“You’re writing chick books,” a mate of mine said to me in the latter stages of a boozy lunch at Circular Quay recently.
“Am not,” I burped.
And so it went on for a while, like that, until I asked my friend, Jimbob, to explain his remark.
“I mean, don’t get me wrong, I like the books, but they’re essentially chick books.”
“Please explain further.” I was more than a little intrigued.
“Well, let me put it this way… (burp). None of your lead male characters would ever kill a dog, would they?”
I sat back in my chair and took another long sip of beer, savouring what was turning out to be one of those classic half-drunk pub debates. Interesting way to define whether a particular book, if not genre, is aimed principally at one half of the population, don’t you think? But it got me thinking.
Jimbob’s premise was that a woman (or chick in the case of this discussion) would not read a book in which the hero was prone to, say, kicking or shooting dogs. Therefore, by a process of elimination, he had determined that a book that featured animal cruelty (though certainly he was not condoning this, as he owns a cute little dog called Obi-Wan Ben Kenobi) would be a ‘boy’ book.
A couple of my characters in past books – all of them villains – have hunted big cats, though to the best of my recollection none has ever killed or even injured a dog.
“Your books have happy endings and strong lead female characters,” Jimbob continued.
Hmm. Maybe he had something.
My incredibly attractive, witty, well-read publisher, C, who looks like Grace Kelly (when Grace was alive and young) has informed me in the past that the majority of people who buy my books are women. This could be because the majority of all books are bought by women (which, I believe, is a fact) but until my recent lunch I was still labouring under the misapprehension that these women were buying my books in the main for husbands, brothers, fathers, boyfriends etc.
Then I got to thinking some more (it was a very long lunch)…
I estimate that about 70 per cent of the people who email me after reading one of my books are women. Does this mean that 70 per cent of my readers are female, or just that chicks are more likely to email strange (as in unknown, not weird) male authors than men? I relayed this observation to Jimbob.
“There you go,” he said, downing another expensive beer (he was paying, on his corporate card). “Seventy per cent. Chick lit.”
My fourth book, SAFARI, has just been released in A-format paperback, which is the little handbag-friendly size, as opposed to the big clunky trade paperback first release.
“Aha!” said Jimbob. “And who buys those little books?”
I nodded, resignedly. “Chicks.”
“Bet you sell a lot of them.”
More nodding. “Especially at the airport. All those chicks reading on the planes while their husbands watch Keira Knightly in Pride and Prejudice on the in-flight movie, but with the volume turned down so you don’t need to listen to the Jane Austen crap,” I said.
“OH? So you do that too?” Jimbob said.
“That’s it, my friend,” said Jimbob, who can sound a bit like George Costanza at times. “Chick books.”
I was described in a newspaper review once as a new entrant to the “hairy-chested-Africa-with-elephants” genre. Didn’t sound too girly too me, but what do reviewers know?
I was wondering who, then, were these men who were writing about dead dogs. Then last week, I picked up a book by Deon Meyer, a South African writer whose work I really like.
Imagine my surprise when about 20 pages into the book a lead character viciously kicks a German Shepherd (and its owner) in their respective faces. I was shocked, Legion of Fans (LOF)! Had I discovered, I wondered, a boy book?
The character responsible for the kicking was shaping up as a good guy up until that point, but then I started to wonder. Deon (and I do love your work), I wonder if you know that you have set yourself up for a big test here? If the man who kicks the dog is, indeed, a good guy (though I suspect he is not) then you are writing boy books. If not, according to the Jimbob index, then you, too, are writing chick books.
In late breaking news (I’m writing this post over two days), two relatives and one friend have called to say that the A-Format (chick edition) of SAFARI is featured in the Big W chainstore’s Mother’s Day catalogue here in Australia.
Interesting, because last year the big (presumably man-sized) paperback was in the father’s day catalogue.
I hope, of course, that all this means that I am actually writing books for the entire population, and not just 50 per cent of it.
Thank you, C (my witty, attractive publisher), for editing out all those dog-killing and Lesbian scenes from my early drafts. No doubt the women of Australia, Africa and Europe thank you, as well.
So, happy Mother’s Day to all you mums (or moms if you’re in South Africa) who get a copy of SAFARI on Sunday. You’ll find it contains medium level violence, coarse language, sex scenes, lots of gunplay, but absolutely no dog killing.
(note: no dogs were harmed or killed in the early drafts of any of my books – that was a joke. However, I cannot say the same thing about Lesbian scenes.)