Erotic romance author E.L. James on Fifty Shades of Grey

E.L. James, the fledgling British writer behind the surprise publishing phenomenon and erotic romance Fifty Shades of Grey, talks to Q about her 'love story with a kink.'

The erotic romance Fifty Shades of Grey is the latest surprise publishing phenomenon, with the trilogy sitting atop bestseller lists and British author E.L. James currently on a U.S. book tour.

A somewhat unusual love story, the trilogy follows a recent college graduate who is drawn into a relationship with a young business titan, their liaison based on BDSM (bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism) sexual encounters.

Author E.L. James holds a copy of her erotic fiction novel Fifty Shades of Grey at a book-signing in Coral Gables, Fla. on April 29. (Jeffrey M. Boan/Associated Press)

"I would call it a love story with a kink," James told Jian Ghomeshi on CBC's Q cultural affairs show.

"People love a love story, a really compelling love story, and I hope this is what it is. It's kind of raw and the subject matter's not often discussed in mainstream fiction and I think people are attracted to that."

James, speaking from New York, rejected terms like "mommy porn" that some have used to describe her books.

"In this world of 140 characters, it's kind of tidy and what have you. It's not what I would have called it but you can't legislate what people think or their reaction to your work."

Fan-fiction origins

James' books were initially born out of online Twilight fan fiction that she discovered in 2009.

After reading Stephenie Meyer's blockbuster vampire romance series, James said she felt compelled to write for herself. The TV production manager and mother of two soon delved into the world of Twilight-inspired stories fans wrote and posted online.

She has written six books in the past two years, admitting her BDSM expertise came from a combination of online research, some porn and a bit of real-life experimenting. 

"I did a lot of research and I have a vivid imagination and I have a very willing and cooperative husband, what can I say?" 

The Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy first emerged in the e-book format, where it found massive success. A bidding war amid traditional publishers soon followed.

The books have inspired widespread discussion and media analysis — and been banned by some U.S. library systems — but James feels that many are giving "far more significance to this book than it deserves."

"I think of it as a complete fantasy really: fantasy lifestyle, fantasy sex, fantasy all sorts of things. I think people read it and suspend their disbelief and go off on a bit of a vacation," she said.