Monday, January 30, 2012

Literary vs. Commercial

Last weekend I participated in the Writer's Digest Conference Pitch Slam. After the event, an agent-friend and I discussed the pitches that got us excited, and there was one in particular that became the subject of a debate. I talked about a pitch for a magical realism novel that I couldn't wait to read; she said the same about an urban fantasy. It took us all of ten seconds to realize we were talking about the same novel.

During the pitch, the author didn't label his work with either genre, so we were left to fight over it. In her more commercially inclined hands, she would find an urban fantasy angle and exploit it to publishers. My tastes run more literary, so my mind ran with ideas of magical realism comparison titles and where I'd place it. (Keep in mind, neither one of us has read this manuscript yet, but this is what an agent needs to think about when hearing a 3-minute pitch.)

When I receive queries that claim to be literary fiction, it often turns out, after reading the synopsis, that they are for genre fiction (aka commercial fiction). The flip side has happened too. I request a supernatural thriller or dark mystery and they turn out to be much more literary than the author probably realized.

I don't think writers should get too hung up on labels, but it's important to know what genre you're writing. You're expected to give an agent an immediate sense of where they can sell your book, but even more than that you should be able to know who you'll be next to on a bookshelf so that you can read your comparison titles accordingly.

Figuring out thriller vs. mystery vs. suspense or paranormal romance vs. urban fantasy vs. supernatural horror can be difficult, I know. In these cases, it's best to just choose the closest and let a professional decide the best way they can sell it. But the line between literary and commercial isn't as vague. You shouldn't claim your book is literary fiction if it isn't. For one, it's rare you'll find an agent who looks for literary fiction and genre fiction with the same fervor, if they take on both at all. You don't want to get a rejection based on a mislabel. Secondly, literary fiction is quite different than genre fiction, and not learning the difference can reflect a lack of research on your part.

The common argument, however, is that all books are technically literary. Right? Well, yes and no. Saying all books are literary is like saying all Young Adult novels are about characters under 25. The genre labels can be misleading, which is why it's important to know what they mean.

If you're unsure about which you've written, here's a quick definition of each:

Literary fiction: The focus is on character arc, themes (often existential), and the use of language. I like to compare literary fiction authors to runway designers. The general public isn't mean to wear the clothes models display on the runway. They exist to impress the other designers and show the fashion industry what they can do. Literary writing is a lot like that, but on a more accessible level. Many dismiss literary fiction as "too artsy" and "books without a plot," but this isn't true. At least not most of the time. The plot is there; it's just incidental. Literary fiction is meant to make the reader reflect, and the author will almost always prefer a clever turn of phrase over plot development.

Commercial fiction: For the purposes of this blog post, I've been using this interchangeably with genre fiction. Basically, all genre fiction is commercial, but not all commercial fiction is genre. There is also "upmarket" commercial fiction, which I'll get to later. Unlike literary fiction, genre fiction is written with a wide audience in mind (aka "commercial") and always focuses on plot. There is still character development in genre fiction, but it is not as necessary. Characters get idiosyncratic quirks, clever dialogue, and often learn something new about life or themselves by the end. The difference is that their traits are only skin deep. The reader stays with them in the present. Rarely do we see a character's past unless there is something pertinent to the plot back there. Genre fiction has a Point A and a Point B, and very little stands in the way of telling that story.

Keep in mind that an agent or editor will rarely prefer you to play with these formats, especially if you're a debut author trying to find (and build) your audience. If you're writing a plot-driven genre novel that adheres to a sci-fi, romance, or thriller structure, don't try to load it with literary devices and huge character back-stories that aren't relevant to the plot. It won't impress an agent if you have a super literary genre novel. It will more likely confuse us and make your book harder to sell.

"Upmarket" fiction is where things get tricky. Books like The Help, Water for Elephants, Eat, Pray, Love, and authors like Nick Hornby, Ann Patchet, and Tom Perrotta are considered "upmarket." Their concept and use of language appeal to a wider audience, but they have a slightly more sophisticated style than genre fiction and touch on themes and emotions that go deeper than the plot.

