My mother calls me yesterday. "I got your book!" she says. "I've only read one page, but I think you write like Amy Tan."
A few words of explanation here:
(1) This is classic my-mother. She also read one sentence of my very first blog post (not on this site) and immediately Commented, "I love your writing style! This is a great blog!" As if none of my three readers who came afterward wouldn't guess that that had to be my mother. Moreover, I don't think she's read my blog since, which is why it's safe for me to blog about her.
(2) My mother admitted later that she couldn't read my book right now because she was currently reading--you guessed it--Amy Tan. THE BONESETTER'S DAUGHTER, to be precise, which I also enjoyed, though it was nothing like my writing in style or content. I wish!
(3) My husband's take, after looking mystified and saying, "Your writing isn't at all like Amy Tan's!" was to decide, "maybe she meant you're both Chinese." There you have it, folks, Amy Tan and I are both Chinese, so buy my book, just like you buy hers.
Not that comparisons aren't helpful in describing a work.
At the recent SCBWI conference there was a session to review query letters, aloud and in front of everyone. Even anonymously done it was agonizing. Like having your picture put up on the screen and having them ask, "Would you date this person? Yeah, me neither, but why not? Why exactly is this person so repulsive?" (But I digress.)
Occasionally writers would pitch their work by comparing it to existing published books. I don't know if it was just the luck of the draw, but most of the projects pitched could have been TWILIGHT-crossed-with-FILL-IN-THE-BLANK. And TWILIGHT was, in fact, frequently enlisted. One memorable project was, according to the author, TWILIGHT crossed with ANNE OF GREEN GABLES, HARRY POTTER, and BETSY-TACY. What??? Does that mean a five-year-old girl protagonist living on Prince Edward Island who turns out to be a witch who falls for a vampire? Or does it mean a red-headed vampire girl growing up in Minnesota who goes to Hogwarts as an exchange student? In either case SOLD--I'm buying a copy. My own pitch, being about a ten-year-old (male) pastor's kid, didn't have any ready comparisons, so I didn't include any. Umm...SUPERFUDGE crossed with PEACE LIKE A RIVER, only without the murders, cross-country pursuit, and mystical events?
I originally thought of MOURNING as MITFORD crossed with SEX AND THE CITY but abandoned that. Then I thought of MITFORD crossed with BRIDGET JONES' DIARY, which was a little closer, except that it isn't very MITFORD, apart from the churchgoing protagonist. You'll have to let me know what you think yourself. One thing I can tell you for sure: it's not Amy Tan.