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Spoutwood Faerie Festival, Charles Vess, and Mermaids

8 May

So this weekend I was at Spoutwood Farm’s May Day Faerie Festival, out in the faerie-filled boondocks of Glen Rock, Pennsylvania. Imagine: you maneuver along twisting pathways and up and down sprawling bright green hills and under ribboned arches and across miniature wooden bridges, while about 500000 messy-haired red-cheeked children in fairy wings scamper alongside elaborate evil queens and sparkling fairies and leaf-covered green men, not to mention all kinds of artisans and artists and bellydancers and other magical creatures. Of course, there were many many mermaids, on crowns and cups and plaques and necklaces, on “Mermaid Island,” in song (Jennifer Cutting’s Ocean performed the classic sea balled “The Mermaid”), in the gorgeous lounging mermaid dolls of Susan Snodgrass, and even at this glamorous mermaid posing station right next to the glittering (in spirit) portapotties:


I was at the Fairie Magazine tent with publisher Kim Cross and her many gorgeous helpers and friends, including swordsmith (and sometime mermaid-sword-maker) Matt Stagmer and the joy-spreading Twig the Fairy (and occasional Twig the Fairy-Turned-Mermaid), who on good days might appear like a vision in the back of your car


AND the amazing, inimitable Charles Vess, who makes wondrous, otherworldly art like this:


and this


Charles and I were set to do two “Faerie Chautauquas” or talks together, Saturday and Sunday afternoons at 2. Originally, these Chautauquas were to also include Ari Berk and Gary A. Lippincott, so I figured I could let them do all the talking as I am very lazy. When Ari and then Gary ended up heartlessly abandoning us, it was down to Charles and me. Charles suggested that I read from one of my books while he drew the scene I was reading, so on Saturday I read from The Fairest of Them All, my novel that comes out in August, a scene of Rapunzel hunting in the forest in glamorous warrioress fashion. Here’s Charles’s illustration, done with magic marker on posterboard:


After I read, Charles continued to draw and I kind of just yammered on, with no plan and no end in sight. SO for the next day, I thought perhaps we might need a better plan and by “better plan” I of course mean mermaids. I suggested that we force the audience to participate, too, which is a tactic beloved by lazy people everywhere, and Charles suggested I end at a pivotal moment and let everyone else decide what comes next. So Sunday morning Charles and I made a glamorous visit to WALMART for pens and paper and posterboard, and that afternoon I read a scene from Mermaid, a few pages up to the moment when our mermaid drinks the sea witch’s potion and is about to turn into a human. All the while, Charles drew:

Yes those are more portapotties in the background, but it was still totally beautiful

Yes those are more portapotties in the background, but it was still totally beautiful

And then I handed out paper and pens and told everyone to create something. If nothing else, I figured everyone would at least have to spend a few minutes imagining being a mermaid, and said activity would likely make everyone more full and complete as they carried on with their lives. That being the case, the results were still really, really lovely.

Artist Jenny Davies-Reazor, for example, imagined that in those last minutes before losing her tail, the mermaid might scrape off some scales, pluck a pearl or two from her tresses, and store them in the now-empty vial. She’d make herself a necklace that would forever remind her of the world she left behind:



Another woman imagined that in that last moment, as her tail turned to legs, the mermaid would regret her decision and dive back into the ocean, intent on returning to her own world, and begin to drown as water filled her lungs and her legs kicked furiously against the tide. Another drew pictures of the now-human mermaid, in the castle now, struggling to put on human clothing, trying to tug pants’ legs onto her arms and being generally completely befuddled. Others focused on the mermaid’s emotional state as she leaves one world and enters another.

And meanwhile, Charles finished his drawing


and mermaids, in all their incarnations, continued to dazzle humankind everywhere.

Help Save the Coney Island Mermaid Parade!

7 May

So as I’m sure you’re aware, the Coney Island Mermaid Parade has filled the streets of Coney Island once a year every year since 1983 with glorious mermaids of every stripe and color. On this very blog I’ve interviewed parade founder Dick Zigun as well as inimitable parade queen Bambi the Mermaid, who really embodies the over-the-top joy and all-out giddy glitteriness of the parade:


Unfortunately, said parade may not happen this year due to a severe lack of funds and one greedy hurricane named Sandy, which wreaked havoc on parade headquarters at the non-profit Coney Island USA (and Coney Island generally). You may not be aware of all the moolah and preparation such a mass parade requires (over half a million people!), but it doesn’t come cheap. Therefore, Coney Island USA has launched a kickstarter THIS VERY DAY to raise 100,000 smackers to save the parade. There are all kinds of gorgeous incentives; for 150 clams you can sit in the shaded, comfortable VIP section and get a prime view of the parade while all the other suckers sweat it out in the hot sun. For 2,000 smackers you can get that, a slew of other stuff, AND a bunch of signed limited edition prints by legendary photographer Harvey Stein. LIKE THIS ONE:

