To me, the sea is like a person–like a child that I’ve known a long time. It sounds crazy, I know, but when I swim in the sea I talk to it. I never feel alone when I’m out there. ~~ Getrude Ederle
I’m still on my writing retreat, but I’m here for a minute to tell you about this new novel. I started reading on Saturday and finished on Sunday, right before going to sleep. I hated for it to end. I wanted more! I remember turning that last page and looking up to find myself in my own bedroom with that feeling of “how did I get here?” The mark of a wonderful story.
THE MERMAID COLLECTOR runs parallel story lines, more than a century apart: Linus and Lydie Harris in 1888, and Tess Patterson in present day, both centered on a harbor town in Maine and the legend of the mysterious Mermaid Mutiny. Thanks to Erika Marks for sitting down with me to answer my top 3 questions about writing this novel:
Q. How did this story come together? Did you start with Linus and Lydie’s story, or with Tess?
Teri, believe it or not, Linus and Lydie’s story wasn’t part of the novel until nearly the second to last draft. While I always had their story in the novel, the parallel narratives didn’t figure in for a long time. It was sort of an Ah-ha moment when I realized I had fallen in love with Linus and Lydia and then Angus, and really wanted to explore their story. Initially, though, it was Tom and Tess who were my focus. And truthfully Tom arrived first for me–his character and his challenges came to me before anyone else’s–his identity as a caretaker, someone with a great capacity to be loved but who buries his own needs to care for his brother and how vulnerable that makes him to the passionate abandon of someone like Tess.
Q. You do such a great job moving back and forth in time — both in present day and in the late 1800s. How do you plot this out? One storyline at a time? Or did you write both storylines at once and sort out the flow later?
Thank you, Teri. I really appreciate that. Having used this structure in LITTLE GALE GUMBO, I truly thought it would be easier to do this time, but it wasn’t. Maybe it was because I added Lydia’s story later in the process, but when I tried to write them both at the same time, it grew too hard to make sure I was hitting my marks with each storyline so I ended up building two documents and then threading them together when I was sure they were strong enough on their own.
Q. Was the writing/editing/publishing of this 2nd book easier or more difficult than LITTLE GALE GUMBO? What did you learn between books one and two?
It’s funny–in some ways it was easier (knowing what to expect/when in the process, ie deadlines, cover design timing, etc) but in other ways it was harder because I was under a deadline this time around. With GUMBO, I had all the time in the world (or so it felt) to get it where it needed to be but this time, I had to tighten my process to meet a shorter timetable. I will admit I liked the pace–it forced me to be sharper with my revisions, and to see problems in the draft as I was writing, as opposed to waiting to finish a draft. As a fellow writer, Teri, I know you can appreciate how we are constantly refining our editing process, and how good it feels to grow in that area. I keep coming back to the word “efficient” because it’s important to me, now that I’m under deadlines, to see the places in my manuscripts that need improvement sooner rather than later. That said, I think I became a more efficient writer between these two books but, boy, I know I have a long way to go.