When we began work on our joint novel Torera, chronicling the life of a lady matador, there was no doubt that we would be writing about a powerful woman. Here is the quote that follows our dedications in the book:
"Her record stands as a rebuke to every man of us who has ever maintained that a woman must lose something of her femininity if she seeks to compete with men."
Orson could easily have been referring to our Torera, Lucretia Maria Calderon, or for that matter to many other characters in our bibliographies, including R. Paul’s Siobhan Bishop in his Erotic Underworld books, or the wildly intense serial killer Emma in Tisha’s screenplay with writing partner David Strickler, Submission. Unquestionably the powerful woman has an indelible presence in our creative minds.
This springs from an absolute belief that a strong woman is feminine and sensual to the highest degree. One could hardly imagine a career more dominated by men than classical Spanish bullfighting—Hemingway’s book on the subject, Death in the Afternoon, is so dripping in machismo that it practically explodes with testosterone. And yet our fictional Lucretia has precedents in real history. Among the successful, fiery, and ferociously brave women who have stepped into a ring with toro bravos—fighting bulls—are Conchita Cintron and the American Patricia McCormick, both respected for their skill and power, and also their pride in their femininity.
Early in the book, our character explains a little of why she walked away from a career as a dancer, to feel alive and empowered in the arena:
The men in my family spend countless hours and days learning and practicing to be bullfighters. The more I watched and learned the more I desired to master the art. I like to think that my years of dance prepared me for being one of the best matadors in the ring. When you look at the positions matadors are assuming when twirling and luring the bull in with cape, it's almost art, like a ballet, but really in a woman these are more graceful, more feminine and more natural positions.
And here, a taste of the perceptions she must contend against, as she argues with her lover, also a matador:
Two weeks after signing with Diego’s manager, Lucretia had suffered an accident in the ring, being bumped so hard by a toro bravo that she had broken two ribs. Though the pain had been excruciating, she’d shrugged off the injury, binding her torso tight and refusing to skip even a single fight. Diego, instead of giving even grudging admiration to this level of determination, had berated her about it.
“What is your problem, Diego?” She had finally confronted him. “No fighter with pride would go whining to bed with aching ribs. Would you?”
“I’m a man, Lucretia. What are you?”
“I’m woman enough for you in your bed, Diego the Master.”
“Which is where you belong.”
“Is it jealousy then, Diego? Must I always be one step below you in order for you to be content?”
“Now you talk foolishness.”
He looked at her very seriously. “You must never doubt that I respect you.”
“Yes, with your constant talk of the kitchen and bedroom being the only place for a woman.”
“Well, that’s true. And my respect for you is also true.” He raised his hands in a helpless gesture. “Even God could not sort that out, torera.”
God might not be able to sort out that kind of thinking, but we give it our best shot, making our lady bullfighter driven and sexual, but also at times introspective and vulnerable. She is not a woman encased in steel, despite being one who wields a sword in an arena of bloody grace. She faces derision and dismissal, alongside adulation from the crowds. The men in her life (like men everywhere in the world), have their issues with a woman of power, with responses that veer all over the emotional map, from scorn to adoration.
In a way, our collaboration in writing this novel also underscores the things a man and woman can achieve when respecting and encouraging one another as mutually powerful. We wrote together as equals, each of us creating scenes for both the male and female characters of the book, gaining insight into the different ways men and women perceive their lives and the world.
All of us step into an arena of sorts every day, and we can do so in a way that is vividly alive, actualized with our power as individuals, prepared and eager to be brilliant. Even everyday life gives us that opportunity, as much as it gave to a woman with a cape in one hand and a sword in the other. When we reach for that, and support one another in the reaching, we are unstoppable.
Portrait by David Cuccia
Torera, the Lady Matador, is available from Passion in Print Press: www.passioninprint.com
More of R. Paul Sardanas’ creations, including novels, art and poetry, can be found at: www.rpaulsardanas.com
The creative world of Tisha Garcia can be explored at her website:
Torera cover by Deana Jamroz, PIP Press
Lucretia Maria Calderon “La Encarnado Beso” portrait by David Cuccia