You know that “50 Shades of Grey” romance novel that swept the world by storm recently? Yeah, I had that title more than a decade ago. To be more specific, just “Shades of Grey,” without the 50, but that’s close enough.
I had a novel to go with it, too. A first draft written during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in 2002. It was not a romance novel, but it was in part a romance. There was a woman who moved across the country to pursue a graduate degree after her husband died. The husband had been named Grey, and of course for most of the book she’s haunted by the memories of him. Shades of Grey, as it were.
There’s also a professional concert musician who plays the romantic interest. He’s friends with the members of a rock band now called The Undecided, because they couldn’t ever decide on a name and kept changing it so many times. Somewhere in the middle the band had also called itself Shades of Grey.
The rest of the book contained scenes exploring ambiguous moral or philosophical values – more shades of grey. The band is on the verge of both breaking up or making it big. The tentative romance teeters on the edge of flourishing or failure.
There is no sex, so the book always had that working against it. Surely only that — plus a completed second draft and actually submitting it to a publishing house — is all that stood between me and a smash hit. Obviously I already had the killer title.