“Women's Fiction”

If you've visited my ever-changing About Me page or looked at the Amazon genres that hold my books, you might've noticed a little hard-to-define genre called women's fiction.

Even a Google search - "what is women's fiction" - turns up a long list of sites with loosely interconnected definitions.  Wikipedia sums it up pretty well, I think:

"Women centered books that focus on women's life experience that are marketed to female readers, and includes many mainstream novels."

As with anything that draws a divide between two groups, especially men and women, there are supporters and opponents of the phrase and distinction "women's" fiction.  As Wikipedia points out, there's no specific genre for "men's" fiction.

It's easy to see why many writers, me included, don't want to feel marginalized by this title.  Most of my main characters are women.  A lot of the issues I cover are generally known as women's issues - pregnancy, motherhood, being a victim of abuse or assault.  And I'd understand if many men didn't want to read my writing, but there's a big part of the women's fiction label that doesn't apply to me.

I don't write for women.  I write for people.  As a woman writer, I gladly accept responsibility for representing women and our lives as they are - the roles we play and the choices we face.  But as a human being, someone with empathy and a longstanding power of observation, it's always been my intent to translate all of life into the stories I make.  All of the grey areas, all of the struggles, all of the complexity, the beauty, and the madness.

At the same time, that's the angle to women's fiction that I wholly embrace, the sharing of women's lives by the women who live them or a life that's similar or know someone who has.  Women's fiction produces some of my favorite books - Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, One True Thing, The Bonesetter's Daughter, all of them converging at that precarious yet perfect place between career, partnership, family, past, present, and future.

I can't deny some of my work does the exact same thing.  XZA: A Novel follows Xan and Jessie through the maze of love, friendship, family, disaster, and finding balance between them all.

But I don't want my books to be labeled by their assumed or actual audience.  I want them to be defined by what they are and what they accomplish.


The Irony and the Comedy

What's funnier than a novel poking fun at literary prize winning?

That same novel winning a literary prize.

British author Edward St. Aubyn, like American author Bret Easton Ellis, is known for writing semi-autobiographical works about growing up wealthy inside a tumultuous family with a side of drug addiction.  For his latest novel, St. Aubyn took a different approach to writing and the kind of story he wanted to share.

St. Aubyn's newest novel, Lost for Words, satirizes the people around literary awards and the process of selecting a winner.  He was sure his book wouldn't win any awards, but it did - "the only prize with a sense of humor," according to St. Aubyn.  Not only did Lost for Words win the Wodehouse prize, it beat out a book that was the authorized sequel to a series written by the man the prize is named after, PG Wodehouse.

In lesser news, reading about St. Aubyn's books, relationship with writing, and awe of the power of books has made me want to read his work.


Guest Blogging

In the next few weeks, you might see my words on other people's blogs.

About a month ago, I applied to be one of 15 authors to participate in a new program to learn how to reach out to other bloggers about being a guest on their site.  Coming up with new content every week isn't as easy as it looks. Being a guest blogger is a great way to create content so other bloggers don't have to and maybe gain a few new followers in the process.

I got accepted - woohoo! - and I'm slowly but surely working my way toward expanding my reach and giving a new audience the chance to read my thoughts.  As always, I'll link to those posts here so you, the wonderful followers I already have, can see what comes out of this.

I don't know exactly what the topics will be yet, but it could be anything from food in fiction to how I create worlds in the fantasy genre.

If you have any thoughts or suggestions, leave them here or on Facebook.


Why I Hate Cheap Villains

Pick your favorite medium - books, film, TV.  They all have heroes, antiheroes, main characters, and supporting casts.  And all of their stories have a villain of some kind, even if it's the hero's own mind or a ghost or the weather.

But just as all heroes aren't created equal, villains run from impervious to flimsy, hitting every mark in between.

What's a cheap villain?  I'm sure you've noticed them before.  They lack the depth that real people have, relying on one or two traits to get by.  Sleazy lawyer.  Power-hungry magician.  Obnoxious boss.

Every word they say is a cliche instead of the vibrant way most people talk.  "You're gonna get what's coming to you."  "I deserve to rule the world."  "I'm the boss around here."

Cheap villains have one focus: getting what they want, which is usually a pretty simple thing.  I want to win every case, right or wrong, to make lots of money.  I want to be all powerful so no one can stop me.  I want all my employees to do my work so I can be lazy and goof off on the internet.

But why should I care?  What does a cheap villain hurt, anyway?  It's easy - cheap villains don't need strong, mature, complex heroes to beat them.  The most sniveling, clueless hero can beat a weak villain with a little luck and decent timing.

What makes a good villain?  Let's go to a book, movie, and TV franchise almost everybody knows: Star Wars.  Darth Vader is still, three decades after the original movie trilogy, one of the most iconic and classic villains.  Why?  He has all the makings of a villain - power, ruthlessness, quick decision making - plus depth and complexity.  He wasn't always evil.  His audible breathing and black shiny mask weren't things he chose - they were products of a painful, traumatic rebirth.  The fact that the hero, Luke Skywalker, has the chance to appeal to Darth Vader's emotions and lighter past is huge.  Could Luke have defeated Darth Vader and the Emperor as a fresh-faced kid right off his aunt and uncle's farm?  No - he has to face his own dark thoughts, learn to master the use of the force, and take on great responsibility in order to stand toe to toe with these villains.  Not to mention the Emperor's love of shooting pain-inducing lightning from his hands.

Let's take that theory to books.  One of the scariest things for most people is uncertainty, and unpredictability makes some of the best villains.  In Marcus Sakey's The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes, the boundless Bennett can and will find any way to show up precisely when you don't want him to - including in the middle of a bikini wax.  Good villains are master manipulators like the trusted father figure in Gregory David Roberts' Shantaram.  Scary villains aren't always the ones who torture you on purpose.  Sometimes, they're the ones who kidnap the wrong teenager and leave her to die like in Ouida Sebestyen's The Girl in the Box.  Successful villains make you love their charm even while they murder and lie like in John Berendt's nonfiction novel, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.  What all convincing villains have in common, including everyone I've listed here, is that they believe they're the hero of the story and their actions are justified.

Strong villains demand strong heroes to beat them - Spiderman against the Green Goblin, Katniss Everdeen vs those who run the Hunger Games, Sherlock Holmes matching wits with Professor Moriarty and Irene Adler.

In the end, I just like good characters.  Let steel sharpen steel.  What do you think?