As a former marketer, I understand the need to find a company’s target audience by identifying its niche, its market and by putting it into a category that addresses the needs of that market. So companies in the larger real estate market might be further identified as luxury, or commercial, or residential. You get the idea, right? As a marketer, I learned to embrace this concept.
As a writer, I want to scream when it comes to categorization. When people ask what kind of books I write, I automatically wish it was as simple as saying “I write romance” or “science fiction.” The genre writers have all the luck (at least the ones who are comfortably seated in their genre and happily identify with it). For me, it’s complicated.
My first run-in as a writer with categorization came about six months after finishing my first novel. I entered the manuscript in a contest, if for no other reason than to get it out there and have another set of eyes on it. When the feedback form arrived a few months later, I was annoyed. Not because I didn’t win (winning wasn’t really my intention and the guy who did win was so out-of-this-world talented that I’m glad he beat me), but because the critic called my work “women’s fiction.”
Now, let me first say that I love love love me some women’s fiction. I studied psychology in grad school because I adore delving into people’s emotional journeys. And, I’m a hopeless romantic, so I’m also an avid reader of chick-lit and even some genre romance. Though up until the point when my book was called “women’s fiction,” I can’t say that I ever consciously gave much thought to these distinctions. I love reading characters I can get to know and relate to, whether they’re detectives in police procedurals or heroines in steamy romances. I’m non-discriminating. As long as there’s someone I can root for, I’m happy.
So, why was I so irritated by this categorization, you ask? Mostly, I couldn’t really figure out what “women’s fiction” actually was. At the time, it sounded like books that only women would read and, being a woman who reads all kinds of books, that didn’t resonate with me. Further exploration led me to the definition “layered stories that are driven by the main character’s emotional journey.” OK. Maybe my book did fit this genre. After all, the book is all about my main character’s emotional journey as she navigates romance, takes risks in her professional life and comes to terms with truths about her family. But why is this type of story only for women? That was the thing that continued to bother me. The idea that a tale of emotional journey would be marketed as “women’s” fiction seemed terribly unfair to men who might also enjoy that sort of depth.
The marketer in me knew that I’d have to embrace some of these categories. So I did. I thought about all the types of readers I wanted to reach, and looked for pathways to those readers. When readers described the book as chick-lit, I started participating in chick-lit-oriented events. Same with women's fiction. I marketed my book in general fiction arenas as well, but the field is so broad and the competition so fierce that the idea of categorizing my book to reach a more targeted audience started to make more sense and felt less objectionable.
Until the day when it was suggested that my second book might not meet the criteria for women’s fiction (and that my first book probably didn’t either—too much romance). WTF? I mean, seriously!?! If not women’s fiction, then what? In the past two years, I’ve been told that my book has too much romance for women’s fiction, is too commercial for literary fiction, is too heavy for chick-lit, and is too clean for genre romance. Where in the world do I fit in?
It was at the peak of this crisis that I finally had a long talk with myself and reached this conclusion: I just want readers to read my book and form their own opinions. Really. I love that some people read Wallflower Blooming as a light romance and loved it. I love that some people really identified with Val and could apply some of the lessons she learned to their own lives. I even loved the 1-star review on Amazon that lambasted me for pushing my political agenda in my book. My response: “whoa, really? I thought the book was a little fluffy to elicit such venom.” I love that people felt something when they read it, and, of course, I’m glad that most people liked it. Whether they found comfort in the pages or simply a fun escape from the pace of everyday life, it’s really gratifying to have people read a story that you wrote and to feel something for your characters.
So, what have I learned from this whole categorization debacle? To keep writing and to stay true to myself. Do I believe that chick-lit readers will love my book? Sure. At least some will. And some readers of women’s fiction will love it. And some will think there’s too much romance. Will romance fans dig it? Yep. And some will say there’s not enough sex. And that’s the beauty of books. We bring as much to each book we read as we find in the pages. It’s a truly unique experience for each and every reader.
As a writer, there’s no way to avoid categorization. Just try entering a writing contest or submitting to an agent or shopping for a publisher. Categorization helps narrow down the field and allows our manuscripts to get into the right hands (in theory). It can also be a huge pain in the arse. I imagine that my love-hate relationship with categorization will continue. But what I hope most is that readers will take a chance on my books and form their own opinions. I hope they’ll open the pages and see what speaks to them.
Thanks for reading!
Having grown up in New Mexico, there are certain traditions that simply scream Christmas. Luminarias. Tamales. Posole. I come from a big Hispanic family and a lot of our traditions take place around the kitchen table. Every year on Christmas Eve, my mother would make a big pot of posole for our annual open house. The whole house smelled like red chile and cumin. That's the smell of Christmas to me.
