Archive for the ‘The Not Series’ Category:
Though I can picture myself in England long ago writing with a quill, wearing bonnets, addressing my friends as Miss and leaving calling cards, my fantasy stops at chamber pots.
It also stops when I realize I am not Jane Austen.
This is not an epiphany, mind you. I read Jane Austen in my twenties and knew then I had something special in my hands while I rode the “El.” But with the proliferation of books, movies, magazines, ebooks, audiobooks, ezines, journals and blogs, I wonder if there are any modern authors people will be reading 100 years from now while they’re flying to work with their jetpacks.
Will Jane Green’s or Jane Porter’s women’s fiction hold up like Jane Austen’s? (I like both of these Janes for different reasons, by the way.) What about Jane Addams or Jane Seymour? Jane Bancroft? Jane Burke?
Our needs are different today, we’re spoiled for choice. If we don’t like a book we simply choose another. Perhaps the fact that it wasn’t painstakingly written in long-hand takes away some of the mysticism, I mean, we all type don’t we? For hours sometimes for work or for emails or for Facebook or even Twitter. It takes a lot of time to type a days worth of 140 characters. In our country most of us are brought up to believe we can do anything – that we have the inalienable right to pursue our dreams. It’s a country where anyone can be anything. And that includes a writer, even if that writing is in the form of blogging or self-publishing.
And while the world of mainstream contemporary publishing holds most of us at arm’s length with a sharp stick, we have access to it via the internet and there are even ways around it if that’s your fancy.
Jane Austen had to fight stereotypes, prejudice, lost love, ink stains and a lack of adequate health care, I presume, since she died so young.
I’m sure (since I’ve seen the movie, I’m an expert) that in becoming the Jane Austen we know, she did not set out to sample immortality in her novels, she was simply compelled to write stories and live as an working author.
I guess in that way, then, I am a bit like Jane. Lucky me.
I read Jennifer Weiner and couldn’t help but love her writing and relate to her as a person. She’s a Jewish mom from Philadelphia. She makes no bones about the fact that she’s not thin. She runs. Ok, I don’t run, but I’ve thought about it. She writes female protags who break molds, adds in characters and subplots that surprise. She takes a bit of something she knows well, as far as I can tell, and shakes it up and around and upside and comes up with fiction that’s real and relatable.
No one has ever compared me to her — but for a long time I wished they would!
I took liberties (like gazillion others) and added Ms. Weiner to my Facebook friend list, which prompted a portion of my Huffington Post piece about Facebook Over 40.
I learned a big lesson when reading one of Weiner’s books – and that was how much I appreciated, almost craved, the element of surprise in a novel. Not suspense, surprise. How everything pointed to a revelation, but I had it right along with the main character, not before. I was as shocked as Cannie, in Good In Bed, when she (spoiler alert!) discovered she was pregnant. I learned about the ebb and flow of fiction reading that book in particular because it has a lot of ups and downs. It’s the first time I read a novel and not only enjoyed, but analyzed what made it work for me.
So when I set out on some very real fictional (figure that one out) trials of my own, I wanted to be like Jennifer Weiner. Forget that I’m probably 10 years older – that would work – I could be the older version. She got to keep the 20′s and 30′s. I’d take the 40′s and 50′s.
But with enough experience in writing – and life – I realized quite quickly that while there were similarities — voice driven fiction with a female protag — there were many more differences. At first it made me nervous. Obviously, she has the formula for fiction and I failed chemistry. But being a copy-cat is not what I’m after. I just want to write as myself, akin to others who write well but as a shadow to no one.
So not being Jennifer Weiner quickly became OK. I’m sure she’s relieved.
As for me?
That’s yet to be determined.
It all started with reading. Isn’t that usually the way? We read something and we’re inspired or we’re struck with a loud, “I could write that,” and then we try.
A few years ago I was reading the Sunday Chicago Tribune and I read a piece about a soccer mom. My kids did not play soccer but the column resonated with me to the point where I experienced a combination of elation and annoyance. It culminated in a bit of naive query to the editor of the section where I attached writing samples. And with a nothing-to-lose attitude I stumbled upon the right editor at the right time and was able to write for the Trib until they not only eliminated the section I wrote for, but went bankrupt and didn’t pay freelancers.
Through the experience with the Tribune I found a good portion of my writing voice – the voice that weaves through most of my essays. Some said it was akin to Erma Bombeck – and since she was a megawriter who was funny and insightful, not to mention rich – I was always flattered. But the more Bombeck and Bombeck wannabes I read, the more I realized my voice was more dissimilar to Bombeck’s than it was similar. Did I need to mimick a familar voice to best find a large audience? Was that the best way to describe the essays I penned? Without a name as a writer must we find someone to compare ourselves to whom people can grab what they know? Doesn’t make them disappointed - or perhaps relieved when they do not recognize their favorite in an unknown?
There was a time or two I entered Erma Bombeck contests with some of, what I thought, were my funnier pieces. I always lost, and in a way, reveled in my own consistency. When I read the winners I embraced my inner snob and never liked what I read, glad that indeed, I was merely myself and not another Erma. It did nothing for my wallet, but in a strange way, it did pad my ego.