With debut authors, I think the main source of uncertainty tends to come from what they set out to write vs. what they actually write. Genre fiction is written with a clear purpose. The author has an idea and writes a story to accomplish their goal. Literary fiction can be more accidental. A writer may start with an idea, and then discover along the way that they don't want to write about that anymore. They've fallen for their character's personal tale or the images they want to evoke within the reader. If the writing ends up falling somewhere in the middle, then it might be considered "upmarket." Or, it could mean it needs more focus one way or the other.

What's important to remember is that none of these types of fiction is better than the other. It's all about personal preference, based on what you like to read and how you write. If an agent doesn't represent a certain genre, it doesn't mean he or she think it's bad. It just means you're better off with someone else. Be aware that a genre label can influence an agent, but be honest about what your genre is. It wastes everyone's time - most importantly, yours - if you try to guess what you think agents want. We want books we can fall in love with that fall under in genres and styles we represent, whether they're young adult, adult genre fiction, or literary to a Proustian degree. That's all.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Triple

Enjoy a bit of science-fiction today with this except from a novel titled The Deep Time Cowboy by Mike Olive. Mike is a writer from Texas, now living in Colorado, and spends non-writing time climbing, mountaineering, camping, hiking, river-running, and other things that I only read about. Mike tries to bring humor into everything he writes to, as he puts it, "retain some sanity."  


Triple
By Mike Olive

“A pitiful excuse for a table. Not like the old days.” Jack Poulson had crept up on him. Triple gave an inner sigh. Jack mock-punched Triple’s shoulder.

“Remember when we’d come over here after the Cromwell Lecture and we’d have Russian caviar, a decent Rothschild Cabernet and, thick wedges of Stilton? Piles of meat. Fried chicken, roast beef, baked fish, sirloin steak (medium rare) and, roasted ham?”

Reluctantly, Triple nodded in affirmation. He did remember those long ago days of delicious, plentiful meat.
Skeeter came up. He grinned at Poulson in a nasty manner. “Oh, yes. The Star Wars money,” he sneered. “Those sweet days, back in the eighties, when the Department of Defense thought we could develop the perfect anti-missile system. Truck loads of money given to any idiot who would ignore the math and say - 'Why yes, we can do that.'”

Poulson sniffed. “You’re just jealous, that’s all. No, we weren’t able to build it but, at least, we tried to help our country.” Triple tuned them out. He had found some shrunken pineapple chunks and was loading them onto his plate. Triple was hungry. He wasn't particularly interested in the Star Wars days. The offer had been
made but, neither he nor Skeeter had worked on the gravy train. On the other hand, as Poulson had mentioned, in those days, there had been quite a lot of good meat around.

Triple could still recall the largess seen at certain Star Wars parties and events. People had new cars in those days and they sported fancy sport jackets. And meat, there had been a lot of meat. He distinctly remembered some thick, juicy slices of rare roast beef. Who eats that well, today? Triple saw that Poulson was watching him.

“Ah, Triple. You remember those days, don’t you? The great Star Wars days. We were young then, our salad days, and around us, all that fresh, lovely, juicy meat.”

Triple grimaced slightly, on hearing the word, “Triple.” He rather liked it when friends called him by his old nickname. However, he did not count Poulson as a friend. Still, not many people, now days, knew the nickname or, how he had acquired it.

Suddenly, fresh as green grass on a baseball field, old memories came flooding back. A time before the Star Wars debacle, a time when he had been young. He had played a fairly decent third base on the college team. And Poulson had been equipment manager. During the playoffs, he'd gotten a triple in four successive games.
They’d won the title although, in Triple’s opinion, it had been due to good pitching, not his good hitting. Nonetheless, after that series, in some circles, he had become Triple forever.

