Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Seekerville Welcomes Marilyn Brant
-->I’m so excited to be visiting Seekerville today! Many thanks to Tina for inviting me and to all the Seekers for being such gracious hosts.
When Tina and I were first discussing what the topic of this post should be, she suggested I write about women’s fiction, also known in RWA circles as “mainstream novels with strong romantic elements.” It’s a genre I hold close to my heart since this was the Golden Heart category in which I entered my debut novel during the year Tina and I were GH finalists together. (Yay, ‘007s!) Also, it can be a bit tricky to define. So, I jumped at the chance to talk about it and share my perspective as a writer (and a former reviewer) of both women’s fiction and contemporary romance.
Something to know about me: I love romance on its own and romance mixed with other genres (romantic suspense, paranormal, inspirational, etc.), and I especially love happy endings. In a romance novel, readers can count on all the hero and heroine getting together in the end. They can be sure that lots of narrative time will be devoted to the development of the romantic relationship and, if other genres play a part in the story, how the relationship is impacted by secondary characters and additional storylines. Women’s fiction frequently taps into all of these, too, but, in my opinion, there’s a crucial difference: the focus of the story.
While a romance needs to chronicle the relationship and character development of the main couple, women’s fiction is all about the woman’s journey. It’s HER story—with or without a man. It may feature one woman or a small group of them, but the big important question is not whether she (or her friends) will end up with some love interest, it’s whether she’ll be able to transcend whatever issues she’s been battling in her life to get to a slightly (or significantly) better place at the end of the book. A place that, at the story’s beginning, seemed way out of reach.
Often a romantic partner plays a major role in helping the women’s fiction heroine along on her journey but, just because he’s involved and has been helpful, the heroine is not required by any genre conventions to end up with him. In fact, sometimes the heroine’s journey revolves around the end of her marriage or her struggle with a life-threatening medical diagnosis or the ever-changing (yet often ever-the-same) interpersonal dynamics of siblings or parents or children. The story’s tone can be delightful and upbeat, poignant and lyrical or thought-provoking and heartbreaking. Unlike the assurance readers get with romance that—no matter how painful the struggles of the characters may be, they’ll figure out a way for love to conquer all—women’s fiction offers no such guarantee.
BUT, it does offer an opportunity for the reader to jump aboard for a twisty ride. To see and explore the world through the lens of a typically complex female character. And, ideally, to grow with her as she ventures into an experience that will ultimately change her in a substantial way.
That’s certainly the case with my main character, Ellie, in my debut novel According to Jane. Even with the ghost of author Jane Austen giving Ellie the benefit of her wisdom regarding dating and relationships, it still takes my heroine many years and scores of mistakes before she’s able to acknowledge the need to listen to her own voice and be responsible for her own actions. Part of why I needed to write this book as a women’s fiction project rather than as a romance was because Ellie weaves in an out of a number of relationships (not just one) during her 20-year, Odyssey-like romantic journey. The original tagline for the book was “A novel about Pride, Prejudice and the Pursuit of the Perfect Guy,” a nod not only to Austen’s P&P, but to the impact of her own (and Jane’s) “pride” and “prejudice” as Ellie searches for her idealized relationship with frequently less-than-ideal results.
But readers and critique partners have asked, “Why isn’t this book a romance? There’s such a huge focus on relationships? And the ending is really optimistic…” Right. And, as I said, I love happy endings. The point of this story, however, is not who Ellie ends up with; it’s that she needed a journey, took it and made changes in her life that had nothing to do with any man. No matter how attractive. The narrative focus remained firmly on her voyage of self discovery.
For other writers wondering if their story’s premise might be women’s fiction, consider the path of your main character. Was the narrative directed at her growth and change? Do we see the world predominantly through her eyes? At the end of the book, whether she’s involved in a relationship or not, is she in a better place (mentally, socially, spiritual, etc.) than at the start or, at the very least, has she learned something significant that she’ll carry forward with her? If so, chances are, you’ve written a women’s fiction tale. And chances are even higher that it’s one I’d be thrilled to pick up at a bookstore and take home with me to enjoy!
Side Note: Here are 2009 GH entry stats:
Contemporary Series Romance: 103
Contemporary Series: Suspense/Adventure: 29
Contemporary Single Title Romance: 111
Historical Romance: 107
Inspirational Romance: 40
Novel with Strong Romantic Elements: 152
Paranormal Romance: 141
Regency Historical Romance: 62
Romantic Suspense: 110
Young Adult Romance: 46
TOTAL ENTRIES: 901
Perhaps because there is a lot of storytelling leeway within the Strong Romantic Elements category, it was (at least for the 2009 competition) the largest of the GH categories. Interesting to see all the data in one spot, eh?
Marilyn Brant has been a classroom teacher, a library staff member, a freelance writer and a national book reviewer for Romantic Times. She lives in the Chicago suburbs with her husband and son, surrounded by towers of books that often threaten to topple over and crush her. A proud member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, Marilyn’s debut novel, According to Jane, won RWA’s prestigious Golden Heart® Award. Readers can visit her at www.marilynbrant.com. This month you can also find Marilyn in the August PRO spects, the newsletter of the RWA PRO community. Look for her article, A Moment with Janet Evanovich. You can also find her in the October 2009 issue of Romantic Times, where she discusses the difference--emotionally and logically--between being the reviewer vs. the person whose book was being reviewed
Today Marilyn is giving away an arc of According To Jane, her October release from Kensington Publishing, to one of our Seekerville visitors. If you would like to be in the drawing you must put your email address in your post and/or tell us you want to be in the drawing. Drawing is tonight at 8pm MST.