Most of the time, people think romance novels are just fluff, or smut, or frivolous. Or all of the above. However, most of the people who think that way fail to notice how romance novels examine and confront social issues. In my novels, I explore power dynamics in relationships (let's face it, they've changed drastically over the last 50 years), moral dilemmas created by romantic situations, and the empowerment of women. In Love or Justice, my first novel, my heroine, Laurie, goes from being a woman who only fights for herself when her survival instincts kick in to a woman who takes charge of her own safety. In Fractal, which will be released on September 17th, my heroine, Anna, spends the entire book trying to find the courage and the wisdom to be the leader her people need. Like all women, Anna has the potential to be a brilliant leader, but she needs to believe in herself first. And yes, there are lots of kisses and steamy scenes along the way, but at their core, the novels that I write are all about social issues and how women struggle with and overcome them.
In other parts of the world, where the treatment of women is far less respectful than it is here in the US, romance novels are part of a growing social movement. This article from NBC explores the reasons behind a growing number of progressive romance novels being written and distributed in Nigeria. These are the early signs of a feminist revolution! These stories by women advocate against conservative Muslim traditions such as child marriage and quick divorce. They're also read on the radio, to make them more accessible to the illiterate. These novels are even inspiring young girls to learn to read in a country where many girls are not allowed to stay in school, or they are pulled out of school at the age of 13 and forced to marry.
Remember, this is the country where Boko Haram kidnaps, rapes, and terrorizes girls. Yet, these romance novelists are risking their lives, with pen in hand, to lead a revolution through inspiring romantic stories.
I admire these writers more than I can say! I wish I could help them publish even more stories and reach even more young girls.
No, I'm not talking about Ryan Locte.
I'm talking about the nominee for this week's Wicked (awesome) Woman, Simone Biles. There were a lot of nominees this week from my lovely readers, but Simone edged out other Olympians to win the spotlight with her fantastic performance in Rio, her historic medal winning, and a life story that shows the power of adoption (if you loved Trudie's story, you'll love Simone's too!).
Simone Arianne Biles is an American artistic gymnast. Simone is the 2016 Olympic individual all-around, vault and floor gold medalist. She was part of the gold medal-winning team dubbed the "Final Five" at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. She is a three-time world all-around champion (2013–15), three-time world floor champion (2013–15), two-time world balance beam champion (2014, 2015), four-time United States national all-around champion (2013–16), and a member of the gold medal-winning American teams at the 2014 and 2015 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships.
Having won a combined total of nineteen Olympic and World Championship medals, Simone is the most decorated American gymnast, taking over from Shannon Miller, who held this record since 1996.
But, Simone's personal life story shows how wicked awesome she really is. Her birth mother was unable to care for Simone or her siblings due to a drug and alcohol addiction, and the children were in and out of foster care. Simone's birth father also struggled with addiction. Simone's grandfather, Ron, and his second wife, Nellie Biles began temporarily caring for Simone in 2000. In 2003, the couple officially adopted her and her sister.
Thanks to the loving support of Ron and Nellie Biles, Simone was able to get out of a terrible situation. She found her passion early on in life, and now she is representing her country at national and international competitions.
I write about love and passion, and it's obvious to me that Simone has a lot of both in her life. And she's taking full advantage of it. Way to go you wickedly awesome woman - way to go!
Across the country, bells are ringing. School bells, that is.
So, I'm celebrating a wicked awesome teacher this week! John wrote to me and nominated his wife Tonia. Tonia has always worked in low income schools in the districts she’s worked in (they live in NY), and she has had kids go to Ivy league schools because she believed in and supported them, even after they left her class.
Way to go Tonia! Cheers to you and your hard work!
And there are more teachers I want to celebrate today. Many members of my family are teachers, including:
and Mom and Dad (Al and Laurie Mannino).
Good luck and happy new year to all of the hard working teachers out there!!
I know, I know. I asked everyone to nominate a female teacher to celebrate this week. While I have some good nominations (and still accepting more!), I just had to share this amazing story.
When I announced a few weeks back that I was getting ready to have my first child, Trudie contacted me and said "Oh...and you'll do just fine with that new baby..I've had 79 of them (in 30 years of being a foster parent, I took 79 drug-affected, special needs, medically fragile newborns) and I survived. Oh..and I had three birth kids too."
(Above, Trudie and her family on a vacation. Trudie is all the way on the far left.)
And I said "Whoa, wait a minute! You've raised over 80 children? Amazing! I have to share your story with my fans." Because, I just love celebrating wicked awesome women. Having spent the last 4 weeks caring for a newborn that does nothing but poop, pee, sleep, eat, and exhaust me, my admiration for Trudie and her husband has only grown.
So, I asked Trudie a couple of questions about being a foster parent:
Why you decided to become a foster parent, particularly to special needs and fragile newborns?
How did I get into fostering..? Sort of by accident. There was this baby we knew that went into foster care..and we didn't realize that between training, inspections,and background checks it would take about four months to get licensed. By the time we had our bright shiny new license, the baby was all settled and there we were with an empty crib , and "Sucker" printed on our foreheads.