The Happy Mermaid by Harvey Stein

The Happy Mermaid by Harvey Stein

Really there are many many many options, each more delightful than the last. Go visit the Kickstarter page to carefully select your own mermaid package and help keep this gorgeousness alive—you have until June 3rd—and then tell all your friends and enemies about it, too. And THEN head out to Coney Island on June 22nd! Which, by the way, is the day after my birthday. Thank you.

Check out the Kickstarter video here:

For further clarification and incentive, I asked Coney Island USA Development Director Tim Pendrell a few penetrating questions. I MAY post more mermaid parade-ish interviews in days to come, if you’re very lucky.

So what does the Mermaid Parade mean to you?
This year will be the fourth Mermaid Parade I have worked on, if this campaign is successful. The Parade just keeps getting bigger and bigger and bigger every year to the point that it has outgrown the resources we have to put into it. It has become the biggest day in Coney Island and one of the largest events in all of New York City. It is a safe place for all of the strangest people in New York City to express themselves freely and after they do you often wish they hadn’t.

When did you realize this Kickstarter was crucial?
We’ve known for awhile that good news just wasn’t coming our way and we’d need to turn to the supporters of the Mermaid Parade to help support it. The Mermaid Parade is difficult for us in good times, but after the damage we suffered along with the neighborhood after Sandy it was just too much. It is amazing that our building is so close to reopening, but with the cost of the construction and the increase in cost of the parade, we simply needed help.

How much are you looking to raise, and what is it for?
Our campaign goal is $100,000 and we have a list of the expenses at Some of the expenses are obvious…insurance, judge’s stands, security…but other things like medical supplies, printing registration forms, t-shirts to identify staff are often overlooked. The Mermaid Parade is over half-a-million people and there are a lot of costs associated with keeping that safe and trying to get everyone a good place to view the parade from.

Why are you, personally, so passionate about keeping the parade alive?
It is really important for the parade to happen from an economic standpoint. People love the parade, but I am worried that without the parade kicking off the summer local businesses will suffer.

Aside from contributing to the Kickstarter, how can people help?
It is really important for people to spread the word about why they love the parade and how people can help it.

Another photo of Bambi, just because

Another photo of Bambi, just because

Aspiring Mermaid Ashley

21 Apr

So I get a lot of very lovely emails from aspiring and actual mermaids and mermen, and a few days ago I heard from one 23-year-old Ashley, who wrote to say that she decided to go on the mermaid portfolio workshop diving trip (see the official flyer here, I believe there is one spot left!) this summer after reading about it on this very blog—a trip that will make her dream of being a mermaid come true. Come July, Ashley will be hanging out in the Caribbean, wearing a mermaid tail and lounging about in mystical hidden grottos and on glittering white sand bars and around shipwrecks swarming with sharks.

So I thought it would be interesting to interview Ashley for this blog and then follow up in a few months to hear how her trip went and see photographic proof of her astonishing transformation. If you yourself are undergoing a similar transformation, or have anything else mermaidly to share, please email me and maybe I will throw more stories up on this blog, if I am not too lazy.

Here is Ashley pre-mermaid:


So tell me why you’re going on the mermaid trip this summer. What appeals to you about it?
I’m going on the trip this summer because it’s a dream come true. I’ve always wanted to be a mermaid. The idea of learning how to apply make up, pose for pictures, and swim in a tail from people who love this as much as I do just seems magical.

Have you always loved mermaids?
Yes! My house is less than 10 minutes from Weeki Wachee Springs so as a kid I dragged my mom there all the time. I pretty much grew up at Weeki Wachee. I’d go over and watch the shows and then run to Buc Bay and try as many tricks as possible. I was also convinced the spring was pure magic and the more time I spent in it the more likely I would be to grow a tail.

I love to swim and I love the beauty of the ocean. I believe I have always been a mermaid at heart, I have just lacked the know how to fully become one. My mom still loves to tell people that, when I was a kid, I only had one wish every year when I blew out my birthday candles: to turn into a mermaid.

