Monday, January 17, 2011

Defining Women's Fiction

Real Life Horror ... as much as you can bear.
Sounds creepy, huh? Maybe even a bit thought provoking? That's the signature line author Marissa Farrar uses on her emails and, until she sent me a message last night, I'd never given the line much thought. But, when you're in need of a prompt for the ol' blog post, well ... any port in the storm!

On January 5th I wrote a post about the romantic horror genre and gave a review of Marissa's book, Alone. I said I thought it had elements of horror and paranormal genres but to me, it felt like Women's Fiction. The funny thing is, I didn't really know what the industry definition of Women's Fiction was until I looked it up a few minutes ago. When I made the statement about Alone, I was going on my 'gut' reaction, which was that Alone is primarily about a woman's journey to find herself. While scouring the web for a definition I came across this: ' women's fiction is anything a man wouldn't read.'
A cute definition but I'm not in to cute today. Women's fiction is real. It's life; warts and all. There might be humor amidst the angst or, as in Marissa's work, horror; but the underlying theme, plot, storyline, is the issues confronting today's women and the emotions those issues stir. I don't read women's fiction as a rule, in fact, I can count on one hand how many books I've read that fall into that category: Two ... and one third.

The first book I remember reading that could be called Women's Fiction was Jude Deveraux's novel, The Summer House. This book, picked up on a whim at the library, changed my life. I was in my early thirties. My daughter was about three, and a holy terror. I'd wanted her more than anything in the world yet I found myself pondering the same question several times a week; "what the hell was I thinking?"
I'm an only child. I lived a very solitary life for a lot of years. I love to meet people. I love to talk and laugh, sing and dance; partying is great, but then I want to return to the peace and quiet of my home. At home, where I'm in think, create, or work mode, a lot of noise or fidgety activity makes me nervous. I should have considered that before having a child! (by the way, I've adapted to a child underfoot; we rub along very well. And Punkin' has grown out of the hellion toddler years, thank a very good God!) Anyway, back to Jude! The Summerhouse entered my life just as I was realizing I had none; life that is. I was thirty-four and had accomplished nothing. I'd let more opportunities pass me by than I could count and the very worst thing about it was I had no one to blame but myself. The choices I made during my late teens and early twenties had put me in that situation and, in the end, that is exactly what life is about: Choices.

The Summerhouse is three forty-something friends meeting again after years of no contact. They vacation at a Summerhouse, a visit to a fortune teller and they find themselves with a unique gift. For thirty days they can go back in time and choose the road not taken. They can live that alternate life for a month and then choose which life path they continue. Another book I think all women would be wise to read: preferably before they graduate high school! To me, that is the definition of women's fiction; Thought provoking, sometimes even life changing. Marissa's ,Alone, could be that catalyst for some, which is why I liked it so much; the potential to spark change.

I recently started her collection of short stories, which is where the one-third comes in!

Where The Dead Live is, so far, amazing. I finished the first story, Cutting, and have to say it has much more of a horror element than Alone. However, the horror serves a purpose. I can't tell you what because I'll ruin the story for you, but I will say that Cutting is about a woman who cuts herself because she can't live with something she did in her past. Again, that meets my definition of women's fiction because we all have things in our past that have the potential to haunt us. Marissa's signature line is apt on two levels: She writes Horror and she writes about the life issues that can cause horror.
Marissa Farrar is my guest tomorrow. The more of her work I read -- I'm at a loss for words really but I guess I'd say this: She has a knack for giving a reader food for thought; and a bad case of the heebie jeebies! Not a bad combo AT ALL!
Ok, off with my serious hat! I want to know what ya'll think. What defines Women's Fiction for you? Ever read a book that changed your life?


  1. Hello Rachel -- excellent post today! Marissa's tag line does hit home when you think about it, doesn't it? When I think women's fiction, I think of that short story, The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. It was written back in the late 1800's and details a woman's struggle with post-partum depression. The real commentary is the treatment for depression at the time -- severe isolation, away from her baby, her family. Yeah, not the best medical minds back then, for certain!

    As for books that changed my life -- not sure if there are any, but certainly ones that inspired! Are You There God, It's Me, Margaret kept me company through difficult teenage years, for certain!

  2. I don't read a lot of Women's Fiction. But your post will make me double think this. I know I'm losing out on a world of knowledge by not reading them. Thanks for the insight!
    Summerhouse sounds like something I'd enjoy.

  3. Hi ladies, again I wrote a comment and it's GONE! WTH? Like I can remember what I said a few minutes ago!
    I'm intrigued by The Yellow Wallpaper, Nicole. Majorly intrigued! Did you ever see The Snakepit with Olivia DeHavilland? Showcased the horror of mental health facilities in the 20' and 30's; Fabulous Movie!
    Judy Blume could definitely be classified as women's fiction: teen girls are just very young women afterall :)

    Calisa, The Summerhouse is easy reading and entertaining but it is also POWERFUL if you've ever wondered at the road not taken, or like me, found yourself wondering if you'd wasted your life! Pick it up, you won't be sorry!

  4. The Red Tent by Anita Diamant was a women's fiction book which really left me thinking. And I just loved A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini (though it is written by a man, so I guess it can't really be classed as women's fiction!). Anyway, both novels deal with women's relationships with each other and are really wonderful novels.
    P.S Thanks for the mention Rachel! I'll look forward to tomorrow!

  5. Excellent blog. I have read all of Marissa´s work but particularly loved the last short story in Where the Dead Live. Now that really made me think!
    Books I have loved and made me think are so many. The latest one is The Help by Katherine Stockett. An amazing book which left a big lump in my throat. A Thousand Splendid Suns should be read by every woman in the world, and of course most of Jodi Picoult. At the moment I am reading Picture Perfect by her and it has grabbed me from the outset. The Summerhouse sounds excellent and I must get it. The chance to take a different road. Goodness what a choice.