Leonie Putzkammer is an awkward teenager whose best friend, Cynthia, is the opposite. The one thing Leonie is good at is gymnastics. Cynthia gets her on the local dance show where Leonie scandalously does back handsprings during the dance. She gains the attention of a wrestling promoter and leaves her widowed father to learn the ropes of women’s wrestling. Under her new name, Gwen Davies, she travels with Screaming Mimi and they team wrestle as “heels.” Gwen finds being booed and pelted dispiriting and changes her persona into “The Sweetheart” who becomes one of the heroines, or “faces.” Even this does not bring her the fulfillment she seeks as she tries to figure out who Leonie really is.
“This gave me the idea to write about two female wrestlers who play absolutely good or evil personas in the ring but are much more complicated in real life.” —MIRABELLA
AUTHORLINK: How did you get interested in women’s wrestling?
MIRABELLA: I was watching an I Love the 80s-ish show when I learned that at one point in her career, Wendi Richter, a wrestler of that generation, could command more money than Hulk Hogan. At the time, I’d been thinking about Iris Lemon, Harriet Bird, and Memo Paris, the female characters from The Natural, each of whom is depicted in that novel as absolutely good or evil. This gave me the idea to write about two female wrestlers who play absolutely good or evil personas in the ring but are much more complicated in real life. In this way, I could examine how and why women (not just wrestlers) might take on these kind of one-dimensional public roles, and what they might gain or lose as a result.
AUTHORLINK: Did anything surprise you about your topic while you were doing your research?
MIRABELLA: When I tried to put together a timeline of who held the actual women’s wrestling championship during the time period my novel covered, it was surprisingly challenging. Different sources said different things. Eventually, I learned about the dispute between the reigning champion, Mildred Burke, and her former husband and manager, Billy Wolfe, which is described in the novel. I thought this was a surprising and fascinating complication of “sports entertainment”: when a champion and her management split ways, which of them gets custody of the title?
AUTHORLINK: Did you use any historical wrestling figures or base your characters on anyone?
MIRABELLA: I leaned on a number of resources about real wrestlers of the era, like the documentary Lipstick and Dynamite and the biographies of Mildred Burke, Penny Banner, and the Fabulous Moolah, for inspiration and authenticating detail, but I didn’t base my characters on any particular wrestlers. Aside from a few references to real wrestlers like Mildred Burke and Slave Girl Moolah, all the wrestlers in the novel are my creations.
“I began the novel in third person, but I was struggling to understand Leonie’s motivation for going into wrestling.” —MIRABELLA
AUTHORLINK: How did you decide to write in the second person for most of the book? Why does it work for this story?
MIRABELLA: It wasn’t my first decision. I began the novel in third person, but I was struggling to understand Leonie’s motivation for going into wrestling. The answer–she was searching for an identity–came to me in the form of the first sentence of the first chapter: You want to be somebody else. I was by no means hankering to write in the second person, but I didn’t have anything else to go on and I thought I should see where that sentence led. I think it works precisely because it is a novel about identities, some of which are eventually lost to the older narrator. Second person gives her some claim on those experiences, but also puts her at a distance from them.
AUTHORLINK: This is your first published novel, but you have published other work. How has your previous work helped you to reach this stage?
MIRABELLA: The Sweetheart is my first novel, published or otherwise. All my training for it came from writing short stories. Stories helped me learn the technical aspects of craft and develop my own voice and style, but there was still plenty to learn on the job. Having a number of published stories also helped me win a scholarship to a summer writing conference. That helped my novel in a very practical way.
” I met the head of the agency that represents me, Joe Regal, at a summer writing conference.” —MIRABELLA
AUTHORLINK: How did finding an agent and publisher go for you?
MIRABELLA: That’s precisely how it helped. I met the head of the agency that represents me, Joe Regal, at a summer writing conference. At the time, he represented my workshop instructor, a writer I very much admired, who liked the beginning of my novel well enough to pass it on to Joe and facilitate an introduction. It took me several more years to finish the novel, but when I did, Markus Hoffmann at Regal Literary was ready for it. A couple of months later, it was sold. I knew I was incredibly lucky, but I didn’t realize how lucky until I read Ann Patchett’s “The Getaway Car,” which suggests that this series of events “is statistically akin to finding a four-leaf clover. On the banks of the Dead Sea. In July.”
AUTHORLINK: How did you feel when your book sold?
MIRABELLA: Overcome. I had worked so hard to prepare myself for the possibility that it wouldn’t sell that I didn’t really understand how much it would mean to me if it did. When it happened, I was absolutely walloped with joy and relief.
AUTHORLINK: What are you working on next?
MIRABELLA: I’m working on a personal essay at the moment, but I’m also slowly chipping away at another novel. Fingers crossed.
About Angelina Mirabella:
Mirabella earned her master’s degree in English from Florida State University and attended the Sewanee Writers’ Conference as a Tennessee Williams scholar. She has published in The Southern Review and The Greensboro Review. She lives in Ithaca, New York with her family.
About Regular Contributor: Diane Slocum
Diane Slocum has been a newspaper reporter and editor and authored an historical book. As a freelance writer, she contributes regularly to magazines and newspapers. She writes features on authors and a column for writers and readers in Lifestyle magazine. She is assigned to write interviews of first-time novelists and bestselling authors for Authorlink.
Diane Slocum has been a newspaper reporter and editor and authored an historical book. As a freelance writer, she contributes regularly to magazines and newspapers. She writes features on authors and a column for writers and readers in Lifestyle magazine. She is assigned to write interviews of first-time novelists and bestselling authors for Authorlink®