Here's what Lisa had to say about Defining Women's Fiction in today's market...
Defining Women’s fiction is tricky because while the genre appears broad, many writers don’t like being pigeon-holed, I guess for fear of alienating potential buyers and readers of their books.
New York Times Bestselling author Nora Roberts says, ‘Women’s Fiction is a story that centres on a woman or on primarily women’s issues, not necessarily the romantic relationship based books that I do, but the women’s story.’
To me, Women’s Fiction is an umbrella term for a wide-ranging collection of genres including romance, chick-lit, mystery, fantasy and hen-lit. However, Jessica Faust, a literary agent with Bookends LLC, says that genre definitions are ‘fluid’ and that definitions change with the market and the times. ‘Years ago, there was a very clear line between what was considered romance and what was considered fantasy,’ Faust says. But now, ‘books that were previously considered strictly fantasy are now finding their way into the romance section at bookstores and vice versa.’
Baring in mind fluid definitions, what does it take to write a Women’s Fiction novel?
It’s widely accepted that Helen Fielding kicked off the modern day chick-lit phenomenon in 1996 with the publication of Bridget Jones' Diary, a witty, first-person look at single life told through the eyes of twenty-something Bridget. Since then there’s been a flood of chick-lit books, the most popular of these being made into movies. Examples include Sophie Kinsella’s, Confessions of a Shopaholic, Lauren Weisberger’s, The Devil Wears Prada, and Jennifer Weiner’s, In Her Shoes.
Generally, these books have several of the following elements:
* The heroine, usually in her twenties, is either looking for Mr. Right or getting over Mr. Wrong.
* She's looking for the perfect job.
* The tone is often light and funny.
* The story usually is told in the first person.
* By novel's end, the heroine usually has worked out all (or most of) her problems and has learned important lessons about life.
As for the term ‘chick-lit’, it has its fair share of fans and detractors. Jennifer Weiner says that chick-lit is ‘something that says chicky, fluffy, inconsequential, of no importance and no literary quality.’ While Shopaholic series author, Sophie Kinsella, who has more than 7 million copies of her six books in print, says she's not bothered by the label. ‘To my mind, it means a fun, light book, often with humour, often featuring a contemporary heroine that women of today can relate to, often addressing an issue of today.’
Marian Keyes, an Irish novelist often dubbed the ‘reigning Queen of British chick-lit, has written ten novels including This Charming Man and Anybody Out There? and has sold over twenty-three million copies of her books world-wide.
Her tone is chatty, conversational, funny and generally written in first person but I wouldn’t say her books are primarily set on finding Mr. Right, or about losing weight and finding the perfect shoes.
Keyes books deal variously with modern ailments, including addiction, depression, domestic violence, the glass ceiling and serious illness, but they’re written with compassion, humour and hope. Keyes says, ‘Rachel’s Holiday is about someone coming to terms with addiction, and Anybody Out There? is about bereavement.’ She says, ‘okay, so this doesn't exactly sound like a laugh a minute, but in my experience the best comedy is rooted in darkness. All ten of my books are different but share a common theme of people who are in The Bad Place, and who achieve some form of redemption.’
I wouldn’t call Jodi Picoult’s novels a rollicking laugh but she does write compelling Women’s Fiction even if she prefers not to be labelled. Picoult, who has written seventeen novels and tackles hard subject matter in her books such as Nineteen Minutes and My Sister’s Keeper, says, ‘I hate being pigeonholed...you can legitimately label my novels as legal thrillers, mysteries, romances, or plain old fiction. Marketing departments like to label authors with just one tag, so that they know how to promote a book, but I think the best books straddle genres and attract a variety of readers. I’d like to think this is one reason my books appeal to people - because I give them something different every time.’
For want of a better word, Chick-lit has spawned spin-offs including lad-lit (Nick Hornby, About A Boy) and hen or lady lit, which is where I see my books, Lucy Springer Gets Even and What Kate did Next, sitting. It’s here that we find relationships, but not necessarily, romances, are at the core of the plot.
Bridget has grown up and is now in her 30’s or 40’s and is perhaps married, had a couple of children and is struggling with issues such as infidelity, divorce, a career slump, as well as raising a family. Characters are asking themselves, ‘what happened to the dreams I had?’ and ‘how did I get here?’
These stories tap into the hopes, fears, aspirations, dreams, and fantasies of women the world over. You name it and women’s fiction deals with it because women’s fiction touches on subjects women can relate to in real life.
There may be an element of romance but it doesn’t make up the entire focus of the story. It is much more about the heroine’s journey and the heroine finding herself rather than finding the man of her dreams.
