The Author’s copies of The Mermaid and the Murders have arrived!
While the rest of the books won’t be shipping until June 10, I’m delighted to have these editions on my shelf. My mother claimed a copy, and some will be given away on Goodreads. One will always be on my shelf though, a wonderful reminder of the challenge I set for myself one snowy February. At the time, I wanted an excuse to daydream about my long-ago home of Key West. I wanted to walk the halls of the palatial home on Porpoise Point, where I’d watched dolphins from the private beach before going back to my job as a glorified baby sitter. I missed the heat, the smell of the ocean, and the strong Cuban coffee. I wanted to capture the fierceness of life on that island, the way women were as strong and sexy as the men and no one felt the need to fit in.
The book that came out of that wintry month wasn’t the one I expected to write. But this scene, probably my favorite in the whole book, is exactly what I wanted. I hope you all enjoy it (and the rest of the book too).
Even as I thought about finding something meaner, I shadowed the six-foot shark. Stalking it felt natural to me. I stayed behind my prey, waiting for it to be distracted. The shark sensed my presence and took off, swimming fast to deeper water. I chased it, my tail going faster. Soon we were side-by-side, coal black eyes staring at me as the beast turned to bite. I threw my shoulders back and sent my tail forward, wrapping around it like a lover. I squeezed and my scales released blood into the water with a thousand small cuts. The shark thrashed, fighting against what it must’ve known was coming.
I felt my teeth grow in my mouth, sharp fangs coming forward. When the shark came forward to bite me, I moved quickly and bit it first. My teeth sank into gills, the flesh rough like sand, the slits in the skin moving between my teeth. I kept biting, my tail pushing the life out of the beast.
Around us, other sharks gathered, large and small, brought by the smell of blood. I ignored them; focusing on the death I intended to deliver. The creature in front of me had seconds left but I knew it could still hurt me. Fighting off my hunger, I drew back, ducking around the mouth. My arm moved too slowly and I felt the intense pressure of its bite. Pounds of pressure started to come down, enough to crack a lobster’s shell, enough to break my bones. The pain left my vision red and my tail moved in deadly instinct.
A tight squeeze with a sideways motion, one I’d never made before, and half the shark fell away. Even in death, it was reluctant to let go of my arm.
I started writing Danika’s story as a way to reconnect to my memories from Key West, FL. Danika lives in a house I stayed in one summer. I was there as the hired help, but still enjoyed the private beach, boat dock, and three levels of ocean front porches. You could see pods of dolphins from the kitchen’s deck, they found their way into the story too.
As did some of the less than postcard worthy moments of my life like the ugly fights I had with my mother. I’m sure those aren’t unique to my teenage years, just as Danika struggles with lust and desire but wanting to do right thing aren’t unique to mermaids. Danika’s mistakes when she takes her driver’s license exam are pretty unique – uniquely mine. My driver’s ed teacher was the perfect model for her mean, loud, and unwilling-to-bend-on-mistakes teacher.
Danika’s last name came from a very dear friend of mine, a real life pirate who lived on a sail boat. One of my first feminist friends, the two of us talked long into the night about how young women’s’ sexuality is muzzled by society. Danika grew out of the conversations, long before I ever started writing her. She’s not thinking of marriage or finding true love, but craving passion and physical release. It was a lot of fun creating a world where the woman, not the man, is the sexual aggressor.
While sex and boys are on her mind Danika also loves books and learning. As the novel opens, she’s gulping down every bit of information she can get before her time on land runs out. Fitting in and never letting anyone know she’s a mermaid helps that time last longer. That’s what matters to her until the moment you see captured on the cover. When Danika finds a dead body on her reef she realizes sometimes you have to risk what you want to do the right thing.
The Mermaid and the Murders, Danika’s story, will be available for pre-order soon, and released worldwide on June 10th. I hope you all have as much fun reading it as I did writing it.
Many people will tell you how to win at National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). They’ll quote best practices and articles, talking about support networks and plotting. All of that is very good advice. But I’m here to tell you that even if you don’t follow any of it, you can still ‘win’ at NaNoWriMo. And by winning I mean end up with a book contract.
The end of 2013 was a hard time for me. My father died, my mother had serious health issues, I was hospitalized, and my heater broke in the middle of a snowstorm. The NaNoWriMo deadline had long since passed, but I realized if I didn’t challenge myself to get writing my creativity would drown under all the stress. I needed a challenge, even though the next NaNoWriMo was months away.
Anti-Rule #1: NaNoWriMo happens when you make it.
If November is a bad time for you, start your novel today or any day. If you like the discussion boards and support of a writing team NaNoWriMo Camp starts in June and August. It brings the same support and fun as NaNoWriMo in November with none of the holiday obligations pressing down on you. A lot of the teachers in my life prefer NaNoWriMo Camp in June when school is out for the summer. I planned to start my personal NaNoWriMo challenge on 2/1/2014, but got excited and started writing on January 27.
Anti-Rule #2: You can start with something you’ve already worked on
After my life stabilized and the heat came back on, I realized I hadn’t written, really written, in months. Starting a new story felt too overwhelming so I grabbed a six-thousand word opening inspired by this image:
The story of a teenage mermaid fighting with her mother while tracking down a serial killer took off in my imagination. I saw the piece not just as a YA mystery, but as a platform for talking about feminine power. I repeatedly watched the mermaid scenes from Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides:
The mermaids there were exactly what I wanted – desirable, otherworldly, and deadly. Young women are often admonished against expressing their sexuality and told “good girls don’t do that sort of thing”. I wanted a character who struggled with her own powerful sexuality, who wanted to fit in but was constantly swayed by strong emotions the world didn’t expect her to have.
