What Erotica Writers Thought Of The #AskELJames Twitter Q&A

Yesterday, to promote her new release Grey: Fifty Shades of Grey as Told by Christian, author EL James took to Twitter for an Q&A that quickly turned into what Crushable called “Fifty Shades of Shade.” What happened? While James, Tweeting from the Twitter UK office, did answer questions about what her favorite scene to write was and whether she ever wanted to change anything in the story, those were quickly overshadowed by questions like “Is stalking ok as long as I use a private jet to get there?” and “Which do you hate more, women or the English language?”

While many media outlets were gleeful in their reporting of the Twitter critics’ responses, I noticed that many of my fellow erotica writers had different points of view, often far more sympathetic to James and the life of an author in the public digital eye. I asked them to comment on the Twitter Q&A and whether it truly went “astray,” and what the public reaction to it said about the popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey and the erotica genre. While they certainly don’t all agree, their views offer an alternative to the surfeit of snark the internet saw yesterday.

Rose Caraway, editor, The Sexy Librarian’s Dirty 30 Vol. 1

“There were some great questions asked, and even some legitimate beefs. Unfortunately, Twitter is an uncontrolled environment. That is a pitfall of using a live, public, unmoderated platform. On Reddit there could have been a moderator. That said, it was pretty ballsy of her to go the Twitter route. I appreciate that courage. EL James knew that the trolls would come trolling.

As an erotica writer, I would hate for my moral character to be judged based on a fictional character I created in one of my stories. Some of my players can be quite brutal. That doesn’t mean that I want to go out and brutalize anyone. We authors will know when we’ve made it when erotica is truly legitimized, when it is treated as an equal to mystery, sci-fi, horror, etc. Look at Rob Zombie or Quentin Tarantino. Nobody thinks that either of those directors/writers are mass murderers—killers. Yet, exclusively their films portray exploitive, gruesome scenes of murder and mayhem. I think it’s silly that there are people out there who think EL James personally condones or endorses ‘violence against women.’”

Abigail Ekue, author of The Darker Side of Lust, 5th Anniversary Edition:

“I think the #AskELJames Twitter chat was to be expected. There’s been backlash since the first trilogy for her (lack of) writing skills and the fact that she’s portraying BDSM incorrectly, mainly as abuse, not a true D/s relationship. As an erotic writer, I’m glad there is a market for erotica and a growing fan base but I’d hope that readers and the general public don’t lump all erotica into the category of poorly-written fan fiction which misrepresents BDSM or misrepresents any sort of relationship or group of people. Just because it’s fiction doesn’t mean it should be false. When I’m writing characters in a scenario I know nothing about or have never experienced, I do research.

Fifty Shades is well-known but not for all the right reasons. I always say “don’t feed the trolls” but the legitimate questions and comments about her romanticizing an abusive relationship and the fact that the books are poorly written are no surprise and should have been addressed.”

Tamsin Flowers, author of Alchemy xii series:

“It’s hard not to be a little cynical about this whole exercise. EL James has never had an easy ride in an open public forum and it is far more usual for celebrity Q&As to held in front of an invited audience that have been picked because they’re known to be friendly and malleable. This was something more akin to putting Ms. James in the stocks in the village square so people could throw rotten eggs at her. She and her PR were certainly not stupid enough to believe that she wouldn’t be trolled. So why do it? Simple. It’s now being discussed at length all over the internet, so more column inches for her book. Poking fun at EL James may be entertaining but it makes no serious points about the market and how EL James and her books have influenced that market. It simply tells us something about social media trolls.”

Shanna Germain, author of As Kinky As You Wanna Be: Your Guide to Safe, Sane, and Smart BDSM:

“It was a poor choice for a PR move, because anyone who’s on Twitter knows that Twitter has basically become a huge shaming/blaming culture, particularly for creative people. So the harassment and bullying wasn’t unexpected, but that doesn’t make it right. We would never bully someone for being gay, or being poor, or not having the perfect body. If someone bullied a kid in our neighborhood or a co-worker, we would stand up for those being bullied. But when a creative person makes something that we don’t like or whose work we disagree with, we jump right onto the bullying train, as if being a creative person makes you less than human.

Disagreeing with someone’s work, saying that a creator didn’t do their research, or even disliking someone because of what they create? You’re a valid and important part of cultural discourse. Bullying and harassing that creator due to their work? You are purposefully causing emotional distress and anguish for another person.”

Tasha L. Harrison, author of Everything She Never Wanted, The Lust Diaries: Book Two:

“Some of it was humorous, but I found a lot of it troubling. I’m surprised her publicist would ever suggest it considering how polarizing the books have been since they came out. I think the Q&A definitely shows that the books aren’t nearly as popular as everyone assumed. She has some rabid fans, but there seems to be just as many people who find the books problematic.

I am disturbed by what seems to be a campaign to have it removed from stores because people find the subject matter abusive and ‘dangerous.’ That’s astonishing to me. Are we pretending that there aren’t hundreds, if not thousands, of romance novels with identical or darker themes? As an author, I think it’s silly to start demanding that fiction be factual. It’s fiction. I don’t think we have a responsibility to teach our readers–only to entertain. I fear that this attitude will have a ripple effect and there will be a call to police all problematic literature and that is a slippery slope to censorship. Romance authors are already struggling to gain respect amongst other genres. Let’s not kneecap ourselves by dog-piling on James.”

A.M. Hartnett, author of Fire and Ice:

“While I think it was a bad idea from the start, I don’t think it did any damage. She won’t sell less copies as a result. It was basically the same accusations and defenses, with James staying mum on the whole thing, and it has gotten people talking about her again. It was a complete win for James. People on both sides have strong feelings about the books, and are always looking for an excuse to stomp their feet and demand they’re right.

She’s in no way obligated to do so, but I’d like to see James just come out and say ‘You know what? My book isn’t the first popular erotic book to feature dubious consent. If you’re offended then I’m sorry, but it is what it is and my readers like it.’ It wouldn’t silence her critics and it wouldn’t make her any less hated, but I’d rather her address it than pretend there are no issues in the books and that Christian Grey is just some misunderstood baby-man.”

Oleander Plume, editor of Chemical [se]X:

“The #AskELJames Twitter chat was a perfect example of mob mentality at work, made worse by the anonymity of social media. I witnessed a woman being ripped to shreds on a public forum. Her crime? She had the audacity to write a book that was less than a literary masterpiece, get it published, and become a raging success. How dare she!

The worst part (for me) was watching fellow writers grabbing pitchforks and joining in the bloodbath. I thought about quitting the writing game altogether. I mean, if it’s that easy to skewer one author, anyone of us could be next, whether we write a bestseller or not. I for one don’t have the ego to withstand such an onslaught.”

Remittance Girl, author of Beautiful Losers (Modern Erotic Classics):

“It made for interesting social media spectacle. It does suggest that what most people really want is a Colosseum with Christians and lions. At the very least, it is an incredible validation of Stanley Milgram’s experiments. I don’t think it went astray at all. It had the hashtag trending globally, and has resulted in a deluge of articles in every major newspaper and magazine covering the story of the ‘disaster.’ If the object was promotion, it worked brilliantly.

I think it underscores how ambivalent we are about sexually arousing content in fiction. Clearly we want it—it sold over 100 million copies worldwide—but it also suggests we have an urge punish the person who gave us what we want because of the shame we feel for wanting it.”