Reluctant (Chick Lit) Author
I had an interview today with Jaime, a senior sociology student at UP Diliman who is writing a thesis on chick lit in the Philippines.
Jaime tells she is a big fan of chick lit and has, in fact, the complete (well, almost, except for the recent one) series of books from Psicom Publishing, which produced this book.
The interview was very enlightening for me because for the most part when I was doing the writing, I never thought about the hows or whys of it, or whether I was actually being a responsible author and teaching readers to be more than what they were. I was simply writing, because I was asked to, and because it was a productive way to get over my depression at the time.
Among the many things we talked about was that chick lit, as a genre, deserves all the respect it can get and is not in any way inferior to “serious” literature.
When you get down to it, it’s simply writing. Writing as a craft should be respected. Whether one writes spec fic or creative nonfiction, news articles or e-mail campaign copy, blog posts or a thesis, it’s still writing, and writing does not come easily. If one agonizes over how to start a “serious” novel effectively, chick lit authors agonize as well.
We both agreed that, in most novels, families don’t figure much in chick lit. Characters in this type of genre are usually independent women who are earning their own money, sometimes living alone or sharing a condo with a friend, but are nevertheless confused over what they want to do with their lives. They are usually stuck in relationships that aren’t going anywhere, or want to get the attention of the boy they like. Call it trivial. Call it trash, but isn’t that what most of us were like when we were 21?
I also observed that most heroines in chick lit novels are focused on themselves (okay: let’s come clean: the word is selfish; it’s a me-me-me phase, after all), so you don’t hear of protagonists going to Tondo to help build homes for the poor or volunteering as teachers in Cordillera (my best friend Mona did, when she was 19, but she’s different). It’s not something we’re proud of, but that’s reality. Of course, I told her that I hope one day other writers (doesn’t have to be me) would come up with characters who are concerned about other matters, like poverty and politics. I don’t discount the fact that there are 21-year-olds who are more aware of what’s happening around them.
What amazed me was that here’s one reader who actually reads between the lines (and not just because she has a thesis about it) and tries to see the lesson that comes with the story. I didn’t mean to be all too preachy when I wrote Runaway, but I thought that writers have a responsibility to mold readers’ minds.
It’s not just about coming up with a happy ending because the editor or the publisher wants you to (and I really fought it because I thought a happy ending wasn’t realistic). It’s about giving them more than what they’re used to. Because that’s how we all grow as readers–by going beyond our comfort zones, exploring, learning new things.
That interview was a good mental exercise for me. Thanks, Jaime.
P.S. Am I going to write another chick lit soon? Never say never!