What do you think the appeal of mermaids is for you, anyway?
The appeal of mermaids for me started from birth. Obviously Weeki Wachee had a huge part of it and I watched the Little Mermaid movie at least once a day when I was little but I think the biggest part of it is how magical they were to me. I have asthma and it was really bad when I was a kid. I remember not just be memorized by the beauty of the mermaids but I always thought how lucky they were that they didn’t need lungs. I always thought that I would turn into a mermaid and not only would my legs disappear but so would my asthma. Luckily I am much better now and almost never have attacks.

How are you preparing for the trip? Do you have a tail?
I am preparing for the trip by attempting to make some cute tops to pose in. Also I have been trying to run to help build up my stamina and of course swimming. Once the spring semester for school is over I will be going down to a place called Rogers Park on the Weeki Wachee River to do laps out there. And I do not have my own tail. Sadly I am a broke college student and cannot afford it!

What do you expect from this trip?
I except this trip to be a bunch of things. I know it will probably be one of the hardest working weeks of my life and I also know I will love every second of it. I am hoping to find a way into the mermaid world with this trip and also to make some friends.

Do any professional mermaids out there inspire you?
I am definitely inspired by Hannah Fraser. She was the first mermaid I heard of outside of Weeki Wachee and she still amazes me. I also love her conservation work.

Any more mermaid plans in the future?
As of this second there are no plans but I am hoping the trip will inspire me to be more daring in finally going after this dream. As well as help me find ways to be a mermaid. Becoming a professional mermaid isn’t exactly a mapped out profession. I know it is going to be a lot of trial and error, but hopefully I will find my way.

Checking in with The Mertailor Eric Ducharme

18 Apr

So as I alluringly mentioned the other day, Eric “The Mertailor” Ducharme was recently on the TLC show “My Crazy Obsession” and as a result has been the subject of 50000 articles and tv interviews and no doubt love letters in the past couple of weeks. Since I haven’t interviewed him since 2011, I figured it was a good time to check in and see how he’s handling all the hoopla!

But first, here’s one of the photos from the show:

Photo from TLC

Photo from TLC

And second, how gorgeous are his tails? Here’s a Chris Crumley photo featuring Kristi Sherk (who has very good taste in books) in one of them, but there are countless stunning photos to choose from.

Photo by Chris Crumley with model Kristi Sherk

Photo by Chris Crumley with model Kristi Sherk

And third, please don’t be too jealous but here is Eric with yours truly a couple of years ago in his Crystal River studio, either before or after a glamorous lunch at APPLEBEE’S:


Yes, mermen eat salads at Applebee’s.

So I haven’t interviewed you for this blog since November 2011. A lot has happened since then! Can you give us a rundown?
Oh my goodness, Carolyn! Where in the world do I start! Life is simply fantastic and I could not ask for anything more! So many wonderful opportunities have come my way since you and I both sat down for lunch at Applebee’s! I always love speaking to you because you totally understand me, well, at least I think! But anywho, the mermaid tail business could not be any better! Every year since I was 16 Mertailor LLC has doubled its profits while growing into a successful production. One of my major accomplishments was getting to perfect my silicone mermaid tail design. This has allowed me to further my journey to create the most cost effective, realistic looking mermaid tail on the market. Yes, there is now a larger market of mermaid tail companies. I have noticed a huge spike of up in coming mermaid tail companies. I am not too worried as this keeps me on my feet, creating new and improved products for my client base. I also find that a lot of the competition finds out how difficult it is to keep up with the constant business. It is simply amazing how many tails are sold each much. The amount of individuals finding out that they can now purchase their very own mermaid tail is crazy cool!

I am just proud to say I have been able to hold my own and continue growing with my company as I see big things for both of our futures.

So what was your reality-tv experience like, filming “My Crazy Obsession”?
It was fantastic! The crew was amazing to work with as well as the media and amounts of press that has been a result of the airing of the show. In less than 24 hours, my life changed on the flip of a coin. There are so many new fans and supporters of me. Not only interested in purchasing a mermaid or merman tail, but interested in sharing their mutual passions with me. It was crazy to see how many articles, new castings, and publications to promote and advertise the “Merman” Eric Ducharme aka The “Mertailor”. It was just a wonderful experience and I cannot wait to see what happens next!

There has been a ton of press about you in the past couple of weeks (I can’t tell you how many people have forwarded me articles about you!). What has it been like for you?
Oh my goodness has there! It is non-stop! It is amazing to see all of these media stories! I love it! I am so happy to be able to introduce the idea of “mermaiding” to the entire world. It is not just the USA, but the stories that have been spread all over Europe!

What’s happening with your fashion line/mermaid tail-making?
Like I said, the mermaid tail business is BOOMING! I am making these tails by day and shipping them out by night. It is so difficult to keep track of exactly how many tails are getting shipped on a monthly basis. As for the fashion line, there are always ideas and design concepts. I keep them in my thoughts and write them down for safe keeping!

