EL James at Romantic Times: What Happened vs The Reactions

Book 50 Shades of Grey Twitter was afire yesterday with news that EL James stood up during a YA panel and….said something. Accounts varied as to what was said – can you believe that? Inconsistent reports on the INTERNETS? 

I went out and spoke with some RT staffers, and some folks who were present at the session, and really, what actually happened is not that interesting or dramatic, except for the fact that James is, in fact, at RT. According to the kind sources I spoke to, who asked that I not identify them, it seems that Ms. James is here, and the RT staff had no idea it was her – she registered for RT under a different name. After she stood up and identified herself, she went to RT's staff desk and asked for a new badge. She's is now registered officially as EL James.

I asked whether James was going to be signing at the book fair, and as of right now, the answer is no. RT is hoping she'll participate, but currently, James is not part of any official panels or signings at RT and is attending as an audience member. She's turned down requests for interviews, and is here to be with Abbi Glines, with whom she's very friendly:

James identified herself as the YA panel was discussing 50 Shades of Grey, self publishing and New Adult, and the correlations between them. James stood to identify herself, and corrected the suggestion that it was self published. Any reports of flouncing, pearl clutching, table throwing, ninja turtles, archery tournaments, Gallagher-esque watermelon smashing, fist fights, and wild west showdowns are false. She didn't tell people to stop talking about her book, from what my sources tell me***. She identified herself and corrected an inaccuracy.

***ETA 9:15 pm CDT:

Tonight at dinner I learned from my tablemates some important things:

1. EL James did, according to the folks I was sitting with, ask people to stop talking about her book.
2. All people present in the discussion who were in the room at the panel absolutely agreed on one thing: she mumbles.


So there's a big disparity in the information, and, as Jami Gold said in the comments, some report that she did tell people to stop talking about her book. 

(In other news, we're getting 3-5″ of snow tonight, and it was 80F on Monday. That is the most baffling thing of all.)

The reaction, however, has been dramatic. I am sort of fascinated by the descriptions and reports on Twitter, and the variations of that reaction. Some are like, “Whoa, cool” or “holy shit,” and others are rancorous. I overheard one person saying, “I wish she'd leave. She's done enough damage.”

I can understand that feeling. She's the author who brought everyone's — and I mean pretty much everyone on the planet's — attention to BDSM in romance. But celebrating BDSM romance and its community of readers has been part of RT for years now. This was one of the first conventions to not only acknowledge that BDSM romance is a thing, but to intentionally try to connect BDSM romance writers with their fans.

My source in the RT organization confirmed my recollections that there have been official panels at the RT convention specifically about BDSM romance for the past two years, but that BDSM romance authors have been attending RT for more than a decade. My source recalled a panel at least nine years ago where the topic of the panel was erotic romance, but the specifics of writing BDSM romance accurately were a major part of the conversation.

This isn't news to us as readers, of course – we know BDSM romance and erotic romance have been popular for many, many years. That EL James is here at RT leads to some expressions of bitterness from authors who feel a bit overshadowed and thus grumpy.

That said, this is a huge event for RT as a convention, and they are very excited to have her here. I'm not sure if James' role or presence at the conference will change, but right now, she's here with her friends, declining interviews and hanging out with the rest of us. 

Meanwhile, the reactions and jokes on Twitter are as outlandish as the actual incident was benign.



It will be interesting to see if her presence here has any lasting effect on the buoyant enthusiasm here, or if the news will fizzle as the rest of the conference proceeds. I've long said that RT is among the most friendly and welcoming of conference communities, and that new attendees are never strangers for more than a few minutes. I hope that James experiences some of that friendliness and welcome while she's here. 


Romantic Times

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    GrowlyCub says:

    The damage she’s done is not about bringing BDSM into the spotlight, but that’s she portrays it as a deviance that needs to be ‘cured’ by the love of a good woman or in this case by the inane natterings of an immature vanilla bigot.

    And wow on the ‘authors are just jealous’. That’s not one of your more thought-out statements.

