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Sunday, 18 August 2013

What is Chick Lit? No, seriously, I want an answer... And don't say 'pink'....

Very shortly I am going to be asking for your opinions, so you may want to sit down and have a Hobnob, find a pen, make a cup of tea and work out what your opinions are.  I can wait.  I'll just sit here and hum for a bit, maybe flip through my enormous collection of kitten pictures and furtively Google Tony Robinson. Go on, off you go...
I've got hundreds like this. Hundreds.

Ready?  Right.  Now, the backstory... (stop sighing, there's always a backstory, and you'd only complain if I didn't tell you).  Last week I went to meet up with the Doncaster Chapter of the RNA. Yes, it does make them sound like Hell's Angels, maybe that's on purpose. After all, nobody messes with the RNA. We even have a special 'hit squad' of armed mercenaries to take out rogue reviewers.. What?  Oh, apparently we don't, which leaves me with the question 'who the hell have I been talking to when I phoned that 'special' number I was given at the last Conference?', but that's not really the problem under scrutiny here.

You have no idea how disappointed I am that this is not going to be visited upon people.  I had a list and everything.
We were talking about Chick Lit.  Well, I was talking and they were nodding wisely, making sage remarks and generally a lively discussion was had.  I may have shouted a bit, but nobody threw anything at me, so I have to assume that I wasn't being too badly behaved.  And then it was suggested that I turn the discussion over to you, dear blog readers, which I am here to do, and this is where I need your opinions.

You see, neither my publisher nor I ever describe my writing as 'Chick Lit'. Never. I call  it 'dark psychological romance, with jokes', but whether because it's first-person romantic comedy or for some other reason, people who pick the books up tend to assume they are going to read Chick Lit, whatever that may be.  Therefore, I have had numerous reviews - not bad ones, mostly, in fact, very good ones - but they all say things like 'not your usual Chick Lit story' or variations thereof.  So now I worry that I am disappointing people who expect Chick Lit when they buy my books, and are not being delivered of that which they are anticipating, if you follow my tortured English there.

So, my question to you is - what is Chick Lit?  In your opinion, I mean, I've already canvassed the opinion of the great unwashed masses of Wikipedia which reduces it to 'books dealing with the themes of womanhood, sometimes humorously', which isn't much help, frankly. What makes a book chick lit? Pink cover? Shoes? Heartbroken woman learning to love again? And where does this leave my, quite frankly biscuit-led, books?

22 comments:

Lesley Cookman said...

Er...

Jane Lovering said...

I can wait all day...

Annie Cooper said...

To my mind chick lit is mainly written by women for women. It invariably features love - unrequited, 2nd time around, friendship/enmity turning to love. It can be funny, but not necessarily. The main characters are usually slightly flawed, the secondary ones more so. Can be contemporary, can be historical.
Your novels are different. They are more Hen Lit - chick lit for grown ups! The main characters usually have major issues, either physical or emotional, and the secondary characters are more normal (whatever that is). And yours are much, much funnier. "Setting fire to the table cloth" still makes me smile months down the line and out of nowhere!

Hannah @ Once Upon A Time said...

I don't know if my definition is much the same or different from everybody else's but basically a (usually) light story about a woman with troubles.. job, relationships, something else.. there's often humour, but not always, a romance and a happy ending. Moreorless when I look for chick lit, I want a smile on my face at the end and a sweet romance. Does that help at all? Because I fear I've just babbled. :p

Jane Lovering said...

Thank you, this is all helpful...
Annie, I am now laughing at the thought of you still laughing at that line.. and Hannah, not babbling at all, your opinion seems to be pretty much a universal definition of chick lit, so far.
Any more for any more?

Chris Stovell said...

I'll wait with you, Jane, which is not much help but might keep you company. To me, it's a sloppy, dated and dismissive term which lumps a huge range of fiction under one pink umbrella. I write relationship novels with a strong central romance, but there are always darker undercurrents. I may use a light touch to convey some of those more serious themes, but not shoes, shopping or Chardonnay. It'll be interesting to see how others feel about the 'chick lit' label.

Jane Lovering said...

I know labels can be useful for some people, Chris, I worry about things being wrongly-labelled and disappointing readers who were looking for something different. Or maybe not, maybe I am writing Chick Lit... hence the post.
Thanks for keeping me company. Have a biscuit, to pass the time.

Rosie Dean said...

This is just my humble opinion - but I regard chick-lit as being on the lighter side of contemporary women's fiction - and targeted at women who are young at heart even if they are actually perimenopausal. That's not to say it doesn't deal with serious issues because it can. I regard Marian Keyes as a chick-lit author because there is humour in her work. However, if it's more sober, issue-led and lacking humour that, to me, is serious contemporary women's fiction.

Janet Gover said...

I'm not sure what it is either Jane. Maybe it's just a label bookseller use to categorize stuff. Whatever your books are though, I like 'em so just keep writing ... whatever it is you are writing.
J X

Jane Lovering said...

Thank you, Rosie, another interpretation of the genre (and yes, I regard Marian Keyes as Chick Lit too, I'd never really thought about it, even Rachel's Holiday' is marketed as chick lit..)
And thank you Janet! I agree that it's a label, just wondering if we can define the kind of book they slap it on (doesn't look like there's a consensus though). And thank you for being nice about my books! x

Carol Hedges said...

Chicklit is a title bestowed by critics and some editors to suggest that the story line and contents are best suited to frothy underbrained women who couldn't possibly manage to get beyond the first page of War and Peace. More fool them. It also denotes that the writer couldn't possibly manage to write anything as 'literary' as War and Peace either.

kate johnson said...

I pretty much agree with Wikipedia's description (I know! I never thought I'd say it, either).

