Urban Womens Fiction, Superheroes, and Power Accessories

IMG_7498This week on the Debutante Ball, we’re talking about superpowers. My main character, Marisol Rivera, is a superhero of sorts. A Latina Robin Hood, her superpower is to rob from the rich and give to the poor. She doesn’t have arrows or a hat, but she does have this pair of “invincibility shoes” that add a certain superhero accessorizing to her life. In the following scene, Marisol is talking with her assistant Serena and Raul (the love interest) pops up:

            “I hope we get the grant,” Marisol said. They stood among the bustle of the outer office.

            “How could they turn us down?” Serena asked. “You’re wearing your invincibility shoes.”

            “Marisol has invincibility shoes?” Raul Barrios asked, suddenly next to her. He wore the clinic T-shirt in turquoise, and it fit him nicely. He smelled like coconut oil and woodspice.

            “I knew Marisol was some sort of superhero,” he said. “But I didn’t realize she actually had a costume.”

            Marisol blushed. How could you explain something like perfect shoes to a guy—a straight guy?

In this novel, I wanted to include an urban womens fiction version of Batman’s utility belt. It turns out to be a pair of black stilettos that are magically relatively comfortable and generally indestructible.

Thus, it was a big challenge to figure out a similar object for Tyesha in Book #2, THE BOSS. This is a very different book. While there is a heist, the robbery doesn’t set Tyesha up for life like it did in the first book. In THE BOSS, Tyesha is running the clinic and is dealing with the upward mobility from being a Chicago girl living in the hood to an executive director living in New York. Her special object is given to her in the first ten pages of the book—no spoiler here. At the party celebrating her promotion, she receives a beautiful leather briefcase that’s guaranteed for life.

I liked the idea of the briefcase, because in the “have nice things” department, women are often attracted to trendier things like shoes or purses or clothes. Those will go out of style in a year or even a season. But the classic briefcase is timeless and is about the books, papers, computers, and reports we carry. Briefcases are about our work lives They have a connection to fashion, because they are accessories, but they are less about the way we look, are more about our minds and the things we produce and read. And of course Tyesha’s briefcase dark brown and beautiful. Like she is.

As a writer, it’s been fun to think about these heroic accessories for my characters. I want to make them larger than life, but not cartoonish. Many of us, as women, have objects that feel critical to our success. Right now, I’m wearing my badass black leather boots. Fashionable, but unlike Marisol’s, mine are decidedly low heeled. They make me feel like a successful writer instead of the frumpy mom I was earlier today when I went to the farmer’s market in my flip flops. See what I mean? Every superhero needs her gear.

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Aya de Leon directs the Poetry for the People program in the African American Studies Department at UC Berkeley. Her work has appeared in Essence Magazine, xojane, Ebony, Guernica, Writers Digest, Mutha Magazine, Movement Strategy Center, My Brown Baby, KQED Pop, Bitch Magazine, Racialicious, Fusion, and she has been a guest on HuffPostLive. She is the author of the children's picture book PUFFY: PEOPLE WHOSE HAIR DEFIES GRAVITY. Kensington Books will be publishing her debut feminist heist novel, UPTOWN THIEF, in 2016. For more info, go to ayadeleon.wordpress.com.