MOMMY PORN — Trashy sex or smart marketing?
A Romance Writer’s take on Fifty Shades of Grey
I confess. When a fledgling novelist captures the front page of the New York Times, I get curious. I’d never heard of Fifty Shades of Grey, even though I regularly follow the best seller lists. Moreover, the term “Mommy Porn” inspired me to immediately speed dial Amazon, and order the e-books. After all, what kind of erotic writing captivates an audience of well-educated, comfortably fixed female readers and creates a major sensation? Most modern versions of erotica that I’ve read are unimaginative and sadly boring. Biology texts have never enticed me to do more than yawn.
I paged through the work, telling myself it was research. After all, as an author I have to keep abreast (pardon the ghastly pun) of any book that nets a seven figure deal plus movie buzz for its creator. Approach Fifty Shades of Grey as you would a case study, I told myself. Analyze everything dispassionately. As if.
I’d allocated 30 minutes to skimming the first few chapters, convinced that they’d confirm my most dire suspicions. Instead, two hours of my precious writing time later I joined the ranks of (mostly) female readers who were entranced by Anastasia Steele and her libidinous lover and billionaire hunk, Christian Grey.
Writing in the intimacy of first person narrative, the clever author introduced me to a protagonist I both liked and identified with. Anastasia is smart, self-deprecating and somewhat naïve. She succumbs to the charms of the devastating Christian as easily as most of us would. Sure he has kinks. Lots of them. But the author also portrays him as brainy, sentimental and curiously vulnerable. How many women could resist that heady cocktail?
“Grey” succeeds in two other key areas—plot and pacing. I zipped through the pages anxious to learn the fate of this intriguing couple as they followed the rituals of pain, pleasure and mutual affection.
About the sex—it was frank, anatomically challenging but not repugnant. I must admit that the sado-masochistic bits were interesting and sometimes puzzling. Uninitiated readers (like me) probably learned a few things, although I marveled at Ana’s limitless capacity for orgasmic bliss!
Since Ana is our narrator and spirit guide, we experience things through her eyes without the snickers and snobbish asides that an omniscient voice often provides. Somehow it seems right, even though reviewers have denounced Fifty Shades of Grey as everything from sexist drivel to anti-feminist tripe. Get a grip, people!
Most of the women I’ve spoken with say this: 50 S of G appeals because of the love story not the mechanics of sado-masochism. It’s fantasy of course, a latter day Cinderella story, (sans Disney), where true love ultimately triumphs. Silly—maybe; unlikely—probably. Romances typically are.
I read all three volumes and didn’t want their story to end. Like many readers I asked myself this question: Would you have succumbed to this gorgeous young billionaire with peculiar tastes but a capacity for love? My answer — a resounding YES.
And that, dear readers, is the secret to writing a best seller. Create attractive, endearing characters, hook the audience with a unique plot element, and play to the secret fantasies we all nurture. Be gone, cynics. Love will set you free.