Fifty Shades of Grey Inspired by Author's Fantasies, Midlife Crisis

50 Shades of Grey, E L James's Inspiration
Fifty Shades of Grey

04/17/2012 AT 01:30 PM EDT

Millions of women are now well acquainted with a certain Mr. Christian Grey. So how did author E L James create the title character in the wildly popular Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy?

"This is my midlife crisis, writ large," James tells the Today show, with a laugh. "All my fantasies, out there."

The largely private author readily admits her steamy novels are far from revolutionary. And quite frankly, she has no idea why they're so successful. "I'm stunned by [their] popularity," she says, even adding, "I'm not a great writer."

To create the series (which has already been picked up for the big screen) about a dominant-submissive relationship between millionaire Grey and innocent college student Anastasia Steele, "I was obsessed," says James. I didn't do anything else for two years." As for Grey's appeal, James says that his domineering nature is not necessarily what women are looking for in real life, but the quality is "really attractive on paper."

As such, the book has sparked a lot of (ahem) conversations about whether women secretly desire to be submissive to their men. James's take on that?

"You're in charge of your job, your house, your children, getting food on the table, doing all of this all of the time," she says. "It's nice for someone to just be in charge for a bit."

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