I recently had both of my stories produced on audio, and in my opinion the world will want to hear the killer baritone of the guy I hired to voice them. Fortunately, you can do that! I’m on a little audiobook tour for the next couple of weeks, which includes a giveaway folks can sign up for, too. 🙂 Swim on over! The full tour schedule is toward the end if you want to peek: http://dazzledbybooks.com/2018/02/updrift-errin-stevens/
Every time Animal Planet runs its 2011 mockumentary, “Mermaid: The Body Found,” their web site heaves under all the views they get. It was the most successful series Animal Planet has ever run, and repeat airings still pull in a crazy level of public attention according to Nielsen.
And if you haven’t checked it out, you should. It’s this fabulous blend of myth and supposition that feels perfectly real, presented in a cinematographic package of wonderfulness. But. Should we all go on a mermaid hunt?
As a writer of stories containing mermaids, my opinion is ‘yes’… but not in the actual ocean, where sharks could eat you or jellyfish poison you or hypothermia cause you to drown. (Picture me wagging a motherly finger in your face and warning you to keep that wet suit in the closet.) Scientific evidence, the fanciful exposition by Animal Planet notwithstanding, is overwhelmingly against the possibility… and again, the research could kill you!
Mermaid MYTHOLOGY is a different proposition, however, and it will not actually deep-six you to consider it. Independent populations all over the globe have rich, developed, gratifying narratives absolutely worth our attention as reader/thinkers. In addition to my own novels – Updrift and Breakwater – there are so many riffs on the theme out there for those interested, from Carolyn Turgeon’s “Mermaid” to the “Of Poseidon” series by Anna Banks; to the classic lore contained in Brazil’s “Sirena” or Guam’s “Lara” stories. Or (of course) the widely read Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale.
So, by all means, be a believer, and happy exploring… but I think we should put our belief in the “true” stories here, which are in books, not the sea.
(The link to the Discovery Channel feature – and it’s pretty fun – is here if you want to take a peek: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z1L4oCVj-vM )
(photo found on femmecharlene on Tumblr)
I’m not going to write a fourth. I’m just not, even though I’ve been thinking about it for six months and have opened up what I call a “slushy pile” of notes and bits of narrative – and even though I’ve already picked out a name for it and have an outline. Because writing books is a pain in the a– and I refuse to do it and will stop right after I launch the third. Yep.
HOWEVER, just to keep this little lie I’m telling myself afloat, I’m including a tiny bit of set-up for the fourth in my third. By doing this – and by sharing an excerpt here, I shall exorcise myself once and for all of this ridiculous endeavor! So let the exorcism begin:
***SPOILER ALERT ***
PROLLY DON’T WANT TO READ THIS IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THE SECOND BOOK, BREAKWATER ‘CAUSE DEAD CHARACTERS SHOULDN’T TALK.
Xanthe approached Griffins Bay – and the real object of her visit, Peter – from the ocean, having decided to search out her former colleague for a chat about her unrelenting work problems. No, that wasn’t true. She hadn’t decided anything, was following this particular urge on instinct, not reason, although she thought a conversation with the former prince might resolve her ever-deepening anxiety over the shifting center of her life. And Peter knew her and her professional commitments as well as anyone.
Earlier that day, she’d sensed he was near the Blake home, and this thread of perception, slight though it was, had given her adequate impetus to leave her offices on Shaddox and undertake her current swim. She’d had to be sneaky in her escape from the palace since others there continued to ask her about him, hadn’t stopped since they’d learned of his resurrection seven years earlier. Peter apparently didn’t want to communicate with anyone, which stopped none of them from trying to wheedle a meeting with him out of her.
They were kind of cute, often inventing some weak but plausible need for reconnection with their one-time regent – would he like any personal items from his life before exile? So-and-so had been an intimate and was frantic with worry for him, and could he or she get in touch? Surely she, Xanthe, could facilitate an encounter.
She couldn’t, but she didn’t blame any of them for trying. She understood their artless attempts, which were a combination of genuine concern and rabid self-interest none of them could help, both of which would be alleviated if Peter would deign to visit the seat of siren government and show his face. He wouldn’t and didn’t.
