Tania's Words

here is an empty shell- a resonant shadow- waiting

In which she’s embarassed that she writes Chick Lit.

The other day, I read an interesting article outlining the debate over the Chick Lit Label. While the article itself was interesting, the best part, in my humble opinion, were the comments by readers. After browsing through them all, I found that I agreed with some things, and that a whole lot of it made me feel defensive and insulted.

But maybe that is because I am writing a Chick Lit novel. At least I think it is. And I’m embarrassed to admit it.

And herein lies my problem with this label. Aside from the insulting name (I don’t call other women Chicks, and don’t want to be called one),  defining just what is or isn’t Chick Lit is rather murky. Some of the readers seemed to think bodice rippers fit the bill. Others commented that Chick Lit follows a fromula- 20 something woman living in New York who’s shopping/Diet Coke/ manwhore addiction leads her astray. But she’s really funny,  and has great shoes. Even more readers felt that Chick Lit consists of bad writing, written by women, for women (ouch). Light, fluffy, nonsense- all words I’ve seen ascribed to Chick Lit.

Well, the truth is that none of these describe my book. No bodices get ripped. My heroine lives in Michigan, doesn’t particularly care for shoes or shopping.  She’s not funny, at least not intentionally.  Is this book light, fluffy, mind numbing drivel? God, I really hope not.

This is the a struggle I’ve had since I began this book. I didn’t write the story with the intention of writing Chick Lit. I honestly just wanted to write a fiction book; and this happened to be the story that came out of me. I don’t mind that is is written by a woman (wouldn’t that be hilarious), for women.  And I can’t help if the closest genre I can find to fit it into is Chick Lit. I do, however, resent the idea because it is Chick Lit  it must be crap.

I’ll admit, I will read anything. I’ve been known to read the labels on bath products when bored enough. And I’ve read my share of terrible books, badly written or with just terrible plots, unlikeable characters. Books that make you cringe with embarrassment, or, very rarely (for me that is), put them down, unable to finish.

But in that little hodgepodge of reading licentiousness, there are some true gems. I might read a lot of Nora Roberts, and as yet, this hasn’t dimmed my appreciation for Steinbeck (let me just say that I’m not lumping her into the above mentioned group. I named her only because she was one of the names thrown out by a commenter in response to the article).  Am I aspiring to high fiction? No. Not because I wouldn’t love that- but it’s just not what came out. Do I think there are probably hundreds, thousands of better written, more beautifully executed books than mine? Of course.

Ok, lets take a little break so I can stop feeling defensive

The truth is, that I read  a lot of the authors named by the readers of this article. Weiner, Giffin, Weisberger– I’ve read and loved their books.  Even amongst those three, there are huge differences. Weiner’s books may be funny, but when I read  Certain Girls , I cried so hard, my  husband actually took it away from me. I would never call that book “light” or “fluffy”.

I resent the idea that just because something isn’t Hemingway, or Woolf, it must be rubbish; that it must contain juvenile or lazy writing, crappy story telling. I like to think of them as different. And maybe one is better than another, but at the end of the day, I bet you that Nora Roberts is laughing her way to the bank. Nora Roberts is hugely successful for a reason.  Easily accessible stories people can relate to, or want to relate too, that help us escape our own lives for just a bit aren’t a crime. I might have a personal book spectrum, a way that I internally evaluate the books that I read. While I might put Nora on one end, and Hemingway at the other, with some Weiner thrown in the middle, you won’t find me calling any of it crap. They all are serving a purpose and a function in a reading world.

Yeah, my book isn’t even in the same solar system as The God of Small Things.  Sometimes, you want to read something that beautifully written, that moving. But that book is also dark, at times painful, and in my case, life changing. But I can’t always take that. Sometimes, I just want a happy ending. I don’t mind putting a little more love and positivity into the world.

Maybe I just have a low tolerance for snobbery. Do I need to know that you are so much smarter than us peons who think that romance novels are enjoyable?  Than the thousands of women who laughed out loud when reading the Devil Wears Prada? I’ve never understood people who need to build themselves up by proving how much smarter they are, how much better or just more deserving.  I know I’m smart, I don’t need to prove it to anyone else to know it. It has never bothered me that there are plenty of people in the world, in my life, who are smarter.  Hence, I’ve never felt the need to join the elitist ranks of readers who will look at you with a knowing, mocking grin as you thumb your way through the newest Julie Garwood.

I don’t know if my book is funny, or fluffy, badly written, or just crap. It just is. It came out of me this way, and I would never, ever wish that it hadn’t.  It would have been nice to write the next great American novel. But writing something that may potentially bring a smile to another persons face, help them get through a rough time, or just give them a little vacation from the real world? Pretty awesome. And if it never does any of that for anyone else, at least it did for me.


  tswelti wrote @

Don’t apologize for writing what you write and don’t listen to anyone who thinks chick lit is not art. Anyone who thinks that Jennifer Weiner or Stephanie Meyer don’t put a lot of thought and work into their novels has never written a novel, so why bother.

Hemingway and Atwood approach the written from a completely different angle, and this gets them closer to their target of beautiful, moving prose. But they’re shooting at a totally different target then Weiner and Meyer. You can’t pit them against each other when they’re not even competing for the same audience.

For me, writing for children is what I’ve always wanted to do. Sure, I can write something that is as thought-provoking and moving as Lois Lowry, but I’m not Lois Lowry. I teeter between quirky and dark, which is the kind of book I’m writing. I would love to be able to write something worthy of a Newberry Medal, but I know that’s not my target.

I guess what I’m trying to say, is don’t lose sight of your target by focusing on someone else’s bullseye. That’s how people get shot in the eye.

  taniamccue wrote @

You make a lot of good points- not only about how different writers come from different angles, but that they have completely different targets. I do appreciate what you said the other day about how important it is that I know myself. I privately struggled for a while with the fact that what I write is not ever going to be great literature. If I’m being honest though, it’s just not what I do. Not my voice, nor the stories that come to me. The moments when I am lost writing something, when it gives me so much, it doesn’t really matter that some book snob out there is going to call my writing crap.

  tswelti wrote @

Wow… typos. “approach the written WORD” and “THAN” not “then.” And, “I can TRY to write something” not ” I can write something.” And “what I’m trying to say is, don’t”. Geez,!

  savantefolle wrote @

Welcome to the club of sticky demeaning labels!

As a SF writer I understand what you’re going through! What I do – despite my numerous SF awards) is not considered as Literature!

Have fun writing what you want!

  taniamccue wrote @

Thanks! Have you published? If so, would I have heard of anything?

  Jenaynay wrote @

I’m one of the privileged few to have read your book and I never once classified it as Chick Lit – and trust me I’ve read a lot of Chick Lit! It’s a lovely fiction novel about friends and it’s down to earth and easy to relate to – never lose that quality Tania.

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