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? 

Where There is Passion; There is Hope

Another article about Fifty Shades found its way to the front page of my local newspaper recently.  Frankly, I am numb. This one boasts that due to Ms. James infamous, erotic novels, “businesses focusing on sexuality are seeing a significant increase in sales.”  Well, there is good news.  I know I will sleep better tonight knowing that for sure.

I began to wonder.  If my Shades of Gray were to be coveted the way Fifty Shades of Grey has, would the world suddenly take note of the desperate need our education system is in?  Would people begin to get more involved in fundraising for our schools?  Would teachers feel motivated to get back into their classrooms and give a little more of their hearts regardless of the impediments put on them by lack of funds, support and an excessive amount of red tape?  Would the government allocate higher pay for educators or mandate parents to assure their children attend school and do homework?

I love visiting book clubs and engaging in intelligent conversation about my book, particularly when the subject diverts from which parts are non-fiction (many) to questions like, “Do you believe that we should be putting money into curriculum like the dropout prevention program described in Shades of Gray?”  (At the risk of exposing my political views; yes – let’s put the money into keeping kids in school now, rather than funding prisons later!) In the next few months I am eager to meet with potential teachers and social workers at various high schools and universities and hope that they will take away from my book an enthusiasm similar to Olivia’s or mine; not unlike the fervor that ignited the real ACE program. I can’t promise the passion my book might kindle will cause the same kind of sales Fifty Shades has, but then again, if one doesn’t dream, neither story would have been told.

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.

I’m Not Judging

I hate to keep harping on this, but since it still keeps finding ways to squeeze in to my life, I thought I would share. Yes, I am going to talk about sex again. Apparently, it is a hot topic (forgive the pun). Daily EL James and her Fifty naughty Shades of Grey continue to plague me as I receive friendly emails with hyperlinks to articles, blogs, invitations to discussion groups, You-tube videos of her guest starring on television shows – where I might add she acts all innocent and feigns hours of research that went into her trilogy, when every writer knows that one’s best writing is done when it comes from the heart or at least some sort of experience, but hey, to each his own. Who am I to judge? So what, my own husband has to endure stunned glares from co-workers who think my Shades and James’ are one in the same. Forgive him when after twelve years of parochial school he feels the need to sternly correct them. He finds it difficult to appreciate the humor of the novel confusion. My thirteen year old daughter, on the other hand, thinks it is absolutely hysterical that her friends’ mothers greet me with winks and thumbs up when they congratulate me on my fabulous book. This is not to say that my Shades do not deserve a flashing affirmation, but there is a wink and there is a wink, if you know what I mean. And when a cousin called from New Jersey to clarify that the two books are definitely not one in the same I noticed a slight sense of relief in her voice when I assured her that EL James is not a pseudonym for SJ Hale. Was she truly worried for her own reputation? Nah, I laughed about it once more.

Then I began to reminisce about when I was a kid and Erica Jong’s book Fear of Flying was the “mommy porn” of the day. The difference is that Ms. Jong is a distant cousin of mine and back then I was far too young to understand the winks and flustered awkwardness linked with the association, that I recall my mother finding humorous. At the time I was ten years old and obviously not allowed to read her novel and always wondered why. So, of course, as soon as I could get my hands on it I read it and wondered for years about her infamous zipless fuck. While having tea with my grandmother and Erica’s mother many years later, even then I wondered if the two gray haired, very classy women had read it and understood more than I did. (Years later my question was answered when my grandmother read another of Erica’s books and casually asked me what cunnilingus was. I still turn fifty shades of awkward when I remember that dreadful moment.) If they had read Erica’s Fear of Flying, did they judge her for it? I hoped not, because to this day I still think it was rather plucky and I (inwardly, because I was still too young to understand why) envied her ostensible courage.

It’s true. I am not judging. Kudos to all who have taken either of these books into the bedroom and regenerated a sleepy sex life. Even Dr. Oz supports the book’s many uses and anyone who knows me, knows that Dr. Oz is my guru. What I am concerned with is that others are still appraising each other without full knowledge. We all should know by now that no one really knows what happens behind closed doors, yet we live in a condemnatory society. Even as my friends and I shared way too many behind closed door stories the other night at ladies night out, I try not to judge. I always try to look toward the affirmative. I think Darlene’s unmitigated boldness to share with her eight closest friends her latest find from the sex shop, to which she generously offered up coupons and a field trip for our next night out, is a form of feminism at its best. So what, if Cara laughed until she cried when she was forced to say words like butt plug and Ben Wa balls as we once more discussed Anastasia and her adoring Mr. Grey. And Kathy, it is true, we don’t care if you husband keeps his socks on or not. I am not judging. And you shouldn’t either, because you have either read it, talked about it, plan to read it or have left it on your husband/boyfriend’s nightstand with the hopes that he will skim a chapter or two. As I like to say, it is all good.  Don’t judge.