Ultimately, I suppose the way you describe chick lit depends on how much you like it. Is it a modern woman dealing with life, career, family, and love? Or is it frothy nonsense?

Of course, if a man wrote it...

littlegrebe said...

I think maybe it's a tag to warn men off?

Us women are lucky, we can approach the checkout with "The Beginner's Lump-hammer Guide" or "Trainspotting in Eastern Europe" with no trepidation, whereas a man wishing to purchase "This Wedding Game!", a book with a cover depicting high heels, chiffony swirls and sparkly champagne bottles,might feel a trifle nervous.

The problem is when it is applied too widely to any female authors (then we're back to the Bronte sisters' days, when to be taken seriously women had to write under a male nom-de-plume).

Rhoda Baxter said...

If a man wrote it, people would be gushing with admiration about how well he writes female characters (see 90% of reviews of Matt Dunn's books. I like his books, by the way, just the reviews amuse me).

I think the 'frothy' label is hard to escape when it comes to Chick Lit. My first two novels are Chick Lit. The heroines aren't idiots, but the issues they tackle aren't exactly dark.

I think 'not your usual chick lit' is meant as a compliment. It's intended to mean 'don't be put off by the fact that it's women's fiction. It's not about shopping', rather than 'I was expecting chick lit and damn me, it wasn't'.

I don't think you need to worry about disappointing people who pick up your books expecting chick lit because they are expecting something funny (which your books are). If you make them think about something deeper, then, you know what, they can probably handle it.

Can I have a Hobnob too, please?

Rhoda

PS: I didn't get beyond the first page of War and Peace. I guess I'm not cut out for literary!

Jane Lovering said...

Carol - that is what I was worried about. Although there are a lot of people who unashamedly love 'chick lit'..
Kate - there seems to be a very fine line between 'a woman finding herself' and 'frothy nonsense'. I suppose some men might find any books about women becoming empowered to be froth and gibberish because they simply don't understand why a woman would need to find herself when there are so many men out there willing to find her...?

And Rhoda - thank you! Have a Hobnob...

Anita Davison said...

All the above, and I prefer those with a slightly older heroine who has been kicked about by life and is cynical but determined to do better next time - or do without - but that never quite works - then a man arrives who changes her viewpoint - oh, and there has to be a happy ending - always.

I've read two of yours Jane and found them to be 'not your usual chick lit' but in a good way because they have a lighter, very very funny side which balances the deep physchological aspects.

I can only cope with a chapter or as my addled brain tries to keep up with the jokes, rapid fire dialogue, innuendos, double think and subtext - whew! - yes I'm talking about your books Jane! Are you as manic in real life?

I love 'hen lit' as a genre too.

Jane Lovering said...

Anita, I think the HEA is a given with any romantic fiction, not just chick lit...otherwise, if it's given a more what I would call 'realistic' ending (I mean how many people can find their HEA within the timespan of most books?) it's called Women's Fiction, thus dismissing it neatly again! Argh! And thanks for saying nice things about my books (yes, just as manic in real I'm afraid). x

Alison May said...

For me "Chick lit" implies a female main protagonist, humour, and an element of romance (although I don't think romance has to be the main plot). In marketing terms I suspect it also implies a female author (or at least pen name) and a largely female readership.

I don't mind the term chick lit to be honest - any category Ms Keyes is seen as being part of is fine by me! I do mind (occasionally violently) when it's said in a derogatory sort of tone that implies chick lit as a whole ain't up to much. Of course, bad chick lit isn't up to much, but neither is bad crime writing or bad literary fiction etc.

"Women's fiction" as a term winds me up something rotten though. As though anyone in possession of a good bosom might get chased out of the Sci-fi/Crime/Literature section with pitchforks and herded back to the ladybook shelves to pick something more appropriate.

Stephanie Cage said...

This really should be facebook. I wanted to click 'like' to pretty much all of the above.

I would love to know whether the people who make the chick lit comment would make the same remark about, say, Jodi Picoult's books. I guess they're not chick lit, but women's fiction, because they deal with 'serious' issues.

*sigh*. I think it's time for a biscuit.

Jane Lovering said...

I think you're right Stephanie. Here's a Hobnob..oh. I think Rhoda had the last one. We may have to move on to the Twix...
So, chick lit is easily dismissed, womens' fiction is something Richard and Judy might feature in their book club?

Rachel Daven Skinner said...

I say that in Chick Lit the romance is often secondary to the heroine's storyline. The hero's character doesn't have much of an independent role; he exists to support the heroine's storyline and his own baggage isn't explored. As for the heroine, I expect a lot of scenes with girlfriends and the plot being driven by problems that are centered on her own self, of the day-to-day variety (how's she going to find a job, pay the rent, start over, etc). Chris's summary of "shoes, shopping or Chardonnay" sums it up, to me!

When the romance element is more central, or rather the hero has a life and past of his own, I say that moves into contemporary romance.

And I think of women's fiction as addressing issues that are beyond the scope of the heroine's day-to-day variety of struggles.

So ... you write comedic women's fiction with romance? LOL! Truth is, most of Choc Lit's books don't fit the traditional labels, and that's what makes them fresh and exciting!

All that to say, I actually don't read much Chick Lit, so my assessment is purely based on my assumptions, which are somehow based on pop culture brainwashing.

No need to share the Twix; I've got chocolate-covered macadamia nuts. ;) Aloha!

Jane Lovering said...

Wise words, Rachel. We seem to have sketched out a vague definition between us, but the definition seems to vary according to the onlooker - making chick lit a physics problem and therefore nothing we need to worry about. I guess the important thing is that people buy, read and enjoy books - whatever label we ascribe to them!