Writing While Female: The Challenges. The Possibilities. The Tour.
Writing While Female: The Challenges. The Possibilities. The Tour.By Teri Emory
Author of Second Acts
I am about to embark on a tour to promote my novel, Second Acts, which tells the stories of three women who meet in college in the 1960s and remain steadfast friends for life. The book is also about love, loss, work, marriage, families, dreams, memory, regrets, starting over, and the relentless march of time—ideas that touch on many aspects of the human condition. My book is characterized as “women’s fiction,” which means that the immediate assumptions about it may not focus on its larger themes. As the writer Jennifer Weiner has observed, “Men’s books are windows onto some grander, more universal experience; women’s books are mirrors, reflecting the author’s own eating, praying, and loving.” “Women’s fiction” is a convenient shorthand used by book publishers, distributors, reviewers, bookstores, and readers. I’ve been known to pull out the handy label myself, often in a conversation that begins with someone saying, “Oh, so your book is basically for women,” or asking, “Which of the main characters is you?” I then respond, with as much good humor as I can muster, “OK, it’s women’s fiction. Which, for the record, is just like regular fiction, except largely unsung. And by the way, does anyone say that John Irving writes men’s fiction? Or that Portnoy was actually Philip Roth, and not a fictional creation? Or that John Updike looked only in the mirror when he invented Rabbit?” Several months ago, I read a fine example of contemporary “women’s fiction”: Heidi Mastrogiovanni’s smart, hilarious novel, Lala Pettibone’s Act Two. In addition to the resonance in our titles, our books share themes of friendship and resilience. Luckily, Heidi is also an Amberjack Publishing author, so I was able to get her an advance copy of Second Acts. Once we had read each other’s work, a mutual admiration society was launched, and we began to talk about a strategy not often used in book promotion: joint speaking and signing events. (“What???,” said the men in the room. “Won’t the competition work against each of you?” “No,” replied the two creators of women’s fiction. “This is not a zero-sum game. Collaboration benefits both of us.”) Heidi’s book and mine are different in many ways, but we figure they will appeal to the same audiences—readers (and not just the female variety) who will appreciate characters forced to re-invent themselves at midlife. Heidi and I will continue to do some readings and signings independently, but we are also excited about our Writing While Female tour. (We have t-shirts and everything.) We will talk about our books, our writing processes, our partnership, and how we feel about “women’s fiction” and “chick lit.” We are already scheduled to speak at a number of charming bookstores and are looking forward to more events. We are prepared for our audiences to be mostly female, and we are fine with that. We expect to be asked, “Which character is you?” We are practicing our smiles for the men who tell us, “My wife likes books like this.” In Curtis Sittenfeld’s brilliant short story, “Show Don’t Tell,” the narrator is a successful author whose novels have been categorized as women’s fiction. Here she compares herself to a male writer she knew twenty years earlier when they were graduate students: “…While I’m sure I’ve sold more books…he’s regularly interviewed on public radio about literary culture. He’s the kind of writer, I trust, about whom current students in the program have heated opinions; I’m the kind of writer their mothers read while recovering from knee surgery.” I don’t imagine I will be asked anytime soon to comment on public radio about literary culture. And yet… Last week, I gave a brief preview reading from Second Acts (which will be released on September 26, 2017) at a local bookstore. I mingled with the crowd afterwards, and two attendees made their way to me to say that after hearing me read that night, they had pre-ordered my book from their cell phones, right on the spot. Both were men. To my delight, neither one said he was buying the book for his wife. Nor, I’m pleased to report, did the topic of knee surgery come up. Hope springs eternal.