When I first started writing the book that would become A CURSE OF ROSES, I thought I could get away with doing minimal research. After all, I was writing about my own culture, using my hometown’s most famous story. I grew up in Estremoz, so I thought all I had to do was read more about Isabel de Aragão and Dinis I, as well as the living conditions of commoners, the clergy, and the nobility. I still remembered much of what we’d been taught in History lessons, and I thought that’d be enough.
I was wrong. So wrong.
Initially, the book began with a prologue about Fatyan, and how she becomes an Enchanted Moura. Because I was under the impression all Moors had been Muslim, I wrote her as one. That meant researching the Moor Occupation of the Iberian Peninsula, as well as the Reconquest, which began with D Afonso I, our first King.
I found many amazing things in that research hole, and this paper by Sahar Ahmed drew my attention. In it, she shows that the Moors actually had terms for lesbianism (sihaq) and lesbian (sahiqa), and that they didn’t persecute those girls. Rather, they believed it to be a disease passed on by breastfeeding after eating certain foods—and that the way to cure it was to have women rub their hot parts against each other. So, discovery #1.
My discovery #2 came after reading this interview with Archeologist Cláudio Torres. In it, he said something that deeply resonated when asked about archeological proof of how the day-to-day lives of Moors were (emphasis mine, translation mine):
“Yes, though archeology, which gives us information that isn’t a lie. Unlike writing, which is ordered. Who knew how to write? Only half a dozen of people, the scribes, who were paid by lords, and as such, wrote what the lords told them to. The art of the historian is in knowing how to read between the lines, in what isn’t written, because what’s written is, always, or almost always, a lie. Archeology gives us a history of those who didn’t have a history, of women, of the kitchen, of what was eaten, how it was eaten, how the agricultural region was.”
In the first part of that interview, Cláudio Torres also mentions that the Moors, unlike popular belief, weren’t solely Muslim, but also Christian and Jewish. That the so-called Moor Conquest was, in fact, not a conquest, but a change in alliances by the people, who were mistreated by their Christian overlords, and decided to swear fealty to the Caliphate instead. That the assimilation of Iberian people to the Caliphate was done mostly through trade, not war. Sure, skirmishes happened, but those always happened in medieval times.
Muslim religion came mostly through the ports. And the Caliphate didn’t demand conversion, only vassalage. Meaning you could be a Moor, but also a Christian. You were not required conversion to Islam to be part of it.
Truth is, there were two types of Christianity in the Iberian Peninsula, and they too, warred against each other. It wasn’t Muslims vs Christians. That was a narrative imposed later, to further alienate the Iberian people against the Moors. The Islamophobia we see today happened centuries ago, too. This interview with several archeologists and historians dives deeper into the subject. And it’s in English, too! It opens with:
“In the 8th century, Muslims sailed from North Africa and took control of what is now Portugal and Spain. Known in Arabic as al-Andalus, the region joined the expanding Umayyad Empire and prospered under Muslim rule. But that legacy has been largely forgotten in the predominantly Catholic country.”
So there I was, writing a book about erased queers, without realizing there were more erasures happening so as to make the Moors seem like this big bad enemy of the Christian faith. That very same year, there was hubbub about shortening the History lessons we had about the hundreds of years of Moor occupation. And I couldn’t understand why we’d be erasing it, rather than expanding.
“The Moor became Portugal’s stereotypical “other” as European identity was being shaped in opposition to Islam. Although the term “Moor” traditionally referred to Arabic-speaking Muslims in North Africa, the label was often used to broadly refer to Muslims, reducing their diversity to a mass of otherness.”
I also discovered that, until Denis’s reign, the Moors lived mostly in ghettos, and it was him who “freed” them. That lasted until 1496, during Dom Manuel’s reign.
“In 1249, King Afonso III of Portugal captured Faro, the last Muslim stronghold in Algarve. Most Muslims there were killed, fled to territory controlled by Muslims or converted to Christianity, but a small minority were allowed to stay in segregated neighbourhoods.
In 1496, King Manuel I decided to expel all Jews and Muslims, turning the kingdom exclusively Christian.”
