Eight years ago, Carlene Cross advised writers to read one hundred books in the genre in which they wanted to write. I read one hundred memoirs, posted them on this blog, and five long years later Plicata Press published my award-winning memoir, A Long Way from Paris.
Writing a memoir is hard, excruciating at times, so I wanted to follow it with a “light” book. Perhaps a light mystery? When I finished my draft, however, my editor told me I had written women’s fiction.
“Women’s fiction?” Arrggh! I balked. Why not plain FICTION, rather than women’s fiction? There’s no corresponding “men’s fiction,” right? Of course, most fiction is men’s fiction. Or, certainly used to be. I honestly don’t have the stats.
I began a year-long investigation into “women’s fiction”- which I’ll refer to as “WF.” After my study, I concluded:
- The label women’s fiction (WF) is an umbrella as broad as “creative non-fiction.” That is, so large it’s nearly meaningless. Traditionally, perhaps, women’s fiction meant fiction for, about, and by women. Its reputation, its branding, however, identifies most often with romance –superficial and light; about love, marriage, family or lack thereof. A mighty commercially profitable genre, by the way. Other WF delves into the loss of relationships and can be utterly depressing. I’m sorry, Jodi Picoult, you write extremely well, but sometimes I can’t stand to be any more miserable.
- What could WF be? A satisfactory definition for me would include men’s works, novels and plays, about women and the issues they face. Have you read The Doll’s House or Hedda Gabler recently? Brilliant works by men about women feeling confined, women desiring independence, women wanting more than convention offers. I would absolutely include them in WF.
- What should WF be? Do we need a genre, WF? Tell me the last time you saw Saul Bellow or Philip Roth write about menopause, or menstruation, or any other purely female issue. Yes, we do need the genre, and I’d love to see its image changed. How often do men walk away from the women’s fiction section of a bookstore? The truth is, WF runs the range from commercially romantic to intensely literate. It runs the gamut from George Elliott and Gertrude Stein to Joyce Carol Oates and Nora Roberts.
I studied this illusive “women’s fiction” genre to help clarify my own intention with my next books. In addition to the plays mentioned above, I resonated with the fiction of Attica Locke, Joyce Carol Oates, Maria Semple and Anne Tyler. Blonde and An Accidental Tourist stuck to me like fly paper through 2017.
I also loved Lianne Moriarty’s books before Big, Little Lies became a smash hit because she writes in the new “up-market” category, stories which humorously touch on love, work, families, and affairs, but which then veer off into deeper issues once you’re hooked: spousal abuse, pre-natal depression, rape, class prejudice, and so forth. Add to my list, the jackpot. I recently reread Pride and Prejudice for the third time. Jane Austin gives WF prestige and satisfaction, with thoughtfully written books, funny, and profound. Yay, to all those Jane Austin fans who recognized this long before I.
In my search for the book I want to write, I decided upon a mash up of Joyce, Moriarty, Locke, and Tyler with a bit of Daphne du Maurier (Rebecca) thrown in. For four years, I’ve struggled to write the book that works for me –and then, hopefully, my readers. Finally, I am closer to a solution: I want to write a book that holds a mixture of fun and insight into women’s issues which, I believe, are the characteristics that helped make my memoir, A Long Way from Paris, become a success. So, readers, hold on to your seat. In a year of three, this light-hearted, thoughtful novel may appear on your favorite bookstore’s shelves.
E.C. Murray teaches Creative Writing at both Seattle Central College and Tacoma Community College. Her writing format focuses on three central areas from which all writing flows: character, plot and prose. Additionally, she speaks at writing workshops and forums from libraries to colleges as well as service clubs and community functions. To book an event, contact her publicist C.R. Wissmann at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Students and audiences say:
I loved your teaching style and was amazed at how much information was imparted in a fun, lively and open environment. DG
Thank you so much Elizabeth. I greatly appreciate the instruction you gave us and the encouragement you gave me.
I’m energized to continue. JD
I really enjoyed your class. Although I have no plans to pursue writing as a career I did get a lot of pointers that will improve my essays. Thank you for your encouraging words regarding my work. CB
I … think you are such a great instructor who really shows your passion for what you do. I was inspired when I took your first class and this class was such an excellent way to learn this wonderful craft of writing. I now feel like I am on my way to writing my first book or memoir and I look forward to reading your next book! CJ
February 24, 2018 Liberty Bay Books, 409 Pacific Ave., Bremerton, Wa. 2:00-3:00 P.M.
