Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Cat Fight

Yep, we bitches are at it again—slinging arrows, throwing jabs, dodging punches—you men out there would be salivating…if it weren’t all just on paper.

I’m talking about the battle between female authors who profess to write literary women’s fiction and who wouldn’t be caught dead with a pair of Manolos in their closet (nor in their books) or any shade of pink on their covers vs. female authors who write women’s fiction that’s branded chick lit.

Now, I’m no expert, but in the interest of cluing in my blog readers (most of whom wouldn’t know the difference between Jennifer Weiner and Jennifer Anniston) let me try to sum up. To my mind, Bridget Jones Diary put chick lit on the map as a genre. Certainly there are others (Sophie Kinsella’s Shopaholic series, for example) but in my own experience, it was Bridget that made chick lit a household word. Well, in my household, anyway.

To the rest of the world, chick lit equals Sex And the City…which, in my opinion, ends up reinforcing a stereotype that never really existed in the books themselves. Oh, sure--both the books and the TV show contain a lot of shopping for shoes, but that phenomenon is only the frill on the ribbon. When you unwrap the rest of the package you discover stories about women trying to find their place in the world--making decisions about motherhood, career, men--um, just like real life.

So with the success of both Bridget and SATC, chick lit books flew off the shelves. A good thing for women, right? Apparently not. Because, according to Elizabeth Herrick (a self-proclaimed literary author), while the surge in titles generated by women in a patriarchal business like publishing is to be applauded, they're the WRONG women. In fact, as she puts it, “there is an amazing flourishing of women literary writers at the moment that is being obscured by a huge pile of pink books with purses and shoes on the cover.” (As if authors have control over their covers, but that's another issue.)

Anyway. Geesh. Can you spell d-e-m-e-a-n-i-n-g? How about c-o-n-d-e-s-c-e-n-d-i-n-g? Whack!

So, let me understand this. Female authors getting published: good. Female authors selling lots of books: good. Female authors selling books with pink covers: bad. (Yeah, I know. Shrug.)

To combat the problem, and bolster her sisters-in-lit, Herrick put together an anthology titled, “This Is Not Chick Lit: Original Stories By America's Best Women Writers.” When I first heard about it, I shook my head. I mean, BEST is pretty subjective and I'm not sure I put Ms. Herrick in charge of deciding who makes the list. Besides, can’t we all just get along? Why do we have to turn on each other? Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose, n’est-ce pas? What’re we, still in high school?

Then, to my immense pride and glee, Lauren Baratz-Logsted (try saying THAT three times fast) countered with “This Is Chick Lit”—an anthology of stories written by talented women not ashamed of the genre. I confess I haven’t read it (actually it's not out yet) but I have no doubt the stories are filled with richly drawn characters in situations I can relate to or empathize with while they—YES!—also entertain me.

It seems to me that if Herrick and her buddies were so concerned about women’s fiction, they would embrace ALL women’s fiction, instead of trying to marginalize the sector that’s currently in vogue. Yes, I read what some call chick lit. But I also read mysteries, thrillers, and—dare I say it?—women’s literary fiction. Why does it have to be either/or??


Lauren Baratz-Logsted said...

You spelled my whole name correctly - you get big points for that. :) Great blog, Randy!

John said...


If she can use that name and be a success, you could use your name. What I can't figure out is why people feel a fluffy name will help them. Of couse, she may use a fluffy name. But who would go to that much difficulty to invent a name?

randy said...

Ha. You gotta point. My last name's no worse than Lauren's, for sure. Let's just say I'm waiting until my talent equals hers to use my real name.

Lauren Baratz-Logsted said...

Did I miss something?

randy said...

He's referring to your last name. It's as as unprounceable and hard to spell as my own so he figures if you can use yours, I can use least that's what I think he meant.

John said...

You got it right. Lauren B-L is tougher to pronounce and spell than Randy J-B. But, Randy Jeanne is kind of cute. (Fluffy may have been too much - cute is better?).

John said...

PS to Lauren. You have a cool name, even if I can't pronounce it. Impressed that you don't compromise it.

Excuse me Randy, for cross blogging.

Lauren Baratz-Logsted said...

At the last minute before my debut novel came out, my editor said the marketing people requested I choose just one element of my last name to go with. They made it very complimentary, saying they envisioned a time I was as famous as Nelson DeMille and wanted to be able to splash my name in big letters on the jacket. I thought about it and said no. I didn't want to have an alliterative name, nor would I divorce my husband's name for a publishing expedient, I told them. I've never been sorry. :)

Rachel Pine said...

I'm jumping in a little late here, but first, Randy, thanks for being such a cool and funny supporter. I was wondering who put Elizabeth Merrick in charge of compiling the list of "Best" writers, and I heard you were a likely suspect. So glad to hear otherwise!

While we're on the topic of names, Miramax Books said that I couldn't use my middle name because it was too "unwieldy," and like an idiot, I listened to them. My middle name is EVE!

randy said...

That's right. I hold infinite sway with the literary world. (Wink)