Debut Author Snapshot: Angelina Mirabella

Posted by Goodreads on January 6, 2015

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Today's professional wrestling fans understand that bouts are staged, winners are predetermined, and all those dramatic rivalries are bogus (well, probably). But in the early days of the pro-wrestling circuit, the fakery was a closely guarded secret. In her debut novel, The Sweetheart, author Angelina Mirabella delves into the charismatic and colorful world of female wrestlers in the 1950s, a time when real-life "lady grapplers" like Mildred Burke and the Fabulous Moolah were making their names and claiming championships. Mirabella's fictional heroine is the awkward, too-tall, too-voluptuous Leonie Putzkammer, a teen who reinvents herself as Gorgeous Gwen Davies, learning how to fake it with aplomb. But she soon realizes she needs to take control of her persona or lose herself completely.

Mirabella, who is already at work on her second novel, shares photos of the women who pioneered the sport long before WrestleMania and the WWE Divas and who inspired her characters in The Sweetheart.

"I am indebted to Ruth Leitman for her terrific documentary, Lipstick and Dynamite, which whetted my appetite for this subject. When I saw it, I was especially intrigued and moved by the story of Ella Waldek. I love this picture of her. She looks like such a badass." (Photo source.)
Goodreads: Tell us about your inspiration for the character of Leonie/Gwen.

Angelina Mirabella: Leonie/Gwen was born out of my research and myself. Some of her qualities are ones that were true of many of the real wrestlers of the time. She's from a working-class, white ethnic family. She's athletic. She's attractive, but in a way that doesn't fit the norm. The conventional choices don't fit for her, but she doesn't have many other options. In other ways she is a lot like me, or at least what I was like when I was younger: an introvert who wants to connect but doesn't always know how, a girl who is sometimes uncomfortable in her own body, someone who is deeply unsure of who she is and frantically trying on personas in an attempt to figure it out. She and I are very different in our personal appearance and in our life choices, but we have had many of the same problems.

GR: When we think of women's roles in the 1950s, female wrestling certainly isn't top of mind! What are some of your favorite things you learned in the course of your research about 1950s professional wrestling?

AM: That is one of the things that attracted me to the subject. Professional wrestling runs counter to many people's ideas about women of this generation. I also loved its complexity. In some ways these women seemed like protofeminists; in others they seemed like purveyors of a particular kind of T&A. In essence they were both.

"Mildred Burke was a pioneer of women's wrestling. She held the championship belt for nearly 20 years. When she left, her manager-husband, Billy Wolfe—both of them claimed ownership of the belt, a dispute that's featured in the novel and is detailed in Jeff Leen's terrific biography, The Queen of the Ring." (Photo source.)
I thoroughly enjoyed the research, but it was hard. There wasn't much written on the subject, and since many of the real wrestlers still practice kayfabe [the industry norm of portraying staged wrestling events as "real"], much of what they had to say was unreliable. As I result, while I was initially attracted to the pageantry of wrestling, I got most excited by any pedestrian fact that felt behind-the-scenes and authenticating. After a match, you had warm beer and cold bologna sandwiches for dinner and slept in your car? Awesome.

GR: Like Leonie, have you had the opportunity to reinvent yourself at some point in your life?

AM: Many times. I moved a lot during my youth, and I treated every move like a do-over. When you're young and you have little-to-no connections to people or places, you have a lot of freedom to experiment with your identity. The downside is that if you live like you can reinvent yourself every three years, you're not that thoughtful about your relationships or professional choices. I was well past Leonie's age before I realized it wasn't that easy to start over anymore and maybe I should settle into myself. I've mostly figured it out—husband and two children I adore, same address for eight years and counting—but I'm still working on my professional identity. For the past few years I have been simultaneously writing fiction and studying to be an occupational therapist. I have no idea how that will shake out (will I settle into one of these roles or keep straddling both worlds?), but I feel like when it does, I will be a full-fledged adult.

"The Fabulous Moolah had one of the longest-running careers in wrestling. Like Mimi [in The Sweetheart], she was an unapologetic heel [villain character]. She makes a minor appearance in my novel, when she wrestles the Sweetheart as Slave Girl Moolah, her wrestling persona at the time." (Photo source.)
GR: How did you decide to tell the story predominantly from the second-person point of view?

AM: Second person wasn't my first choice, and it wasn't one I made easily. When I first began the novel, I was working in third person, but it was a disaster. I didn't know Leonie very well, and I didn't understand what would push a girl like her into the weird world of wrestling. While I was trying to figure that out, I read a story written in the second person by Tess Slesinger called On Being Told Her Second Husband Has Taken His First Lover. Before that, I was suspicious of the second person, but this story, written in the '30s, convinced me of its merits. I wasn't really thinking of trying it myself until one day when I was washing dishes and the first sentence of the first chapter popped into my head: "You want to be somebody else." I loved that sentence, but I was scared of it, too. I am a rule follower by nature, and writing a novel in the second person seemed to go against the rules. But I was going nowhere fast, and I had nothing to lose, so I figured it was worth a try. Now I can see how Leonie's desire to transform is connected to the point of view. But honestly, in the beginning, it was a leap of faith.

GR: What's next for you as a writer?

AM: Another novel, I hope. I'm slowly chipping away at one. Fingers crossed.

"Penny Banner was a talented wrestler with a distinguished career, but she was also a total fox. It is easy to imagine Gwen and Penny vying for the title of Pinup Queen. When I bought her book, Banner Days, she autographed it, 'Yours in sports, Penny Banner.' I couldn't resist magpie-ing that for Mimi's letter in the prologue." (Photo source.)

Comments Showing 1-13 of 13 (13 new)

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message 1: by Linda (new)

Linda This looks fantastic. I came across a couple of photos of American female wrestlers in a Mexican coffee-table book featuring Mexican press photos over the decades... the wrestlers visited Mexico in the 50s and the whole setup seemed maddeningly under-explained. Who? What??? Hope "The Sweetheart" gets its teeth into the topic!

message 2: by Roy (new)

Roy Manwarren Good book

message 3: by Tina (new)

Tina I'm really interested in reading this. As an avid pro-wrestling fan, it's hard to find novels about the sport that aren't biographies and autobiographies. As a female, I've always been interested in who paved the way for the girls I grew up watching, and the ladies of today as well.

message 4: by Roy (new)

Roy Manwarren Cool book

message 5: by Misty (new)

Misty Iputi This book sounds very interesting to read and as a woman who loves to watch wrestling, I love to find books who will discuss the women without it being just the bios of them.

message 6: by Charlotte (new)

Charlotte Put this on my to-reads! Thanks Goodreads, love the pics in this interview as well. (don't like the spelling errors)

message 7: by Roy (new)

Roy Manwarren Good

Philipchristensen thats very interesting article i really enjoy. i didnt know that female wrestling has been for so long

message 9: by Sinem (new)

Sinem Duragan good

message 10: by Abhishek (new)

Abhishek Rana "When you're young and you have little-to-no connections to people or places, you have a lot of freedom to experiment with your identity" me at this phase right now

message 11: by Beverley (new)

Beverley Byer Sounds interesting. I remember seeing Moolah wrestle at Madison Square Garden , New York City, in the 1970's. We did think all the fakery was real back then, and she was great.

message 12: by Maria (new)

Maria This is very cool!

message 13: by Nishant (new)

Nishant Chaudhary great.....

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