Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Powerful Woman

Today we are so very lucky that the amazing R. Paul Sardanas has stopped in once again to share his thoughts on women with us. I've often said that he is THE most enlightened man I know. I'm sure you'll agree. He has brought along his writing partner, the very talented Tisha Garcia, to share their thoughts on their latest collaboration, Torera, and to discuss femininity through strength. I'm sure you'll all want to get in on this discussion.


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 Welles

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.”
            “Do I?”
            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:

More of R. Paul Sardanas’ creations, including novels, art and poetry, can be found at:

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  


R. Paul said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
R. Paul said...

Thank you Tess, Regina, Allie, Cari and Mia for having us as guests today. Happy Mother's Day! Certainly an appropriate day for us to be here talking about the concept of the powerful woman. Of course one doesn't need to be a torera to be a powerful and actualized presence in the writers, we all offer a vision, and that enhances the lives of everyone we encounter. All around us today on Mother's Day, the most powerful and noble of women are being celebrated.

Writing about Lucretia--the lady matador character Tisha and I created for "Torera", who will also become a mother by the end of the book, by the way--did give us the opportunity to go right out to a literary place of fierce extremes in feminine power, and we worked hard to be true to the realities of a life like that. I look at Lucretia now with a mixture of fascination, admiration and awe, knowing that the roots of her character have been echoed in real life by women like Conchita Cintron and Pat McCormick, whose life stories we studied in preparation for this novel.

And as I mentioned in an earlier blog of my own about the book, I am a dedicated animal lover, so it provided quite a challenge to write about this theme! But as in all things, life isn't black and white. Like pacifists who often write the most moving and emotionally true books about war, I think Tisha and I had a unique opportunity to present the strange mixture of blood and grace, violence and honor, embodied by the people who live this life. Not to mention exploring the intense sexuality embraced by men and women whose profession might kill them on any given day.

Tess MacKall said...

All through time, even the seemingly meekest of women--those who never uttered a word of protest, never pushed, never ventured far from their small corner of the world---had strength that radiated from them.

I remember my grandmother. Four feet ten inches tall. And a grandfather who was six five and very demanding. Granny got up before daylight, before him, before everyone, and prepared breakfast. After the meal, she did the dishes and housework while they went to the fields. THEN she too went to the fields. A little before lunch she came home and put it out on the table. After lunch, she did the dishes and went back to the fields. Wednesdays were wash days. So she stayed home and did the laundry on a washboard --all day long. But the men stayed home and took the day off. They took Sunday off too. She cooked and cleaned on Sundays--it was her BIG cleaning day--and HER day off supposedly. And cleaning up behind four big, strapping men was something else she said.

Matador or farmer's wife, it's all the same. Women might not possess the physical strength of men, but the kind of strength we do have can outlive tyranny, move mountains, and...well...move you to tears.

R. Paul said...

What a remarkable woman your grandmother was, Tess (and clearly you have inherited her spirit). And she illustrates the powerful woman so clearly. Was her femininity any the less for her dedication and her tireless willingness to work to take care of her loved ones? I think not. As you know, I have long thought that men could learn a huge lesson from that view of life: that just as beauty and femininity are richest in an actualized and strong woman, so are those characteristics of dedication, constancy and dependability, when shared between men and woman, a gift to their love that enhances their sensuality and shared joys. You are so right -- my own grandmother, who worked in a department store, was as powerful a woman as Tisha's and my lady matador. Also a small woman in physical stature, she had shoulders as broad as the world, and many times carried her whole family on them. The beauty of women like our grandmothers is indeed moving, and has left its mark forever in our lives.

Kate Richards said...

I love discussing strong women. My great grandmother came here when she was sixteen from Ireland and for work? She was probably slightly shorter than Tess's grandma and her job was taking juvenile offenders from wherever they were housed to court and back again, on public transportation. She was also a moonshiner in Brooklyn during prohibition, and my grandmother as a young girl was her rumrunner (ok bathtub gin maybe). Whatever, I come from a long line of women who worked and did whatever it took to support their family during some really hard times. On Mother's Day, I think of that and am grateful to them, and somewhat in awe.

Taking on the story of a female matador must have been a real challenge, and I look forward to reading about that very strong woman!

R. Paul said...

Wow, talk about powerful women, Kate! Your grandmother was a firecracker. My roots are Irish too, coming to the US on both sides of the family in the 1800's...but I remember the admiration and awe I felt talking to my grandmother (who was born in 1901) about her memories of being in a teenager in the 1917 Influenza Epidemic, and the Depression...what she carried out of those days was a belief that anything can be endured with strength that you might never realize you have until tested, and also that boundless love and good humor conquer all adversity.

