Thursday, January 26, 2006

A Girl Without a Genre is Like a Fish Without a Bicycle

Well, kinda.

As I've discussed previously, my book is about a geek girl coping with life during the Internet/tech sector crash. After I'd written the first draft and got started on revisions, I decided that I needed some feedback, so I workshopped the first chapter of the novel at a class last year. In this particular course you submitted pages beforehand, everyone read them and then brought comments to class, where you would listen to them discuss your work. (And when I say "discuss your work", what I really mean is "terrorize you"). In any case, I got some very pointed feedback along the lines of:

"I'm sure I don't know what genre this is..."
"I have very little experience in this genre. VERY LITTLE, MAIA."

And a number of similar comments, mostly from people angry about the technospeak and computer geekishness. Now, I could tell myself that they were all jerks (and they were, kinda) and that my work is just plain fiction (and it is, kinda) but it brought up an interesting point that I suspect I will have to cough up a semi-coherent response to in the next few months. The question being: just what the hell genre does The Book belong to?

A few months down the line - workshopping other sections of the same piece - I was accused by the very same people of writing ChickLit. I found this mildly terrifying, since I had never read any, and, as I've previously pointed out, writers should read. Good sense dictates that writers should read other authors in their genre, so, being the geekish/bookish type and all, I went out and read a lot of ChickLit - a lot - over the next while. After a shitstorm of pink book jackets, I've come to the following conclusions: (a) I'm not writing ChickLit and, (b) I can't read any more books about women who can itemize the different designer pieces they're wearing like they're some kind of bipedal clothing catalogue. Designer shoes? The only time my character would handle a Jimmy Choo original would be to squash bugs with it.

Insert standard disclaimer here: I don't have an issue with ChickLit, I think that people have to write what they need to write and that's pretty much all that there is to it. People enjoy reading ChickLit for the same reasons they enjoy reading all kinds of genres; it speaks to them. Nothing wrong with that.

But what is it, really? And why is it that many (most?) of the books written these days by women, featuring a female character seem to be pidgenholed into the ChickLit genre? I went looking for a definition of ChickLit and found a roundtable of contemporary authors who weighed in what it really is: . Elizabeth Crane concluded that "(i)t seems like a single female protagonist is the main requirement." Well. My book does have a single female protagonist, but is that really all it takes? Single? Female? I don't think so, Liz. [UPDATE: Elizabeth Crane was nice enough to stop by and comment on my post, so please check out the comment section at the end. It appears that she and I are in total agreement about all this, so thanks for setting me straight, Elizabeth].

On the one hand, I can understand the desire to categorize books by type, mystery in mystery, crime in crime, James Frey in wherever the hell he feels like, ChickLit in ChickLit, DickLit (seriously, I did not make this up, and no, it's not porn)...well, you get the picture. For readers who know what they like, it makes perfect sense. For writers who feel that their work appeals to a broad range of readers and, essentially, don't want to be labeled, I'm betting it's a problem.

So I'm kind of A Girl Without a Genre, which for marketing purposes isn't so good. Right now I'd classify my work as "Contemporary Urban Fiction" but I hope to hell a publisher doesn't want to publish it as ChickLit. My main character HATES pink.



Wei Shyong (WS) said...

I think you write great, and I like your humour! Would love to buy your book when it publishes. Go Viking Girl!

Maia said...

Wei, thank you so much. What a lovely thing to say.

Take care,

Sandra Scoppettone said...

If your writing is anything like your posts, then you have it. What's it? Talent.

First, never join a writing group. They can be very dangerous. I know yours was part of school, but don't do that again if you can avoid it.

Second, you don't have to decide on a genre. Just write your book and your agent will decide who it will go to and why. You have to get an agent you trust.

I wish you the best.

Elizabeth Crane said...

I guess my terse answers on that roundtable discussion were perhaps not as clear as I thought they would be. At the time, I was a newly published author not wishing to ruffle any feathers and willing to discuss my work whenever the opportunity arose. Since then, I've realized that voicing my clear opinion on things is actually, you know a good thing, including stating that I do not believe I fall into this category, and rereading that interview, I still stand by every single thing I said. The point I was trying to make in that particular comment was that having a single female main character was the one and only common thing I could find in what I knew of the genre - which isn't much - NOT that having a single female character automatically defined the work as part of that genre. However - I'd like to direct you to my own blog for further comments, if you're interested, because I do have a strong feeling about it. I put up two posts about it last year:
Also - I am so not a "Liz." And I mean that with all due respect to the friends of mine named Liz that I love. It's just not my name.

Maia said...


Thank you for your comment on my blog and for directing me towards yours, I will be sure to check it out.

I interpreted your statement to mean that CL does include any work with a single female protagonist. In rereading the roundtable, I still get the same impression, although your comments to me are very succinct. Had I understood the correct meaning of your words, I would not have quoted you at all, so I am quite sorry for dragging you into a situation where we seem to agree :)

My apologies for any offence I might have caused with regards to your name - none was meant.


Maia said...


Thank you so much; I'm honoured.


Sure b'y said...

I'd read your book too. Love your posts and I am a geek girl who'd love all that technobabble. My book also has a female protagonist so I'd better read up about the chick lit stuff too.

Maia said...

Sure b'y:

Much appreciated. I'm officially not worried about genre anymore, though, since Sandra says not to. It's quite a load off, actually.

I hopped over to your blog to take a look - lovely that Lisa Moore won the Commonwealth Prize, eh? I have Alligator sitting in my pile of books to read. Can't wait.