Coastal Oregon’s wild, untamed Pacific. A singer from Trinidad and Tobago, and a silent summer away from home. The Little Mermaid remade. Falling in love with the totally wrong (but totally perfect) guy. Awesome girlfriends who’ve got your back even when you’re at your worst. A mermaid parade, a pirate regatta, a sea glass artist. Finding your true voice, no matter who or what tries to silence you.
1. The beach. I love books that take place in the summer on the beach, and the last time I’d written a story like that was in 2009 (Twenty Boy Summer). Five books and five years later, it was time for me to go back to the sea!
2. Mermaids. Daydreaming about the ocean got me thinking about mermaids, and soon I found myself wondering how I might incorporate a bit of mermaid lore while still keeping the book grounded in a contemporary realistic setting. I re-read the original The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen, and watched the Disney adaptation, and took a bit of inspiration from each!
3. Voice. This was a huge one for me. Denial of voice is a major theme explored in the book, and something I see so many young people—particularly girls and women—struggling with. From a young age girls are often taught—explicitly or implicitly—to be nice, accommodating, and selfless. Often we’re also told to “be ourselves,” and that we can do anything we put our minds to, but we’re not given a lot of direction on what that really means, or how to deal with the challenges that inevitably arise when we truly, authentically put ourselves out there. Not everyone will accept that—even (and sometimes especially) the people who claim to love us most. And so often I see—in my own life as well as the lives of girls and women around me—denial of voice in action, where we’re shut down and shut up simply because we don’t fit into whatever box society has built for us. We’re confronted by things like sexism, gender roles, expectations, double standards, lack of opportunity, aggression, poverty, racism, fear, power dynamics, institutionalized misogyny, just to name a few. That’s a super simplified reduction of a complex issue, but one that’s very important to me. So I really wanted to explore that theme in a YA novel, symbolized by a character who literally has no voice—she’s permanently mute after an accident—and has to learn new ways of expressing herself, embracing her new life, and standing up for herself when others either speak for her or shut her out.
4. Trini Accent Tag. Around the same time I started thinking about the beach, mermaids, and denial of voice issues, I was randomly clicking through YouTube and came across a meme about accents. I’ve always been fascinated by regional accents, slang, and language development, so I got totally sucked in to watching them—a kind of fun game to see just how differently people say the same words and phrases in English. I ended up in the Trini accent tag collection, and one of the videos featured two sisters from Trinidad and Tobago who’d also posted other videos of singing performances. When I saw these girls singing, it just hit me all at once, like a big anvil of inspiration falling on my head! I thought, that’s my character, and she has a twin sister. But what is her family like? Where does she live? How did she grow up? What does she do for fun? I immediately dove into research mode, learning as much as I could about Trinidad and Tobago, the culture, the food, the music, the history, the people—it was such a rewarding process; I didn’t know much about the country at all when I started. So thanks in large part to random strangers on YouTube, Elyse was born, one of six sisters (like in The Little Mermaid), a girl who grew up singing with her twin, both of them en route to stardom. But then she loses her voice, and everything changes. She can’t sing. She can’t speak. Who does she become? What happens to her sister? Where does she belong? Who is she, if not the girl with the beautiful voice? I wrote the book to answer those questions.
5. Supernatural. It’s true when I said earlier that Christian Kane is basically Dean Winchester on a boat. ;-)
Thank YOU so much for having me on your blog, and for sharing THE SUMMER OF CHASING MERMAIDS with your fans! It means a lot to me. J