Nicknames are like scars, mused Triple. You pick them up when you are young and boisterous. Later on, as you age, you carry them with you. Our nicknames are fading references to an earlier day. Triple aroused from his reverie to notice that Skeeter was sharply elbowing Poulson in the ribs. There was a fair amount of fat surrounding Poulson’s ribs but, nonetheless, that had to be painful. Skeeter’s grin resembled that of a hungry tiger.

“Juicy meat, plump and succulent,” said Skeeter an accusing voice.

“Yes, indeedy. You do remember her, don’t you Poulson? ‘Our Lady of the Ham’? I believe she was 16 at the time. That nice young school girl hired to help out at the buffet oh, I guess it was early autumn, 1988? Such a buxom young lady. Not a natural blond, I think? She had a very gracious manner. We teased her, called her ‘Our Lady of the Ham.’ Surely you remember her, Poulson?”

“What do you want?” asked Poulson in a hoarse voice.

“A trifle, really.” Skeeter's toothy grin was still in evidence. It was not a pleasant thing. It reminded Triple of a cat that has caught a mouse by it's tail. The cat plans to play with the mouse and, chances are, the mouse will not find this amusing.

“Triple and I are running a small physics experiment and need to borrow one of your cyclotron magnets. Your cyclotron is off line right now, correct? Lack of funds, the PERP, our Period of Economic Retrenchment and Prayer, well, hard times are everywhere, aren’t they? We return the magnet in one month, no longer.”

Poulson coughed, then made a choking, gasping sound. He looked strange. Triple felt some qualms. His dislike for Poulson went back to the time when Poulson had been equipment manager. Poulson had enjoyed bullying the smaller players. Once or twice, Triple had had to speak to him. But, right now, the man, truly, did not look good. He was making a weird gurgling noise. His face was turning an odd shade of purple. Further, weren't his eyes becoming rather large and, somewhat bulging?

Suddenly alarmed, Triple moved quickly and gave Poulson a substantial whack on the back. The impact of the blow flung Poulson against the table. He bounced off, staggered wildly, frantically grabbed for the table and then, quite suddenly, coughed violently. After which, clinging to the table, Poulson took a long and shuddering breath. And glared up at Triple.

Ah, he's better, thought Triple, smiling in a benign manner. After all, Poulson had been part of the team. And, really. There aren't so many people left now days that remember my old nickname. Fewer still who remember that old baseball team. On the other hand, there's that young girl, “Our Lady of the Ham.”

Triple recalled that she had been very cheerful, pretending to be older but, actually, as soft and innocent as a puppy. Triple shook his head sadly at the memory. Then he frowned at Poulson in a very severe manner. Damn it all, you don't screw around with children.

“The magnet will be returned in tip-top condition,” Triple said stiffly.

Poulson made a violent grimace. His eyes still looked pretty wild, even glassy. Hmmm, considered Triple, the fellow does not appear to be in good health. Probably, he has cancer only, it’s early, and he doesn’t know about it yet. Ah, well. Karma, of course. What goes around, comes around. That's how we used to say it, back in the day.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Never a Bride

Last week, Jennifer Weiner pointed out the very real gender bias that exists when it comes to book reviews and author coverage. In short, women are not represented at the same level as men. Now, I have had problems with Ms. Weiner ever since the "Franzenfreude" debacle of 2010, in which she was quoted as saying "I don't write literary fiction - I write books that are entertaining." And while she admits that she and Franzen are too different, stylistically, to compare, there always seems to be an air of resentment in her voice when she talks about literary fiction. But when it comes to the unfair treatment of women in the book world, she is spot on, and I always listen to her when she has something to say about it.

I bring this up because today proved that sexism on the opposite end of the spectrum happens too. The 2012 Academy Award nominations were announced, and under Best Original Screenplay was Bridemaids.

I liked Bridesmaids. It was a comedy and it made me laugh, so therefore it was a success in my opinion. Comedies can be brilliant, as evidenced by the fact that Midnight in Paris and The Artist were also nominated in the same category. Bridesmaids, however, was not brilliant. It was good. Not great, but good. It was called the female answer to The Hangover for a reason. It was the same exact movie. 