The othering of the Moors didn’t happen until later, when Christian Kings wanted to justify invading North Africa. Isabel de Aragão, for instance, was tutored by men of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim faiths. Back then, so long as you followed one of the “Books” (Bible, Torah, and the Quran), it meant you worshipped the same god, just not on the specifics. So there was a mix of faiths that the Christians later tried to undo, either through the Crusades, or through the persecution of Jewish people in the late 1400s. It’s worth noting that the reason D Manuel decided to expel, massacre, or forcefully convert Jewish people, was because he was horny for the King of Castela’s daughter, and the Castellan King would only let D, Manuel marry her if he made his kingdom exclusively Christian.
“Different communities lived together here until the end of the 15th century,” explains Susana Martinez, a researcher at Mertola’s archaeological field and professor of medieval history and archaeology at the University of Evora.
“The expulsion of Jews and Muslims breaks the long period of coexistence as Christianity from the north imposes its faith on everyone,” she adds.
“In a time of hardening borders and strict divisions between the north and the south of the Mediterranean, it is hard to imagine that the sea once served as a connector. But this is what archaeologists in Mertola have found. Despite the divides created by nationalism, both shores of the Mediterranean share a common culture and history.
“We shouldn’t look at the south of the Mediterranean as if there was a border dividing us,” says Lopes. “Those people are also our people. Genetically and culturally, we are very close.””
Where does this leave us, then?
Well, for one, I decided to make Fatyan a Christian Moor, raised by Christian Moors who were allied with the Caliphate. She directly challenge’s Yzabel’s perspective that the Moors never really invaded, and gives her a different view on Christianity that’s different from the one Yzabel grew up with. As such, Jewish Portuguese and Muslim Portuguese are mentioned in the text, but aren’t in Yzabel’s closest circle when we meet her.
Another reason was that Fatyan was cursed to be trapped in a stone, and I did not want the men who did that (villains in their own right) to be Muslim. Christian intolerance is responsible for a lot of harm, and Faty’s fate ties directly to that. I ended up making Fatyan a lot like me—I think, as a way to process my anger at how others try to shape narratives that aren’t theirs to shape. But also because, to this day, people will the term Moor as an insult directed at me because I’m tan, and have “the eyes and the hair and the nose and whatever”. Both my parents are of Moorish descent, yes. But then again, so are the parents of mostly everyone in Portugal and Spain. The Portuguese were Moors for hundreds of years, and we shouldn’t let that be forgotten.
We don’t forget the Lusitanians as our ancestors. We don’t forget the Roman Empire as our ancestors. We don’t forget the Visigoths as our ancestors, either. Why should we forget the Moors?
Fatyan being Christian also confronts the notion that Moor is interchangeable with Muslim. This is more for Portuguese people than anyone else: to leave them questioning the history we’ve been taught, and be more critical about how it’s presented. It’s a very important lesson I learned from this book: always question what happened in the past, especially when said past was written mostly by those in power.
I know I don’t update this page often (hence the name–never say I don’t live up to my promises!) but this is still the most, um… “website-like” presence I have, so I kind of have to show this:
A MIRACLE OF ROSES will be published come Fall 2020 by Entangled: TEEN! This book’s journey was something, and I’m saving that five-part saga for my eventual newsletter. Which will go on my actual website that I can’t afford at the moment. Hah! Needless to say, it’s like a rollercoaster: lots of highs and lows, halfway a bird shat on me, I was screaming how I wanted to get off and never ride rollercoasters again, more birds shat on me, and amid the tears someone offered me a towelette to wipe my hair with saying “I’m not sure this will work, but hey!”, I accepted that towelette and then it didn’t just clean my hair, it cleared the skies and brought rainbows, then all of a sudden I had a bunch of different birds landing on me and offering me gifts. And then I got on the rollercoaster again.
(That someone was Jen, by the way, and I’m linking them because they absolutely deserve it for talking me down off several ledges. Go love Jen!)
The book is based on my hometown’s legend about the Holy Queen Isabel of Aragon, who married our King Dinis I. She’s HUGE in my hometown, and we even have the butt-fucking-ugliest statue of her up in the Castle. Many historical liberties were taken, so some of it is accurate, and some isn’t. There’s an Alentejo Mastiff dog named Lucas, and, obviously, lots and lots of food, and no buried gays!
How my bearded dragon accidentally became a support animal
Anxiety is no joke.
I’ve suffered from general and social anxiety for almost as long as I can remember. Actions that come naturally to others—such as looking people in the eye, regulating my tone, not overthinking every little interaction—take a lot of work for me. And although I’d love to have a therapy dog, I have neither the space, or the funds to give a puppy the life it deserves.
