Thursday, July 28, 2005

SWAG, my favorite acronym

Renée and I had the opportunity to receive and ponder SWAG last night as we left the book party celebrating the release of Jennifer van der Kwast's debut novel, POUNDING THE PAVEMENT. As we stood on opposite platforms of the F-train, ex-Ithacan Kaplan and I shouted to one another with glee as we opened our loot bags and pulled out some truly excellent goodies. Of course getting a copy of the book itself was a really nice treat (and kudos to Broadway Books for supplying them... seriously, that's a great gesture) but the swag bag was also full of Bumble and Bumble products, Flirt Peek-A-Blush, and Stila Body Milk (?).

If the book gives me as much of an all-over glow as these beauty aids, I'll have found my most transformative tome of the summer. But as I sat on the subway, slathering body milk on my calves (that is where one is supposed to slather it, right?) I realized I've been using the word "swag" since my arrival here in Manhattan,--swag central--and I was never 100% sure of the word's etymology.

At first I'd assumed the word was "schwag." But I was quickly disabused of this notion when I said schwag with a swagger and I heard snickers. It then occured to me that swag must be an acronym of some sort, but I wasn't sure what it stood for. (Kind of like "snafu," which, upon learning it stood for "situation normal all fucked up," further endeared the word to me.) So I finally did the work and for my edification and now yours, I present my findings.

According to, the definition of SWAG is:
A noun
1 a bundle containing the personal belongings of a swagman
2 loot, booty, pillage, plunder, prize, swag, dirty_money

A-ha! So it's a real word.

But then there's this:
SWAG is an acronym for the Star Wars Artists' Guild (residing here (

Ooh, yick, I don't like it anymore (though I'll still take the booty bags)

Still, there's also this:
SWAG: Scientific Wild Ass Guess Academic & Science->Universities

Okay, getting more acceptably amusing.

And finally this, from
SWAG - Stuff We All Get

BINGO! (and several points if anyone can tell me what that stands for...)

All this is to say, though, that between a kick ass party at Sugar, where I ran into master blogger Ron Hogan and Rachel Kramer Bussel, and a great bag of goodies, Jennifer van der Kwast and her novel are off to a great and hopefully wildly successful start!

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The Sun, The Fun, The Toxicity

I'm very excited--if a little nervous--about my foray to the beach this weekend. You see I haven't been to a beach in the New York City vicinity in ah, oooh, NEVER. Well, in college some friends and I went to Amagansett in the off-season, but that was more about drinking and debauching than... okay, so maybe it's not so different. But this is my first summertime adventure to sandy shores, and I'm not quite sure how the chattering class is supposed to comport itself.

Sure, I've read reports. I know that owning and crushing folks with one's Mercedes SUV is de rigeur. From what I understand, dressing like a bohemian is very big this summer. (Though why this concept makes me throw up in my mouth a little, I can't quite say.) And I know that lamé is the new tourquoise is the new orange is the new black.

But the nuances of beach behavior still eludes me and anyone who has witnessed my paleness first hand can certify that I'm a stranger to the sun. So first and foremost fearing that I'll look like this by the end of the weekend, I've started doing some research. As it seems, I'm not alone in my confusion re: tanning. For instance apparently this young buck also had some suntanning related questions. So you know what he did? He went and Asked Alice (
Dear Alice,

Do men need to cover up their testicles when using indoor tanning facilities?

I use tanning booths regularly and I normally use only eye protection. I am slightly worried, however, that the UV radiation from the sunlamps could do internal damage to a man's testicles, because the skin is obviously only very thin and might not offer much protection against UV radiation. Since eyelids are similarly thin and it is known that eye damage can result even when using tanning equipment with closed eyes, I wonder if advice should be given to men to use similar precautions to prevent testicles being exposed to high-intensity UV-A or UV-B radiation. I have looked everywhere for scientific information on this matter but could not find anything. Your advice on this matter would therefore be very much appreciated.

(I'd thought about shortening the question with ellipses, but I just liked the whole thing so damn much...)

