first published in the Brisbane Courier-Mail 9 September 2006
At the Romance Writers of Australia conference, the opportunity to convene with those that understand the true breadth and depth of the romance industry was refreshing.
Walking out smack into a wall of prejudice was somewhat less so. These two examples are from just last week.
The first merits mainly eye-rolling. The expression ‘heaving bosoms’ has dogged the romance novel for decades. Now, I may be wrong (write me with examples if you have them), but I’ve been reading romance for 13 years, and I have never come across heaving bosoms. My mother, who has been reading for rather longer, has never come across heaving bosoms. And yet, the phrase gets trotted out repeatedly in dialogues about romance. Enough, already.
The second displays a much more profound misunderstanding—and disparagement—of romance and those who read it.
Random House has recently released a book entitled This is Not Chick Lit. To quote from their website, ‘Chick lit often recycles the following plot: Girl in big city desperately searches for Mr. Right in between dieting and shopping for shoes…This is Not Chick Lit is a much needed reminder that, for every stock protagonist with a designer handbag and three boyfriends, there is a woman writer pushing the envelope of literary fiction with imagination, humor, and depth.’
My inner Incredible Hulk just came out.
First, Chick Lit is like every other form of literature. There are good novels and there are bad. I have a literature degree, and I can say with certainty that there are good literary fiction novels and there are bad. Good mysteries and bad. Good romances and bad. Good short stories and bad.
To narrow such an intense and growing sub-genre to books about dieting and shoes is not only insulting, it also displays a bullish close-mindedness of its fundamental principles.
Chick Lit is so called because it is written by women for women. The authors didn’t come up with the label. In fact, most authors I know despise it. They prefer women’s fiction because the novels cover all aspects of women’s lives. That may include dating, finding Mr. Right and Mr. Wrong, and, yes, it may even include shoes.
But it also includes career/marriage conflicts, single motherhood, clinical depression, divorce, adultery, impotence, infertility, abuse, custody battles, gang rape, widowhood, workaholic behaviour, drug addiction, war, politics, and life-threatening diseases like breast cancer and AIDS.
So while the label and the overwhelmingly pink covers may border on fluffy, it is erroneous to consider the story inside with anything less than complete respect.
This is Not Chick Lit is yet another example of the pretension, intellectual snobbery, and ignorance that romance and its readers face every day. Kicking something that’s already down is not an example of ‘pushing the envelope’. In fact, it smacks strongly of towing the line.