::Literate Blather::
Monday, November 03, 2008
5 Questions About: Chick Lit

An Interview with Women's Author Malena Lott

(Chick lit, chick flicks, chick this, chick that. DaRK PaRTY is a rugged he-man type (feel that bicep!) and is quite confused by it all. But the fate of literature is in the hands of women these days. Women, my friends, read. Men? They play computer games and watch comic book movies. There’s a reason why author Ian McEwan said in 2007: “When women stop reading, the novel will be dead.” Literature is in a bad place – considering that last year one in four Americans didn’t read a single book. Not one. The genre that seems to be helping book sales an awful lot goes by the hideous – and probably not very accurate – label of “Chick Lit.” So manly as we are, DP decided to get to the bottom of this Chick Lit thing and who better than author Malena Lott to fill us in? Lott, believe it or not, has been accused of writing Chick Lit. She was kind enough to educate us about all things Chick Lit – be ready to be surprised!)

DaRK PaRTY: How do you define Chick Lit?

Malena: I think in the broadest term chick lit is light women's fiction - the literary equivalent of "chick flicks", which usually have a comedic edge to them. When the genre first became big (after the success of Bridget Jones' Diary), there was an onslaught of a very particular type of book - single woman goes to big city in search of self and love and luxury brands, and was told in a snarky, first person point of view very similar to what we were watching on TV's “Sex and the City.”

So then publishers said, "no more chick lit," but they didn't mean no more in the broadest term - books with meaningful messages about women's journeys that could have a level of humor between light to heavy- but about that "type" that they were seeing too much of - stories with perhaps thinner plots.

These days - chick lit has morphed (grown up as it were) into mommy lit, lady lit (older protagonists) and very mainstream stories about women. The term isn't used as much because the perception that it hasn't recovered from – one-note-itis disease persists (even though I think it's been cured or at least is in a great recovery.) As far as tone goes, I do think readers of chick lit expect to laugh (or smile often) and feel good at the usually happy/satisfying ending.

Publishers are very selective now about what is published that could be coined "chick lit" so the result is that you have great multi-layered, well-written stories about women that the authors, publishers, readers are proud of.

DP: Is Chick Lit a good thing or a bad thing for literature and why?

Malena: I think "labeling" can be bad for readership for all genres, but definitely not "bad" for literature. Bad for readership only in that it can limit your audience even though the purpose of putting it "somewhere" is to assist with marketing and shelving it in the bookstores. Just this morning a friend was telling me about a historical author who had once been labeled in the romance department and due to popularity was moved to mainstream and my friend said they were so well-written I should give them a try - and that not all of her stories have heavy romance in them.

Same goes for chick lit. If you call it that, someone might go, "Oh I don't read those," unless enough good word-of-mouth happens and the reluctant reader tries it, likes it, and the change in perception happens. But that goes for any genre.

I think a lot of readers (myself included) like to read books that we find entertaining and relevant for that particular point in our lives. The point of literature is to tell a well-told story - no matter the structure, style and tone of the novel. Vampire books are big right now. Are they "bad" for literature? I don't think so. Reading tastes vary wildly, which means you want to give readers a big buffet to choose from. Dark and paranormal have been big, but perhaps readers will crave more hopeful stories and reading tastes may lighten up to more humorous stories again, too. Things are cyclical.

DP: Curtis Sittenfeld said in the New York Times: "To suggest that another woman's ostensibly literary novel is chick lit feels catty, not unlike calling another woman a slut -- doesn't the term basically bring down all of us?" Why does Chick Lit get a bad rap in a lot of literary circles?

Malena: Her quote says if the author felt the book was an "ostensibly literary novel," but what if the reader didn't? Can't it be subjective? A publisher may believe something is literary and try to market it a certain way, but that doesn't mean the reader will perceive it that way. If the person called the book chick lit in a dismissive, nose-in-the-air sort of way, then yeah, you'd think it was a put down. But if the person meant it only in trying to describe that broader term about a woman's journey (and not meaning it wasn't well-written, because I've found most of the new chick lit I've read has been well-written) then I'd say it's the author who decides to be offended or not based on how she/he feels about the genre they've been lumped into.

