Thursday, July 19, 2012

Welcome oh women of the world. You have now joined the ranks of masturbating men.

The very definition of guilty pleasure it seems is when you indulge in something that you know you shouldn't because it is inherently bad for you. In other words, you go and get that ice cream from Cold Stone Creamery or you eat that piece of raspberry cheesecake. You savor its incredible tasty goodness yet dread that you may get diabetes or in the least, your pants won't fit anymore in the morning.
When I take my Healthy Utah walk with my partner who is a 48-year-old single mother, she tells me about Fifty Shades of Grey and how she can't wait for her train ride because it means forty minutes of uninterrupted time with Christian Grey. She also says that she makes sure to hide the cover while she's on the train. I smirk to myself as I ask her how she likes the infamous "tampon sex" scene. For those of you who don't know what that is, here is the excerpt (it's rated-R so skip if you don't want your eyes seared out):
His breathing is ragged, matching mine.
“When did you start your period, Anastasia?” he asks out of the blue, gazing down at me.
“Err… yesterday,” I mumble in my highly aroused state.
“Good.” He releases me and turns me around.
“Hold on to the sink,” he orders and pulls my hips back again, like he did in the playroom, so I’m bending down.
He reaches between my legs and pulls on the blue string… what! And… a gently pulls my tampon out and tosses it into the nearby toilet. Holy fuck. Sweet mother of all… Jeez. And then he’s inside me… ah! Skin against skin… moving slowly at first… easily, testing me, pushing me… oh my. I grip on to the sink, panting, forcing myself back on him, feeling him inside me. Oh the sweet agony… his hands clasp my hips. He sets a punishing rhythm – in, out, and he reaches around and finds my clitoris, massaging me… oh jeez. I can feel myself quicken.
“That’s right, baby,” he rasps as he grinds into me, angling his hips, and it’s enough to send me flying, flying high.
Whoa… and I come, loudly, gripping for dear life onto the sink as I spiral down through my orgasm, everything spinning and clenching at once. He follows, clasping me tightly, his front on my back as he climaxes and calls my name like it’s a litany or a prayer.
“Oh, Ana!” His breathing is ragged in my ear, in perfect synergy with mine. “Oh, baby, will I ever get enough of you?” he whispers.
Will it always be like this? So overwhelming, so all-consuming, so bewildering and beguiling. I wanted to talk, but now I’m […]
The one sentence that my walking partner uses to describe this book is "it's so romantic". I just call it porn (and I have nothing against porn). But I think it's odd that so many people seem surprised that this kind of writing is out there. I've seen it for almost two decades now, have read quite a bit of it, and didn't think much of it. I actually thought of it as "low brow" writing myself. I have a few pornographic stories that I hide on my computer. I'm thinking that there might be a market for them now. Who knew, right? I mean, there was a time when I would never have admitted that I wrote those kinds of stories. The world is changing so much.

Nathan Bransford (some of you may have heard of him) wrote in a blog post about a topic called "Are we stripping modern books bare?" You can find it HERE. The general writing advice is that modern readers no longer have the attention span for diversions in plot and want things pared down to bare bones. That is how great writing is seen these days. Only here's the thing...the "great writers" like Franzen aren't "great" by most standards outside of universities because they don't outsell E.L. James or Stephanie Meyer. The measure of success is money right? Anyone that disagrees with me, answer this question: would you like to have a million dollars or a blue ribbon that says "first place?" If you can't have both, I'd take the million dollars.
Character driven stories are what's selling. So is your boy meets girl better than
other boy meets girl stories? For James, maybe it was the courage to incorporate
bondage. But now that this cat is out of the bag, the bar will need to be raised
further to get the same arousal. It's kind of like heroin addiction, right?
So maybe the greatest advice really for any modern writer really has to do with the ultimate in "paring down" if you want to have a career as a writer and nothing else. I'm of course being snarky here. But there is something to be said about throwing out the plot. What I'm saying is that the things that REALLY sell seem to me to really have no story anymore. They are "character driven"...two words that mean the author admits, "I have no idea where this story is going." Two words that mean "I have no idea how to storyboard and don't care. My protag is just gonna 'bump' into things and stuff will just happen."

