Monthly Archives: June 2014

The INTJ Pregnancy: 4th Trimester

AKA New Motherhood

My baby is now pushing 2 months old. An eternity in a blink.

Becoming “Mama” has come a lot more naturally than I thought. I have never really wanted kids for the sake of babies but rather KIDS, so I expected infancy to be something I would suffer through to get to the good stuff. Instead I have found a shocking amount of joy and sentiment in having a baby…holding him, cuddling him, learning to understand what he’s trying to communicate, watching him grow and change on a daily basis with this internal clock ticking down the moments we will have like this, sifting away one by one in the hourglass of life spent vs. life yet to come. I have always, even as a child, been aware of the finite nature of life and any given circumstance within it, but never has the poignancy of that riven me with this kind of acuteness. I’m crying sitting here typing this, with him asleep on my chest in his wrap. I don’t even know if I can still blame it on hormonally driven emotional intensity.

But just because I am enjoying my baby doesn’t mean there have been no challenges.

The worst among them was learning how to breastfeed. Is, I should say, as we still sometimes have issues. I went into breastfeeding unprepared. I thought it was something that would be pretty simple to do, simple for the baby to pick up – after all, baby horses are on their feet nursing within minutes of birth. Surely the only difference with a human was having to be held? Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

Ha.

I understand now why so many new moms give up on it. You’re sitting there in a hospital bed having not slept for two days, with your arms trembling from spending 2 1/2 hours pulling your torso up into a McRoberts’ Maneuver and so weak from exhaustion you’re afraid you’ll drop the baby, and he’s 9 pounds and squirming and came out strong enough to push himself up your chest with his arms or his legs so you have to use both hands to hold him in the feeding position, and the lactation consultant grabs your boob and holds it in his mouth and he starts sucking like a starving lamprey, and you think, I got this. Then you get home, and you realize you don’t have three hands, and how the fuck are you supposed to hold his head with one hand and his body with the other and still have a hand to shape your boob with? And then your tits swell up so much that for a few days you have no nipples at all – side effect of all the shit they pump into you with Pitocin and an epidural, and when they mentioned the edema it would cause they never thought to include your breasts in the list of places when clearly that just happened – so now it’s impossible to latch him without breast compression, which you can’t do because you have both hands holding him in place, and he’s frustrated and biting your nipples to bruising with his little gums until any pressure is enough to draw tears, and he’s screaming for hours because he hasn’t had a proper feed since the night before, and you’re crying and he’s crying and your husband is standing there saying “Why don’t I go get some formula?” I can see why people give up.

Luckily my husband is supportive enough of breastfeeding for the baby’s immune system health that he was willing to try one more tactic, so right then, the morning after our first night at home, he went and bought me a breast pump and some nipple shields, and to hell with all the La Leche League fascism about no bottles for 4 weeks and no nipple shields ever because the only problem they recognize is a latch issue which shields won’t solve. At that point I couldn’t feed my baby from the breast – he couldn’t find it most of the time, and even when he did it hurt so much I knew I was on borrowed time. My husband was only going to tolerate me sitting their with tears streaming down my face while the baby fed so many times before he insisted we switch. So for us the pumping/bottle-feeding early was the best thing we could have done. My husband and I both felt better after the baby got a feeding that we knew went down, and I felt better knowing that I could feed my baby without crying (pumping hurt way less than his frantic sucking). It took the pressure off getting him on the boob. When we tried a breast-feed with the prosthetic nipple over my flattened lumps, he sucked and slurped happily until milk was leaking out the side of his mouth because he had finally got his fill.

Yeah. That first 24 hours at home was a nursing nightmare.

It also started an ongoing beef with the overall attitude of lactation advice online. Same shit, different topic, as all the insufferable mommy blogs I gagged over while pregnant. I get that they feel like they’re part of a movement to re-normalize breast-feeding in American culture and well-intentioned with their advice, but I find a certain…rigidity to the articles that is both off-putting and unhelpful.

