So recently USA Today did an article on mermaids surfacing as the next big thing and the recent “school of mermaid novels” being released. Among them is Sarah Porter‘s debut novel Lost Voices, which comes out July 4th and is the first in a trilogy of mermaid tales. It has one gorgeous cover featuring mermaid Malena Sharkey, whose interview you shall read here shortly, and the premise sounds awesome and spooky. I met Sarah the other night, and she was charming and cool and quirky and lives in Brooklyn with her husband. Below is her awesome book trailer, followed by our Q and A.
So can you tell me the basic premise of Lost Voices?
Well, the idea is that girls who are orphaned, abandoned, or abused—broken in some way—can renounce their humanity in a moment of despair. If they make that choice, they turn into mermaids. The mermaids sink ships in vengeance against the human world that hurt and rejected them. But Luce, the heroine, finds that even though she loves being a mermaid she can’t quite come to terms with murdering helpless people. On the other hand, she’s been terribly alone, and she’s deeply grateful to the mermaids for offering her acceptance and love. She’s caught between her humanity and her new mermaid nature, and she has to make some extremely difficult choices.
What inspired this particular story?
There were different sources: a crazy mermaid story I wrote in graduate school, and another mermaid story I made up with a friend. But as for the key idea—that mermaids are the lost girls of the sea—I just knew that had to be the way things work.
I’ve taught a lot in junior high schools and high schools. It reminded me of what a struggle it is at that age to understand who we are, and what our own humanity means. Once you learn everything humans are capable of, then how can you accept that you’re one of them? The mermaids think they’ve escaped from their humanity, but it gradually becomes clear that in many essential ways they haven’t. They’re both human and not-human at the same time. I think a lot of smart, thoughtful teenagers feel something of that: they have a sense of being part of the world around them, but also partly outside it, fundamentally different from other people.
What attracted you to mermaids?
I love the image of a divided nature: human vs. other, visible vs. secret and subaquatic, everyday vs. magic. If you only saw a mermaid as she was rising to the surface, you could think she was a human girl. Her tail is like the secret side of her personality, her hidden self, or the unconscious mind. That’s why my mermaids can’t take their tails out of the water for more than a few seconds: it’s hard to see or reveal those hidden aspects of ourselves for long!
Have you always been attracted to mermaids?
I’ve always been attracted to mythological, semi-human creatures, but maybe not mermaids specifically until pretty recently.
Why did you decide to set the book(s) in Alaska?
The first two volumes are set in Alaska. By the third book, though, most of the action has moved down to San Francisco Bay and the surrounding area; that’s the part I’m working on now.
I guess I’m attracted to rough, northern landscapes in general. I wanted somewhere bleak and lonely and stormy, and I wanted the tribe Luce joins to be fairly small and isolated from the rest of mermaid society. She can only know what they tell her, and it’s impossible for her to guess if there could be any alternative ways of being a mermaid. It increases the drama of Luce’s position, because she can’t just go off and find another tribe twenty miles down the coast.
Why do you think mermaid books—and mermaids generally—are so popular right now?
I really don’t know why this is happening now. Mermaids do symbolize the divided aspects of human nature, but that’s hardly something new. But I hope the mermaid craze will encourage people to become more conscious of the oceans and all the ecological problems affecting them!
Do you have any favorite mermaid books/art/films, etc? Any that inspired you at all?
They aren’t exactly mermaids, but The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley works with some of the same ideas as Lost Voices, though in an extremely moralistic Victorian way. And “The Little Mermaid” by Andersen is a touchstone, of course, especially for the second book in the trilogy, Waking Storms. There are some wonderfully strange old Russian and Czech film versions of that story, too. And I love all the risqué mermaid illustrations from that old French magazine, La Vie Parisienne: mermaids smoking cigarettes under ice rinks, mermaids dodging missiles. You can find them online, but you probably shouldn’t if you’re under eighteen.
And finally, do you have any advice for aspiring mermaids?
I honestly hope that none of your readers ever reach a place of such despair that they turn into mermaids—at least, into mermaids as I know them. But if you do become a mermaid, keep working on learning to master your voice, sing in your own way, and don’t forget that some of us on land still love you.