Some years ago, I met my first bearded dragon, Timóteo. He belonged to a friend, and the first day I met Timóteo, he climbed up my arm and spent an entire afternoon cuddling against my neck. His owner, Carlos, said he’d never seen anything like that, and his wife, whose name is also Diana, remained amazed at how Timóteo just stayed there for hours, even as I played with their lovely (but eager!) rescue dogs.
I fell in love with bearded dragons that day.
HE IS SO ADORABLE!
Timóteo, a friend’s beardie, peeking over my shoulder!
Before I got my own, however, I did some research. They were relatively cheap to maintain, and most owners said they tended to be calm and friendly so long as they were handled properly.
As soon as I got my first paycheck, I got my own beardie. The breeder everyone recommended happened to be running a promotion (making the terrarium extra affordable), so I went there to see the newly hatched dragons. I stuck my hand in the terrarium where all the babies were, and this tiny fella just jumps onto my finger and hangs on. He wasn’t a girl, like I’d initially wanted, but the breeder wasn’t finding any girls in the clutch, and I didn’t have the heart to put back the beardie back.
That little dragon was Norbert.
I’m going to skip the part where my parents threw a fit, and my mother refused to come to my home for half a year. I set up the terrarium, prepared the eye-dropper with water (baby beardies need to be given water that way until they learn how to drink it from the bowl), looked at the box of roaches with determination and dismay, and set to raising a dragon.
For the first too weeks, I couldn’t take him out of the tank. He was too small, and still not acclimatized to a new home. So I’d sit at the edge of my bed, arm in the terrarium, talking to little Norbert while I petted him. Trying to pick up roaches with tweezers was an exercise in frustration, and that eventually won over disgust. I started hand-feeding him roaches every two days, and vegetables once a week. Young beardies, unlike adult ones, eat mostly insects—so it was… fun. I never thought I’d go through so many boxes of roaches, but roaches are the best source so. Yay.
Note: if you’re going to raise a bearded dragon, handling insects is non-negotiable. Bearded dragons need a lot of protein growing up, so giving them roaches and/or crickets is mandatory if you want them to be healthy. Once, while coming back from shopping for groceries, I came across a guy walking his beardie, and after I unapologetically screamed, “OMG A DRAGON I’M NOT THE ONLY ONE!” we talked for a bit. I thought the beardie (Stevie was his name!) was a juvenile because he was so tiny. NOPE. He was a rescue whose previous owner had refused to feed him insects.
Back to Norbert.
Once he was used to me, I started taking him out every night. I’d put him on my lap, I’d kiss him, I’d cuddle with him. We formed a bond. He started looking up when I came home from work and called his name. He was hand-fed, but because feeding wasn’t all I used my hands for with him, he wasn’t attacking my fingers thinking they were food. Because yes, if you hand-feed your beardie but don’t pet and handle them, they will associate your hand with food and strike at it.
When the good weather came (by February—thanks, climate change!) Norbert was around six months old. No longer the size of my finger, I could take him outside to enjoy actual sun. Naturally, that’s what I did.
There’s a nice park near my place where I used to hang out a lot as a student. There are tons of dogs after 6 pm, but it’s pretty chill before then. I took my notebook for some writing, my Kindle for some reading, got a towel to sit on the grass, and took Norbert with me.
I had to be extra careful, but most of the time, I found that Norbert just sat on my lap and basked in the sun. Some people screamed when they saw him, but I was surprised to see most reactions were positive. Grandmothers came to me with their grandchildren and told them, “Look, a dinosaur!” It was adorable.
And Norbert? He just sat there and took in the attention. Whenever a loud noise spooked him, I held him to me—eventually, he got so used to it he started climbing up my arm and nestling on my shoulder automatically. Soon, he was no longer bothered with loud noises, and he closed his eyes when strangers showered him with affection.
Then, I begin noticing something strange.
Usually, when a lot of people surround me and speak at me, I have panic attacks. When I’m alone in conventions and gatherings (like the Lisbon book fair,) I feel like a stupid dork wandering around, and my anxiety leads me to think everyone MUST be looking at me, even though I know they aren’t.
With Norbert, that all went away. Sure, I had more people than usual approach me, tons of people staring at me—except with Norbert, I know it’s not me they’re looking at, or me they’re curious about. It’s all him. So much so that when I have Norbert and someone comes near, I immediately think it’s for him.