For example, the first few weeks after we got home, even after resolving the worst of the latching issues, my nipples hurt. At first it was because they were bruised from the baby’s first couple days (he even made one open up and bleed a bit that first night home) and then I spent several weeks gettting vasospasms after every feed so that my nipples were in a constant state of pain. I think some of it was residual damage from what he had initially done, and some of it may have been continuing latch/pinching issues, but I think I might tend toward Raynaud’s of the nipple (I have vivid memories of winters in high school spent with constantly aching breasts because of the cold air in my parents’ non-insulated drafty old country house). Whatever it was, I hit a point where if I read one more time that “breastfeeding isn’t painful if you’re doing it right” that I was just going to give up. It’s such an obnoxious thing to say, and the last thing a new mom who’s sitting there in pain needs to hear when she’s on the verge of giving up.

Other edicts of the breastfeeding fascists go against reality, such as not using any kind of artificial nipple (bottle or pacifier) for four weeks. Sorry, kiddo, I wasn’t mom enough for that…I would pump a bottle and let his daddy take one of the overnight feeds so I could get at least six hours of sleep in a row, and we caved on the pacifier thing about two weeks in because sometimes the baby was just inconsolable except with my boob in his mouth, and there was no way I could nurse him 24/7. I wasn’t even mom enough to nurse him 18/7. Giving him one bottle-feeding a day and something to suck on besides me for an hour or two of the day was helpful and necessary for our peace of mind, but all the pro-breast literature makes it out like that’s some horrific mistake that will ruin your baby’s willingness to breastfeed. Again, not helpful to the new parents with a baby who screams like the world is ending when he is taken off the tit no matter how long he just nursed or how much he ate. Then there’s my current question, which I can’t find an answer for and will just discuss with his doctor – at what point can I wean him of breastmilk and not need to replace with formula? According to my mom I started refusing the breast around 9 months and they just went to a full solids diet from there…is 9 months an appropirate age for that? Is 12 months really better or is that just the LLL agenda? I am not in a hurry to get him off the breast, but I don’t want to do extended breastfeeding (over 1 year), and my husband would like his favorite toys back sooner than that, and I’m not insensitive to his perspective. But everything out there is 1 year or longer! As long as you want! Until he goes off to school! Which, again, not helpful to someone interested in breastfeeding for the health benefits of the child rather than as a lifestyle.

Another: the lock-step condemnation of nipple shields. I don’t know if they are over-used in some hospitals, or too often pushed as a first resort instead of a last, but for me they saved breastfeeding. Without them, the best I could have managed for those first days after we came home, when my breasts were essentially razed and had to recover from pretty serious trauma, would have been to pump and bottle-feed every time he needed to eat…and who knows how hard it would have been to get him on the breast after that. We are still using the shields, and I feel no guilt about it. It’s inconvenient, but that’s about it for drawbacks. Periodically I try to latch him without a shield, and he will just start screaming. I can’t deal with it. And considering the only potential problem with using the shields long-term is supply, and my body tends toward over-supply (which has been its own challenge), I just don’t care enough to spend the energy weaning him from the shields. Either he’ll do it on his own or he won’t. Either way at least we’re still breastfeeding exclusively. Good enough for me.

In fact, I think my tendency to hyper-lactate might be part of why he still likes the shields. I have both a fast let-down and a fierce spray. I’ll hand express in the shower sometimes and shoot nearly a yard out of multiple ducts. No wonder the poor little guy chokes and sputters and says “oh hell no” sometimes even with the shield! Without one that fire hydrant spray is hitting the back of his throat instead of just flooding his mouth.

So, in all, breastfeeding has been a challenge, and at first it pretty much sucked and was hard to stay committed to. No one warned me about that.

We also have had some sleep struggles. Never at night, thank god – he has been a good night sleeper since day 1, going down between 8 and 10, logging 4-5 hours, then a feed and down for another 2-3. Lately we’ve added another 1-2 hours after that early-morning feed, so I am consistently getting 7-8 hours of sleep each night in 3 segments. Our sleep struggle is in the daytime. For the first, god, 5 or 6 weeks I could hardly get him to sleep at all during the day. The only times would be if he fell asleep on the boob and I didn’t move, or if one of his grandmas was rocking and singing to him. For me he would not soothe like that, which was bizarrely hurtful…I thought Mama was supposed to be the best! How come everyone BUT me can soothe my baby? I could soothe him, of course, but only with a feeding. I still can’t really put him down to nap during the day. He loves being in the wrap and will sleep for hours against me; he loves being held after a feeding and will sleep for hours while I read or watch TV. He’ll sleep if we take a walk with the stroller, or go for a drive, or if I rock and bounce him. But if I put him in his crib or his bouncer to try and get something done, he’ll wake up within 10 minutes and be upset. So I’ve given up trying, at least for now, and he is sleeping more now at 2 months than he ever has, and cries less than he ever has. I finally feel like I’ve got a handle on what he needs. Whew! Just in time for everything to change again as he makes the moves toward independent exploration….