What are you working on right now?
I am always working on something new whether it is current orders or new tail designs, but all in all I am working on ME! I am finding my place in life and enjoying the ride! I cannot wait to find out what happens next. I am on such a positive high that I can only imagine what is in store. I feel something big and successful coming my way!

Aimee Bender on Mermaids, Fairy Tales and Short Hair

15 Apr

aimeeAimee Bender is one of my favorite writers, writing about the real world in a way that’s always slightly, magically off-kilter and occasionally populated by mermaids. The wonderful “Drunken Mimi”—from The Girl in the Flammable Skirt, for example, features a high-school mermaid who walks around with a crutch and is wooed by an imp. Here’s how it opens:

There was an imp that went to high school with stilts on so that no one would know he was an imp. Of course he never wore shorts.

One thing he didn’t know was that there was a mermaid at the school; she was a sophomore as well. She wore long skirts that swept the floor and one large boot covering her tail and she used a crutch, pretending like her second leg, which of course didn’t exist, was hurt.

She was a quiet one, that mermaid; she excelled in oceanography class, but she also made an effort to not be too good; she didn’t want to call attention to herself. On every test she missed at least three. (What is plankton? A boat, she wrote.) She was very beautiful; hair slightly greenish which everyone attributed to chlorine. Eyes purplish which everyone attributed to drugs. The girls called her a snob. The boy shoved each other and agreed.

I know. Aimee’s last novel came out in 2011 and has what I think is one of the best titles ever, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake; it’s about a woman who tastes emotions through food. Check out some of her other writing here, and if you haven’t ever read Aimee before you can later thank me with a note or even a nice pile of cash.

I recently asked Aimee about urgent mermaidly matters:

What attracts you to magic and the fantastic/inspires you to feature it in your own fiction?
Something about telling a story in a a skewed way really draws me—as a reader and a writer. I can see the real world more clearly through an unreal lens.

Can you talk about “Drunken Mimi” and what inspired it?
flammableIt was very freeing to write a story about a mermaid and feel like it could “count.” I don’t remember the exact inspiration but I do remember how shocking and fun it felt to put the word “mermaid” on a page and move from there. After that it felt like any word was open and available.

What do you think of mermaids and their continual appeal?
I find them fascinating because they are so beautiful and so mysterious and alluring but they can’t have traditional sex.

In what ways does the figure of the mermaid appeal to you personally? Do you identify with them in any way?
I’m a terrible swimmer so I like the idea of a woman who can swim and who can traverse land and sea so easily. I also am intrigued by the sirens, the voices of sea creatures who would lure boats and then crash them. I don’t identify with that so clearly but I think it complicates the mermaid in a good way to have her as a figure of both beauty and also destruction.

I know you teach fairy tales, including The Little Mermaid, at USC. What do you think the allure of fairy tales is? What is your take on the Hans Christian Andersen story?
I love the story and I love the sadness of the ending; students are sometimes shocked to find out what happens to the original “Arielle.” His writing is so much about sacrifice so it makes sense there’d be a wholly different angle. Fairy tales—the allure—I think it’s something very primal, like DNA-level primal. Since they show up in every culture, it seems we need fairy tales to be human, which I find wonderful.

Do you have any advice for aspiring mermaids?
I personally would like to see a mermaid with very short hair. Why not? Subvert the look.

Mermaids in the News

15 Apr

So there have been a lot of mermaids in the news of late. Far more, I’m sure, than I will list here, but:

© Jeff Koons, 2013, Pastel on Paper.

© Jeff Koons, 2013, Pastel on Paper.

Did you see Matthea Harvey’s new mermaid poem in the NY Times Magazine the other day, with accompanying illustration (left) by Jeff Koons?

Did you see this article in Publisher’s Weekly about Brenda Peterson’s self-publishing mermaid venture (achieved with her pod-mates’ help)? While you’re at it, check out Brenda’s Huffington Post blog; she recently wrote about the U.S. Navy’s acoustic war on the world’s oceans, and today’s post features a conversation between her and yours truly.

I also helpfully provided a list of ten mermaid destinations, including Mermaid Shelly’s Grotto, last week for the Hairpin, where I’ve lovingly and generously written about mermaids before.

And then there’s been a ton of press about both Linden Wolbert and Eric “The Mertailor” Ducharme:

Here’s the Yahoo article on Linden. And the Huffington Post interview with Linden about being a “mermaid to the stars.” Here she is in the NY Daily News.

