"I have no idea what's going on inside that pretty little head of yours..."
"To be honest, I have no idea either," I say, looking down at the table to avoid his powerful gaze. "Most times, my mind is just an ongoing, present-tense, first-person monologue."
Young, arrogant, tycoon Earl Grey seduces the naïve coed Anna Steal with his overpowering good looks and staggering amounts of money, but will she be able to get past his fifty shames, including shopping at Walmart on Saturdays, bondage with handcuffs, and his love of BDSM (Bards, Dragons, Sorcery, and Magick)? Or will his dark secrets and constant smirking drive her over the edge?
Grete: When was the exact moment you knew you would be parodying Fifty Shades? Did you come up with Earl's list of shames first, or did those develop as you wrote?
Andrew: I read Fifty Shades early on, when it was being hyped as the next big thing in romance, and after a couple of pages I could tell it wasn't very good. In fact, it was awful. I wrote a blog post parodying it, and a publisher contacted me with an offer. I wrote a rough draft in ten days, and it went to auction with multiple publishers bidding on it. The rough draft was called Fifty-One Shades. When the book sold, the publisher asked me to change the title to avoid reader confusion. That's where Fifty Shames of Earl Grey came from. During revisions, I worked Earl Grey's different "shames" into the book—which worked out really well, because readers were being shamed for reading Fifty Shades. The book's themes evolved over time. In the published version, it reads as a defense of guilty pleasures...ironic, given that it started out mocking one.
G: Was it a challenge to find the right tone? Any moment when you just scrapped the manuscript and said, "Yeah, this isn't going to work"?
A: I knew what tone I wanted for Fifty Shames of Earl Grey right from the beginning—a Naked Gun, Airplane-type vibe. I pushed some jokes further during revisions, but the tone never changed. That's not to say things always work out that way. I rewrote the book I'm currently working on several times because the tone wasn't working. It's a mystery, and it started out slapsticky and ended up much more realistic. If something's not working, it's always easier to scrap it and start over than to try to salvage it.
G: If you're anything like me, you're probably on an FBI watch list because of your research internet history. Given the subject matter at hand, I have to ask: What's the weirdest thing you looked up for this book?
A: Butt-chugging. Google it.
(Grete's note: For the record, I totally did, and I recommend you do it, too.)
G: Comedy and satire can be extremely tricky to read aloud, and yet you do it with aplomb. How do you prepare for live readings of your work?
A: I view readings as performances, which they are. I edit passages so that they work better live. If I'm on a tour, I cut stuff that doesn't get a reaction and try out ad-libs. Nothing irritates me more than going to a reading and watching the author flip through their book looking for something to read. It makes me cringe. Did you not realize you were going to be asked to read from your book...at your own reading? C'mon, son.
G: I see you now have a sequel, Gone Grey, riffing off of Gone Girl! Another book I never read, but I did see (and enjoy) the movie. How did you choose Earl's latest adventure? Anything else in the pipeline?
A: Readers need to be familiar with the book you're parodying. There's usually only one or two books a year that reach a critical mass in pop culture that makes them good targets for parody. If there's a movie, that's a big help. It worked out that Gone Girl was about a married couple, and it felt like a good place to pick up Earl and Anna's story from Fifty Shames of Earl Grey. There's also a related short story online—"An Earl Grey Christmas"—but nothing else in the pipeline.
G: You're pretty engaged with your readers on social media. Does that ever get overwhelming?
A: Social media can be fun. It can also be overwhelming. My advice to writers is to pick the one or two social media platforms you're most comfortable with, and ignore the rest. You may get some blowback from your publisher, but it's your time, not theirs. Nobody's paying you to do social media. I deleted my main Twitter account last year. I don't use Tumblr or Snapchat. The two social media platforms I use are Instagram and Facebook—for now, at least.
(Grete's note: Twitter account reinstated! Link is below.)
G: Among your parodies are several focusing on Edgar Allan Poe's work. I'm not so subtly hoping I have found another horror fan... Why Edgar?
A: I've always been a horror fan—I wrote tie-ins to Sharknado and Ghostbusters, though those franchises blur the lines between horror and sci-fi. When Quirk Books put out Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, I started brainstorming other "mash-ups" utilizing public domain works. The best—or worst—idea I had was a book of "sexy Poe" stories. A couple of publishers read the collection I put together, and said it was too disgusting to publish. I eventually self-published Edgar Allan Pole's The Telltale Hardon, and it went over like a fart in church.
G: Do you have multiple projects going on at the same time? How do you juggle projects in completely different genres?
A: I usually have multiple projects going on at the same time, but always in different stages—I could be researching one, and writing the first draft of another. Or outlining one, and doing copy edits on another. I read in multiple genres, and don't find it too difficult to go back and forth. At this stage of my career, I think my voice is pretty consistent from project to project.
G: What strategies would you most recommend to a new or up-and-coming author? Can be craft-wise, marketing-wise, whatever you like!
A: Writing publishable material takes years of practice. It's a skill, not a talent. Nobody picks up a violin for the first time and expects to play a concerto. Writing is no different. Have patience. That's exactly what I wouldn't have wanted to hear when I was starting out, so I don't expect anybody to listen to my advice. It doesn't make it any less true.
G: And finally, I'm a voracious reader and always up for an excellent book. Please rec me your favorite!
A: I don't have a favorite book—I have hundreds. If you're looking to laugh out loud, try David Thorne's The Internet Is a Playground, a collection of hilarious e-mails from one of the Internet's most notorious trolls. For something that's both funny and moving, one of my go-to recommendations is Jesus' Son by Denis Johnson. It's indescribable.
If you are interested in purchasing Fifty Shames,
COMING SOON: April's author interview with YA author
Peadar Ó Guilín
Alexandra Oliva - The Last One
Want to keep up to date on upcoming author interviews, win prizes, and see what's next on my publishing list? Subscribe to my newsletter here.