Friday, April 16, 2010
The early morning drive up to Albany, past farms, through Victorian villages and across the Hudson on the Rip Van Winkle Bridge, last Saturday was spectacular. Frank and I were both scheduled to sit on panels. Frank’s on Historical Fiction, mine on Women’s Literature.This was the first Empire State Book Festival (http://empirestatebookfestival.wordpress.com/). The organization was impressive, the crowds substantial, respectful and looked to be across a wide swath of demographic detail. Every session we manned, attended or observed was jam-packed with intelligent, thoughtful readers. The questions were smart and the warmth and interest, pervasive. If this is an indication of how “The Book” is faring these days —I think we should stop worrying.
My discussion panel was moderated by a very bright Lizzie Skurnick and entitled “Under the Pink Umbrella”. Along with me, there were authors, Cathleen Schine, Elizabeth Noble and Sally Koslow. We talked about a lot of things natural (or not) to the condition of Women’s Fiction, but at the center of it all was the conversation I dared to call “the Ghetto of Women’s Lit”.
I know that Lizzie and Sally disagreed, and stated, unequivocally,that they aimed to reach large numbers of fans, and that it doesn’t make any difference how the industry labels their books. Beach-books,Chick-Lit. Whatever. So I won’t put my words in their mouths.
Cathy Schine (“The Three Weissmans of Westport” -- a book that has been paired with mine on Amazon since before we launched), was more measured than Noble or Koslow (or me!) in her reception. In response, she recounted a moment when she’d advised her young son, distraught when his school poem was changed in publication, that he still owned his original poem, and that this new iteration of his work was another thing altogether. It didn’t change the beauty of the original poem – still in his hand. Very moving, actually. And a very good lesson for facing lots of things in life, including the fact that once someone pays you for a work in progress, the game almost always becomes collaborative. For good and bad.
But I’m not feeling measured. And either my skin is thinner or my issues are different. Or both. I have a slew of reviews on Amazon which either give pats on the back, and 5 stars with a big cheer: “This is NOT Chick Lit!” While a handful of reviews make me pay (with 2 crummy stars) for “Not BEING Chick Lit”! Good grief. As I think I’ve said before, it’s like blaming steak for not being ice cream.
And here’s the thing. This fight is happening around my book – not because of it. But since it’s at my doorstep – and on the pages of Amazon, uninvited, though it may be -- I’ll try to answer. More to come tomorrow.