I spent this past weekend attending my very first writer’s conference in New York City. After spending the last fifteen years as a criminal defense attorney, I have decided to give writing a shot. At age 43, writing is my “Act Two” career. I signed up for the conference so that I could learn about current writing techniques, trends and opportunities. Although I was an English minor in college, I was right to assume that a lot of things have changed in the writing world since I graduated college in 1993.
I wrote a book about a fictionalized version of myself: a 43 year old women who is struggling to find the balance between her desire to blog about her life with the privacy that her family feels that she is violating. When discussing our books with potential literary agents at the conference, we had to first identify which genre our book would fall into a bookstore or online. Simply declaring a book as “women’s fiction” isn’t enough these days for most agents. Women now have lots of sub-genres to choose from, although women’s mystery, erotica, science fiction, historical fiction, and dystopian novels are what’s really hot right now.
The best way to identify the genre is to look at the setting, characters and story. My new book is set right now, in the year 2015. The characters are all human, and have emotions and thoughts. Most of the dialogue is humorous, although voices are sometimes raised in anger and several characters admit fears and sadness. The book has does have erotica, but since the narrator has been married for 15 years, it’s mostly described as things that happened in the past. There is a mystery involved, but no one is kidnapped or murdered. The mystery, instead, is how men can remember the names of hundreds of professional athletes from the past 40 years and the positions that they all played, but have no memory of a conversation that he had with his wife the night before. There is science fiction in the form of bodies being completely taken over by foreign objects, although this story is about a formerly young woman suddenly morphing into an old lady. She is not being transformed by aliens from outer space (although it often feels that way to her.) She does’t recognize herself in the mirror, but there has been no invasion of the body snatchers. It’s her in there- just a much older version of who she used to be.
As I heard more and more authors, publishers and editors talk about the popularity of the new types of books for women over the weekend, I knew I needed to do something drastic. I have decided to completely change my book to fit one of these cool new genres.
And so, here instead, is the proposal to my new novel. It is from the “dystopian” genre and it is called, “The Treadmill Runner.”
Our main character is named Catnap Everclean. She’s a 43 year old woman living in the year 2515. Catnap has brown curly hair and a pretty face, and, depending on the store, she usually can wear a size 8-10. She’s medium height, medium build, and medium shirt size.
Catnap is part of the new world, in which women are divided into three factions: “First Wife,” “Trophy Wife,” and “Confident Unmarried Career Gal.” As they grow up, women are taught the basics of each of the three factions. First Wives are “cute” and want a life that includes both a career and a family. Trophy Wives are “beautiful” and want to take away someone else’s life and their family. Confident Unmarried Career Gals are “ugly” and know that they will never find a man so they will have to support themselves when they get older.
When the women graduate college, they are all brought into “The Reckoning.” Led by Society, the women are then chosen to be placed into one of the three factions. The women all hope to get placed in a faction that suits their personality, but ultimately, Society decides who they are. They have no choice in the matter. Society creates these strict stereotypical factions without allowing for anyone to be divergent within her faction. From that point on, they each go on to basic training, whee they are taught the survival skills of their faction.
The First Wives are taught how to completely give up their careers once they become mothers. The Husbands will come in and teach the First Wives special classes on how to properly react when they claim that they didn’t hear the baby screaming all night. The Husbands will instruct them how to be supportive and understanding when they fall asleep on the couch after dinner and throughout bedtime, but are wide awake at 10:00 p.m. when they realize that they want sex. The First Wife is never tired or resentful, and is never allowed to show any fluctuating emotions at any time of the month. The First Wife will lose all of the baby weight right away. They are allowed to be cute and attractive, but never sexy. They are publicly friends with First Wives only, although they may hang out with the Unmarried Career Gals in secret.
They will learn from other First Wives how to successfully helicopter parent, and to make sure that their children are the “best.” They are to insist that their child be in all advanced classes at school, and force them to choose an after-school activity that takes up all of their spare time. They are told that in order to survive, their own children must be stressed out all the time: with homework, testing, and the quest for perfection. They will brag about their happy family on social media, and will not show any weakness amongst other First Wives.
The Trophy Wives are selected solely by the Husbands. They shall always be tall, blonde, and skinny. They are allowed to be both smart and sexy. They do not need to bear any children for the Husband, and can keep their careers for as long as they want. They shall share in and inherit all of the money from the Husband. They will be shunned by the other faction of women, and thereby will only be able to befriend those within their own faction.
The Confident Unmarried Career Gal is allowed no happiness at all. She shall always feel as though she is not truly a woman. She may have the job of her dreams and live in a home that she purchased and paid for on her own, but she must always feel sad that she didn’t marry. She is publicly shamed for not bearing any children. She listens to her First Wife friends complain in secret about their Husbands and Children, but she cannot discuss anything positive with them about her own life. She must always appear to be devastated that she was not chosen to be a “Wife.”
Catnap Everclean is chosen to be a First Wife. She tries to take her sister’s place as an Unmarried, but Society would not let her.
One day, Catnap decides that she is fed up with her chosen faction. She doesn’t want to be like the other First Wives. She stops giving her children a false sense of success, and opts out of honor classes for them. She decides to go back to work. She stops trying so hard to be skinny because she really loves food. She publicly befriends women from the other factions. Her husband annoys her and she tells him so, in public. She forces her children off of the computer and tells them to play outside. She tells them about her childhood in “the other world” when there was no internet.
Society is angry. They don’t want her to leave her faction and they label her “Divergent.” She is taken away by psychiatrists to be heavily medicated by anti-depressants. She is then returned to her faction. She is warned never to talk to her children about the 1970s or the 1980s again.
But something interesting happens. Other First Wives, who hear of Catnap’s rebellion, start to rebel as well. They throw away their yoga pants and put on “real clothing” as a symbol of their rebellion. They stop hovering around their children’s schools. They read the newspaper and begin to argue with their husbands about politics.
Then the Trophy Wives start to rebel. They want children of their own. They would like to stop dressing so sexy all of the time. They stop dying their hair blonde. They are tired of taking all of the blame from the First Wives, and would like to be taken seriously. They start to become friends with women of all Factions.
The Career Gals, too, become Divergent. They publicly express their joy about their freedom to date all different types of men, their ability to go on exotic vacations, and their lifestyle which allows them to sleep in as late as they want to on weekends.
Society is horrified. The women are causing chaos to its structure and order. The Husbands destroy and replace the First and Second Wives. They create a new category, “The Third Wives,” who, by the end of their training, will have no independent ability to think or speak at all. The Unmarried Careers are forced into hiding. Society begins all over again. All is peaceful until the end of the novel, with a hint about the book’s sequel: “The No One Loses Games.”
Sneak peek at the sequel: Their mothers are gone. No one will make the world a perfect place for them anyone. They must survive without their moms. They weren’t raised to lose. They have no coping mechanisms. They know all about advanced algebra, but they have no idea how to act in social situations. How will they live without someone to make it all work out for them? How will they deal with Society? How will Society deal with them? Stay tuned for the next exciting and suspenseful book in our series when the “Overscheduled Children” take over the world.