Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Trends and Fiction


Here's a question.

How does a trend become a trend? For awhile, chick lit was super hot. Now, according to Stephanie Bond and other sources, chick lit is well, not hot. Werewolves, vampires, and anything with paranormal elements is super hot (in the romance world anyway).

Here's my humble opinion on the subject. A trend becomes a trend when an agent/editor/publishing house takes a chance on something new and innovative. Bridget Jones by Helen Fielding was probably one of the first break-out chick lit books (and I loved both of them). And then, suddenly the market was flooded with chick lit. It boomed for a few years, but now, the popularity has suddenly dropped.

Regency-historical novels continue to be popular. Have you seen the boom of Jane Austen-related books? There's even a few movies about Jane Austen and her life, and not adaptations of her stories.

So here's something I don't quite understand when it comes to World War II fiction. I've had agents pass on my manuscript because "World War II is a hard sell at the moment." Well...ok. But then I point to the success of Ken Follett, Alan Furst, Jack Higgins, and...

Wait a minute. Those are all male writers. Female novelists who write about World War II are few and far in between. Why is that? The most obvious answer, of course, would be that men generally are more interested in military subjects, i.e. war.

BUT...

Wars involve everyone - man, woman, child. World War II saw the advent of women, especially American women, enterting the workforce, of keeping the homefront going while their men went off to war. Women were in the military, too - as WACS, as WAVES, as army nurses, as airplane pilots, and yes, even as spies. Books abound on women's role during World War II. I should know - I have most of them!

Yet World War II fiction written by women continues to fall short of the male novelists' output. The inspirational market has more World War II-set fiction than the secular, and though there are a few female novelists that have written secular war fiction - Anita Shreve, Pam Jenoff, and Morag McKendrick Pippin - the balance is clearly in the men's favor.

This whole idea intrigues - and frustrates me. I have so many tales I want to tell about World War II - but is the market there?

I believe it is. Look at the popularity of Hollywood movies like Saving Private Ryan, Pearl Harbor, Black Book, and Schindler's List, to name a few. Ken Burns' documentary was hugely successful. History books on new subjects of the war continue to be released every month. The interest is there.

I can think of only one solution to getting the powers-that-be in the publishing industry to sit up and take notice of our need for World War II fiction written by women - write a great book. A high-concept book. A book that will spark a new trend.

You know that burn-out I had last week? Well, consider it gone. I now feel like I have a mission - to write a book that will spark a revolution of sorts, one that will open the market to more novels set during WW2 written by women.

I'd like to hear your thoughts on World War II fiction. Ever read any? Have any desire to read any? Do you have any ideas on why it's not a big seller in women's fiction?

(And if you would be so kind, please take the poll in the left-handed column).

20 comments:

  1. I just picked up a mystery by Kathryn Miller Haines set during WWII and featuring a female sleuth. I can't wait to read it! So, the precedent is there, even if there are less women authors of war fiction. :)

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  2. Have you tried the UK publishers? We have loads of books set in WW2 here. And quite a few that span before and after too.

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  3. As an aficionado of the history of military women in WW-2 (and since) I say go for it!

    That, BTW, is a quote from the late Frieda Mae Hardin, World War I Yeoman (F), at the dedication of the Women's Memorial in 1997.

    PJ

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  4. I'd agree with Diane - try UK publishers (Piatkus springs to mind).

    Mary Wesley wrote several books set in WW2 - they were all v popular too.

    Then you have Beryl Kingston, Harry Bowling (I know he's male but it's saga/romance), Laurie Graham (actually... hers were probably more in the 50s but I think of them as WW2 books). Then there's the guy who wrote the WW2 romances. Robert R...? can't remember his surname and the book was OK but clearly didn't make enough of an impact on me for me to remember his name or the title, but he was up-and-coming 2-3 years back.

    I've heard the big thing in women's fiction right now is multi-generational. So there's a thought. Start with WW2...

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  5. Go for it, Melissa. I say write what you love. If you aren't doing that, there seems little point in writing to me. Westerns are a hard sell, but its one of my favorite time periods to write and I know I'll never stop.

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  6. I agree with Diane and Kate; try the UK publishers. Personally, I love WWII fiction. I think that era provides a wonderful setting for drama/emotion.
    I've only written one set at that time, Wings of Hope, and although it was supposed to be part of a series, the publishers pulled it shortly after publication. Only a very small number of copies ever saw light of day. Having said that, however, I still (7 years on!) get letters from readers who a) found it and b) enjoyed it.
    Go for it!

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  7. I like WWII fiction as well - though more of the character driven, women's stuff than the spy stuff. Rosamund Pilcher's Coming Home is one of my fave books of all time.

    Have you seen a Brit tv series called Foyle's War? It's wonderful.

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  8. Yes, I'd forgotten RP's 'Coming Home'. A truly wonderful read.

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  9. I love the period, too, and fell more in love with it when I wrote OUT OF TIME, my WWII/time travel. I think its just a case of cart having to push the horse. Small/indie presses have pushed other genres into prominence. The hard part is letting readers know where to find the books. Your blog helps, but in end, we need better word of mouth!