Her name is Danika. Her friends called her Danny, and for my private NaNoWriMo I thought about her every day. I challenged myself to two thousand words a day for each of February’s twenty-eight days.
Anti-rule #3 Finish your novel when it’s done.
I kept writing through March and into the first weeks of April. (Danny first appeared on the blog in April.) It turned out that I wanted to write more than the NaNoWriMo prescribed 50K words. I wrote about Key West disguised as Danny’s beach-side town Playa Linda. My Aunt’s house on Stock Island became Danny’s house. My favorite high school books became her favorites. I filled that manuscript with a thousand sunny details of life in a tropical town while the cold winter months passed away.
Anti-rule #4 Edit whenever you want!
NaNoWriMo focuses on getting the words on the page, so the rules tell you not to edit as you go. That means leaving something in place that doesn’t work and trying to write around that mistake. For me, it became too confusing to write chapter 10 based on what I wanted chapter 8 to be instead of what it was. I’d rather go back and rename a character than keep a list of things to correct when I’m done. I enjoy re-reading my work on Sunday night, planning out what scenes I’ll write for the week and making little changes. I don’t want to give up that ritual.
Anti-rule #5 Don’t stop when the manuscript is finished
People joke that NaNoWriMo should be followed by National Novel Editing Month, and I agree. When I finished the Mermaid manuscript I let it rest for a month before doing a first edit. Then it was sent it for a beta read. That caused another round of edits, which were followed by two rounds of paid edits, one with a college student for YA voice and one with the amazing editors at Quail School Media. Finally it felt polished enough to send out to editors.
Bonus Conflicting Anti-rules –
Don’t leave your manuscript in a box.
Start something else!
While the editors were reading The Mermaid and the Murders (the current working title) I started another manuscript. More than a year after my personal NaNoWriMo finished, the Mermaid and the Murders was out on submission and I did my best to forget about it.
Months passed and I never managed to put the story out of my mind. So this November, I threw in my hat for the real NaNoWriMo focusing on a a cozy mystery about a group of quilters who dabble in magic spells on the side. As my story reached 10,000 words, I got news that meant I would need to bend those NaNoWriMo rules again.
My mermaid book, that rule-breaking not-really- NaNoWriMo manuscript got a contract. Right in the middle of the real NaNoWriMo I recieved my editorial letter. I’m excited to dive back into the world of mermaids and I’m happy that my (personal, not at the right time) NaNoWriMo was a success. If you’re participating right now, I hope you succeed. If you’re not participating, remember that any month can be NaNoWriMo or, if you don’t write, any month can be the one you accomplish your goal.
Poor Linda is struggling with crafts, while I’m worrying over contract issues. Judging by the blogs, internet articles, and comments on social media, these aren’t the only concerns on writers’ minds. What happened to the days when all we had to do was write, and write well? When did becoming a writer turn into becoming a marketing expert, attorney, public relations specialists, graphic artist, and a manufacturer of promotional materials?
Ernest Hemingway is one of my literary heroes. I toured his home at least three dozen times as child. I (briefly) owned a descendant of his cat, a wonderfully fat polydactyl tom. I admired his pool, and the last penny he embedded in the tile as a jab at his wife. I shivered at the sight of his wine locks, amazed that a man so famous could have to be so careful.
In all those tours I never saw the spot where he made bookmarks. I remember his office with tall windows letting in sunlight, animal heads glaring down, and an antique typewriter, but not a single filling cabinet of promotional materials. None of the bookmarks Linda is struggling with or the pens, pencils, notepads and other ‘giveaways’ I hear about at writing conferences.
Two years back I heard a well published author speak about her giveaways: post it notepads. She went on about giving them to people in the line at the grocery store, to her friends, leaving them in libraries. A good author, she proclaimed, is always marketing. What about writing? Shouldn’t it come first, last, and in the middle too?
When it comes to balancing the business part of writing with the creative part I don’t have a good answer. I’m not sure if we should be promoting with 10% of our author time, or 50%. Every minute I spend not writing seems like ten minutes I’ve actually lost. For me, for now, I’d much rather worry about plot points and characters than bookmarks and sub-clauses.
(Thanks to Linda for being such a good sport about her troubles with craft paper and scissors. You can learn more about her writing, and how much better it is than her crafting, on her webpage: http://www.lindapoitevin.com/)
I remember his skin, tanned to an almost coconut brown, and his hair line, going up and up and up on his forehead. He sat at the end of the bar my uncle built, the one downtown where the tourists went. He drank, often. He sat on the last stool, the one closest to the phone. His stool, where they could find him if the call came.
He kept a gold coin in his pocket. He’d bring it out when one of the tourists seemed to have enough money. He even let them hold it for a few seconds. Gold from the bottom of the sea, treasure just waiting to be picked up by the right man. All they needed was the money to keep looking, keep searching. They’d find the rest of it soon, if they could just hold on a little longer. They might even find it today.
He sat on that bar stool waiting, pulling along the investors, trying to keep the ship in gas, the salvage crew paid. I’d watch him drinking, watch him repeating the same story over and over again, today’s the day. It’s going to be today.
But the phone never rang.
At five the ships came back. All over the island men coated in saltwater and sun found their way home. The docks smelled like blood as men cleaned fish, seagulls crying for the discards. Tourists headed to dinner, anxious to finish in time to see the sunset in Mallory square. Eventually the men of my family got off work. Some uncle or my father would carry me home from the bar where I’d watched an Aunt sling drinks, trying not to stare at the treasure hunter. Today hadn’t been the day.
Years later, returning to the island as a tourist I saw the treasure he finally found. The state tried to take it, his son died, and many, many days that weren’t the day passed away before he picked gold coins from the sandy waters. Now I’m the one waiting for the call, hoping the next ring will be my agent. I’m waiting for today to be the day.