When it comes to Fifty Shades of Grey, the E.L. James erotica novel that has taken the reading world by storm, it seems like there’s new news out each day. The book (as well as the rest of the trilogy) is being re-printed, the movie rights have been sold, and now, the work will be parodied. Andrew Shaffer’s Fifty Shames of Earl Grey has just been purchased by Da Capo Press.
In author (and RT reviewer) Shaffer’s re-imagining, James’ naive heroine Anastasia Steele becomes Anna, and twenty-something tycoon Christian Grey is transformed into Earl Grey. And although this story also tracks the developing relationship between a young woman and an older and more experienced man, Shaffer’s Earl is on the softer side of the BDSM spectrum.
However, the book’s tongue-in-cheek plot is only part of this story. Da Capo’s Renee Sedliar said of the upcoming work in the PW announcement, "The parody brings to life all of the arguments for and against 50 Shades, including the feminist concerns, portrayal of BDSM, roots in Twilight fan-fiction, and EL James's writing style."
The fact that Shaffer is critically looking at not only an author’s work, but also how the work came about is nothing new. In his first published work, Great Philosophers who Failed at Love, Shaffer brought readers original, surprising perspectives on well-known historical figures. And in order to get an in-depth look at his own process in crafting Fifty Shames, we asked the author to answer a few of our questions about his upcoming work.
What was your opinion of the novel when you first read Fifty Shades of Grey?
My initial thoughts on "Fifty Shades" were not kind. The dialogue is cheesy; the rest of the prose is not much better. I can name at least a dozen authors mining the same territory as James who could write circles around "Fifty Shades." But I've also had the luxury of reading hundreds of romance and erotic novels. If "Fifty Shades" is the first book of erotic fiction someone reads, I can maybe see it being a more enjoyable reading experience. If people are reading and talking about books, that's a net positive for everyone in publishing.
Why did you decide to parody Fifty Shades?
The relationship between Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele is a throwback in many ways. The rich, wealthy alpha male who sweeps the virginal heroine off her feet is almost an antiquated concept these days in romantic fiction (with some notable exceptions, such as the Harlequin Presents line). It's a trope that I thought I could have some fun parodying.
What was the first thing you wrote for this parody that got you thinking you could do this for an entire book?
The first paragraph I wrote featured the heroine, "Anna Steal," brushing her hair while staring into a mirror — which turns out to be a poster of Kristen Stewart. I realized that I could use the parody to comment on the controversies surrounding "Fifty Shades," from its Twilight fanfic origins to Dr. Drew's claim that it portrays "violence against women."
Dr. Drew got quite a bit of heat when he said that the novel is a fictional portrayal of Stockholm Syndrome, like Ana is Christian’s captive and their relationship is not consensual. Do you give credence to this opinion?
I thought Dr. Drew's initial assessment of the book was way off the mark (though he admittedly hadn't read it at the time he called it "actual violence against women"). No women were harmed during the writing of the series — a fictional book is very different from, say, an adult movie where actual actresses are subjected to various situations. Also, Christian Grey had at one time been a submissive himself — so men and women were the subject of consensual BDSM "violence." I think Dr. Drew backed off of his comments somewhat after he read the first book, though he did call it a "rape fantasy." I don't take television doctors too seriously, though — even his own wife argued against him on his program.
Considering the huge buzz around James’ work, it makes sense that shopping around your book, Fifty Shames of Earl Grey, was a different experience from selling your previous work. How did the deal with Da Capo come about?
Within a few days of posting the initial excerpts on my website, a small publisher offered me a deal — via Twitter. I wrote a full rough draft in ten days and my agent showed it to more publishers, which led to an auction. Everything was accelerated — and will continue to be, as Da Capo Press wants to get a paperback out this summer.
Now that you are an expert in parody, are there any other works that, in your opinion, are ripe for parody? Maybe you can give us a few titles ...
Dystopian novels. Super serious, issue-driven YA novels. Steve Jobs' biography. As for actual parody titles ... nothing's coming to the top of my head. I keep telling Richelle Mead I'm going to write a "Hamster Academy" parody of her Vampire Academy series. And I did write a literary fiction parody titled "Freedom 2," which is a "sequel" to Franzen's book — I don't know if that will ever see the light of day, but you never know what will happen ...
Want to learn more? You can check out the *Web Exclusive Review* of Fifty Shades of Grey, see who we would cast as the movie’s hero and heroine here and find out how the reprinting of the novel will affect its availability here. And for more from Andrew Shaffer, check out his nonfiction book, Great Philosophers who Failed at Love, which is in stores now!