Sunday, February 1, 2015

The "Fifty Shades" Phenomenon

Some of us love it. Some of us just love to hate on it, but one thing is for certain. Fifty Shades of Grey shoved romance from the fringe, right into the spotlight. What was once something that people read but seldom talked about, has become this huge phenomenon. It spawned Yahoo and Facebook groups for those who wanted to talk about the book. It gave way to groups of people who needed to know what other sort of erotic romance was out there.

Siren Publishing (who I publish with currently) has been around since 2006. In that time they've found a loyal following of voracious readers such as myself, who binge buy their books and then wait impatiently for the next new release email. The whole Fifty Shades phenomenon brought forth a whole new type of romance reader though.

Suddenly, it's not just the readers who have maxed out their Kindle. Now, it's people who don't necessarily read that often are finding out that romance is no longer strictly about damsels in distress, anymore. These books feature strong, sexy, real characters that take what they want. The heaving bosom has given way to the flush of arousal.

Now, I'm not saying that Fifty Shades is entirely to thank for the modernized image that romance seems to have lately. There were tons of authors who wrote these books before it was popular. Some of those books were better. Some were worse. Every single one of those works played an important role in getting romance novels to where they are today.

It's difficult to think of a more polarizing book among the group, though. People either rage against it or binge buy anything that has a somewhat similar premise. No matter which side you're on, you've really got to appreciate the fact that romance (erotic romance in particular) is treated like actual literature now. I've had a few people say, “Oh. You write THOSE kind of books,” of course. Far fewer than you'd think though.

Whether you've reserved your tickets already or you've rolled your eyes any time anyone has asked you if you're going to see the movie, I feel like we owe the book some thanks. Not because it was the best book ever written. Not because it was the first of its kind, because it surely wasn't. We owe it a bit of thanks because it shined a huge light on the kind of books that we all love to read (and in some cases write.)


jean hart stewart said...

An interesting viewpoint. I have no use for the book itself, but perhaps it did give authors a boost. I'll have to think that over....

Fiona McGier said...

What it did is convince people that romance now has to involve billionaires, mousy virgins with low self-esteem, and dominance themes involving the female being tied up and beaten or otherwise abused. We should thank the author for that???

To me, romance must involve 2 (or more) equal partners who respect each other and themselves. Any dominance play has to be consensual, not forced upon the powerless underling who has no voice.

When I tell people that I write romance, I get the nasty wink and nudge, followed by, "Oh? Like FSOG?" When I roll my eyes and rant against the book, calling it poorly-written fan fiction, by an author who has no experience with the BDSM world, I get accused of sour grapes because she never has to work a day for the rest of her life. I guess that's partly true.

But I'm willing to forgive authors for hitting the public zeitgeist when the book is well-written, or something I wish I wrote. When it's something as poorly-executed as this series, I'm depressed thinking of all of the excellent romance books I've read, by authors I respect, that are ignored. Many of us work multiple jobs to support our writing "hobby".

I have a plaque in my kitchen that I hung there when the kids were younger and still whined at me. It says, "Life's not fair. Get used to it." Now that they're adults, they like to raze me with those words, when I rail against some unfairness that irritates me.

And it's not just the genre I write in, that I feel this way about. I also feel that the Harry Potter books never deserved the hoopla, compared to other YA series that featured better writing and more well-rounded characters...as well as humor along with the suspenseful stories. I loved the Artemis Fowl series much more. I enjoyed the Christopher Chant series. And for the reader who can read at an adult level, the Bartimaeus trilogy tells a fantastic story.

But the public will embrace what it chooses, and there's rarely a direct correlation between quality and popularity. Alas.

Tina Donahue said...

Um, I don't think erotic romance is looked upon as real literature. Not in this country anyway. I believe it's considered entertainment. That's probably because it's written mostly by women. Now, if Nicholas Sparks wrote it, he'd probably win a Nobel in literature for telling women what they really like but didn't know until he informed them of it.

As to FSOG making it popular, again, don't think so. EC (Ellora's Cave) didn't become what it was because it was selling Christian literature. Back in its heyday, EC was really cooking with erotic romance. That was well before FSOG was around.

I haven't read FSOG (except for a bit of it on Google books) - no time. However, I have heard that he rapes her in one chapter. If that's true - well, yuck. I would expect a man to write something like that and think it's romantic, not a woman.

In any event. If you haven't read Katrina Lumsden's review of the FSOG trilogy, you HAVE to - it's a screamer. Haven't laughed that hard in months.

You'll find it here: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/340987215

Again, haven't read the book except for a bit of the first chapter on Google books. I wasn't wowed by that excerpt - not like The Handmaid's Tale. Wow - now that is a book. Not a romance, but a book that speaks to me as a woman. :)

Fiona McGier said...

Tina, thanks for that link! I read her reviews of all 3 books, then went to her website to see her answer to the "trolls" who weren't happy with her reviews. She's a stitch! I promptly joined her site.

The whole uneven power-struggle thing mystifies me. We prosecute adults who prey on children, then celebrate romance where the man holds all of the power, so he's like the adult, and the helpless female is a child that he takes advantage of. The inequality of that makes me gag.

Like you, I don't find rape to be hot either. Nor do I ever want to read a sex scene that involves a tampon. Bleah. Bet that's one scene that won't make it into the movie that's being billed as "perfect for a Valentine's Day date." Because nothing says "romance" like signing bondage contracts followed by floggings in the "playroom"??

Suz said...

I read FSOG awhile back but I don't recall a rape scene. I do remember appalling editing.

While FSOG may be a bad book, I'm still pleased that its popularity has given steamy romance a lift in popularity.

Michelle Roth said...

Looks like I hit a sore spot!

I was a huge erotic romance reader beforehand but I know a ton of people who say they started because they read FSOG. Some of them wouldn't have looked at the genre at all without her books.

None of what I said had anything to with the quality of the books. It was generally unbelievable as far as plot lines go. She was a door mat and he was possessive/creepy in a way that left me cold. I read them all because I read a LOT before I started writing.

Periodically I get questions from readers.. "Oh. So your book is like Fifty Shades of Grey?" and I just tell them no. It's erotic, but I don't include anything other than light bdsm elements. I just outline the differences and let people make up their own minds.

Love the book or hate it, the fact that it became a freaking sensation despite the huge gaps in character development and editing, it has helped shine a light on what I write.

And, I really don't remember the rape scene either. But the tampon thing was gross. Just.. no.