The older I get, the easier it is to get swallowed up by my frustrations far before I consider my joy. Whether that’s because of mental health issues or the fact that the U.S. is attempting to survive in a post-2016 Election reality, who knows. But the benefit of recording your thoughts is seeing some of your own fallacies (aka. Calling out your own bull-honkey).
Recently, my friend and I launched our podcast, The Shiny Squirrel, where we talk about all the creative nerdy things along with the social impacts of being involved in that space. Monday, we published an episode getting into the nitty gritty of being a woman in these different creative fields.
While I stand by everything I said, there’s one item – in regards to publishing – that I failed to give justice to. And that’s Women’s Fiction. I’ll still argue that books like Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness should be shelved in fantasy and Gillian Flynn should be in thriller (sorry, I’ll die on this hill). But Women’s Fiction plays a very important role in the lives of not only female writers and readers, but also the industry.
No. 1 – Women’s Fiction is more than just “beach reads”
Women’s Fiction is first and foremost stories surrounding the female experience. Yes, there is a large market for “beach reads” – your romcoms and self-discovery stories with lighter subject matter. However, there are also books that are so devastatingly profound and raw that make you feel ‘seen’ for the first time.
Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You comes to mind. Not only is her writing absolutely stunning, but the way she captures the human experience in relationship to identity, family, society, and everything in between, leaves you in tears.
Another brilliant example is Halsey Street by Naima Coster, who captures the complexity of healing internal and familial wounds against a backdrop of cultural and economic clashes and the harm gentrification causes.
There’s also swaths of complex stories that handle the topics we don’t want to talk about with incredible humor while maintaining brutal honesty about the characters’ experience.
Here, I’m drawn to almost anything written by Liane Moriary. Summer Heacock’s The Awkward Path To Getting Lucky is also on my list here. It handles the constant pull between personal and professional while also dealing with the painful issue of vaginismus.
No. 2 – There’s nothing wrong with “beach reads”
No one can read devastating story after devastating story and maintain any kind of sanity. Sometimes, you really do just need something to make you laugh and leave you feeling empowered when you turn that last page.
Everyone knows Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding – this is one such book. For those of us with body conscious issues, this was one of those stories where you could laugh about the frustrations while also cheer on a woman who is determined to feel sexy regardless.
A more recent example is Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Olephant Is Completely Fine. Eleanor is one of those MC’s that you connect with immediately. She’s intelligent, lacks a filter, and is completely fine… that is until she realizes she’s not. The book takes you through her journey of self-realization and rediscovery.
No. 3 – Women’s Fiction has done some of most innovative genre bending I’ve ever read
Because the focus is on the character’s experience, it clears the path for crossing genre lines strictly maintained by the rest of the industry. Historical romance with time travel? Yup! Magical Realism, Romance, and Science Fiction? Definitely! Cross-generational mother-daughter stories with different historical settings and plenty of magic to go around? I’ll escort you to the shelf.
To give you titles and authors to the above examples…
The unfortunate reason Women’s Fiction tends to make me flinch…
Here’s the thing about these incredible genre-bending books… they aren’t marketed well. Mostly, because I don’t think the industry has figured out how to market them just yet. With the exception of Outlander because of its recent success with its TV show, these little nuggets of literary innovation get lost amongst the shelves. As a reader, you have to DIG to find them.
And that’s the frustrating bit of Women’s Fiction. It allows this brilliant space for all these incredible stories, but because you have such a wide range to choose from as a reader, finding what you need is so incredibly difficult. You might be looking for something like Anders’ unique flavor of fiction, but after picking up twelve different titles in the vein of Moriarty or Honeyman, you give up and walk away without buying anything.
The impact of this? Publishers are less likely to invest in books like Anders or Morgan because “the numbers say there’s no market for it.”
I know this blog post is getting super long, so I’ll finish with this… Support your female authors. There are so many brilliant novels written by talented, intelligent storytellers shelved in and out of Women’s Fiction. I’ve pasted a few more authors to check out below.
Let me know who your favorite female authors are in the comments! Load up my TBR!