E.L. James

All posts tagged E.L. James

On literary snobbery and sex.

Published July 20, 2012 by mandileighbean

Call me a literary snob.

Call me uptight.

Call me prude.

Call me what you will, but upon reading the following linked news article, I became indignant and nearly filled with rage; http://newsfeed.time.com/2012/07/18/bronte-bondage-classic-literature-gets-fifty-shades-of-grey-treatment/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+time%2Fentertainment+%28TIME%3A+Entertainment%29&utm_content=Google+Reader.

I understand that the current trend in Hollywood dictates that what will be successful will not be new; instead, it will be a reincarnation of what was successful in the past, and more often than not, it will be a crude and diluted version.  What happened to artistic integrity?  It is more than a little disheartening to see millions being made as literary classics – stories already told and stories against which all others are measured – are warped and twisted to fit the fleeting interests of the American public.

I admit I may be in a little hypocritical in my view because I said nothing when Pride and Prejudice because Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  I suppose I may have been more forgiving then because that book did not take itself seriously; it did not claim to add to the character development or themes.  It truly added a supernatural element and left it at that.  Now, classic novels are being rewritten to include scenes they claim are “missing;” who can possibly make that claim but the author?  There is nothing “missing” from the relationships between Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester, between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, and between Heathcliff and Catherine.  These novels became classics because of the literary elements which are now deemed unsatisfactory and not entertaining.  They need sex, because everything in society has to be sexy to have value.  That is the message the public is sent through the media, and it has now inevitably trickled into literature.  I would not mind half as much if original stories were more sexualized – I would discount it as a sign of changing times and just more evidence of society’s ever-changing interests.  However, that is not what is happening.

I do not think that anyone who reads Fifty Shades of Grey is a sex-starved, literary simpleton.  Far from it; I completely understand that tastes differ.  Hell, I’m thinking about reading the Fifty Shades trilogy myself.  I think it important to note, however, that two women who have read both the first and the second books in the series complained there was too much sexual interaction between the characters, and not enough character development.  I wonder, then, how introducing sex scenes into literary classics could possibly enhance character development.

Indeed, a large aspect of the sex appeal of literary characters like Mr. Rochester, Mr. Darcy and Heathcliff is that they are mysterious, secretive, allusive, wounded and brooding.  To introduce a physical and intense sex scene robs the characters of that mystery and debases them.  The inclusion of such racy relationships is anachronistic more than anything else; the scenes are not “missing,” as is arrogantly stated in the article.  How presumptuous it is.

It especially bothers me that nothing appears to be sacred anymore.  In this respect, I understand I am not as “progressive” as others and may be deemed old-fashioned, but what happened to keep secret desires, passions and fantasies just that – a secret?  Part of the charm and brilliance of reading is that the reader must use his or her imagination.  Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights are incredibly romantic and passionate; the material is all there and it is up to the reader to find it, embrace it and further it as he or she wishes.  It is more effective, in this writer’s humble opinion, to allow the reader to infer.  When Mr. Rochester simply stares at Jane with an impassive countenance, it is enough to imagine what he is thinking.  The unspoken sexual tension that is subtly laced throughout is not only a masterful skill of the craft of writing, but one of the most enjoyable aspects of the stories.

Fifty Shades of Grey is an erotic novel; something some would argue is akin to porn.  Whether or not porn is an art form is not the argument I am trying to present.  I am only upset that artistic integrity is being traded in for commercial success.  It is a shame.  Even Fifty Shades of Grey was inspired by another idea; it started out as fanfiction of the Twilight series.  At least E.L. James did not try rewriting the series; she created a world and characters of her own.

PROMPT: A man ducks into a dress shop to escape a sudden downpour and finds himself in the middle of a heated debate between the employees.

PIECE: Tom hadn’t expected the sudden and furious onslaught of rain, and neither had anyone else, judging by the mass exodus of people from the sidewalks and pavements into nearby stores and under any awning.  It was the summer, and sweeping rains were not uncommon, but remained an annoyance.  Holding his toned arms crossed above his carefully gelled-hair atop his intelligent head, Tom ducked into a women’s dress shop on the right side of the street.  The bell dinged from above as he entered, but no one else seemed to acknowledge his arrival.  Matter of fact, the shop seemed relatively deserted.  It was dimly lit, which Tom figured was supposed to give the boutique-ish store some ambience, but it only made him squint (like doing so would help him to see better) and give him a headache.

