Will the Real Movie Please Stand Up

Today Fifty Shades of Grey will come to a theater near you. And with its opening, comes the stirring of the coalescence that somehow caused the gray confusion that brought my Shades of Gray a rather bumpy, interesting and never-could-have-envisioned entrance into the literary world. While I may not rush to the movies this weekend, I will, at some point, check it out; in the same light that I felt compelled to read each of EL James’ books. Truth is, if everyone was going to be looking at me with raised eyebrows when they heard the title of my book, I needed to know what was behind it. Even James conveyed in an email to me how she got a kick out of the “confusion” that gave my Shades all kinds of press and got my neighborhood principal in trouble for leaving a copy of my book on his desk.

So, once again, I am not complaining about the eyebrow raising or that they cast Christian Grey very unlike what I imagined; I am however feeling a little testy that this Shades of Gray, the one that sends a message about equality, racialism and intolerance hasn’t been snatched up by some movie producer yet. While a little BDSM can make (and undoubtedly will) movie goers wriggle in their seats, wouldn’t it be nice if we lived in a world where people flocked to the theaters or book stores for stories that make them squirm in a whole different way? Yes, I agree, we need a little of each sort of agitation, if you will, in our lives. I believe it is called balance.

That being said, who do you think should play Olivia Dalton in the film version of Shades of Gray? I actually have a list: Emily Blunt (except I am not sure how the British accent will work in), Jennifer Love Hewitt, Julia Stiles, Kate Hudson or Kristen Bell. I am pretty flexible. What about Kie’s character? I’m thinking China Anne McClain or Amandla Stenberg. And while I am thinking big; I’m wondering if Jay Z and Alicia Keys would mind if the soundtrack for the film started with their amazing Empire State of Mind. They could even create all the music for the movie. I’d be more than cool with that. There could be a campaign advocating inter-racial relationships and adoption, peace and tolerance for all. Diana Eck, the Harvard scholar and recipient of the National Humanities Medal for her work on the Pluralism Project and Angelina Jolie (no introduction needed) could be the spokespersons who by chance refer to Shades of Gray – the movie, and grin meekly when people’s eyebrows rise, then redirect humankind down the path of real world issues that my movie, while entertaining, will contemplate. I’d even concede to a few hot, steamy kisses and the insinuation of more throughout the film, because I’m not so naïve to not realize that sex sells (and besides, I already told you I read Fifty Shades.) I think this could work. A good film, a real film, a noble cause and an opportunity to wear a stunning dress to its opening. Know any good screenwriters? Together I think we can make America wriggle for all the right reasons in one great movie, bound together with a.…neck tie? 

Media Blitz

The news of how people are mistaking my Shades of Gray for EL James’ Fifty Shades of Grey has skyrocketed. While I am excited about the media attention, I am more thrilled about the platform it has given me to talk about the issues that are so real to me.  Drop-out prevention, interracial adoption, teachers, teen pregnancy… My illusive fame is opening doors and I can’t be more grateful.  And the reporter asks, “How do you feel about being confused for Ms. James?  Did you read her book?  Are your books similar in any way?”  I continue to smile.  Even the articles that open by quoting my husband saying, “Everyone in town thinks my wife is a slut,” make me laugh a little.  They say any publicity is good.

If it takes a ride on EL James’ coattails to get my message out there, then I will remain thick-skinned and hang on for the jaunt.  The comments that say things about me knowing what I was doing when I chose the title are funny to me.  If they only knew; I am just not that smart – or more importantly, until recently, unfamiliar with the sort of genre Fifty seems to be.  As for the comment claiming it wasn’t important news, perhaps she is right, but if it gets teachers reading and motivates them to bring a little more devotion into their classrooms, then I am more than satisfied.  Am I delighted that through the use of social media and a little misconception I may be encouraging one more infertile couple that there are other ways to become a family?  Yup, I’ll take it.

