Saturday, November 30, 2013

Novelist Error Messages

Novelist Error Message Novelist Error Message Novelist Error Message Novelist Error Message

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Baby, do you dare to do this?/ Cause I’m coming at you like a metaphor

As an author, I frequently field questions from teens about Big Ticket English Class Items. “What is the theme of your work?” “Can you list three metaphors from this chapter?” “Why did you use a simile here?” The questions always carry a faint accusatory air. But metaphors and similes are glorious! They clarify and elucidate by providing an alternative way of looking at something.

In fact, today I was driving along in my Camaro and suddenly I found myself listening to "Dark Horse" by Katy Perry & Juicy J. It is chock full of metaphors. In fact, I think they use every metaphor. How clarifying! However . . . I must admit that the first 43 times that I listened to this song, the lyrics confused me. The metaphors confused me. What are you trying to say, Katy? How complicated this relationship must be that we need all of these metaphors to understand it. Even with my absolutely massive authorial grown-up collegiate brain, I was stymied.

But now, yes, now, I’ve listened to it 43 times more and I think I’m prepared to give my professional authorial interpretation of this song.

Which I'm sure is definitely right. Lyrics in bold. THE TRUTH in non-bold.


[Juicy J:] Yeah/ Ya'll know what it is
 [what it is: pop song, minor key, B-flat minor]
  
Katy Perry/ Juicy J, aha.
[cast of characters] [Norwegian pop group.]  
Let's rage
 “Let’s chat about the reasons why it is compelling to date me seriously.”

 [Katy Perry:] I knew you were/ You were gonna come to me/ And here you are
“I gave you my number. Even though you could have blown me off as there is technically free will in the universe, I'm Katy Perry. So please. You were going to call."  

But you better choose carefully/ ‘Cause I, I’m capable of anything/ Of anything and everything
“Sometimes when I get drunk I stand on the piano in the bar and sing Katy Perry songs.”  

Make me your Aphrodite
“Once upon a time, Cronus castrated Uranus and then tossed his nuts into the sea, and the goddess Aphrodite was created as a result. Despite being the product of sea-gonads, she was the hottest of the goddesses, and she also had a magical girdle that she used to compel people to love her. She also basically had sex with every god, ever, and had about a billion children. So, that. I want to be that to you.”  

Make me your one and only
“So, when I asked you to evoke Aphrodite before, I didn’t mean the slutty bit.”  

Don’t make me your enemy, your enemy, your enemy
“But the testicle part of her tale is still salient here.”  

So you wanna play with magic
 “So you wanna get involved with someone who defies the rules of science in a fashion frequently associated with both superstition and Warner Brothers?”  

Boy, you should know what you're falling for/ Baby do you dare to do this/ Cause I’m coming at you like a dark horse
 “Cause I’m coming at you like a metaphor”  

Are you ready for, ready for/ A perfect storm, perfect storm
“Are you psychologically prepared for a once-in-a-lifetime confluence of meteorological events?”  

Cause once you’re mine, once you’re mine/ There’s no going back
“No, seriously. Get sand bags, several gallons of drinking water, and fresh batteries for your flash light.”  

Mark my words/ This love will make you levitate/ Like a bird/ Like a bird without a cage
“The chemical production of phenylethylamine in your brain during our courtship stage will replicate the weightless sensation of a bird flying without the constraints of a cage (but presumably limited naturally by the bird’s physical capacity for high altitudes, so therefore our love will soar at or below 16,000 feet above sea level — unless the bird in question is a Gyps rueppelli, which has been recorded at 37,900 feet. Actually you know what, go with that. We’re aiming high with this love.).”  

But down to earth/ If you choose to walk away, don’t walk away
 “When I say you have a choice, I really mean: you don’t have a choice.”  

It’s in the palm of your hand now baby/ It’s a yes or no, no maybe
“Actually you do, but it’s binary.”  

So just be sure before you give it up to me/ Up to me/ give it up to me
 “You should be sure before you have sex with me. Because I am your Aphrodite, and historically, that’s meant that it’s possible that our children could actually turn out to be either nymphs, hermaphrodites, or children with over-sized genitals. So I’m just saying, be sure. Or, use protection.”

 [Juicy J] Uh/ She’s a beast/ I call her Karma (come back)
 “As she pointed out earlier in the song, she is capable of anything and everything. Which probably I deserve.”

 She eats your heart out/ Like Jeffrey Dahmer
 “At the best, she will strangle and dismember you before dining on your heart weeks later, and at the worst, she will drill a hole in your head and pour muriatic acid in. In the movie version of your romance, she will be portrayed by someone like Jeremy Renner or Anthony Hopkins.”  

Be careful/ Try not to lead her on/ Shawty’s heart was on steroids/ Cause her love was so strong
Author’s note: I appear to be too old to interpret this couplet. Compelling research suggests “shawty” could mean “a young girl or woman” but possibly could also be referring to Shawty Lo, a rapper who is neither a young girl or a woman. This author is forced to admit that she is bereft of the pop culture bad-assery necessary to shed light on this line.  