There was some soft jazz-sounding music emitting softly from the speakers overhead, but the speakers were in need of repair and the sound crackled and went silent every now and again.  Tom gave a glance out the windows, saw the rain pounding against everything in its path and sighed heavily, assuming he’d be in the store for a while.  He began making his way toward the sales counter.  Tom really wasn’t sure why he chose that path, and chalked it up to being more instinct than anything else.  Then again, maybe he was just bored and looking for some human interaction.  Either way, what else was he supposed to do?

Tom was greeted at the counter by screaming, shrill and distinctly feminine voices.  Two women, both young and red in the face, were shouting at each other.  Their arms waved to and fro in wild gesticulations, clearly indicating to Tom that both women were clearly passionate about the subject which was the topic of conversation, or rather, the argument.  Smiling to himself, proud of his chauvinistic cleverness, Tom assumed it would be about the different membership advantages of Team Edward versus Team Jacob.  He moved forward, ready with a clever and discreetly insulting remark about such a discussion, certain that while catching the ladies off guard, it would impress them with his intelligence and thereby make him immediately irresistible.  Tom opened his mouth to proclaim his witty retort, but was suddenly silenced when he actually stopped and listened to what was being said.

“But there are two different kinds of government spending, Melinda,” the young woman on the right explained.  “And both kinds need to be cut, both direct spending and discretionary spending, to get our economy back on its feet!”

Melinda rolled her eyes.  She said, “But, Crystal, what you really want to do is cut direct spending and completely reform needed and beneficial programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.  People depend on those programs.”

Crystal looked tired.  “Reform is not the same as negating or cutting.  Surely you realize that!”

Tom cleared his throat and both women turned their heads toward him quickly.  Their impassioned expressions smoothed and they thoughtlessly resumed the role of clerk, of liaison to the masses.  To Tom, they looked prettier this way; eager to serve, aiming to please and ignorant of economics and its accompanying buzzwords.

“You ladies read Twilight?” he offered lamely.

On pop culture connections and voodoo.

Published June 30, 2012 by mandileighbean

I’ve decided that I get my best thinking done in the shower, especially when the water is searing hot.  If I open the bathroom door after such a shower and the fire alarm rings out loud from the steam, you can safely bet I’ve developed a real gem of an idea.  I took one such shower today because I was feeling particularly grimy; I went out with friends last night, drank way too much and awoke with the word “fancy” stamped twice upon my forearm.  Scattered across my bedroom floor were clothes, Hawaiian leis and Mardi Gras beads.  Clearly I enjoyed myself, but at a cost; my stomach was feeling funny and my head was pounding fit to split.  The intense heat didn’t help matters, either.  I had resolved myself to eating greasy food and watching sitcoms that cause me to feel bad about myself because I am broke, single, unemployed, still living at home and feeling particularly unfulfilled.  To be specific, I was watching “New Girl” with Zooey Deschanel.  I absolutely adore this show – the writing is humorous, clever and heartfelt, the characters are genuine and authentic, the plots are entertaining but not outlandish – and realized with not a small amount of trepidation that I am in love with Nick Miller, the lead male protagonist.  While all of my significant romantic relationships have been with fictional males, this one is the most promising because I’m learning a lot about myself and why I engage in such pathetic behavior.  For example, Nick and Jess taught me that “backsliding” is always a bad idea; if a relationship didn’t pan out, it is for a good reason and revisiting what is lost only serves to make things messy and disappointing.  Just last night, I was debating about reconnecting with Navy Guy – a guy I “dated” (I use that term loosely – we went out twice) briefly.  To do so would no doubt seem weird since it’s been months since we last talked.  I debated whether I wanted to initiate contact because I was lonely and bored, or if because I genuinely believe I missed an opportunity.  After watching “New Girl” and analyzing the episode’s thematic development, I realize that I did not miss an opportunity.  The Navy Guy was somewhat shady, only texted me randomly when he was lonely and bored and I deserve better.  Thank you, Nick Miller.

I was thinking about these episodes and how I felt compelled to have a romantic interest in a fictional character when an advertisement for the movie “Magic Mike” aired.  Like most women, I am eager to see this movie because it has gorgeous, half-naked men in it.  Does that mean I am objectifying males, behaving below my level of intelligence and participating in a double standard?  Maybe, but I honestly find my reaction to the movie interesting.  I want to see it, as I want to finally read Fifty Shades of Grey.  Women rave about both of these artistic endeavors and while some claim that the movie and the book are nothing more than pornography, others hail both as tools to which women can break down sexual barriers.  Whichever it may be, I find it fascinating that audiences are always interested in sex and sometimes by extension, romance.  What does that say about society, that we’re starved for sex or for affection?  Are we desperate for human contact or human connections?  Are the two invariably linked?

