Chick Lit Has NOT Ruined My Life

I picked up a copy of Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary before a weekend trip Napa with my boyfriend. Up until then, I had been reading books like The English Patient and Marriage Shock: the Transformation of Women into Wives and listening to a lot of NPR. I came back from that trip hooked on chick lit, with a new appreciation for Led Zeppelin and engaged despite what I'd learned from Marriage Shock and having heard a story on blood diamonds from Sierra Leone on All Things Considered.

It wasn’t until a few years later, after the dotcom boom went bust and I found myself at home with a newborn, that I seriously considered writing a novel. It might have been the lack of sleep, both from nursing and constant reading with NPR playing the background, but I really thought I could give it an honest go.

I wasn’t living the typical chick lit life—there were no mimosa filled brunches, sizzling romantic triangles and most of my bosses weren’t that bad (except for the one who was so bad, I walked out one day and never went back). I wasn’t teetering around Manhattan in too high heels or jetting off to Capri with a playboy boyfriend who couldn’t commit to anything except a threesome. What resonated with me was that I was reading stories about young women taking charge of their lives with sometimes disastrous, but highly entertaining results.

By that time I started to think about what my novel would be about, I’d read tons of chick lit—everything Helen Fielding, Sophie Kinsella, Candace Bushnell, Jennifer Weiner and more. Some chick lit was pure fun and followed a formula (gal with job wants better job and guy to go with it). They all shared a breezy, funny tone with covers that screamed “read me while eating ice cream.” There were also others, like Jennifer Weiner's In Her Shoes, that delved a little deeper into what it meant to be a woman creeping up into her 30s and still trying to figure out what to do with her life.

This, I decided, was the writing world for me. When my son started pre-school in the fall of 2003, I came to an agreement with my husband: I’d spent three years raising the kid full-time which earned me three years to get my writing career underway. I made that deadline, signing my first book contract in early 2006 with six months to spare, and have seen my book covers go from blah to great and my writing style evolve along with them.

Chick lit has grown up and some now call it women’s fiction. Stories have gone beyond too much shopping, gaining weight then losing it and maybe gaining it back again after heartbreak at the hands of a bad boyfriend. Happy endings don’t always have to be about landing a great job or bagging a guy because sometimes a gal wants a little reality in her chick lit.

While the genre, like publishing in general, is struggling, I'm not ready to slip into a black dress and go into mourning. At least not just yet. There are lots of stories to be told and I have hope that readers (and publishers) are still looking to discover something new, but familiar. As someone who writes chick lit/women’s fiction, I can honestly say the genre changed my life…even though I haven't quite gotten around addressing that threesome plot point in any of own books. But there's always the next one, right?

What do you think?
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Note: A version of this post first appeared on Mason Canon's Writer Thoughts in Progress blog on 9/1/10.

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