The Mistress of Pennington's Tour

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Carole Ann Moleti probes a little deeper into Women's Fiction....

It's Tuesday which means it's time to welcome another guest author to my blog...welcome, Carole Ann Moleti!!

Carole Ann Moleti On Feminism and Women's Fiction: Chick-Lit, Romance, and Erotica

I was hoping announce some news hot off the press regarding one of my stories, but alas, the "very interested" editor still hasn't gotten back to me. Since Rachel was kind enough to invite me as a guest blogger, I thought a chat about women's fiction in general, and chick-lit, romance and erotica in particular, would be fun.

A friend of mine once commented that since women read more than men in general, the category of women's fiction isn't necessary. I take that one step further, suggesting it might be more apropos to eliminate it and create one called men's fiction (I lovingly call it dick-lit). The real issue is the assumption that if it's written by and for women it's fluff, superfluous, unimportant, and not "literary" quality. The truth is that women read all genres, and authors, regardless of their gender, write stories that appeal to women for very specific reasons. I also submit that the popularity of M/M romance among women, speaks to the fact that women are explore and experience a variety of lifestyles and alternatives.

Chick-lit is one of the newest opportunities for women to stake their claim on the right to embrace life and all its possibilities. Rachel's recent release, The Sharp Points of a Triangle is, like most romances, an examination of the trials women face when following their dreams, seeking adventure, and acting on their desires. And the spicier versions are full of hot sex, which leaves little to the imagination, and observes few taboos. But most readers say they don't read chick-lit for fashion and relationship advice, nor romance/erotica for the sex. They read it to experience the stories, the relationships between the characters, the symbolic search and the eternal struggles.

I read everything: All fiction (though I avoid thrillers and horror since I'm squeamish), nonfiction, including the most esoteric, boring and academic types, memoir, and even YA (a la Harry Potter).

I devoured Our Bodies, Ourselves (Boston Women's Health Collective) and The Hite Report (Shere Hite) as a teenager and young adult. It was there I learned about all the alternatives and choices I had-the ones the nuns tried very hard to deny existed for the twelve years they had me in their clutches. I now adore Christianne Northrup and the advice she gives in Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom. I'm a feminist, and treasure my copies of Beyond Power and The Women's Room by radicals like Marilyn French, as well as the more mainstream but nevertheless courageous women like Nora Ephron (Heartburn), Sue Miller (The Good Mother) and the contributors to the now defunct "Hers" column in The New York Times, featured in a delightful anthology edited by Nancy R. Newhouse, Hers: Through Women's Eyes.

I've always loved romance and chick-lit but hadn't read a lot of erotic fiction until about two years ago when the editor of The Fix, Eugie Foster, passed a number of anthologies and collections my way. But in women's health, I hear many true confessions. My work with patients includes a lot of talk about sex. All kinds. Down and dirty. So it wasn't a big jump.

These days, even contemporary and genre fiction is pretty spicy. Best Fantastic Erotica, edited by Cecilia Tan, was a jaw dropper. Not because of the sex, which is graphic. But it was the variety of stories and the inclusive celebration of human fantasy and sexuality that turned my head. I'll focus on only a few, but it's an incredible anthology of erotica including M/M, F/F, ménage, BDSM, comic, high fantasy and science fiction. I didn't like it all, especially the heavy BDSM, which is a bit too close to the porn line for me, but hell, is slash and hack horror, murder and mayhem any worse than sex between consenting parties? Not to me, but that's another topic.

"Monsoon" by Arinn Dembo is one of the best stories I have read in a long time, something I could easily have seen in The New Yorker back in the day when they were accepting slipstream fiction and more female authors. Ditto for "Opening the Veins of Jade" by Reneé M. Charles and Jean Roberta's "Smoke."

Asimov's July 2006, published a stellar example of paranormal romance: Ian McDonald's 2006 Hugo Award Winner "The Djinn's Wife." How about the Hugo nominated, provocative fantasy version of chick-lit, "Pol Pot's Beautiful Daughter," by Geoff Ryman, published the same year by The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction?

I recently had the pleasure of working with Andrew Richardson, another Eternal Press author, whose erotic F/F short "The Shoot" is another example of fine women's fiction-the story of one woman's struggle with her sexual identity and orientation, and a tribute to the special nature of female friendship. So debunks two other myths: men can't write romance or erotica, and men don't read it.