Writing about a woman bullfighter was indeed an intense experience. We set the story mostly in the 1950's and '60's, when it was hard enough for ANY strong woman to get respect among male peers. And this woman wanted to carry a sword and fight bulls...

Regina Carlysle said...

Love this post, Paul, and welcome today. So appropriate that you're discussing strong women. I've ALWAYS seen women as strong. At least those in my family were. My own grandmother was much like Tess's. Tiny little woman who never stopped and never complained. Those years were HARD. Generations later we are still taking a page from their books. It makes me happy to know that despite having the modern conveniences they lacked, we are still capable of not only strength but gentleness (and there is no shame in displaying either one).

R. Paul said...

Thanks for having us, Regina (and all the ladies of TWWPT, a gathering of strong women if there ever was one!) Tisha will be along soon too (her kids are taking her to lunch and a movie for Mother's Day...a much-deserved treat) And I agree with you so wholeheartedly, Regina, gentleness is one of the greatest expressions of strength possible. Somehow it seems the gentle, caring souls are the ones who are out there smiling and working hard when things are the toughest. As I mentioned above, men can learn a lot from that. It doesn't take being a Clint Eastwood character to express male strength...when I see a father holding is child in loving arms, or a man treating his wife or girlfriend with tenderness and consideration as well as passion, and always being there through thick and thin, I think "now THAT is being strong"!

ks112761 said...

Hey R
I'm awaiting payday to purchase this book and you know I will have it read quickly as I just adore all of your writes.
With Tisha at your side it just has to be even better, a strong willed woman with a quick wit I'm sure she has plenty to bring to the table.
Strong people make me proud to be a person, women have had an interesting climb to be respected as the amazing creatures that they are and no one conveys the stregnth and softness simultaneously better than R does.
My Great Grandmother was the woman of power and kindness who has always stuck in my mind. She taught me about crystals, the power of the mind and earth's gifts long before these things were spoken of publicly like they are now.
I can't wait to read this book and add Lucretia to my long list of amazing women that overcame all obstacles and still remained feminine!
Congrats to R and Tisha!!!

Delaney Diamond said...

Paul, I appreciate this post so much. I often think that women feel we have to abandon our femininity to prove how strong we are. We're not men, and we can be strong in our own right, and I'm glad you touched on this.

R. Paul said...

Hey there Kristaline,

I would love to hear more about your great grandmother. She sounds like a wonderful, wise woman.

And I must say, writing together with a woman as brilliant and strong-willed as Tisha was (and still is, as we continue to create new stories as a team)a joy. We found what felt to me like a collaborator's dream together, our strengths as writers fitting into one voice. She brought her own vision to the book (she was the one who urged that the story be set in the world of classic Spanish bullfighting, instead of the psuedo bullfighting I had originally proposed, and that decision was dead right). And as we wrote, it was like reading the most exciting literary gifts to see how she handled the characters, the emotions, the issues that each character had to grapple with. She is also wickedly funny, as you know, and half the time when not being our serious writer selves, we were cracking each other up.

And as I mentioned in the blog above, even that illustrates how satisfying it can be when a strong-willed woman and man (who, me? Strong-willed?) respect and delight in one another's strengths. I feel we wrote a book better than either of us could have created alone.

Many thanks again, Kristaline! You are always here for me (and now for Tisha as well), and that is special beyond words.

R. Paul said...

Delaney, thank you. Isn't it absurd that strength should be thought of as non-feminine, as something a passionate, sensual woman shouldn't display to her family, friends and lovers? There is nothing more beautiful, mind and body, than a woman powerful in her thoughts, in her heart, in her dreams. I hope our Lucretia embodies that truth in the book.

An Unquiet Mind said...

Hi, and a thanks for stopping by today to read our blog. As a first time novelist in this genre its really amazing to meet so many other talented writers. And of course I can’t say enough about how great it was to write Torera with Paul. I hope that all the lovely mothers out there have a wonderful Mother’s Day with the ones that they love the most.
I have more information and excerpts on my page and invite you all to stop by. And I would love to post your weblinks as well.


Lisa Alexander Griffin said...

Sorta been out of the loop lately R Paul, but your insight always amazes me. Torera, I have no doubt, will be a wonderful read, Especially with Tisha Garcia's invaluable input. :) Seems you guys work great together. Congrats to you both!!

As far as strong women, I've known a few in my life, and they don't get the credit they deserve. My mother is one, as was my grandmother. Me? I've had to be to make it through. lol. Wish more men were as enlightened as you. It would ease the burden on so many of us. :)