What, you thought we weren’t going to write about this? You sorely underestimate our abilities. Or desperation. Either is good.
While yesterday’s news that EL James would be releasing another 50 Shades of Grey book, this time a full-on Midnight Sun take on the first fan-fiction from Christian/Edward’s point of view, was overshadowed by Caitlyn Jenner’s kick-ass feminist landmark Vanity Fair cover, it was still a topic that, unsurprisingly, brought out a lot of emotions and questions about the series, James as a creator and publishing in general.
When Stephenie Meyer announced she was writing Twilight from the point of view of her sparkly hero, it was unexpected and surprising. After all, we really didn’t have much like it in YA and it offered a potentially interesting glimpse into familiar territory from a new perspective. While the world isn’t short of men’s stories, there was something undoubtedly fascinating about seeing a traditionally melodramatic romance through the eyes of a character who straight up admits he can’t decide if he wants to kill or eat the woman who pines for him. While the book never materialised due to some leaks and Meyer’s potentially over-the-top reaction, the glimpse we did get from the unfinished story, available to read online, is much more striking than many give it credit for. If nothing else, it reveals that Meyer would make a phenomenal psychological horror writer if she were just more willing to get her freak on.
A number of books have gone the Midnight Sun route in the past couple of years, mostly in the heavily 50 Shades inspired New Adult genre (this is all heavily incestuous), and we’d all joked about James taking the predictable route, but now that she’s officially done it (and the book comes out on my birthday, because I can’t have nice things), my overwhelming feelings are mostly underwhelming, peppered with pity.
Regardless of what you think of the artistic merits of 50 Shades (and believe me, I haven’t been shy with my opinions), it’s hard to deny its influence. A number of romance authors and readers came into the fold through the series and, for better or worse, it legitimised the practice of turning fan-fiction into ‘original works’. Many writers who got their start with the sparkle-free sparkly love have carved out pretty solid careers from it, notably Christina Lauren and Sylvain Reynard. Yet the pioneer remains stuck in the fan-fiction days, borrowing from the overused mould Meyer unwittingly left behind.
Much has been made about the possibility that this new book originated from a fan-fiction snippet James auctioned off for charity (which sold for a hefty sum too). Even if this wasn’t written during her fan-fic days, the shadow of that knowledge looms overhead, and acts as a disheartening reminder that James seems bereft of any original ideas. Tapping the well of Twilight is tiresome at the best of times, but now it’s beyond belief.
I can’t help but feel a little sorry for James in this regard – one of the most successful writers of all time and she can’t, or won’t, write her own stories. It’s not as if they wouldn’t sell a bunch (her publishers have a 1.5m first print run for this new one). At this point in time, if you’ll allow me to put on my armchair psychologist hat, it feels as though profit is prized more than artistic merit. There’s no problem with that – we all have to eat – but James made $95m in one year. How much more money does she need? Of course, this is as much about brand recognition as it is money, which is why James has so stridently pushed her own merchandise and shut down porn parodies and the like.
Pause for irony.
A new 50 Shades book keeps the name fresh while they’re between films, and if the juicy gossip about the 2nd film is to be believed (the director hating James, arguments over creative control, actors trying to jump ship), then that period of time may be stretched even further. You’ve got to keep the name out there because human beings are fickle and pop culture is but a fleeting force in an oversaturated field.
Will it sell well? Does the Pope shit in the woods? Of course it will. The only book that may beat it in terms of first week sales in 2015 is Go Set A Watchman. Publishers like safe bets and there’s nothing safer than James right now, for better or worse. Her work can be pushed out quickly, as evidenced by its original purchase from The Writers’ Coffee Shop, her fanbase is still big enough to make an impact, and good old fashioned human curiosity will fuel the fires further.
Will it be good? I’m hardly unbiased here, but from a strictly critical point of view, I’m going to assume it won’t be. She’s just not a good writer, nor is she skilled or self-aware enough to fully Midnight Sun this and allow her hero to embrace his real sociopathic darkness. She’s far too attached to her fantasy for that. We await the reviews and the think-pieces (although I steadfastly refuse to read any written by men, all offence intended). Until then, go read The Boss instead. It’s free!