At first, she’d tried to persuade him by contending he’d be left alone sooner if he’d cater to his former subjects in this matter, if he’d let himself be seen and answer a few questions to allay everyone’s curiosity. “You’ve been the center of our common life for over a century, and the drama surrounding your return is too seductive,” she’d argued. And it was true: even the most stable among them yearned to ferret out for themselves the truth in this part of their collective history, to establish a more definitive resolution than the one they’d been given. Or at least come up with a palatable way to consider all that had happened since his faux suicide.
Peter hadn’t disagreed, but neither did he comply with his community’s requests for an audience. “I’ll think about it,” he’d answered off-handedly, in a way that made Xanthe believe he couldn’t care less what anyone else wanted, her included. After her attempts to lure him into a public appearance failed, she hadn’t known what to say to sirens who solicited her for a connection. At this point, she just wished they’d stop pestering her.
“I have no influence on him,” she’d stated again and again. “I don’t know when – or even if – he’ll visit Shaddox. Ever.” Their eager nods were not acknowledgments because they acted as if she hadn’t spoken. She continued to be approached by folks who thought she had a unique in with Peter Loughlin.
She suspected she had more of an in than Peter let on, though, since while she never had any indication where he was when others asked, she did sense him when she wished to locate him herself. Perhaps because he allowed her this access? She wondered.
“Why can I always find you?” she’d inquired.
“I will talk with you anytime,” Peter replied… and that was all he’d say on the subject. She studied him to determine what he might be hiding.
She couldn’t tell if there was anything, couldn’t be sure of his motivations. Although he’d confessed he’d been lonely for his own kind when she’d come upon him murdering their viceroy all those years ago. He drew her attention back to him. “You have nothing to worry about from me, Xanthe,” Peter claimed. “We’ve known each other a long time, and talking with you is a pleasure of mine. My motives are that simple.”
“If you say so…?” Since she also felt the easiness between them, she was inclined to believe him. Although she couldn’t help but feel wary around him given his past, epic deviances.
“Truly. You are always safe in my company,” he insisted.
“Mmm,” she responded uncertainly.
But back to her current personal crisis and the reason behind her impending visit to her one-time boss. She’d elected to search for him in Griffins Bay on the same whim that brought her to him every time, no matter where he was, although she was aware he often dropped by the Blakes’ to check on Gabe, Kate, and little Henry. And sometimes Carmen and Michael when they were beachside, which they usually weren’t since they’d moved to Shaddox.
Just outside the reef protecting the bay, Xanthe grabbed a waterproof pack with land supplies from one of the designated caches in the rock face.
She saw Peter from underwater just before she surfaced… and she felt his grin, his anticipation. He sat on the end of the dock by the Blake house in Griffins Bay, shirt unbuttoned, pants rolled up as he dangled his feet in the sea. “Ah, moonflower, it is lovely to see you,” he told her when her face broke the waves. She hooked an arm around one of the dock posts to anchor herself.
The overhead sun left his face in shadow, making her unable to read his expression. But this time, she didn’t need to rely solely on her observational skills to determine his frame of mind, because she absorbed his emanations cleanly. Peter’s emotional output today, usually missing altogether, was almost like that of a normal siren.
And he really was pleased to see her. She was awash in the loveliest tenderness from him, a restorative balm that blanketed her and soothed away the worries she wore these days like a second skin. When she reacted with her own sweet outpouring – an automatic response usually not possible with Peter Loughlin – she perceived a freeness within him she’d never felt before. He was relaxed… and almost open.
This was not anything she attributed to their rogue, duplicitous prince, so she stilled, combing him with her intuition for evidence of deceit. She inquired within herself as well, checking for the backlash of emptiness, the sour echo of loneliness she considered a trademark of any interaction with Peter. His usual impediments weren’t there this time, or maybe they were, but penetrable for once.
“You’re happy,” she remarked with surprise.
