Having a bad cold this week made me really reflect on the nature of comfort-food entertainment, because that’s what you go for like clockwork when you’re sick. As I skimmed through digital movies in my collection, immediately going for the most relaxing ones that would make it seem like my fever and sore throat weren't there, 😊 I noticed Miss Congeniality. I haven’t seen that movie in a while, but I remember a past incident where I had an extremely stressful encounter with a person and I started to have a breakdown. I couldn’t afford to get emotional right then because it was the middle of a party and there were lots of people around me. So I flipped through things to watch in a back room, in the few minutes I had to get a grip on myself, and Miss Congeniality was there. It’s not my favorite movie, but it felt far removed from what I was dealing with and that was the first time I realized it could be considered relaxing. I never forgot that.
Many people find this movie offensive because it’s filled with profanity, has a lot of sexist jokes, and hints about sexual assault in a character's backstory. But when it was released over 20 years ago a lot of women felt it was comfort food. It embodied the chick flick with its mixture of seemingly real life and actual cheerful fantasy. I even heard a group of women at my church planning to put together a little posse to go see the sequel (Miss Congeniality 2.) Comfort is one of the most subjective genres as the characters in comfort fiction are not like real people. They have to appear real enough when you read a book or watch a movie. However, once you return to your life, you'll never see anyone who resembles these characters. That’s because they don’t exist. NOBODY is like that. They are purely fiction and people can strongly disagree about what constitutes a comforting fiction they'd like to see.
John Wayne’s El Dorado, Harry Potter, the Night at the Museum Trilogy, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and the All Creatures Great and Small TV series are all diverse examples of comfort fiction. Writing comfort fiction requires high levels of skill and many writers who use this medium are very talented. They have to find the perfect blend of Feels-Real-But-Actually-Isn’t to make their audience happy and safe. After all, when I was sick what did I need? That's right. Comfort fiction. But non-fans tend to be critical and hostile towards someone else’s comfort fiction. They don’t find it relaxing at all. They know it’s fake or they find many elements in it (like the cursing and sexism in Miss Congeniality) distracting and they tend to say so. So writing comfort work requires not just dedication to achieving a mastery of sheer fiction, but accepting backlash and complaints from people who aren’t the target audience. No one is more hostile than a consumer looking for a different slice of comfort food than the one you’re offering. 😊
A Year with the Harrisons is in the comfort fiction genre. It looks like the most personal of my stories-- basically about me and my family, just glamorized a bit. But actually it is fiction that intentionally looks personal as an aesthetic. You'd find none of its characters inhabiting the Texas towns and rural areas where I have passed my life. You’d also be unlikely to find its pop star characters anywhere that pop stars and famous musicians hang out. But the illusion that it’s a statement on my life, that it's almost autobiographical but won’t admit it, is part of what makes it a comfort story. 😊 Readers want to believe they've had a window into my background instead of actually exploring it. Comfort fiction is an exact science and every detail has to be perfect to fit the needs of the specific audience, so Harrisons has changed a little over time as my audience has evolved slightly. But the essential story has always been the same. It’s also true that a lot of people aren't going to find this book comforting. They find it distracting or even downright unlikable because they're not the audience. That's the nature of the genre!
Welcome to the family!
Faith and family relationships are front and center in Letty Harrison’s life. As the homeschooled daughter of a devoutly religious rural Texas family, the two ideas are almost synonymous in her mind. But the other half of her family isn’t religious at all. Her father’s cousin was a famous pop singer who devoted her life to making money and pushing her daughters into society. Failed relationships and deep rifts have plagued Brenda Harrison’s clan for years. Until a couple of years ago, she never gave a thought to her quiet relatives still living in the heart of Texas. But perhaps wishing to redeem herself—or wanting to extend her authority over others—she offers Letty a scholarship to a college and attempts to reunite with her estranged daughter Betty on a reality show. What she sets in motion is a chain of events that changes everyone’s life for the better. Not least of all—her own.
A Year with the Harrisons is a love story about a family whose members are very fond of their unusual way of life—both branches of it. A love story about two college kids who gradually overcome cultural obstacles to find each other. And a love story about a mother and her daughter, showing that the deepest bonds can create (and overcome) the deepest breaks.
And there will be more updates.
Young Adult Fiction Writer
Join the newsletter below! This signup has no reader magnets attached but I am preparing a freebie to be offered as part of the welcome email in the near future.
Check out my list of Top 5 Best Children's Adventure Books About Family and Exploring I've Recommended on Shepherd.com!