Women’s Fiction: Why Women’s Fiction?

Posted by admin on Thursday Apr 28, 2011 Under Uncategorized


And does it matter?

Palace of the Blue Butterfly | Episode 6


Here’s a hint.

It doesn’t.

Not if you’re the reader.

However . . .

If you’re the writer, that’s a whole other story.

It’s all about the marketing. Not that that’s such a bad thing, really.

What happens is this: You query an agent who, if she accepts you, will have to submit to an editor who, if she accepts you, will have to present your book to a publishing house and so on. They need a kind of shorthand. At least that’s their story, and they’re sticking to it.

Women’s Fiction is more or less this: Fiction, a novel or story, in which the woman’s emotional growth and change drives the plot. There may be romance, suspense and mystery, but in the end, it matters less who-done-it or whether the girl gets the guy than whether the woman is a changed, older, wiser, better person. Uh . . . Jane Eyre anyone?

I consider Anita Shreve to be a wonderful Women’s Fiction writer, but she hates the term and has lobbied to not have her books called that. I suppose it was ever thus. In the 19th century, women wrote under male pseudonyms in order to be taken seriously. In the 20th century, women wanted to be on the shelves with the men.

Ah, but in the 21st century, a 32 year old male filmmaker, Cary Fukunaga, has turned his talent to rendering what is considered the best version yet of what book? You got it. Jane Eyre.

Maybe things are changing. You think?

About her books, Shreve says,” [I write about love] because love is the central drama in our lives. [For love] we take enormous risks and make moral decisions we could not otherwise have conceived.”

Could not the same be said of the character Jane Eyre? Does anyone disparage this book now because it appeals to women mostly, because it is about risks and moral decisions made in the name of love, or because it was written by a woman?

Yesterday, I read Anita Shreve’s Body Surfing in almost one sitting, couldn’t put it down. Loved, loved, loved the way she handled the point of view of the protagonist. Loved the setting— a New England beach house in August. Loved the way she led the reader through the moral decisions the protagonist made, and I —not just the protagonist— came away wiser, more mindful of my own blind spots.

As Shreve says, “Love is a catastrophic moment that can change the trajectory of your life.” Who wouldn’t want to be reminded of that from time to time? I just happen to think the writers of what is called Women’s Fiction (whether they like it or not ) do a particularly good job of this.

So what do you think Lili’s catastrophic moment will be? Listen and find out.

Episode 6 - click and listen

 

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Chick Lit: What is it, Anyway?

Posted by admin on Thursday Apr 21, 2011 Under Uncategorized

Palace of the Blue Butterfly | Episode 5

Here’s the way I look at it. If I weren’t supposed to enjoy reading and writing books like Laura Caldwell’s ChickLit/Romantic Suspense novels, would hammocks, Lipton’s Diet Ice Tea with Lemon and Bain de Soleil suntan lotion ever have been invented? I think not, girlfriends.

So what is Chick Lit? And why do women like it? Well, as Laura Caldwell herself says, “[Chick Lit] connotes a work that appeals to women, and has as its primary objective, the desire to entertain.”

Wow. Think about it. Where else in society can we find something whose primary objective is to appeal to us, entertain us?

Not something that exhorts us to be better—lose weight, get that mammogram, cook healthy Crock-Pot, family meals?

Not something that plays on our weaknesses so we go out and buy cosmetics and shoes?

Not something that leaves us feeling slightly like failures because, according to whatever we’re reading, we failed to do X?

I don’t know, but chocolate doesn’t count. Its primary objective is just to be chocolate.

However, with Chick-Lit, someone actually sat down and spent a great deal of time, energy, imagination and what-have-you with the sole objective of entertaining us ladies. People can turn their noses up at it, but in a world that works against women much of the time, Chick/Lit tells me that I, and my female world, matter. Sounds sort of important to me.

Hammock by OceanAnyway, Laura Caldwell merges the genres of Chick/Lit and Romantic Suspense, and her success blazes a trail for other women like me (maybe you?), and other novels like mine (maybe yours?). Caldwell’s books create a shelf in the bookstore for what I call trans-genre novels. You know, books that otherwise might have seemed deviant to publishers, books that had ummm . . . genre issues. They really used to hate that. But hey, remember when I said I thought everything I had in life was because some woman somewhere did something she wasn’t supposed to do? Well, here’s another example.