  2. 2
    SB Sarah says:

    I didn’t say that. I said I could empathize fully with their feelings. I agree that her portrayal of BDSM is inaccurate – which is why RT’s inclusion of BDSM romance as a subject to be written about accurately for the past 2 years, plus their inclusion of BDSM romance authors for more than 10 is important.

    That said, I do hope people aren’t cruel to her, because that would suck.

  3. 3
    Ceilidh says:

    Not gonna lie, I had fun with this on Twitter last night. Like many readers, I can’t stand 50 Shades and think it did a lot of damage to the genre in terms of how it took BDSM and used it to tell yet another “I can change him” story with lots of romanticised abuse and a complete lack of understanding as to what a dominant-submissive relationship actually involves.

    My offer of a drink to whoever approaches James at RT and asks why she thinks it’s okay to romanticise abuse is still on the table. I’ll throw in a cookie if they do the same for Jamie McGuire.

  4. 4
    Ridley says:

    The damage I pin on James is how she romanticized an abusive relationship and sleeps on a bed of money after stealing characters from another author.

    I’m sad to see her associated with romance.

  5. 5
    Kati says:

    I heard about it on Twitter, and yes, I’d heard that she was snotty. So I appreciate you posting this, Sarah. These things always seem to get blown out of proportion.

    Listen, I disliked 50 Shades. Alot. And I’ve said it on Twitter, on my blog, on Dear Author and any other place that will listen to me. But I think EL James being at RT is certainly not going to hurt anything. She’s a big name author, and her presence, if it draws more readers to signings, to check out the conference, whatever, is a good thing, IMO.

  6. 6
    Rosa E. says:

    I’m glad to hear she personally didn’t perpetrate any drama; from what I’ve seen of her interviews and so on, she seems like a nice person in real life. I am, however, an unrepentant loather of her books. I too would like to see someone have an honest, straightforward conversation with her about the nightmare that is Christian Grey.

  7. 7
    SB Sarah says:

    @Ridley—It’s interesting. I agree with you about romanticizing abuse – Stephenie Meyer did so as well. Twilight creeped me out badly, as did 50SoG. But not everyone sees it that way. The emotional intensity of those stories, plus others from authors that are also here, really attracts a lot of readers – hence panels with packed rooms featuring authors who write similar works. It’s a thing, for lack of a better word. It doesn’t work for me, but it works for a lot of people, and I want them to have their time with their favorite authors here like I do, even if our tastes don’t align at all.

  8. 8
    SB Sarah says:

    @Rosa: if she’d agree to an interview, I would love to ask her about characters like that. I’m as confused as you seem to be about why those characters are so appealing. They so do not work me for me.

  9. 9
    laj says:

    I agree with Ridley.

    Great job girl reporter, I will be waiting for more of your reports from RT!

  10. 10
    KTG says:

    She’s there to support Abbi Glines? I guess I’m not surprised. I had the misfortune of purchasing and reading Fallen Too Far, and it makes sense that terrible authors would be besties.

  11. 11
    Vera says:

    50 shades was the first book that i read that featured a bdsm. I disliked i only read the first book and half of the second. I wonder after that if all books that are erotic were like that ( I only had read books were there was sex, but not in every page)
    During my search on amazon i notice a lot of books were the male caracter was a bilionaire with a taste for bdsm and the girl entered his world without thiking twice.
    What i want to know is if 50 shades set this tendency or the books already existed. I come a cross so many books i started to get annoyed! :)

  12. 12
    Sandra says:

    NGL, I snickered lots when news of this incident first broke on Twitter. And since you screen-capped my tweet, I guess it’s only fair to comment on your post.

    I found it rude and inappropriate that she interrupted a panel of moderators by announcing her presence while they were discussing her book in context with the other topics that panel was addressing. She, among others, did romanticize abuse, but if your sources are to be believed, that’s not what was being discussed, nor what she objected to, am I reading that correctly? If the only reason she spoke up is because the panel declared her book to be self-published (which it wasn’t, this much is true), then I’m going to laugh even harder. The amount of errors and the sheer lack of editing, which, if my sources are to be believed, appears to have been more of a refusal to let anyone edit, would make many people think it was self-published. I’ve seen this woman’s ego in action, and it wasn’t pretty. I think it’s understandable why many people, myself included, would have no problem believing that she may have stood up and said “Stop talking about my book.”

