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.