I fancy myself a very open-minded and open-hearted person, but my husband would tell you that, although my arms are wide and welcoming, each idea or person who enters only gets a narrow sliver of my tolerance. Recently he said something like, "You're one of the most empathetic, kind people I know...but you're not very nice." And so I punched him in the throat. The end. Actually, I laughed, because I felt busted. He knows me pretty well. Dammit. I guess after twenty-five years together he's bound to have accidentally observed some of my foibles. Oh, God, do you think he knows that I fart, too?
Trust. He knows. So, anyway, I'm a pretty judgmental prick. Other friends and family members who trust me and whom I trust have also lovingly pointed this out. My purpose in life is to love, but I'm kind of an a-hole about it. For example, I will love the shit out of you living your best, most gorgeous versions of your life, and I will be proud of you and defend and cheerlead for you, but you have about thirty seconds to tell me about it or I'm annoyed that you're talking too much. Another example: I'm in talks with a friend about joining her as a co-host on her podcast, and so I'm sending her messages all the time like, "Ok, I was listening to a podcast the other day where the cohosts were all laughing and enjoying themselves. They seemed really happy and it was disgusting. Let's not do that." Does this make me a dark cloud? Perhaps; but I swear, I'll bring the funny with my dark. All that is to say, when I started writing a book, I knew what I like, and conversely, what is awful. I wrote the kind of story that I ache to find in literature (and TV, film, theater, art in general) but now I'm wondering if anyone else has the same yearns and pet-peeves as I do, or if I am writing a book that only I will self-righteously wave about and indignantly toss at people's heads. My book is very modern, very slice-of middle aged, middle-class, American woman's life. The dialogue is extremely, uncomfortably real (I'm forever yelling at my TV, saying, "BUT PEOPLE DON'T TALK LIKE THAT, YOU SCMUCKS!") , the characters are all weird and flawed, but also realistically, kind of boring and normal. It's about a marriage of two decent people falling apart, because that's what happens in real life often. It's about a long-term friendship/business partnership that is going through growing pains as each person within it changes. It's about an average woman figuring out how she can feel alive, maintain herself, while buried under the responsibilities of career, marriage, parenting, and friendship. I'm interested in these things, because that's what all my friends and I are doing in real life. I am intrigued (voyeuristic) about how average people live their average lives, and I've been cataloging data for years to pour into this book. BUT when I look for similar books in this genre (Women's Fiction is where I land, I think), I'm not finding many like mine.
Women’s Fiction. These plot lines are characterised by female characters who face challenges, difficulties, and crises that have a direct relationship to gender. This is inclusive of woman’s conflict with man, though not limited to that.
In most of them, there are grander settings and situations, like pirate ships, war, and...pirate war. People are escaping with their lives, not just their perceived lives. Maybe it's just that I'm writing a book of privilege. That's certainly possible. I'm not writing about people who are desperate, I'm writing about people who have resources, health, safety, and choices, and are trying to choose the best version of their lives. There are no affairs, abuse, famine, death, or other calamity, but the stakes still feel high to the character, to me. I like to see myself in the stories I read, and in my book, I think a lot of people will see themselves in this one.
I'm just wondering if there's a reason most fiction tends to add distance from the lives we know, like a few hundred years, a few continents, or SOME FREAKING PIRATES. Maybe we're trying to crawl out of our drab modern cages and imagine what it's like to have been someone in the middle ages or who grew up in a war-torn place? This might be why Women's Fiction brings plots with big pain. Women suffer and have suffered. Dramatically. Similarly to how stories of BIPOC characters are so often set in places, moments, and situations that show the extreme crimes committed against them and highlight the protagonists' survival and escape from injustices and indignities.
There's value in that, too. I just don't want to write it. Not right now. Maybe later.
ANYWAY, I've been told by friends who have read early drafts of my book that "it's like reading my journal" and "my book club would go crazy for this book."
I hope that's true, and it feels outstanding to hear it, but I'm feeling uncertain. Like maybe I should have written something commercial that more people like to read? Can I change the setting from suburbs of Chicago to 16th century France without it messing up too much? Well, I guess the lead couldn't be a radio DJ anymore...she'd have to be a skullery maid or something. Argh. You see!? BUT...I don't want to read a book about little fourteen year-old Madeleine who was forced to marry the Duke. I have quit book clubs because the novels were SO FUCKING DEPRESSING and I just couldn't handle each month experiencing the lives of enslaved people, or those hiding from Nazis. This might also make me an a-hole and definitely means that I am soft (a soft a-hole? Eww, graphic), but I like my entertainment seasoned with humor and maybe even some lessons I can apply to myself and my current modern life. It's not that I never read books about grave, gruesome, horrifying assaults on humanity, it's just that sometimes I want the strife to be strife-lite. I sometimes want my heroines to not wear bonnets or armor or shackles, but just t-shirts, you know?
The other day I tried to get into a book about a star-crossed couple set in Japan during WWII and ended up instead choosing Nick Offerman's and Megan Mullally's book about their love story where they make a bunch of jokes about anal sex. It's just so much more my bag. Review here.
Sigh. SO. If after all of that, I haven't dissuaded you to keep communing with me (now that you know there aren't real pirates, just one surly 40 year-old woman), I would LOVE it if you would send me book recommendations on novels featuring modern women protagonists living smaller, less dramatic lives.
Also, I'll be sending out an excerpt from my book tomorrow to those who have subscribed. If you want to see what all the fuss is about, join us!