It wasn’t until I finished writing my novel Project Ex that I realized I had created a protagonist who was somewhat of an anomaly in the world of genre fiction. Although 50-year-old psychotherapist Lydia Birnbaum’s romantic misadventures make her seem like a “chick” at times, she’s clearly no “chick” by genre standards. On the contrary, because of Lydia’s “advanced age,” Project Ex falls into a category of fiction called “matron literature.”
But wait, it gets worse.
Other common names for novels featuring female protagonists in their late 30s through 40s, 50s and beyond include “hen lit,” “granny lit,” and – deep, cleansing breath – “hag lit.”
On the flipside of this labeling “system,” novels with male protagonists – of any age – have their own category. It’s called “fiction.”
I’ve attended a number of writers’ conferences and have discussed, brainstormed and continue to research how to navigate the rough waters of the publishing world. One thing I’ve learned is that figuring out which genre my novel fits into is very important indeed. I’ve also discovered that if I don’t define Project Ex by genre or sub-genre, there are plenty of people who will be more than happy to do it for me. And so, although there’s a part of me that wants to resist having it pigeonholed – or should I say, “hen-holed,” “granny-holed” or even “hag-holed” – into a genre whose very name sets my teeth on edge, it seems next to impossible to prevent that from happening.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Lydia Birnbaum would be horrified to hear herself described as a “hen,” let alone a “hag.” Having created her and understanding how vulnerable and sensitive she is, I feel an obligation to try and rescue her from being associated with the barnyard creature whose sad fate all too often is to end up on a dinner plate, not to mention the crone who tempted Sleeping Beauty with the luscious but deadly apple that put her to sleep for a hundred years.
Since this seems to be a dilemma that applies specifically to women’s fiction, isn’t it time for us to wake up, take charge and (if categorize we must) create new genres and sub-genres that more accurately and less pejoratively define us and our work?