Which brings up two interesting questions:

Is erotica really just porn written for/by women? I don't think so. The popularity of romance and more recently erotica is, in my opinion, due to women discovering what author Anne Harris discussed at Worldcon last year: sexual agency or the ability to claim the right they have to fully embrace their fantasies and secret desires-a natural outgrowth of the feminist movement.

Can romance and erotica be feminist? You bet your sweet nothins'. Respect and admiration for the power of fertility and the incredible power and beauty of the female body has long since been missing. It's about time that the penis has fallen from glory (pun totally intended) and that sexuality in general be regarded as an essential part of every human being's life. There are lots of flavors besides chocolate and vanilla, enough that anyone can find what they like best.

Those are my opinions. I'd love to hear yours.

Head to the library for some of the books I've mentioned. And for some excellent, thought provoking short "women's" fiction check out:

Best Fantastic Erotica edited by Cecilia Tan.

My full review (for The Fix):

Read my commentary (for Tangent Online):

"The Djinn's Wife" by Ian McDonald's, Asimov's July 2006
"Pol Pot's Beautiful Daughter" by Geoff Ryman, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, October/November 2006

An interview:

"The Shoot" by Andrew Richardson

On my current reading list are The Sharp Points of a Triangle, written by my hostess Rachel Brimble, and I Came Upstairs: A Victorian Courtesan's Memoir by MC Halliday. Both are available from Eternal Press at and in print and e-reader formats at Amazon and Fictionwise.

I'm writing a good bit of romance myself. This reminds me, I must check email now for word from that editor.

Keep in touch!

My blogs:
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Carole Ann Moleti is a midwife and nurse practitioner in New York City. She lectures and writes on all aspects of women’s health with a focus on feminist and political issues. In addition to professional publications, her work has appeared in Oasis Journal, This Path, Noneuclidean Café, The Fix, Tangent Online Review of Short Fiction, and The Internet Review of Science Fiction.

Carole's memoir Someday I’m Going To Write a Book, chronicles her experiences as a public health nurse in the inner city. She is at work on her second memoir Karma, Kickbacks and Kids, the title of which is self-explanatory.

But her first love is writing science fiction and fantasy because walking through walls is a lot less painful than running into them.

Carole would love to hear from you - please leave your comments, thoughts and inspirations ...


  1. Thanks for the great post, and the book suggestions. I'll be sure to check my local library for some of those titles.

  2. An excellent post. You raise a great point about 'women's fiction'-literary snobs often 'forget' about it as its own genre, and forget how powerful it really is. The literary snobs of this world, and those who live in academia, need to learn that every genre is valid, and that all stories are legitimate.

    Fantasy and science fiction also face this problem, but I think that's tied up more in academic mockery than gender stereotypes.

  3. I agree that fantasy and science fiction aren't as dismissive of romance, but SFWA has in the past refused membership to authors who write romances, even if they contain speculative elements. I'm not sure that is still the case, however.

    I will say that there is a decided snobbery against paranormal romances, which I observed very clearly at Worldcon last year. Even though the panels on Vampire Fiction, for example, were very well attended, by both men and women.

    Yet some of the panelists were poking fun at it despite a very strong presence of writers in that genre whose panels were very full of fans.

  4. Romance as a genre is usually derided by men, and many women. For myself, I'd like to see the genre become less of a formula, as it was when I started reading it back in the 1980's. Very good points made in your blog. Loved the dick-lit.

  5. Finally, the world is changing! A romance writer used to get lumped in with Mills and Boon type romances. Now they can stand, proud and singular, in their creative art!!!

  6. Had to say how great it is to see such comments on a blog post such as this - thanks for sharing, Carole and getting us all talking!

  7. That's one of the most thought provoking blogs I read in a long time - you've raised some issues that I never even realised were issues. You also think a lot more about your writing than a lot of writers who just sit down and get on with it (me included!).

    And thank you for mentioning The Shoot. I've enjoyed working with you, too.

  8. Thanks for having me, Rachel. I'm glad you stopped by, Andrew. And everyone else, too.

    Yes, formula. That is a reality in all genres, I fear. As I search for an agent and submit story after story to SF/F prozines, I often wonder if it's the enchanted paper clip that "grabs" them. I haven't perfected that charm yet.

    Editor/agent blogs that give all sorts of prescriptions for the perfect structure, perfect query, high concept pitches, etc abound.

    I think small and indie publishers are much more open to work that breaks the mold. Epublishers have done it for romance, and I find they are very generous with advice, encouragement and even offering classes for prospective authors.