Recently, I was at a bookstore, thumbing through a literary magazine (which shall remain nameless), and suddenly slammed it shut, like I'd just been caught reading 50 Shades of Grey during Mass. (I can't help thinking that if I actually did that in church, the rest of the congregation would point at me and shriek, "Get thee gone, Jezebel!")
The reason I stopped reading the story in that magazine was because it described in graphic detail a menage a trois (at least, I hope only three people were involved, and that I wouldn't have eventually stumbled upon an even more graphic description of a full-on orgy). This wasn't an "adult" magazine; this was a reputable literary magazine that many writers, including me, aspire to be published in.
Many editors and writers always say that people who want to be published in those periodicals should read them and familiarize themselves with what those publications are looking for. That's what I was trying to do that day in the bookstore. But although I'm not one of those people who think that everything on TV and in books should be G-rated (seriously, how boring would THAT be?), I do feel uncomfortable when I read some of the stories that are praised and published in those magazines.
I'm not saying that sex should NEVER be written about, especially because many of the chick lit novels that I've read do include love scenes. Some of them, however, go a little too far. For example, I read a scene where a girl's car literally exploded (someone was trying to kill her). Instead of doing something that made sense, like call the cops or the fire department or RUN AWAY SCREAMING, she and the FBI agent who was supposed to protect her went back into her house and...well, you know. And meanwhile I'm shaking my head and thinking, "This is what gets published?"
I've read other stories in other literary magazines that describe events that I don't describe in my own stories, like drug abuse, violence, and suicide. These are all important, real-life issues that should not be swept under the rug. But that doesn't mean that I want to be the one who writes about them.
Although I love reading chick lit, sometimes it's hard for me to relate to the main characters, whose lives often revolve around finding and/or keeping a guy. Although finding true love is important to me too, anyone who's read this blog for a while will know that I'm married to my work. Most of the guys I've dated didn't appreciate coming in second, and I don't blame them. I think that the fact that I can't relate to most chick lit novels is why it's been difficult for me to write one of my own.
One genre I love reading even more than chick lit is humor writing. Dave Barry was the first humor writer I ever read. He could make ordinary things like taking his dog out to go to the bathroom seem like one of the funniest things in the world. Angela Nissel, author of The Broke Diaries, knew how to describe a trip to Wal-mart or the laundry room in a witty, entertaining way.
I've also been reading hilarious memoirs by people like Jim Gaffigan, David Sedaris, Rachel Dratch, Jenny Mollen (though some of her raunchy descriptions made me think that the people at my church would probably hurl holy water at her but she would just stick her tongue out at them and keep writing), Jen Lancaster, and Tina Fey.What they taught me was that being neurotic and
obsessive can be good, because I can put those qualities to good use in my
writing. Those writers obsess over things that most people take for
granted, but they do it in a funny way and they get paid for it.
I just finished reading Amy Poehler's memoir, Yes Please, and she wrote something that struck a chord with me: "Decide what your currency is early. Let go of what you will never have. People who do this are happier and sexier."
It made me think about what my own currency is. As far as writing goes, maybe my "currency" could be humor writing too. I haven't given up on the manuscripts of chick lit novels that I've written. But writing about my own life in a witty, funny way has always come much more easily to me, though I know I still have a lot to learn.
Of course, it's much easier for celebrities to publish creative nonfiction, though I don't discredit the talent of writers like the ones I've mentioned (especially because they are all very talented. On the other hand, there are also celebrity "authors" like Snooki, so...) But it got me thinking that maybe I should try to get my own humor writing published too, whether I collect some of the writing I've done on this blog or in my stack of journals and put it in a book, or whether I come up with new pieces and send them out to magazines and websites that publish humor writing (websites and literary magazines won't publish blog posts that have already been posted online, because they're considered "published").
What do you think? Do you write the kinds of stories that you like to read, or do you prefer to explore different genres? What kinds of things do you not like to read about?
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