Praising Bridemaids for its writing is Hollywood's response to a woman being as skilled as a man when it comes to writing raunchy, juvenile comedies. Sure they make us laugh and even can be quite clever, but men behaving badly is par for the course. When women prove they can be equal, they are rewarded with the label of "better" or "artistic." It's telling us, Good for you! You really are as talented as men! Here's a trophy." 

Melissa McCarthy is also nominated, and I can see why. Without her inappropriately quirky character, the movie would have been mediocre at best, which is a testament to the power of one performance. Though I wonder if that character would have been considered as "hilarious" if she were a size 4. The role itself is one we've seen a million times - he's been in every '80s teen movie, trying to get the shy main character laid. He's appeared in action movies and thrillers to provide comic relief. But now "he" was a "she," and therefore more credible as part of the film's success. I'm not saying comic relief characters don't deserve recognition, but if I were Zach Galifianakis I'd be pissed.

This week has shown that when it comes to women in media, whether book or film or otherwise, struggles to be considered equal are still very present. When are people going to learn that we want to praised for our talent, but not when that talent is "being equal to a man?" I won't be mad if Bridesmaids or Melissa McCarthy win, just disappointed that this will be Hollywood's excuse for the next ten years to keep women held back, the same way giving Denzel Washington or Morgan Freeman the occasional Oscar is supposed to appease African-American actors. 

I wish these actors had the guts that Jennifer Weiner has. She's a NY Times bestselling author who refuses to simply "shut up and be grateful." She's able to look outside herself and see bias in the same organization that rewards her. Every writer wants to be recognized for his or her accomplishments, and everyone has the right to question the motives behind that praise. Are we making a big deal out of one woman so that we can ignore the next twenty? Or are we looking at everyone equally for what they've accomplished, and comparing them to others in their field accurately and fairly? 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Untitled

Hello everyone. Today author Laura Miller is sharing a piece of flash fiction. It's untitled and, according to the author, she isn't sure where she's going with it, "but it seemed really beautiful." I agree, and am happy to present it for you all.

Laura is a writer from Michigan, where she works as a special education teacher. She has published short stories and poetry in several journals, including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Word Riot, Tonopalah Review and SLAB

(Untitled)
By Laura Miller

She stood on the seashore, waiting for his ship to make asilhouette of the blushing sky and thus end the fear she had clutched like a handbagsince the evening before when the storm had rolled off the water like so manywaves of nausea, and broken far off shore.

She had watched it from the window of the bedroom theyshared, from the proverbial worn wooden floor she walked when the weatherturned, remembering the first moment she realized Paul loved her, having lovedhim since before she could remember.

But women are foolish, and Grace believed letting this maninto her life had been the most foolish of all. And even with this passingstorm and the appearance of his sails against the rising sun, another wouldform to take its place during the cold season and she would walk again, thebaby in her gut churning as its father did upon the ocean.

She looked down at her hand, the one he had taken inmarriage even before he knew about the child, and saw that it was trembling. The storm had come just past midnight andsettled into a wistful calm by first light, but still she knew it had takenPaul with it.

His ship had been duethis morning, and none had been seen on the harbor or the wide, flat baybeyond.

The faces of thepeople she saw in the streets registered the same fear she felt as they steppedaround her, looked away, watching as she roped her fingers over her growing belly. Knowing. Surely. All of them.

And still she stood because there really was nothing else todo. She stood and watched as the sunplayed coy with the low-lying clouds, twisting them into the shape of a sail,the light catching what had been the color of Paul’s hair, spinning strands of sky into darkenedgold.

Grace stood until someone came to get her, Mrs. Calhounperhaps because she was too numb for certainty, and followed as the woman led her to the bed they had shared as man andwife.

Before that- if she were bold enough to speak the truth.