Like other Chick-Lit/Romantic Suspense writers, I write for women. I write about what that great ChickLit writer of the 19th century—none other than Charlotte Bronte— called the “stormy sisterhood” of the passions. In novels, like in life, I want to be on the edge of my seat even if that seat is a hammock by the beach.

Well, it’s that time of year now when you’re gathering up your beach reading. This time add beach listening to the list. Just follow the instructions on how to download for a Mac or PC. Then pop in your earbuds, close your eyes, rock in the hammock and listen to . . .

Episode 5 - click and listen

 

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Palace of the Blue Butterfly | Episode 4

Posted by admin on Thursday Apr 14, 2011 Under Uncategorized

Maria Felix. The great actress of the
Golden Age of Mexican Cinema.

I couldn’t resist putting her up for all to see. Notice the cute little bandana around her neck. I’m always lounging around the ranch like that, don’t you know — menos el cigarro ( without the cigarette).

I wish.

Of course to come across as the Boss Lady like Maria Felix, I’d need ranch hands. Oops. Forgot about getting a few of those somewhere along the line.

Wait. Dave just reminded me he’s the ranch hand.

Anyway, all writers have images they carry around in their heads. Maybe that’s why we write — a need to empty the vessel. Maria Felix, Delores del Rio, Katy Jurado — the Mexican screen goddesses of the fifties — are some of mine.

Some writers make collages of their mental images by cutting out photos and pictures from magazines or from their travels and pasting them on a bulletin board; some keep those things in folders and rifle through them from time to time. I should do that, but I don’t. They’re all in my head. And they’re not discreet images either. There’s more synesthesia going on — sounds, scents, the way things feel are all blurred together up there.

If you’re this far in Palace of the Blue Butterfly, you’ve met Yarabi Molino — my very own made up screen goddess. And of course, there’s the mysterious Vivienne.

Just to set the mood for the next episode, here’s a little Youtube of Pedro Vargas singing the famous Agustin Lara Bolero “Mujer”. I’ve written a bit of a translation, but it’s so much more beautiful in Spanish. If you want to understand the rest, you’ll have to learn Spanish. It will open up a whole world for you, I swear.

Woman, divine woman,
You have the poison that fascinates in your eyes.
Woman of alabaster.
You are the vibration of a passionate sonatina.
You are the perfume of an orange tree in bloom.

And now you’re ready for . . .

Episode 4 - click and listen

 

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Palace of the Blue Butterfly | Episode 3

Posted by admin on Thursday Apr 7, 2011 Under Uncategorized

Spring. Finally.

I’ve thrown open all the windows. The hyacinths are in full glory in the window boxes, and when the breeze blows, the scent fills the house.

When that happens, I simply have to stop what I’m doing and just inhale.

Even though my pots of Tulipa Abba are in splendid bloom on the porch, it can still get cold at night. Soup is a great way to take the early spring chill off.

I’m giving you a recipe to try for Sopa Tarasca.

Two reasons why:

One, it’s the soup I was served on the terrace of the Villa Montana in Morelia the day I started writing this novel. Two, it’s exactly the soup I imagined Fatima serving Lili in Episode Two of Palace of the Blue Butterfly, the one she served in the rustic, clay bowls.

Actually, this isn’t my recipe. It belongs to Pati Jinich, the chef on Pati’s Mexican Table, a new cooking show on PBS. This show is just one more reason funds to PBS should not be cut!

Here’s a little clip:

The music is enough to turn me into a salsera. “Give me your chocolate, give me your sweet, brown sugar, give me hot coffee, give me your heart.” Pretty much sums up the things I want in life right there!

So go to Pati’s site, look up soups and then find the blog post “About a soup and a book“. I do have one suggestion though. You’ve got to make your own beans. Period. Canned beans taste like soap and metal. Yuck! Plus there’s the whole BPA thing.

I’m sure you could find some great bean recipes from Diana Kennedy. She’s a fascinating woman, and a wonderful cook, really one of the first people to put Mexican cooking on the English speaking map. Sometime I would love to study Mexican cooking with her in Michoacan. She used to give classes in her home.

Or, you could check out Rick Bayless’s site. He’s one of my heroes. Dave took me out to dinner at Topolobampo in Chicago once, and it was a super thrill!

Anyway, make yourself the soup, grab a cold Corona and a wedge of lime. Pop your earbuds in and listen to Episode Three. Things are about to get way more complicated!

Episode 3 - click and listen

 

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