Photo: Carter's News Agency

Photo: Carter’s News Agency

Eric Ducharme just appeared on TLC’s My Crazy Obsession, and there have been about 50000 articles on him since. Here’s a promo for the show:

Here’s the big story from the UK’s Daily Mail, an article from Yahoo , a story on Laughing Squid, and even one on Perez Hilton. I recently asked Eric about all this hoopla now and will post that interview tomorrow, or even tonight if you’re lucky.

There are many more stories that those, and I’m sure there are reporters plotting as we speak, reality show producers scheming, and probably entire film crews down at Weeki Wachee if not your local creek or pool, all of them trying (and most assuredly failing) to figure out the secrets of those glamorous, glittering half-fish we all know and love.

The Gypsy Mermaid

14 Apr

So last summer my friend Kris and his beloved were out and about in Seattle when they spied the rather spectacular vehicle of none other than the Gypsy Mermaid, an otherworldly lady who travels all around the country spreading light and joy, as well as original art and music, in her mermaid-themed Gypsy Caravan. Here are the photos Kris sent me of said caravan that same day:

Photo by Kris Boose

Photo by Kris Boose

Photo by Kris Boose

Photo by Kris Boose

Of course I immediately looked up this travelling lady and emailed her to find out more. I admit I have been slightly untimely in posting my penetrating questions and her illuminating answers, but I think it’s clear that you, I and the Gypsy Mermaid herself all live beyond the boundaries of regular time, which is for suckers.

Here are some more photos for you:





Imagine driving down the highway doing something boring like picking up your dry cleaning and having that vision cross your path!

Our slightly delayed yet deeply scintillating Q and A follows:

So tell me about yourself and this mermaid-covered gypsy caravan of yours! How did you become the Gypsy Mermaid? Have you always been a mermaid/been interested in mermaids?
I have always been a mermaid. When I was invited to the waters to learn how to swim I of course automatically swam as a mermaid. I seek out the sparkly, glittery, magical, and special romance with humans. The gypsy half of me grew as a passion to travel, explore the world and dance under the moonlight and fireside, and thus became my gypsy “land legs.” The two halves came together as I discovered who I was as a young woman, and the name “Gypsy Mermaid” was formed as far back as the 80’s. My Gypsy Caravan is a continuation of one of my previous art cars, “the Mermaid Mobile,” which also traveled the highways and byways in search of adventure. She was originally a Canadian postal truck (aluminum body). When I was introduced to her she was the picture vehicle for the movie Saving Silverman, had a picture of a cowboy lassoing a raccoon on the side, and was called the Cowboy Wayne Pest Control truck. Now of course she is a fantastical colorful creation whose soul purpose on the road is to inspire smiles and giggles while providing me with a cozy home on wheels.

What draws you to mermaids? Why are they so alluring, do you think?
Mermaids have always had a magical appeal to me—the freedom and adventure of the open waters, the quiet moments on solitary rocks either sunbathing or enjoying the moonlight. Thinking about life and the abundance it provides in life lessons and blissful moments while on this plane of existence, being one with and part of nature. Mermaids have a natural beauty that ebbs and flows like the water, the wind, even the firelight as it flickers. They live in the water but they encompass all the earth elements in colors, personalities, personal tastes. I myself have always had both the fire and water elements with me, in my art, my artcars, my personality. It flows smoothly and with a rhythmic pulse, a smoldering passion for life.

How do people respond to your mermaids? Can you tell me about how you designed them, etc?
Everyone I have come across in my many adventures knows of mermaids, and they always smile at the whimsy of each one they discover on and around the Gypsy Caravan. I have created many mermaids over the years. One of my favorites and of most people is my “cutlery mermaid” made of recycled cutlery, poppies, beads and other bits and pieces. I have taken to painting smaller canvases of mermaids recently, usually representing parts of the Gypsy Caravan… the mermaid weather vain or the mermaid wishing well for instance. I call the smaller canvases my “postcard” series. I create mermaids as the ideas come to me. I am inspired by all that I see in life around me. The imagination is truly a gift and blessing.

What services do you offer as The Gypsy Mermaid? Where can people find you? Is there anywhere you appear regularly?
I offer mermaid oracle card readings, gypsy charm bags, original artwork (of course there are mermaids!). And because I sing as well, I have a CD available, A Little Giggle. It’s sexy, silky, soothing yet stimulating, old standards/jazz/blues. You never know what I will be bringing out. I also have whimsical “funky hair fascinators” that I create. I’m all over North America but usually post on my Facebook page where I will be at any given time. You can find many videos of my adventures on my Youtube channel, and I’ve started a Vimeo channel, too.

