Being a Girl

mom and me at home
mom and me at home

My mom would be there any minute. I decided to hide at the neighbor’s house. It was easy to lie to them. “My mom is coming over,” I said. “I don’t know why, but I’m not allowed to see her. Dad said so.”

I was 12. They believed me because they never liked my mother. I’d called my dad at work and told him mom was coming to the house. When he asked why, I lied to him. “I don’t know.”

“You don’t have to see her if you don’t want to. Do what you think is best.” He’s confused. Mom has never come to the house without talking to him first.

I peeked out the neighbor’s kitchen window. Mom parked her ’78 Toyota and walked up to dad’s front door. She knocked and waited. She had a bag in her hand. I knew she would worry and I didn’t want to worry her. But I didn’t want her to talk to me either.

A empty lot was between my house and the neighbor’s. A cow pasture stretched far past out backyards. A lake filled with cattails and alligators was the front yard. The road cut through our properties. Mom walked around dad’s house and looked through windows.

The neighbors chattered behind me while I spied on my mom. They never suggested I tell my mother where I was. I knew better grown ups would’ve done something proper. I wondered if mom would call the police or wait in her car until I showed myself.

I put my hand on the kitchen door and then stepped back. I could think of no way to explain my cowardice. She wanted to talk to me about girl things. I wanted to say, I’ve read Judy Blume and loads of other books. I’ve talked to older girls. I know, I know, I know. Leave me alone. Mom had given me a preliminary chat in the car a few weeks prior.

Mom stood in the driveway for a while and stared out at the lake. Then she got in her car and drove away. She never said anything else to me about. Even later when I lived with her, she didn’t ask me where I had been that day.

I spent the rest of the afternoon in my room wishing I’d been born a boy.

Now I’m trying to get an agent. I’ve got to choose a category, right? Literary fiction, fantasy, women’s fiction… What is that? Women’s fiction? I’m a woman and my main character is female. Is that it? Why? I don’t want to lose readers because of gender. Can only a woman enjoy my novel? Do men have to wonder if their novels are men’s fiction? What would that be anyway?

How do you decide what category/genre you should be in? Does a label like women’s fiction help or hurt?

7 thoughts on “Being a Girl

  1. Well, I have to say I think the genre categories are confusing. I have no idea where to put mine. It’s paranormal, and Sherri has told me in the past that means a sub-genre of “fantasy”, but it doesn’t feel like a fantasy. But it’s hard to classify.

    Why can’t a story be a story?

    1. Mine doesn’t feel like a fantasy to me either, but… I’m with you. Why can’t a story be a story? I’m all for taking away the signs and putting all the fiction together. Might make us better readers too. But people are driven to categorize. They can’t be stopped.

  2. “Men’s novels” would probably be things like, y’know, manly adventure stories of fighting grizzlies while on camping trips, Deliverance-style rugged fantasias, maybe war novels that don’t go all latter-day angsty. But it’s almost certainly not a big-selling category — on the whole, men just don’t buy fiction in anything like women’s numbers.

    You’ve read Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, right? Apparently that’s considered literary — although Borders has copies on the fantasy/SF shelf, too. OTOH, Time Traveler’s Wife I’ve never seen in fantasy/SF, only general or literary fiction. I have no idea what the dividing line is, other than an arbitrary marketing decision.

    Well, not really arbitrary; applying a genre label has two effects: (1) Immediately you’ve excluded the portions of the audience who “never read that genre,” or even those who might read it, given enough time, but won’t devote (say) a plane flight to it; (2) Probably more importantly, you’ve automatically attracted the interest of the audience which “always read that genre.” When I go into a bookstore with no particular book in mind, I never — really never — say, “Well, I know for sure I’m NOT looking in that section.” Instead, I’m thinking, “Hmm, I’m kind of in the mood for [fill in the blank].”

    Can’t speak for all men, of course, but I guarantee that “Men will not read Marta’s novel” is not true. Which isn’t to say someone downstream won’t make the “it’s women’s fiction” marketing decision anyhow. (They’ll easily be able to name, say, 5 women who will want to read it, vs. 1 guy. Forgetting that on average 5 times more women will read ANYTHING labeled “fiction.”)

    1. Yeah, why is it so few men read fiction? I mean, there was a time when men where the ones educated. Men wrote all the books and read all the books and women had to hope they had nice fathers who might think it okay to educate them. Why did men stop reading fiction? Well, not all men obviously but so many.

      Once women started reading, men had to leave? I despair. I really do.

      Of course, at this point almost no one (male or female) is reading Marta’s novel. I beginning to suspect it isn’t marketable to anyone not my friend.

      But enough with the whining.

      1. I don’t know why more guys don’t read — at least not general/mainstream/”literary” fiction. It’s not hard to find a guy browsing the thriller aisle, or among the F&SFs and the horror titles (and, gods know, the graphic novels/manga); you see them all the time, in Borders and B&N and WaldenBooks. And in a college town of any size, there’s usually a core contingent of arty writerly types.

        Maybe it’s got something to do with the decline of a real leisure class. Guys sometimes seem so caught up in practicalities, logistics, and the “real” world that they just don’t have time (or spare neurons) to spend on imaginary ones.

        Of course I don’t mean to imply above that women — especially in hard economic times — don’t have their share of “practical” things to keep them busy, to say nothing of trying to juggle their kiddos among all the other stuff.

        Maybe… maybe it goes something like this: to read fiction, you’ve got to engage with it. You’ve got to establish a relationship with a story.

        Put that way, the question, “Why don’t more men read fiction?” practically answers itself. 🙂

  3. Right now would be glad to be read by any gender 🙂 It’s an interesting point – I reckon the books I buy are 50/50 male female authors. How many men buy books penned by women? Why was Joanne Rowling pitched as JK?

  4. Labels are so hard. Though I would say there are definitely some books that are easy to classify as “women’s fiction” because I doubt any man would care to read them. Maybe a better term would be “girlie fiction.” Then I’d know to stay away from those. ha. ha.

    Seriously, though, I don’t think your book is women’s fiction. And it is hard to label your book. It’s different from anything I’ve read. I wish agents would also accept “other” as a category.

    I know you’re sick of me saying this, but if you have it critiqued at a conference, the agent might be able to give you suggestions. Although, don’t think what they say is written in stone either. An agent told me that The River Charmer was Southern Gothic. Close, maybe, but not quite.

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