You may fall in love/ When you meet her
 “She is like Aphrodite and her magical girdle will most likely compel you to love her.”

 If you get the chance you better keep her/ She's sweet as pie
“She is such a pleasant experience”  

but if you break her heart/ She'll turn cold as a freezer
“She will no longer be a pleasant experience.”  

That fairy tale ending with a knight in shining armor
“I am a chivalrous sort of guy who treats women well.”  

She can be my Sleeping Beauty/ I’m gon’ put her in a coma
“Never mind.”  

Woo!
 “Woo!”  

Damn I think I love her/ Shawty so bad
 “. . . ”

 I’m sprung and I don’t care
“I have been captivated by her magic girdle and even knowing the potential consequences — the magical children with weird-ass body parts and whatnot — I can’t help myself.”  

She got me like a roller coaster
“Ever since taking her number, I have wavered back and forth between elation and wanting to vomit up the boardwalk fries I unwisely consumed before getting into this relationship.”

 Turn the bedroom into a fair
 “When we engage in intercourse, sometimes there is a petting zoo and/or a pie judging contest also in the room.”  

Her love is like a drug
 “She mentioned earlier that her love would make me feel as if I was soaring at at least 16,000 feet above sea level. Belladonna is a hallucinogenic substance that commonly causes the sensation of flying and was used in potions by witches in the middle ages. Her love is like a drug in general and belladonna in specific, which unfortunately has side effects including dilated pupils, slurred speech, and constipation.”

 I was tryna hit it and quit it
 “I considered taking her to Outback Steakhouse, making out with her against the side of my used Subaru, and then never calling her again.”

 But lil' mama so dope
“But this diminutive human of the child-bearing type was so great”

 I messed around and got addicted
“I decided to go steady.”

Monday, November 11, 2013

So. I See I'm A Girl. :/



When I was a teen, I spent a lot of hours wishing I’d been born a boy.

It wasn’t because I wasn’t happy in my own skin. It wasn’t that I looked at my face in the mirror and thought: that’s not me. It was just because I had seen the sort of person I wanted to be when I grew up and none of them were women.

Teen-Maggie loved all sort of books and movies, particularly thrillers and adventure stories. Like most readers and movie-watchers, I had a long list of characters I’d admired for sometimes very shabby reasons: Maverick from Top Gun, Sean Dillon from Jack Higgins’ novels, Howl from Howl’s Moving Castle, Tyler Durden of Fight Club, Athos of The Three Musketeers. The list was longer than that. By a lot. It was also all male. I wasn’t crushing on them. I wanted to be them. I wanted to be the wise-cracking adventurer with hidden depths, fearless and aggressive and bad-ass and car-racing and explosion-making and just . . . sexy.

I spent a lot of time looking for equivalent woman. But in movies, they usually wore spandex. And in fiction, they were called “sassy” instead of “funny.” And in real life . . . well, they didn’t exist in real life. At least not in my rural middle-class part of the world. How could you reconcile a funny, fearless adventurer with a Nurturing Mother Type?

I’ll give you a spoiler, in case you’ve never seen the hundreds of blog posts, articles, and generalized confessions of women feeling guilty about working away from home. You couldn’t.

So here was the moral of the story for teen Maggie: be born a boy, or take your toys and go home.
Don’t get me wrong, there were strong female characters in many of the books I read. They were just strong in different ways. When they appeared as secondary characters, they were the rocks the tempestuous men tied themselves to. They were the helpmeets and the scholars, the ones who did their homework and the ones who appeared with solutions at the last minute. And as narrators, they were often plucky and fearless and capable. But they were never just a female version of any of the people on my list of Dudes I Wished I Was. Where was the woman I wanted to be?

She didn’t seem to exist.

The thing is, girl characters mostly look different than boy characters. Even when written by women. We have hundreds of years of story-telling to tell us what a hero looks like, and what a heroine looks like, and that stuff is ingrained deep. It’s not that we don’t want to write women who are capable in the same way as men. It’s that it requires a helluva lot of imagination to overcome the weight of that narrative history. It’s one thing to write a better version of something you’re already looking at. It’s another thing to write something you haven’t ever seen before.

We talk a lot about strength in women characters, but not so much about the things male characters still have a corner on: humor, aggression, confidence, ambition. Heroes and heroines wear these things so differently still — look at the Avengers. Just look at it, okay! We’re still so stuck on gender roles. I’m reminded of it every time someone asks me about my masculine hobbies.
They’re not masculine hobbies. They are Maggie hobbies, thanks.

I wasn’t born a boy. And it’s taken me 31 years to finally become the person I wanted to be — 31 years to find a way to translate my list of admirable fictional role models into a woman I can actually be in real life. It took me that long to find a way to translate my often "masculine" interests into a "feminine" persona. It meant overcoming quite a bit of failure of imagination. Much of it mine.

Now I’m trying to translate that back into fiction. I really want a future-Maggie to grow up with a list of fictional role-models populated by both genders. I spent so many years depressed that I’d been born into a gender I didn’t seem to belong to. I want future teen me to know that she really can be anything she wants to be . . . and see examples of it all around her.
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