Do you have any advice for aspiring mermaids?
My lovelies you must: Follow your passion. Never let anyone or anything talk you out of your dreams in life. It’s your life. Live it fully every day and seek the happy always.

Peace and Love my darlins,
the Gypsy Mermaid


9 Apr

So you probably know Michelle Tea for her kick-ass memoirs and poetry and novels and anthology collections featuring girls (often herself) who are radical, cool, brave, modern-day Joan of Arcs; in other words, she is, as SF Weekly says, the “literary purveyor of fucking bring-it.” She’s received a Lambda Literary Award for Best Lesbian Fiction and she co-founded of the all-girl poetry roadshow Sister Spit, and she’s done plenty of other things besides that you can read all about if you are not too lazy to use Google and or click on the link I’ve helpfully provided above. Now Michelle has a new novel coming out from McSweeneys, her first YA fantasy and the first of a trilogy about a girl in Chelsea, Massachusetts, and the “filthy, swearing mermaid who comes to her when she’s unconscious.” As filthy, swearing mermaids tend to do. Here is the cover of Mermaid in Chelsea Creek:


And here is a completely charming photo of Michelle by Amos Mac that makes me want a Popsicle immediately, but then again when do I not:


So of course I had to ask Michelle all about Mermaid in Chelsea Creek and mermaids generally, and it turns out she was inspired by the Polish Syrenka, who is pretty much the most bad-ass mermaid out there, watching over Warsaw with her twin tail and her sword and shield. Our illuminating interview follows!

So what is the concept behind your novel Mermaid in Chelsea Creek?
I just wanted to write something fantastical that played with magic and myth. I had learned about the great salt mine in Poland and it really captured my imagination. I’m Polish, so it inspired me to investigate Polish folklore and pagan traditions, and that’s how I learned of Syrenka, the mermaid who lives in the Vistula and protects the city of Warsaw.

Why a mermaid? How did you come up with the idea to stick a mermaid in Chelsea Creek?
I’ve always loved mermaids, and I got sort of obsessed with Syrenka and she became part of the story. The idea was that Sophie, my main character, had this old-world magic but she had to return to her ancestral home to learn about her powers. So I had Syrenka swim from Poland to get her.

Your mermaid is described as “filthy” and “swearing.” Can you tell us more about her?
Well, the oceans are dirty, so I imagine after a long trek through it a mermaid would be pretty grimy. I also needed Syrenka to have a very Polish disposition, and Polish people are tough. They don’t smile, and they think you’re up to no good if you smile at them. Living in the river in Warsaw through the ages she would have seen many horrible things, and that has hardened her. I wanted her to feel real and complex and tough, the way I believe such a creature would be.

I understand you have a love of magic, horoscopes, tarot, and witches. Do mermaids fit in there as well?
I am very charmed by magic and otherworldly ideas, and it’s true that mermaids have their place among tarot cards and the myths and rituals of magic!

Have you ever identified with them yourself in any way?
Yeah, totally! When I was a teenager dying my hair blue and lavender I was definitely going for a faerie/mermaid magical girl look. I was really different from everyone in my city and got really harassed for it, and was attracted to stories of girls who were noble and beautiful and different and punished for it, like mermaids and Joan of arc and other saints. And as a little girl I’d play mermaid at the beach and in swimming pools.

I don’t think you normally write about fantastic, tailed creatures. Did you find it challenging and/or liberating and/or something else?
I have found it totally liberating to write about fantastic things in general after writing so much memoir. It’s been really inspiring to just get to follow my imagination and make stuff up, but also way more challenging. With a memoir the story is already there, so that’s half the battle. Having to create a whole world and its creatures from scratch is really daunting!

I understand you visited Poland and did some research on the Warsaw mermaid. Can you talk about that?
Visiting Warsaw was really amazing. I was teaching a feminist writing workshop and the women I worked with were so tough and cool–Poland is harsh, it has a communist hangover, and as a catholic country it is very repressive. I actually found it to be very depressing, but also I had a bad cold and was at the start of a break up and didn’t bring warm enough clothes, so maybe it wasn’t depressing but I was depressed! I did stumble across this small public exhibit showing images of the Warsaw mermaid through time, which was amazing. Sitting on the bank of the Vistula was really great, and visiting the statues of her. With some friends I’d made we took the train to the Wieliczka salt mine and did the epic tour. It was so beautiful, and will show up in the next books in the series.

Why do you think people like mermaids so much, anyway?
The ocean is so vast and mysterious, to think that there could be creatures so similar to ourselves living in the depths is really dreamy and exciting. And tails are so beautiful and swimming feels like flying. To be at home in the ocean, a place so perilous to humans, that is I think the most alluring part of it.

