Daphne Uviller, author of Hotel No Tell, her second novel featuring Zephyr Zuckerman, talks to SW's Founding Partner Deborah Siegel about the cons and pros of being labeled “chick lit,” writerly karma, and fighting her own time-sucking demons.
DS: Zephyr, your heroine, is single, on the prowl, and fallible. Yet she is actively atheist, child-free by choice, and at least one woman in this book spends just $13 on her wedding shoes at Payless. Is this chick lit?
DU: Insert big sigh here. Um, yes, if you love chick lit. But noooooo if the term repulses you or if you are a male of the species. Can we change the question to: Does female author + female protagonist + humor = chick lit? Because that’s the issue I’m struggling with. My novels are definitely not literary fiction, but, like Carl Hiaasen, for example, I write high-octane, bordering-on-absurd, escapist fiction for the intelligent reader. His covers get marketed in reds and yellows, which I requested, but was denied. I love the cover of Hotel No Tell, but I still wish it didn’t have so much flowery script and I wish that the title of Super in the City was not in pink script.
DS: What’s wrong with “chick lit?” Why do you find it a derogatory label? And do you think the genre itself is on the wane, given the darker real-life plot turns precipitated by the recession?
DU: Well, a large part of my plot is precipitated by the Bernie Madoff fiasco! But, again, I don’t in any way want to alienate readers or the bloggers who have been so good to me or even my publicist, who is actively marketing to women readers. But. But. I’ve had a devoutly Christian, male writer/reader tell me he loves my books. And with three books under my belt, I’ve received just one review by a male reviewer (of course, Publishers Weekly and Kirkus are unsigned, so those are guesses) and he wrote the most wonderful rave. Male friends of mine who are obligated to buy Super in the City and Hotel No Tell discover they love them (or so they tell me).
I think, from a strictly business point of view, marketing this book as “chick lit” cuts me off from entire categories of potential readers, namely 1) men and 2) women who are not looking for high fashion and predictable endings.
DS: Well, there’s a damning of chick lit right there, no?
DU: Yes, and we’ve identified the problem. There’s bad chick lit and there’s good chick lit. Just like there’s bad and good literary fiction, mystery, sci-fi, etc. Take Olivia Goldsmith, for example, a chick lit writer if ever there was one (RIP). I admit -- and it is an admission -- to loving Flavor of the Month (strangely, it’s out of print). It’s trashy in the most satisfying, thoroughly researched way, and the ending is unpredictable. But Goldsmith also wrote a book called Switcheroo, and it is just abysmal: dull, nonsensical, poorly edited if edited at all, mystifying that it was ever published.
So there you have it: If you work hard to make your chick lit good, then it’s a great label. If it’s boring and boilerplate, then it’s as bad as any other bad book in any genre, but just like so much involving women, we have to work harder to hold on to gains made in any arena. Bad chick lit is more catastrophic than bad any other book. It’s like Tina Fey wrote in Bossypants (a moment here for me to bow down with the rest of the population) and as Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, wrote in a now much-circulated co...: all women can do is plow ahead doing their best work until the sexism falls behind them. The corollary is that we can’t afford to fail. We can’t afford to write flops.
DS: You and I helped each other become writers by co-editing a book together (our first!), by making writing dates, and by sharing both pages and contacts. How, in your opinion, can women writers best help other women writers in the current publishing climate?
DU: Well, first of all, and obviously, by using SheWrites. Seriously, what an incredibly supportive community of what, 15,000 women writers and readers?? But also, pay it forward! I met and befriended Elizabeth Gilbert while I was interning at The Paris Review. I tentatively asked her about a career in writing and by way of answer, she invited me to her upstate home for the day, made a stew, and took me hiking. “There’s plenty of work to go around,” she assured me, and proceeded to share half a dozen professional contacts. Ever since, I have tried my best to be equally kind to aspiring writers.
DS: You have been known (ahem!) to go on email blackouts. I'm always in awe of that (admiration, sister!), but since I'm utterly hooked to my keyboard, I also wonder how you do it. So I have to ask: social media: friend or foe?
DU: Can I make a plug for an application called Freedom? I have no vested interest in it except that it allows me to cope with technology responsibly. A writer can turn off all access to the internet for a self-specified amount of time, and let me tell you, my whole body relaxed the first time I used it. And in case you don’t want to print this for fear of driving readers away from SheWrites, let me assure you that it improves users’ experiences, because they’re coming to the site in an organized and intentional way, during a time they’ve decided makes sense for them during their writing day.
Hey, that rhymes! So it must be true.
Follow Daphne Uviller on Facebook. You can buy Hotel No Tell right here. And for those of you in the NY area, Daphne will be reading at The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation on June 20th, 6:30-8pm, Jefferson Market Library (6th Ave @ W. 10th Street) and speaking on June 28th, 7-8pm, along with fellow author Lorna Graham about novels set in Greenwich Village (both guilty as charged!) at The Strand Book Store, 828 Broadway @ E. 12th Street. Both events are free.