Doesn't everyone have a Madonna Story? When Laura Barcella graciously invited me to be a part of her new anthology Madonna & Me, I couldn't wait to tell my tale of how for three days (three days!) Madonna was considering making my novel Into Thin Air, her directorial debut. Instead, she went off on another singing tour and smashed my heart and my hopes to bits. Still, it was lots of fun to write about it, and the stories in this anthology practically sing. I'm thrilled to have Laura here to talk about Madonna, and isn't the above photo of her, dressed up as her idol, a hoot? Thank you, thank you, Laura.
So, why Madonna? Why do you think she's still relevant today?
Doing an all-female anthology about Madonna interested me for two reasons. The first was selfish -- because, as I've gotten older and started to look back on my childhood and the things and people that most impacted me, I've realized just how much Madonna affected my life. I was really young (6 or 7) when she first got famous, but I became obsessed with her from the very first moment I heard her. I loved her music and looked up to her in an idolizing pop-star way, but I also looked up to her on a personal-identity level. I truly had never seen or heard a woman like her before -- completely unashamed and unapologetic about being exactly who she was. Her refusal to tamp herself down, quiet her sexuality, or minimize herself really showed me a new model of what women could do, be, say, and think. That's the first reason I did the anthology -- to honor the impact she had on my life and identity.
The second reason I did it: I knew Madonna's pop-cultural footprint was huge, and I suspected, from talking to other women, that her impact on women in general was possibly even bigger. I wanted to explore all the ways she changed women's lives.
I think she's still relevant today in the way that any groundbreaking artist is relevant past the initial heyday that made them famous. She may not be as trail-blazing or influential as she was in the '80s, but she's obviously still super-successful and powerful, and what she's doing or not doing now doesn't really change the enormity of the impact she had on the culture at large. We're still talking about her, she has clearly influenced dozens of female artists (hi, Lady Gaga), and she's still actively performing and making music. People still care about her -- that was made even more apparent when she was asked to perform at the Super Bowl.
Were you surprised by the essays you received? Did you expect one thing and discover some new things along the way?
I knew I'd get a ton of submissions from a ton of women who loved Madonna and wanted to express that love for her. That's pretty much exactly what I got! But I was a bit surprised by the commonalities shared by many of the writers -- for instance, the "Like a Prayer" video specifically came up again and again and again; I hadn't realized (or remembered) how profoundly moving that video was for people.
Another thing that was interesting was how many women seemed to feel a kind of personal, familial connection with Madonna. I did too. I think that's partially because she's been around as part of our consciousness for so much of our lives; she's just always been there, kind-of like an aunt or an older sister.
And I was surprised, too, when I received a few stray submissions from male writers who REALLY wanted to participate; they pretty much begged me to let them write something even though the call for submissions clearly stated this book would be women-only. I thought that was kind-of funny and sweet, how badly they wanted in, but obviously I didn't accept their pieces!
What was it like to edit an anthology?
Oh, it was awesome. I loved it almost every step of the way. Of course, one aspect that wasn't fun was having to turn people's essays down -- that was difficult. Also, there were a lot of small details and files and organizational stuff that needed to be constantly maintained, and I'm usually not the most organized person. But I pretty quickly got into the groove (ha, ha) and figured out how to manage a good system for all the details -- the contracts, essays, payments, etc.
What are you working on next?
I actually have another book coming out in July, from Zest Books. It's a nonfiction apocalyptic-pop culture guide aimed at teenagers. It's called The End: 50 Apocalyptic Visions From Pop Culture That You Should Know About...Before It's Too Late. You can pre-order it on Amazon here: http://amzn.to/zFKa47 It's a fun and slightly dark project; adults would definitely enjoy it too.
Other than that, I'm pretty busy promoting Madonna & Me. I am batting around some ideas for possible follow-up anthologies -- someone suggested doing a similar anthology of Madonna-themed essays by men (Madonna & Men?). I would also love to do a similar book about Morrissey -- called, obvs, Morrissey & Me -- but apparently he's pretty niche, so it's unclear whether a book like that would manage to sell at all.
What's obsessing you now?
Hard question! Um... sparkling water? I don't know. I've become one of the Pinterest-addicted masses, but I'm not too compulsive about it. I'm as obsessed with music as I've ever been (Spotify is feeding that addiction). I'm pretty obsessed with Madonna & Me, obviously, and how to better spread the word about it. Also as per usual, I'm obsessed with trying to Figure Everything Out on some grand personal and philosophical scale, which is a tall order, clearly -- I haven't gotten very far on that one.
What question didn't I ask that I should have?
Hmm... Maybe "what's your favorite kind of candy?" That'd be an appropriate one for me. I've been a bona fide candy-freak since, well, infancy. And to answer that question you didn't ask: I love anything gummy from Haribo. Their gummy grapefruits have been my #1 fave since high school.
Laura Barcella | writer & editor
Twitter: @laurabarcella and @MadonnaAndMe
Madonna & Me: http://www.madonnaandmebook.com/
M&M on Tumblr: http://madonnaandme.tumblr.com/
M&M on FB: https://www.facebook.com/MadonnaAndMe