Friday, April 15, 2011

The Debate Between Romance and Chick-Lit Wages On

I read this post over at a blog I follow, BigAl's Books and Pals, where BigAl and his team of readers review self-published and independently published Kindle books.

BigAl's Books and Pals: Chick Lit and Romance Fiction / A Defining Moment: "A note from BigAl: A few weeks ago, I reviewed 'Taking Love in Stride,' a romance novel by Donna Fasano. In that review I talke..."

I can appreciate this blog post because I am struggling with those same rigid formulas of a romance novel and a chick-lit novel. My novel fits them like an octagon peg going into a circle hole--doesn't fit perfectly by just the slimmest of margins. Why? First, I am using a male POV. I won't change this. Selfishly, I want to explore what we women look like to men, even if it's a purely fictionalized simulation. Am I going to perfectly capture every man's reaction to a situation? Of course not, men are just as different as women are. But I hope to mostly capture a masculine reaction to the situations that most females would respond with a decidedly feminine approach.

For example, in the scene where Kellie, the one-night stand, tracks Johnathan down to tell him she's pregnant and it's his, she is carrying his shirt that she "borrowed" the morning after they slept together. She's nervous. She doesn't exactly know how to tell him. Putting myself in her shoes, I'd be nervous. What if he started yelling at me, wanting me to abort the baby? What if he wants to support me and the baby (my biggest hope)? What if he refuses to talk to me? etc. etc. etc. She doesn't feel comfortable explaining the real reason she is there at his work place, that's his turf. She wants to go somewhere neutral, so she feels better about making an escape if everything goes horribly wrong.

Johnathan however recognizes she went to an awful lot of trouble just to return a shirt, but doesn't take it any further than that. I base this mostly on my husband. He doesn't do "what if?" He likes to make assumptions and decisions on the facts on hand, not extrapolate various possible scenarios or outcomes so he feels ready to deal with what may come. He has a confidence that he will always be able to deal with what comes. My character Johnathan recognizes an undue amount of trouble to return a shirt, and when Kellie asks if they can go somewhere to talk, he reasonably assumes she is trying to get a second date.

So my POV character kills my ability to call my novel a straight chick-lit, and my ending kills my ability to call it a straight romance. After my 10-year-old son heard my original ending, this was his response. "The Daddy has to end with someone to be the Mommy. The baby has to have a Mommy." It still makes me melt just thinking about his very clear understanding of the story and what has to happen in the end. It's what changed my heart towards my character, Kellie. I wanted to nail her. Being a stepmom myself, I wanted to just rub this woman into the ground as a representation of all of the birth mothers who don't deserve to care for their children because they are terrible parents, but always win out in custody battles with fathers because of their gender in the parenting team.

Once I explored my storyline and wrote a few chapters though, I realized Kellie didn't deserve to be rubbed out of her child's life. She made a mistake. We ALL make mistakes as parents. She does pay for her mistake in the ending, but nothing she can't overcome with time. So, I gave my story a happier, though not happily ever after, ending. However, if this was a straight up romance, Johnathan would either end up with his fiance or the baby's mother. And he doesn't. At least not clearly, without a doubt. Instead, he ends up happy in a way HE never thought of, but not without a tough trek ahead of him.

I responded to the BigAl's Books and Pals blog that I think more and more indie authors are going to be just like me. We're tired of the formulas set forth by the publication guidelines given by traditional publishers and agents.

A chick-lit must be from a women's point of view. Why? Isn't what really defines a genre is the audience most like to read it? Couldn't a book appeal to the chick-lit audience if it's a modern, sometimes comedic, story about balancing romance and career? Because that's how I define chick-lit and the books I like to read.

A romance must have steamy scenes, but no references to specific genitalia, and the hero and heroine must live happily ever after. Why? Isn't the point of a romance for the reader to escape into a whirlwind romantic tale? Can't it be just as titillating to see a steamy, hot relationship fizzle out because most can't sustain that level of passion? Can't a reader read a romance, love the thrills of the ups and downs and finish by saying "Wow, glad that isn't my life." and be just as satisfied? I think romance readers are pretty savvy women, who can take a more realistic ending as long as the romantic elements of the story are strong.

I hope these genres explode with more offerings and more ideas. Love is complicated. Work is tough. And together, these two make up our everyday lives. And for anyone who thinks my storyline isn't plausible, let me tell you about a man I sat next to on a plane who was in the middle of divorcing his wife, got another woman pregnant, and then his wife wanted to reconcile. And they did. The wife was at the hospital when the baby was born. And no, they didn't have any children together. My son was 5 at the time (I was escorting him home to his Mom, he couldn't fly by himself yet). 5 years later, that story STILL swirls in my mind. And I hope my book will do the same. Time to go write.

"Imperfect Timing" arriving Fall 2011. Johnathan Michaels, a robotics engineer, jeopardizes his engagement with his business partner when a previous one-night stand surfaces, carrying his child.


  1. Interesting post, Elizabeth. A couple things especially resonated with me.

    The first is when you say, "I want to explore what we women look like to men." As a man who reads a fair amount of chick lit I've found my favorites of the genre have been those that have allowed me to do the opposite, understand how women view and react to men better. My gut instinct is that there are plenty of women who would be interested in a book with this viewpoint, regardless of how it fits within any particular genre.

    I also liked your comment about indies pushing the boundries and going outside the formulas of genre boundries. On my blog I have a page that explains the reasons why I focus on indie authors. This is one of the reasons. I see it the same as indie music where genre mixing and innovation such as this is also more common. Some potential readers might not like it because it takes them too far out of their comfort zone. However, if it is something you would want to read I think there are others who would feel the same.

  2. Sorry to be late in responding, somehow this comment slipped under the radar. Thanks for what you do Al, we indie authors really appreciate it. I know there will be a stigma to my book because I'm self-publishing, not going traditional. I'm okay with that, I can't afford to live without stigma :) We'll keep writing as long as readers keep reading and people like you keep reviewing! I wonder if this is kinda how it felt when the printing press went global. Suddenly books were accessible to people beyond the extremely rich.