I've lived in many places since my childhood and have tried to recreate some of these traditions to the best of my ability (it can be tricky to make a big pot of green chile stew using 4 oz. cans of Ortega green chiles). And lining the slippery walkways in Seattle with paper bags full of sand and candles doesn't always work very well. But the one thing that has remained a constant in my life is music.
My parents are folk musicians and I grew up in a home filled with music. I'd open my eyes each morning to the sounds of my dad playing his guitar in the living room. My mother's singing will always be a source of comfort and happiness for me. Christmas was no exception. Some of favorite Christmas carols are originals written through the years. School holiday programs. Christmas concerts. Endless hours of carols on the car radio.
Some of my favorite musical memories stem from caroling excursions. We'd bundle up and walk around various neighborhoods singing traditional Christmas songs. Some singers were better than others, but as a whole, there was nothing sweeter than the sound of our voices together. We cuddled. We laughed. It was a magical time.
It's November 30 and I'll admit that I've already listened to my favorite Christmas album twice and watched three holiday movies. So, let me say goodbye today by sharing one of my fav's and wishing everyone happy holidays with love, family and lots of great food and music.
Happy holidays readers! I'm participating in the Holly Jolly Chick Lit Hop, a Facebook event spanning December 5-16 where you'll have the chance to get to know some great new authors and books, as well as getting the chance to win some great books and other prizes. My "hop" day is Saturday, December 10 so drop by my Facebook page and find out how to win one of two Kindle Fires! Don't forget to share with your friends and to check out the authors parirticapitng in the hop. Links to their Facebook pages are listed below along with the schedule. Enjoy folks!
Make the holiday season even merrier by discovering new reads from some of today's best chick lit and romantic comedy authors during the Holly Jolly Chick Lit Hop on Facebook.
Here's how it works: every day from Monday, December 5 through Friday, December 16, readers are invited to hop around to more than 60 authors' Facebook pages (with about five stops each day) to receive gifts and enter to win prizes.
Here is the schedule, which includes the list of authors posting each day and links to their Facebook pages in case you'd like to give them a "like" and follow along:
MONDAY, DECEMBER 5
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 6
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 7
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 8
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 9
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 10
SUNDAY, DECEMBER 11
MONDAY, DECEMBER 12
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 13
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 14
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 15
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 16
Happy Holidays to all and to all some fabulous reading!
September was a busy month, which should be obvious since it’s taken me a month to post about it. I have a new book coming out in January 2017 and the vast majority of the month of September was spent typing furiously. That, of course, came after getting married in July, honeymooning into August and then flying out to Georgia for a week….oh yeah, and then school started.
But I digress…
Besides all of that craziness, I got to check two things off my bucket list, making September a spectacularly productive month on a whole lot of fronts. First item on my bucket list happened September 1 when I FINALLY got to see the Dixie Chicks in concert. I’ve been waiting ten years to see them. Back in 2006, they were performing near Seattle and I wanted to go see them so badly BUT I was due to give birth to my first child only a few days after the concert and I just wasn’t up to it. So, last year, by some miracle, I noticed that they were going on tour again. My soon-to-be husband bought me tickets, cementing his position as best guy EVER!
It was magical. The Chicks opened up with an homage to Prince, and later performed their version of Nothing Compares 2 U in front of a blazing purple backdrop. They did a fun version of a song by Beyonce and, of course, a whole lot of their own numbers. My favorite was Top of the World, which has always been one of my favorite songs and made me cry (as it always does). It inspired me to pick up my ukulele, learn the song and even record a video for my writing group (Monday inspiration).
We got home late late late and I was nearly dead the next day, but since the second item on my bucket list was happening that afternoon, no time for exhaustion.
After lunch on September 2, my husband and I made our way to the University of Colorado – Boulder campus to attend our second John Paul Stevens Lecture. Two years ago we got to see Associate Justice Antonin Scalia speak. As a constitutional law junkie, this lecture series provokes squeals of excitement from me (I’m glad my husband is used to my weirdness). So, seeing Scalia was awesome, but this year’s speaker had me nearly hyperventilating. I saw the announcement when we were in Georgia and immediately sat in the parking lot RSVP’ing to ensure we’d get seats. And I’m glad I did, as the event sold out very quickly.
But again, I digress…
On September 2, I sat in a packed hall and listened with rapt attention and tears in my eyes while Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor spoke eloquently about her work on the Supreme Court and her devotion to the practice of law. This in and of itself would have been enough to make me happy as a clam. But much to my surprise, Sotomayor actually likes to walk among the crowd as she speaks, much to the chagrin of the half dozen federal marshals assigned to protect her. So, on that balmy day in September, I was literally two feet away from a woman who I admire deeply and who I consider one of the most important people in our country. If you’ve never heard me go on about her book, My Beloved World, you just haven’t been hanging around me enough. You should really go and pick it up right now and read it.
