As the popularity of E.L. James’s smoldering, taboo-shattering fiction Fifty Shades of Grey continues to percolate amidst workplace water coolers and book clubs worldwide, longtime literary agent and erotica editor Lori Perkins has also fully embraced the sensation. Fifty Writers on Fifty Shades of Grey, her masterfully creative assemblage of 50 unique, outspoken writers is, in itself, a landmark work of fluid sexual expressiveness and kinky exposition. Contributors run the gamut from publisher and talk show host Judith Regan to a BDSM master and a marriage attorney to a self-described “sensual sadist” and the vice-president of an adult entertainment company. As the Fifty Shades trilogy marches onward and upward toward a Hollywood silver-screen production, Perkins’ titillating, outspoken anthology should tide fans over in the meantime. In a recent conversation with Kirkus, the editor/agent/author shared her thoughts on the Shades phenomenon.
How did you select the contributors who appear in the book?
I thought about, as a reader, who I would want to comment on this. I was having conversations with mothers, sexuality experts, romance writers, fanfiction authors--and everyone had a distinct point of view about it. I also received feedback from the BDSM community, who all had a lot of things to say, but they were only saying it to each other. I thought that I could probably get 50 people to offer unique opinions on the subject. As an agent, I’ve represented lots of folks from the adult entertainment industry, so I tapped into those areas as well.
Was the book your own idea?
After the book became popular, one of my agents suggested we should do a pop culture book on Fifty Shades and she wondered who would be a good editor for it. Well, there I was and so it was a natural thing for me to take on this project and make it exciting since my agency has always done pop culture and I was an erotic romance editor for four years.
Your agent for this book works for your own literary agency. What was working with an internal agent like?
I have always worked with an agent when I’ve had my own projects. When I am writing something, I become a writer in every sense and I become slightly obnoxious. The passion in me changes, so having an agent is a buffer. My agent, whom I’ve trained, was a perfect fit and as an author, you really need it. A good agent manages an author’s career, so she managed me very well.
What do you think is responsible for the amazing success of the Fifty Shades franchise?
I think she (author E. L. James) really did tap into the seductive allure of the Twilight books, except she made it for adults. That longing, that sweeping longing, is there, except that it’s actually consummated. That BDSM 101 entry-level theme really appeals to a cross-generation of women.
What aspects of reading and editing erotica make it such a draw for you?
It’s such a creative part of American publishing. It’s a field where you are allowed to cross genres; you can have erotic fiction or romance or science fiction, and because it’s developed digitally, there’s no spine, so there’s a flow and a certain freedom to it. I’d gone to a reading by Cecilia Tan and she’d written an erotic interpretation of Star Trek. I thought it was amazing. A lot of erotic romance is based on the amusements of other popular themes, only turned internally. It’s like comfort daydreaming; you recognize Twilight, Castle, Batman, so erotica is like fan-fiction come into maturity. With this particular genre, it’s like someone else had filed off the serial numbers and given it back to us. Fan fiction is really erotica, it’s just never been published or reached a larger audience.
Do you think American audiences were indeed ready for a book like this in 2012? Was it time?
Absolutely. There was a very strong undercurrent of readers already familiar with erotic romance, but the industry had not fully embraced it. This book pushed it into the mainstream. I believe there’s a sexual revolution powered by women going on and this book is pushing us further into that.
Were there any contributions that you considered to be too risqué to be included?
Which contributors surprised you the most? Judith Regan’s story Fifty Shades of Play about an erotic role reversal, perhaps?
I loved it! It’s wild and it’s wonderful. I’m so very glad she shared it. Another one is Master R, who owns a BDSM dungeon, who shared a unique critique of Christian’s “dom” abilities.
Other than getting the word out about Fifty Shades and offering new perspectives on its themes, what are some other takeaways that you’d like readers to glean from reading this collection?
That it really is part of a sexual revolution – and one fueled by women. It could be considered a fourth wave of feminism. It’s coming across the board with women asking themselves: what do we want and how are we gonna get it? And that it’s OK for us to ask that, too.
On your blog, Agent in the Middle, I read that during Hurricane Sandy, you were busy catching up on your reading. Anything exciting coming up for you that you’d like us to know about?
I’m starting a new publishing company called Riverdale Avenue Books and we will be handling e-publishing genres like horror, science fiction, gaming, sports, erotic romance, and erotic memoirs. And, I’ve also recently merged with Magnus Books.