When Erika Leonard first came up with the idea that became Fifty Shades of Grey, she called herself Snow Queen Ice Dragon — or SQID, for short — and wrote on a site for Twilight fans. Her erotic tales involving the characters Bella Thorne and Edward Cullen proved so popular she was persuaded to change some names and amass them into an e-book, produced by a teensy publisher in suburban Australia and written under the name E.L. James.
Kindles were a relatively new thing in 2011 and, as Leonard tells it, a group of women in Long Island, New York, found the e-books and began to tell their friends — of which there were many. As the book’s popularity grew, a group invited Leonard to come to a a reading. Photojournalist Gillian Laub was there for the occasion and grabbed an interview with the reclusive author.
Fast forward a few years, and Leonard is now a multimillionaire author and producer of the movie version of Fifty Shades, out Feb. 13. While media reports suggest that she hasn’t let wealth and fame change her too much, she doesn’t really need to give interviews. But she did consent to answer some (not all) of our questions via email.
TIME: What scene in the movie were you most worried about translating to screen and why?
Erika Leonard: I was most worried about the scenes in the red room. I wanted them to be tasteful and erotic, and that was a journey, but we got there in the end.
Do you have favorite scene?
The glider scene and the post-graduation bar scene. For me those scenes really capture the spirit of the book.
What made you decide to become a producer?
Because I could. (Christian Grey would appreciate that comment.) I didn’t want to take the money and run — I wanted the movie to be one the readership would love.
What have you enjoyed most about the process of filming?
I enjoyed breaking down the book with the screenwriter Kelly Marcel and deciding what should and should not be in the movie. That was fun — hard work, but fun.
Your life must have changed so much in the last three years. Do you have any reflections on fame?
Fame is not something I sought, and happily I’m still not that famous — I can still roam the streets anonymously, at home and in the States, and I love that. But I have had some amazing experiences, and for that I’m incredibly grateful to all the people who bought and loved the books.
Is there anything you would differently if you wrote the books again?
Yes. Quite a few things, in fact — but the books seem to be so well loved by so many I’ve let all that go…
Do you have plans to write more books?
Yes, I do. But like most authors I’d rather do it than talk about it.
These books are an exploration of a fantasy. Have you been surprised by how much they’ve resonated?
Surprised doesn’t quite cover it. I get the most extraordinary, heart wrenching emails from readers who have been deeply touched by the books. I’m honored that so many people have shared their moving stories and their love of the books with me.
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