Archives for May 2012

Chick Lit in the News Again

I’ve been pushing hard on the newest edition of my ‘shitty first draft’ novel (thank you Anne Lamott for your wisdom.)  Not that I’m entirely convinced that the work is good enough to see the light of day, but I have managed to elicit the promise of a highly educated and well-read lady to read my novel when I’ve completed edit number five to gain her thoughts on whether to keep working on it or let it die a quiet but dignified death on a USB stick in the back of my desk drawer.

Of course, as I read my own work for the umpteenth time  I’m convinced that I am a fool to think that I could ever find people willing to read my imagination on the page.  It’s at those times that I want to pretend that I don’t have to keep going and search for diversions.  When the sheer size of the task ahead leads to a thumping headache, I attempt to get the creative juices flowing by reading newspapers book section and opinion pages.

This article really got me questioning many things within the field of women’s writing.  Truly it isn’t hard to dislike many front covers of countless works of literature done by or written for women. Pink is the overwhelming theme, alongside fluffy and pretty.  And after reading this article, I’m not sure I’m ever going to be able to look at the humble cupcake in the same way ever again.

Sometimes it feels like the genre of  Womens Contemporary Literature – Chick Lit -won’t ever be accepted as a true, noble or worthy  form of literary creativity. I have to confess that when I was a member of a now defunct writing group, I was intimidated by the genres that the other women were writing in. Biography. Creative Non Fiction.  Literary Fiction.  And there I was with what I considered to be my ‘chick lit’ efforts. I was apologetic about writing in the genre and called it the comic relief portion of the evening when it came to my turn to edit my work, it felt so undervalued in the literacy scene.  In 2009 I figured out I was writing with one of the literary greats of the Western world who, to all intensive purposes was a chick lit writer.

So it’s a little frustrating to read opinion pieces that whilst sounding like they are defending Chick Lit and its writers, still feels a little like a backhanded compliment.

 

…the frustration many women {authors} feel because their novels are being marketed as chick-lit when in fact they are aimed at thinking readers.

 

I’m pretty sure it’s this one line that really got up my nose. Apparently as a chick lit reader you’re not considered a thinker. Chick Lit is pink fluffy fun that requires no brain work what-so-ever. Maybe our definition of what makes Womens Contemporary Literature  is where the difference lies.  Perhaps the current list of genres just isn’t expansive enough.

Personally I classify Phillipa Gregory as a chick lit author as she tends to write about female protagonists in historical settings. Kate Holden is another of my newest favourite chick lit writers who writes historical pieces with strange little twists. Im not sure if they would be too pleased to read that, depending upon thier personal stance towards the genre.  I read swathes of female authors who have female lead characters, which fits the definition of chick lit.  I  adore authors like Jennifer Wiener, Erica James and Penny Vincenzi, who make many a hot summer day at the park more pleasurable. And maybe I’ve just lost my ‘street cred’  from any new reader of this blog for admitting I have copies of their work on my bookshelves.  Could it be possible that we just need to be more open to see all literature styles are good ones; even if it’s not a style that particularly appeals to you?

I’m somewhat sick to death of all the chick lit bashing that goes on in the mainstream (and probably not so mainstream) media.  In all honestly  I don’t think that Sydney Smith is actually bashing the genre, rather she is highlighting the laziness of the publishing industry to better categorise literature written by female authors and lump them all together as Chick Lit, losing the male portion of possible readership due to ‘typical’ styles of publicity and marketing.  I just wish that the genre didn’t come out in such a negative manner whenever arguments about women’s literature are discussed.

The reality is, it’s a genre that sells and it sells well. And in a world or rapidly diminishing readership, any genre that sells is a good one for writers.  Right?

Never Judge a Book by it’s Cover

 

Australian Publishers Association's Book Design Awards -childrens winner designed by W.H. Chong and Susan Miller

As a wannabe writer I’m aware of the long odds of getting my story into printed book form. Apparently it’s harder to get an agent (so many wannabe’s throwing themselves at their feet weeping ‘pick me, pick me oh please, pick me’?) than it is to get your book in front of the Publisher with a capital P. Although how this works I’m not entirely sure, because it seems that every publishing house and its dog won’t see your book unless  its presented on a silver platter by an agent cloaked appropriately with terms like extensive social media platform, copious followers etc.

Recently I have found myself trawling through the sea of information that is the Internet and slowly learning more about the field of self-publishing. Reading the success stories  of the self-published; the people who took the risk with their novels and sold over a million books. Wondering if the stigma has lessened or if the 2nd rate work that has been self-published with minor editorial issues (spelling, punctuation, plot and character development anyone?) has given it a reputation that won’t ever be shaken.