We didn't set out to specialize in the drug-affected, special needs, medically fragile newborns...but we got our first baby, and I found out we were very very good at what we were doing. Foster parents often don't get much training for babies with specific needs. It's sort of on the job training. When we get that call from HomeFinders ("Trudieee...we have this Bay-bee....") that usually means I will be spending anywhere from a few days to six weeks up at the NICU every day working with baby and the (great) NICU nurses, the OT, The PT, the docs, the feeding therapists, the respiratory therapists....
Most of our little ones require special handling that is really counter intuitive as far as baby care goes. For instance, many of our babies can't be looked at while they eat. You can look at them, or feed them, but both at once is too much stimulation. Instead of "Suck, Swallow, Breathe", They go, " Suck, Breathe, Choke, Turn Blue, Quit Breathing..."
Did I mention this is what I do for fun?
And what has been the hardest moment to get through while raising these 79 children? How did you persevere?
(It's) Hard when they leave, of course, but we still see many of our babies and some now have babies of their own. Um..dealing with the bureaucracy can make you scream. Sometimes the rules that must sound so good at the State Level can prove (a) disaster when they are actually put into practice. But the very hardest thing for us, I think, was when, after 30 years, we finally let our license go a couple of months ago.
I hope this gave you some useful information. I LOVED being a foster parent, and there are never enough foster homes to go around.
Let's give a big thank you to Trudie and her husband for their hard work raising so many children who needed a good foster home! I hope you are as inspired by her story as I was!
On this blog on Wednesdays, I like to celebrate wicked women who are rarely highlighted and the wicked awesome women who make the world a better place. Today, however, I'm going to celebrate a wicked awesome girl. Annie contacted me to nominate her niece, Eliza, for this Wicked Women Wednesday.
Eliza is a Girl Scout. As a lifelong member of the Girl Scouts, I love hearing about other girls who use scouting to do amazing things. Eliza is trying to organize buddy benches at some surrounding schools for kids who have been bullied and need friends. The idea is to place the bench at the school's playground and anyone sitting there is in need of a friend. So Eliza wants to educate all the kids to watch and approach anyone sitting there and be friends with them. Annie reported that Eliza has had some set backs with the process but she's still working towards it.
Go Eliza! You're certainly a Wicked Awesome Woman on the rise. Bullying is a serious issue that should be addressed in schools. Keep working towards creating a better learning environment for yourself and others.
We'll all be cheering for you!
The three Gorgon sisters—Medusa, Stheno, and Euryale—were all children of the ancient marine deities Phorcys (or "Phorkys") and his sister Ceto (or "Keto"), monsters from an archaic world. T
In a late version of the Medusa myth, related by the Roman poet Ovid (Metamorphoses 4.770), Medusa was originally a ravishingly beautiful maiden, "the jealous aspiration of many suitors," but because Poseidon had raped her in Athena's temple, the enraged Athena transformed Medusa's beautiful hair to serpents and made her face so terrible to behold that the mere sight of it would turn onlookers to stone. Why is it that the ancient Greeks always punished the woman who was raped? Medusa - you were unjustly punished.
In most versions of the story, she was beheaded by the hero Perseus, who was sent to fetch her head by King Polydectes of Seriphus. The gods were well aware of this, and Perseus received help. He received a mirrored shield from Athena, gold, winged sandals from Hermes, a sword from Hephaestus and Hades's helm of invisibility. Since Medusa was the only one of the three Gorgons who was mortal, Perseus was able to slay her while looking at the reflection from the mirrored shield he received from Athena. During that time, Medusa was pregnant by Poseidon. Again, what's with the ancient Greeks?
The corals of the Red Sea were said to have been formed of Medusa's blood spilled onto seaweed when Perseus laid down the petrifying head beside the shore during his short stay in Ethiopia where he saved and wed his future wife, the lovely princess Andromeda. The poisonous vipers of the Sahara were said to have grown from spilt drops of her blood.
Perseus then flew to Seriphos, where his mother was about to be forced into marriage with the king. King Polydectes was turned into stone by the gaze of Medusa's head. Then Perseus gave the Gorgon's head to Athena, who placed it on her shield, the Aegis.
Poor Medusa. You got a bad rap in mythology. No wonder Bernini makes her look so sad. Someone should re-write your story. Maybe me.
A couple of Wednesdays ago, I challenged my readers to nominate the most wicked female cartoon character. Patricia nominated Ursula from The Little Mermaid, and I totally agree. But, there are probably a lot of things about this wicked witch of the sea that you didn't know...
Top ten things you may not have known about Ursula:
1. She's hardly present in the original Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale of The Little Mermaid. Screenwriter Ron Clements decided to make the story different by giving the sea witch a name and making her more of a villain.
2. Lyricist, producer and writer Howard Ashman had originally envisioned Ursula's relationship with King Triton as a soap opera, and thus drew inspiration from soap opera actress Joan Collins.
3. Animated by Ruben A. Aquino, Ursula's original design was inspired by several different sea creatures, including manta rays and scorpion fish, before Clements finally decided to base the character on an octopus.