Look at the Twilight andTrue Blood phenomenons; in both series, inhuman creatures – monsters, quite literally – are romanticized.  What is the deeper meaning here, that being loved by a monster is better than being lonely?  Why is it better to be with a vampire or a werewolf or some supernatural being than to be with a normal human being?  Is it a love or interest in the melodramatic?  Is it just entertainment?  When you step back and study popular culture from a sociological perspective, it is quite fascinating.  I’m eager to apply such a lens to my own writing and reading habits.  I believe everything I write involves romance because I am starved for affection – we have already discussed this.  I make my male characters brooding or damaged because either they are a reflection of how I see myself, or because it adds suspense to a typically humdrum circumstance.  That being said, I would much rather have my writing been driven by character development rather than plot development.  I could craft the most exciting plot with explosions, intrigue and murder – but if there is not a single character to provide the emotional buy-in, then what is the point?

I think that’s why “Magic Mike” and Fifty Shades of Grey and Twilight and True Blood are all so popular; they explore human relations in various ways.  Though their plots are different – significantly different in some ways – all involve men and women and what they mean to each other.  That will always fascinate audiences because we will never be able to figure such relationships out.  There is always some kind of mystery and that is both alluring and entertaining – even in this digital age where everything about everyone is made known.  Glued to the boob tube as I was today, I saw an advertisement for the new HBO show “Newsroom” and one of the lead actresses, I believe it was Olivia Munn, who said the definition of newsworthy has changed; it now encompasses whatever people want to know about and it seems that what people want to know about most is other people; i.e., celebrities and people of note.  That makes sense to me – you see it everyday when “Jersey Shore” has more viewers than a documentary on the environment.  Are our priorities skewed, or are we just being honest with ourselves and indulging what we truly are fascinated by?

This is what I was ruminating on in the long, hot shower I took this evening, cleansing myself of the grime from the night before.  I decided that I like mystery- I am thrilled by a handsome stranger on a train who doesn’t give me a second glance with his sunglasses and headphones on.  He is elusive and I have a myriad of imagined possibilities of who he is and why he’s listening to headphones and wearing sunglasses.  I spent Wednesday evening in New York City with my friend Dominick, and we watched beautiful men in Central Park.  Some ran, some playfully tackled their girlfriends, some lovingly held hands with their boyfriends and it really drove my point home; this life is all about the connections we make, and so is the best art.

That being said, tonight’s prompt is not romantic. Enjoy.

PROMPT: “During his third night out of town, a traveling business man discovers a voodoo doll in his hotel room.”

PIECE:

Bill had been enjoying his time out of town.  Even though it was for business and he had spent the majority of his time attending boring, long-winded conferences and being hunched over yellow legal pads, scrawling notes with a tired, cramping hand, Bill was happy to be away; it offered the opportunity of gaining some perspective.  The town was tiny and cramped – everyone knew everyone, and everyone liked to talk.  Indeed, it seemed that Mrs. Marshall, the cashier at the local convenient store that operated at all hours and sold cigarettes at the lowest price allowed by law, knew Carol was going to divorce Bill’s sorry ass long before he did.  She had, in fact, told her husband all about it.  Mr. Marshall just so happened to work in Bill’s office and walked into Bill’s cubicle to offer his condolences on the failed marriage.  Bill had met Mr. Marshall’s mumbled sentiments with genuine surprise; aside from a lack of communication and a lack of sex, he had assumed things were fine, rolling right along.  Couples had dry spells, no?  Every marriage hit a rough spot, right?  Bill arrived home that afternoon seeking both clarification and reassurance, but Carol had only sucked in air between her teeth and shook her head slowly.  Bill had lost his drive, she said.  Where was the passion and the aspiration?  Bill was old and tired, she had complained.  She was moving up and on and out – all in one fell swoop.

Bill supposed none of it mattered anymore, seeing as how the marriage was over, Carol was a bitch and he was coping in his own way.  He was thinking about all of this perched on the end of the bed in his motel room.  It was an oppressive dry heat in early July, so he had the door kept wide open.  The air conditioner was busted and besides, he liked watching the flickering streetlamps and the imitations of life that passed by, with intimate conversations – not a single passerby knew that he or she was being observed and therefore, exhibited genuine and authentic behavior which Bill found fascinating.  Carol had never been genuine with him, not until the end of everything and that kind of betrayal and disappointment kept Bill from being genuine with anyone.  Instead, he was a stranger – a kind, pleasant, smiling face at all the right places, but still a stranger.