    Of course, my opinion of her is also heavily influenced by her actions during her time as a fanfic writer, and the, IMHO, unethical way her books came about. *shrugs*

    I appreciate you trying to clear things up, and I appreciate you trying to be fair. I do doubt though that she’d ever be willing to grant an interview in which the Edward/Christian Cullen/Grey character is discussed in a straightforward fashion.

  13. 13
    Cara says:

    That EL James is here at RT leads to some expressions of bitterness from authors who feel a bit overshadowed and thus grumpy.

    Sorry, Sarah – I love you and this blog, but that pretty much reads like “authors just jealous”. I agree with GrowlyCub up there, and Ridley, and others – it’s not her success or overshadowing. It’s that what she wrote is so INCREDIBLY far from actual BDSM, and that it uses abuse to portray not only romance but BDSM. I would have thought that after all this time that much would be clear. Not that I speak for all authors, but god only knows there’ve been enough blogs, reviews, and articles about this that “overshadowed and grumpy” is hardly what I would say is the problem.


  14. 14
    Misa Buckley says:

    The problem with James isn’t [just] that she wrote an abusive relationship as romance, but rather ignores anyone that calls her out on it.

    Like it or not, the way she (and Meyer) write the “romance” of their books is going to be a trigger for some people. However, rather than accept this and discussing it like an adult, James blocks people on Twitter and shouts down reviewers.

    I do not feel “overshadowed” as a romance author, but damn I am bitter and grumpy as a reader. How else am I supposed to feel when people – often victims of abuse – are dismissed out of hand by the author because they’re inconvenient?

  15. 15
    Jami Gold says:

    I don’t know… I’ve heard from *at least* 3 people who claim to have been in the room who say she DID say “stop talking about my book.” Everyone who was there said it was super-awkward—even a publisher’s Twitter account.

    So if this was supposed to be a joke, it failed. On an epic scale.

    Whether she intended to be rude or not, that’s how her joke-slash-interruption came across to those who were there. And given what I KNOW about her history and attitude with editors and others who were offering to HELP her, I don’t buy this explanation.

    Let’s assume for a minute that it was a joke. Okay, so what was her purpose in speaking up? Does the intent matter?

    The result is that it made that panel and all the panel’s participants (and to some extent, all the news about RT yesterday) about HER. Someone crashing a conference and making themselves the center of attention at someone else’s panel doesn’t strike me as professional behavior regardless of the intent.

  16. 16

    I am repsonding to this, only because I have my own personal thougths about Ms James – I have read FSOG more then once, and I like them and it definatley turned me on to a whole different world of reading,  The more “Mommy Porn” type of books i read, the more I want to read. 

    I think many better have come since FSOG, My favorite being Beautiful Bastard/Stranger by Christina Lauren.
    Sylvia Days – Crossfires series, Sylvia Reynard Gaberial stories . Alice Clyaton’s Wallbanger etc.. are truly much much better

    I contacted Ms James once about a year ago and was so pleased she repsonded, I ask if she could put a wine list together from the books, she said that was a great idea,  Never heard from her again or saw a list, regardless of course her world exploded and Kudos for her, But I think her ego, is riduclous.  She is famous beyond now from taking a fanfic MOTU into real life book FSOG,  admits she’s a Twihard and people don’t seem to see her books is exactly Twilight.. PERIOD it is almost verbadim, and that cool works for her she’s laughing her ass the the bank.

    But so many more of the fanfics turn real book authors are so much nicer and real, then she is.  I admire the others and just have no more respect for Ms James, she is the leader of a huge genre of books that is total many stream now, but lacks the humbleness…  And truly I doubt her movie will succeed, because she did write the Twilight based and she can’t even and won’t even consider those actors as who should be playing these roles.. SO there is something i generally think she is just missing.