Mrs. Calhoun’s hands were on her brow, smoothing as shewould a wrinkled sheet as she told her to lie down.

But she would have rather slept in the spare room, for thepillow didn’t bear the imprint of Paul’s head, because Grace did not dare shakeit out when he was at sea.

Because removing this talisman would be part and parcel toremoving Paul himself.

And she was superstitious.

As she had been since she sawher first wraith.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Post-Racial America

Regardless of our race, we've been affected by Martin Luther King, Jr. just by living in the world he helped create. Almost 45 years since his death, America remains far from perfect. Since 2008, we've tried to convince ourselves we're "post-racial" because our president's father was African and we write books like The Help so that we can pat ourselves on the back for not being so overtly racist anymore. (Whether you loved The Help or hated it, you should read this piece by my client, Roxane Gay.)

Race is still an issue in this country, and those who are not white and (at least) middle class are still struggling to be equal. I understand the comfort denial might bring, but anyone who's watched the news or had to witness the public shaming of Barack Obama over claims he was anything other than American, cannot deny that racism still can cloud our nation's judgment.

I believe we've come a long way, but we have even farther to go. Politicians and leaders are responsible for ensuring legal equality and the rest of us are responsible for practicing tolerance and passing it on to our children.

I also believe there are those of us who make up a third group of people - artists. We are responsible for perception. As long as we create characters who personify a stereotype, then we are guilty of perpetuating that image. The same way "female characters" should be viewed as simply "characters," non-white characters should be written with an identity outside of their race. Which is also to say, they should be written. Can you change the race of your main character without altering his or her personality and circumstances? Is your non-white character defying or challenging stereotypes while remaining necessary to the plot?

Like any good writer, I believe in showing rather than telling. Art shouldn't only reflect society; it should help improve it. As writers, we have the power to do that.

If you have a holiday from work or school today, I hope you can use it to write.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Modern Pioneers

Hi everyone. I don't usually post much non-fiction on the blog, but it's a new year so I thought we'd start it off with something different. 

Sheryl Karas and Paul Hood are a couple who needed to take a journey. Beginning in the New Age town of Santa Cruz, CA, Sheryl and Paul - spiritual counselors and healers - wound up in an ultra-conservative Mormon community in the eastern Arizona desert. Currently residing in Chico, CA, the two have published various works (Sheryl has three nonfiction books with small presses, and Paul has had several articles published in literary magazines and newspapers), and continue to work as healers. You can read more about their book (with links to buy!) here, or you may download a free copy of their e-book here. Enjoy!

Modern Pioneers (from Waking Up in the Great Recession Mormon Desert
By Sheryl Karas and Paul Hood

In a place like the Arizona outback you take advantage of community wherever you can find it so I accepted an invitation to participate in a brand new women’s group that had recently formed. It was VERY interesting!

First of all, you should know that I have always joined women's groups. I haven't been in one for awhile but they're often a great way to make new friends. This one is made up of a very diverse group of women. There are a couple vocal enough about their Mormon or Christian identities to make a point of letting people know. The rest aren't saying. There are Obama supporters and Obama haters, old women and younger ones. I think there's even a lesbian couple. But none of these differences have been part of the conversation. The commonality that holds us all together is that we all live in the desert in the 35 miles between Snowflake and Concho, Arizona. We're modern pioneers.

This area wasn't settled much 20 years ago and it's still sparsely settled to this day. The roads are mostly dirt. There's no electricity— you have to make your own. There's no water unless you dig a well. Telephone lines only recently made it out here and not everyone has one yet. Cell phones with a service that includes this area are a necessity.

The U.S. Agricultural Department calls this region a “near fatal environment” for growing plants. The earth here is essentially sand and rock and is full of minerals and salts far too harsh for most things to survive in. In the winter it freezes until April or May. In the summer it bakes. There's almost no rain except in July (monsoon season) when it rains nearly everyday. And the wind blows fiercely here, sometimes at 50-100 mph.

