Still, I read it. I thought, well, maybe they don’t know from concrit. There are some out there who don’t know the difference between your/you’re much less character development.
I thought, a bazillion people on the planet can’t be wrong, right? It has to be good. I dug in. By the time I got to page ten, I knew. I knew I had to finish it because it’s rude to mock something if you don’t know whereof you speak. I finished it, because I keep a book in the bathroom at all times. I will say I’ve read worse, though I won’t name names and the only reason I’m naming this name is because, well, who doesn’t know it by now?
Yes, it started out as fanfic and (my humble opinion), fan fiction is great, my humble opinion. Mostly. There’s some excellent fan fiction is out there. As a matter of fact, one of them is what made me start writing again after being away from it for years. (There’s also some that makes me scream, Dear God, you can do better than that!) There’s some fanfic that is so bad that it is the reason fanfic has a bad rep.
It made me wonder why I became so vocal about my dislike for 50 Shades. Part of it is, when your allergies are making you wish you could keep your sinuses in a box on another planet, you have time to think. I have come to the conclusion that 50 Shades could have been good, really good. It could have been not just on the best seller list, but beloved by critics. Instead, it has become a joke in the serious literary world when it could have been the breath of fresh air, the breakthrough that romance writers are always clamoring for, garnering respect for work that is just as difficult to write as classic romance or any other genre. And make no mistake, all writing is genre writing. Whether it’s “literature” or pulp fiction.
That’s where my bone crushing disappointment made itself known. Yes, it made the author a household
joke name, yes it garnered her the big bucks, the movie deal, the meetings with the grand poobahs in the entertainment industry, but did it garner her respect? No. Why? Because it is also historically bad. Bad like Plan 9 from Outer Space Bad. I wanted 50 Shades to be well-written, well-researched, with three dimensional characters that could walk into a room and be recognized as people. Instead, I got pulpy, one dimensional characters who were so unrealistic as to be nothing more than paper dolls (remember them?) Cliche dialogue that a seven year old would not write. I got endless comments from an inner goddess I wanted to beat about the head. I got one lead character whose issues didn’t need an older dominatrix, but a good therapist. (And you’d think his adoptive parents would have seen to that, and not let him quit until he got those issues resolved.) Then the female lead who could not possibly be that naive, not with the slutty/rich roommate she had. I got a salacious view of a BDSM ‘lifestyle’ that people who actually live that life object to, because it has nothing to do with them. I got a slap in the face of what real romance is because E.L. James took something that means something to me and stomped on it.
I wanted 50 Shades to stand up and shout at the traditional publishing industry and say, “See? This is what you rejected, all you Mr./Ms. Know-It-All-Smarty-Pants who snorted in derision at self publishing and fan fiction.” Though I’m sure they’re kicking themselves now that James is floating around on her yacht in a sea full of money, they’re probably also thinking, at least I’m not a joke in the publishing industry.
What bugs me the most though, is that it could have been good, but ego got in the way. Good books don’t just pop up like a jack in the box.They don’t spring fully edited, all the little errors and plot holes dealt with, all accidental misspellings fixed. It takes work. My current work in progress is on its second draft now. The first draft was okay, but I sat through two extremely painful sessions listening to two people whose opinions I trust tell me what was wrong with it. That’s painful. Like crucifixion painful. Fortunately I also had very large chocolate chip muffins to ease that pain.
I have taken a valuable lesson from all of this. You don’t have to be good to be published. But if you want it to be good, and earn the respect of other authors, you listen, you learn.
You put your ego in a box and hide it behind your least favorite, ugliest pair of shoes in the closet and forget about it.
Then you sit down and you write and rewrite and hand your baby over to someone who knows more than you do. If you need to cry, do that too, but keep those muffins handy. Then you know that the end result will be a good book, not just a book that makes money.
It will be one you can point to when you’re playing checkers in the old folks home and say, “Yeah, I wrote that bitch, and it was good.”