I am pleased to announce that I have finally finished a solid first draft of Dirty, my thesis novel for the Stanford Online Writing Certificate in Fiction. I am in the early stages of my final requirement for that program: participation in a ten-week one-on-one tutorial with an experienced (and, in my case, published) author. I will write more about that experience as the quarter progresses. Suffice it to say for now that my instructor has told me that the bones of my book are good. The bulk of my revision work, then, will be focused on clearing up a few stray POV issues and layering in interiority and emotional depth for my characters. Under her tutelage, I am very confident that I will emerge with a strong second draft. Next, I plan to undertake several additional passes I know I need to make: clarifying my characters’ business plan, making the timeline of events more coherent, and strengthening subplots I’ve only feinted at in the current version. I am stoked!
What I want to discuss in this post, however, is a tectonic shift I’ve experienced over the last few days: from feeling pressure to produce a “literary novel” to embracing that the best form for the story I want to tell actually falls into the category of “women’s fiction.” Yep, I’m writing Chick Lit. And I couldn’t be happier to admit that at this point, in spite of all the pejorative perceptions of the genre. It just feels true and right.
It’s been an interesting journey to arrive at this conclusion. When I started the Stanford program, I suspected that Dirty would prove to be more mainstream than what the majority of my cohort were planning to write. After all, the story began life as a romantic comedy screenplay. But when I posted on a class discussion board that I felt what I was trying to achieve was lighter in literary weight, I got a bit of a smackdown. Several fellow students provided suggestions for upping the social significance of my novel (by, for example, taking on the gender issues that underlie my characters’ decision to pedal pornography). Others chimed in that I was selling my abilities short. I experienced a short, but deep bout of existential crisis. Then I consciously deferred the addressing the issue by settling down to learn the craft of fiction writing through the prescribed coursework and launching into what I call a “proof-of-concept draft.”
That draft has succeeded in demonstrating that I have an engaging concept, compelling characters, and a complete plot. I am chuffed. But it has also raised the genre question again, and this time, I’m confronting it head-on. Is Dirty Chick Lit? It features two strong women at crossroads in their lives. Check. Its overall tone is best described as “comic” (but “self-deprecating” will do in a pinch). Check. And it has a happy ending in which the main character arcs resolve in satisfying growth. Check. Plus, my instructor has graciously compared my style and substance to that of women’s fiction doyenne Jennifer Weiner–a utterly enjoyable and best-selling author who, coincidentally, has made it her mission to remove the sense of stigma from her chosen genre. I’m ready to fight at Jen’s side on this subject, not simply for commercial or critical or political reasons–although those do appeal to me–but also because this is how this particular story wants to be told. So that’s why I’m embracing my inner Chick!