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The Idea of You Author Robinne Lee on Fanfic and Women’s Art



The Idea of You Author Robinne Lee on Fanfic and Women's Art

In the spring of 2014, after I got down to write the novel that will grow to be The Concept Of You, I didn’t plan on writing one thing that was revolutionary or controversial. I needed to jot down a narrative about Solène Marchand, a lady on the cusp of 40 who rediscovers and redefines herself via an surprising love with a a lot youthful man who occurs to be a world-famous movie star. As somebody who was in that age vary and who ought to have simply been hitting my stride in my skilled life as an actor, I used to be seeing the sudden shift in components out there to me. The characters had grow to be extra staid, the alternatives fewer and additional between. I used to be studying the arduous approach that in Hollywood, after 40, girls are a lot much less fascinating. The belief was that we ceased to be sexual beings and had been thus much less invaluable. I used to be desirous to show the business—and our tradition at massive—improper, in my very own little approach.

Shortly after the e book’s publication in 2017, I noticed I used to be additionally bumping up towards one thing else. Some readers had been viewing this story about ageism, sexism, the double normal, motherhood, feminine friendship, company, and the darkish facet of movie star as nothing greater than “fluff.” They targeted on the love story and the intercourse to the exclusion of the opposite pertinent themes of the e book. They referred to as it a romance. It was not. Romance novels have particular guidelines, and my e book didn’t comply with them. But it surely was labeled and categorized as such.

Was it as a result of it centered on a lady’s love story? As a result of the principle characters, Solène  and Hayes Campbell, two consenting adults, had a wholesome sexual urge for food? Or possibly it was the duvet and the writer’s advertising and marketing marketing campaign? I’ll by no means know. However I began receiving messages from girls that started with self-conscious and belittling openings like, “This isn’t the kind of e book I usually learn, nonetheless…” and “I didn’t assume I used to be going to love this e book, however…” Then they’d proceed to debate all of the themes I’d got down to grapple with in writing the novel. It was clear that they had made assumptions. They didn’t assume a narrative a few girl’s midlife sexual awakening would possibly comprise one thing deeper. They couldn’t think about it could be each tantalizing and complicated. 

I’m a lover of literary fiction. I admire tales with characters who will not be essentially like me, who expose me to new worlds and new methods of considering via elegant prose. I crave tales which can be multilayered and have one thing profound to say. However I additionally take pleasure in tales that entertain, that present levity and occasional escapism. And I’ve at all times tried to jot down in an area encompassing each.

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There’s a scene in The Concept Of You when Hayes, a member of the chart-topping British boy band August Moon, is disparaging his work because the group’s founder, and Solène, a complicated artwork supplier, is imploring him to not discredit what he and his bandmates do.

August Moon performs at Coachella within the movie.Courtesy of Prime—© Amazon Content material Providers LLC

“It’s artwork. And it makes folks pleased,” she says. “And that’s an excellent factor. We’ve got this downside in our tradition. We take artwork that appeals to girls—movie, books, music—and we undervalue it. We assume it may’t be excessive artwork. Particularly if it’s not darkish and tortured and wailing. And it follows that a lot of that artwork is created by different girls, and so we undervalue them as effectively. We wrap it up in a fairly pink bundle and resist calling it artwork.” 

That sentiment has resonated with me extra within the years since I wrote this line of dialogue than ever earlier than. I thought of it when Barbie turned the largest box-office hit of 2023 and the highest-grossing movie ever directed by a lady, but Greta Gerwig and Margot Robbie weren’t nominated for Finest Director or Finest Actress, respectively, on the Oscars. I thought of it after I revisited critics’ resistance to Taylor Swift and the dismissal of her fandom for the primary decade of her profession, writing each off as juvenile and unserious. Everyone knows who acquired the final chuckle there. In April, Swift was named to the Forbes billionaire checklist, turning into the primary musician whose earnings stem solely from her songs and performances to take action. Not so unserious now, is she?

In no different case does Solène’s description of that sentiment really feel extra private than with the responses to her story. Labeling it as “fluff” or “fanfiction”—significantly when finished by those that haven’t learn it—is each reductive and dismissive. And this isn’t one thing that occurs to male authors. It’s unhealthy sufficient that so many novels with feminine protagonists are labeled girls’s fiction, whereas these with male protagonists are merely fiction, and that these categorizations exist no matter the truth that fiction readers throughout the board are disproportionately girls. However assuming a novel with a fictional movie star in a relationship have to be based mostly on an present movie star—on this case, the web has determined, Harry Kinds—is unimaginative at finest and sexist at worst.

There are some sensible, beloved writers of fanfic on the market, however fanfiction is simply not what I do. Hayes Campbell, like Solène Marchand and the myriad different characters on this e book, was impressed partially by folks I’ve encountered and by artwork I’ve consumed, and he got here to life because of a wholesome dose of my creativeness. It’s how most writers I do know, no matter gender, create their characters and their worlds.

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My case is only one symptom of the bigger illness within the broader literary world, the place comparable works by men and women are given inequitable weight. “First-person narrative by males continues to be printed and reviewed as extra critical and will get much more cash and protection,” writer and educational Kate Zambreno mentioned in a current New York Instances interview. “It’s additionally normally not dismissed as merely autofiction or memoir, as an alternative learn as literature encompassing psychogeography, philosophy, artwork criticism. Even when a lady is doing precisely that, she’s normally nonetheless marketed as merely writing a lady’s expertise or, worse, a mother memoir, if she has kids.”

What’s it about artwork made by girls and marketed towards girls that makes us view it as lower than—that makes us assume they’ll’t be complicated and essential? We don’t wrap male writers’ books in pink and inform readers they’re nice for the seaside. We don’t frown upon shoppers of male fiction as juvenile. We don’t scale back their writing to fanfiction and fix a star’s identify for clickbait. Backside line: we don’t undervalue them and their work. 

I by no means got down to write a novel that will spark this sort of debate. Hayes and Solène’s story has made readers take into consideration their company and ambition, about love and ageing and the that means of human connection—and it’s made them chuckle, cry, wallow, and sigh within the course of. Maybe it’s artwork, in spite of everything.

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