Voice – The Conversation Continues!

What's so important about voice?

Agents and editors ask for voice by name.

~ By Chris Bailey and Melina Kantor When asked what they hoped to find in a successful entry, a third of the final round judges for the 2010 Get Your Stiletto in the Door contest said voice topped their wish list. Young Adult final round judge Emilia Rhodes from Simon & Schuster says “a voice that sparkles” sets a winning entry apart from the rest. Editor Megan Records, Kensington Publishing Corp., one of the final round judges in the paranormal category, says she’s first attracted to a story by the voice. A final round judge in the Single Title category, Harper Collins Editor Amanda Bergeron says, “I will be looking for a strong voice."  With that kind of demand, it makes sense to let your voice color your writing. In honor of the Stiletto contest and yesterday's discussion on voice, we thought we'd throw a little writing party and give you all a chance to show off your colorful voices with a small writing exercise:
Write a paragraph or short scene in which your protagonist is in a shoe store looking for the perfect pair of stilettos to wear to her ex-fiance's wedding. It's been a very long day, she's green with envy, her feet hurt and every pair of shoes she finds are either too expensive or don't fit.
Don't think about voice while you're writing. Hopefully, by writing something quick with no strings attached (like worries about pacing, goals, character development, etc.) your voice will automatically shine through. Every person who does this exercise will have the story, but no two stories will sound alike. That's the beauty of voice. What did you discover about your voice? Are your sentences long or short? Did you write in first person or third person? Are there any words you love to use? Which lines do you think your readers (including critique partners, friends and family) would feel "are so you?" If you try this, leave a comment and let us know how it went! If you're feeling particularly brave, feel free to post some or all of your exercise.

There’s still time to give your manuscript a final polish! Enter the Stiletto contest electronically by midnight Saturday, Oct. 2.

See http://chicklitwriters.com/home/get-your-stiletto-in-the-door for details.

The Elusive (and All-Important) Voice

By Chris Bailey I remember a moment in a coffee shop when my critique partner wailed, “I can’t find my voice.” “Just focus on the writing,” I said. “Your voice will find you.” Sage advice. I totally believed I was right until a contest judge shook my confidence by noting on my score sheet, “The voice isn’t strong enough.” After a day or two of the usual post-feedback self-talk—OMG! WTF? IDTS!—I realized my personal inconvenient truth. I had only a vague idea of what voice means. Hearing voices I know I have the ability to recognize different voices. If I read two 50-word passages by Janet Evanovich and by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, I can tell that they’re written by different authors. And not by clever deduction, like whether one of the selections involves a bounty hunter and the other doesn’t, but by taking into account far more subtle clues. The two authors sound different, in the same way that my sister and my daughter sound different on the phone. Their tones are different; the pace of their speech is different; their word choice is different; the subjects they address are different. Their voices reflect their personalities, educational level, interests and ages. Desperately seeking approval Unfortunately, I’m not secure enough to rely on my own thought processes. I need verification. I went to conference workshops, read more books on craft, checked out blogs and took online classes to satisfy the need to learn about voice. At the 2008 South Carolina Writer’s Workshop, Darnell Arnoult (Sufficient Grace, 2006) differentiated between the voice of the author, the voice of the main character and the voice of the story. The voice of the author, she explained, is the voice of a body of work over time—so I can leave that analysis to reviewers to describe. Voice reveals character It’s enough for me to be concerned about developing voices for the main character and the story. According to Darnell, the main character has a world view and a background that influence her word choices, creating dialogue so distinct that she doesn’t need a speech tag. The voice of the story is revealed in rhythm, energy, pacing, subject matter and word choice. In The Fire in Fiction, agent and author Donald Maass says voice is revealed in “the outlook, opinion, details, delivery, and original perspectives that an author brings to his tale.” Agent and author Nathan Bransford offers a wide range of craft and business assistance on his blog. “Voice, at its most basic level, is the sensibility with which an author writes,” he says. “It's a perspective, an outlook on the world, a personality and style that is recognizable even out of context.”

New York Times bestselling author Shirley Jump, who teaches online writing classes when she’s not facing a deadline, says, “You have your own unique way of looking at the world, and that perspective bubbles over into the way you tell a story, relate a joke, comment on a play—almost anything you do or say is tinted with your views on the world, your perspectives, where you live and where you work.”

At the end of a twisted quest for certainty, I arrived almost where I began. Just keep writing. Your distinctive voice will emerge. Share with us. What’s your view on voice? What steps did you go through to discover yours?