4. Her number of tentacles was reduced from eight to six for financial reasons.
5. Ursula's appearance was also inspired by American actor and drag queen Divine.
6. When The Little Mermaid was first released in 1989, Ursula was immediately embraced as one of Disney's best villains, and continues to be ranked highly among the studio's greatest by the media. Praised for being both humorous and frightening, the character has garnered positive reviews from film critics, some of whom dubbed her Disney's strongest villain in decades. Meanwhile, Pat Carroll's performance has garnered similar acclaimed to the point of which the role has eclipsed her previous body of work, ultimately becoming virtually synonymous with the character.
7. Pat Carroll was not the filmmakers' first choice for the role. There was a long debate among the film's creators about who should voice the film's villainness, the casting process for whom lasted an entire year.
8. In her book Tales, Then and Now: More Folktales as Literary Fictions for Young Adults, author Anna E. Altmann drew similarities between Ursula and the Christian figure Satan because both Ariel and Triton are forced to "sign a contract ... with her." Much like Satan, Ursula was banished from Triton's palace, similar to the way in which Lucifer was exiled from heaven.
9. As arguably "the most famous example of a direct tie to the LGBT community," Ursula has also become something of a gay icon, due in part to sharing Divine's appearance and personality.
10. The character's impact as a villainness has ultimately eclipsed those of her predecessors. According to Laura Rosenfeld of Tech Times, Ursula has had the most profound influence out of all animated characters in the Disney canon.The character is considered to be one of the greatest Disney villains of all-time, and continues to be ranked highly on countdown lists compiled by various publications.
Last week, I asked you, my fabulous readers, "who is the most wicked awesome female character in a musical?" I have to admit, I was fishing for Elphaba in Wicked. But reader Angela came up with someone even better!
Meet Evillene the Wicked Witch of the West, originally played by Mabel King in the 1975 Broadway production of The Wiz. Evillene runs a sweatshop in the underground sewers of Oz. Vengeful for Dorothy having killed her sister, she dismembers the Scarecrow, flattens the Tin Man, and tortures the Lion in hopes of making Dorothy give her the silver shoes. When she threatens to throw Toto into a fiery cauldron, Dorothy nearly gives in.
Not only did I choose her for her absolute wickedness on stage and screen, but it gives me the opportunity to introduce you all to a former high school classmate of mine, Marcus Paul James, who performed in NBC's "The Wiz Live" back in December with Queen Latifah and David Alan Grier! So proud of my fellow Spartan and his successful career on Broadway.
Also, Marcus and I performed selections from The Wiz in high school together for a musical review. So, "don't nobody bring me no bad news!"
Thank you to everyone who nominated a character last week! I love going through all of your suggestions. Sometimes you all make it really hard to choose.
Next week for Wicked Women Wednesday: I'm looking to celebrate a wicked awesome female cartoon character. Whether she's from a movie or a TV show, who's wickedest woman in animation? You can nominate via email, Facebook or Twitter.
Rachel Mannino is a passionate writer who creates characters and settings that allow readers to explore power dynamics in relationships, the empowerment of women, and the ethical and moral dilemmas love can create in our lives.
Rachel also uses her writing skills to raise thousands of dollars for entities that enrich our lives and create community change around the world. She has worked for the Peace Corps; the Humanities Council of Washington, DC; Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company; and the Mayor’s Office of Arts, Tourism and Special Events in Boston, MA.
Her first novel, Love or Justice, was published by Limitless Press in November, 2015. Her second novel, Fractal, will be published by eTreasures in the fall of 2016. Rachel has a BA in theatre studies and writing, literature, and publishing from Emerson College, and she has used it every day since graduation. She lives with her husband, author Christopher Mannino (www.christophermannino.com), and their adorable dog and cat in College Park, Maryland.
Soon, very soon (around July 5th!), they will add a son to their family! So don't be surprised if she disappears for early July!
And Rachel's newest, polished manuscript for #PitchWars will be TIME'S FIREBIRD.
Here's the scoop: Time-traveling anthropologist Fiona Dale is studying a seventh century Pict village when the Vikings show-up a full century early. This was not how her doctoral research was supposed to go. Fiona is taken captive by the handsome and powerful Jarl Vakr. Vakr is a man who knows what he wants, and from the moment he laid eyes on the exotic red-haired beauty, Vakr decided that he would marry her. The only thing that stands in his way is the mysterious woman herself. TIME’S FIREBIRD is a 60,000 word time-traveling historical romance, the first in a series of time-traveling romance novels.
If you like Doctor Who
And a hot Viking romance...
TIME'S FIREBIRD is the project for you!
UPDATE: A NEW MEMBER OF THE FAMILY
On July 3rd, after 22 hours of hard labor, Gavin Henry Mannino was born! Thank you all for your warm wishes and felicitations. Obligatory adorable photos below. Enjoy!
I write about power dynamics in relationships, the empowerment of women, and the ethical and moral dilemmas love can create in our lives. This is a space where I meditate on those themes and share them with the word. Who knows, my next novel may start right here...