New Delhi: At the heart of erotica 'Fifty Shades of Grey' that describes, sometimes in graphic details, the relationship of a submissive and her much older master, is an old fashioned love story of understanding and acceptance. Author Erika Mitchell, 49, who uses the pen name EL James, has taken the world by storm, playing on what critics have termed 'mid-life frustration' and outsold the Harry Potter books to become Britain's fastest paperback to reach one million sales.
Interestingly, '50 Shades' that now has its own fan fiction spin-off, was initially posted on the internet as fan fiction based on the hugely popular Twilight film and books franchise. The story of the depraved relationship between freewheeling business tycoon Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele, is directly inspired by Twilight protagonists Edward Cullen and Isabella Swan.
The romance between main characters Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey is
surprising because of its unconventional nature: Grey asks Steele to sign a contract, and she agrees to be his "submissive" and to partake in a range of erotic activities. The stories were first published online, and as word of mouth spread, droves of people - many of them not traditional readers of romantic or erotic fiction - began downloading them on iPads and Kindles.
The passionate relationship between naïve literature student Anastasia and manipulative entrepreneur Grey, was first published in 2011 and was James' first novel.
James is credited with creating a space for what experts dub as 'mummy porn' to let women give wings to their fantasies, laying out vivid scenes of sado-masochism and sexual role play. What makes '50 Shades' so successful? Mostly, it's the style of narration - which is humorous and engrossing - with a crackling story written in painstaking details.
The story, the first in a trilogy, took just 11 weeks to reach the milestone, 25 weeks faster than the previous record holder, Dan Brown's 'The Da Vinci Code', according to figures from publishing tracking company Nielsen BookScan.
It also beat its own seven-day record for an adult paperback, shifting 397,889 copies in a week and smashing the 205,130 copies it sold a few days earlier.
Both other titles in the trilogy have also seen sales surge, in one of publishing's biggest stories since JK Rowling's seven-book 'Harry Potter' series wound up in 2007. 'Fifty Shades Darker' sold 245,801 while 'Fifty Shades Freed' sold 212,832.
In one week alone, the total of copies sold across the trilogy was around 856,000 copies, or more than twice the number of books sold from the rest of the BookScan top 50.
According to Random House publishers, global sales for the series is in excess of 20 million, with North American sales comfortably topping 15 million.
Movie rights to the trilogy were bought up by Universal and Focus Features, US media reported in March.
"This is a literary phenomenon," said Mitchell Kaplan, owner of Books & Books, the independent bookstore where James was signing copies. "E L struck a nerve, and her storytelling speaks to so many people."
In a few short months, James has snagged a seven-figure contract with Vintage Books. The books have a large, mostly female following, though men are signing up for autographs as well.
"I'm staggered by this," James said in an interview. "I never set out to do this."
Until recently, the affable, laid-back author had been mostly preoccupied with her work as a television executive, taking care of her two teenage sons and doing mundane house chores. She was raised in London, studied history in college and dabbled once in a while with writing, but never spent a large amount of time on it until reading the 'Twilight' books.
"I tried a couple of times, but never thought I could," James said of writing novels. Even now, she's not sure she'll be able to write another. "It's really quite daunting," she said.
James is at a loss to explain why the books have become so popular, so quickly. Fans who have written or spoken with her at events have had different reactions; some say their sex lives have improved, while others have said the book helped them in dealing with an adopted child. The fictional character Christian Grey was adopted at a young age.
James said Christian was based on several people. As for whether she's had experiences like those in the book, she said: "Some yes, some no, some I just used my imagination." 'Fifty Shades of Grey' is slated to be translated into more than 30 languages. (With inputs from Reuters and Associated Press)