MIAMI – Young school teachers, middle-aged nurses and even the elderly flocked to a Miami book store Sunday for a chance to meet the author of the bestselling erotic romance “Fifty Shades of Grey” in the launch of her U.S. book tour.

British newcomer E L James drew more than 500 men and women at a morning book signing and spoke that evening to a boisterous, uninhibited crowd at the historic Biltmore Hotel. It was her second-ever book signing, yet the size of the crowd snaking through the store with mimosas and books in hand drew comparisons to the past response for writers such as Anne Rice and even politicians.

“This is a literary phenomenon,” said Mitchell Kaplan, owner of Books & Books, the independent bookstore where James was signing copies. “E L struck a nerve, and her storytelling speaks to so many people.”

In a few short months, James has snagged a seven-figure contract with Vintage Books, and Universal Pictures and Focus Films have purchased the rights to all three books in the trilogy about an unworldly college student who begins an unusual romantic relationship with a wealthy young businessman. The books have been called “mommy porn” for their sexual content and large, mostly female following, though men are signing up for autographs as well.

“I read it through lunch breaks and I’m giggling,” said Laura Vargas, 31, an executive assistant at a large insurance company. “I’m like, ‘I can’t believe she just wrote that.’ “

James began writing the books as fan fiction to Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” series and quickly developed a cult-like following of her own.

The romance between main characters Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey is surprising because of its unconventional nature: Grey asks Steele to sign a contract, and she agrees to be his “submissive” and to partake in a range of erotic activities.

The stories were first published online, and as word of mouth spread, droves of people – many of them not traditional readers of romantic or erotic fiction – began downloading them on iPads and Kindles.

“I’m staggered by this,” James said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I never set out to do this.”

Until recently, the affable, laid-back author, who was raised in London and studied history in college. had been mostly preoccupied with her work as a television executive, taking care of her two teenage sons and doing mundane house chores

A broad swath of mostly women, of all ages and backgrounds, showed up Sunday at the bookstore in Miami’s upscale Coral Gables neighborhood.

Emilia Diaz, a 57-year-old aesthetician, said it was a man who introduced her to the books. They had been talking online and over the phone for months and finally agreed to meet in person. On their first date, he suggested she read the books.

“Maybe he wants you to be his submissive,” joked her cousin, Sandra Sousa-Druckman, an interior designer.

Diaz came in a group of four women, the eldest being Sousa-Druckman’s 87-year-old mother, Cathy Perkins.

Perkins, who was married for 60 years, said she usually reads Danielle Steele but wants to take up “Fifty Shades of Grey” and its two follow-up novels next. She had a copy of the second book, “Fifty Shades Darker,” for James to autograph.

Anne Messitte, the publisher of Vintage Books, said the overwhelming response to James’ second book signing, and the first in her tour, was unprecedented for a new writer.

“I think at the heart of it, these are wonderful, modern stories that engross the reader,” she said.

James herself is at a loss to explain why the books have become so popular, so quickly. Fans who have written or spoken with her at events have had different reactions; some say their sex lives have improved, while others have said the book helped them in dealing with an adopted child. The fictional character Christian Grey was adopted at a young age.

At the Biltmore on Sunday evening, 700 women – many in designer dresses, high heels and skinny jeans – filled a stately room with high, wooden ceilings. A handful of men showed up with their wives.

Jorge Forte, 39, a lobbyist, said he read “Fifty Shades of Grey” after his wife, a stay-at-home mom, became a fan. Now he’s telling all his work colleagues about it.

“It was definitely not boring,” Forte said with a smile.

When James entered the room, members of the crowd asked when there would be a follow-up and how long it had taken her to write. But mostly their questions boiled down to two topics: Who is Christian based on, and how much of the stuff described in the book has she actually tried?

James said Christian was based on several people. As for whether she’s had experiences like those in the book, she said: “Some yes, some no, some I just used my imagination.”

Lawsuit claims lyrics stolen by John, Taupin

CHICAGO – More than a quarter-century after Elton John’s “Nikita” told the tale of a star-crossed Cold War romance, a South African is alleging in a federal lawsuit that the singer and his collaborator stole the lyrics.

Guy Hobbs, described in the suit as a freelance photojournalist, says he wrote the lyrics to “Natasha” while he worked on a Russian cruise ship in 1982 and became romantically involved with a Russian waitress during the height of the Cold War.

According to the lawsuit, Hobbs registered his copyright of “Natasha,” sought without success to find a composer and in 1984 forwarded the lyrics to several music publishers, including Big Pig Music Ltd. Hobbs said he was unaware of Big Pig’s ties to Elton John at the time.

In 2001, Hobbs came across the lyrics of “Nikita” in a song book and was shocked by the many similarities to “Natasha.” The suit alleges John and Bernie Taupin, a lyricist and longtime John collaborator, copied “substantial, original portions” of “Natasha.”

Hobbs’ attorney said attempts over the last decade to reach a settlement with John and Taupin went unanswered, so he decided to sue.

John’s publicist didn’t return calls for comment, but a representative for John and Taupin told the New York Post that the suit was without merit.

Former Miss New Hampshire USA arrested

MANCHESTER, N.H. – Police say the 2010 Miss New Hampshire USA faces a simple assault charge stemming from a confrontation with her boyfriend.

Police said Sunday that Nicole Houde, 26, was arrested Wednesday. Authorities said the Manchester beauty queen punched, kicked, scratched and bit Scott Nickerson, 33, also of Manchester.

Police said the two were arguing and Nickerson took Houde’s cellphone, prompting the physical confrontation.

Miss New Hampshire USA and Miss Teen New Hampshire USA are distinct from the Miss New Hampshire and Miss America pageants. 

— From news service reports