The other new-mom challenge I’m noticing is on me, not the baby – I am just withdrawing deeply into my own head. There are ways I reach out of myself…texts, emails, blogging. Those are easy, probably because they are (or at least can be) accomplished on my phone, one-handed, while I’ve got the baby held between body and knees and only need one hand under his head. And in-person visits are easy, because whoever I’m with can just see how things are. I don’t have to explain. But phone calls have become prohibitive. It’s just impossible to explain verbally and spontaneously how things are with me. I’m fine, no post-partum blues, getting decent sleep, love my baby, what more is there to say? But of course it sounds so pat and rehearsed to say that; there’s no meat there, no real sense of what my life is. How do you say that my life is now spending 15 hours a day in my own head? I don’t know what I do in there all day. What I think about. I read a lot. Watch TV and movies sometimes. Read news articles online. Sometimes I even try and write. It’s rich in there, but how do you say it in a way someone who isn’t in here with me can understand?

I am slowly adding parts of my old life back in. I am cooking dinner again most nights (vs. just doing things like frozen pizza or Hamburger Helper). I  have taken the grocery shopping back from my husband – the baby goes in his wrap and has a most excellent nap while I go about the store. I am starting to jog in the mornings, stroller in tow…next week I can finally start trying to lose weight again without fear it will affect my milk supply as long as I’m careful not to undereat too much. I am getting annoyed when the house stays dirty and wanting to tackle some of the organizational projects I know need to be done to make room for the indefinite presence of this little guy in our house. (That I would have started on earlier except for that needing to hold him all day thing.)

I have stopped getting the feeling of “when does my life go back to normal?” and internalized my new reality. I am still trying to find the right equilibrium within it, but at least I no longer feel like everything is upside down.

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Writing with Hobbles

I have started writing again, in drips and drabs, since the birth of my son 8 weeks ago. I am working under a set of distinct challenges, and I am trying to use them as a way to experiment with ways to write besides my standard. My hobbles?

1. Lack of time.

2. Lack of document.

3. Lack of usual layout.

Obviously, with a new baby the amount of time I have to focus is narrow. I actually have quite a lot of down time, if I choose to spend breastfeeding sessions on writing instead of reading, but even so it’s not like I have hours-long blocks of time. I have minutes-long, maybe an hour if I am being indulgent and letting him nap on the breast. What these splintered pieces of time means is, I need to just jump right in and start going. That is a state I can attain when I am obsessed by a story but struggle with when I am getting into a story. If I am not obsessed I tend to waste a lot of time re-orienting myself by reading what I wrote before to try and pick up the mood and narrative thread.

That said, the only way I can realistically write right now is on my iPhone. The notepad there is not robust; it is barebones scribbling. But it’s what I have, for two reasons. First, getting a full computer pulled up is only workable when the baby is sleeping in his wrap or after he’s in bed for the night. Using only those moments would waste a lot of time. Second, my laptop is on the verge of death. A while back the power adapter port broke, and I was able to salvage a few more months out of it by duct-taping the adapter into the port. Recently it slipped again, and I was unable to get it taped stably back in place. My husband has a laptop I could use, but it lacks my files and, again, is only usable in narrow circumstances.

So not only am I writing on my phone, which reduces typing speed, I am also having to write blind, because I don’t have the work-in-progress files. I’ve got enough battery left on the laptop to retrieve them to my external harddrive, but I don’t have them yet. It’s hard for me not to be able to reference exactly what I wrote before, but I’m trying to use it as a means to force myself forward. NaNoWriMo style. I can synthesize and revise later…I’m going to have to write over a lot of it anyway, as all I can bring myself to do on the phone is scene sketching without serious grounding details.

