Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Booksigning and Chick Lit

First, a booksigning report. I wasn't a total dork when meeting Sarah Bird, but there was some dorkishness, and I found myself actually trembling when I got to the signing table. When I told her that I was the one my editor warned her about, she seemed to know who I was, and instead of being freaked out when I mentioned how much of The Boyfriend School matched my life, she signed the book with something about leading parallel lives. There was a good turnout, around 30 people. It seemed like her newspaper column got a number of those people there. She spoke for a while, telling us some of the inspiration behind her newest book, did a bit of a Q&A, and then we all lined up to get our autographs. I ended up getting a copy of the new book, as well, because her talk made it sound intriguing. It involves Flamenco dance, and I already have a big book set in the ballet world that my editor gave me, so I may do a dance week in my post-book-4 reading binge.

I liked that talk and Q&A format for an event. It's something I might consider with the next book. The only problem is that people have to actually be there all at once for it to happen. My past signings have been mostly come and go without a critical mass of people to speak to. It's a lot less humiliating to sit there for a while as a few people come and go than it is to face rows of empty chairs.

And now for some other book talk. I may have been playing fantasy author last weekend, but I feel like I'm equally a chick lit author. I'm definitely a chick lit reader. There's been much talk, discussion and debate about the state of chick lit in the market -- is the market really shrinking, or was there a huge glut? Is the audience still there? Was the problem too much of the same thing? I tend to go against the conventional wisdom and say that to me, as a reader, the problem was that the books being published as chick lit started veering too far from the kind of books I fell in love with. They were trying so hard to be different that they weren't what I wanted to read. There were more books out there in the genre, but fewer that I actually wanted to read. I'm not saying that I wanted to read dozens of books about young women with crappy jobs in publishing who were recovering from being dumped by their evil boyfriends. But I do still love the classic core story about a young woman trying to find the courage to take a leap -- whether it's escaping the bad boss, breaking up with the bad boyfriend, starting a new career or even daring to start a new relationship.

Last week I finally got around to reading Bookends by Jane Green, which is one of the minor classics (if you can have "classics" in such a new genre). I hadn't managed to read it before because I kept thinking that I'd already read it. There's a book by Lisa Jewell called Thirtynothing, which is about a young woman who re-connects with her male best friend from her school days, and there's a lot in the book about how others often called them bookends because they were always together. For some reason, that stuck in my head, so I got the two books confused. Bookends is actually about the main character opening a bookstore called Bookends, so it's entirely different.

The story involves a group of friends from their school days who are now in their 30s (plus the wife of one of them, who becomes part of the group). Then another friend from school comes back into their lives, and things get complicated. There was an aspect of the book that hit a bit too close to home for me. The main character has more or less given up on dating. She's comfortable with her group of friends and doesn't feel like she needs more than that in her life. Dating is just complicated and difficult and potentially painful. I can sooooo relate, but I haven't yet had any dishy estate agent/artist types show up in my life to make me decide whether or not I want to take a chance again.

One of the big critiques of chick lit from the literary snobs was about the insistence on chick lit heroines being someone readers could relate to. Apparently, you're not broadening your horizons enough if you read books starring characters who have something in common with you. But unless you're reading your own biography, you're not going to be reading about someone exactly like you who does all the same things and reacts in the same way. Yeah, it's also good to read things that are wildly different, but that doesn't mean you can't read about anything that reflects your own life. I tend to find that I get more inspiration to do something about my own life, to make changes or take chances, from these characters who have enough in common with me that I can see some of my own problems reflected on the page. I think that's a lot of the appeal of chick lit, and that appeal is still there even as the market settles into a new norm. I hope it doesn't go away entirely because there are books I want to write that aren't fantasy-related, that are pure, classic chick lit.

But first I have another fantasy-tinged one to write.

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