Lately I’ve been in deep think about the term “Women’s Fiction.” This is a description that I have used comfortably for years, without giving it much thought. It blankets thousands and thousands of books for which there is, to my knowledge, no other accepted genre terminology, and does exactly what a descriptive term is supposed to do, which is to say, leaves plenty of room to grow and stretch and change as the market changes. Best of all it is wildly inclusive. It includes anyone who writes a book a woman might read. Historical fiction, contemporary works, happy books, sad books, funny books, serious books, scary books and silly books.
If a woman would read your book, congratulations, you’re in. Women, in a statistical sense at least, read more than men. They buy more books. Therefore, calling your book Women’s Fiction is certainly no insult if you like selling books. And if some yahoos insist on using it as derogatory term or an excuse to dismiss a certain book without even taking a sniff between the covers, I say to those yahoos, stop being such sexist morons, yahoos. The onus is on the yahoos, is what I’m saying.
But what the hell does the term mean? Frankly, it means little. When people ask me what kind of book my book is and I reply, “It’s women’s fiction,” they look at me blankly. It doesn’t work like saying “it’s a mystery,” or “it’s a political thriller slash paranormal romance.” I have to keep going, to elaborate somehow, without telling them the entire plot of the book which I don’t think is what they’re asking. I usually say something completely obfuscating like, “It has an ocean on the cover,” or “it’s about feelings.” By the time I’m done talking usually both parties are thoroughly confused.
One time I was in the middle of one of these rambling descriptions when the listener said, “Ah, so you’re saying it’s not art.”
It was a weird comment. I mean, that was not what I was saying at all. But yeah, I don’t think of my book as art most of the time. I think of my writing as a craft and the books that result are books, not art. And why is this? It’s not like the word art itself has any magic in it. People call all kinds of things art. Cheese, for example. Dogs playing poker. This.
For me, for some reason, art just implies too much pressure. If I sat down at the keyboard with a mind to create art, I would probably get agitated and take an angry nap instead. To me, “art” is an end result, and “craft” is the thing you actually do to get the end result. And friends, craft is about all I can handle.
So what about you? Is your writing an art, or a craft? What about your books?
I know today’s post is supposed to relate to arts and crafts. But when I think about arts and crafts, I think about creating things — about gluing and building and putting pieces together. And when I look at all of the devastating photos of the destruction in Oklahoma, all I can think about is how much rebuilding will need to be done there, and how for many of the people who live in and around Oklahoma City, no amount of glue will make their lives whole again.
So, with that in mind, I wanted to provide a list of organizations lending a hand on the ground in Oklahoma, in case any of you want to help.
Red Cross (especially if you want to give blood)
Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Relief
The Salvation Army
I’m sure there are other organizations doing important work on the ground as well, so if you know of any others, please feel free to mention them in the comments. With disasters like this one, people are always looking for ways to help.
Once upon a time I used to engage in a whole bunch of different creative projects.
I made cross stitch pictures for weddings and Christmas gifts. I crocheted afghans and knitted baby sweaters. At Christmas I made gifts for everybody (well, okay, not everybody. But lots of people.) Gingerbread houses? You betcha, and none of that buy-the-kit business. My kids wore cute little hand knitted sweaters with pictures of trucks and animals. (I’m sure they are eternally grateful that I’m not still knitting, because let’s face it – the trucks and teddy bear sweaters aren’t so cool in high school and college).
Once upon a time I played the piano nearly every day. I took art lessons and was learning how to draw and was thinking about painting classes.
Not so much. Every now and then I pull out some yarn and try to knit something, but my brain goes wandering off into storyland and I lose the count, drop a stitch. I did start a baby blanket last year – no, not for me, before you ask. Simply because it’s a relatively quick project and is a straight knit stitch that’s hard to mess up. As for the piano – it’s been so long that I’m pretty sure I can’t remember how to play anything and I’d have to start all over. There’s no time to draw, and even if there was my drawing pencils have been absorbed into various corners of the house, appropriated by kids for projects.
If you’ve recognized the above as a string of excuses, I suspect you’re right. If I was truly itching to play the piano, or to make a baby sweater, I’d find the time and the attention to make it happen. I could easily buy more drawing pencils. Truth? At this point in my life, all of my creative drive is focused on one thing, and one thing only. When I have time, I write. All of the creative stuff goes onto the page.
I’m not saying this is the way it should be. Chances are good it’s not even healthy, and that my creativity would be enhanced by engaging in another type of project. But there’s also this other nefarious thing called time, of which there is somehow never enough.
Right now it is 4:52 am. Time to get this post up and clear the decks for an hour of writing before I get ready for work. Let me leave you with this question:
What types of arts and crafts do you enjoy? And how do you preserve enough time and energy to work on them?
From the 2013 Debs…
Deb Kerry had a lot of fun today signing books at the Spokane Valley Barnes & Noble, but mostly she’s just excited about a new writing project. And Deb Amy’s launch, because nothing is cooler than a book birthday.
Deb Susan received a great review from Publisher’s Weekly, who said “Spann matches period detail with a well-developed whodunit plot in her promising debut.” Hooray!
Deb Amy is officially a published author! Is there any better news than that?