The women running the meeting have been here 15-20 years. The rest of us are newbies. “What do you need to know?” they sincerely ask. “We're here to help!” They know that if people hadn't lent them a helping hand they wouldn't have made it. And they started this group to band together and help each other out.

One woman wants to know what can grow here and how to do it: Add LOTS of soil amendments or truck your own soil in, get manure from Debbie or Barbara's chickens, build raised beds, shield them partially from the summer sun, and make sure you use lots of chicken wire to keep the rabbits out!

Another needs advice on building. Lots of patience apparently is required. Most everyone drags a travel trailer to their land while digging a well, building their road, and getting their solar and/or wind setup together. That and a gas-powered generator, at least as a back-up, is pretty much a requirement. They all hope to move into their “real home”—a log cabin, manufactured home or mobile, in a few months but the typical trajectory usually winds up taking years. Two or three years is pretty good. Ten years is not unusual. The women think the locals aren't too dependable when it comes to building and complain that the building department takes it own sweet time when it comes to inspections and issuing permits. But that's nothing compared to the stories of what happens when the companies who deliver manufactured homes and mobiles show up and discover the roads are all dirt that turns to deep mud in the rainy season.

“Oh yeah, everybody! Be sure to give us two telephone numbers for our mailing list! One for regular use and one for emergencies. When someone needs help we want to know who to call!”

911?

“No, no, no. NEVER call 911!” Several women in the group can attest to the folly in that. The 911 service doesn't know their way around here. If you absolutely have to have an ambulance, get help from someone in the group to get you to the highway so the paramedics can find you!

And if you need the police? Call the sheriff directly. He, at least, knows where everything is. But don't expect him to come around too soon! The nearest police station for a lot of these women is 40 minutes away. If the squad car is “up on the reservation” it could take the better part of a day!

That's why everyone has a shotgun. And I mean everyone! Several of the newer women don't know how to use one yet but (except for me and the other very newest person) they all expect that it's a necessity. What if you meet a bobcat or a rattler or come across an injured horse or cow that needs putting out of their misery? And don't get them started on the packs of domestic dogs that sometimes run wild or the rare but not unknown violent criminal. At one point we were all sitting around learning how to make old-fashioned knitted slipper booties while discussing the best time to set up a firearms training as a women's group event. The two of us truly new ones were wide eyed with our mouths dropped open. The rest saw nothing surreal in the juxtaposition of these two activities.

Monday, January 09, 2012

New Title Trend

Happy 2012, everyone! (It's not past the point where I can still say that, right?)

I'm beginning my 2012 posts the same way most writers begin their novels - with titles.

Titles matter. Sometimes a bad title can ruin a good thing (Cougartown, anyone? But more on that later.). I've been having a problem with titles lately. Specifically, titles of television shows. It's not so much what they are as what they reflect on society. I'm not liking what I see. Usually when I talk about TV on the blog, it's about something that translates to novel writing, and the title trend I've been seeing in the latest crop of sitcoms is no different.

I've spoken before about "strong female characters" and what term means to me. Surprisingly, I think TV has been getting "strong" right more often than many novels lately. There was a lull in the past decade (I blame producers who tried to find "the next Sex and the City" by missing the point of the show.) Things are far from perfect, but in recent years we've been reassured that characters like Mary Richards (and Rhoda!), Murphy Brown, and Roseanne actually mattered. Women have come a long way. We get to be in charge of our sexuality, choose our own destinies, and have dragon tattoos (but more on that later). We get characters like Alicia from The Good Wife, Leslie from Parks & Recreation, and Caroline from The Vampire Diaries.

So if I'm so happy with the way women are finally starting to be portrayed, what's my problem? Men are my problem.

Don't mistake my italics for an emphasis on "men." I like men, as most feminists do. My problem with Men are the titles the word keeps appearing in. It's talked about less, but men suffer from sexism on TV, in movies, and in books too. The difference is that most of the better characters are written for men, so the good often outweighs the bad, and the sexism isn't always as noticeable. But apparently someone over at ABC noticed and wants something to be done about it. Only instead of creating better characters for women, they're leveling the playing field by creating worse characters for men.

