May 18, 2011

I am Woman Hear me Roar, for Shoes?

We won an award, we won an award . . . so exciting, but let me get back to that in a moment.

Mom and I wrote a book about something very near and dear to our hearts: the many female relationships in our lives, particularly the relationship between mothers and daughters. The publishing and marketing world require "labels" for products. You need to define what you are selling before you attempt to sell it. I get it. I'm not a genre-specific reader, so I don't personally need a book to be labeled. I need a good friend recommendation or great back/inside cover detailing the story.

Caving to industry standards, we set out to define our novel. This was particularly important for submitting to awards contests. We didn't want to be in General Fiction, because we'd be competing with everything. And, although so many elements of our lives creeped into our finished work, we are not a memoir. The term "Chick Lit" seemed the best choice, but I had a hard time giving into this classification.

Prior to researching, I definited Chick Lit as any book about whiny, self-absorbed women who only cared about shoes, clothes, purses, jewelry, the right man, and the right purse-sized dog. The big reveal at the end: the woman realizes she is more than said things, but she's not willing to live without them. Don't get me wrong, there's a time and a place for fluffy beach reads, but I don't read them often. And I really felt our book offered more.

Off to the computer I went. I simply typed in "definition of Chick Lit" to see what bounced back. The best of what I found:

The World English Dictionary defines Chick Lit as a genre fiction concentrating
on young working women and their emotional lives (as modifer: chick-lit romances).

The Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary defines it as stories
written by women, about women and for women to read.

And, finally, Wikipedia, says Chick Lit addresses
issues of modern womanhood, often humorously and lightheartedly.

Each of these was problematic in some way. Our two main characters: a stay at home mom and a thirteen year old. The stay at home mom is hard-working for sure, but not the "young working woman" this definition alludes to. And I wasn't sure the definition of modern womanhood, but our story is set in the 1980's so probably not a fit. We are humorous in several parts, but it does not define the novel. I could wrap my head around written by women, about women and for women to read. But does that mean Nicholas Sparks for all his sappy, emotion-jerking books does not qualify for Chick Lit?

I needed more than a definition. So I kept searching. I found blog after blog trying to define it. Yeah, I wasn't the only one confused. Time and time again, I saw the face of Chick Lit as Sex and the City. I know I'm in the minority here, but I've maybe seen two episodes of the TV show, never saw either movie, and did not read the books. Our book would not speak to someone looking for more Carrie Bradshaws. More adjectives seemed to circle around the term Chick Lit: fluffy, happy endings, romance, contemporary, hip, stylish...

Then I found two quotes. One from an author (Roberts) I've turned to time and time again when I needed some "down-time but not trashy" reading and one from an author I know little about.

"Chick Lit uses humor to reflect life back to us. It's a very comforting genre..." Marian Keyes

Oh, we reflect life, but I don't know how comforting life's reflection is at times.

"Women's Fiction is a story that centers on a woman or on primarily women's issues, not necessarily the romantic relationship based books I do but the woman's story." Nora Roberts

Now, this I like, but the term is Women's Fiction and not Chick Lit (although the article quoting Mrs. Roberts stated it was the best Chick Lit definition she'd read). I like Women's Fiction and would embrace defining ourselves that way, but it's rarely used and I'm not sure it's interchangeable with Chick Lit.

In the end, we defined ourselves as Chick Lit for our submissions. There was even one award with the category Chick/Women's Lit. I don't like labels (not helping my Chick Lit cause!). Still, it must be a fit, at least in the eyes of the Next Generation Indie Book Awards. We were just named a Finalist in the Chick Lit category (winners and finalists will be officially announced on their site on Friday, 5/20). Shiny stickers, here we come.

I'm not sure I have a better handle on what Chick Lit really means. I'd like to think it centers around stories written by women (prefer to "chicks"), about women and for women to read. Women define themselves in many ways. They can be a stay-at-home mom, a business woman, or anything in between. So it stands to reason "their" literature is varied in its definition.

Still, I couldn't help but chuckle at my favorite quote about Chick Lit:

"If we call Bridget Jones's Diary 'chick lit,' why don't we call
The Hunt for Red October 'dick lit'?" Gloria Steinem

We'd love to know: How do you define Chick Lit?


Lisa @ Intralingo said...

First of all: big, huge congratulations on being a finalist for an award! I hope you'll post more about this on the 20th?!

I also really appreciate your delving into the chick lit/women's fiction debate. For what it's worth, the novel I'm currently translating is defined by the publisher as women's fiction. At first I wondered, is this just an upscale reference to chick lit? But no... There are some distinctions, though any line is blurry and defined only from our own perspectives. Still, I appreciated the discussion here. And I *love* Steinem's quote. ;-)

Anonymous said...

I, too, struggled with the category "Chick Lit." I mean it sounds us. Well, the shoe part does, but our range of reading and writing seems far removed from the implications I perceived when I first encountered this subcategory of fiction. But I am growing fonder of it by definition. Thank you for educating the populous! Your mother!

Tia Bach said...

Thanks for commenting Lisa. I loved Steinem's quote, too. I just wonder how Pride & Prejudice would be judged by today's standards. I don't want to be classified Chick Lit if it's represented by the Sex and the City and Shopaholic series, even though I understand their place in publishing. (and as always, thanks for commenting Mom!)

Jan said...

Congratulations! I hate to admit that I read Chick Lit. I always joke that I have enough reality in my life so I need it to decompress. It's the comfort it provides.

What are shiny stickers? We'll hear the results with you!

~Maggie~ said...

Love the post! I wish I could contribute to the Chick Lit debate, but I'm pretty sure that just as many statements about "women" are gross generalizations, statements about "chick lit" are the same. Yours is, it sounds to me, great fiction (if more "beautiful" than say Jurassic Park, lol).

Alison Law said...

Congrats on the award! I love Chick Lit when it's well done. Jennifer Weiner, Jen Lancaster, Emily Giffin are a few of my faves in the genre.
I'm disappointed to see the Gloria Steinem quote only because my husband has written a book that he's trying to get published as "dick lit." Guess Gloria coined the phrase before he did. :)

Tia Bach said...

Alison. You make a good point. I love any genre done well. I just wish Chick Lit didn't have the stigma of only being about superficial women who find themselves. I'm sure your husband doesn't have much to worry about, since I had never heard that quote before (and I'm surprised because it has a ring to it!).

Tia Bach said...

Jan, as a finalist, we get the gold stickers to put on our books. It's not quite the Pulitzer or Newberry award, but we'll take it!!

Thanks Maggie!