Alice responds very cleverly, complimenting the man on wanting to protect his "beach bags" and agreeing that he wouldn't want to have "great balls of fire," but she stops short of telling him to include sunscreen application in foreplay. But, since I'll actually be headed to Fire Island, now that I'm armed with all this knowledge, no doubt I'll be a welcome house guest and have lots to discuss with the boys (and their boys.) Surf's up!

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Hangin' With the Lay-days

When you come home from a night out on the town (well, Brooklyn) with a copy of NAUGHTY SPANKING: STORIES FROM A TO Z by Rachel Kramer Bussel in your big purple purse, you know you've had one hot little evening.
But when you've not only secured a copy of the book for bedtime reading, but have gotten to chat with the Lusty Lady author herself, well, you count that as a great night out.

Not only did I get to spend time with the very cool Mizz RKB, but I also had some excellent conversations with authors like Lisa Selin Davis who wrote the book BELLY (, Katherine Stewart, of THE YOGA MAMAS, fame, I ran into Elise Miller, author and curator of EAST SIDE ORAL (, rode the subway to and fro with the brilliant Suzanne Dottino, literary director of the KGB reading series, waved hello to Alicia Brooks, the newly minted Rights Unlimited super agent, had a funny if initially awkward then ultimately cool conversation with Amanda Stern, proprietress of the Happy Ending Reading Series, who'd been featured in an earlier post concerning rejection letters, ahem... and, of course, winked at my illustrious co-author ex-Ithacan Kaplan.

What brought all of these wonderful women to the large and lovely home of Lisa Selin Davis? Well, it was a gathering of The Old Girls Club, the brainchild of Felicia Sullivan ( and Leigh Newman (Leigh, do you have a website yet?), literary salon directors--Felicia runs a night at KGB, Leigh runs one at Junno's--and amazing writers themselves. They thought it would be a great idea to marshal brains, beauty & carpal tunnel ravaged hands in one big room. And I concur, it was a fantastic idea indeed and there wasn't even one cat fight (which was slightly disappointing, so I just had to come home and watch Cat House on HBO instead.)

The only problem is now I have a whole lotta new books on the list that I'm itching to read -- but perhaps I'll have some time on my hands if my date decides to read Rachel's book to me...

Monday, July 25, 2005

This American Life

I'm not just saying that listening to the amazing radio program, This American Life, is one of the best uses of an hour you're likely to spend in a week merely because I have a crush on Ira Glass. I'm not just saying the show provides some of the most compelling storytelling you're likely to find in any medium merely because I've done some work for the program, either. And I'm not just hopping on the NYTIMES bandwagon because they ran a big piece on the show this weekend and I got nothing else (Close Your Eyes and It's Almost Like Radio)
(That's Alex Blumberg's backside in the camel colored coat!)

I'm saying it because I genuinely believe TAL consistently provides extraordinarily high quality, well-produced, interesting, touching, funny & oddball stories you're unlikely to find anywhere else, and you'll thank me for turning you onto it if you're not already a listener.

Okay, that said...

I should also admit I was actually on the show this past weekend. I was part of a piece produced by Alex Blumberg concerning childhood mythologies (erroneous beliefs that you held as a child that you never learned were incorrect until adulthood... make that a very embarrassing moment in adulthood.) I'm only on for like a minute but I was quite happy to be part of the story... even if it meant confessing in a public arena that until this very embarrassing moment in my adulthood perhaps I was a bit of the oddball myself. Who knew? Stop laughing...

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Taking a Page From OUR Book

What's the "badge of street cool" this summer? Well, according to the New York Times today (Keeping T-Shirts in the moment) it's artist designed T-shirts. Though Guy Trebay interviews two hip chicks in LA who started a company called and who sell shirts with slogans like, "Ignore Me and I'm Yours," and "Emotionally Unavailable Men Rock" (a personal fav), I humbly suggest two other women in NY have been hip to this idea for a while.

Matter of fact, if you check out pages 177-179 of SHAKING HER ASSETS, you'll read a fantastic passage about our artist character's burgeoning T-shirt biz. I won't spoil the whole scene. But here's a little taste of when our heroine first discovers one of Zach's sideline ventures:

I take another one of the T-shirts off the pile and look at it more carefully. These T-shirts are incredibly cool, and cool in that truly downtown sense of coveted cool. The kind of cool that normally you can't buy, that you see hipster kids wearing in dive bars in unchartered parts of the Lower East Side. Zach has created T-shirts with that ultimate marketing tool--authenticity.