Do you have any advice for aspiring mermaids?
Hmmmmm . . . Make your own mermaid mythology. Remember that history gets written by the winners, and what we know about mermaids comes from people who probably didn’t understand them properly. They’re not just pretty, long haired seductresses. They’re fierce and intelligent and full of wisdom and experience, just like you.


5 Apr

So a brand-spanking-new novel with a mermaid silhouette gracing the cover entered bookstores this past Tuesday, as I’m sure you’re well aware, at least in your hearts if not your conscious minds: Amy Shearn’s The Mermaid of Brooklyn. Look:


Here is Amy at a bookstore in Brooklyn with The Mermaid of Brooklyn:


The novel is actually about a struggling mother of two young children in Park Slope, Brooklyn, stretched way too thin and at a breaking point, especially once her no-good husband vanishes as no-good husbands tend to do, who gets saved in part by a mermaid. Who may or may not be herself. I love the reason Amy gives, the way she equates mermaidliness with motherhood and women’s magicalness generally: “I wanted to write something about mothering that captured how it feels: epic, magical, often entirely surreal.” Here is a sample from the book: “Her eyes were entirely black, which for some reason did not immediately strike me as being alarming. A cape of sea-dark hair the length of her body billowed behind her. She was naked from the waist up, her breasts buoyant in the water, her torso forties-starlet curvy, and from the waist down–I’m not kidding–she had a gold fishtail with which she muscled her way around. I know how it sounds. I know. But let me stress that at the time this seemed totally unsurprising. There was something soothing about her, nurturing in a slightly aloof, sex-kittenish way. She smiled as if we’d known each other our whole lives and swam close, somehow managing to swing her hips as she moved, winding her long, pointed fingertips into my hair. I closed my eyes and let her.”

You can win a copy of The Mermaid of Brooklyn by entering this contest on, though really you ought to stop being so cheap and go to your local bookstore and buy a copy. I’m not sure you’ll be able to resist, anyway, after this sparkling interview:

So what is the concept behind your novel The Mermaid of Brooklyn?
You know, I just described it to my four-year-old in a way that I think might be the best summary I’ve come up with yet: A lady is in trouble and gets some help from a mermaid, only to realize she didn’t actually need help after all, and that she’s okay by herself.

What is a rusalka, anyway?
The rusalka is the proto-mermaid of Eastern European lore, a sort of spooky, malevolent siren-spirit. They are the spirits of wronged women, of illegitimate mothers, brides left at the altar, suicides by drowning. But watch out, because they are also known for dancing in meadows and hanging out in trees during the full moon. And they love seducing (and drowning) sailors.

In my book, a rusalka from the East River inhabits a Brooklyn mom’s body, which I’m pretty sure was not the official folklore version.

How did you come up with the idea of using a mermaid the way you do?
I can’t even remember what I was reading, but it was some survey of Slavic folklore that mentioned the rusalka. This was probably ten years ago. Around this time my grandmother told me a story about how her mother, Jenny, once considered jumping off a bridge but had her life saved by a pair of shoes, and the two strands—Jenny, rusalka—became intertwined in my mind. I couldn’t figure out my way into the novel for some time though, so they just kind of marinated in the back of my mind for a while.

Have you ever felt you had a secret (or not-so-secret) mermaid identity yourself?
Well, in my book the rusalka is kind of this id-like force, an inner voice that helps Jenny to find herself, to listen to herself, to fight for her life. I think every woman has this kind of rusalka inside her. But these rusalka-voices are seldom polite and often unpleasant, so most of us—for better or for worse—don’t always listen to them.

Mermaids and Brooklyn have a history. Have you ever been to the Coney Island Mermaid Parade?
I haven’t! Isn’t that odd? I love the idea of it, and I always love looking at the pictures, and every year I think of going and then remember that I hate parades. I’m one of those New Yorkers who doesn’t do well in crowds, go figure. I think it’s because I’m short, so being in a crowd in the summer just involves a lot of armpit-facetime.

What do you think the appeal of mermaids is, anyway? Have they always had a particular appeal to you?
There’s something inherently fascinating about creatures that are half-human, half-magic, about the uncanny nature of the almost-plausible mythical beast. Then when I was pregnant for the first time, what with all of pregnancy’s surreal aquatics, it became clear to me that all women are actually half-human, half-magic.

What would you say to women who feel there might be a secret mermaid inhabiting them, too?
I would say to enjoy it, but also to remember that a mermaid on land can be a little bit like a recent divorcee, consumed with physical pleasure and not all that responsible.

