real life girl fighting evil: Shira Glassman
Shira is an author and a totally awesome blogger on Tumblr. Her book, The Second Mango, recently became available. Read an interview to learn more about the amazing Shira and her wonderful novel.
1. Tell us about your book.
Well, the official blurb is:
It’s hard to find a girlfriend when you don’t know any other lesbians, so the young, nerdy Queen Shulamit hires the legendary warrior Rivka to take her around the kingdom on the back of her dragon in search of other girls like her. But the simple quest quickly turns into a rescue mission when they discover a temple full of women turned to stone by an evil sorcerer.
At its heart, The Second Mango is a friendship story about two very different women who become close like sisters while both looking for love, family, strength in Shulamit’s case (Rivka certainly doesn’t have to look for it!), and their place in the world. There are also heavy romance side plots for both of them — separately, obviously, because Rivka is straight — and the usual amount of Questing and Magic Potions and Flying Around On A Dragon for the average fairy tale. But the main point is that it’s a very woman-centered book. In fact, the only part of the story where two male characters even have an extended conversation is in Rivka’s backstory, which is in general less diverse and more traditional than the “present-day” bulk of the story. (For more on this, see my guest post on Dr. Tof Eklund’s blog.])
2. What inspired you to write The Second Mango?
The Second Mango is the magical result of several separate ideas that all came together after many years. First of all, I’d always wanted to write “the lesbian princess story” that many of us crave after being passively force-fed a visual diet of Disney Princess whatnot. I’ve joked that my brain resembled a waiting room of lesbian princesses, each representing a different story idea that hadn’t quite gotten enough lift to fly out of the nest.
Secondly, I grew up exposed to many, many stories about straight, cisgender women who disguised themselves as men so that they could do men’s jobs without being challenged. In more than one case, these “men” had women interested in them, women whose interest dried up once the “men” were exposed as women. So it was just a lot of straight people interacting in a very queer way. As a bisexual child, this really ate at me. I remember vividly the moment I read the line in Isaac Bashevis Singer’s Yentl the Yeshiva Boy about “Yentl found a way to deflower the bride.” What? She did what? With one casual, throwaway line, the story dismisses what for me could have been a whole novel in and of itself. Anyway, so what would happen if one of those Eowyn types had come face to face with a real lesbian? Would the lesbian be able to move on, and what would that look like? Would they become friends?
It turned out that the answer was yes, thank goodness. So now that I had a lesbian and a straight woman, I needed to find another queer woman so that the lesbian could have her Epic Romance. I decided to do this quite literally by having them try to find another queer woman.
The last missing piece of the puzzle was my lifelong frustration with the absence of my type of guys as the romantic interest in heterosexual fiction. Iam bisexual, but you’d never know it if all i ever watched or read were conventional mainstream fiction. All those guys are either too thin or too buff (and in many cases, too young) for me. Rivka’s wizard is around forty, beefy but “padded”, and sports a goatee. At last, “the guy” was someone I could actually get excited about. He soothes me in other ways, too — some which you’ll have to read the novel to find out, but suffice it to say that even the hetero subplot of my book is fiercely feminist. If Shulamit shows that loving women exclusively doesn’t make you manly, Rivka shows that loving men exclusively doesn’t make you weak. (It’s all about picking the right man.)
3. What are your favorite things about Shulamit and Rivka? What about them were you most excited to write about?
Rivka: well, I’m thoroughly in love with her for the same reasons Isaac is. She’s confident and competent and protects those that she cares about. She’s a brave and talented warrior. And, most dear to me, she’s a warrior woman who has my nose, my skin color, and my hair color — basically, my ethnic background — and speaks with the same accent that my great-grandparents did. She’s a female Askhenazi Jewish answer to Siegfried, andno way is he getting anywhere near her dragon, not if she has hands to lift a sword. Or even without hands! She’d be like the Black Knight from Monty Python!
….you know what? I love her because she’s a protective spirit. My people, we have this legend about a golem. She may not be made of clay and created by man, but she was created by me, and since she’s a made-up protective spirit, maybe she’s got a little of the golem in her.
As for Shulamit: she’s got a gigantic brain that voraciously devours nonfiction, so in that, she takes after my adorable spouse (who was once mistaken for a Californian by a man on the train in Europe who’d gotten Florida and California mixed up, simply because xe was able to continue answering in extremely knowledgeable detail all his technical questions about California politics!) Another thing I really love about Shulamit is that she’s so much me that she’s a way for me to work through the things I’m going through or have been through. She lost her father; so did I. She went through a stage of being so interested in women that they all looked appealing — I think that may have been me at fifteen. But she’s not entirely me. She’s a lesbian; I do like some men. She hates spectator sports and while I don’t always know what’s going on, I like being around happy people being excited about something. None of them are all me or all Spouseling or my friends or anyone else. Everything is all little bits of real life and imaginary dreams mixed up together. That’s what made it so much fun to write — the reality and yet the newness of it all.
I was most excited to write about Rivka being an Ashkenazi Jewish woman who kicks butt, and about her romance, and I was most excited to write about Shulamit being a queer women with a lot of challenges in her life (loss, food intolerances, feeling isolated) but meets them all head-on and conquers them.
4. What advice do you have for other girls who want to get published?
Write the story you want to write, because then your love for what you’re doing will come out in your work. THEN, find a critique buddy or two that you really trust who also believe in your vision, and will help polish it until it’s ready to shop around. A true critique buddy/beta reader is someone who will help you make your story the best it can be, not someone who’ll try to turn into the story they’d rather read. I owe so much of my experience to the woman I call “Kate the Great”, Katharine Thomas O’Gara, who is herself a fantastic writer.
There is a really wide variety of publishers out there. For the larger ones, you’ll need to shop your book to a literary agent, and they’ll be the ones shopping it to the publishers. For the smaller ones, you submit directly, but make sure you follow all the rules. Piers Anthony has a website that rates and describes a lot of the publishers out there, so Google that and then double-check your research against his—anyway, it’s what I did.
5. If you were stuck in a world where demons are attacking, what would be your weapon of choice?
No, seriously. I’m not Rivka; I’m only the scrawny version of her. (Actually, I’m built like Shulamit, but with Rivka’s ethnicity instead.) So I’ve no hope of getting anywhere with traditional weapons, even cool ones like a sword inherited from a dead wizard boyfriend. But one thing I do have is an absolutely iron will when it comes to tenacity; I will keep trying to think of ideas. What else can we try? What haven’t we thought of? Who can we ask for advice? Who can we ask to help us? What’s that over there, and can it be used to hit anything? Can they be reasoned with? Can they be distracted?
This was fun, and thank you for having me over to play!
The Second Mango is available on eBook for $5.79 on Prizm Books, from Giovanni’s Room, and on Amazon Kindle, and in print/paperback for $14.95 at Wild Iris Books, Florida’s only feminist bookstore. Amazon print linkhere.