Aspiring hipsters take note: buy our book and learn about the trends before they Gray Lady overexposes them.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Nice Girls Finish First...

Before you start scratching your head, wondering if you're on the right site, let me clarify: NICE GIRLS FINISH FIRST is the title of the new book written by a fellow member of the GCC, Alesia Holliday.

Holliday is a double finalist in the RITA awards for women’s fiction, and anyone who has attended the Romance Writers of America convention will know what a huge big deal this is. (I attended the RWA convention two years ago to do a piece on it for "This American Life," -- you can hear it in my "other work" section -- and man, what a genuinely cool event). Anyway, at the end of the convention, they hand out these RITA awards. To give you some context, a RITA is the romantic equivalent of the Nobel Peace Prize rolled into an Academy Award statuette sprinkled with a little bit of ESPY glamour. It's big. It's important. And it's very cool validation by a group of passionate readers. So to even be nominated--not just once, but TWICE--means they think she's a writer you should know.

Unfortunately I won't be attending the conference again this year, but I'll be rooting for Alesia to sweep the RITAs and encourage all fans of romance fiction to check out her work and her website:

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Help Me Complain

Any minute now, President Bush will be announcing his choice to fill the seat left on the bench by Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. I know the announcement's coming, like an animal sensing an earthquake, I can feel it in my uterus like a rusty coat hanger.

And I also know that his choice will be devastating. I'm already swilling honey so that when I begin shrieking in dismay, I'll be able to yell for longer. But here's the thing: though I fully intend to bemoan whatever whacko nutjob anti-gay, anti-civil rights, anti-woman "justice" Bush nominates, I don't have a candidate in mind to propose as an alternate. And, say what you will about my politics, I generally don't like to complain about something unless I have a better solution to propose.

So I ask, in semi-seriousness, who would be a good choice to fill the robes of DO'C?
(Okay, so maybe not Cher, but wouldn't it be fun to see Rehnquist in a headdress like this one?)

Sunday, July 17, 2005

KGB tonight

According to the Village Voice (the online version at least) we're an official "pick" of an event. Yes tonight, the former editor and writer for the New York Observer and I will be doing a reading at the much ballyhooed bar, KGB at 7 pm. For those of you thinking, "much as I love Renee and Robin--and I do, I so do--I've already seen them read before," I will tell you that not only are we reading new stuff, the chances of you meeting your soul mate at this event are tremendous!

What do I mean? Well, other serious readers of the Styles wedding page will probably know of what I speak, but for those of you who aren't similarly addicted, I point your attention to p. 12 of the NYT Sunday Styles page. Because there you will learn of the nuptials of Mariah Malone and David Calarco, a cute couple who, it is noted in the final sentence of their blurb (yes, the sentence usually reserved for the shameful admission that the groom's former marriage ended in divorce, as did the bride's previous three marriages) "met in 1998 while following Phish, the rock band, around Europe."

So you've got to say hey, if these crazy kids could find one another at a Phish concert where they were undoubtedly stoned out of their fucking gourds, I don't think it's a stretch to assume you have a chance of meeting your intended in a small bar in the East Village tonight.

Hope to see you there at 7 pm!
Pamela Holm & Robin Epstein & Renee Kaplan KGB Bar
85 E 4th
New York, NY 10003
East Village
Phone: (212) 505-3360 Readings, Events
This triple bill has essayist (San Francisco Chronicle, Denver Post, Violet Magazine) Holm
reading from her new novel, The Night Garden; This American Life contributor Epstein
presenting some of her work; and former editor and writer for the New York Observer Kaplan
sharing her latest, Shaking Her Assets... [more]

Friday, July 15, 2005

Rejection Letters

Today we literally take a page from Amanda Stern, curator of the Happy Ending Reading Series, who, on her blog, has a link entitled "Rejection Letters." Stern asks readers to submit some of the favorite rejection letters they've gotten and send them to her. She writes:
In the course of trying to sell my book, I got rejected. Many times. This is normal. Healthy, some might suggest, and I was really, pretty okay with it all. In the course of trying to get published, get into residencies or even win awards I was not qualified to win, I got rejected. I hung on to all the letters and look at them from time to time. I invite you to send me your rejection letters to post. They can be from publishers, editors, other writers, lovers, friends, parents, anyone, but they have to be a rejection of some sort. They don't have to be mean or venomous (though that is a treat for me), but they do have to suggest or announce in some way that you are not invited.