Past Deb News
Deb Mia King is appearing at the Hawaii Book and Music Festival today at 2pm. Details here.
Deb Tiffany Baker’s upcoming novel MERCY SNOW is available for pre-order on Amazon (and be sure to check out her lovely cover).
Deb Dish – What’s your favorite cover art (aside from your own)!
Deb Amy: Okay, I’m not playing favorites, but I will say that I love the cover of THE KITCHEN DAUGHTER by Jael McHenry. I wish I could hang it up in my kitchen. Take a peek here! And I not only love the cover, I loved the book.
Deb Kerry: I don’t have a favorite cover. There are so many that I love. The most recent one that I’ve fallen in love with is The Hum and the Shiver by Alex Bledsoe
Deb Susan: This is a hard one! I’m going to say my favorite cover is the one on the book I get to read next … because it’s the one hiding the next awesome adventure!
Your Turn!! What book cover do you consider your favorite?
It’s Saturday, which means it’s time to open up the dance floor to a Guest Deb! Today we welcome Alison Heller, author of THE LOVE WARS. Currently a divorce lawyer, Alison lives in New York with her husband and two young daughters. THE LOVE WARS is her first novel. Here is a little about the book:
Breaking up is hard to do. At least the first few times.
Even though Molly Grant has only a handful of relationships behind her, she’s already been through more divorces than she can count.
At the premier Manhattan law firm where she’s a matrimonial attorney, the hours are long, the bosses tyrannical, and the bonuses stratospheric. Her clients are rich, famous, and used to getting their way. Molly’s job—and primary concern in life—is to work as hard as possible to make sure they do. Until she meets the client who changes everything….
Fern Walker is the desperate former wife of a ruthless media mogul. Her powerful ex is slowly pushing her out of her young children’s lives, and she fears losing them forever. Molly—haunted by an incident from her own past—finds herself unable to walk away from Fern and sets out to help her. She just needs to do it without her bosses finding out.
Now, as complications both professional and personal stack up, Molly can only hope that her own wits, heart, and instincts are enough—both in and out of court.
Alison has offered to do a little Q&A with us this morning, so pull up a chair, curl up with your coffee, and join us in welcoming Alison to the Ball!
As an author have you ever been star struck by meeting one of your favorite authors? If so who was it?
I met Susan Isaacs once briefly in upstate New York. I’m a huge fan of hers, but out of respect for the fact that she was on vacation with her family, I tried to play it cool. (Not really a strength of mine, playing it cool, but I think it went alright.)
Do you prefer to write during the day or during the night?
In an ideal world, I would wake up, have a lovely fortifying breakfast and, clean and alert, sit at the computer with a perfect music playlist. (All other noise would be obliterated through a cone of silence.) In reality, I write whenever I can, except late at night. I generally shut down at eight p.m., and to accomplish anything after that—writing or otherwise—I have to be pushed beyond my normal level of motivation (i.e., scared of missing a deadline or completely in the throes of the story.)
When becoming an author, did you have any speed bumps along the way? If so, how did you overcome them?
Yes, for sure – perhaps the biggest speed bump to becoming an author was those thirteen years I focused solely on getting a law degree and being a lawyer. (What was a I thinking?) I’m kidding, of course (a little bit). I still enjoy lawyering, but there’s something very satisfying about the creative outlet of writing.
Even after clearing away the space and time to write, there have been bumps along the way – rejections and self-doubt and frustrations with everything from the writing process to some industry practices. Overcoming them, thus far, has been pretty simple. I just listen to that little voice that wants to keep writing and continue, however slowly, over the speed bumps.
What 5 things do you have to have with you when you are writing?
Very pertinent question! I live in New York City where space is at a premium. My writing desk is the size of a postage stamp and in my bedroom, so I take to the streets a lot and before today might have answered this question by saying, just my computer. After today, when I sat at a coffee shop completely surrounded on all sides by vocal and enthusiastic Italian tourists (seriously, about 12 of them, all with shiny hair and lovely scarves), I revise. I need:
1. Background noise not to exceed 110 passionate decibels
2. My computer
3. My phone, to rest my fears that nothing is happening to one of my children while I’m absorbed writing
4. The Internet for quick research and breaks
5. Pants. I think I would be distracted otherwise.
What is next on your plate?
I have a book coming out through Penguin/NAL next year and I’m really excited about it. And I’ve started drafting the next one after that.
Thanks so much for joining us, Alison!
Alison has offered to give away a copy of THE LOVE WARS to one lucky reader (US only)! Just tell us in the comments — have *you* ever had a tyrannical boss?
Visit Alison’s web site Find Alison on Facebook Follow Alison on Twitter
Six years ago on a dark and stormy night, I started writing a dark and stormy memoir.
Can you believe it? What was I, meshuganah?
Do you know when you write one of those you have to write about other people, not just yourself? And when you write about yourself and those other people you can’t pick and choose what you share? And you have to 100% honest? Well, it’s true (just ask James Frey). So, since I wasn’t willing to do that in that way, the memoir idea tanked and the pages of my 72K word manuscript called Every Other Weekend went into the never-to-be-seen file.
