What’s in a name? For one straight-laced housewife from Parkland — whose new book is regularly mistaken for the racy bestseller, “Fifty Shades of Grey”— that would be 50 shades of embarrassment.
Susanne Jacoby Hale’s first literary effort is titled “Shades of Gray” and relates the struggles of a dropout-prevention teacher. It also happens to bear an oh-so-similar title to that salacious, sex-infused bodice-ripper that has readers the world over swooning over its sadomasochistic storyline.
“You get looks like, ‘Whoever would have thought that was going on in the Hale house?'” she said with a chuckle. “It’s a weird thing because people seem to think I am something I’m not.
“Email, Facebook messages, people calling me — everyone thinks I wrote ‘Fifty Shades of Grey,'” says Hale, 47, as the mother of three got her family ready for their annual Mother’s Day trip to Marco Island. “It’s frustrating, but I have to laugh about it.”
Hale’s new book, published by iUniverse and based on her years as a teacher at a riot-ridden, inner-city New York school, has plenty of controversial elements: teen pregnancy, interracial adoption, infertility. But nothing on the scale of the explicit sex scenes that have sent the other “Shades” to the top of The New York Times bestseller list for nine weeks running.
The timing couldn’t have been more ideal for the mixup: Both books were published online around the end of last year, though E.L. James’ “Fifty Shades of Grey” was later picked up by a publishing house and hit the bestseller list in March. By that point, when Hale had begun her own modest social media campaign, her book’s title had already become synonymous with the kind of erotica readers of all ages and demographics wanted to get their hands on.
So over the past few months, as people in the Hale family world got wind of the budding author’s new book, the assumptions were life-changing. Clearly, she’s also benefiting from it.
Her first South Florida book signing is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday at Falafel Bistro in Coral Springs, and the restaurant’s owners say they are getting 15 calls a day from people inquiring about the event.
Lauren Cohen, the bistro’s co-owner, said so many callers have been confused that she had to post a clarification on the restaurant’s Facebook page that Monday’s featured guest is not “Fifty Shades” author E.L. James.
“It can be a little misleading,” Cohen said of the book titles. “People are confused, and they’re calling us, texting.”
The great confusion
Hale says her book has seen positive reviews and “sales are going fairly well,” especially for a self-published book that has not been advertised. While it’s difficult to assess how many books are being sold to people wanting to read about the dropout-prevention teacher, there’s no denying that much of the interest is coming from people looking for a different grey.
Hale is getting stopped at the grocery store, at her kids’ schools, in the neighborhood, all by people who’ve heard of her book, or think they have. When Hale went to donate a copy of her “Shades” to the local library, “the librarian shoved it in her purse,” Hale said. “She was so excited.” Mistaken, but excited.
The “great confusion,” as Hale calls it, is a family affair. Her husband, Timothy, a medical sales representative, is regularly approached by doctors who want to talk to him about his wife’s new book. When the couple’s 13-year-old, Sarah, went to school with her mother’s novel, a teacher spotted the title and asked her, “Should you really be reading that?”
Hale’s eldest daughter, Chelsea, a sophomore at Florida State University, repeatedly fields calls from sorority sisters who say, “I can’t believe your mom wrote that book!” And the family’s only boy, Matthew, 17, was questioned by his high school guidance counselor about his mother’s scandalous novel.
In a rare moment of public expression, a frustrated Timothy Hale even called into Big 105.9’s Paul Young Ron Morning Show on Wednesday, when the radio hosts spent yet another morning talking about “Fifty Shades.”
“I told them, ‘Everyone in town thinks my wife is a slut,” Timothy Hale said with feigned horror.
His wife added, “They told him he was a lucky guy.”
Though much of the confusion has proven to be what Timothy Hale calls “a wild ride,” Hale is taking it all in stride, and using the opportunity to her advantage.
“I’ll ride on [James’] coattails as long as I can if it’s going to get it out there,” said Hale, who is working on a second book. “At the same time, I don’t want my reputation to be scarred forever.”