In this new genre, no heroine can be younger than 48
It's called 'matron lit,' a name no one likes. But these books, featuring women of a certain age, are challenging chick lit.
Joan Medlicott never expected to find herself in the forefront of a new literary genre. But six years ago, as she relaxed in the bath one evening, three characters suddenly appeared in her imagination. All were widows of a certain age.Skip to next paragraph
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Over the next few days, as a plot began to develop, Ms. Medlicott sat at her computer, recording essential details of her story. Although this was her first foray into fiction, "my fingers just flew over the keys," Medlicott says.
The result was "The Ladies of Covington Send Their Love," the first in what would become a popular series of novels about women in their 60s who begin new lives together at a North Carolina farmhouse.
Since then, other novelists have also realized the fictional potential of this age group. They are creating a growing cast of midlife and older characters who serve as counterpoints to the hip young singles romping through popular novels.
Move over, chick lit. Make room on bookshelves for "matron lit," the latest literary category to catch publishers' - and readers' - interest. As baby boomer women reach their 50s and approach their 60s, many are eager to read about women like themselves, Medlicott says.
In books with catchy titles such as "The Hot Flash Club," "Julie and Romeo," and "The Red Hat Club," authors offer reassurance that the middle and later years, while not without challenges and sorrows, can include zest, adventure, and - gasp - romance.
Even Larry McMurtry, the bestselling author of "Lonesome Dove" and "Terms of Endearment," has joined the matron lit set. His new novel, "Loop Group," stars two feisty 60-plus women on a road trip to Hollywood.
"Women need to connect," says Medlicott. And in matron lit, those connections revolve around "women who find themselves, who build new lives, who accept the possibilities that life offers and are willing to take risks."
In the beginning, though, finding a publisher willing to take risks on this subject proved challenging. Medlicott mailed query letters to 25 female literary agents, hoping they would be receptive to a book starring older characters. One of them, Nancy Coffey of New York, said yes.
After sending the book to 15 publishers, some of whom were in their 50s, Ms. Coffey received 14 rejections.
"They all said, 'Thank you, it's beautifully written, but nobody cares about older people.' " Coffey recalls. "One publisher said, 'Tell her to make her characters in their 40s, hot and juicy, and I'll buy it.' I said, 'That's not the story. It can't be done.' "
When St. Martin's Press published the book, readers responded enthusiastically.
Still, no one really loves the term matron lit. "There doesn't seem to be a perfect word that describes this demographic," says Micki Nuding, a senior editor at Pocket Books, which in March will publish Medlicott's next novel, "The Three Mrs. Parkers."
Terms such as "hen lit" and "lady lit" didn't have the right ring, either, publishers found. A similar category in Britain, "granny lit," refers to novels written by authors over 60.