But as a writer of picture books, the idea of a DIY picture book is somewhat daunting. Can I do this? Self-publish my book, sell several bazillion copies and be wonderfully successful? YES! I repeat to myself in a mantra that would make Shakti Gawain  proud. I visualise fame, fortune and the pleasure of reading emails from my fan base (well my fans parents) telling me how much they love my stories. And let me tell you, I can work this fantasy a loooong time until I hit the stumbling block. My children’s stories are going to involve incredible artwork to tell half the story and the cost of professional artists is astronomical. I comfort myself with the old adage that you shouldn’t judge a book (or illustrations) by its cover. DIY publication, DIY illustrations, right?  But book buyers are very visual creatures.

Wait…wait… wait… did you even know there is an awards night for book covers? Awards for stories sure.  Illustrations? Of course. But the actual covers?

<The Australian Publishers Associations 60th annual Book Design Awards>

It’s been running for sixty years and over 400 books – including children’s books, were entered this year? Well all I can say is they have done a **brilliant** marketing job. Because everyone judges a book by its cover; inevitably we are drawn to read the blurb because of the ‘cover artwork.’

Art work is a vital part of the book buying process. And just try reading a picture book to a class of children who aren’t attracted to the illustrations! So for the timely reminder in my meanderings of self-publishing education, I understand that if I do go the self-publishing route for my children’s picture books, one way or another, I am going to have to get an artist to do the illustrations. Because I know for a fact it’s not just children who judge a book by its cover.

Sendak a Real Wild Thing and Political Honesty Obama Style

 

The news has reverberated around more than just the world of literature. Maurice Sendak has died at the age of 83 and many people are lamenting the loss of the writer of a favourite childhood book.

Now what I’m about to admit is likely to brand me as a heretic. I didn’t think ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ was the greatest book of my childhood. To be honest, it wouldn’t even make the top 50 of my favourite stories.  Sure, I’ve had it read to me a dozen times by well-meaning school librarians (remember when education systems had the money to pay for such extravagant members of staff?)  and as a teacher I’ve read it to classes of my own, but it wasn’t all that and a bag of chips. Please don’t stone me!

It seems odd in this day and age when the Big News Story of the day is that  Barak Obama  has publically come out and said that he personally supports gay marriage that we forget how ground breaking Sendak’s book was. Of course every child has dark moments in their lives. Many a parent who has had a sleepless night when their child has had a nightmare and wanted to crawl into bed with them for security can vouch for that. And for the record, have you asked a child what their nightmare was about…? Scary stuff.  But to write about it, in a book aimed at children themselves?

“Well Duh!” we think to ourselves in the oh so enlightened times of 2012. But as a Children’s Literature Major at university, I know that it broke a lot of barriers for the genre when it was published in the 1960’s. Before Sendak, it was deemed inappropriate for children to roar back at their parents in anger, because that wasn’t ‘nice’ for children to even have an emotion like anger much less express it.  It was never politically correct to write about the fears or the darkness that children experience. And it’s for this reason that I salute Maurice Sendak, that I thank him for being daring in his writing. Honest. Willing to stand against tradition and do what he knew in his heart was right and truthful.

As a wannabe children’s writer, I can only hope that now that he has moved on and out of this world, there might be room for new voices in the overly difficult,  seemingly impossible to break into literary segment of the book world.  I hope that other writers can more honestly reflect the reality of children’s experiences so succinctly and entertainingly as they see them in today’s world. It’s time for some barrier breakers to swoop in and change the literary scene again.

Just as Obama appears to have broken a political taboo, daring to tell people how he honestly views an issue. Although if you want an entertaining and insightful view on what the difference between a Civil Union and Marriage (which is at the crux of this issue and has legalistic people up in arms on *either* side of the arguement) feel free to pop on over to Mary Beards blog (A Dons Life) and enjoy!

Daniel Radcliffe is his own toughest critic

 

envious of his inside edge.. maybe!

I know that Alan Radcliffe was a literary agent before he took on the responsibility of being the full time chaperone to his young son Daniel,  as he in turn took on the role of a lifetime as Harry Potter. So it might be a tad snarky of me to suggest that Daniel Radcliffe might have an easier road to hoe than most when it comes to getting anything he writes, be it poetry or novels before an agent or publisher for assessment.

But oh thank goodness Daniel too struggles with the ‘gremlins’ in his head (otherwise known as the itty bitty shitty committee) that compel him to believe that what he writes shouldn’t see the light of day.

“I try and write at the moment. I don’t know if I’m any good, as, normally,   when I write I’m so self critical that it’s not long before I have to throw  away what I write.”

It’s encouraging to know that other wannabe authors struggle with believing that they can produce works that other people are willing plunk down hard earned money to own something we have produced. Welcome to the club dude, welcome to the club!