Let’s think about the ladies
There’s a really thought-provoking piece published this week in The Atlantic about books that are focused on women finding or yearning for love in fiction rather than other things in life like career or themselves. I think teens and younger adults are so focused on boys and love that it’s obvious to look to a love interest for drama, and I think there is a perception that most books need a “love interest” to work in the market.
I think the expansion of the children’s market, YA in particular, over the last few years have produced a great number of smart, thoughtful books with female protagonists grappling with real emotional issues other than love, including my own Brianna on the Brink by Nicole McInnes, which begins with a sexual liaison but evolves into so much more. The author of The Atlantic piece, Kelsey McKinney, also points to a coming-of-age family drama with no love story that sounds terrific called Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson. It was published decades ago.
Cheryl Klein over at Scholastic tweeted the piece and said that she too is looking for this kind of material. In her words: “I would LOVE more YA about young women finding careers, or their life’s work & own worth, exclusive of love interest. Tho I love love too. I was obsessed with my future as a teenager: what college to attend, what career would suit me. Not things I see a lot in mss.” It’s rare to find that kind of direct feedback from an editor who reads for a living and sees a lot of submissions. The message is that there is room in the market, which is the opposite of what agents and editors are usually saying!
And I agree that there is room for growth here. As McKinney says in her smart piece: “I wanted to drive On the Road and stop off in small towns and drink more than was probably appropriate. I wanted to question who I was and be my own Catcher in the Rye. There are no Jack Kerouacs or Holden Caulfields for girls. Literary girls don’t take road-trips to find themselves; they take trips to find men.” What about a modern female-driven version of On the Road? I’d love to read that, and I’d love to sell it too and pass it down to my four daughters.
So, if any of you aspiring authors have books with strong female protagonists contemplating their futures in a unique and independent way, please send them along.