Part of that is just trying to keep up with my thoughts at a third of the speed I normally have to type with, but most of it is the visual layout being unfamiliar and unsettling. I can tell in a glance at a Word doc whether a scene is long enough…I have no frame of reference on that tiny little screen. You’d think I would, after reading so many Kindle books on it, but…I don’t.

I am trying to convince myself that shaking it up is a good thing, not just making the best of a bad situation, but it’s hard. I like my routines, even if they don’t work. Why? Because they are comfortable, and I am an Epicurean at heart. I am trying to channel Inara. If only I had her wardrobe….

opportunity in disguise

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The 99 Problems of Contemporary Romance

In addition to historicals, I have been reading a lot of contemporary romance these past weeks. I have never been hugely fond of co-ro, mostly reading it now as a break from historicals, with which I am saturated. While most of the contemporary stuff I’ve picked up has been enjoyable enough, I am seeing many of the same structural flaws pop up over and over again in the genre – not just what I select but also the chaff I sort through.

Foremost among the issues are: how inconsequential most of the conflicts are. How trivial the barriers to being together. And how goddamned repetitive the tropes are.

Historical fiction is pretty easy to run on external conflicts, either as barriers or facilitators to love – family pressure to marry one person and not another…the need of one party to marry money…class differences…racial or religious differences…social pressure and expectation…scandal…the list goes on.

But what are the impediments to any two people making a relationship work in a modern context? Basically…each other. In any sort of real life scenario, the only thing that will keep apart two people is one or the other of them. Sure, geographic situations can happen, but if the relationship is the priority that can be overcome with sacrifice of a job or property. So the conflicts that hinge on the characters living in different places seem forced, and those that hinge on emotional baggage (I got dumped once/my parents divorced, so I don’t do relationships!) are just juvenile and silly.

What remains, after an author has come to those same conclusions, are outlandish situations – lying about a relationship so you need a fake partner because you are too embarrassed to admit the truth…having crazy terms of inheritance that require a marriage of convenience dictated by a relative…needing social cache to break into a good ole boy business network…knocking up a one-night stand despite using condoms…having a ridiculous, bullying family that thinks a hasty marriage is necessary when their (adult) little girl gets caught having sex. Or taking thing to the same realm as historicals in terms of wealth – rich girl getting death threats needs bodyguard, business empire merger requires marriage so it stays “in the family,” bored trust fund brat surprised by love, celebrity goes incognito for a break and lies about their identity to The One, etc.

It’s not realistic. I mean, I get that romance isn’t meant to reflect reality, but at the same time, situationally speaking, can’t it at least be plausible?

I have found myself picking up more small town series than anything else, even if the conflicts are petty. But they have their own issues in addition. For instance, how many people do you know who are really happily paired off, in a true love sense? Two other couples? Three? To have every bachelorette in a small town find the one and only begins to stretch credulity after a few books. Even if you can get past the slim odds of that, is it likely to happen one right after another? Doubtful. If the books in a small town series were spaced out more than 3 months between them I might find all those love matches more believable than when 6 happen in a year. Also, how big are these small towns supposed to be if every person featured is totally good-looking? Where are the average schleppy-looking folks that, you know, comprise 2/3 of the population? Especially out in the middle of nowhere. Now, if you have a town of say 30,000, I can believe the numbers of foxy mates…but then the whole small-town charm, everybody knows everybody claim disintegrates.

Also, what the hell is up with the “I used to be in love with him” trope?! Why must every case of falling in love with a sibling’s friend or old acquaintance hinge on a case of puppy love/hero worship?! Why? Why can’t it simply be a case of adult onset attraction? Gah!!!!!

What I think most of this boils down to is that a contemporary love story has the story for a novella and has to be forcibly extended to reach even short novel length, and every added wrinkle stretches the mooring ropes tethering the piece to reality a little more. I would rather see shorter, more straightforward stories with more interpersonal dynamics and less pointless drama. But, then, no one has ever accused me of liking conflict for its own sake…

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Dealbreakers: impossible premises

I have been doing a lot of reading while nursing the bebe. (And thank God for ebooks! No way I could wrangle a physical book in this position!) And in whittling down some of my historical romance TBR pile I have found quite a few books that I cannot finish because the premise was too…impossible. (Or, less charitably: Ignorant. Ill-researched. Anachronistic. Stupid.) One drawback of researching historical periods, I suppose, is becoming unable to suspend disbelief when certain fallacies occur because I now know better.