As someone who routinely hangs onto all of her rejection letters as well, I think Amanda's idea is a great one, and I love that she hyperlinks to a few notes that people have shared with her.

The only thing is, I do feel a bit cheated that she doesn't include any of her own "not-you-not-now-not-ever" notes. Doesn't really seem fair, does it? So to rectify this situation, I'd like to share the Rejection Letter that I just received in an e-mail from Amanda when I asked if we could read at her Happy Ending series. And, after reading this, if any of you should feel so inspired to send us some of your "thanks for playing, loser" letters, we'd be happy to link to them here.

FROM: Amanda Stern
SUBJECT: RE: Happy Ending

Hi Robin,

Sorry for the delay, I lost my reader to Berlin and have had to start from scratch myself.

So, unfortunately, as great at SHAKING HER ASSETS is for women, it’s just not the right fit for Happy Ending. Thanks for submitting and good luck with it all and again, my sincere apologies for taking so long.

My policy is to only respond to those things I want, but I felt I owed you a response anyway.


Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Philadelphia Story

We're back in the city of Brotherly Love today, having just done a spot on "10!" the NBC morning show here. We think it went pretty well, too. Matter of fact, the professional bartender who was on before us doing a segment on fruity summer drinks was very complimentary as we were leaving the stage area. And he didn't even look that drunk!

Tomorrow night we'll be at the Barnes & Noble in Philadelphia, 1805 Walnut Street at 7:30, so come on down and we'll chat, answer questions and do some reading for you. Seriously, how many people have offered to that for you recently?

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Memo to Adam Moss

Fine, I admit it: I never enjoyed reading about the comings and goings of Amy Sohn's vagina. In the mid-90s, Sohn had a column in The New York Press, don't remember what it was called, but it was something to the effect of, "Take My Vagina... Please!" In truth, though I was never particularly thrilled by reading about the ins and outs of her lady lips, there was the element of prurient fun in seeing where the dewy body of a recent Brown grad would go that did keep me interested. Her column read like a diary entry, you got the feeling that these adventures really were just a part of her life, and she could chronicle the secret lives of perverts because she really was one herself. So despite the fact that it would make me shiver, I read the column often because I felt like she was part of an interesting scene that, as a single New Yorker on the make myself, I wanted to know about.

Cut to 10 years later: Sohn, married, living in Brooklyn and about to burst with baby, is STILL writing about the proclivities of "sexy" New Yorkers in New York magazine. And you know what? The column is FAR more disturbing to me now. Why? Well, for example this week she writes about Stay At Home Dads, a group known as SAHDs, saying they're finally getting the respect they deserve. Right. Okay, but here's what's really SAD -- though I believe Sohn does know a great number of people still having sex, her columns now read like homework assignments. The exuberance of a young woman having all sorts of sex in all kinds of positions and places has been replaced by a 30something mommy-to-be who thinks a man wearing a baby Bjorn is hot. EWWWWW!


Over the past few weeks, Sohn's "Mating" column has discussed: "Clique warfare in new-mommy circles," "infertility doctors and drugs," "the internet hookup culture." Excuse me, but WTF? Though I'm sure she's becoming an expert on this mommy biz, this does not a sex column make. At this point she's writing softly-reported articles for a parenting magazine. How bout that scoop on internet dating, eh? It freaking sounds like she's an anthropologist on Mars with a revelation like that. Sadie, didja hear that? The young people are hooking up on the internet. Seriously, what's next? How to make a necklace from an umbilical chord? Breast pumping chic? Sex between feedings?

