On its face, the term chick lit seems to refer to fictional books for and about women. Or just plain old women’s fiction. However, in the publishing world, you’d be wrong. Chick lit is considered to be lighthearted with a heroine that’s in her twenties or thirties dealing with her professional/work life and emotional life. While women’s fiction is considered to have deeper issues that would appeal to more women, but especially those who are older. Then there’s the world of romance novels. Generally written to appeal to a female audience (although not only do some men read, but they also write romance). Romance novels are primarily focused on the relationship and romantic love between two people, it’s usually told in the third person, and whether it’s paranormal, Gothic, historical, or contemporary it usually has a happy ending that satisfies the reader. The categorization of the genres is where publishing misses the point. Many novels, like authors are not all of one thing or the other. A novel can strike an emotional chord and a funny bone, it’s not mutually exclusive. So, to label fiction about love, family, and careers as chick lit and only the domain of twenty and thirty-somethings is to say that once you’re over forty, those issues either don’t exist or do to a lesser extent.
About fourteen years ago, the memoir Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert was released. Readers followed the over-forty author through a personal journey of discovery after her divorce. It was a bestseller, and led to a movie starring Julia Roberts in 2010. It was the kind of book that worked for a woman who was at a crossroad in her life, which was terrific, but it also ushered in a rash of books with self-discovery themes. Candace Bushnell’s Sex and The City in 1997 changed the way publishing looked at women’s fiction, both it and Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’ Diary resonated with readers so much that their releases are considered the beginning of chick lit.
Both Candace and Helen’s books were about women in their thirties, their friendships, careers, love lives and their search for the perfect man/relationship/marriage, as strong modern women. They were both wildly successful and once both made it to the small and big screen, it looked like chick lit had arrived for all women. Then books labeled chick lit stayed young. There were dozens of cute books about twenty and thirty-somethings that liked to shop, were nannies, PA assistants. It became clear, if you’ve written a book with characters over forty or fifty, it wasn’t young enough to be chick lit, it was matron lit. Not cool.
I was over forty when my first romance novel, Not His Type was released. I’d signed with a traditional publisher of romance and it was considered a contemporary African American romance. I was just so happy to get published that I let it slide. The story hit on all the bells for romance. It was about two people and it followed their love as it grew, I even had happy ever after. The book also had an atypical heroine or love interest, a curvy over forty woman who instead of being the best friend, was the one who got the guy. The character would bring a certain level of confidence and vulnerability only earned with age. I used humor to introduce scenes that conveyed attraction and that lump in your throat feeling wondering at the beginning of a relationship that’s a little different than it was at thirty. I loved being a part of romance, but I wasn’t just romance. All of my novels had heroines who were north of forty and fifty with rich personal, work and emotional lives. The characters were mothers, friends, wives, ex-wives, entrepreneurs, professors, and even publishing executives. Each novel explored their fictional lives at work, with friends, children, colleagues, significant others, and spouses. Why did I have to be matron lit or a seasoned romance? I never got an answer, but as a woman over forty myself, I answered it myself. I called it still a chick lit.
The characters from Sex and the City evolved with each season and two movies. We were just as interested in the story for the movie as we had been for the first season. The ladies were based on Candace Bushnell’s real life circle, and what a circle it was. Even as she finally found and married her Mr. Big, when it didn’t pan out like she thought it would, Candace wrote another book Is There Still Sex In The City. The woman who helped make the Cosmopolitan New York City’s unofficial cocktail, wrote about life in New York as an 50-something divorcee.
Let this be said first. I don’t have anything against novels featuring twenty and thirty-something characters. I, like many others, were once in that exciting time of life when everything is new, no mountain seems too high or a valley too wide to achieve success and make dreams into reality. Now, that I’m over forty, I also still see life ahead of me with challenges, and a second act that God willing, will be as wonderful, painful, sad, and funny as the first half of my life. I know I am not alone in this feeling. I am meeting so many wonderful and talented women who are carving out paths as business owners, actresses, singers, painters, dancers, and of course, writers. The sweat on our brow isn’t from a hot flash, but rather a flash of genius or inspiration. Even if it coincides with a real hot flash, what’s it to you? 🙂 . I hope you will follow me on this journey to meet all the women who are writing great stories and some that are taking a different path to celebrate something classic, like cocktails. Whatever they are doing, I am sure you will be entertained, informed, and inspired by the women of still a chick lit. Like Linda Evans said “Forty isn’t Fatal.” She was right. Forty and Fifty-plus isn’t fatal. It’s fabulous.