Today I am beyond thrilled to welcome author Shira Glassman, creator of the beautifully diverse Mangoverse and almost-winner of the Bisexual Book Award (she made the short list!). She has been kind enough to take some time out of her busy schedule to share some behind-the-scenes info about how she built The Olive Conspiracy, the fourth novel in the Mangoverse.
About The Olive Conspiracy
A love story between women, between queen and country, and between farmers and their crops.
When Ezra tries to blackmail Chef Yael about her being trans, she throws him out of her restaurant and immediately reports him to the queen. But when police find Ezra stabbed to death, Queen Shulamit realizes he may have also tried to extort someone more dangerous than a feisty old lady.
The royal investigation leads straight to an international terrorist plot to destroy her country’s economy—and worse, her first love, Crown Princess Carolina of Imbrio, may be involved. Since she’s got a dragon-shifting wizard at her disposal, contacts with friendly foreign witches, and the support of her partner Aviva, Shulamit has hope. What she doesn’t have is time.
Can you tell us a bit about your novel, The Olive Conspiracy?
The Olive Conspiracy, at its heart, is the story of a woman and her found-family — a wife, in-laws, and the kind of best friends who have become family including a surrogate dad — doing their best to preserve their country’s safety. Having her fight danger from the heart of such a warm and loving community, at least for me, gives the reader an emotionally safe vantage point from which to enjoy the story.
Meanwhile, Queen Shulamit is very much an overthinker who worries and frets like a champ, and she’s extremely driven to preserve the cozy way of life she and her people enjoy. I feel that as a queen deep down she knows that monarchy is a flawed, unfair system, so while she’s human enough not to want to abolish it and give up her wardrobe, huge library, and open-air palace, she does feel like she has to work through every waking hour to deserve it. She literally breastfeeds a farmer’s baby in one scene and I can think of no more fitting image to illustrate the way she feels about her responsibility to her people.
Plus, the fact that she had a gigantic teenaged crush on someone who might turn out to be the story’s villain weighs on her very heavily.
I also have a lot of fun with the other leads. Shulamit’s bodyguard and best friend is a loudmouthed, five-foot-eleven warrior woman named Rivka. Creating her has been exceptionally meaningful for me because she’s got my ethnicity–and my nose–and shows that we can so be the heroic figure in fantasy if we want to be. Her husband is a dragon-shifting wizard eighteen years older than her, totally besotted with her strength, and together the two of them are protective of the book’s main f/f couple and their baby. Writing him also gives me great pleasure because he’s the kind of smug, smirky grey-hat character who usually winds up being the sexy villain on whom we reluctantly admit our crushes, except he’s one of the good guys so no guilt necessary.
I’ve added a new f/f couple with this book, the young olive growers Hadar and Halleli. Their journey isn’t always a happy one but they wind up safe (and employed!) at the end with their mutual love helping light the way and keep them strong. What I find personally fulfilling about them is that they not only earn their happy ending, making it more meaningful, but they represent the truth that characters in the umbrella can face adversity from sources other than -phobia and bigotry. We face the same obstacles as cis straight people, and we can overcome them, too. They get their own short story in Tales from Perach, “Your Name is Love.”
What part of the story came to you first?
What happened was, a young trans lesbian named Nicole who enjoys my books sent me a Tumblr message asking if I could put a trans woman in my books. It didn’t take long for the image of a tough-as-nails older woman who stands up to a blackmailer to pop into my head (and of course, who’s tougher than chefs?) The biggest problem after that was coming up with what happened next — in other words, who did the blackmailer visit next, someone dangerous enough to kill him? Months later, the agriculture plot fell into place. I’m so pleased that I was able to do as much with Yael as I did, though. She’s not just a throwaway character from the first two scenes. She has screen time in one-sixth of the book, and her own short story (“No Whining”) in the Tales from Perach collection.
Did you deliberately focus on creating a diverse book, or is that simply how your books have evolved?
It’s now a conscious act, as I incorporate the people in my life whose experiences deserve to be represented in fiction if that fiction is to be accurate and reflect reality, but when I first started out it was basically just a consequence of being a queer Jewish woman, existing in that space. I mean, this is my default. I wake up in the morning in my sapphic Jewish skin, and for me to write cis straight people, or gentiles, is already reaching outside of myself.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in getting The Olive Conspiracy published?
The book’s original debut last July was with a publisher that was circling the drain and had stopped paying their authors. I never received any money from my preorders or the first two months it was out. Luckily, I was able to get my rights back in September, and rereleased the entire series with beautiful new covers.
How would you like to see representation change in the next 5 years?
This is already starting to right itself, but as soon as the push for diversity gained a lot of traction we suddenly started seeing a lot of people in Privileged Group X getting book deals for writing characters in the corresponding marginalized group. These books can be good but I like the fact that there’s been a bit of a course correction reminding people that we should be actively looking for voices within the group to make sure their stories are not being drowned out.
Who is your favourite #ownvoices author right now?
I just put my phone down from gushing to yet another friend about Zen Cho, whose Malaysian/Malaysian-diaspora SFF shorts collection “Spirits Abroad” is one of my favorite recs. Make sure you get the eBook, though, because for some reason it includes more stories than the print edition! To quote from my review, it “brings extremely intimate and personal concepts into the sphere of fantasy fiction–like unexpected difficulty in schoolwork or performing arts after being at the top of your class, or blooming into your suppressed bisexuality. Far from being the fantasy of broad, sweeping, epic stories about clashes between dynasties or magical orders, this is the fantasy about household magic, about supernatural creatures that have the same feelings and hopes and family structures we mortals do, and about one-on-one friendships and relationships. They even enjoy the simple, hedonic pleasure of food.” Vampires coexist with Aunties, a troupe of Lion Dancers are secretly ghostbusters, etc. Seriously, go buy this and then come back to this interview. I’ll wait.
I’m also going to give a shout-out to trans man Austin Chant, who just wrote a trans Peter Pan/Captain Hook psychological drama with a romantic happy ending called Peter Darling that basically knocked my socks so far off I need GPS to find them.
What are you working on next that readers can look forward to?
I hate to jinx my current WIP, just in case (although I’m sure anyone who follows me on Twitter has noticed the #LesbianIndieDyer hashtag!) — if I ever finish it, it’s contemporary f/f about two Jewish women, both different kinds of artists, who discover the ways each can be inspired by the other’s work. But hopefully you won’t have to wait that long for a new release because I hope to get the rights back to “A Man of Taste“, my short story about a lonely vampire woman and the ghost who might be the answer to all her problems at once.
Shira Glassman is a bisexual Jewish violinist passionately inspired by German and French opera and Agatha Christie novels. She lives in north central Florida, where the alligators are mostly harmless because they’re too lazy to be bothered.
You can find Shira @ShiraGlassman or on her website. Want to start reading in the Mangoverse right away? Pick up The Olive Conspiracy on Amazon! (Please note that all Amazon links are affiliate links)