Monday, February 23, 2015

The Sitcom Behind the ChickLit Jennifer Ettinger, author of Broken Hearts and Bad Chinese

           Right around the second grade is when I truly got into writing, and unfortunately, I can’t claim I started writing because of some overwhelming desire to tell my story. To be honest, I started writing my first book (The Secret Life of Red Foxes, a real page-turner) because my older brother had already written a book and I thought I could write a better one. We were very into animals then, and while my brother wrote of an epic adventure a trio of ducks had to endure to get back home, I wrote about the family dynamics of red foxes within their very own den. I’m pretty sure the dad was having trouble expressing his anger in ways other than yelling, and the family was trying to come up with better ways to communicate. Not so thrilling, but oh so relatable.
         Although I like to think my writing has matured quite a bit from those 7-year-old author days, I have to admit that what I write about has always stayed in that wheelhouse. I like writing about family problems. I like writing about situations that people encounter daily, and showing how different characters might react and deal with something we’ve all had to react and deal with. I like writing about love and sex and friendships that sometimes last and sometimes don’t. In the literature world, this is called ChickLit. In the TV world, it’s a sitcom. I like to write both.

          I always kind of resented the term ChickLit because it implies that only women encounter or enjoy the sort of things that fill the pages of these books, and it’s just not true. Men love and do silly things they’re embarrassed of and get in fights with their moms and find themselves in impossibly funny but troublesome situations all the time. They love watching them on TV, if How I Met Your Mother or Friends or even Parks and Rec are any indication. These sitcoms are about everyday situations that funny people muddle their way through. And although these people have writers working up their funny quips or beautifully crafted proclamations of love, they are people we love to see ourselves in. We’ve all cast ourselves as one of the characters in a sitcom, saying the way they interact with their best friend or love interest is basically us, and those writers must be listening to our conversations because that’s just how we always talk.

          That relatable quality is why I always read Mark Twain before writing, the man
who constantly reminds me that: “My books are like water; those of the great geniuses are wine. (Fortunately) everybody drinks water.” His short stories and books are treasured because he does what so many great comedians do: looks at the ordinary and finds the funny in it. The ordinary is what I and so many ChickLit authors write about. Because sometimes the ordinary feels extraordinary. And sometimes it feels like… the worst. And most of the time it feels in between. I love reading about all of it because I recognize so much of my own life in the pages. Who wouldn’t?

          ChickLit and Chick Flicks have gotten a bad name in our world, as if they are fluff to pass the time, movies and books that men sometimes endure but never enjoy. On the contrary, they are the stuff of everyday life. They are the sitcoms you can’t stop laughing it because it’s just so true. I’m sorry, but you can keep your adventure stories and your science fiction yarns and your classics and your epics. They have their time and place, and it’s not in my comfiest chair. For that everyday occurrence, I choose the books that help me learn about myself, that make comedy and drama out of any situation, the ChickLit that knows us all.

My Favorite Comfy Chair Reads (ChickLit and otherwise):
1.      The Most of Nora Ephron. Because she is the queen of making the everyday HILARIOUS.
2.      Welcome to the World, Baby Girl by Fannie Flagg. Also everything by Fannie Flagg.
3.      The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen. Yes, it’s YA, and no, I don’t care.
4.      Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. I know the fad of loving this book is over and there was a terrible movie made, but so much of this book is quoted in my writer’s journals. Because so much of this book is just true, no matter who you are.
5.      Attachments by Rainbow Rowell. Another Omaha native who speaks so beautifully to life’s quirks and quarrels.

Jennifer Ettinger is the author of Broken Hearts and Bad Chinese, available on all Kindle apps and devices. To check out her sitcom writing, view the webseries Adapting on YouTube. She is currently working on a new YA novel.

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