Do you love stories with bakers in them? Me, too! I mean, “Like Water for Chocolate”? “Garden Spells”? I rest my case. Consequently, my heroines are also foodies, with Sylvia Wilkes, my girl in “Breakwater” (book no. 2) taking the cake, yuk-yuk. She opens a bakery, SeaCakes, and her apple fritters help her catch her man. I think everyone should eat these at least once in her life, so I’m sharing Sylvia’s master recipe:
(Adapted from Nancy Silverton’s “Pastries from La Brea Bakery”)
Peel, core, and chop 3-4 tart apples. Toss with ½ tsp. ground cinnamon, ¼ c. sugar, the scrapings of one vanilla bean, and 2 T. brandy. Set aside.
For the dough
1 pkg. active dry yeast
2/3 c. whole milk
3 ¼ c. plus 2 T. unbleached all-purpose flour
4 extra large egg yolks
½ c. sugar
pinch of salt
1/3 c. sparkling apple cider
½ stick unsalted butter, melted
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
1 T. pure vanilla extract
Heat the milk to lukewarm. Place the yeast in the bowl of an electric mixer and add milk. Let soften 1-2 minutes and add 2 c. of the flour. DO NOT STIR. Cover and set aside in a warm place until the surface of the flour cracks, 30 min.
In a separate bowl, combine yolks and sugar, then add the cider, melted butter, salt, cider, cinnamon, vanilla, and remaining flour. Mix until combined and add this mixture to the yeast/milk/flour. Beat with paddle attachment on low until combined and sticky. Turn dough out on lightly floured surface, clean and oil the bowl, return dough, cover and let rise 1 ½ hrs.
Meanwhile, sauté the apple mixture in 3 T. of butter until apples are soft. Remove from heat and drain.
Scrape the dough from the bowl onto a floured surface, roll into a rectangle 2 inches thick, and spread half the apples on dough. Fold into thirds (it’s okay if it’s messy) and pinch edges of dough together. Flatten the dough again, spread the remaining apples on it, and fold/pinch/pat flat again. Let rest 30 min.
Updrift is first and foremost a love and adventure story with a little mythology mixed in, not a treatise on ideal womanhood or feminism… But. I did write in a theme addressing the challenges modern women face concerning work, family, and love; and I included the backdrop deliberately with the goal of enriching the narrative. The theme is not there to cast aspersions or further divide us, however. Quite the opposite.
In a nutshell, my heroine, Kate, is the daughter of a single, working mother. As Kate grows up, she looks to the three most influential women around her – her mom; her aunt, the corporate go-getter; and Alicia, the stay-at-home mother of her best friend – to try on the incarnations of adulthood each represents. She changes her mind twice in Updrift, changes her mind again in the sequel… and if I were to focus solely on Kate throughout the series, which I don’t, her circumstances and how she applies her values in light of them would change many, many more times.
I took this approach because real women who juggle real, whole lives, don’t have the luxury of adhering to one, pure professional or biological ideal. Real women adapt, with considerable intelligence and strength, to accommodate all the dichotomies inherent in having a job and family and lovers on the side; and they live richer, more communicative lives as a consequence. They’re also, in my opinion, a lot more relatable than the idealized women represented on either end of the spectrum in commercial literature, ones who I don’t think much exist.
If you’re like me, you’ve seen literally dozens of what I call anti-heroines come out of traditional publishing in the past ten years. The last book I read in what’s become a veritable slough of them had the hero and heroine falling in love because of their ability to physically harm each other, with the heroine (of course) being the superior fighter. It was very well written… but I find this trope every bit as one-dimensional and limiting as the damsel trope it’s meant to replace. I also find the arguments in favor of such scenarios too facile, certainly disingenuous, and worst of all, unkind.
Telling a young woman she needs to develop her combat prowess to be a competent romantic partner is no better than insisting on weakness for the same reason. If you don’t know a woman who wrestles with how to have a family and pay attention to it while holding down a job, you don’t know any women. If you think brandishing the banner of ‘either/or’ should be the goal of fiction aimed at young women, I would ask you to approach the idea of womanhood with more expansiveness, more empathy, and more love, both for yourself and for girls coming into adulthood.
