Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Genre Experiment: Angela Hunt

A man walks into a room occupied by two women. One he loves, one he hates. He utters one line, then exits. One of the women then follows him.

The Genre Experiment: the scene written a la "women's fiction":

I wasn’t surprised when Jake came through the front door. In all the years we were married, he never once forgot his mother’s birthday.

He looked at me, hands in lap, unopened gift balanced on my knees, then his gaze skittered across the floor as if I’d been nothing more than another objet d’art on the cluttered bookcase Gilda called an étagère.

“Happy birthday, dearest love.” He crossed the room in three long strides, bent to cup his mother’s chin in his hands, and then placed a lingering kiss on her Botoxed forehead. She closed her eyes and leaned into him, exhaling an audible sigh.

So this is why she’d come back from Europe early. So she could be here to receive this tribute. What, didn't five phone calls a day provide enough motherlove?

“Darling boy,” she whispered, her hands closing around his wrists. “I know you must have had to leave something important to come here. But I adore you for it, and I’ll see you later tonight.”

My stomach churned. Jake had probably run out of a surgery, leaving his assistants to stitch up some poor patient so he could be here at the stroke of noon. Her birth hour. The exact moment this controlling monster had been born.

When his mother called because she'd seen a shadow in the house, he hadn’t hesitated to run out on me . . . in the middle of childbirth.

He released her, looked straight through me once again, then blew her a kiss and headed toward the door.

I couldn’t stop myself; I followed. Tossed the token present into Gilda’s lap and ran after him as if my life depended on it.

But it didn’t. Not anymore.

“Good to see you, too,” I said, passing him when he paused to scan the mail in his mother’s box. “And so good to say good-bye.”

That’s how I left Jake Wilson . . . and began to discover the me I’d left behind.

Angela Hunt writes a lot of women's fiction. You can explore her books at


At 8:29 AM, Blogger Matt said...

Nicely done. Jakes seems like a real jerk and his mother too. As a guy, though, I wonder what Jake would have to say about their relationship and why it fell apart? Of course, there is no such thing as "contemporary men's fiction" where we could hear his side of the story. I don't expect that to change and I don't think it should. There would be no market for it. Now, some may say that a hardboiled crime novel is "men's fiction". In a sense it is since men probably tend to gravitate more toward that kind of fiction than women, but it is not "men's fiction" in quite the same way as women's fiction is women's fiction since it doesn't deal with relationships between the sexes. I'm sure that a well-behaved man-some combination of a "nice guy" and a fearless, selfless protector-is often the hero of these stories, so men aren't always painted in a bad light, but I'm not so sure that this kind of man is so easily found in real life. That's the rub. That's why some men are leery of "women's fiction", which, correct me if I'm wrong-and I could be-is pretty much the same thing as "romantic fiction" most of the time. It seems to me that realism might be a tough thing to achieve in this kind of writing since for many women it would be quite easy to complain about men (based on past experiences) or create idealized versions that don't really exist. Maybe in a first person narrative like this example the woman also has moments of self-reflection and humility. I don't know. (I realize that this is a very short sample.) I also realize that I'll probably get myself in trouble for saying this, but can you imagine if a man wrote a story where the woman character was a materialistic, selfish, shallow, vindictive, unloving wife and mother who the man desperately needed to be liberated from? Nobody would be interested.

At 9:45 AM, Blogger Carol Umberger said...

The words "botoxed forehead" were pure genius--it said volumes about that character. I "heard" a click in my mind when I read it-"Ah, ha."

This exercise has been such fun! I may just play along and write my own version just to hone my skills at finding the right word choice. And I'm recommending this site to my students!

At 11:16 AM, Anonymous Nicole said...

(Just a side note, Matt. Men tend to be more basic, upfront, and certainly less catty, although they easily fall prey to gossiping among themselves which is primarily attributed to women. [Just my opinion.] I write very sympathetic and empathetic to men in my stories, trying to make them more human than heroic.)

At 11:28 AM, Blogger Angela said...