Sure, this is probably a "guilty pleasure" because filling shelves at a library with books that have no plot is probably overall bad for society as a whole. But without a socialized system in place to encourage writing of other kinds to flourish, that is (unfortunately) what we are going to get. A society that binges on fast food, watches Jersey Shore, and reads plotless sexy books.

I've read on numerous writer blogs the emphasis that readers want "character driven" stories. I think this means that they want you to start with a character, have no direction in mind, and just "pants" the hell out of the story until that character hooks up with someone else and they have sex (in YA it would need to be almost sex). But you need to draw in all the right words to raise the heat. I guess that's where the writer comes into play.

I'm not trying to slam writers who start out with a girl who then meets a guy and they get it on (Here's looking at you E.L. James). Or even worse...the writers who couldn't even invent a world of their own but just wrote fan fiction and changed some names. I guess the one thing that boggles my mind is why such trash is making so much money in the first place. Now don't get me wrong. I'm a HUGE consumer of trash. And I unabashedly admit "I like trash." I'll read trash, watch trash, all by myself or in front of people while nom noming on a jelly doughnut. I don't care. I'm really the kind of person that would read porn in front of someone holding up the magazine so you can see what I'm reading. I have no shame as far as that goes because I don't care what anyone thinks of me. But back to my question...

Maybe the reason this stuff makes so much money is because no one has an appreciation for something that is truly good, because "good things" have become so rare in today's society? Or maybe it's because pornography has remained particularly taboo for women to explore and finding it in a book allows them to indulge the guilty pleasure while remaining clean and prim for church on Sunday. I can look at porn on my computer whenever I want. But maybe other people in other lives would like to do so, but don't because of "restrictions" that their lifestyle enforces upon them.

Whatever the case, E.L. James' Fifty Shades of Grey is the flagship of guilty money makers of written pornography. It's utter trash, but it's the kind of utter trash that everyone wants. It's the kind that has clogged the hard drives of teenage boys for years. I don't understand it. Yet, I salute the women of the world who have joined the ranks of perverted, masturbating men.

It's about time.

The whole "Puritan"/"Scarlet Letter" thing left over from when America was founded centuries ago is finally gone. Now we just need more male strip clubs like the ones in Magic Mike in more cities, especially those found in Utah. Women...get out and support these. The future is yours.

Check out the animated tampon scene below. It's a preview of what you'll get in the movie adaptation.


  1. Who knows why anything captures the public's imagination? I don't get all the brouhaha over this book. So, I'll ignore this until the next big thing hits. Because there will be a next big thing, and a next, and a next.

  2. After reading that excerpt, all three Fifty Shades books just fell to the very bottom of my TBR pile. Though in all fairness, I am not the target audience for such books. The only consolation here is that if these books could make it to the top of the charts, then surely ANYTHING could.

  3. As soon as electronic readers came on the scene, erotica sales went through the roof. IMHO, that exposure broke ground for it to be more acceptable out in the open. Now, Fifty Shades has an end cap at Target.

  4. I'm sorry but I giggled all the way through this post. Ha. I haven't read this series and don't plan on it, though every other woman I encounter is telling me I HAVE TO, that it's amazing and oh my Christian is so this and so that.... uh, it's porn and from what I hear, he isn't romantic, he needs therapy, LOL

    I think Brinda may be right, e-readers allow us to read stuff we wouldn't otherwise read out in the open, with no judgement.

  5. Fifty Shades of Grey? Women read it like they do romance novels...they yearn for something they're not getting. Is it porn? Romance? Whatever it is, women must want it, or some shade of it. And I'm reading it now.

  6. i find it all boring... having read and seen flicks so much better - some even trashier - over the years

    what i find disturbing: how bad the animation is!

    i saw better by first year students when i was in animation school... back in the mists of time...

    with all the $$$ the book has made, surely they could have hired a pro studio rather than some beginner 3-d animation student! GRRRRRRRRRRRR

  7. What annoys be about 27 shades of mauve is that the readers militantly defend it as being the most masterfully crafted work of literary genius to ever grace the earth. They focus on the romance and the character development when all they want is a naughty thrill on the bus home.

    It's the equivalent of me watching "Juggsasauras does the world" (made up title) and stating that I watch it for the cinematography, the well crafted script and the use of lighting that give it a film noir quality on par with that of the movies of Orson Welles.