March 22, 2018 Third Place Books Seward Park, 5041 Wilson Ave. S, Seattle, Wa. 98118
May 24, 2016 Gig Harbor Library, Gig Harbor, WA. 6:30 – 8:00 P.M.
May 28, 2016, Bellevue Barnes and Noble, Crossroads, Bellevue, WA. 1:00 – 3:00 P.M.
June 7, 2016, Holyoke Public Library, Holyoke, MA., 1:30 – 2:30 P.M.
June 21, 2016, 6:30 P.M. Kiwanas, 7445 S. Homer St., Tacoma, WA.
June 28, 2016, 1:00 P.M., Bonney Lake Library, Bonney Lake, WA.
April 9, Sat. 9:00 AM Book Signing; Barnes and Noble; Alderwood Mall
April 14, Thurs., 7:00 P.M. Morso’s –with other writers, Gig Harbor
April 21, Tuesday, 6:30 PM Island Books, Mercer Island “April in Paris” event with other authors
April 29, Friday, 4:00 PM – 5:00 PM, KSER radio, 90.7 Everett, Snohomish
May 7, Saturday, 1:00 PM – 3:00 PM, Barnes and Noble, Bellevue
May 24, Tuesday, 6:30 – 8:00 PM, Gig Harbor Library, Gig Harbor, Wa.
June 7, Tuesday, 1:30 – 2:30, Holyoke Public Library, Holyoke, Ma.
Thanks to you who’ve written thoughtful notes about A Long Way from Paris. I’ve loved the goat photos, the stories of travels in France, some stretching back to World War II, and the honesty of those who relate to feeling “less than,” not up to par, not good enough. That’s what memoirs are about: resonating with others’ hearts and souls, revealing the parts of ourselves we often prefer to stay buried.
A student of mine recently committed suicide. She didn’t know many others in our small class, but writing memoir is an intimate process in which strangers feel strangely connected. A knot grew in my stomach, puffed like yeasty bread, and I realized I’d denied dealing with her death—truly wrestled with and accepted it—until I had to face my other students. That’s what memoir is about. Saying aloud that which we’d rather hide away; confronting our emotions that aren’t actually demons, but difficult, often painful tugs on our heart that we’d prefer not see the light of day. And yet, by speaking out loud–and here’s where the cliché comes in –by speaking our truths—we become deeper, clearer, more empathetic beings and so, too, our stories. We become models for the people we touch.
My next book is actually not a memoir. It is a mystery; a fairly light one indeed. Do you remember hearing about when Dylan was booed off the stage in Newport for switching from folk music to electric? Well, grandiose as it may sound, I feel a bit of kinship. Memoir is excruciatingly difficult to write. Next, I wanted something lighter. After all, Harriet the Spy was my favorite book growing up, I read every Nancy Drew book in fourth grade, and in college, if I felt depressed, I turned to Rex Stout. So forgive me as I switch to lighter fare. Soon you will meet Lori Orondo who’s at her wits end with her wayward son, Austin, and Amanda Perkins, a former rival from college, and Nicole Whryrll, the volatile friend and neighbor, all of whom are wrapped in the shooting of Scott, the charming pharmacy tech with a questionable past.
We all need relief now and then. You never know from whom you’ll find wisdom, but Mel Gibson (I know. Really??) said, movies should 1.) Entertain 2.) Educate 3.) Elevate. I hope the same for my books. And yes, they can even be a little fun.
Much gratitude to all. EC Murray
June 13, 2:00 P.M., King’s Books, Tacoma, Wa.
June 18, 6:00 P.M., Darvil’s Bookstore, Orcas Island, Wa.
June 20, 2015, 2:00 – 4:00 PM, Griffin’s Books, Friday Harbor, Wa.
June 21, 2015, 3:00 PM, Eagle Harbor Books, Bainbridge Island, Wa
June 25, 2015, 7:00 P.M., University of Washington Bookstore, Seattle, Wa.
July 17, 2015, 7:00 PM, Inklings Bookstore, Yakima, Washington
July 18, 2015, Gig Harbor Artfest, Gig Harbor, Wa.
July 25, 2015, Portland Bookfest, Portland, Oregon
September 8, 2015, Soputhampton Library, Southampton, Ma.
September 25, 2015, AAUW Book Club, Gig Harbor, Wa.