    The books that have comes since are more romantic and less abusive, yet still as hot and sexy she pavied the way for sure.  But the others will be remembered more for their humbleness and geniune likability of the stories and of their authors.


  17. 17
    Jimthered says:

    Sadly, 50 SHADES is such a polarizing book (folks either love it madly or hate it passionately) that just about any appearance or statement by E L James will get a massive reaction, and probably plenty of overreaction.

    As for the treatment of BDSM in the first book (I hated it passionately so didn’t read 2 or 3), I was disappointed for two reasons: 1) Christian is smart enough to require a written contract about their kinky doings to protect them both—and then doesn’t bother with it because he’s so smitten; 2) Christian decides that, instead of easing Ana into BDSM, he’ll do his worst so if she can take that, she can take the rest of it; that’s like getting someone to enjoy an unfamiliar meal not by giving them a small taste, but by force-feeding them an entire plate of it.  Bleh.

  18. 18
    KT Grant says:

    Maybe EL James was confused and thought she was at the Ethics of Publishing Fan Fiction panel?

    On a positive note, RT was trending on Twitter and there seemed to be a lot of excitement and love for the authors and readers attending this year.

  19. 19
    Sandra says:

    @Marilyn Wrixon -

    I assume you realize that with the exception of Sylvia Day’s Crossfire series, each of the books you mentioned in your comment are regurgitated Twilight fanfiction?
    Sylvain Reynard – Gabriel’s Inferno/Rapture = Sebastien Robichaud – University of Edward Masen (almost word for word)
    Alice Clayton – Wallbanger = feathersmmmm – Edward Wallbanger
    Christina Lauren – Beautiful Bastard = tby789/(Lolashoes) – The Office

    They are all Twilight fanfictions that were, IMHO, unethically published. So, again IMHO, none of them are any better than Ms. James, even if their public behavior is so much nicer than hers, according to what I’m gleaning from your comment.

  20. 20
    Lia says:

    Bit funny. If she’s there, she should be there as herself, or keep her identity secret throughout the whole thing. To me it now comes across as attention seeking behaviour.

  21. 21
    Marina says:

    Am I the only person who thinks it was inappropriate for her to attend a discussion of her book under an assumed name?

  22. 22
    Sandra says:

    Am I the only person who thinks it was inappropriate for her to attend a discussion of her book under an assumed name?

    The discussion panel wasn’t explicitly or exclusively about her book, based on what I’ve been able to figure out. The panel was discussing NA (New Adult) romances, and I guess someone brought up FSoG as a comparison. Or so I’m led to believe.

    Either way, whether she was their under her author pseudonym or her RL name is neither here nor there. Interrupting a panel is the inappropriate part, as far as I’m concerned. Whether she said “Stop talking about my book” or “It’s not self-published” doesn’t really make a difference, as far as I’m concerned.

  23. 23
    SB Sarah says:

    @cara: That wasn’t my intention at all. I’ve said repeatedly that I completely empathize with the frustration and anger that she’s present, especially among those who write BDSM and have tried to advocate for accurate (and safe, good Lord) portrayals in romance for so long. I agree completely that her representation of BDSM is inaccurate and really damn dangerous.

    My sense is that those who are upset, and I’m trying to represent and paraphrase their feelings accurately here, are thinking, “Goddammit, this is our space, a place where BDSM is represented, discussed and taken seriously and with some respect, taught and explained as a device in fiction. Her presence undermines what we’ve been trying to do.”

    @jami: Gracious, I want to talk to who you talked to because the variations in accounts are so wide. Whether or not it was awkward, I know some of the joke tweets about chair throwing and diva-fit-hulk-smashing weren’t accurate but being repeated as truth. I wanted to talk about what had actually happened, and how the reaction was so different.


  24. 24

    Sandra – Apologies I know that they are all Twi/fanfic –
    But FSOG is almost to the words exactly was my intention to the point out, Twilight & FSOG is so close to, words i never heard before Twilight ex: sardonic I heard again in FSOG –
    As for the other authors I have had wonderful interactions with many.  Very positive and willingness to be so greatful to there following, I find that just awesome.

