A great story always starts with two words.
People have often asked me how I came up with the story for my newest book, STARR VALENTINE. The answer starts with a warm, spring day and that most important question…what if?
Tennis season had just started for the boys’ team, and I was standing around, waiting for my son’s practice to end. I noticed a woman standing nearby with two girls by her side. I didn’t know her, but she caught my attention because she was remarkable. She had on brightly colored clothing in several contrasting patterns, a head full of curly hair divided into what looked like random ponytails, and a self-confidence that exuded itself in her booming voice and glowing, happy face.
She looked very different from the other mothers, in their yoga pants, designer t-shirts, and color-coordinated tennis shoes. Even the travel mugs they had clutched in their perfectly manicured fingers matched their outfits, but this woman didn’t match. She also didn’t quite fit.
Her clothing was tight, accentuating her generous figure. She didn’t have a tiny butt or toned arms or a flat tummy, but she didn’t seem to care. She loved the way she looked, and seemed to celebrate that fact with every article of her clothing, with every movement of her body.
Next to her stood a young girl who looked just like her, the same colorful clothing, wild hair, and extremely curvy shape. She was smiling, just like her mother, the spring sunshine kissing her face as she lifted it to the sky. They both looked so happy, so completely at ease. And then I noticed the other member of their little trio, a girl shifting uncomfortably from foot to foot as she eased away from the other two. I could feel her embarrassment, a palpable thing, as if she wanted to physically separate herself from them. She had on a very plain navy blue skirt. A white t-shirt. Straight, brown hair. A pretty girl, she looked very…normal next to the other two.
And then I heard the whisper of a story start to swirl around inside my brain. What if?
What if I was looking at a family? What if a mother had two daughters, one who looked just like her and one who was very different? What if the “different” daughter was pretty, normal, and popular, and felt ashamed of her mother and her older sister?
I lived overseas for six years of my life, and during that time, I discovered something interesting. Beauty is something open to interpretation. In Japan the nape of a woman’s neck is considered to be erotic, which is why geishas allow the back of their kimonos to gape, revealing a tantalizing glimpse of skin. It’s the equivalent of a show of cleavage in western culture.
After Japan, I travelled to Turkey and married my Turkish husband. Although Japan and Turkey share a linguistic connection (both are Ural Altay languages and have similar grammatical structures), culturally they are extreme opposites. The idea of beauty is very different in Turkey, too. Although women in Turkey don’t walk around in belly dancing costumes (they dress like everyone else in Europe), this old photo of the legendary belly dancer Princess Banu, does demonstrate one thing. Turks like a woman with curves.
In China small feet have always been coveted. In North Africa the ideal bride has a “bottom as big as the wedding table”. In some tribes in Burma and Thailand, long necks are beautiful, and women create this effect by wearing brass rings starting at age six. Rings are added every year until eventually their necks are incredibly long.
After thinking about all the different forms of beauty I’d seen around the world, I realized that our rather narrow standard in the States put a great deal of pressure on young girls. They are faced with impossible standards, and think that if they don’t fit within certain narrow parameters, they aren’t good enough.
What a sad, sad thing.
And so I wrote Starr Valentine, the story of a beautiful girl who finds out her parents are from another planet. When she moves there, she discovers the standard of beauty is different, and she isn’t pretty anymore.
What if that happened to you? What if you had to accept the way you looked, flaws and all? What if you were able to raise your face to the sun and smile, happy with your body and happy in your skin?
That would be beautiful indeed.
Wende Dikec has spent her life traveling the world, and collecting stories wherever she visited. She writes in several romance genres, and her books are quirky, light, and fun. Fluent in several languages and married to a man from Istanbul, Wende is a trekkie, a book hoarder, master of the Nespresso machine, and mother of three boys. A puppy named Capone is the most recent addition to her family, and she blogs about him as a way of maintaining what little sanity she has left.
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What happens when the beautiful swan becomes the ugly duckling?
Starr Valentine has a perfect life in Middleton, Ohio. She was named captain of the cheer squad, her mother finally allowed her to get highlights, and the cutest boy in school asked her to homecoming. But everything comes crashing down when she finds out her parents are actually monarchs in exile from a mysterious planet called Vega. Starr doesn’t want to leave, but loves the idea of being a princess, and decides moving to an alien world might not be so bad. When she gets there, however, she discovers that something is terribly wrong.
Starr has always been the winner of the family, but now everyone is fawning over her chubby older sister, Astra. And everyone, even a handsome and annoying young duke named Julian, seems to hate her. That is when she realizes the awful truth. Astra is now the pretty one. Astra has all the friends. Astra gets all of the attention. And Starr Valentine, voted Miss Perfect, is now the ugly duckling. Her biggest fear is…will she be able to turn back into a swan, or is she doomed to be a loser forever?
We all met in the captain’s lounge just after the transport ship had safely landed. My father wore some sort of military uniform, and he was completely dashing, as always.
“Girls, you both look lovely.”
I smiled up at him. “So do you, Daddy,” I said, and he patted my cheek.