Have you been surprised at all by peoples’ reaction to the mermaid in your book?
I have been! I don’t want to tell anyone how to read the book, and I love different readers’ different interpretations, but I’ll just say I’m surprised at how many people have taken the mermaid at face value.

Do you have any advice for aspiring mermaids?
Stay away from the East River!

What are you working on now?
I’m working on a short story, because I think I forgot how to write short stories but I want to remember how, about a case of mass hysteria amongst a group of teenage girls. And in theory I’m writing a novel that’s a ghost story, even though I know nothing about ghosts and never read ghost stories. But in reality that novel is still very much lists and notes and research and scribbles. In other words, it’s still perfect.

Revisiting Tim Gunn Talking about Mermaids

2 Apr

So due to this article that was published on Shine from Yahoo! today about mermaid extraordinaire Linden Wolbert, many many thousands of new people are visiting this mermaid blog of mine for the first time and very likely will be taking to the high seas (or their local rivers and pools) in the near future.

I thought I might take this opportunity to re-share my very first post on this blog, from January 2011, with the my one true love TIM GUNN. Because this is still my very favorite mermaid interview ever. Here is the original link and here it is again, still fabulous:




So I had a deep suspicion that my one true love Tim Gunn might appreciate the strangeness and wondrousness of mermaids, and I emailed him and asked if he’d talk to me for a bit about mermaids and fashion for my brand new blog – and this, my very first post. Because as you will see and as this blog becomes filled with wonders over the next many months mermaids are everywhere in our lives and culture, including the bust- and hemlines of the extremely glamorous mermaid gown. And Tim Gunn knows everything. When he agreed, even gallantly claiming to be “honored” by my request, I done fainted dead away and had to be revived with smelling salts. And then the following took place.

I know. He is awesome.

Do you feel that mermaids and mermaidly allure have a place in today’s fashion world?

When we consider the catalysts that are essential for inspiration in the fashion industry, few have the staying power or the potency of mermaids, owing largely to the fact that mermaids have been part of world literature, lore, art, and artifact for such a very long time. There will always be a place for mermaid-inspired fashion, providing that the designs are conceived in a manner that’s relevant to the current moment.

In what ways do you think that women can add mermaidly allure to their own wardrobes?
Mermaids aren’t afraid to show off their curves and celebrate their gender. This is what gives them such extraordinary allure, at least in my humble view. There’s a fashion lesson is this: dress for your curves and your womanliness, wear clothes that fit well, and walk – or swim – with confidence. Finally, never turn down a sequin or paillette.

What do you think of the mermaid dress? Do you have any favorite examples?
The mermaid dress is, by definition, about drama; form-fitting from bust to knee (and usually strapless) and with a cascading burst of fabric from the knee to the floor. You find them in abundance on the red carpet and some of the most beautiful are by Marchesa. But my favorite mermaid-inspired garment is the mermaid sheath, which was introduced in the late ‘60’s by the legendary Norman Norell. His sequined covered gown quickly became an American fashion classic.

Can you describe any other mermaid-inspired fashion? What did you think of Gaultier’s 2008 collection, for example?
Gaultier is ever the showman. I found his fall 2008 couture collection to be expectedly over-the-top and, frankly, entirely too literal and, therefore, costumey for my taste. However, the look from the collection that Marion Cotillard wore to the Academy Awards was stunning. (For me, evaluating fashion is all about context; who’s wearing it and for what purpose.) And owing to the fact that Ms. Cotillard won an Oscar that year, Gaultier’s dress received a lot of attention, a lot of very positive attention.

What do you think the appeal of mermaids is in general? Are you yourself a fan?
I’m a huge fan of mermaids (and mermen for that matter), because their place in art and literature is so long-standing (3,000 years!) and crosses every culture and region of the globe. There will always be a fascination with creatures that transcend the world as we know it, and mermaids are among the more accessible of those creatures.

Do you think there is any place for merMEN in the fashion world, and do you have any advice for aspiring mermen who might be feeling a bit overlooked?
I always say that fashion is so much easier for men than it is for women, but I need to recalibrate that thought when it comes to mermen, because it strikes me that they pose more of a fashion challenge than mermaids. Fortunately, a merman’s fashion need only be addressed from the waist up. This means that plenty of options are available, from a classic polo shirt to a full-on tuxedo (minus pants, of course). Though we must be reminded that color options for a merman’s apparel should be informed by the color of his flesh and scales.

Do you have any advice for aspiring mermaids (and mermen)?
Advice? Don’t let the world aquatic compromise your personal style and…practice holding your breath.