    No. I'd watch it for the boobies, so stop kidding yourself, ladies.

  8. When do we get to read your pornography stories?

    I think I should go back and reedit "Where You Belong" to take out most of the plot and just focus more on the sex.

  9. I have heard that reading Seven Shades of Grey is like watching a train wreck. It is badly written and you know it, yet you keep reading. Why is that? Are the sex scenes that good? I suppose I should read it. I have it downloaded, but couldn't make it past the first fifteen pages. I will give it another try tonight, but I doubt I will make it to page 20.

  10. Hmm... that is a lot to think about. I have to admit that the scene above just had me wrinkling my nose and then rolling my eyes.

    But that's me.

    As for "character driven", I'd hazzard to say I'm an exception to what you described above, since I do pants and see myself as a character driven writer (characters and conflict first). BUT I make a point of building up a massive plot, because I think it's pretty useless to have excellent characters, but they're not strong enough to do things and let those things have ramifications. In fact, Darrion would keep me awake for DAYS (in a bad way :-P) if I just let things happen to them at random.

  11. I've approached this as sex will always sell, but I like your angle that pornography has long been more taboo for women and that this is a way to circumvent that. It almost makes 50 Shades seem...noble, except that I'm sure there's a lot more high-quality smut around.

    I wouldn't know or anything, though....


  12. Erotic and BDSM fiction was a thriving industry well before 50 Shades made it onto the scene. What makes 50 Shades unique is the subject of much debate, but I can assure you it's not the sexual content. My take is that it's the voice. Although plenty of people don't like it - it's still a unique voice with characters that make an impression on the reader.

    I also think the whole porn/masturbation thing is misleading. Women have masturbated and will continue to do so... however, that's not what 50 Shades is for. This is evidenced by the fact that your friend reads it on the bus. If it were porn (to her), then wouldn't she restrict the reading to her bedroom where she can actually do something about it?

    I do get that the taboo factor of the book has made it more appealing to certain readers... however, they chose THIS book over the many, many others. They tell their friends about this one, which is why it's so big. It's just a fact that it's got to be more than the sex, because there's plenty of sex to be found and it doesn't make the NYT list, whether it's written better or worse or any way at all.

  13. I haven't found Fifty Shades of Grey on my wife's nightstand...yet.

  14. All I know is that I see it EVERYWHERE. In the airport, on the plane, at the grocery store. And I'm not talking about on the shelf. I'm talking about in women's hands.

  15. There was an article on... um, I think it was CNN recently that was saying that the success of 50 is due to the genius marketing more than anything else. The book itself is fairly typical of the erotic genre, nothing special about it, but the people that decided to put the very tame cover on it instead of the typical barely clad couple wrapped in each others' arms were the ones that catapulted the book to where it is.

  16. Heh. That scene is so unrealistic, although I guess I can get the romance that a man would want a woman no matter the time or place. Still unrealistic, though.

  17. Bought this at the airport last Sunday and cracked it open while waiting in the terminal. I don't care what people think. I haven't picked it back up since but maybe that's because I never made it to the sexy parts...But if I were to be honest, the only reason I got the book is because of the hype. It has potential from what I've heard, (the excerpt you posted barely made my toes curl though) but I like my porn to have a decent plot as well a lot of sessy time. Anne Rice spoiled me I guess. Also, you should post your "other" short stories... (;

  18. those are some cheeky pics, Mikey :)

    I'm deeply sad that I live in a world in which an utter crap (from the professional point of view) like 50 SHADES OF GRAY is called a book!

  19. I'm actually surprised it's taken this long for erotic fiction to go mainstream. I'm still not sure why 50 Shades is the one that did. Haven't read it and don't plan on it.

  20. @Liz: I think it's cause ppl like to read sex.

    @Michael: Really? I thought it was pretty hot.

    @Brinda: I know!

    @Cristina: Giggling is definitely allowed. It validates a part of me that thinks I'm funny.

    @Em-Musing: I sent you an email.

    @Laughing: How could you find pulling a tampon out of a woman's vajayjay and then screwing her boring? Do you have a pulse?

    @Jamie: Some readers do that. It is what it is, right?

    @P.T.: They are online. You wouldn't read them anyway so stop pretending that you care.

    @Trisha: I don't think it's badly written. It just has no plot and has sold 20 million copies.