And there you have it folks. Check, check. 2016 is turning out to be one of the most eventful and memorable of my life. My son turns 10 this year. I got married. I went to Europe for the first time. I published a book. I saw the Dixie Chicks. AND I was arm’s length from Sonia Sotomayor.
Life is good and I am thankful.
It’s April 30th! Hooray! This exploration of feelings has been strange. I’ve been looking through lists of feelings online to get ideas, and I’m not so convinced of some of the choices. For instance, can you “feel zombie?” Maybe I’m just doing it wrong?
Reaching the end of this year’s challenge is leaving me feeling very zen. It’s always a little daunting to take on a month long challenge. And so many things have happened in April, I’m a little surprised I made it. Of course, I was late a few times and I’m sure some of my posts were a little lightweight, but I hope you enjoyed them. I tend to use this blog as a place to lend some insight into my personality and my life. As a reader, I’m always curious about the lives and loves and antics of the authors I like to read. I like that think, knowing a little more about how my brain works (or doesn’t), will help give context to my writing. (I am ALL about context).
So before I skip off onto other projects, I’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who read my blogs this month. I hope you’ll continue following me here or on Facebook (I’m an addict so that’s a great place to find me). For those of you who have read or are planning on reading my book Wallflower Blooming, it was just picked up by a publisher and will be re-released in June. Yippee! And you can get the Kindle version free all next week!
Many exciting things coming to the blog so stay tuned.
And a big welcome to May! More sunny days, less chance of snow and lots of outdoor recreation. Woo hoo!
Well, the list of “Y” feelings is disappointingly short. I am feeling neither yucky nor yielding. And though I am definitely not feeling young, I would say that I’ve been feeling rather youthful lately. Several recent experiences have taken me back to my younger days: glasses of wine, flirty boys and high school antics. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. I believe that saying, “you’re only as old as you feel” and I don’t ever want to feel old. When I’m 90, I still want to be vital and flirty and silly and all the things I feel now at 38. And when I’m determined, there’s no stopping me! Who’s with me?
On another “Y” related note, my critique group took me out last weekend to celebrate my upcoming wedding. It was the day after our writing conference so we all had things to celebrate. We saw a production of Lost in Yonkers. It was so so fabulous! The cast was exceptional. The young boy who played Arty was brilliant. He had so many lines and his facial expressions were priceless. The woman who played Aunt Bella was just beyond words (though clearly I’m going to take a stab at it anyway). The amount of emotion she was able to convey…just so so good. I laughed. I cried. I ate a huge hot fudge sundae. It was a splendid day with a group of people I just love to death.
Here’s me and Aunt Bella.
Xenophobic: intense or irrational fear or dislike of people from other countries.
Do you remember “freedom fries?” In 2003, when France openly opposed the war with Iraq, our government (who get paid a whole lot more than I do, btw) decided to change the name of French Fries served in the Congressional cafeteria to “Freedom Fries!” We’ll show you! Though this maneuver was obviously a highly intelligent act of protest (*sigh*), the dislike or fear of foreigners has been ever present throughout history (and is perpetuated by antics like the Freedom Fries incident).
Xenophobia is a toxic feeling and is used to justify all sorts of atrocities. Why is it that we (humans) fear the unfamiliar? Why do we fear our neighbors? Foreigners represent “the other.” Something other than ourselves; strange, different, alien. We fear the loss of our cultural identity. We see skin color as somehow defining our character and the mixing of races somehow contaminates that. OK, so it’s true that we (big WE) have done some hard work on overcoming these feelings. But there’s a long way to go (as evidenced by our ongoing need to identify one group as “the other” and try to oppress them).
How many people still see someone of Middle Eastern descent and feel uneasy? My family is Hispanic and my mother is often stopped for extra screening at the airport because she looks Middle Eastern. She’s not. But what if she were? My mother is a pacifist. She’s the person least likely to be a threat, especially on planes, which make her nervous. Of course, you can’t tell that by her complexion or the shape of her nose. But we’ve created a security system built around racial profiling. Here’s the problem. The people who actually want to hurt us are paying attention. If we create our system around the concept of “the other,” the logical step for someone who wants to beat the system is to make sure the next evildoers are “us.” (P.S. using the word evildoers here made me cringe, but I’m going with it anyway).
It’s a vicious circle. What do you think? Am I way off base here? Chime in. Your thoughts on this topic are very welcome (but please keep it constructive).