I call on you, Adam Moss, editor in chief of the much improved New York magazine to make this stop. Or, at least if you're not going to fire her boring, anti-sexual pregant patootie and hire someone who's still actively part of the urban sex scene, at least get someone interesting to make a comment when you run a picture like this of Owen Wilson... or is it Ellen DeGeneres?:

Monday, July 11, 2005

Rockstars & Porn Stars

Prepare to gasp, kids! Turns out there's sexual imagery hidden deep within the coding of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, an otherwise happy video game that involves the stealing of cars, the killing of prostitutes and the celebration of mayhem in the pristine city of Los Angeles. Apparently programmers at Rockstar Games, the developer of the hugely popular Grand Theft Auto series, were caught with their pants down, so to speak, when Patrick Wildenborg, a Dutch techie with waaaaaaay too much time on his hands, wrote a code to unlock the software, making the sexually graphic images hidden inside the game available to all.

Naturally this revelation caused a stir -- and we can guess where -- but one California state assemblyman in particular, Leland Yee, seemed to have worked himself into a lather on this one. Lee feels that the sexually explicit scenes are "inappropriate for our children." Indeed! When teaching children about grand larceny, muddling that lesson with sex will merely serve to fuck up those kids beyond repair.

But the Joystick jockey Wildenborg says that the hidden images, "are not something it is possible to accidentally stumble across" as players go through the game. A gamer must first download his code, "Hot Coffee," in order to access them. Grand Theft Auto is already rated M, for mature, (which I find highly amusing in and of itself), so I guess I'm missing whyfor the outrage? Since video games cost around $50 a pop, it's safe to assume that a parent is the one purchasing it for his or her child. Seems to me like the title alone, "Grand Theft Auto," might be enough to warn a parent, "hey, this ain't so much a 'values' game." (Though I suppose one could make the argument that knocking off prostitutes is a form of street cleaning.) But the bottom line is that kids aren't just going to happen upon this stuff. In order for that to happen, it would take some serious computer diddling. Either that, or simply typing the word "sex," into Google.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Keeping Up With the Lemmings

The news over the past two days has been pretty grim, and even though there's tragedy in this headline, boy did it make me laugh: 450 Sheep Jump to Their Deaths in Turkey

Here are some highlights from the AP story:
July 08, 2005 8:30 AM EDT
ISTANBUL, Turkey - First one sheep jumped to its death. Then stunned Turkish shepherds, who had left the herd to graze while they had breakfast, watched as nearly 1,500 others followed, each leaping off the same cliff, Turkish media reported.

In the end, 450 dead animals lay on top of one another in a billowy white pile, the Aksam newspaper said. Those who jumped later were saved as the pile got higher and the fall more cushioned, Aksam reported.

I mean I guess the only question to ask at a time like this is Why? What made that first sheep so depressed? Was it the fact that he, as a sheep, felt disrespected living in a country called Turkey? Was it that he was tired of having to be at the beck-and-call of insomniacs around the world? Was it a protest against sheepskin car seat covers?

Sadly, we'll never know what really caused that first sheep to go batty. But I have a terrible feeling as I drift off to sleep this evening, I'll be picturing "billowy white" sheep carnage on the other side of that great fence in my dreams...

Thursday, July 07, 2005

My New Favorite Writer

Usually it's only the way gay T-hersday Styles Section of the NYT that makes me giggle so hard I spew pretzel detritus on my keyboard while reading the paper of record. But I've got to hand it to Richard W. Stevenson who wrote a fairly hilarious article in the first section of the Times today, On Bush's Birthday Abroad, Lots of Cake and Then a Spill .

Apparently Bush got through the cake eating part 'jes fine, but it was when our 59-year old cowboy-in-chief decided to burn some of those extra calories while mountain biking that he got into some trouble. Stevenson writes: "The president, who was wearing a helmet, slid across the asphalt, suffering 'mild to moderate' scrapes on his hands and arms, Mr. McClellan said and was bandaged by the White House physician, Dr. Richard Tubb. The White House provided no details of any damage to Mr. Bush's ego."

But not content to let the guy go with just scrapes and bruises, Stevenson goes on: "The president has had to give up running because of a bad knee, and he gained weight during the campaign last year... But he is no stranger to painful spills; he picked up some cuts and bruises last summer after tumbling off his bike at his Texas Ranch."