    Good blog!
    Pauline

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  10. Well, since I too am writing WWII fiction and I too am a woman, I am 100% behind you! We shall change their minds!

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  11. I love historical fiction--writing some WWII based myself. And there's not a lot to choose from on shelves of the big-box retailers. Trust me, I work in one. More needs to be written on the homelife, and that, from what I've seen, isn't what sells. It's the battle strategy and fight-to-the-last that gets picked up off the shelves--snore. So maybe we could get something up there that covers the day-to-day, a book that doesn't have bombs ad explosions to keep today's short attention spans happy. But that is a maybe.

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  12. Wild Rose Press is publishing WWII romances, I know because my friend Marty Kendall has written one.

    I love anything WWII.

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  13. Melissa, I found your blog via the Fedora Lounge. You're dead-on right about trends being set by agents/editors willing to take risks. Which means that we writers have to risk writing what we love, rather than what might sell.

    I write young adult fiction. THE hot trend in YA is paranormal and more paranormal, with a little more paranormal on the side. Not what I want to write (honestly, what IS it people find so fascinating about vampires?) I wanted to write about a WWII-era teenage dime-a-dance girl. So I did. BloomsburyUSA is publishing it next spring. There ARE editors out there willing to gamble. (Now, whether they'll pick up my next WWII book is a whole 'nother question...depending on how this one does. Fingers crossed for a new trend!)

    You're right -- the only solution is to write what you love and make it as good as you can.

    BTW, have you read Gone to Soldiers by Marge Piercy? Came out several years ago, but it's WWII fiction, and I think it did pretty well...

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  14. Great discussion, everyone!

    Robin - I'll have to check out the author you mentioned. Thanks!

    Diane - I think that time period is more prevalent in UK books than in the US - and I think it boils down to the fact that the British were much more affected by WW2 than America. After all, Great Britain stood alone against Hitler there for awhile! I am going to check into the UK, though.

    Patslist - Ooh, I am intrigued! Would love to chat with you sometime about your work. Thanks for visiting!

    Kate - Hmmm...multi-generational. Thing is, I don't think I could write it - wouldn't be my forte, so to speak. But I am going to check out some of those authors you mentioned. :-)

    Kelly - Timeless advice - thank you. Sometimes I need to hear that - write what you love, not what's selling. So I guess that's what I'm gonna do. *grin*

    Shirley - I would love to read your book! Did you ever have any other plans to write more WW2 books?

    Tess - I've heard nothing but good things about Foyle's War. I'll have to rent it at Blockbuster sometime. I think the UK has a TON of great WW2-era series and movies that I need to watch!

    Pauline - Yes, I agree - small, independent publishers are more willing to take a chance on this time period. I'm hopeful that the "big boys" in publishing will sit up and take notice.

    Ell - Right on! ;-)

    Elise - Thanks for visiting! And good food for thought. I think that's largely what drives the sales of some of the male writers of WW2 - the explosions and life or death situations. Of course, I love those types of situations, and I have ideas for both types of stories - more homefront, day-to-day life centered and then the fast-paced, life or death stuff.

    Bailey - Wasn't your father a WW2 vet? I seem to remember you saying that.

    Christine - So glad you visited! And I'm so happy for you that you have a YA book coming out set during WW2. How awesome is that???
    Like you, I don't get the whole paranormal stuff, but that's just me. Another of those trends, I suppose! Do you have plans to write any other WW2-set books?

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  15. One thing you might not (or might :) know is that there has traditionally throughout history been a rise in interest in paranormal things around the change of centuries. Now I've forgotten most of the details but I remember reading a fabulous article outlining the phenomena. So maybe that trend is linked to some deeper human psychology.

    I saw a book The ZooKeepers Wife that looks great, set in WWII.

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  16. Great discussion to pop in on--

    I love historical fiction of any period, and from what I can tell, you need only do what you've said is your goal: write a great book.

    ("Only," she says...)

    The key, if there is a key, may be to create a story that is not just historical but which shows the enduring sameness of humankind--that is, to make your story universal in terms of time and place. Shakespeare's work continues to hold up so well because his themes are always current.

    Your determination to succeed is the other "key." Keep it up. :)

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  17. Toni - No, I didn't know that about the paranomal trend - wow. How interesting! I'll put The Zookeeper's Wife on my list of TBR books. :-)

    Therese - Determination is definitely something I need to stock up on. ;-)

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  18. Melissa -- yes, I'm just starting another YA set in WWII. I have no idea if the publisher will want it or not. But here goes...

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  19. Christine - Oooh, good luck!

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  20. Anonymous4:55 AM

    Well, I would use a masculine pen name. Write a story with a male main character who has female "mental sex." In other words, he is a man with intuition and rapport. Such characters can be very popular because they defy expectations and suprise the reader.

    There is not point in fighting the trends. Instead, use them to your advantage.

    Best Wishes,
    Barnaby Wildstone

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