It is true our titles are similar, though mine is a bit more reality based. Both our books touch on sex, only mine happens in a high school bathroom without the use of handcuffs and is far less explicit.  Perplexingly at first, chapter 11 tends to be one of the favorites of my readers so far; therefore I concede to James’ sagacity that sex undoubtedly sells.  The erotica is justly limited in my Shades, but there is no lack of insinuation and excitement as the reader follows a dedicated teacher through veridical challenges. This is not to say that I am in any way condemning James’ novel(s).  They too serve a purpose and a laudable one at that.  The revitalization of couples’ sex lives is by all means a worthy cause.  I, on the other hand, am anxious to bring more caring into classrooms; to motivate teachers.  Seriously, Fifty serves its purpose – even if just to stand as an example of allowing people the freedom to write and read as they please.  This banning thing is totally bogus.  Both novels provide a glimpse into a world most are unfamiliar with. My story is filled with optimism and controversial subjects that effect many people each day.  My hope is that people will read it and gain a sense of renewed hope in regard to infertility or that more teachers will go back into their classrooms feeling enthusiastic and willing to impart a little bit more of the love that needs to go into making a change.  That those same teachers will learn to look past the lack of sometimes sub-standard conditions and red tape and make a difference in kids’ lives.

It is possible.  As I floated through my first book signing in New York, returning to the city that will forever hold my heart, I was most elated to see some of my old students there.  They are adults that were once labeled “at-risk” and part of the real ACE program twenty-plus years ago.  Now, they are productive members of society, parents of children preparing to graduate from high school and move on to colleges in the fall.  Their gratitude for how our program changed their lives is overwhelming and yet I can’t help but feel that it is I who owes them for how they changed my life by allowing me into their world and teaching me that there are other ways to make a difference.  Not every child learns the same way and these kids needed something a bit different.  At the time I was young, brave and a bit naïve – not unlike Olivia Dalton, my main character, and willing to try subversive tactics to make a difference.  It worked and the best part is that the love I put into teaching I got back tenfold.  Teachers today can’t look to the monetary embellishments their job will give them, but they can certainly take home a good feeling that is far more valuable each day.  I did and I lived to write about it.

So, yes, I will darn my armor one more day as the media compares me to EL James, because just the way I would have done just about anything to save those kids from dropping out of high school, I will do what I can to make my story heard.  They are worth it.  So is my Shades of Gray.

Sex Sells…or so I am Told

My daughter thinks my last blog was appalling being that it insinuated that her mother, at some point in her life, may have (please note past tense) been a sexual being.  Four times, she allotted me, given that I have three children and she so generously threw in a wedding night conjoining.  I understand that no child, even ones of adult age, prefer to envision their parents in a lascivious light.  I get it; I had parents too.  I can recall sitting at the bottom of the steps that lead to my parent’s bedroom late one night, holding my little sister back from interrupting the giggling and who knows what we heard going on up there.  Surely we were too young to know what it really meant, but I do know that it gave me a warm and secure feeling inside.  I thought it was love that we wanted to envision, not the hot sex part.  Silly, naive me.

Then a friend sent me an article about how sex sells.  “You need to promote your book through sex,” she told me.  I reminded her that my Shades of Gray wasn’t about sex.  Sure there are lots of characters having sex throughout my novel; which is how chapter ten got to be a favorite of so many of my readers.  And, of course, there is the constant need to have sex based on Olivia’s ovulation schedule or the insinuation of sex that causes so many students to have children or become pregnant.  This is not enough apparently.  Implications are not sufficient; seemingly I need to be pushing the sex card to sell.

