Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Chick Lit Roots of Enchanted, Inc.

In the absence of any reader-generated questions about the Enchanted, Inc. series, I thought I'd pick my own topic to discuss.

I've mentioned that the beginnings of the idea sprang from merging two genres I enjoyed. I first got the idea in January of 2002, which was fairly early in the "chick lit" craze, when it had just started appearing in the US, with American books by American authors instead of just imports. I'd been on a couple of trips to England, where I'd loaded up on books that weren't yet available in the US or that wouldn't show up here for a while. I'd been reading (and trying to write) contemporary romances, without much success. I'd had a couple of books published in a romantic comedy line from Silhouette that may have been proto-chick lit (in fact, the editor who started it became one of the major American chick lit authors), but the line died, and my editor sent me a newspaper clipping about Bridget Jones's Diary, which had been a hit in the UK and that was just about to be published in America. She said she thought that was what I ought to try to write. At the time, though, there wasn't anything else like it in the US, where the closest thing was the contemporary romantic comedies that were popular then, the ones with the kind of cartoony covers. That was what I tried (and failed) to write.

When I actually found some chick lit novels, it was a lightbulb moment and I understood why I was having a hard time writing the romance novels. In a romance novel, the focus is on the conflict between the hero and heroine -- Mr. Right shows up at the beginning of the book, which really pisses off the heroine. They spend much of the book fighting or disagreeing, until they finally fall in love near the end. In the chick lit books, the focus was more on finding or discerning Mr. Right. The heroine might have bad dates with other guys while Mr. Right was just there in the background. That reflected my life far better. Finding someone to date is a challenge, then the dates tend to go badly. I don't have perfect men irritating me by falling out of the sky. There was also a lot of emphasis on elements outside the relationship, like dealing with friends, career, crazy bosses, etc. I devoured these books. Meanwhile, I was also finally getting into the Harry Potter series, where there was magical stuff in a relatable modern setting. I thought it would be fun to combine the two genres, adding magic to all that career girl in the city stuff. Unfortunately, my series was bought as chick lit rather than as fantasy and came out just as the genre was glutting and right before it tanked, and the publisher still sees it as chick lit rather than as fantasy.

On my last library trip, I found a chick lit book I hadn't read, one that was probably contracted right before the market tanked and published on the tail end of the trend. It's pretty much the Generic American Chick Lit Novel -- heroine works in some form of publishing, has a gay male best friend and a married female best friend who doesn't understand dating because she married her college sweetheart, has money problems and is angsting because she's reached some meaningful birthday and (gasp!) still isn't married, but her odds of finding someone to marry are slim because she tends to get into relationships by getting really drunk, then sleeping with some guy and then just falling into an ongoing thing with him. I'm having a hard time reading this book, and I'm not sure if it's because I'm ten years older than I was when I started devouring these books, so I have a lot less sympathy for the "I'm not married!" angst and poor relationship decisions. Or it could be that I never really warmed to American chick lit. I always preferred the British tone and style. Or maybe it's just this book. I may need to re-read one of my favorites to see if it's just this book or if it's me.

Although when I developed my series, I had in mind the elements of a chick lit book, with multiple potential guys, job issues, dating and friends, I don't know that I still see it that way, not even the first book. Each book has moved more solidly into the fantasy realm. I think they still have that chick lit-like tone, but the stories grew farther from what chick lit readers who aren't fantasy readers would like. In fact, until I started reading this book, I'd almost forgotten those chick lit roots (aside from my pitch line of "Bridget Jones meets Harry Potter"). I'll admit that back at the time, I wanted it published as chick lit because I thought that would give it higher visibility -- you never saw fantasy books on those tables at the front of the bookstore then -- and I couldn't visualize a "fantasy" cover that would fit. I still can't picture a different kind of cover than these books have. I've even talked with a friend who's a prominent fantasy book cover artist, and he can't think of another way to present these books that would fit. The covers I got were very close to what I visualized as I was writing the first book.

So, that's a lot to do with where the books were shelved and why.

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