    @Suzanne: You like that eh?

    @Misha: Well that's why E.L. James has sold 20 million copies and you haven't.

    @Annalise: Thank you.

    @Amber: Oooh I was hoping you'd comment. You are like my erotica expert among bloggy friends.

    How can you assure me? Isn't writing and interpretation of said writing all subjective?

    And that's a good point about my friend reading it on the bus.

    @Stephen: That must mean you are a satisfying lover.

    @Matt: Yep. Me too.

    @Andrew: So the brilliance was putting a gray tie on the cover? Interesting.

    @Cherie: Unrealistic? So you've never had your tampon plucked out by a super rich and handsome six-pack ab guy that was into sex games? Shame on you Cherie.

    @Elise: LOLOL... I actually have posted them.

    @Dezmond: You sir are an elitist! I like how you can write that with a straight cartoony face and then go back to your website which touts half nude pics everywhere! I luvs you Dezzy

    @Alyson: Never close your eyes to a phenomenon. You never know what will leak into your subconscious.

  21. Mikey, I did say from a professional point of view :) Which means I didn't criticize the sex part (which we always approve) but the quality of writing. Have you read her dialogues, sentence structure and such things? It's on the level of a 10 year old kid.

  22. @Dezmond: Oh yeah. I was just giving you grief Dezzy because I can. I'm a pal like that. Besides, I think my sex scene in my book is way better than this pull the plug out of the drain scene that E.L. James came up with.

  23. Hilarious, Michael! I've been hearing all sorts of stuff about this lately, even watched Ellen "attempt" to do a voice recording for it, but you pretty much wrapped this topic and nailed it. Not exactly my kind of read, either. "Story before whorey," I say. :)

  24. Holy crap! I never heard about the tampon scene! And yes, I totally read it. *blush* hehehe.
    I don't if I can even respond to the rest of the article, I'm still digesting all the 50 Shades of Grey.

    And yeah - I think it's porn too :)

  25. Hi, Mike,
    I might be a purist because for me, character driven doesn't mean drivel with an individual riding the waves in whatever direction to the end of the story.

    I've seen how much publicity the book has generated. Seems like you either love it or hate it. From all the yeas and nays I've seen, I'm keeping my ten dollars.

  26. I was laughing throughout your post because of your humor AND I was a little uncomfortable reading that snippet.

    I think stuff with little substance or literary merit (i.e. "trash") has a place in the market. Nothing wrong with that! Obviously, there's people who want to buy and read that kind of book.

    On the other hand, I just hope these authors don't pat themselves on the back as if they're literary masters. Stephanie Meyers might have struck a primal chord with girls and their mothers, but she's not a very good writer.

    I'm not so much a purist, as I also love pulp magazines, comics, and other pretty trashy stuff. There's just moments when I don't want to think so damn much and just be entertained!

  27. No comment! (teehee)

    But seriously, I haven't read 50 Shades, and if people are enjoying it, then books are going to be HOT again! I mean, really! In this day of so many entertainment options, the popular topic is a book? An honest-to-goodness (depending on your definition of goodness) book!

    I think there's definitely a market for "uplifting" fiction in which nobody has to get murdered, and folks can indulge in a little fly-on-the-wall eyeballing of some folks doing the dirty turkey.

    If it makes reading sexy again, as it should be, then yeehaw!

  28. There's a strange phenomena that seems to happen with a few books, and to me it's random and inexplicable. I've ranted before about Celestine Prophecy, which was atrociously written, had no discernible plot and the characters were jokes, yet it sold millions of copies. A few people who read such crappy bestsellers (as opposed to the well-written ones) have told me they bought the books because they wanted to know what all the fuss was about. This is how some books stay on the charts -- sheer curiosity.

    My concept of "character driven" stories is different from some readers'/writers' opinions. An agent once told me that she always asked with each manuscript, "What does the character want and how does she go about getting it?" By that standard, Gone With the Wind is a character-driven novel because so much of the complex plot is driven by what Scarlet wants and her determination to get it. Then again, Margaret Mitchell placed Scarlet in the life-and-death struggle of the Civil War and the rebuilding of a post-war shattered society, and in this way Scarlet's character and story are grand and important. The book came out during the depression, really struck a nerve, and went on to be a forever bestseller. (Yes, it's also a racist book, but that's another discussion.) If books like 50 Shades of Grey is a hit with women now, what does that say about their women's lives and desires, or about them? This is modern day life on a small scale, I guess.

