A Public Apology to E.L. James.
I’ll admit it.
I’ve given E.L. James a very hard time.
Not personally, mind you, because if I knew her personally I’d probably be too busy asking her about her favorite brand of lubricant and just how far she actually took her research for writing her now — thanks to the movie — even more infamous trilogy, Fifty Shades of Grey. If I knew her personally, I wouldn’t call her E.L. I’d call her Erika, because that’s her name, and we’d discuss our mutual distaste for the casting of Fifty Shades the movie while bonding over wine that we’d sip from glasses as opposed to each other’s navels.
It should’ve been you, Chris.
And of course I’d have to admit to her that I haven’t actually seen the movie and really don’t intend to because it would likely ruin for me the one very good thing the book had going for it, which is one of the most brilliant characters ever written:
The intelligent, charming, handsome, rich, powerful, ungettable guy who’s just damaged enough to be mysterious, and bonus? He’s really amazing in bed. And what’s so brilliant about him is that he is gettable — or should-I-say rescuable — by a single, average woman, which has been a not-so-secret straight female fantasy since before toaster strudels were invented.
Getting — and saving — the ungettable guy is an unhealthy fantasy, but it exists just the same.
So anyway. It’s not about her characters that I’ve given E.L. a hard time, but about her writing. I haven’t done any actual research into how the books were published, but word on the street is the idea started out as Twilight-based online fan fiction and was discovered from there. (By the way, if we’re going to talk about idealizing unhealthy relationships, the suicidal teen vampire series is a much better place to start than some sexy S&M between two consenting adults.) And okay. When I read the first book, I could hardly put it down. I didn’t love her writing style, but the Grey character was just so dang intriguing. And, you know, the sultry scenes didn’t hurt.
But then I picked up the second two books, and she completely lost me. I have no idea whether this is the case, but I had the very distinct impression that E.L. was forcibly “encouraged” to write a trilogy when really, all she had in her was one super hit book about these particular characters. In the second two, plotlines fizzled out, characters stopped being believable, and the writing just kept getting worse.
When I finished, I wished I’d just stopped after the first and let my imagination decide what happened to our odd couple.
And I’ve been unabashedly vocal about it. Ugh, Eeee Elll. WHY did you write those second two books? You just weren’t feeling it, but they made you do it, didn’t they? It… they just… and the writing… but WHY?
I said all of these things. I did. But now I get it. Now that I’ve sat down to write my own novel, I realize. This book writing business is hard. Like, not just hard in the daunting stare of a very blank page kind of way, but hard in the sense that you have to think about things like character development and connecting plot lines and having plot lines and making it interesting and E.L.? You had the added pressure of hype. Of forcing 3 books out of a one book idea.
I’m a mere 3,000 words into a 70,000+ word project, and nearly every single one has felt like it popped from my body like a constipated turd. And I look at the turd and I’m like, Huh. There you are. You look kind of dumb, but I’m going to leave you for now because I don’t know what else to do with you.
But E.L. took her turds and ran, man. That takes a kind of courage I’m not sure I have in me yet. And my characters thus far are nowhere near as groovy as Mr. Christian Grey.
At least not yet.
So, just like the only people who should ever be allowed to leave crappy tips are people who’ve actually waited tables, it turns out that the only people who should be allowed to criticize someone’s book writing are people who’ve actually attempted to do it themselves. Because unless you can personally relate, there’s no way for you to understand the level of difficulty and therefore, there’s no room to criticize.
Even then, maybe there’s just too much criticism in this world in general.
Maybe we should all just be allowed to leave our turds where they lay without fear of public ridicule.
I’m sorry, Erika.
And thanks for the necktie.
But you are doing it, you are working on it, and you will get there. All I have is ideas in my head and outlines in Evernote but the thought of actually writing the dialogue, building the scenes just scares me away and back to the easier stuff like blogging. You have a beautiful voice and I know you are going to get there.
Thank you for the vote of confidence, Tamara! I’ve found it kind of helps to think of the book as like 70 blog posts all put together — except, you know, with dialogue and cohesion and characters and such. Still hard, but a bit more approachable. :)
hahaha I too am guilty of judging el james and the author of twilight. “I could write this trash” was on oft repeated phrase in my head while reading. well, i didn’t, and still haven’t written any literature, trash or otherwise, so i guess should probably check my criticisms at the door.
Ha, exactly! It’s one thing to say it — quite another to DO it. We might judge them specifically for that they wrote or, even more likely, how they chose to write it, but at least they wrote it. And I have to give them props for that. :)
That’s why I have only 3 chapters of my book written – it’s HARD! I agree with you on 50 shades, wish I never read number 2 and 3!
Sooo hard! But congratulations on 3 chapters — that’s really really great! And I totally blame her agent/publishers on the trilogy. I just can’t imagine that the 2nd and 3rd were originally intended. I can’t.