The worst offenders have to do with marriage and paternity.

With marriage, specifically annulments. They were not granted because a marriage hadn’t been consummated; they were granted for (1) fraud, (2) impotence, or (3) lack of consent (aka duress)/parental consent for a minor. Period. A father might ascertain his minor daughter’s marriage had not been consummated before annulling it, but the annulment had nothing to do with whether the couple had had sex. Neither would it bear on any other type of annulment. But I see that trope all the time. One story I was trying to read hinged on a woman believing she wasn’t good enough (class-wise) for her husband and determining to annul the marriage. Um, no. That’s not how that worked. Since there was no other conflict, I just couldn’t. Her feelings of inferiority could have worked as the main conflict if the context had been having to stay married, not him convincing her to stay as if her plan was viable. Nooooope. Sorry.

Another had as a plot device an aristocrat who wasn’t the biological offspring of his titled father. He vacillated between being horrified that someone would find out and whining about how he wasn’t “really” titled. Um, yes, he was. He was the acknowledged child born in wedlock. Legally that made him the next lord of whatever stripe. The social scandal would have been huge, and I suppose the cousins might have sued to have him removed, but I don’t think they would have had a standing; the entire point of patrimony laws protected children born in wedlock, which he had been. So I couldn’t do that one either after about his third declaration that he wasn’t really his lordship. No…to the law you are so STFU, your position is secure.

Another had a matchmaker trying to steer her unassuming charge clear of an aristocrat’s heir because he wasn’t attractive physically. No. No way in hell would a rich and titled-to-be suitor be dismissed like that when the girl wasn’t a prime offering; equally impossible was the matchmaker not knowing he was an heir in that small a neighborhood, yet never once did she bring up “I know he’ll be the earl but you can do better.” I mean I wouldn’t have believed that, but at least it would have addressed the issue!

I begin to see why the crazysauce historicals with kidnappings and false identities and whatnot are still popular with some readers – you know going in that you’ll have to suspend a lot of disbelief so errors to the legalities, morals, or social standards of the time are really the least of your blind eyes to turn.

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Big 5 Romance: novels by and for the petty bourgeoisie?

Today is a Friday the 13th, the day the madam of The Honest Courtesan uses as a call to awareness for sex workers’ rights. It’s my chance to state publicly that I believe all sex work, including prostitution, should be decriminalized (or legalized, as long as that is not used as a backdoor to regulate it out of existence). The sooner our society leaves off attempting to legislate morality and dictate private, consensual behaviors, the better off all of us will be. And the sooner our legislative bodies and feminist activists stop the infantilizing of adult women by suggesting that we are incapable of making a rational choice to have sex with a particular individual for any reason whatsoever, the safer and more empowered all women in this country will be.

Pretty much since I started this blog, I’ve been mentioning an observed trend in the romance genre out of New York that started somewhere between college (early aughts) and 2009, namely, the excision of almost all “unsavory” elements from historical romance. First they came for the booze. Then they came for the whores. It’s the most bizarre thing, that even as the amount and variety of sex in romance explodes, the presumed morality and interests of its readership narrows.

Why are these changes happening? Is this trend driven by readership or by the “gatekeepers” (agents and publishers) or by the creators themselves?

Before I go further into this topic, let me clarify that I don’t think genre is a static thing, even for a genre like romance that has very clear rules that haven’t changed since the early 1970s (or the 1930s, when Georgette Heyer started producing her Regency  romances…or the 1810s when Jane Austen was inadvertently inventing the genre). There are always going to be cultural values embedded in literature that reflect the perspective and anxieties of the time in which they are written, not the time in which the book is set, and this is especially true in romance, because it is by women, for women, and centered around issues that women still consider important (love, marriage, and how those fit into women’s lives). The books from the 1970s and 1980s are pretty dated now, with relationships that border on (and sometimes cross over into) abusive and heroes who would be rapists except the heroines always secretly want to have sex but can’t admit it, so instead of viewing him as a criminal and an attacker, the audience (of the time) saw the “won’t take no for an answer” hero as a tool to give the heroine what she wants without her having to accept the responsibility that comes with sexual agency. The abusive man/forcible-seduction scenarios are pretty non-existent now in non-50-Shades-knockoff romance (erotica is a different matter altogether!), although I still see a lot of seductions where the hero’s magical sexual power “overwhelms” the heroine so that she can’t resist. Modern-written historicals often verge into anachronism by using heroines who insist on not needing a man’s help for no clear narrative reason and who feel no moral or practical dilemma about having premarital sex, also for no clear reason. So what I am really interested in, and why I wanted to write about this topic, is why the particular cultural values being embedded in (imposed upon?) romance are the ones being used.

