After a respected colleague of mine read an early draft of Golden Notes, she remarked to me, “You really get inside the head of a fourteen-year-old girl.” I appreciated her compliment. Of course, take her remark out of context and it becomes creepy. Imagine overhearing that sentence at a party or walking down the street. I wonder if Nabokov had similar experiences after he wrote Lolita: “Nice work, Vlad! You truly can occupy the psyche of a pederast!”
My colleague’s compliment turned my attention to one of the first English novels, written in the eighteenth century: Samuel Richardson’s Pamela. It tells the story of a fifteen-year-old waiting maid whose master tries to seduce and, when that doesn’t work, rape her. The novel is epistolary in form: Pamela writes letters to her parents back home, describing in scandalous detail her master’s lecherous advances. Richardson’s readers ate it up. And it was so believable: Richardson wrote just like a fifteen-year-old waiting maid—at least his readers thought so.
Richardson gave voice to a character based on a real-life socio-cultural demographic that had little to no voice at the time. As a girl, Pamela would be relatively unheard; as a peasant, she could be easily ignored. Richardson helped open literature up to the perspective of a marginalized underclass.
Although not a peasant, my protagonist is a girl. And though things have improved since the eighteenth century, gender equity is far from a fully realized ideal. For this reason (among others), I knew my protagonist had to be a girl. The simple premise of a would-be rock star in a male-dominated rock world afforded narrative and thematic opportunities that I hoped would both interest and challenge readers. Cali Sky faces sexism and/or objectification throughout Golden Notes. How does she respond given her past, given her circumstances? That question fascinated me.
My research for the novel acquainted me with gender issues in the world of music. I read biographies of Janis Joplin, Kate Bush, and the Riot Grrrls. I even read Pamela Des Barres’s I’m with the Band: Confessions of a Groupie for an alternative perspective.
But my novel has no ax to grind: It is far from a feminist polemic. I think that any novel that fights for a cause or defends a position is not a true novel. (And just to anticipate objections, Candide is a philosophical tale; Brave New World is science fiction, and the “novels” sold in religious bookstores are religious propaganda.)
Simply put, a would-be female rock star growing up in the 1980s seemed to me to be the basis for a good story: a female musician flourishing in a historically male world. I was interested in that juxtaposition. And I sense that juxtaposition when I listen today to, say, Sleater-Kinney or St. Vincent or the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Are these bands outstanding independent of the fact that they are led by women? Of course. Do I feel the presence of female empowerment when I listen to their music? Hell yeah.