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Strange bedfellows: E. Millinocket paper mill’s tie to erotic novels to be featured on ‘Rock Center’

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Posted Sept. 26, 2012, at 7:28 p.m.
Last modified Sept. 26, 2012, at 8:07 p.m.

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This file combo made of book cover images provided by Vintage Books shows the &quotFifty Shades of Grey" trilogy by best-selling author E L James.
Vintage Books | AP
This file combo made of book cover images provided by Vintage Books shows the "Fifty Shades of Grey" trilogy by best-selling author E L James.
Author E.L. James poses with her book &quotFifty Shades of Grey" at a book signing during the first day of Comic-Con convention held at the San Diego Convention Center in July 2012.
Denis Poroy, Invision | AP
Author E.L. James poses with her book "Fifty Shades of Grey" at a book signing during the first day of Comic-Con convention held at the San Diego Convention Center in July 2012.
Hustler Hollywood displays the &quotFifty Shades of Grey" trilogy with S&M mask, whip and rose pedals on display near the checkout line, July 30, 2012, in South Florida.
Sarah Dussault, Sun Sentinel | MCT
Hustler Hollywood displays the "Fifty Shades of Grey" trilogy with S&M mask, whip and rose pedals on display near the checkout line, July 30, 2012, in South Florida.

EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine – Call it Fifty Shades of East Millinocket. An NBC newsmagazine show will feature on Thursday the publishing success of a series of erotic novels and the boost they gave the Main Street paper mill.

“Rock Center with Brian Williams” correspondent Harry Smith interviewed town leaders and executives at the Great Northern Paper Co. LLC mill last week about the “Fifty Shades of Grey” novels. GNP produced as much as 5,000 tons of paper in July and August that Random House used to publish the series. The show starts at 10 p.m.

GNP appreciates the publicity, company Chief Operating Officer Richard Cyr said.

“GNP has long legacy and a great reputation, so the more people hear about us now, remember the name, realize that we are in business and see this and are convinced that we are around to stay, the better it is,” Cyr said. “It can’t be a bad thing.”

The series of three erotic novels by author E.L. James has dominated The New York Times’ bestseller list. Since April, one out of every five adult print novels sold in the U.S. has been a “Fifty Shades” title, though critics have complained that it is poorly written ― “Mommy porn,” in the words of one. Some public libraries nationwide have banned it for its supposedly poor writing or erotic content.

Selectman Mark Scally, chairman of the board of selectmen when the mill reopened last October, Cyr and several workers were interviewed for the TV segment, company spokesman Scott Tranchemontagne said. Only Cyr and one company worker are in the less-than-two-minute segment available at rockcenter.nbcnews.com. It was unclear whether that is the entire video that will air Thursday. Smith told Cyr that the segment would run five or six minutes, Cyr said.

Clint Linscott, chairman of the board of selectmen, said he decided not to participate in the interviews. Other publicity on the connection between GNP and “Fifty Shades,” and the pre-interviewing done by “Rock Center” workers, gave Linscott the impression that they would make it sound like the novel saved the company, he said.

“To me, it is about the mill and the people,” Linscott said. “Try Googling the two of them [the book and mill]. It will leave you speechless.”

Scally told Linscott later that the interviewing was more balanced, said Linscott, who expressed confidence that Scally handled the interview well for the town. Cyr said he thought that the show’s producers might have initially approached the story that way, but changed their approach once the pre-interviews were completed.

In the segment available at the show’s website, Smith clearly relishes asking paper mill workers if they would encourage people to buy the novels. Not surprisingly, they said yes ― they encouraged all Americans to buy books.

The 4,500 to 5,000 tons of paper produced for the books is a fraction of the 160,000 tons the mill will likely produce with its No. 5 and 6 machines in 2012, but the size of the order mattered less than the timing, Cyr said.

Random House “ordered a lot of paper for those two months. Over two months, that is a lot of paper,” Cyr said. “It really gave us a nice little bump that was a good catalyst for our starting the second machine.”

Great Northern restarted the No. 5 machine and began running it three days a week late last month, adding 37 workers to its 235-member payroll. The No 6 machine runs round-the-clock.

The company has a 38- to 42-day order backlog for No. 6 and customer commitments to buy paper every 30 days or so for the rest of the year – a solid performance that the company hopes to buttress with more Random House orders, Cyr said.

“I think the idea of it taking off was a surprise to them [Random House]. To everybody. We can keep our fingers crossed that we will get more,” Cyr said. “We like them, they like us. We have a good relationship.”

But there might be a hitch to that relationship. Cyr, Tranchemontagne and Linscott admit that they haven’t read “Fifty Shades of Grey.” Not yet, anyway.

“My wife won’t let me,” Tranchemontagne said. “I have heard a lot about it, but I am not allowed to read that.”

“It was given to my wife as a birthday present for me. Her girlfriend handed it to her,” Cyr said. “I’m like, ‘What the hell are you doing? Why are you giving her a birthday gift on my birthday?’ Her girlfriend said, ‘You’ll see.’”

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