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Well, chick lit fans. Have you had any luck finding your voice? What's worked for you?

Please take our poll and share your thoughts in the comments!

~ Chris Bailey’s writing for hire has appeared online, in numerous U.S. newspapers and in mailboxes across the U.S. and Canada.

Chick Lit Gets Conscious

No Need to Check Your Brain at the Door: Chick Lit Gets Conscious

Chick lit isn’t in the coffin yet. Women today are just demanding stories and characters as awesome and complex as they are. BY: Melissa De Silva

Chick lit is brainless. It’s frivolous. It’s dead. We’ve all heard the common slurs of detractors of the genre. But is it? The last time I checked, chick lit was about the experience of contemporary women – their career struggles, their challenges in navigating the minefield of dating, relationships and romance, and their friendships and family – mostly seen through the humorous, snappy personal lens of Every Woman.

Says Kalidah Jamil, a court interpreter who counts Isabel Wolff and Sheila O'Flanaghan among her favourite chick lit authors, “I enjoy reading chick lit because it’s a delightful form of escapism. After a whole day at work, settling dinner, dishes, whatever, and finally getting the kids to bed, when I manage to squeeze in some time to read in the loo/bus, why would I want to read books on history/politics/philosophy or other cerebral stuff? I want sweet, funny stories about love and life.” Keeping it Real: Chick Lit as Awesome as We Are I think that the key to chick lit staying relevant to readers and enticing as a product category is simply for it not sell women short. What do I mean? Well, for example, lots of chick lit deals with men and relationships and there’s nothing wrong with that. These are crucial elements in our lives. But perhaps what publishers and other critics who claim that chick lit is dead (and brainless and vacuous and inane…) see is the barrage of pink-covered books pouring into the market that are crammed with cardboard characters who all seem to be obsessed with an identical (vacuous) goal: landing a date/ relationship/ diamond engagement ring so that things will end happily ever after. For most of the women I know (and having been a women’s magazine journalist for almost 10 years, I know a couple of women), this isn’t what their lives look like. It’s a whole lot bigger than some guy, no matter how great he might be, and includes jobs, friends, play, volunteering, sports, dogs, whatever. Sometimes chick lit reader Ahila Sonarajah, a human rights lawyer based in London, says, “The only stuff I've enjoyed is where it reflects modern day women and the funniness of being one, but doesn't pretend there are happy endings. I reckon Sex and the City is probably the best chick lit I've seen because it deals with the struggles of being independent, etc without pretending that a woman always ends up with the perfect man. Life is more complicated and often, being independent means you're not going to have the fairy tale life.” What Women (Really) Want So what chick lit critics may not realise is that most women aren’t tired of chick lit at all. They’re just demanding more from the genre, that it adapt to reflect the reality of their own lives, which involves a whole lot more than obsessing whether he will/he won’t  __________ (fill in blank with desired romantic gesture). Because seriously, we have better things to do. And one of them is reading about the kind of woman who’s life is like ours, but funnier and more interesting, so we can be entertained* at the end of a long day. And maybe sometimes, besides laughing, we might cry a little, and even learn a thing or two about ourselves and that big thing called Life. *Being entertained doesn’t translate to reading about some bimbo whose life revolves around chasing men in between manicures and microdermabrasion sessions. …In the next post in the ‘Chick Lit Gets Conscious’ series: Hold the Bimbos, Please. Melissa De Silva is a freelance magazine journalist based in Singapore. She is currently working on a luxe-adventure chick lit novel set in Asia with an international cast of characters. When she isn't writing for work or play, she paints like a child and takes long walks in tropical parks, squirrel-spotting while trying to avoid evil, thuggish monkeys.

‘Chick Lit Is Sooo Not Dead’

