The Shy British Mum Behind 50 Shades of Grey

E.L. James' naughty book set U.S. hearts afire. TIME has the story of the woman who started the mommy porn craze.

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Richard Perry / The New York Times / Redux

“Don’t tell anyone,” wrote Erika Leonard to an Internet friend in April 2010. “I have visions of being interviewed by TIME magazine for revolutionizing publishing.” This week she half gets her wish. Leonard, better known to blushing readers all over the U.S. as E.L. James, has scored a reported seven-figure publishing deal, a movie deal and has already been on all the big bestseller lists. And yes, she was interviewed by TIME magazine. (Available to read here.)

Not bad for a woman whose first published work was posted on the Internet and starred characters known as Bella Swan and Edward Cullen. (If those names don’t sound familiar, congratulations on somehow avoiding all mentions of Twilight. And sorry to ruin your record.)

She has changed the names of her characters — now they’re Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey — and in 50 Shades of Grey and its sequels 50 Shades Darker and 50 Shades Freed they bear only passing resemblance to the Twilight couple. Christian is still unreasonably wealthy and protective, but he’s also into bondage. He wants Anastasia to sign a contract that essentially allows him to tie her up and spank her at will. Anastasia is still awkward and a bit mopey, but she has a libdinous inner goddess that Grey unleashes.

The books, which have reportedly been rekindling a few fires in cooling U.S. marriages, first hit big as e-books, partly because they were hard to find online and partly because nobody knows you’re reading them that way. They became a poorly kept secret particularly among a certain well-to-do mom. As one blog post put it: “I’m reading Fifty Shades of Grey and So Is Everyone in Armonk.”

Read the full story about E.L. James in this week’s issue of TIME here.

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