Therefore, hard as I try to resurrect my image due to the confusion over my Shades of Gray for the more erotic Fifty Shades (see my last blog), I am afraid I might just have to go with it if I want my book to ever see a best sellers list.  The fabulously promising reviews just might not be enough.  Even my own friends, who have all pledged their adoration for my Shades, ostensibly have needs.  While planning a local book signing for me I got involved in a long and rather comical string of text messages that virtually had me laughing out loud while in CVS.  (I opted to leave the store when I noticed a woman tugging at her child’s hand in order to keep her from the crazy lady: me.)  One friend asked if I could sign leather riding crops rather than my books.  Another suggested personalized bags for one’s Ben Wa balls as a door prize.  (Lilly Pulitzer designed as I do live in a rather upscale suburb.)  Mind you that same friend had to Wikipedia the spelling of Ben Wa balls and at the same time provided us with the useful information that this sex toy can sometimes be used to treat mild incontinence.  That is when Mary (name changed to protect the innocent) decided that she felt a bout of incontinence cumming on. Mary then rushed off to church to repent.  Terri, our agnostic friend (and another feigning purist) wished she too could turn to church to repent, if only she sensed a little Christian in her.   “Ahhh, a little Christian in me would be nice,” a third fan of Fifty Shades chimed in.  It continued for most the morning proving to me that although my Shades may provide a heartwarming, inspirational bit of prose, the real inspiration for getting some people to read these days is through SEX.  Hot, steamy, fresh out of the red-room-of-pain sex.

So much for happy endings – the kind you find in a novel, not a strip club.  Enough with the gleeful feeling two little girls felt at the thought of their parents being in love.  Who cares if the infertile couple (Olivia and Tom) ever has a baby as long as they have tons of wild sex while trying?  I apologize, dear children, I just may have to go the less ladylike route this time, all for the good of marketing, of course.  Enough with the don’t kiss and tell approach.  I confess….Olivia may have been a naughty little girl and is ready to play bad teacher.

Gray Confusion

Let’s face it, girls talk.  For the most part though, I believe, that of all the things they might say about me, one of them would not be that I am promiscuous or some sort of sexual wizard.  And what my husband might say I won’t confess, or at least not publicly.   Some days I think it would be fun to be that girl, or any other girl for that matter other than straight-laced, two drink maximum, with the same man (happily) for thirty years, but then I come back to earth and realize that my reality is a pretty darn good place to be.  And then a book came out – a book with a title very close to my own and my life and reputation has changed.  Yes Fifty Shades of Grey has changed the way people look at me in the grocery store, restaurants and airplane.  My own children have had to defend their darling mother’s standing, when in truth I’m quite sure they haven’t any idea how drastically different the two books are – because they will never be allowed to read hers.

Now don’t get me wrong, I too have read two of the three of James’ trilogy (I’m pacing myself) and have taken a few notes along the way, but I am not sure I appreciate the insinuations on all levels.  When I went to the local library to donate my novel and the librarian tried to pocket it until she realized that it wasn’t the shade of gray she was hoping for, I chuckled.  When a woman at the deli counter heard that my novel came out and asked the title I knew immediately from the way she turned the color of the tomatoes and leaned in to whisper in my ear, “You wrote that?” that there was a bit of confusion brewing.  At a parent-teacher conference when the teachers congratulated me on my book I smiled, until one of them asked if I really thought it was appropriate for my thirteen year old to be reading it.  Ah, she too thinks I am Ana rather than Olivia only I profess to be neither.

So, what does one do when her reputation has been abruptly skewed (I said skewed, not screwed)?  Well, I’m not entirely sure.  I suppose I could just sit back and bask in the glory of my new found erotic domain, false as it may be.  I could learn to be a better winker when people look at me perplexed, because they too can’t believe that is what has been going on all this time in my little house in the suburbs.  I could hang a pair of hand cuffs from the rear-view mirror of my mini-van (I don’t really drive one, but it seems to fit the demure image I am trying to resurrect here.)  I could go out and buy some very provocative clothing to accompany my new image?  I’ve always coveted that bombshell bra. Or….and more likely…I could wait patiently for all this sex talk to smolder, because that is, in reality, going happen eventually and hope that those same readers will then be up for a good book that is uplifting in a whole different way.  Besides, Tom and Christian have more in common than you know.