For a novelist who became famous writing hard-core erotica, E L James is surprisingly introverted. “I’m incredibly shy under all of it,” she said.
It is hard to reconcile the notion of James as a quiet, reserved homebody with the billion-dollar fetish franchise she created. Since “Fifty Shades of Grey” was released in 2011, her “Fifty Shades” trilogy has sold 165 million copies worldwide and was adapted into a feature film series that James co-produced. It helped popularize niche sexual fetishes involving bondage, blindfolds and nipple clamps, bringing them into the commercial and cultural mainstream. James trademarked and licensed “Fifty Shades”-branded wine, lingerie, floggers, vibrators and handcuffs, designing many of the products herself. (“I set about trademarking everything because I didn’t want things on lunchboxes,” she joked. “Just don’t put it in a Happy Meal.”)
Fans still wanted more. So James gave them more. In 2015, she published “Grey,” which retells the steamy saga of the billionaire Christian Grey and his “submissive,” the demure Anastasia Steele. James, who first wrote “Fifty Shades” as “Twilight” fan fiction, rehashed the same plot but narrated it this time from Christian’s point of view instead of Anastasia’s.
James followed “Grey” with “Darker,” a second book from Christian’s perspective, then took a detour with a stand-alone romance novel titled “The Mister.” Dissatisfied readers begged her to finish the Christian-centric trilogy, sometimes posting photos of their bookshelves with an empty spot to fill.When the pandemic struck last spring, James decided it was time to finish the project. “It kept me occupied during lockdown,” she said. “There’s only so many jigsaws you can do. It kept me sane during this insane year.”