Shades of Vancouver in steamy blockbuster

Key character goes to WSUV, but kinky action is in Seattle

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

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Often overshadowed by the big city to the south or confused for a Canadian city to the north, Vancouver always wants to make a name for itself.

Now millions of people are reading about Vancouver as a setting in the blockbuster "Fifty Shades of Grey," the first in a trilogy of erotic fiction novels that occupy the top three spots on the New York Times Best Sellers list.

Last month, "Fifty Shades of Grey" was spoofed on Saturday Night Live as "mommy porn," a description frequently used to describe the surprise hit from a first-time, self-published author. The writing quality has been widely panned, and the author acknowledged in an interview with "The Today Show" that she's not a great writer.

But there's plenty of demand.

Don't worry, if you are one of the 425 people on Fort Vancouver Regional Library District's waiting list for "Fifty Shades of Grey," this story doesn't contain any spoilers. And the library just put an additional 24 copies into circulation, bringing the total number of copies to 119, said communications director Sue Vanlaanen.

Sit tight — you should get your copy in fewer than 17 days.

While the book has been banned from some libraries nationwide, Vanlaanen said the library district has not received any complaints.

Vancouver does not have a starring role, however. The really kinky acts in the S&M tale occur in Seattle, home to Christian Grey, wealthy businessman who happens to be a Washington State University Vancouver benefactor scheduled to speak at graduation. When WSU Vancouver student Anastasia Steele goes to Seattle to interview Grey for the student newspaper, well, it sets off the first of many internal struggles between her "inner goddess" and her subconscious. After graduation, Steele moves to Seattle.

While she's still a student and Grey comes to visit, he stays at the Heathman Hotel in Portland.

A "Fifty Shades of Grey" fan tour includes WSU Vancouver, said Brenda Alling, WSU Vancouver's director of marketing and communications.

It's not known why British author E.L. James, who lives in London, chose to make Steele a VanCougar. The Columbian contacted James' publicist, who said he posed the question but did not receive a response.

In the book, Grey donates money to the school's agricultural programs -- but, oops, those are at the main campus in Pullman, said Alling.

Oh well. It's fiction.

Alling said she'd love to know why the author chose WSU Vancouver. If James needed a college along Interstate 5, why didn't she choose The Evergreen State College in Olympia or the University of Washington in Seattle or Portland State University, to name just a few choices.

Initially horrified of WSU Vancouver's inclusion in mommy porn, Alling said she's taking it in stride.

"I can even laugh about it now," she said.

"It might help put us on the map."

Kelly Parker, president and CEO of the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce, said she's a believer that "most press is always good press" and she loves WSU Vancouver being portrayed as a large university.

"It's probably far better to be in an erotica romance book than in an Ann Rule real-life murder mystery," Parker said. "I love to see Vancouver mentioned in most every regard, and that would include this one."

The other books in the trilogy are "Fifty Shades Darker" and "Fifty Shades Freed." The books have been sold in 37 countries, and the movie rights were purchased in March.

Stephanie Rice has not finished "Fifty Shades of Grey."