So I am a huge fan of novelist Alice Hoffman and her lovely, lyrical, magic-infused writing, and I am secretly star-struck every time my agent (who is also her agent) mentions her name. Sadly, we have yet to meet and become best friends, though I suspect it is only a matter of time since writers who write about mermaids clearly share an otherworldly bond.
Don’t you totally want to have tea with her in some garden?
ANYWAY, so in addition to writing beautiful adult books (like the just released The Red Garden), Alice Hoffman writes extremely charming books for younger readers and one of those books, Aquamarine (there was a movie, too), is named after a mermaid that two best girlfriends find living in the bottom of a murky old pool, as you do.
Here’s an excerpt from the book:
… it was a while before they realized that a mermaid had surfaced at the shallow end of the pool. Her hair was pale and silvery and her nails were a shimmering blue. Between each finger there was a thin webbing, of the sort you might find on a newborn seal or a duck.
“What are you two staring at?” the mermaid said when she turned and saw the girls gaping.
Her voice was as cool and fresh as bubbles rising from the ocean. She was as beautiful as a pearl, with a faint turquoise tinge to her skin and eyes so blue they were the exact same color as the deepest sea. But her watery beauty didn’t mean the mermaid knew her manners.
“Stop looking at me,” she demanded, as she splashed at the girls. “Go away!”
The mermaid’s name was Aquamarine and she was much ruder than most creatures you might find at sea. At sixteen, she was the youngest of seven sisters, and had always been spoiled. She’d been indulged and cared for and allowed to act up in ways no self-respecting mermaid ever would.
Her disagreeable temperament certainly hadn’t improved after spending two nights in the pool, tossed there like a stone or a sea urchin at the height of the terrible storm. Chlorine had seeped into her sensitive skin and silver scales dropped from her long, graceful tail. She hadn’t eaten anything more than a mouthful of that horrible herring the girls had strewn into the pool.
“You heard me,” Aquamarine said to Hailey and Claire, who were mesmerized by her gleaming tail and by the way the mermaid could dive so quickly, she disappeared in a luminous flash. When she surfaced through the seaweed she was not pleased to see they were still there. “Scram,” she said. “Stop bothering me.”
The mermaid glided into the deep end of the pool, the better to see Raymond at the snack bar. She had been watching him ever since she found herself stranded in the pool. His was the first human face she saw. She gazed at him with a bewildered expression, the sure sign of a mermaid in love.
I know. She’s amazing.
I emailed Ms. Hoffman a few penetrating questions and here are her luminous responses:
Why are you attracted to magic in your own fiction? Have you always been attracted to the supernatural and otherwordly?
I grew up reading fairy tales, and then fantasy and science fiction. But magic is in nearly all great fiction, from Wuthering Heights to Kafka’s great stories.
What inspired you to write Aquamarine, and about a mermaid?
Aquamarine was inspired by the summer I spent at a town beach club in Long Island when I was a young girl. Magical place. And mermaids are empowered, beautiful, dreamy, timeless, who wouldn’t want to be one? Or at least write about one.
What do you think of mermaids and their continual appeal? And in what ways does the figure of the mermaid appeal to you personally?
I’m not sure I understand the appeal of mermaids, but it’s there for most girls and women. Personally, I was born under the sign of the fish, always lived near water, and always looked for mermaids.
Do you have any advice for aspiring mermaids?
Aspiring mermaids should always live near water, wear the color blue, buy aquamarines when available, search the horizon. Rescue themselves and anyone else who happens to be drowning.
Come back on Monday, when I talk to artist (and mermaid draw-er) extraordinaire Michael Wm. Kaluta.