This perspective led me to ponder in my writing, “What does ‘and’ look like instead of ‘either/or? What does it feel like inside a real character?” I gave Kate her professional passions because they are a part of her personhood and therefore her womanhood, and she sets aside her romantic compulsions for the man she loves in favor of professional discipline before she commits, which I believe can be hard for some girls but is a worthy choice to illustrate. I make sure Kate feels the friction between duty and love, as many of us do. I do not make her figure everything out at age 20 because I wouldn’t expect that of her, and because life in the real world doesn’t happen that way.
And I just wouldn’t do that to a sister.
Kate’s story contrasts with different heroines in the trilogy, which was drafted entirely before Updrift came out. For those who are truly interested in this issue and where I take it, I’m happy to provide the following spoiler alerts: Kate will return to her professional interests in Breakwater, where she figures out how to accommodate motherhood and her career ambitions, but on her terms. Breakwater’s heroine establishes her own business and is professionally developed well before engaging with her guy. And in the third, Outrush, the heroine completes medical school and is processing a failed marriage before her romance takes off.
Maybe you disagree with my approach and have good reasons for doing so. I welcome your comments and invite you to share your perspective. And if you have a different story to tell that expands on the ideas I laid out above, I invite you to write the story out, publish it, and share it with the world. I think we need a broader selection of novels than the ones we have. The ones I’ve written, I’ll admit, are based on my musings and mine alone. What would be your theme?
Was asked to provide a personal letter to accompany a book subscription box Updrift was part of recently, and I thought I’d throw it up here for any other interested Updrifters:
Updrift likely began in my girlhood – I’m thinking 1976 – when the mythology of Hans Christian Andersen’s “Little Mermaid” sunk its teeth into me and ate me whole. I honestly wonder at our decision to shelve fairy tales in the children’s section when so many of them are these brutal, brutal tragedies… and “Little Mermaid” is no different. Seriously, read “The Little Match Girl” or “The Red Shoes” at your local library and just try to walk away undevastated!
I remained captivated with TLM’s mythology throughout my twenties, when the story simmered beneath my struggles to finish college, establish myself in a career, run the modern dating gauntlet and try to look breezy and confident during it all, which I did NOT accomplish. A husband and child and three jobs later, I finally sat down to try and make sense of modern life and modern womanhood; and Andersen’s fable helped me write it out. In this sense, Updrift was a way for me to knit up my own coming of age via a kind of corollary post-mortem.
But Updrift is not an autobiography, and neither is it the Little Mermaid retold, although I’d love for you to see a reflection of the original in my book. Can you guess who most closely mimics Andersen’s heroine? When you’ve finished the novel, think back on who was most compelled to abandon friends and family for love, who in the end preferred his own destruction to that of his beloved. It’s twisted, I know, but hopefully in the right way.
An author colleague, Allie Ritch, is collecting a series of one-liners from various characters across the romance genre for a compendium she’ll curate and showcase sometime this fall on her site. I had fun combing through my stuff to come up with a few and thought I’d share a few:
“Desperation gets the girl – is that right?” Gabe Blake in Updrift
“Wow. It really was an orgy.” Maya Wilkes in Updrift
“The first time I saw this scene… well, it was so sweetly erotic, I couldn’t sleep for three days.” Kate Blake in Breakwater
“Ha. I can’t wait until you’re the most pregnant thing on the planet. I’ll be there to push you right off the Cliff of Indulgence and that’s a promise.” Kate Blake in Breakwater
“People don’t belong in oceans. That’s why God invented swimming pools.” Maya Wilkes-Evans in Outrush
(Updrift was published Nov. 2015; Breakwater debuts Nov. 2016; and I’m still drafting/refining Outrush.)