Stevenson really brings it home in his final graf, though, when he speculates why Dubya might have been feeling so invincible: "Perhaps before mounting his bike in Scotland, he had been lulled into overconfidence by the horoscope in The Washington Post on Wednesday for people born on July 6: 'You have so many brilliant ideas this year!'"

Richard W. Stevenson, I salute you. All the news that's fit to print? Maybe not, but pretty damn funny nonetheless.

Jessica Simpson SHAKES 'em in LIFE & STYLE WEEKLY

What do Jessica Simpson and a certain novel (let's call it, SHAKING HER ASSETS) have in common--aside from the fact that Jessica shakes 'em like crazy in her new video "These Boots Are Made For Walking"? If you said, "why, they both appear together in this week's edition of the amazing magazine, LIFE & STYLE WEEKLY, don't they?" you'd be totally right!

On the Style Scope page (p. 96), there's a picture of Jessica, who turns 25 on July 10th, and who I know from my "I can't turn away from this train wreck" viewing of Newlyweds has enjoyed receiving a chunky diamond bracelet as a present in the past, FYI. But directly underneath her--LOOK--it's Marilyn Manizer, flexing her bicep and showing off another impressive set of Assets. Each star sign is paired with a book this week (Nick Hornby's A LONG WAY DOWN is the book assigned to this little Scorpio). But SHAKING HER ASSETS appears at twice the size since it's paired with Cancer, the star sign of the month!

I don't know *exactly* how the editorial decision was made to attach "Shaking Her Assets" to Jessica Simpson (one is tempted to draw an easy conclusion... though if this were solely the case, another one of the books listed, THE TWINS OF TRIBECA, could have worked pretty well, too.) But I think it more likely that the editors of that magazine are just geniuses, and since part of the horoscope for Cancer is "...Have a job interview? Exploring raise possibilities? Now's the time to go for it! For inspiration, check out Shaking Her Assets, a hilarious novel about pursuing a dream job," I think it was just an inspired choice!

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Grave Intent

You must check out the very cool website of Deborah LeBlanc a fellow member of the GCC, and author of the frightening new thriller GRAVE INTENT.(, Intrigued? You should be. Need more? Read this description then head straight to the store and pick up a copy of GRAVE INTENT for yourself:

In all their years at the funeral home, Janet and Michael Savoy had never seen anything like the viewing for nineteen-year-old Thalia Stevenson. That's because they had never witnessed a Gypsy funeral before, complete with rituals, incantations, and a very special gold coin placed beneath the dead girl's hands...

When that coin is stolen, a horror is unleashed. If the Savoys don't find the coin and return it to Thalia's grave before the rising of the second sun, someone in their family--perhaps their little daughter--will die a merciless death. The ticking away of each hour brings the Savoy family closer to a gruesome, inescapable nightmare. Only one thing is certain--Gypsies always have their revenge . . . even the dead ones.

Now That's What I Call a Deadline

"'If you don't finish this job today or tomorrow,' I said, 'I'm personally going to kill you in front of your friends. Then I'm going to kill your friends.'" -Retired Detective Louis J. Eppolito (the 11th most decorated officer in NY Police Department history) to a contractor when he fell behind in working on his house.

Sometimes a person just needs a little incentive, I suppose...

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

But What Is It REALLY?

If Tom Cruise has taught me anything, it's that we shouldn't be taken in by the hokum of modern day science. Okay, so no, I didn't see his War of the Worlds, and no, smart ass, I didn't hear the original broadcast, either. But I've "studied" science and I can say with authority that this whole "Spacecraft Hits Passing Comet" thing is a hoax.

I'm not going to believe that the photo in today's NYT really proves that there are such things as "comets" and "big bangs" and other such nonsensical hoo-ha.

Question is, though, if it's not a comet, what is it then? Best guess wins a prize... and don't go with exploded Ball Park Weiner, cause that one's mine.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Do they have the 4th of July in England?

Hey, you! What the hell are you doing surfing the internet? Shouldn't you be outside enjoying the day, eating B-B-Q'd finger food and setting off illegal fireworks right about now? Now I don't want to say that everyone who's sitting in front of a computer today, July 4th, is a total dweeb, but personal experience does lead me to believe this is, in fact, the case.