One of the people who made me see the “cleaning up” of romance most clearly was Thaddeus Russell (though his writing has nothing to do with fiction). His book A Renegade History of the United States made me view historical settings in a different context–specifically just how fractional a part of the population romance really focuses on–and also how few people even in a historical context actually shared the obsession with chastity and saving virginity for marriage that 99% of all historical romance problems revolve around.  He revised my view of politics and social reformation vis a vis how much of it was done by a very narrow interest group and a narrow part of society. I have never gravitated toward books with “reformer” heroines, even though such women existed, but after reading Russell I downright loathe that type of character. I can understand women who are willing to live within the rules of their class—despite my perspective I am very conventional in the way I live my life, especially as seen from the outside—so they don’t bother me even if they have vastly different agendas or thought processes from me as a modern woman.  But the reformers who want to ruin everyone else’s fun?  No, thanks.

However, most romances don’t feature reformers per se; the authors simply let certain behaviors (such as doing charity work, supporting one or more severely physically/psychologically damaged persons in their domestic service, abhorring male fun such as gambling, drinking, fighting, etc., and sitting in judgment of any drug use beyond alcohol or tobacco) stand in for the heroine’s personality as if there is no possible question about the legitimacy of those “virtues” or the fact that everyone in their audience would applaud them. Despite their newfangled free-love/fuck-like-men-feminism approach to sex, romances are more often than not extremely socially conservative in all other ways.

And why? Beyond, I mean, the obvious answer that publishers push what sells and pressure the authors who still work for them to conform with those codes.

I have a theory: the acquisition editors buy to their own taste, and that taste is uniformly ivory-tower elite, with the proper number of women’s studies classes on their transcript and lockstep “socially conscious” moral edicts that are based on proving how much you care. (Think that’s incompatible with social conservatism? Then why is it that public health initiatives to ban cigarettes and cut down on drunk driving are driven by Democrats? – they just pretend it’s about saving children when it’s about controlling people’s private behavior. The only difference between that kind of statism and what the Republicans peddle is that Republicans are more honest about wanting to legislate morality. And also that the Republicans are basing their moral imperatives on religion versus some nebulous idea of social conscience or you-wouldn’t-like-it-if-it-happened-to-you emotional appropriation.)

Romance may have started out with a high percentage of smut (low-brow) vs. story-driven (high-brow) novels, but now that erotica has emerged as a genre in its own right, most of what’s left in romance attempts to appeal to the readers who want more than just lust – who require a story. And that story is always the same: no matter how unconventional the characters are to begin with, their story ends with a return to convention. Romance, in fact, has only two stories, that of a man raising a woman up via marriage (up either from low birth or a moral failure), or a woman and her love bringing an immoral man back into the fold of upright society. It’s a normalizing genre that reinforces the nuclear family and the idea of monogamy and marriage.

But why is that normalizing infused with all those other social values? The answer to that piece of illogic lies in knowing who still gets married these days – middle class women, especially upper middle class women. The same women who are curating the genre at a publishing house level. The same women who are writing and reading romance from the major publishers. Some of them are even self-publishing romances in the same vein.

Yes, some of the self-published romance is more of the pap the big publishers ladle out, but not all. To me the most exciting part of self-publishing from the perspective of both writer and reader is that authors who have a different moral compass (in any number of directions), or who prefer to examine the grim realities of historical times, or who want to attempt writing actual historical attitudes as opposed to modern ones in costumes, are now free of any interference from a publisher who just wants more of the same “mistorical” romance. The attitudes and tropes of chick-lit that bled into the romance genre following the collapse of chick-lit as its own genre are no longer infecting the entirety of the genre. Thank goodness.

Or maybe just the free market of ideas.

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