How Do I Know? Because a Top-of-the-Line Librarian Said So

By D.D. Scott

How ‘bout we dive into the ‘Chick Lit Is Dead or Is It?’ dilemma from one heckuva fabulous platform – drum roll please – let’s hear what Top-of-the-Line Librarian (or Top-of-the-Stacks in her case) Susan Gibberman has to say. Susan, the Head of Reader Services for the Schaumburg (IL) Township District Library plus the 2008 RWA Librarian of the Year, told me she can “definitely say Chick Lit is alive and well.” I first met Susan at RWA 2009 in Washington D.C. when she gave a fabulous workshop on the romance industry from a librarian’s perspective.  She told the packed room, “Chick Lit is not dead.”  Again, this past April in 2010, I had the pleasure of seeing Susan a second time, when we were in line at RT10 in Columbus OH for the E-Book Author Signing Event.  And again, Susan said, “talk to me or any librarian anytime about Chick Lit, and we’ll tell you it is sooo not dead.” So ‘talk to her’ I did this past week, knowing she’d be the perfect industry expert to kick-off our RWA Chick Lit Chapter Blog. Take a look at the Chick Lit To-The-Point questions I asked Susan plus her beyond-interesting answers: 1.)  From your top-of-the-line librarian perspective, is Chick Lit Dead? I’m not so sure of being “top of the line,” but I can definitely say Chick Lit is alive and well. 2.)  What are the circulation numbers for the Chick Lit genre, and where do those numbers fall when compared to all genres in library circulation plus within just the fiction circulation numbers? Libraries don’t tend to separate out Chick Lit as a genre by itself (we tend keep it fairly general – Fiction, mystery, SciFi, etc.), so it’s hard to pull out specific numbers for circulation statistics.  If the book is printed in hardcover, it may be in general fiction; paperback editions could be filed in fiction or, if the library has one, a separate paperback collection (and maybe sub-categorized as paperback romance).  In looking at authors who are typically considered “Chick Lit” authors, their books circulate very well, but I couldn’t give you a number.  Since they are typically filed with romance titles, in my library, romance novels probably equal mysteries for fiction circulation, and they would both be tied for the top. 3.)  Do patrons frequently request Chick Lit? Chick Lit is a term used by authors and the publishing industry, not by the average patron.  Patrons will tend to ask for either a specific author or, more commonly, “I just loved Bridget Jones’s Diary and I’d like to read another book just like it.” 4.)  What authors and sub-genres do you classify as today's Chick Lit? The first authors that spring to mind (in no particular order or importance) would be Helen Fielding, Sophie Kinsella, Jane Green, Jennifer Weiner, Marian Keyes, Meg Cabot (naturally, as a librarian, I feel obligated to research this out and provide you with a comprehensive list, but time is a key factor here). I don’t want to necessarily classify something as “chick lit,” I look at the storyline – something featuring a modern-day working woman (probably late 20s to early 30s thirties); these stories, like most romances, have an emotionally satisfying ending, the end relationship doesn’t necessarily have to end in marriage as in traditional romance.  In many cases, the characters (and relationship – showing both good and bad moments) can continue in other books by the author. 5.)  Have libraries re-classified Chick Lit like the publishing industry has - for example, do you still call it Chick Lit or is that a 'no-no taboo label'?  And if you have re-named the genre, what do you now call it...i.e. something like 'humorous womens' fiction' or romantic comedy? It’s not a matter of avoiding a label, but we just don’t tend to use them because that’s not what patrons use when they ask for help in finding something good to read.  Most often, we’ll ask them to tell us about a book they’ve read and enjoyed (part of the Readers’ Advisory interview technique) and we listen for clues – are they talking about setting, characters, or plot?  By the way a patron describes a book they enjoyed, we can help them find similar books.  If they are describing what I consider Chick Lit, then I can recommend similar authors. 6.)  Speaking of romantic comedy - is that its own genre or do you consider that part of Chick Lit? Not all romantic comedies are Chick Lit and not all Chick Lit are romantic comedies, although I think most people will think of romantic comedies when they think of Chick Lit.  I find that there’s a tremendous range in the area of Chick Lit – from more serious women’s fiction-type stories to comedies to mysteries; and the sensuality factor of the romance also runs the gamut. 7.)  What sub-genres of Chick Lit are most popular with patrons - i.e. Mommy Lit, Hen Lit, etc.  Or do you even use those terms? Again, we don’t really use those kinds of labels.  What we do however, is create displays by a theme. So we might have a display of MomLit, but we’d call it something like Love the Second Time Around (again, I’m making this up on the fly, so don’t take me literally).  Our display titles try to give an idea of books on a particular theme. 8.)  Why do you think Chick Lit has been declared "dead"?  And what is your response to that proclamation? IMHO, the genre has been declared “dead” because the authors don’t want to be classified as a “ChickLit” author;  and, because I attend other genre conferences, I’ve heard other authors in other genres complain about essentially the same kind of classifications.  If you’re pigeon-holed like that, I believe you automatically limit your readership.  That’s probably my biggest complaint against the publishing industry.  I wish they would just put authors into the general categories and talk about the books the way patrons do – plot, setting, characters. That’s how the readers want to find new books or new authors. 9.)  What are your thoughts on the forever, always and beyond debate of Lits vs. Chicks? As long as the publishing industry tries to make these sub-genres, we will always have the debate over what’s what and try to say one is better than another.  We, as Readers’ Advisory Librarians, don’t make judgments over what someone wants to read.  And, if a book is well written, no genre (or sub-genre) is “dead” (maybe just resting) and readers will find them. See why Susan is my Go-To-Expert? She knows what readers love and what they’re asking for, and she gives readers and writers of Chick Lit as well as all genres something huge to cheer about.  It’s not about a book’s “label”.  It’s all about whether or not that book’s characters, plot, and settings grab readers and refuse to let go ‘til ‘The End’.  Readers are the true experts on what’s in and what’s out.  Not the publishers and the publishing industry. So go for the gusto.  Read and write the stories you like.  And know that the rest of the world’s readers will help you decide what’s hot and what’s not-so-hot. Sexy Sassy Smart Chick Lit Is Sooo Not Dead Wishes --- D. D. Scott D. D. Scott BOOTSCOOTIN’ BLAHNIKS (Aug. 2010 Amazon’s Kindle & Smashwords) MUSE THERAPY (Oct. 2010 Amazon’s Kindle & Smashwords)