"Can you imagine if a man wrote a story where the woman character was a materialistic, selfish, shallow, vindictive, unloving wife and mother who the man desperately needed to be liberated from? Nobody would be interested.Au contraire, Matt. Have you not seen "Sunset Blvd?" " I'm sure there are others. Selfish folks abound in both sexes . . . and women's fiction does not revolve around a romance . . . or that's what it would be. :-) Angie

At 1:08 PM, Blogger Patricia W. said...

This was a great idea! I've enjoyed all of the entries.

I'd love to read a "men's fiction". Any takers?

At 1:18 PM, Anonymous Nicole said...

I'll e-mail you my second novel, Patricia. Two of my male test readers actually cried after reading it--I won't give them away, though. :-)

At 4:43 PM, Anonymous Vasthi said...

Have you read Flabbergasted? It's contemporary fiction about relationships from a male POV, single male. It's hilarious and as a woman I loved seeing the 'guy' side of things.

Angie- loved it.

At 8:44 PM, Blogger Dineen A. Miller said...

I'm with Carol. Botoxed forhead—says so much with so little.

At 9:31 PM, Anonymous dana said...

Yeah, I agree with the others...
You should really consider doing this writing thing full-time. ;-)

At 11:36 PM, Blogger Matt said...

Angela- I have not seen "Sunset Blvd" but might that be a case of the exception proving the rule? By the way, what exactly does most women's fiction revolve around if it is not relationships with the opposite sex? (I guess the relationships may not always be particularly "romantic" if the guy is a complete loser.) I suppose there are some "sisterhood" type books dealing with friendships between women. And obviously the descriptions throughout would be coming from a feminine vantage point. (Noticing what people are wearing, decorations, etc.) I'm not trying to be a smart aleck. I honestly don't know what "women's fiction" is.

Nicole- What you say is true. Men can (and do) sit around in a locker room environment (for instance) and talk about women in less than honorable ways. A lot of it is immature posturing and crude joking. However, this kind of talk is not written up in books and accepted as just normal, acceptable venting. I am glad that you try to be fair to men in your writings.

Vasthi-I have read and enjoyed "Flabbergasted". I think if I ever attempted to write something it would probably be somewhat stylistically similar to Ray Blackston in that I would attempt to inject a lot of humor and the occasional profound, yet subtly stated, spiritual insight. (I'm not a humorless curmudgeon despite my nitpicking here.) I think Ray has some talent as far as being a good wordsmith and being clever. (I think Melanie Wells is pretty funny also.)

All- I'm a little surprised that the reaction to my earlier comments has been so gracious and subdued. Nobody has attempted to play amateur psychologist as to why I wrote what I did. (I'm not divorced or bitter or anything like that.)

A few weeks ago a radio progam host was somewhat critical of Christian romance novels and it set off a bit of a firestorm here. I defended the poor guy because I didn't think he got a fair shake. Just last week I heard Gary Thomas on Focus on the Family discussing his new book dealing with how women can positively influence men. In the interview he told the story of a woman who was reading 10 Harlequin romances a day before she got married. (She must have been a speed reader.) Anyway, it wasn't long before her new hubbby didn't quite measure up and she felt justified (I think even as a professing Christian) to get involved in a couple of affairs. Of course, it reminded me of the radio program debate a few weeks prior.

Perhaps I rolled out of bed a wee bit cranky today and in a bit of a contrarian mood. I realize that there are a lot of godly women writing edifying "romance" or "contemporary women's fiction" that bears little or no resemblance to a Harlequin romance novel and doesn't engage in "male bashing," for lack of a better term. I also realize that I have personally read precisely zero contemporary women's fiction books, though I'm going to give Lisa Samson and Siri Mitchell a try at some point and I'm sure there will be others. I still maintain that there is a bit of a double-standard with regard to what women can (and do) say about men and vice versa. Generally speaking, men like being portrayed as idiots about as much as women like being portrayed as sex objects.

Oh, and Angela, I really don't mean to drag you into this. Please forgive me if it seems that way. You're a great writer and a gracious women and you did a nice job with the genre you were assigned. I just couldn't help but notice that the man in the story came off looking pretty bad and I wonder how often that's the case in "contemporary women's fiction".


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