The third title in the Mer Chronicles series I’m writing – after Updrift (1) and Breakwater (2) – is Outrush; and I’m trying to set up a scene where my heroine, Maya, jumps off the Brooklyn bridge at the urging of her soon-to-be siren lover. Here’s where we’re at, folks:
Maya had always loved falling. Or maybe she craved the sensation of floating, since the biggest thrill happened before, not during, her descent. It was that soul-freeing catharsis at the apex of an arc, the half-second of suspension at the top of a bounce off a trampoline; or the heady, gravity-less moment after her launch from the seat of a swing she’d pumped too high. As a little girl she’d limped home with skinned knees and a bruised backside so often she’d been forbidden from that last practice, although she still connived her way to the playground every chance she got to swing and try to fly.
She blamed her father, Jeremy, for fostering this particular affinity starting when she was a toddler. Their play in the front yard was her earliest, most poignant childhood memory, where she was tossed in the air and caught, tossed and caught again, Jeremy’s strong hands propelling and releasing her with such force she thought she might travel up forever. The prospect almost – but not quite – terrified her as much as it titillated. Still, she chased whatever unknown awaited her at the top of her fling, a wild sort of joy building and building until fear threatened, fear she might be swallowed into some skyward abyss and become lost. And then in the instant before panic overtook her, she fell back to earth loose and weightless and happier than ever, her father’s embrace like an unexpected second dessert.
“Do it again, Daddy,” she begged breathlessly.
Okay, since I haven’t fed my blog in awhile and feel the need to – and have no other creative fodder to offer – I’m posting our Christmas letter. Lame, I know, but I do play with the vehicle some and hopefully make it a little fun. For all of you who do and don’t celebrate Christmas out there, I hope you’re having a lovely season! Here goes:
So… Christmas letters can be tricky, I think, and I always hesitate to write one. This in spite of the fact that I enjoy getting news this way, especially from folks I don’t get to see much anymore, whom I love, nonetheless, and want to hear from. If you’re getting our card, this means you! It’s those few we get (from people not receiving this missive, lest I offend), ones that don’t really tell me anything, that, well, put me off of the whole idea… you know, the ones that feel like an application to the Bland & Personality-Free Society?
Well, none of that here! I’m being up front about my family’s blandness and aspirations to mediocrity, and, gosh darn it, I’m sending a Christmas letter that will make me feel like we’ve started a conversation, even if it is uninspiring! I acknowledge right now that I have nothing interesting to report, in case you want to set this letter aside; it might be wise. Too, you can take heart from the fact that this is the second Christmas letter I’ve ever sent out, and I make no promises about doing it ever again. So, quit complaining, already.
Things are pretty good. Mike is building his handyman services company, doing a rock star job as he’s keeping us stocked in groceries, our bills are paid, and he indulges me in all my non-revenue-producing pursuits, which are legion. Jack is heavy into what I call ‘child product development,’ which means 2-4 nights per week of some sporting activity, catechism on Wednesdays, and piano on Fridays. Plus homework. It’s exhausting, and I thank God each and every day that I only have one kid, because I flat out promise you I have all I can say grace over with just him.
My own professional focus, which began as a hobby-like pastime in 2009, has become a full-blown mental illness. Truly. Look for a new entry in the next edition of the DSM, titled, “Errin’s Quest for Publishing Disease,” a sub-category of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Functionally, it means I’ve spent thousands of hours querying agents (don’t even ask); and, unable to take the hint from the hundreds of rejections I’ve received, am writing a third novel, yea though there’ve been no takers for my first two. You have never, never in your life met anyone as serious about mermaid stories as I am, but I’m hell-bound to write them.
If you are dead bored someday and feel like reading random essays on writing and motherhood, you can check out my blog at errinstevens.com. Maybe start with “Only Crazy People Do This,” or “Little Jack.” Or, since it’s Christmas, take a peek at “Long Lost Love.” I’m sorry to talk about this so much, but I can’t help it. And, if you don’t like my writing, for God’s sake keep it to yourself.
More seriously, I wish we had spent more time with you this past year. Please know you are thought of often, and that, with this letter, my family sends you and yours our most sincere good wishes for health and prosperity in 2013. We hope you have a beautiful Christmas.