Lola De La Cruz cried when she met author E L James. The 29-year-old fan had waited since 4 a.m. to accomplish the No. 1 thing on her Comic-Con to-do list — meet the writer of "Fifty Shades of Grey" — and 12 hours later, she got her chance.
"The relationship that's in the book is something that I've always wanted and haven't gotten in previous relationships, so it kind of gave me that hope that there's something still out there," she said as she wiped away tears after meeting James Thursday at the pop-culture convention. "It brought me back to life, so to speak."
James can relate. The 49-year-old mother of two was a fan herself, moved to start writing after reading Stephenie Meyer's "Twilight" series.
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"I don't think I've ever been swept up in something like I was swept up with that," James said Thursday before her Comic-Con appearance in San Diego. "I read them and reread them and reread them, and then I sat down and wrote a novel."
That book hasn't been published — yet — but she followed by posting new pieces online. Those stories found an instant audience and eventually became "Fifty Shades of Grey."
Thursday's visit wasn't the London-based writer's first time at Comic-Con. She actually had come once before to participate in a panel for fans who wrote fiction inspired by the "Twilight" series.
Now, she's the bestselling author of her own literary phenomenon — a romantic trilogy that commanded a seven-figure publishing price, has been translated into 42 languages, is dissected by book clubs and talk-show hosts and set to be made into a movie by the Oscar-nominated producers of "The Social Network."
"It's just crazy," James said, sipping a latte on the patio of a hotel near the San Diego Convention Center. "This whole thing has just been mindboggling, how it's happened and how it's exploded, and so quickly."
The "Fifty Shades" books, which follow the relationship between college student Anastasia Steele and billionaire-bachelor-with-a-taste-for-bondage Christian Grey, were published in April by a division of Random House, Inc. and have already sold more than 16 million copies.
So what's the appeal of the titillating tale?
"It's a fantasy novel," James said. "It's a love story at its heart, which I think women like to read — a passionate love story. It's got some kinky sex in it, which is kind of interesting. ... I mean he is just ridiculously wealthy, ridiculously accomplished, as well, and it's nice to go on a holiday and just escape into their world."
As 30-year-old fan Jennifer Norling of San Francisco put it: "There's humor, there's love, it's intense. It's pretty much everything a woman would want in her love life."
But, please, don't call it "mommy porn."
Though James said she doesn't want to be "a social commentator," she isn't a big fan of the term some journalists and pundits have used to describe her books' erotic content and female fan base.
"I think it is disparaging. It's actually quite misogynistic," she said. "Women like sex. If it's done well, it's really quite good fun."
Also fun for fans of the book — and James herself — is speculating who will play the central characters on screen. Readers share endless ideas on Twitter, and while James finds some of their suggestions perplexing, she hasn't ruled anyone out. She also betrays no favorites.
Besides, she's still not sure how involved she'll be in the production or if she might contribute to the screenplay. Universal Pictures and Focus Features announced producers Michael De Luca and Dana Brunetti earlier this week, "so it's like, what's next?" she said.
She almost didn't want to do the movie at all.
"Books are such a personal experience for every individual reader," she said. "I just thought it's going to be really hard to do."
But she owed it to herself — and to her story — to go for it.
"If the book says anything, it's life's not a dress rehearsal," she said. "Just go and do stuff. I'm trying to embrace that."