by Leigh Lundin
In a recent commentary, Patricia Smiley wrote that she found the term ChickLit demeaning, which set me to thinking about it with resulting mixed reactions. (A hard-boiled male detective sub-genre came to mind, probably unprintable in these refined pages.)
Assuming we define ChickLit as any light entertaining form of stories for women in their 20s and 30s, is the term ChickLit insulting or degrading in and of itself? Or, is it only an insult when imputed to a work that transcends (to use a word from that column) this narrow definition?
As a funny, airy word (wordette?), ChickLit seems to perfectly describe a subset of stories, but I could imagine that it might casually and inappropriately be applied to a broader range of works, and no one should like that.
More curious though, a well-published acquaintance has recently finished a break-out novel that she tells me is HenLit– light, comedic literature for ‘the woman over a certain age’, which I naïvely gather is about 50. (Helpful plug: Susan Slater’s upcoming title is Zero to Sixty, catchy, huh.) If ChickLit is off-putting, what is HenLit?
Unfortunately, these are terms we cannot blame upon men. Why unfortunately? Men aren’t buying books. According to Business of Consumer Book Publishing (2006), other than NFL stats and beer labels, men aren’t reading. In contrast, more than one quarter of fiction titles are solely for women. There is no equivalent male category. When considering all books (fiction and non-fiction), the vast body of women’s literature ranks second only to religious and inspirational works.
What I find truly demeaning is that except for a few renaissance reprobates, men… are not… reading. Perhaps, it comes to mind, we’re becoming a society of Eloi and Morlocks.
Columnist Kathleen Parker took on the issue, not just of men but of incipient illiteracy. Quoting a 2004 report that fewer than half of Americans read literature, she calls the situation a suicide pact. Her column is brilliant and I urge you to read it.
MWA (continuing from last week): Dionysus in New York
I’ve been told that both hard-boiled writers and detectives are supposed to be incorrigible womanizers and alcoholics. Although I refuse to testify before a jury, MWA members do partake in a suspicious number of cocktail parties followed by kicked-back after-hours companionable drinking and discussing.
However, I suspect the Three-Fisted Drinker image is cultivated and exaggerated. Prior to the awards banquet, publishers and agents throw their own parties. The MWA hosts evening wine and cocktails just before dinner, another opportunity to chat up anyone you missed early on. The cocktail parties are contact get-togethers, networking and schmoozing, but also the cement of intimacy and friendships.
A glass of wine simply makes being on your feet all day in hard-soled shoes and high heels bearable. But, as said earlier, the writers are welcoming and inclusive, and not everyone is a Mike Hammer, real or imagined. Some simply value their livers. Vino, veritas, what the hell.
The First Hour
I’m hardly shy, but any naturally gregarious genes turned belly-up in my chromosome pool. James Warren, however, took me in hand and introduced me around the MWA neighborhood. Within minutes, he had me talking to Jonathon King, who welcomed me as a fellow Florida writer. The charming Gwen Hunter offered to help me write a 30 second blurb for presentations. And the prolific writer, Jerry Healy, was especially kind and gracious.
I took in more than I could possibly absorb. Sadly, my memory works less like a database and more like a congressional shredder, often leaving me a bucket of bits to piece together. I had a lot to learn and I couldn’t possibly do it in one pass.
The symposium proved educational, but fun too. I found women panelists the most entertaining, but then I always find women charming. Sandra Brown was hilarious, explained that after she read Jaws, she wouldn’t go in the water if the beach was on fire. Insisting she was a coward, Sandra confided that she didn’t like to read scary stories when alone in the house. When she first read The Exorcist, she began to hear ghosts in the attic… and they didn’t even have an attic. Moments later, when thumping began off-stage, everyone blamed Sandra.
One of the cheerful moments came from a new author, Fran Rizer of Columbia, South Carolina. She, in words of the 60s, was a trip. A retired schoolteacher, she bore that no-nonsense look that hid bubbling internal humor. Fran said she noted that people her age were either retiring to Florida or writing books. She decided to write. After a number of rejections, Fran came in from her garden one day to find a chastising message on her answering machine. “Read your eMails,” the message growled. “We have a three book deal.”
As a new writer, it’s great hearing when another newbie manages to make the cut. If you’ve recently had good news, let us know in the comment section.