Making "Chick Lit" Fierce and Feminist
Aussie-born novelist Georgia Clark lives in New York and writes about feisty, flawed, funny women. We spoke to her about her new book The Regulars, which has been described as “a Dorian Gray for the Girls generation”. By Grace Jennings-Edquist
You’ve worked in both Australia and the US. How does the US world of publishing differ from that in Australia?
The two biggest differences are audience size and style of entertainment. Firstly, America’s audience is 10 times bigger than Australia, which means the advances match that (advances are just estimates of sales). So, I can make a living here being a fiction novelist in a way I couldn’t in Oz. But it’s definitely more competitive here. In Oz, I was a big fish in a small pond. Here the opposite is true, but the big pond suits me better. My style is more closely aligned with American taste than Australian.
I feel incredibly lucky that I live in an era where I was able to move on my own to the country that suited me better and start a career here. Of course, I will always be Australian and I am still deeply connected to the country and the culture. My happy place is the front porch of my mum’s house on the South Coast of Sydney, watching the pelicans fly over the quiet creek. It’s hard living so far away from that, but now I can point to something like The Regulars, and say, “See: at least I made that happen.” Don’t ever give up on your dreams.
The Regulars starts with a lesbian Tinder date scene. How important is representation of different sexualities in your work?
It’s incredibly important and here’s why: when my now-girlfriend/love-of-my-life was starting to question her sexuality, Netflix released a new show called Orange Is The New Black. As I’m sure many of your readers are aware, the show starts with some very sexy girl-on-girl shower scenes, and tells the story of a lesbian romance that lands the lead character, Piper, in jail, with her hot ex, Alex.
My girlfriend was glued to this show. She’d never seen contemporary femme queer women like Piper and Alex before. As a direct result of binging this show (she even called in sick to work to watch it!), my girlfriend bit the bullet and put up a dating profile on a lesbian app. This month, we celebrate four blissful years together. You can’t be what you can’t see. By representing diverse sexualities, writers empower and give legitimacy to queer identity. By simply reflecting existing power structures without questioning them, we do little to broaden the conversation or ignite the imagination.
What drove you to write fiction with a feminist message – any particular authors or life experiences?
I’ve always been drawn to strong, charismatic women, in my personal life and in pop culture. I was diehard Buffy fan when it was on telly (back when Australia only had five channels and you stayed home to watch shows as they aired). I loved the way Buffy blended glossy, witty pop culture with a mediation on female power and strength. It was feminist and it was fun. I liked that. I suppose I don’t think of my writing as having a “message”: usually fiction that is overtly trying to teach readers something comes off as heavy handed. Rather, I focus on reflecting the lives, choices, and personalities of those strong, charismatic women I’ve always been so enamored by. We hear a lot of stories about authors submitting their manuscript 100 times before someone takes them on.
How hard was it for you to get published?
The “road to publication” is less a road, and more a hard-to-find and occasionally life-threatening goat track. Here’s my story. I published my first novel in Australia easily. She With The Band was a breezy Young Adult (YA) novel published by Allen & Unwin as part of the Girlfriend fiction series. I was a writer for Girlfriend (the teen girl mag) and they offered me a contract: no agent needed.
When I moved to New York a few years later, I naively assumed getting published a second time would be just as easy. I was wrong. I wrote a peppy YA about girl detectives that failed to find a home but did land me an agent. Then I struggled for years with an unwieldy, ambitious YA sci-fi called Parched. After being on submission for months and getting dozens of rejections, we got an offer, but it was very modest and with a small press.
When I started writing The Regulars, I set an intention: I wanted a top-tier offer from one of the “Big Five”. It was exhausting to be working so hard for so long with such little impact or financial reward. I focused on writing a novel that I felt personally strongly about, that played to my strengths as a writer, and would have a widespread appeal. I was working full-time and would write for two hours after work every day, and on weekends. I hired a top freelance editor to give me editorial feedback and paid close attention to everything she had to say. I read widely in my genre. Basically, I went all-in in a way I hadn’t before. When we went on submission, I was beyond nervous. I was manic: both supremely confident and utterly terrified that the book would bomb and I would have to start all over again… again. But we got an offer from an imprint at Simon & Schuster within the first week. Finally, after writing novels for almost 10 years, I was on my way.