Is it a put-down to say that Nora Ephron has directed a lot of chick flicks? Or fair to say that Stephen King isn't a "real author" because he writes pop fiction, and horror, at that? She's real. He's real. Authors are all creative people that are using the written word to express themselves and get a particular story out of his/her head and onto paper. I feel about "labels" the same as I do about "genres". Don't let them define you. I think more of the "bad rap", again comparing it to the movie/TV industry, is like comedies not getting as much credit for being "good" as what dramas do. Or that it's somehow easier to pull off making someone laugh than to cry. They are both actually difficult. You're tapping into deep emotional reservoirs. Ultimately, if readers like your writing (if they find out about you in the first place) no matter what you call it, they'll stick around and tell others good things about you.

DP: You just published your second novel, “Dating Da Vinci,” which we'd love to hear about. And would you consider this novel Chick Lit?

Malena: I refer to my writing as women's fiction (as several reviewers and bloggers have), because my stories deal with some serious, poignant issues, but they are also punctuated with humor, so if someone wants to call it chick lit (or more accurately mommy lit since my protagonists in both of my novels have been moms), that's fine with me! Actually, the publisher is marketing “Dating da Vinci” a romance, and there is a romantic story line in it, so that might be fair, too. Which leads me to, "Call me what you want, as long as you call me."

Since it's being marketed as a romance, you'll most likely find it in the romance section of your bookstore, though it's a trade paperback instead of mass market paperback, a distinction that associates it more with the women's fiction versus traditional romance. The truth is, like most mainstream novels, it's a blend.

“Dating da Vinci” is a multi-layered plot about a grieving widow and mother, Ramona Elise, searching for la vita allegro (joyful living), on the two-year anniversary of her husband's sudden death. She's ready to face the suspicions about her late husband's fidelity head on and move on to a wholly new life. She completes a list of action items she believes will help her to be happy again, all the while dealing with her friends' and family's dramas, to boot.

The book also contains some non-fiction, educational aspects about the history and biology of love, and facts about the real da Vinci. The handsome younger man in the book, a 25-year-old Italian immigrant named Leonardo da Vinci, is really the catalyst to Ramona's renaissance versus a "hero" label that is typical in the romance genre. But does she hook up with him? End up with him? That, my dear reader, is for me to know, and for you to read all about. You can read excerpts of the novel on Amazon and my web site.

DP: What Chick Lit authors do you read? Can you recommend three of your favorite writers and their books?

Melena: That's like asking me to pick which of my children I like best! So you're gonna get a few more than you asked for; I like Emily Giffin, though I haven't read her latest (“Love the One You're With”), and adore Beth Harbison (“Shoe Addicts Anonymous”) and Jane Green does a nice job of fast-moving women's fiction. Jane Porter is great (“Mrs. Perfect”) and her “Flirting with Forty” novel is being made into a Lifetime movie that will air Dec. 6th starring Heather Locklear and the hunky guy from “Lipstick Jungle,” which brings me to Lipstick's author Candace Bushnell and then also Jennifer Weiner (liked “Little Earthquakes” the best.)

And there are some amazing new authors who write with a lot of humor and heart: Jess Riley (“Driving Sideways”), Jenny Gardiner (“Sleeping with Ward Cleaver”), Julie Buxbaum (“The Opposite of Love”), Bridget Asher (“My Husband's Sweethearts”).

Whew. And I'm just getting warmed up. Lots of very talented authors out there. For more recommendations on women's fiction - light and serious, check out my reviews at Athena's Bookshelf.

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Blogger Malena Lott said...
Thanks for the chance to share! I appreciate it.

Blogger Jenny Gardiner said...
Great interview, Malena, and thanks so much for the shout-out ;-)

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