My daughter and I are reading Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. Now, anything by Roald Dahl is likely to be a little on the strange side, but I can’t help thinking that Willy Wonka is maybe the weirdest character ever. I’m partial to the Gene Wilder version of the infamous Mr. Wonka; playful, whimsical, but still an adult at the end of the day. The Johnny Depp version might be closer to Roald Dahl’s vision, but it’s never been my favorite. Re-reading these books with me has given me some insight into why. Willa Wonka is weird.
That I find Willa Wonka’s weirdness a little worrisome is saying a lot. After all, I am weird. Some of the stuff that comes out of my mouth even surprises me. But there’s something disconcerting about Wonka’s weirdness. And I don’t think I ever noticed it as a kid so I think this re-evaluation is happening through my adult / mom filter. I can’t help but wonder what happened to Willy Wonka. The Johnny Depp movie has that strange dentist backstory which I actually found too creepy. Johnny Depp played creepy Willa Wonka like nobody’s business.
I really do like the whimsical Gene Wilder portrayal best. I am of the opinion that that adaptation of the book combined all the best moments of both Chocolate Factory and Great Glass Elevator. And despite the more recent remake, the Gene Wilder version is timeless. My kids love to watch it and I do too.
Which is your favorite version? Have your kids read the books? Share your stories of weirdness and whimsy!
I almost wrote about feeling vengeful. When someone hurts us, getting back at them may seem like a good idea. But luckily, most of the time we can talk ourselves down from those vengeful feelings and move forward. I read a lot of thrillers, so vengeful feelings are common. Vengeance is actually fairly simple to understand though. Vulnerability and validation, on the other hand…now that’s where things get complicated.
Feeling vulnerable can lead to a whole lot of strange and even dangerous behaviors. For instance, a woman gets mugged and all of sudden she can’t sleep, she can’t eat, she stops hanging out with her friends. She might install extra locks on her doors. Or she might even become incredibly angry, lashing out at the people she loves. Vulnerability can cause emotional and even physical reactions. I just read a book about a woman who’d been abducted and held captive for over a year. After being rescued, she became a vigilante. Her experiences drove her to stalk predators and, in doing so, she felt less vulnerable.
And then there’s validation. Oh the things that people will do to feel validated. Is it human nature to want to be right? To know that the things we believe are true, commonly held, supported. But when that need to feel validated is combined with fear, anger and control issues, it can become ugly. For instance, a parent chooses to listen only to advice that validates their own beliefs, reads articles that validate their choices and uses those resources to make decisions for their children. What are the implications?
Yes, there’s a reason I’m thinking about this. No, I don’t want to discuss the details. But suffice it to say that the challenges a friend is facing have me considering how far a person will go to feel validated and to avoid feeling vulnerable.
It’s finally happened. I’m feeling rather unwell today and I may have to consider that raw onions and I aren’t the BFF’s we’ve always been. But how can I live without raw onions! That’s like cutting garlic or…dare I even think it…green chile from my diet. What’s a New Mexican girl supposed to do without onions? I think I’ll live in denial a bit longer and just hope I’m plain old-fashioned sick.
As with “D”, the list of feelings starting with “U” is largely comprised of “un” words. I’m feeling unclear, unmotivated, unwanted, unloved…You get the picture. The word ugly is on the list and that brought my mind around to the late 90’s TLC hit Unpretty. I always liked that song. Years before Christina Aguilera crooned about being Beautiful, TLC was making a statement about the pressure placed on girls to be conventionally beautiful. The lyrics paint a fairly graphic picture of all the things we can do to conform to society’s idea of beauty: extensions, plastic surgery…you name it. But the group urges listeners to question those who’ve set these standards.
We see a lot more of that these days. Lots of messages about the dangers of fat-shaming; lots of companies with plus-size sections and plus-size models (though there’s some debate about the term plus-size and it’s impact on women). We’ve really become aware of the tremendous harm we do to women and girls by holding them to unrealistic expectations of beauty. How many of us have had someone call us fat and then run out and got thin? If that sort of abuse actually produces a result (other than depression and low self-esteem), it’s usually the unhealthy kind. How many women with eating disorders can trace the roots of their disease to verbal and emotional abuse? And for that matter, how many men can?
In the “K” section, I talked about kindness, so here are a few words about unkindness. Words hurt. That old saying, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” diminishes the impact that words have on us. It equates emotional abuse with physical pain, and it’s just not an accurate comparison. Emotional pain is felt days, years and even decades later. Physical wounds may heal while emotional scars are ever present. Even the emotional impact of a physical trauma (i.e. PTSD suffered after a car accident) is often the more difficult wound to treat.
Be kind to one another.
Now, I’m off to sauté my onions.
I'm generally pulled in a million different directions and I wouldn't trade it for the world. Here's a glimpse of my life - hope you enjoy it! And if there's a big lapse between posts, well, that's the way life goes in Amy's world.
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