E.L. James dishes on her life as mother, wife, and erotic novelist
Talk about a fantasy. In mere months, E.L. James went from being a little-known author to a global publishing sensation, a middle-age “mommy porn” writer who landed a reported seven-figure book deal with Vintage Books and a reported $5 million movie deal with Universal Pictures and Focus Features.
James was scheduled to be at the Barnes & Noble in Burlington on Tuesday night to meet readers and sign copies of her erotic “Fifty Shades of Grey” trilogy. Before she hit town, the Globe chatted with her about her own marriage, her deep knowledge of kinky sex — and the secret behind her pseudonym.
Q. Your real name is Erika Leonard. Why did you write under a pen name?
A. Mainly to protect my children (now 15 and 17). It’s quite a racy novel. I thought this was just going to be a sideline and I’d carry on working in TV [where she’d been an executive]. To be honest, I didn’t give it a huge amount of thought. In three minutes I thought of E.L. James. (Laughs.)
Q. How did you come up with that?
A. James is kind of a family name. “E” is for Erika. I’m not going to tell you what the “L” stands for.
Q. Your books could serve as a primer on sex toys and games. How did you do your research?
A. I talk to people. I used the lovely Google. I found all sorts of interesting things.
Q. Speaking of which, many women have said your books helped them spice up their marriages. Has your work put more zip into your own marriage?
A. (Laughs.) Yes, it has certainly had its beneficial sides. I’d say to my husband, “I kind of need to try this,” and he’d say, “Whatever you need to do.” We’ve had some fun. That’s all I’m going to say about that.
Q. You dedicated your first book to your husband. “For Niall,” it reads, “the master of my universe.” Was he the inspiration for Christian Grey, your kinky billionaire hero?
A. (Laughs.) Oh, if only. Absolutely not. My husband is a wonderful man. Not that Christian isn’t a wonderful man, but my husband is a very real man.
Q. You’ve said that it was the “Twilight” books and movies that inspired you to write fan fiction and books of your own. What spoke to you?
A. I don’t know. It’s just such a fantastic love story. “Twilight” rocked my world, really rocked my world.
Q. OK, let’s cast your movie. In your mind’s eye, who do you see playing Christian and Anastasia Steele? Do you imagine them like the “Twilight” costars Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart?
A. I’m sorry. I’ve had so many tweets and e-mails about this. I keep saying Christian and Anastasia are in the eyes of the beholder. It’s going to be really interesting finding them.
Q. Have you gotten any feedback that’s surprised you?
A. I’ve had people saying, “I was abused as a child [like Christian was] and this has really spoken to me. Now I’m able to face things.” I’ve had some very moving letters that have left me in tears. People who were going through chemotherapy or some debilitating disease who’ve said “I’ve rediscovered my libido thanks to you.”
Q. One reader told me that usually when she reads romantic novels she flips through to the sex scenes, but with your books the pattern was reversed — she flipped ahead looking for plot points. Was that intentional on your part?
A. It just sort of evolved. I didn’t write an outline. I just wrote and saw where it took me. These guides just took me on this journey. I just went for it, and it was really good fun. Oh, God, yes.
Q. You’ve said you’re not a very good writer, but your books top bestseller lists around the world. You’re obviously doing something right.
A. It’s not Thomas Hardy, for goodness sake. I hope it’s entertaining. Some people have been very complimentary and some people have been rather horrid about it as well. I don’t read those things very often.
Q. Your friends must be thrilled with all your success.
A. My friends were a bit gobsmacked, like I am. They say, “Oh, this is what you’ve been up to.” I told people, but no one was particularly interested.
Q. You’ve got five ideas for new books. What are they?
A. Three are erotic love stories, one’s a thriller and the other is a young adult book. I don’t know which one I’m going to do. They’re all vying for prominence. I haven’t been writing for a while, and it makes me twitchy.
Beth Teitell can be reached at email@example.com.