Hey Girl! It is so exciting that you have started your book! It’s going to be hard work, but it will be worth it when you finish- what a journey!
That said, I’m really surprised by your post. Granted giving E.L. James credit for writing a book and publishing it is noteworthy (not something I could do) but her book was horrible! The writing, IF you want to call it that, was grammatically terrible, the characters were not well developed, and the story wasn’t believable. Seriously, a twenty something college student that’s a virgin, has never had alcohol, or used a computer?!? Maybe one of the above, possibly two, but all three? Methinks not. If any one of us had a friend dating this a$$hole we would tell her to get out immediately because, although disgustingly rich, he is in fact a controlling jerk. I couldn’t even make it through 1/2 of the book before I was done. There are kids in high school that can write better than this. I think it’s also (probably) an insult to the BDSM community. It highlights women in abusive and/or controlling relationships and serves more as a “what not to do” guide. A healthy, loving relationship can be hot if you’re with the right person and at least you can eat what you want and wear your yoga pants on “fat” days. Just my thought…I think your characters will develop and your book will be great (much better than 50SoG)!!!
I completely understand your point. Believe me, I’ve read all of those articles that claim that the book/movie glorify abusive relationships and I can see where they’re coming from, but I just can’t completely buy it. You *know* I’m a feminist, and I would not belittle the experience of someone who’s been in an abusive or controlling relationship. But feminism is also about choice, and in this case, I have to say that they were both clearly consenting adults, and I don’t remember him trying to isolate her from her friends or force her to do anything wholly unhealthy or dangerous. It’s been a really long time since I read it, but I also don’t remember her not knowing how to use a computer — I thought they emailed back-and-forth?
While you’re definitely not going to hear me argue about the quality of the writing, I have to say that the point of the book really isn’t to be believable. It’s fantasy. In fact, it’s fantasy about fantasy! It doesn’t have to be believable. It opened many women up about their sexuality and helped them talk to their partners about some of their more secret or embarrassing desires, and that can be a great thing for many relationships. I guess, in short, the difference between this example and a controlling relationship is that the Grey character wasn’t entirely manipulative. Everything was laid-out before-hand and she fully consented and always had a clear-cut way out. This isn’t the case with women who are abused and controlled. Does that make sense?
LOVED reading this post. I love how different our opinions on Christian Grey are. Here is my review of it tell me what you think.
Well your post succeeded in making me feel a little bad for being so harsh about the book, however I am just the owner of a small blog that all of 6 people follow so I really don’t feel like it’s a big deal. Now if I was Oprah I might be a little more careful with my words knowing it could affect a person’s career. Or if my friend had written the book I may have taken the route of saying nothing at all if I couldn’t say something nice.
But in general I think as an artist, accepting criticism once you release your craft to the public goes with the territory. You can’t expect people to pay good money for something and then not have an opinion on it if they don’t like it. So for that reason I don’t agree with your point on not criticising unless you’ve written a book yourself. I also criticise movies, and politicians by the way although I’ve never done either lol.
But I still took away from what you wrote that even if I didn’t like a book there still needs to be a certain level of respect for simply having written a book, and for having the guts to put it out there. Hell, I feel nervous just putting a link to my blog in this message because I really don’t put myself out there like that. So even though I don’t mention it in my blog post review on the book, and even though I still hated the book, I do still respect her for putting in the work and showing her turd to the world.
Okay, I read your whole review, and I totally hear you. It has been years since I read the book, so I honestly didn’t remember many of the details. All I remembered really is that I didn’t take particular offense to the content while reading (the writing style is another issue), mainly because it’s just fantasy! The whole idea of it is fantasy. I’m not convinced it’s intended to be a believable story, and that’s why it didn’t translate well to the big screen.
You absolutely have a point about accepting criticism. I think my last sentiments fell in line with me trying to be more zen — not talking about people, thinking before I speak, etc. But you’re completely right. Public people need to expect a certain level of criticism. Still, though… I find it much harder to criticize her after trying it myself. ;)
And aren’t you doing Muay Thai in Thailand??! I’d say you definitely put yourself out there. It’s the same thing with writing — you gotta just do it and hope for the best!
How are things coming??!!? I thought I had commented on this post?!?! guess not. Anyway…3000 words is great! Good girl!
Ha! 3,500 now. ;) (I REALLY need to be more diligent! Thank you for checking up.) :)
[…] Spring is the best time of year because it holds the promise of a long, luxurious summer and it’s still possible for me to walk outside without immediately forming a sweat ‘stache. The days start getting longer, the birds start chirping sweetly, and suddenly that motivation I’d been missing all winter because I was busy being SAD attacks with renewed zest. Before I know it, I’m working almost full-time as a virtual assistant, digging into home renovations, and surely — if not steadily — working my way towards becoming a novelist. […]