What did I learn from abandoning that project? That I liked writing long form. I was a journalist, PR writer, columnist and essayist. And now I wanted to write something with — you guessed it – chapters! A few brave writer-friends suggested I try fiction. I laughed. I slapped my thigh. I couldn’t even make up bedtime stories when my kids were little. I fancied myself without much imagination. But, I wanted to write so I clicked on my discarded manuscript and changed the names. Not enough. I refocused the plot. There ya go, fiction! Ok, it was roman à clef, or, thinly veiled fiction. I figured if The Devil Wears Prada was a smash and no one was sued, I’d just call mine The Devil Wore Spandex and we’d be in business. No such luck. I was so caught up in matching up people and things and actions and reactions from the fiction back to reality that it made me feel like I was in a Chinese restaurant choosing dinner components from Column A and Column B.
Slowly I abandoned 99% of the traces of truth from the manuscript as I had best writer epiphany of my life: Just make it all up.
And so I did.
In the interim, as I deleted, revised and rewrote, the middle of the book became the beginning and the beginning became a memory. The end of the book became the middle which left me without a middle or an end. It also left me without a title, with characters who didn’t fit their names and plot points that made no sense.
Making things up is good. Making no sense is bad.
When I finally typed The End on a real live, women’s fiction manuscript it was called Starting From Scratch and the main character’s name was Tracy and she opened a bakery as a way to start a new life (get it? from scratch? ha!). She was pretty much a goody-two-shoes with a spatula.
Gag. Me. Now. (And use the spatula.)
Then, the cliché police knocked on my door. The reality-check police were close behind.
I rewrote the novel. Tracy became Evie (I pronounce it Eh-vie, short e.) Her best friend Bev became Beth because face it, you can’t have an Ev and a Bev. Well, you can, but you shouldn’t. Evie became a math teacher instead of a cupcake baker although she does bake cookies for her kids (I have sweet tooth, what can I say?) I can’t do math or bake so they were both fun characteristics to write (also Evie no longer teaches math). The main character’s motives for change became a little more self-centered, realistic, palpable. I typed The End a few more times before I queried and once more before I found my agent. Then I typed it again and again. And again. The story which started as a memoir and evolved into full-blown fiction bears very little resemblance to the book I started about six years ago or the one I finished two years after that. It was always a matter of making the book as good as it could be.
Why am I reminiscing on the origin of the novel that became THE GLASS WIVES? That same debut novel that was published on Tuesday by St. Martin’s Griffin and can be found everywhere books are sold? Because I’m working on a new novel. One I feel is solid as is and has potential to be even better. One that I want to also find its way to bookstore ereader shelves. I want to remember the trajectory of the first journey—take the lessons I’ve learned and impart them to myself so no one else has to do it for me.
What have I learned from the journey of my women’s fiction manuscript to published debut novel? That I can’t reluctant to write the story I have in me right now at this minute and then allow it to change. Or, make it change. Make it different. Make it up. Don’t play it safe. Change names, arcs, plots and titles until it fits and flows. To be stubborn and persistent. To reach high — women’s fiction readers deserve books that read true.
I deserve it too—all of it. That’s another lesson I’ve learned. All because of a misbegotten memoir, a little Spandex (don’t ask), and a lot of hard work.
What was the path of your latest book or work-in-progress? Was it stormy or smooth?
When I read THE GLASS WIVES, I found myself moved by Deb Amy’s writing, drawn to her protagonist (Evie) and emotionally involved in the story and its outcome. I read the book in a single day, which is testament to Deb Amy’s writing and character-development skills. Deb Amy’s novel took me on an emotional roller-coaster in which I alternately pulled for Evie’s happiness and shared in her frustrations.
But most of all, I was attracted to Evie Glass’s love for her family and her dedication to preserving it — even when “family” suddenly meant something very different than what Evie might have chosen for herself.
THE GLASS WIVES made me examine my own definition of family and ask myself “how far would I go to ensure the well-being of the people I love.” It also made me consider (yet again) how “family” means something different to every person, and yet none of those definitions is “wrong.” For some, “family” may include only parents and children, while for others it encompasses friends, lovers, cousins, and many others with whom we choose to share our lives.
And yet, for every person, the “family” is a foundation of incomparable importance.
Robert Frost once said that “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” Deb Amy’s novel demonstrates that concept … and shows how very powerful a mother’s love can be.
I’m not as strong a woman as Evie Glass. Had I been faced with the situation Evie faces — an ex-husband’s second wife, showing up at the door with her baby in tow, asking to move in and share my life — I’d have told her to hit the road. And yet, as I followed Evie’s journey through THE GLASS WIVES, I came to realize that Evie’s ability to re-define “family” for her children’s benefit (and, ultimately, her own) gives her a special strength and a level of class that I now aspire to attain.
I’ve always believed that the definition of family is both individual and vitally important. THE GLASS WIVES brings that concept – and the costs of placing a family’s needs over the individual’s desires – front and center. And although the journey isn’t always an easy one for Evie Glass, she handles the twists and turns with strength and well-written grace.
How important is your family? Would you be willing to open your heart and home to someone you didn’t initially consider a likely friend?