MIAMI -- Young school teachers, middle-aged nurses and even the elderly flocked to a Miami book store Sunday for a chance to meet the author of the bestselling erotic romance Fifty Shades of Grey in the launch of her U.S. book tour.
British newcomer E L James drew more than 500 men and women at a morning book signing and is scheduled to speak later before a sold-out crowd at the historic Biltmore Hotel. It was her second-ever book signing, yet the size of the crowd snaking through the store with mimosas and books in hand drew comparisons to the response seen with writers like Anne Rice and even politicians.
"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 Viking Books. Universal Pictures and Focus Films have purchased the rights to all three books in the trilogy about an unworldly college student who begins an unusual romantic relationship with a wealthy young businessman. The books have been called "mommy porn" for their sexual content and large, mostly female following, though men are signing up for autographs as well.
"I read it through lunch breaks and I'm giggling," said Laura Vargas, 31, an executive assistant at a large insurance company. "I'm like, 'I can't believe she just wrote that."'
James began writing the books as fan fiction to Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series and quickly developed a cult-like following of her own. The romance between Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey is surprising because of its unconventional erotic nature: Grey asks Steele sign a contract, agreeing 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.Anne Messitte, the publisher of Viking Books, said the overwhelming response to James' second book signing, and the first in her tour, was unprecedented for a new writer.
"I think at the heart of it, these are wonderful, modern stories that engross the reader," she said. "They're page-turners."