DONNA KAUFFMAN TALKS ABOUT "CHICK LIT"
1. What makes a book Chick Lit?
A story where the main protagonist is a young woman who is struggling to make sense of her life. Sometimes this involves family concerns, sometimes it’s about career choices, or romance…or all of the above. The ending, while not necessarily wrapping up her life in a tidy bow, usually winds up with the heroine feeling a sense of hope about the direction her life is heading.
2. What was the first Chick Lit book you read?
I have to think back, but it was probably See Jane Date by Melissa Senate. Most recent was Meg Cabot’s Boy Meets Girl.
3. Who do you think is the audience for Chick Lit?
I think the audience is still forming for this genre. Initially the target was probably the leagues of young, single, city girls who represent (or did earlier on) the typical heroine in these stories. In reality, I think the audience is far more wide ranging than that. As an example, coming from a romance fiction background, I see a large percentage of that readership – all ages – readily embracing this genre. I think Chick Lit falls under the broader heading of Women’s Fiction and, as such, has a general appeal to that same audience.
4. Does Chick Lit have to be funny to work? Explain.
Not at all. Again, initially these were “struggling city girl figures out her life” stories – as typified by Bridget Jones and Sex in the City, and appealed to readers because of the heroine’s blunt and perhaps somewhat snarky view of her world. She wasn’t perfect, which made her human, and her humorous take on life’s obstacles made her trials and travails more accessible to the reader. But the genre has grown quickly and has already expanded well beyond those boundaries. The humor found in most of the earlier works is still a common narrative tone, but it isn’t a necessity any longer. I was recently fortunate enough to read Karen Brichoux’s upcoming book, Separation Anxiety. And while the pov character does have a certain sarcastic wit, the book is by and large an emotional and very moving story. Yet, it still definitely falls within the chick lit genre and will appeal to that audience.
5. Is there a Chick Lit formula, or certain “must haves”?
The genre may have evolved from a group of stories about struggling young women finding their way in life with humor and panache, but again, I think it has progressed beyond those limitations, if indeed any limitations ever existed. I think Chick Lit, much like romance or any other form of genre fiction, is still defining itself. As it grows, as the readership grows with it, it will continue to morph and change to reflect both the expectations and experiences of its readers, and of its writers.
6. Fashion and beauty magazines --- and in fact, our entire culture --- surround women with images that often make them feel they are inferior. Do you think that Chick Lit, where women admit failure and address body issues and make mistakes, allows women to feel better about themselves? Explain.
It may be empowering to some degree. If for no other reason than to make the reader feel like she’s not alone in addressing some of the same issues in her own life. But I also I think in many cases the stories have an underdog element that the reader can root for, even if she doesn’t personally identify with the heroine’s problems.
7. Tell us about a scene or a character in one of your books that you are particularly proud of.
Wow, that’s a tough one. I feel like every scene plays an important part of the developing story, so to try and underscore one in particular is hard. It might be easier to select a character, but that’s sort of like being asked to pick your favorite child. I’d say that in general I’m proud of my heroines. They are a group of strong women who face down the challenges life tosses their way with grit and determination. And, okay, a little attitude as well.
8. What scene in your own books are you most surprised you wrote?
The final ones. Some days I don’t ever think I’m going to get there.
9. Do you think the term Chick Lit is condescending?
I think labels are inevitable, though constricting. It helps the reader convey the kind of story she/he is looking to find again, so they evolve into being. I don’t have a particular problem with this one. The readership is predominantly female and I think it would be no matter the definition, due to story content. For me, the word chick is a strong, affectionate label, woman to woman, not a demeaning one. Now if it was Slut Stories or Tart Tales I might feel differently.
10. Share with us a story of an encounter you have had with a fan, either in person or via e-mail/snail mail.
I once had a woman come up to me at a booksigning and tell me one of my books saved her marriage. She told me that she and her husband had taken turns reading chapters to one another as part of a marriage counseling therapy. She said that of all the books they’d tried, mine was the only one they’d really gotten into and actually looked forward to reading. So much so that it opened lines of communication between them on subjects they’d previously been uncomfortable discussing, and, according to her, resurrected their love life as well. This, in and of itself, was pretty amazing and, I was stunned by the confession, I didn’t know quite what to say to her. The awkward moment was saved when the woman standing behind her in line leaned in and said, “Which book was that?” Everyone laughed…and I sold every copy of that book in stock in the next twenty minutes. I asked her if she’d be willing to travel with me and recite that story at every signing.
11. What are you working on now, and when can readers expect to see it?
The next book from Bantam is Dear Prince Charming, which will be available this August. It is another “Glass Slipper” book – a series that began with The Cinderella Rules (Jan 2004). The stories are loosely connected by a trio of “fairy godmothers” who run a life makeover business. Each story centers around a young woman who finds herself at a crossroad in her life and ends up involved with the company in some fashion. The stories are humorous and sexy, but hopefully touching as well. I’m currently working on the third installment, Sleeping With Beauty, due out early 2005.