ABC seems to be leading the Man Revolution, beginning with its already-canceled Man Up and Tim Allen's return to TV, Last Man Standing. Both shows are about men taking their gender back. From whom, you ask? Apparently women, liberals, and gay/intellectual/vegan/hipsters who are not considered "real men."  

Man Up is about friends who need to grow up, but can't seem to shake their college lifestyle. It's a typical boys will be boys character trope that we're used to seeing in small doses, usually through a supporting character in an ensemble cast. Not to be outdone, CBS had the good sense to kill its new show How to be a Gentleman before it spread, yet is holding on tight to the wizened patriarch of all Men shows, Two and a Half Men. Like Man Up, both of these shows feature men in their 30s and 40s behaving like boys. It's all fast cars, hot babes, no ambition, and zero self-reflection. On the other side of the "man" spectrum is Last Man Standing, in which Tim Allen has sacrificed his manhood by living in the same house as his wife and daughters, and now needs to return to his manly, undomesticated roots.

ABC's crowning achievement this year might be their mid-season replacement, Work It, a remake of Bosom Buddies, which should tell you all you need to know. But to elaborate, this is a 2012 sitcom with a premise that was tacky and outdated even in 1980. Two men - extra macho-looking for comedic effect - decide the only way they can get jobs is by dressing up as women. Hilarity, weak premises, and sexism ensue. From the previews, the men look as convincing as women as the Wayans Brothers looked in White Girls. Not only do they neglect shaving and general upkeep even though they are passing as women, but they only wear shoulder-padded pantsuits that I can only assume ABC still had laying around from Bosom Buddies. It's offensive to men as much as it is women. There is no equivalent to these men in real life, and the level of immaturity and stupidity they celebrate is insulting.

But I digress. Back to Men.

I described these shows in case you hadn't heard of them, but what it boils down to is that every man featured on these shows wishes for simpler times (for men) when gender roles were defined and all men were created equal, with the same interests, thoughts, education level, and goals. While each show features men in arrested development, they still get to proudly wave their Man title high. And yet, every magazine cover, news article, and end-of-year round-up has been about women ("finally") being recognized as equals in comedy.

We got to see Bridesmaids... and, um... If you're waiting for me to name another well-received all-female comedy made in the past year (or ten), then you'll have to wait until Bridesmaids 2 comes out. Our "Year in Comedy" consisted of one movie, and two new sitcoms, New Girl and 2 Broke Girls.

Notice the immediate shift in title choices. The irony, of course, is that while Men get to celebrate their lack of growth, the Girl shows feature young women trying to make it on their own as adults. Admittedly, New Woman doesn't have the same cache, but even teen heroines Buffy, Clarissa, Veronica, and Alex Mack got to at least have their names in their titles. (Oh, this year we also got Whitney, which did for female empowerment what its ad campaign did to get me to watch the show.)

Once women are old enough to be taken seriously in the real world, television and media find new ways to infantilize them. Isn't it so darn cute how those Girls are single and independent and trying to live in a man's world? Someday they'll make 3/4 of what those Men do. Then maybe when they outgrow their youthful optimism they can move to Cougartown or become a Good Wife or if they really snap under the pressure, remain a Girl, but ones covered with dragon tattoos. I suppose it's too much to think they'll ever be called Women though, right?

Since two of these Man shows have been canceled already, I have some hope that this trend won't last. I hope that writers will stop thinking that the type of humor that worked 30 years ago is still relevant today, and that the most critically acclaimed shows on TV right now are the ones that challenge gender stereotypes and create non-archetypal characters. And mostly I hope that you, the novel writers, won't let this trend infect your work.

(Parting exercise: Type in "wife" into the Amazon search bar under Books. Scroll through the bestsellers and acclaimed novels that tell stories of women overshadowed by powerful men. Then type in "husband.")