I recently discovered Amy Sue Nathan, an author of Women’s Fiction, whose debut novel THE GLASS WIVES will be released on May 14th (that’s tomorrow). I’m relatively new to Women’s Fiction, so when I visited the author’s page (Women’s Fiction Writers), her blog’s tagline sparked my curiosity: “NO HEROES.” I was intrigued but also bewildered. And so I got in touch with the author and asked:
What’s the significance in the absence of a hero?
She sent me a great response. I asked for her permission to share it on my blog, so here it is:
Writing women’s fiction, or book club fiction, to me, means it’s about a strong woman who doesn’t need to be saved by a man, which is traditional in romance novels. In the books I write and like to read, there might be love and a bit of a romantic connection, but it is not central to the story. The protagonist’s goal is to be okay (whatever that means to her) but not to be in a romance. To me, hero=someone who saves a woman. In my books, the main character saves herself! I don’t use the word heroine either, but that’s completely a personal preference. Certainly there are many ways to interpret a hero. There are everyday heroes we see on the news. There are heroes fighting for our freedom overseas. But in terms of fiction, a hero is usually the male character who is the romantic interest of the female main character. It’s very popular, many people read it and write it, it’s just not my forte or interest.
I plan to pick up a copy of THE GLASS WIVES and some other books within this genre (I’m ALWAYS up for book recommendations!). As a matter of fact, I really don’t remember the last time I read a Women’s Fiction… Anyway, as I explore this genre, I want to get a better grasp of how writers of this genre:
- Portray STRONG WOMEN
- What it means to different writers when a woman doesn’t need to be SAVED by a man. And also, if there are Women’s Fiction writers that do create a woman-saved-by-a-man dynamic, then how the author is able to steer away from perpetuating the damsel-in-distress concept.
- How men are portrayed within this genre and how much/or how little room they take up in these books
On a random note, I don’t think the TRC rewrite will fit into the Women’s Fiction genre… But we’ll see. I need a better grasp of this genre before making any further conclusions.
One might argue that everything is “literature” and that literature should not be divided into “genres”–that there should not be the elitist group branded the “literary works”, separate from the more commercially accessible books branded the “genre novels”. But I’m looking at the body of writing through a publishing stand-point. Despite the supporting arguments (and I know there are many), in the end, when an individual tries to query, they will have to categorize their work. You can’t write: [insert title] is a work of literature that focuses mainly on romance. It’s either you write “romance” or a “literary fiction” focused on a love story.
So I began wondering… What is the difference between the writing style belonging to authors who categorize their works in their query letter as being a “literary fiction focused on a love story” and a “romance” novel?
It was after I read House Made of Dawn and compared Momaday’s writing to my own (ha…ha…ha…*sobs*) that I’ve come to understand the difference between “literary” writing from “genre” writing (by “genre-writing”, I’m focusing more on the writing in romance novels, because this is the genre within my field of knowledge). I always thought that to write literature, you just had to know how to drag on and on and write about things so complex that you’d lose the reader. However, I realized that one major factor of what makes literature literature is how the sentences are sculpted so carefully that even a single phrase might contain a significant story of its own. For example, take the opening sentence from Moby-Dick: “Call me Ishmael“. An English class can spend a whole hour studying this sentence, the meaning behind it, and how it might apply to the book’s major theme.
I’m not implying that romance novels are completely absent of literary merit. I’m just saying that the focus in these two category of writing is different. The writing in romance novels tend to be straightforward because a reader is meant to breeze through it–or else how can such a novel be used as the “escapist” novel so many women crave for? Whereas with literature, we aren’t meant to breeze through it, but to pause time to time and wonder what-the-heck the author is trying to tell us. And even if you have no idea what the entire book was about, you’re left in awe, because the writing was just so darn beautiful.
Yes, so I just found this difference fascinating, even though it must seem pretty matter-of-fact to others.
What do you think is the difference between literary and genre writing? Or do you think there is no difference at all? –that everything is subjective and depends entirely on the writer?