And, We’re Blogging!

Welcome! We’re honored that you’re here at the launch of our brand new group blog! In fact, we’re so thrilled we’re tossing virtual confetti your way. Here’s the plan. A few times a week, we’re going to show up with shiny new posts about the chick lit industry. You’ll be hearing from writers, readers, agents, editors, librarians and reviewers. It’s amazing how much there is to discuss. The sheer variety and number of topics we have lined up prove one thing: Chick lit is SO not dead.

We’re going to be repeating that mantra quite a bit, for those in the back who routinely miss the memo.

Chick lit is SO not dead. The stories and the characters we chick lit writers create are not only alive and well, they’re full of spirit, charm, and, most importantly, attitude. To start our discussion on the genre, we thought we’d share some of our thoughts on chick lit:
I read chick-lit because, let's face it, life can throw us some serious fast-balls and losing yourself in light reading focused on some fictional chick's life can often be WAY more fun. Similarly, I write chick-lit because 1) life has thrown ME some serious fast-balls and losing myself in writing about some fictional chick's life is often WAY more fun and 2) my writing focuses on strong yet vulnerable women trying to navigate a world they often cannot control and learning a lot about themselves in the process. And as I've been told time and time again, "write what you know." ~ Meredith Schorr
Chick lit characters are never depressing. If I need a dose of dysfunctional family, I can pick up the phone. I read and write to escape into an entertaining world where problems can be resolved and happily ever after achieved in 300 or so pages. ~ Chris Bailey
There was a time when chick lit was all about pink covers, lipstick, and shoes. In some cases, it still is, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But I love that these days, a chick lit heroine can wear stilettos, bunny slippers or work boots. She may be the life of the party, or feel more at home curled up on her couch with her dog. She can work in an office or a national park. What makes her a heroine is her attitude, her strength, and that we laugh with her, cry with her and follow her through whatever type of journey she may be on. ~ Melina Kantor
Where can you get a strong protagonist, with real issues, and look good while doing it? I love for my readers to feel what my heroine feels, live what my heroine lives, and walk away feeling good. With today's life issues, we need strong Chick Lit books to get us through the tough times smiling, and feeling good about our life. ~Tonya Kappes
Chick-Lit truly is all about "the attitude". And oh yeah, I've got plenty of that kinda sass and sage wisdom to share with y'all! Here's the scoop: as the beyond fabulous Lauren Baratz-Logsted said in her book THIS IS CHICK-LIT "Lits [i.e. literary writers] facing off against Chicks is nothing new. Indeed, the first instance I can find...is from Charlotte Bronte in 1848, on the topic of Miss Jane Austen." So bring it on, Bronte Lits. It's time to hear from today's Chick-Lit Chicks! ~ D.D. Scott
So, fellow chick lit fans. Why do you read / write / love chick lit? Please tell us in the comments! See you on September 21st! We’ll be discussing the “State of Chick Lit.” Trust us. You’ll want to be there.  Possibly with your favorite chocolate and your coffee drink of choice. Until then, Sexy Sassy Smart Chick Lit Wishes! And don’t forget: Chick lit. It’s all about the attitude.