And it is.
Thanks to Norbert, I’ve experienced some beautiful moments at the Lisbon Book Fair, at the park, at cons. Things that would’ve given me a crying attack no longer did. I had an entire class of 4th graders and their teacher come to me and ask about Norbert. I had a mom and her daughters come talk to me because the eldest girl had just done a report on bearded dragons and had never seen one. I ended up talking for hours with two random strangers from the same college I went to because Norbert decided he HAD to climb onto this guy’s lap and sit there. When I locked myself out of my house and had to call the police to break into my own home, four grown men lost their shit when they saw Norbert. To this day, I haven’t been charged for their intervention and I suspect that was all on Norbs.
I also found myself looking at people in the eye, something I’ve always struggled with and have been scolded for. I don’t find myself obsessing over what I’ve said or done, because most of the things I’ve said or done are related to Norbert, and Norbert is perfect.
I also had less beautiful moments. A lady found a cop in the garden and wanted him to arrest me. My own mom wishes Norbert would die because she hates him. I overheard people I knew from college saying, “She just wants attention,” when attention is the last thing I want and the exact reason I bring Norbert is to deflect it from me and onto him.
I can’t handle people as Diana, the person. But I have no problem talking to anyone as Diana, the dragon wrangler. And when I do get nervous, all I have to do is look down at Norbert and see him looking up at me.
There are limitations to bringing bearded dragons with you. For one, you can’t take them out if the weather’s too cold. If you do bring them, you have to make sure they catch at least 3 hours of sunlight, so there’s a lot of standing in the sun. But when you can take them, they’re wonderful, quiet, calm animals that ground you. It’s like they come with their own shield against anxiety. If Norbert was a pet in Pillars of Eternity 2, he’d give you +2 Resolve and resistance to Resolve afflictions. And yes, I’m still bummed I didn’t have enough money to pledge to name a pet in that game because in-game Norbert would’ve been A+.
Still, if you can’t have a dog, and only need a support animal for periodic situations, a bearded dragon might be perfect for you. I know Norbert is perfect for me.
Additional notes on bearded dragons:
If you want a healthy beardie, make sure to feed them insects! Crickets and roaches are great. If you can get silkworms and hornworms, give them those too because they’re high in protein—unlike mealworms, which are mostly fat.
Beardies require 12-14 hours of light exposure when in tanks. You’ll need an UVB and a heat lamp, and renew that UVB every 4-6 months. They lose efficacy and need changing regularly! If you have a yard you can release them in without worrying (or a yard you can stay and supervise), then 3-4 hours of daily, real sunlight should suffice.
Don’t use sand as a substrate, especially if you’re raising a hatchling! Beardies can be very messy eaters, and they’ll eat sand, causing impaction. I use paper towels and they’ve served me well.
Mist your beardie daily, or give him baths every week.
Beardies brumate in winter! They’ll be less active, and eat less as well. When he’s brumating, Norbert eats once a week, then as the temperatures go up, he starts eating more.
Give your beardie veggies! Green beans, dandelion greens, parsley, and coriander are some great staple foods. There are a lot more you can give them, just be sure to check! Norbert, for instance, loves hibiscus flowers. He also loves figs when they’re in season. Also, melon, papaya, mango, sweet potatoes, bell peppers (especially red ones), courgette/zucchini, kale, and so on.
If you get your beardie used to pooping in the bath (I did this accidentally by giving Norbert baths every 2-3 days when he was growing up) they will actually ask to be taken out of the terrarium so you can draw them a bath for them to poop xD When we’re outside, he’ll ask to be put down so he can poop as well.
Beardies also grow according to their terrarium, so try to have one that’s on the bigger side.
If you have other pets, be sure to monitor all interactions. Some dogs are very OK with beardies and won’t harm them (my vet has a Pit Bull that LOVES beardies and will let the lizards hop on him and won’t move until the lizards do), but either way, take extreme care. With my cats, Sushi completely ignores Norbert, but Jubas isn’t the same. I can never leave the two of them alone because while Jubas knows he can’t touch Norbert, sometimes he’ll get too playful and might accidentally do something to poor Norbs. So they’re never, EVER alone together, and when they are, I’m always nearby and paying attention.
Beardies live for about 10 years, give or take. They’re not a short-term pet.