  25. 25

    I just saw this as a report in the Kansas City TV 5 report… they describe the events somewhat differently…

    “She revealed herself after her trilogy came under the face of withering criticism during the New Adult Fiction panel Wednesday afternoon.”

    Of course the article goes on to site Twitter as their source. Not really sure if you can do that and maintain a high level of journalism. Television reporting… you gotta love it.

  26. 26
    Jami Gold says:

    @SB Sarah – Oh goodness, no! I never took the chair-throwing claims and everything as anything but a joke. :)

    As I said, several have stated that she did say, “Don’t talk about my book.” And everyone I’ve heard from that was there said she DID come off as defensive, creating an awkward and uncomfortable silence.

    Again, maybe it was meant as a joke, or maybe she was trying to get across that people shouldn’t talk about her books in reference to NA (because she didn’t see them as falling in that category). However, regards of her intention, she did cause a scene that made things “all about her.”

    Perhaps Abbi (on the panel) was in on it, but were the others? Did they all agree that it was a good idea to have their time in the spotlight completely overshadowed by this event? I doubt it. So regardless of intent, I think it was disrespectful to the panelists.

    And unfortunately due to my impression of her from those who have worked directly with her, I have a hard time thinking of this as anything but more diva behavior. *shrug*

    Of course I have my personal feelings about her portrayal of BDSM, romanticizing abuse, or exploiting fanfic readers, but I’m ignoring those for the moment. Instead, I’m basing my opinion of yesterday’s events strictly on those who were there in the room. :)

  27. 27
    Meoskop says:

    Overshadowed was an unfortunate word choice.

    While I certainly don’t want people to spit on her in the street, EL has chosen to profit off a work with problematic content and problematic origins. She sowed it, she reaps it. If she were willing to engage in substantive discussions, I think reaction to her person would be different. AFAIK, she is not willing and has not engaged.

    I think a group devoted to showing the genre is not soley derivative mommy porn with abuse issues has a right to their feelings about a work many see as all of those things. I don’t care if she went to RT, I hope whatever mockery she got was earned by her actions and not her existentence. I think the respect of her peers is something earned through dialouge, not sales status and Twitter reactions show that.

  28. 28
    klf0176 says:

    Bad writers, copying from other bad writers, how could this ever be a good thing?  From what I have observed, people are more resistant to criticism when they know it is accurate. 

    She is absolutely welcome to write about whatever subject matter she wishes in any way she wishes, that is the perk of artistic license.  Writers and comedians are constantly coming under fire for persecuting this group or making light of the plight of that group.  People are entirely too sensitive to perceived slights.

    That being said, I did not like 50SoG.  CG is an ass, and whats-her face is a wimp.  The creepiness of Twilight and the general badness of 50SoG both glorify abuse in the same way that the bodice rippers of the 70s 80s and 90s glorified rape.  We can all hope that this trend will pass as well.

    @ Marilyn

    Seriously, you have never read “sardonic” before?

  29. 29
    Katie Lynn says:

    I don’t understand why she would attend a ROMANCE CONVENTION under an assumed name. Did she secretly want to hear what people would say about her and then get upset when she did? Did she think she could make a splash by ‘revealing’ herself to a panel? I don’t know what her motivation was, but I don’t think it was a coincidence that she is now being talked about.

  30. 30
    Dee M. says:

    Had to snicker at the last tweet referencing Kanye.

    I do agree that EL James has done the BDSM community a disservice by somewhat “dumbing down” truly intimate sexual encounters within BDSM. It’s exactly like making sparkling bipolar vampires out of a sensual, provocative Lestat.

    I don’t think she intended for it to send the masses into waves of overhyped pleasure, but I guess the commodification of sex in all types of media has made it easier for people to make then taboo topics like BDSM, fetishes, and the like, mainstream. It has taken out the untouchable relationship between a dom and a sub and turned it into something just a little over, as what a previous comment suggests – glorified rape.

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