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Video: ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ author: ‘Midlife crisis’ led to steamy novel

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TODAY contributor
updated 4/17/2012 8:57:38 AM ET 2012-04-17T12:57:38

British writer E.L. James, author of the erotic romance trilogy beginning with the bestselling "Fifty Shades of Grey," can’t believe the impact of her work, or the influence her books have had on the fantasies of women around the world.

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The suburban mother of two, who wrote the books as "Twilight" fan fiction, said she’s “stunned” at the success of the story. “I was amazed how popular it was. I’m still amazed,” she told TODAY's Michelle Kosinski Tuesday.

‘Fifty Shades of Grey’: Peek inside the steamy novel

The books, which have been passed around by women like contraband, follow the relationship between the young student Anastasia Steele and the “very attractive” Christian Grey, who has “unruly dark-copper-colored hair and intense, bright gray eyes.” Soon after first meeting, the couple embarks on a passionate affair as Steele “learns more about her own dark desires” in Grey’s “red room of pain.”

A film adaptation of the series is in the works. But despite all the attention, James says there isn’t anything revolutionary about her books.

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Triple-X trilogy of novels has women talking (quietly)

"This is my midlife crisis, writ large," she said. "All my fantasies in there, and that's it."

While the couple in the "Fifty Shades" books are haunted by outside forces much like their predecessors Bella Swan and Edward Cullen, there aren’t any vampires or werewolves in the story. Protagonist Christian Grey, a wildly successful billionaire, is described as a man “tormented by demons and consumed by the need to control,” while Steele is his perfect match with her pure, “quiet beauty” and “independent spirit.”

Author lands deal for 'Fifty Shades of Grey' parody

James thinks of the books as “kind of raw,” and says she doesn’t think she’s a great writer or a very disciplined one.

Still, Grey, whose silver ties (used as tools of bondage in the book) have become a bit of a cultural phenomenon, is described in the novel as “the richest, most elusive, most enigmatic bachelor in Washington state.” Is that what women really want?

“Once you're in charge of your job, your house, your children, getting the food on the table, doing all of this, all of the time, it'd be nice for someone else to be in charge for a bit maybe," said James.

But in real life, it's different.

“You want someone who does the dishes.”

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