Why, if I weren't on the computer myself right now, I'd be out rejoicing in my pride at being an American on this day. I'd be out in the streets dancing to the drum beat of our war lords. I'd be thinking, wow, our founding fathers would be so pleased to know that Republicans are thinking of altering the constitution for purely partisan reasons, pushing through judicial nominees, and lying to the citizenry about getting them into a war. I'd be a Yankee Doodle Dandy, though conspicuously less dandyish in the 11 states that passed Anti-gay legislation this past November...

Come to think of it, maybe being inside working today isn't such a bad idea after all. So happy "independence" day to my fellow computer-shackled compatriots! Remember, you're what makes this country great, even if you are an anti-social dork.

Friday, July 01, 2005

And Now For Something Completely Different...

Recently there's been a bit of a flap in the publishing world (which I think is fairly similar to the sound of one hand flapping) on the nature of "Chick Lit," a marketing term used to describe books dealing with youngish women making their way in the world. See evidently Chick Lit is a term that makes some female writers nervous; they find it demeaning and worry these books trivialize the Very Serious Writing they do. To that end, a bunch of these Very Serious Writer Girls--excuse me "Womyn"--have gotten together to do a collection of stories called, "This is NOT Chick Lit: A Collection of Original Stories by America's Best Women Writers". To them I'd like to say, "Hey ladies, get over yourselves. By referring to yourselves as 'America's Best Women Writers' you're not exactly invalidating the accusations of insecurity, cattiness and an inability to compete with the big boys that some say define a certain feminine mystique. On the contrary, you're exacerbating them, you ding-dongs."

So when I discovered another woman writer, Lauren Baratz-Logsted, who'd written a very cogent argument against the pretensions of these Very Serious Female Writers, I e-mailed her to say, "nice job!" Well, she then asked if Renee and I would run an essay she wrote on the subject on our site, and we thought that sounded like a great idea. So, below are Lauren's thoughts on the issue. And if you'd like more info on her or the new book she has that's about to come out, visit her website:


Back in April, the following listing appeared on Publishers Marketplace:

“THIS IS NOT CHICK LIT: A Collection of Original Stories by America's Best Women Writers, selected and introduced by Elizabeth Merrick, founder of the Cupcake Reading Series and blog, created to support women writers of literary fiction, including stories by Francine Prose, Myla Goldberg, Vendela Vida, Aimee Bender, Curtis Sittenfeld, Jennifer Eagan, and Samantha Hunt, to Julia Cheiffetz at the Random House publishing group (NA). NA rights:”

