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I asked Lauren Baratz-Logsted to GuestBlog for us after I read an article about the Great Chick-Lit Controversy for which she'd been interviewed. She's got lots of interesting stuff to say about Chick-Lit, and clearly chooses to "define it -- not defend it," as we preach here at RBtheBlog.
Lauren's here to introduce us to her first love, and asks you to help her learn a bit more about the genre we adore. And I must say, anyone who praises cohesiveness and solidarity among those of us facing a cynical "outside world"-- especially the literary one -- has my vote for Smart Chick Who Understands We're All in This Together. Please give Laura a warm Bella buongiorno...
I’ve read so many mischaracterizations of Chick-Lit – that the books are always romantic comedies about young women in urban settings hating their bosses by day while searching for Mr. Right by night – that it’s just a little bit ironic that I’m opening a column with a definition of Romance, but there you have it.
Romance, as far as I can tell, is, quite simply, the designation given to books where the primary storyline involves romance. The variety of plots and settings where this can play out is vast – paranormal, suspense, comedy, any historical time period imaginable – but the primacy of romance in the story is undeniable.
And, if I understand the prescription of Romance Writers of America correctly, for a book to be a Romance, there must be a Happily Ever After. (Please correct me if I’m wrong. I’m new at this.)
Of course, many Chick-Lit writers are members of RWA. Chick-Lit writers get in because their publishers are “RWA recognized” and if there is “a strong romantic element.”
But is Chick-Lit, by definition, Romance? Sometimes, yes; sometimes, no. All of my books have a strong romantic element, but you’d be hard-pressed to call any of them Romance. Certainly, there’s no clear-cut Happily Ever After. And so it is with much of Chick-Lit, although there are certainly Chick-Lit books that are also Romance.
The defining feature of Chick-Lit is comedy. Chick-Lit books can also be paranormal, mystery, or romance, but unless there is an overall comedic tone to the book, it’s not Chick-Lit. Romance has long been under fire from critics, many of whom I’d imagine don’t even read the books, who accuse the genre of creating cookie-cutter books bound by conventions. (As if all genres, Mystery and Sci-Fi among them, don’t come with their own conventions.)
You can see how these attacks have hurt many practitioners of the genre when you hear about professors using pseudonyms for their work for fear that academic colleagues will look down on them or when RWA launches PR campaigns to burnish the genre’s image.
Chick-Lit is also under fire, has been almost from its inception. Curtis Sittenfeld famously likened calling another writer’s book Chick-Lit to labeling her a slut and Elizabeth Merrick put together an anthology called This is Not Chick Lit, the introduction to which talks about Chick-Lit numbing readers’ consciousness.
In response to that, I created an anthology called THIS IS CHICK-LIT which stands as a positive statement to the wide range of storytelling styles and themes that fall under the umbrella heading of Chick-Lit. There was another anthology recently released featuring thriller writers, simply called Thriller, and I’d love to see Romance doing something similar: create an anthology showcasing all Romance has to offer.
Here’s the thing, at the risk of stating the obvious: Life is short. Life is too short to get into the mud-slinging wars of “Whose book is better?” or “Whose genre is more important?” In light of that, I think Romance writers and Chick-Lit authors should stick together.
I’m not saying we should champion individual books that we dislike. But we also shouldn’t fall into the trap of divisiveness either. We have more in common than sometimes we think. We like to make people laugh. We like to make people feel some great emotion. Along the way, if we’re lucky, we like to make people think.
Wouldn’t the world be a better place if more people devoted their lives to laughter and love?
Lauren Baratz-Logsted, in addition to being the editor of This Is Chick-Lit, had written four Chick-Lit novels: The Thin Pink Line, Crossing the Line, A Little Change of Face, and How Nancy Drew Saved My Life. She is also the author of the literary suspense novel Vertigo and the forthcoming serious Young Adult novel Angel’s Choice. You can read more about her work at LaurenBaratzLogsted.com.