Today's New York Times (NYT) had a book review that started out, "Chick lit appears to be in its death throes. At the very least, the form has bred copycats and lost its novelty and sense of humor."
Three months ago today (3/19/06), I did a post entitled, "Is Chick Lit Dead?"
That post was prompted by a talk Shanna Swendson gave to my RWA chapter. Shanna, a chick lit author, was frank about the market, saying it was much harder to get a contract for a chick lit book these days.
Shanna identified the three essential elements of chick lit novel: An interesting, sympathetic heroine with a growth arc; female relationships; and a wry or sarcastic voice.
She said that, as the books became popular and everyone jumped on the bandwagon, later writers copied the superficial elements of the earlier books and turned those elements into cliches: bad dates; an obsession with shopping; the gay best friend; and a low-level job in a glamorous field. Those elements have been so overdone that publishers will no longer touch them.
Shanna offered the following advice: If you want to write a novel with a chick lit voice, write it with a real "attitude." However, she considered it vital that the genre be the prime focus with the chick lit voice as the filter. She said a lot of voice and no genre cannot sell in today's tighter market.
So, here comes today's NYT review of "Literacy and Longing in L.A," published last month in hardcover by Dell. The authors of the novel, Jennifer Kaufman and Karen Mack, "write about a newly single, well-heeled character whose secret vice is binging on books." The Times describes the novel as a "fusion of bilbiomania and romantic comedy" and judges it "appealingly offbeat."
In reading the review, it appears that the new novel contained all three of Shanna's essential elements.
The review prompted me to think about the books I've read in the three months since that first post. There are two that would fit Shanna's definition of the new chick lit: Janet Evanovich's "Eleven on Top" and Charlaine Harris' "Definitely Dead." Evanovich's book would probably be classified as a mystery while Harris' book is a paranormal. Both did exactly what Shanna suggested in that they stayed true to the conventions of their respective genres while infusing their heroines with lots of voice, a growth arc and a variety of secondary female relationships.
I was never a particular fan of chick lit since I tend to prefer strong plot-driven novels, but I purchased both "Eleven on Top" and "Definitely Dead" in hardback, which says something about my expectations for both authors.
So perhaps chick lit is merely insinuating its voice into other genres as Shanna suggested. Isn't evolution the way most species survive?