“Drop-Dead Gorgeous Fiction I: Women Writing Fiction” was the penultimate panel at LJ’s Day of Dialog, held high above midtown Manhattan at the McGraw-Hill Building’s 50th floor meeting rooms.
The authors (and a lone editor, Tara Parsons, editorial director of MIRA: Harlequin) at this delightful panel moderated by LJ’s media editor, Stephanie Klose, entered laughing. Zingers and bon mots salted the conversation, but the participants did address some serious issues, such as the labeling of women’s fiction, where they set their books, and which authors they like to read.
Several panelists worked in a librarian love story as they introduced themselves and talked about their latest books (or in the case of Parsons, upcoming titles she’s editing). Lisa Scottoline, whose next Rosato & Associates novel, Betrayed, will release in November (St. Martin’s), called herself a “library slut,” adding that “the best marriage” she ever had “was with reading, not a man.” Pamela Nowak noted that the heroine of her 2013 historical romance, Changes (Five Star: Cengage/Gale) is a librarian in 1879 Omaha who tries to conceal her quarter-Sioux heritage until she cannot stay quiet any longer; and Sophie Littlefield, author of the upcoming The Missing Place (Gallery: S.&S., Oct.), gave a shout-out to the California Library system.
Chelsea Cain was rueful—but funny—about the irony of her series starter title One Kick (S.&S., Aug.), as she hobbled in a bit late due to a broken kneecap (it happened at soccer practice). Two authors who are better known (and widely admired) for their YA titles talked about writing adult books. Lauren Oliver discussed how her first adult novel, a ghost story called Rooms (Ecco: HarperCollins, Sept.) is organized by rooms, not chapters, while Rainbow Rowell riffed on old technology—her next novel, Landline (St. Martin’s, Jul.), links her protagonist to the past using a “magic phone,” a landline at her mom’s house. Parsons touted upcoming MIRA titles Madame Picasso by Anne Girard (Sept.) and Mary Kubica’s debut The Good Girl (Aug.), which she called “Gone Girl with heart.”
Klose kept the questions coming, but knew when to step out of the way and let the savvy panelists run and riff. Addressing the label “women’s fiction,” Scottoline said she hates the categorization. “I’m not writing for anybody’s reproductive organs, I’m writing for a sensibility, soul to soul.” Oliver and Littlefield agreed with that general sentiment, with Oliver wondering why we care about the labels if “good fiction is good fiction,” and Littlefield adding that she likes to call her novels “fiction you will like.” Parsons was more supportive of labeling, saying that doing so makes it easier for publishers to sell the books.
When asked if they wrote for a particular audience or reader, most of the authors said no. Rowell recalled how her editor took her to task when she wrote her first book, which has a male protagonist. “I started to picture this one man, and my editor said, screw him, women buy more books!” Now she writes for herself. “The audience is too many people to think about, I’d shut myself down.” Oliver starts with her characters, as do Nowak and Scottoline.
A lively discussion about their books’ settings kept the panelists (and the audience) laughing. Rowell was droll about her frequent use of her hometown, Omaha, NE. “It’s always a joke,” she said, adding that she could definitely conduct a good one-day location tour of Omaha, but two days might be stretching it. Littlefield’s latest is set in the oil fields of North Dakota; she likes to go “everywhere” in her books, she said. “I like to keep myself amused. Immersing herself in historical records such as street maps and photos was essential for Nowak.
Cain joked that she sets her thrillers (her previous Archie Sheridan/Gretchen Lowell. series and the new Kick Lannigan books) where she lives in Portland, OR, because it’s “easy.” Oliver admitted that she set a book in Portland, ME, because she had a friend there and she wanted to go visit and “eat lobster.” Scottoline discussed how thoroughly her Philadelphia settings inform her characters.
The panelists became even more animated at the final questions, when Klose asked them to recommend a woman author who isn’t as big and/or popular as she should be. Here are their suggestions:
Oliver: Victoria Schwab writes “intelligent” middle-grade and YA books about angels
Cain: Lidia Yuknavitch wrote a great memoir (Cain wrote the foreword) and a fictionalized version of a Freud patent’s case study
Scottoline: Linda Castillo “combines relationships and crime”perfectly
Nowak: Karen Witemeyer, author of inspirational historical romances, has “the greatest mastery of P.O.V.”
Littlefield: Sara Gran creates “genre-bending” stories, especially her current “Claire DeWitt” detective series
Parsons: Sarah Beth Durst, who’s mostly known for her YA novels
Rowell: Stephanie Perkins (Isla and the Happily Ever After)
Klose: Sharon (sometimes called SJ) Bolton