Books

The Miracle of Roses, and Exporting Portuguese Mythology

A MIRACLE OF ROSES will release in the United States. It portraits Isabel of Aragon, a portuguese queen that is known for the Miracle of Roses.

I’ve been at this writing thing a while now, and for reasons I won’t elaborate on, yes, I’ve always written fiction in English rather than Portuguese. All my friends were online, English was (and is) our common language, and when I started, basically the entire internet was English and little else. So I stuck to it, and after some prodding from my Proficiency professor, I began exploring writing books in English.

During my earlier years trying to break into the business, I resisted the voices around me that said I should write about Portugal, that it was my Portuguese background that would make me stand out in the crowded American market. “Who the hell cares about Portugal?” I asked myself as I built another fantasy world and wrote another high-fantasy book.

Then, I got older. I realized the legends I’d grown up with were completely unknown to my online friends, who’re spread all around the world. What was the mundane for me was new and extraordinary to everyone else. And two years ago, while another book of mine was giving its death knell on submission to editors, I found myself thinking about which book to write next.

Statues of Isabel of Aragon

I’d always been drawn to Isabel of Aragon’s Miracle of Roses. The high school I attended is named after her, my hometown has a statue of her—I grew up listening to stories about her, and how she apparently was a real-life Disney princess who sang to birds and sneaked out of the castle in the morning to give bread to the poor. One day, she was caught by her husband King Denis I, and when he asked what she had in her skirts, she answered, “Roses.” She let go of the fabric of her skirts, and it was roses, not bread the King of Portugal saw. He was so moved by the supposed act of god, he allowed Isabel to continue with her charity work, which, up until then, he’d forbidden her from.

I am, first and foremost, a fantasy writer, so naturally, I needed some form of fantasy woven in. The miracle involved bread turning to roses, and that’s what I went with. In my version, Isabel of Aragon (stylized Yzabel of Aragon, the medieval spelling) turns all the food she touches into flowers. But it was a magic she couldn’t understand or control, and so, I needed a character to teach her. That’s where the idea to bring in an Enchanted Moura came. It had to be a Moura from Alentejo, however, and so I decided to adapt the legend of the Moura Salúquia.

However, as my research went on (“Why did I decide to write a Historical?” I cried while juggling several articles about Portugal in the 1300s) I started noticing that all Enchanted Mouras died because they couldn’t be with a man, and that Isabel of Aragon was possibly not straight. I mean, come on—letting your husband be with his lady friends so you could be left alone, stopping the marital duties after giving him a son, retiring to a convent. Sister was definitely not straight. Neither am I, so, while cackling maniacally over my keyboard, I went ahead and made it a lesbian love story where the Moura was cursed because she refused to marry, and Isabel would have to confront the internalized homophobia that was so common back then.

Portrait idealized by Francisco Zurbarán (circa 1635).

Next, I was presented with the challenge of how to imbue the book with Portuguese culture, and our expressions. This is where the book being fantasy came in handy, since it’s common in fantasy books (and speculative books in general) to contain made-up vocabulary. Similarly, since it’s historical fiction, it wouldn’t make sense for the characters to talk and use modern expressions.

Thus, when it came to things like cussing, insults, and interjections, I used Portuguese sayings rather than completely inventing my own. “Thunder break me!” (Raios me partam), “Ass-face hiding in plain sight” (Cara de cú à paisana), “Get yourself to Judas’s ass!” (Vai para o cú de Judas!), “Ai, Santa, give me patience!” (Ai, Santa, dá-me paciência!), are some of the examples I included. And, when Caraju magic is used (Portuguese people will laugh, but the name of the practice was Carago, and I went with an alternate spelling for obvious reasons,) I went with Portuguese rhymes—if other authors can use Latin for incantations, then why can’t I use Portuguese, which is derived from it?

The answer to that is: yes, I can. And I did, much to my editor’s delight. They also find themselves laughing a lot when I present them with another quaint Portuguese saying. They’re not everywhere, obviously—I found that the trick to imbuing a work with a second language (or, in my case, imbue a work in my second language with my native one) is to do it sparingly, and to give enough context for all readers to understand the meaning.

Isabel of Aragon’s tomb

I wrote the book. Rather, I wrote the first three chapters, rewrote them, deleted them, wrote them again. Then I wrote 50 pages, 100 pages, got into a great workshop at the Highlights Foundation (Writing the Unreal with Anne Ursu and Laura Ruby) and came out, as the Portuguese like to say, de peito cheio. With a full chest. Meaning, I was confident after the feedback I got there.

I’m not going to go into details about how A Miracle of Roses sold. That’s a wild, long, confusing story that’s best left for another time. For now, I’ll give you the gist. I revised the book, sent it off to my then-agent. Waited. Waited some more.

Then, she promptly ended our business relationship saying I’d written an Adult book (which she didn’t represent), she couldn’t see a way of turning it Young Adult (which she was representing me for), and it was best we part ways. The floor dropped out from under me. I queried again—another journey for another time. Someone I was mutuals with on Twitter got promoted at their publisher, and asked me to send them the book if I wanted. At best, I’d get an offer. At worst, I’d get an edit letter.

I sent it off. Then, I waited some more.

And the things the other gatekeepers were telling me were dealbreakers (“too Portuguese,” “unmarketable”) ended up being the reasons I received an offer to publish it in print. The offer came with a stipulation that I made King Dinis younger than he actually was, and could he and Isabel not be married to him yet. I wasn’t too attached to keeping true to those historical facts, and I’d already taken some historical liberties, such as having Moura belong to the Portuguese in 1288, when it was only returned to Portugal in 1295. I also had to rewrite the first couple of chapters, which I proceeded to do. Funnily enough, I was in Moura when I got that request, so it was fitting to revise those chapters while being in the exact location they take place in!

The milagre as imagined by André Gonçalves (1735-40).

Needless to say, the next few weeks were a flurry of chaos. I had an offer in hand, and a contract I had no skill to negotiate. Through a stroke of luck, I found representation, my new agent negotiated terms I was happy with, and the day I signed the publication contract…

I got another offer of publication. So not one, but two publishers wanted to work with me on this book! I went with Entangled in the end, as they have great distribution and could invest a lot more in my book. As a matter of fact, I turned in my first Developmental Edits pass at the end of January, we have some pre-order links up, and I should be seeing my cover in a month or two!

Meanwhile, I’m focusing on the re-telling of another Portuguese legend, and aim to keep this little personal trend going for as long as I’m able.

A MIRACLE OF ROSES will release December 1st in the United States.

By Diana Pinguicha

Born in the sunny lands of Portugal, Diana is a Computer Engineer graduate who currently calls Lisbon home. She can usually be found writing, painting, devouring extraordinary quantities of books and video games, or walking around with her bearded dragon, Norbert. She also has two cats, Sushi and Jubas, who would never forgive her if she didn’t mention them. 

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