    On the other hand, I've read some "literary" short stories and also some trash pieces that are only about what the character is feeling and thinking, and they leave me cold. If the character can't be the force behind a good solid plot, then for me both the character and his/her story have failed.

  29. Hey Michael,
    Got to hand it to you with this posting. I couldn't quite put my finger on it at first, however, I've come to a conclusion.
    That book is supposed to be crap. Crap seems to sell. And that reference to the "Celestine Prophecy", one of the most tedious, poorly written books I've had the displeasure of subjecting myself to.
    Take care, I'm outta' here.

  30. I write romance, which is character driven. My genre gets trashed by many people. We also get called porn a lot. I haven't read '50 Shades' so I can't judge what it is or isn't. But I think I'll buy it so I know the truth about it. Although the snippet was pretty tame to my eye.

  31. I like character-driven novels, but the characters have to be real and well-developed. I downloaded the sample of 50 Shades due to all the hype. I was absolutely horrified by the writing. So I'll end my relationship with E.L. James there. Good writing is what hooks me in a book and it's what makes the sex scenes richer and more worthwhile--if they happen. To read a book simply for the sex is just not my thing.
    Love your take on things, Michael!

  32. That snippet from 50 Shades was so bizarre...everybody knows you don't throw a tampon into the toilet. Tut-tut, Mr. Gray.

    "The whole "Puritan"/"Scarlet Letter" thing left over from when America was founded centuries ago is finally gone." I truly wish that were so, but the fact that so many chicks feel the need to hide their enjoyment of it for fear of ridicule, and that the media stoke the mockery by harping on the "Mommy Porn" phrase, tells me otherwise.
    Some Dark Romantic

  33. OMG! I laughed so hard reading that trash I nearly pee'd my pants. I have been seeing that book come through on holds and hearing people talk about it (we were just talking about it yesterday at the library while we were shelving holds)- I know why women like it --as someone earlier said, it's a more graphic romance novel, but I agree with you, it signifies a problem with the society we live in. Too many to enumerate-- (we should have a chat)

    BTW: i would take the blue ribbon. I would rather get my millions from winning the lottery.

  34. Well Mikey Dear; I like sex, and porn, I'm a fan of trash too. I'm with you, there is a place for it; a definite market.

    And, I write sex - so much fun. And yes, I am a character driven writer and reader. I develop my characters first - did I mention I'm a pantster (or should I say panties-ster) - but without plot, a story is just not worth reading.

    Gratuitous sex is well and fine for short bursts, but I like a bit more depth for the long haul.

    So yeah, give me characters, but don't forget to go somewhere with the story. Sex, action, and evocative narration only last so long.

    I loved this post Mike. Not sure I'll purchase this novel - although I'm tempted for the sex; but I don't think I'll ever enjoy animated sex; and now I have that visual in my mind's eye every time I think of this.


  35. Oh, and one of the benefits I'm gotten from having a Kindle is I get to read porn - and nobody knows I bought it . .

    And, sex is not romance.


  36. She honestly thinks it's romantic? Omg. Does she not see the explicit abuse in the novel?

    Also, have you read this? 50 Shades Review

    It's hilarious!!

  37. no pulse... houseplants never do :P

  38. Michael, excellent post.

    I don't get the appeal of that scene at all. I appreciate good writing in both children and adult books. So do my kids. There are so many series of books out now that are all plot and little character. I drop them after the first. book. Maybe I'm in the minority. I don't read actors' books either.

    As for my own writing, I'll keep doing what I do and hope it connects sometime, somewhere.

  39. Women have been reading things like this for decades. Look at any bad romance book and you will find smut, smut, more smut, and zero plot. There are good romance books, but then there is paperback porn. As far as I can tell, the only thing 50 Shades has done is catapulted some relatively mild BDSM onto the shelves of your local WalMart. (I haven't read 50 Shades, but the excerpts I've seen sound like it's on the mellower side of the BDSM spectrum.) So maybe we can expect to see more paperback porn on the shelves of our libraries. I hope that doesn't mean that actually good stories with actual plots and interesting characters will have no home.