As some of you might know, my cat Jubas suffers from bladder stones. Luckily we caught it in time, and he won’t require surgery like he did the last time. BUT he’s still on a special diet that is incredibly draining money-wise (a 5kg bag is €49 and it lasts half a month, plus vet visits and blood/urine tests). Norbert also needs two new lamps (a heating lamp, which is €7, and a UVB lamp, which is €35). This is Priority #1.
Adding to this, I got accepted into the wonderful Rainbow Weekend at the Writing Barn. I’ve applied for a scholarship, but it’s not guaranteed, AND the flight alone will be around €1000. Priority #2.
So, in an effort to help me come up with the funds, I will be offering art commissions at discounted prices, as well as query, synopsis, and submission package critiques.
Sketches: €5 per character without color, €8 with basic coloring Turnaround time: 24-48 hours
Portrait “speedy”: €25 per character if color, €15 if black and white Turnaround time: 3 days
High-Res Portrait: €45 per character with color, €35 if black and white Turnaround time: 5 days
Full Body: €70 per character with color, €60 if black and white Turnaround time: 1 week
Query Critique: €5 per pass
I will work with you on your query using Word Track Changes, addressing character, stakes, conflict, and clarity. Turnaround time: 24–48 hours
Synopsis Critique: €15 per pass
I will work with you on your synopsis using work track changes to make it clear, concise, and no more than 2 pages long. Ifyou have a 2-page synopsis already, then the price is €8 per pass
Turnaround time: 48 hours
First 5 Pages Critique: €15 per pass
I will work with you on polishing those first pages, addressing grammar, consistency, and if it’s where your story should begin. Please attach your query when booking this so I know what the book should be about! Turnaround time: 48 hours
Submission Package: €25 per pass
I will work with you on your query, synopsis, and first five pages as described above! Turnaround time: 3 to 5 days Rush fee: €10 for same day delivery
Sensitivity Reads: €200 for a novel
I will read your novel for potential harmful tropes relating to: bipolar disorder, depression, social anxiety, self-harm, suicide, bullying, bisexuality, and growing up on the spectrum without a diagnosis. Turnaround time: 2-3 weeks Rush fee: €75 for same week
Payment are accepted via Paypal. Please send all inquiries to pinguicha[at]gmail[dot]com.
Long time no updates! I should be better at updating this blog, especially since I’ve been producing a lot of portraits. So here! I cast Raise the Dead, prompted by this Sightwitch Blog Tour!
I got an e-ARC for the book from TorTeen, and I got to reading it right away. It’s an excellent addition to the Witchlands universe, and told in a rather unusual format: diaries, with illustrations to accompany it.
I adored Ryber’s POV, and learning how Sightwitches and their little society worked was fascinating. We get to learn a lot more about Ryber, as well as Kullen, and the book does a nice job expanding the world. I don’t want to spoil, but it hints at a very big mystery and now I can’t wait for Bloodwitch.
So here are my contributions! You might have seen Ryber already. I experimented with Gradient Maps and Brushes to make her skin have that gold/green hue.
And a new one! Ryber’s heartthread, Kullen! I used Teddy Sears as a reference when painting him, so any similarities are intentional 😛
Before Safi and Iseult battled a Bloodwitch…
Before Merik returned from the dead…
Ryber Fortiza was a Sightwitch Sister at a secluded convent, waiting to be called by her goddess into the depths of the mountain. There she would receive the gift of foretelling. But when that call never comes, Ryber finds herself the only Sister without the Sight.
Years pass and Ryber’s misfit pain becomes a dull ache, until one day, Sisters who already possess the Sight are summoned into the mountain, never to return. Soon enough, Ryber is the only Sister left. Now, it is up to her to save her Sisters, though she does not have the Sight―and though she does not know what might await her inside the mountain.
On her journey underground, she encounters a young captain named Kullen Ikray, who has no memory of who he is or how he got there. Together, the two journey ever deeper in search of answers, their road filled with horrors, and what they find at the end of that road will alter the fate of the Witchlands forever.
About Susan Dennard:
I’ve come a long way from small-town Georgia. Working in marine biology, I got to travel the world—six out of seven continents, to be exact (I’ll get to you yet, Asia!)—before I settled down as a full-time novelist and writing instructor.
I’m the author of the Something Strange and Deadly series as well as the New York Times bestselling Witchlands books, Truthwitch and Windwitch, and if I’m not writing, then I’m busy slaying darkspawn or earning bruises at the dojo.