He was taking a deep swig from the amber bottle in his right hand, allowing his eyes free range, when they fell upon an odd-looking doll behind the door which was propped open.  Bill hadn’t seen it before, though he had been in the same room for three nights, and that was decidedly strange.  It sent goosebumps along his arms and spine.  Bill set the bottle on the floor beside his feet and then carefully rose, employing slow and halting steps as he visually examined the doll.  The details were exquisite; it was a balding man in his late thirties, with worried eyes and a downturned mouth.  He was wearing a business suit and could have been anyone of the numerous men Bill called colleagues.  More fascinated than frightened, Bill stooped to pick the doll up when he had reached it and taking it into his hands, Bill realized what it was.

It was a voodoo doll, and it had a single pin in its back.

Bill should have gasped and dropped the doll to the floor.  Bill should have removed the pin delicately and called the police.  Bill should have placed the doll somewhere safe from abuse and misuse, and inquired about the proper way of destroying said voodoo doll.

Bill didn’t do what he should have; matter of fact, he rarely did.  It was something Carol constantly complained about.

Bill looked at the doll and thought about the year he had had.  He had been Carol’s doll, hadn’t he?  She had left him bruised and broken, lying about erectile dysfunction and telling anyone who would listen that Bill was no longer vibrant and had lost the will to live.  Old and tired?  Bill?  She was harsh and cruel.  Bill would have given her everything, and had given her all that she had asked for.  Not to say he was blameless in the dissolution of the marriage but hell, didn’t a man get points for trying?  He had never hit her, cheated on her or lied to her.  So what if he wanted to take it easy when he got home from work?  Was that a crime?

Bill was sick and tired of feeling the proverbial pins people stuck in him – Carol, his boss riding Bill all the time and sending Bill to the conferences he didn’t want to go to with no monetary compensation, growing older and being afraid of what it meant to do so.  Why couldn’t he be the one to stick it to someone, at least once?  Bill removed the pin from the back of the doll and stuck it in the doll’s leg, after a barely noticeable moment of hesitation.

Somewhere, a complete stranger howled in pain.

Bill breathed easier.

On making progress.

Published April 30, 2012 by mandileighbean

I haven’t made it official by consulting my blog’s statistics, but I do believe that “On being worse than teenage poetry” is my most popular entry thus far! That being said, I am clearly going to revisit that topic and include similar posts in the future. I would like to take this opporunity to thank every single person who read it and enjoyed it, regardless of whether or not you commented. It means the world to me that my writing has the ability to help me connect with people I have never met. That, my friends, is what it is all about, and why I really became a writer – to connect, only connect, just like E.M. Forrester wrote in the beginning of Howard’s End (which is an AWESOME read, by the way).

And speaking of reading, have any of you gotten a chance to read Fifty Shades of Gray? I’ve been hearing mixed reviews, but am truly tempted to see what all the buzz is about. It was highly and adamantly recommended by a colleague, so I feel an obligation to check it out. Currently, I’m reading four books: Jane Eyre, Not a Good Day to Die: The Untold Story of Operation Anaconda, Broke and Elixir.  Operation Anaconda is the true account of a military operation during the war in Afghanistan and Broke is Glenn Beck’s take on the current economical crisis.  Jane Eyre is an old favorite and Elixir is Hilary Duff’s first novel, which was recommended and then lent to me by a student. I’m enjoying all of them, the first two because I feel I am broadening my interests and educating myself. What are you reading?

This weekend was hectic, but also productive. My gradebook is all caught up, and I’ve printed progress reports for my students. 🙂 The trick now is remembering to hand them out. Also, I spent a lot of time with my family, and it was enjoyable, incredible and remarkable. I highly recommend spending more time with those that matter most.

Okay. So, truth be told, I am NOT crazy about the prompt for tonight, but hey: it gets me writing and thinking, and that’s what matters most.

Enjoy.  🙂

PROMPT: Most of us set a New Year’s resolution that this was going to be the year we finished our manuscript. But once again, we neglected it. Write an apology letter to your manuscript explaining what happened and how you plan to make it up to the manuscript by December 31.

Dear Second Manuscript,

I am terribly sorry I have yet to get us off to a roaring start, let alone a stellar finish.  My first manuscript is settled and in the midst of the publishing process and yet, I feel unable to move on and leave the plot and characters behind.  Perhaps it is that reluctance that has prevented me from entering into what I am sure will be a whirlwind romance with you.  I imagine the ups and downs, and am enthralled.  Honestly, there is nothing I desire more than to start anew with you.  Every sinew, every pulse and every heart beat is screaming for something new, for an original passion that will make me feel less ordinary and less stagnant.

But where to begin?

Maybe you could help? Offer an idea, or intriguing phrase that will serve as the launching pad for the next great American novel?

Forever yours,

Mandi

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