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: www.authorsontheweb.com/features/0402-chicklit/chicklit-q01.asp . 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.