Pretty much well every writer I know who has ever been tarred with the pink Chick-Lit brush was incensed at this announcement. And I would imagine that the writer listed as Jennifer Eagan here was pretty incensed too, given that they spelled her name wrong: it’s Egan. We were incensed at what seemed to be a pretty blatant bitch-slap at those of us the writers in the above collection clearly deemed to be less than. We were incensed that while they were taking a swipe at our much-maligned subgenre, they were at the same time capitalizing on its name for exploitation purposes, a topic I detailed at length in an essay at on April 26. I mean, can you imagine titling any other collection in this way? Can you imagine calling a book THIS IS NOT MYSTERY? Or THIS IS NOT SCI-FI/FANTASY? Or THIS IS NOT WESTERN? The notion of defining art by what it’s not – the mind reels.
And yet…and yet…this whole tempest has got me thinking: What exactly is Chick-Lit? And, if I can’t define it for everyone else, can I at least define it for me?
Ask a half dozen writers for definitions of Chick-Lit and you’re likely to get a half dozen different answers. In that regard, the designation of Chick-Lit has become similar to the diagnosis of PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified) for autism, an umbrella term that I’ve come to learn can cover nearly every child you encounter if you look at them in the right way; or perhaps, I should say, the wrong way. In terms of writing, the Chick-Lit diagnosis has become so widespread as to be nearly meaningless. Sometimes, the designation is handed out merely by virtue of which publisher publishes one’s books. Lisa Tucker’s The Song Reader, a serious and thoughtful coming-of-age story, gets the designation because her publisher is DownTown Press. Caren Lissner’s Carrie Pilby, a wonderful and quirky novel about the inherent social difficulties of being an incredibly intelligent female, also gets that designation because her publisher, like mine, is Red Dress Ink, and even though Elinor Lipman wrote an identically themed novel, The Pursuit of Alice Thrift, which was deemed literary because the publisher is Random House. To some degree I’ve begun to feel like so many of us are the literary equivalent of octoroons back in slave days: just a little smidgen of pink on our book jackets and it’s back down on the farm for us.
I would hazard to say the most common definition of Chick-Lit I hear runs something along the lines of, “A frothy confection about a modern twentysomething woman juggling relationships and career, often in urban settings.”
I don’t know about you, I mean, I guess I’d read that book, but I certainly wouldn’t read dozens just like it year after year as many devotees of Chick-Lit currently do. I’d get bored with the sameness. Don’t they get bored with the sameness? And yet they don’t. Here’s why I think that is:
The books, quite simply, aren’t the same.
Never mind that the books frequently feature twentysomething women, although not all do (my most recent, A Little Change of Face, features a 39-year-old librarian), never mind they often have urban settings, although not all do (Lee Nichols’ Tales of a Drama Queen jumps right to mind, quickly followed by Heather Cochran’s Mean Season). And, hey, what’s wrong with books being about the juggling of careers and relationships? Isn’t that what modern life is made up of? (I recently read that the literary novelist Kazuo Ishiguro gave his daughter The Devil Wears Prada so she’d have a better grasp of the real world, a tidbit that caused some pause in the literary world but didn’t surprise me one bit having read Laura Miller’s essay in the New York Times Book Review earlier this year where she bemoaned the lack of the workplace as a theme in the modern literary novel, suggesting that one of the reason’s for Chick-Li’s resounding success is that it addresses that thing – the working life – that matters, by necessity, to modern readers so very much.) And while I’m saying “hey” and getting outraged over here: Hey, what’s the matter with some of our writerly energies being focused on relationships, i.e. love? Would not the world be a better place if we were all a little more concerned with love?
But back to our definition.
For me, what makes a book Chick-Lit all comes down to the tone. No matter how often the books deal with serious issues – and a surprising number of them do, witness Caren Lissner’s second book, Starting from Square Two, about a young widow making her way back into the world – there is always a certain comic appreciation or irony to the writer’s voice. In fact, I would argue that the best Chick-Lit books are not frothy confections at all, although we have our share of those, just as every genre has its share of books that are more style than substance. But, for me, the best books are always those that strike a perfect balance: books that are neither so light there’s no weight to them; books that are neither so dark that not even a glimmer of light ever shines through. Most of all, they are books that not only have plot but also have theme.
A quick survey of my own books will highlight what I’m talking about.
On the surface, The Thin Pink Line is about a woman who fakes an entire pregnancy. Scratch the surface, and you see that it’s about how all too frequently we live our lives pursuing things – husbands, babies – more because everyone else is doing it than that we’ve given any real thought to the thing itself.
On the surface, Crossing the Line continues the madcap adventures of sociopathic anti-heroine Jane Tyler. Scratch the surface, and it’s about the joys and perils and responsibilities of cross-cultural adoption.
On the surface, A Little Change of Face is about an attractive librarian who alters her looks for the worse. Scratch the surface, and it’s about the ambivalence of women – nay, all human beings – concerning the importance of physical attractiveness and how we all want to be perceived as being physically beautiful while at the same time free to feel certain that we are loved for who we are.
You get the idea.
The books I love to write most, and read most, are books that say something about who we are and how we live our lives. If a book can do that, and make me laugh several times along the way, that’s all to the good.
Channeling Martin Luther King here:
I have a dream.
I dream that one day all books will be judged not by the pinkness of our book jackets but by the contents and the characters portrayed on the pages in between.
May it be so.

Lauren Baratz-Logsted is the author of The Thin Pink Line and Crossing the Line. Her third novel, A Little Change of Face, will be published in July 2005. Her essay, “If Jane Austen Were Writing Today,” is collected in Flirting with Pride and Prejudice: Fresh Perspectives on the Original Chick-Lit Masterpiece, edited by Jennifer Crusie and due out from Benbella Books on September 1.

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