The Second Mango
by Shira Glassman
It's hard to find a girlfriend when you don't know any other lesbians, so the young, nerdy Queen Shulamit hires the legendary warrior Rivka to take her around the kingdom on the back of her dragon in search of other girls like her. But the simple quest quickly turns into a rescue mission when they discover a temple full of women turned to stone by an evil sorcerer.
So, why did I write a fantasy novel with a gluten-free heroine?
Imagine being a happy, well-off teenage girl with a loving father. You do well in your studies because you devour nonfiction for fun, and other than the fact that you don't know if you'll ever find a girlfriend because your culture doesn't openly talk about homosexuality, your life is pretty uncomplicated.
Then you start getting sick all the time. It starts with stomach cramps, and a bloated feeling. Soon, you're spending all the time in the bathroom, and food doesn't stay down very often. You start becoming afraid to eat, so your already spindly body becomes weak. You're scared, because you've never had to deal with anything like this before. And the worst part is that because nobody can explain it, they start to think you're making it all up.
Now superimpose that scenario onto a fantasy setting.
The main character of my novel, The Second Mango, is twenty-year-old Queen Shulamit. When she was only a teenager and still just a princess, before her father passed away, she lost her ability to digest gluten (a protein in wheat) and also an unidentified protein in poultry. However, because her world lacks the technology and medical advances to understand digestive disorders, her father and his court are left to muddle through with typical pre-gunpowder-era medical cluelessness. She's royalty, so poison is quickly tested for and ruled out. The king sends for a magician, but he determines that she's not under a curse.
At this point they just stop believing her, and she's left alone in a prison of anxiety and disgust with her body.
Into that prison steps the palace sous-chef, Aviva, with a glass of water. She's a working-class woman, about two years older than Shulamit, and thanks to a lifetime of caring for a sick mother, she's got ideas of her own about how to treat the princess's malady.
By the time The Second Mango opens, however, Aviva has vanished with nothing but a cryptic Dear Jane letter behind her. Shulamit is left to manage her food issues on her own, and they form a key portion of her adventures and characterization in the book.
How will Shulamit navigate a world in which every meal is a challenge? In a fantasy story you have no Glutino; you have no Udi's; you have no food safety code, either.
The main plot of the story is Shulamit's search for love, family, and her own strength as she flies around her kingdom on the back of her bodyguard Rivka's dragon. But her simple quest to get through the day without getting sick is the ominous background music through all of that. It's a background music that many of us face in our real lives -- my spouse, my father-in-law, my dear friend Ducky to whom the book is dedicated -- and I wanted to tell that story, too.
Available from Prizm Books HERE. The print version will be here sooner rather than later.
If you want more information, Shira has both a BLOG and a TUMBLR that you can mozy on over to.