My mom fluttered up to us in a cacophony of lime green lace and feathers. A large gold medallion was pinned to her breast and she had on the crown she’d worn for the nightly news. She reached for our hands, tears swimming in her eyes.
“I have something for you,” she said, her voice trembling. Captain Augustus stood behind her, looking just as handsome as my father. He held open a wooden box. Inside were two small, yet perfect, tiaras.
I gasped. “Diamonds.”
“These are not your true crowns,” my mother explained. “Those went missing during the confusion when we were trying to escape. These are just a substitute until we can find something better.”
I couldn’t imagine something better. The tiaras seemed perfect. I leaned over slightly so my mom could slip it onto my head, glad I’d decided to wear my hair up in a French twist. The tiara was beautiful. I admired myself for a few minutes in the mirror before looking at Astra. She and my mother stood side by side, their hair a riot of dark curls, their dresses positively painful to the eyes, and I sighed. I really hoped they didn’t humiliate themselves too much at the ceremony. They looked like clowns from a circus performance.
My father, of course, didn’t seem to notice. He bowed and kissed my mother’s hand gallantly before linking it through his arm and leading her out the door. I could tell it was a very emotional moment for both of them. They were returning to the home they loved after being exiled for so many years. Even I could feel my throat tightening up.
Astra walked up and took my arm. “Are you ready?” she asked, and I nodded. It was time to face the music, or the Vegonians, as the case may be.
We stepped out into a warm, sultry evening on Vega. Lights had been set up all around the landing bay, and we followed my parents to an elevated platform near the ship. People waited as far as the eye could see, and as soon as my parents stepped up to the podium, the crowd roared.
I stood arm in arm with Astra, taking in the moment. The city of Celesta glittered in the light of the fading sun, just beyond the crowd of people assembled before us. It sparkled like it was made of glass. I could see what must have been the royal palace on one side of the city on top of a small hill, and it made me think of Aladdin’s castle, all gilt and white marble. I decided I could definitely get used to living there.
As I stared at the people in front of me, I started to notice something odd. The women here were not at all what I’d expected. Supposedly the most beautiful women in the universe, they all looked a lot like my mother and sister, with short, oddly shaped bodies and large behinds. They also dressed just like my mother and sister, in a riot of colors and patterns.
A quick assessment told me that I was the only pretty girl around, other than Maya, and definitely the best dressed. Maya had been forced by her parents to wear some sort of Vegonian monstrosity made out of a hot pink iridescent fabric. Torture. I, on the other hand, felt like an elegant swan dumped into the middle of a bunch of plump, gaudy, peacocks.
I heaved a sigh of relief. I’d been a little teeny tiny bit worried when I’d heard about how beautiful Vegonian women were. It was good to realize those rumors had been pure exaggeration. No one in this crowd could hold a candle to me.
Another quick look around told me that there wasn’t a single bad looking guy here. I was completely devoted to Adrian, of course, but I couldn’t help but admire and appreciate male beauty when I saw it. The boys were all works of art. It was as if I’d been dropped into a huge candy shop full of the most delicious boys I’d ever seen, and knew I could have my pick. Of course I would never cheat on Adrian, but it felt like a candy shop here, nonetheless.
My joy proved short-lived. None of the boys even looked at me. At first I thought that several of them stared at me, which made me happy, but soon realized it wasn’t me they stared at. They had their eyes locked on Astra with the same sort of enraptured expressions boys usually reserved for me.
A cold wave of shock crawled over my entire body. Boys never looked at Astra like that, especially when I stood right next to her. Something was very wrong here.
I smoothed my hair, which was perfect and didn’t need smoothing. I stuck out my chest and turned my body so they could see my best angle, but none of them even noticed me. Astra had suddenly become the center of attention.
My mother gave a very lovely and heartfelt speech, which I barely paid attention to. The crowd roared and screamed her name, but I hardly even heard it. People waved and cheered with tears streaming down their faces, but I felt numb to everything.
When we were introduced to various dignitaries, everyone said “lovely,” and “a vision,” when they met Astra. When they saw me, they looked a bit confused and then mumbled something boring like “nice to meet you.” Something very strange was going on, and I had to figure it out.
I searched the crowd for Adrian, but he was nowhere to be seen. One sexy, appreciative look from him might have been enough to restore some semblance of balance and order to my universe. But he wasn’t around and I’d been cast adrift in a sea of beautiful boys to whom I was invisible.
“Art thou okay, Princess Starr?” asked Captain Augustus. “Thou art pale.”
I blinked as I digested his words. The Vegonians spoke English, but a weird form of archaic Elizabethan English mixed with modern slang. The only people who had spoken like that on the transport ship were the captain and the crew. All of the Vegonians who been on Earth for the last fifteen years spoke standard, modern English, although I’d heard a few “thou’s” and “thee’s” begin to slip into the language of the older passengers, including my own parents.
“I’m fine. Thank you.”
As the captain bowed and turned away, I realized I wasn’t fine at all. I stared around at the sea of happy, glowing, faces, including those of my parents and my sister, and understood that suddenly, and without any explanation, I had become the outsider.“Thou art in hell, Starr Valentine,” I murmured to myself.
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