Point of View:
A lot of women’s fiction is written in first person. Why? So that the action can be told through the main character’s eyes. The reader learns their thoughts, feelings and reactions to events.
In my books, the reader only knows what the main character is thinking and I like to think that the reader assumes her role. For example, in Lucy Springer Gets Even, the POV doesn’t suddenly shift to Lucy’s best friend, her mother or her children. The reader is only told the story through Lucy’s eyes. I like writing in first person because it gives me an instant connection with my character, which hopefully the reader feels as well.
My novels have been called chick-lit, lady-lit and contemporary women’s fiction. I didn’t set out to write to a particular category, I write stories that I think I’d enjoy reading...stories about real women in their thirties triumphing over adversity in real settings overcoming real life dramas.
The stories don’t necessarily have happy endings but they’re realistic and hopefully resonate with readers. I write to entertain and at the end of the day I don’t care what people call my books as long as they read them.
A Note From the Book Boost: Wonderful post, Lisa! I, myself, will raise my hand and admit that I'm a fan of both chick-lit and women's fiction. Simply because I'm a woman and I'm a fan of good fiction (no matter what genre or label is placed on it). Bridget Jones is one of my fave characters of all time! Your book sounds amazing and I cannot wait to check it out myself! Won't you tell us more about it?
Lucy Springer Gets Even is about Lucy, an out of work actress and mother, who is living through a renovation nightmare when her husband suddenly takes off and she is forced to get her act and life together. I wanted to write a light-hearted story in diary form about a woman whose husband leaves her, day one, sentence one. I thought it would be interesting to look at a woman in her mid-thirties with a couple of kids who thinks her life is moving happily along and rip it to shreds. I plotted Lucy’s journey from the depths of despair and bewilderment on day one to her getting her life together by day sixty-five.
Last night my husband, Max, looked at me over his halfeaten Pad Thai and, in calm, measured tones, said, ‘I’ve had enough.’
I took him to mean he’d eaten enough dinner. He’s been on a health kick recently, prompted by watching The Biggest Loser.
I was preoccupied thinking about our two children, who’d left on a school camp that afternoon, and so didn’t pay much attention as he pushed his plate away, stood up and disappeared out the kitchen door. A few minutes later there was a clatter as he pulled his surfboard from its wall bracket. It’s been a long time since Max has hit the waves.
And besides, it was dark. I went to the window just in time to see him reversing his car down the driveway at considerable speed, his bright red board strapped to the roof-racks. Stopping briefly to check for oncoming cars, he screeched onto the road and accelerated off into the night.
It’s now three o’clock the following afternoon. He’s not back and I have a sneaking suspicion (well, not that sneaking really) that he’s not surfing because:
1. It’s a cold August afternoon.
2. Nineteen hours is a long time to stay out waiting for sets.
3. Max has been pissed off for some time now.
The cause? We’re three months behind schedule in our renovation process, and said renovations are taking considerable time – and money.
Max, I hasten to add, is the one who insisted on renovations in the first place. He’s also the one who decreed that we stay in the house during the demolition – now complete – and
construction – very much incomplete. Instead of the brandspanking-new kitchen, family room and bathroom we envisaged, the downstairs of the house is a shell, and we spend most of our time huddled in a laundry/storeroom that’s currently doubling as a kitchen and family room.
Four people confined to a tiny room in the middle of winter, with a piss-weak bar heater, no hot water and no kitchen is no picnic, thank you very much. The builders haven’t even poured the concrete slab for the new floor yet, there’s an inconsistent flush in one of our two working toilets, and the latest hiccup – a leaking roof.
Bella and Sam, serial school-camp refuseniks in the past, fairly jumped at the opportunity to go to Bathurst and spend their nights in sleeping bags in sub-zero temperatures because the payoff was hot showers, flushing toilets and, conceivably, the absence of bickering parents.
My advice? Be very careful when choosing tradesmen. Do not, I repeat, do not under any circumstances hire someone who drops a flyer in your letterbox and answers to a name like Spud. I did, and . . . well, let’s just say we need to replace the sewer line and no longer have a
No wonder Max has bolted. It’s okay. I’m not hysterical. He just needs time to unwind, to get his head around the mind-boggling cost of Carrara marble benchtops, under-floor heating and the whole ongoing fiasco. He’ll be back.
Lisa Heidke lives in Sydney, Australia, and was a feature writer on several national magazines including Practical Parenting and Bride To Be, before leaving to pursue novel writing full-time. Lucy Springer Gets Even (Allen & Unwin, 2009) is her first book and was quickly followed by What Kate Did Next (2010). Her third novel, tentatively titled Claudia Changes Course, will be published early 2011.
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