So Brenda Peterson is a very accomplished and fancy National Geographic (and otherwise) writer who’s written 17 books, most of them having to do with the natural and usually aquatic world and even with cool oceanic characters like the gray whale and the dolphin and, more recently, the glamorous, shimmering mermaid. In fact Brenda has a spanking-new mermaid novel called The Drowning World, which comes out this month and also has one day left of a Kickstarter campaign, the supporting of which will get you perks like a signed book, a character named after you (in the sequel), or even a manuscript critique for all you aspiring mermaid authors. Here’s a preview of the first two chapters. Brenda also attended MerPalooza and wrote about it for The Huffington Post, generously advising regular humans everywhere on how to attain mermaidly allure.
Below, I talk to Brenda about The Drowning World, sea creatures in need, and fancy author things generally.
What made you decide to write about mermaids?
My fourth novel, the environmental thriller Animal Heart, was reviewed by a book critic from Library Journal who wrote, “one can hardly imagine a more heartfelt work or a more unusual love story than this one.” Hmmmm, I thought, “unusual love story.”
What would be more unusual than two people from an underwater cosmos and our world trying to find love together? Mermaid and human. Every taboo or prejudice that we experience in inter-racial or interfaith love would be magnified. My own decades studying dolphins had left me feeling half-human, so why not explore this hybrid or mixed relationships in a love story? The Drowning Worldis set both in Aquantis, an underwater advanced civilization of merpeople, and in a future Florida, called SkyeWorld, circa 2020 and 2030. Marina, a highly trained mermaid, is on her first spy mission to SkyeWorld. On the beach she meets Lukas, a proud Cuban refugee who is helping his father rescue sea turtle eggs from an oil spill. Marina saves Lukas’s life with her magical skills, but can she save herself from a life-long nemesis from her own world?
So can you tell us a little about yourself and your books? What draws you to the oceans?
I’ve published 17 books—novels, memoirs, essays—and almost all of them have something to do with our blue planet’s underwater realms. In fact, I’ve drowned twice. Those near-death experiences left me with a profound devotion to our seas. “Maybe fathoms deep in the sea is where all the old and the new souls are dreaming and changing and being born again,” I conclude my 1990 essay “On Drowning” from Living by Water.
As a National Geographic author, I’ve also spent two decades underwater studying whales and dolphins. Cetaceans are my inspiration for The Drowning World because my merpeople are really half-dolphin and half-human. So there is a real animal nature and intelligence to my amphibious hybrids, called Aquantans. They are Shape Shifters and Go Betweens in many worlds. I’ve been working on building my underwater cosmos in The Drowning World since 2003. In fact, my address since email was first invented was always “Mermaid Ink.” Imagine my surprise and delight when suddenly all these mermaid books surface, just as I finally finish my own novel!
Can you talk about Seal Sitters and any other marine-related activism you’re involved in?
It’s never been enough for me to just be an artist. My five years in the editorial department of The New Yorker magazine when I was in my twenties taught me that “art for art’s” sake was not my path. I am grateful for the literary apprenticeship to writing from those New York years; but I knew I wanted to connect my work to the natural world. So I returned to my native West Coast and have lived in Seattle since 1981. My first memoir, Build Me an Ark: A Life with Animals, was my way of engaging with other animals as an activist-writer. So all of my journalism and non-fiction is always in service to something greater than art. I’ve lived on water for so long that the tides, birds, marine mammals, all seem a part of my own body.
My co-founding of the grassroots volunteer Seal Sitters Marine Mammal Stranding Network began as just a few neighbors sitting on our backyard beach keeping watch over the seal pups while their mothers fished far out in the Salish Sea. Call it day care for Seal Pups. My first children’s book, Leopard and Silkie: One Boy’s Quest to Save the Seal Pups, is just out from Henry Holt for Young Readers. [Here’s a link to an ABC News interview on Seal Sitters.]
You recently attended MerPalooza and wrote about it for the Huffington Post. What did you think? What kind of reaction have you gotten?
My brother lives in Tampa where this summer’s MerPalooza was held. So I had a perfect excuse to attend. When I told my literary agent, Sarah Jane Freymann, about the mermaid convention Sarah Jane said, “I’m there!” I call her my WaveMate because we travel on book tours together and always take time out to swim in the nearest ocean together. When my brother, and Sarah Jane and I attended Merpalooza we were amazed at the professional mermaids. Those elegant tail flukes and the commitment to marine conservation won me over. MyHuffington Post article focused on Mermaid Enakai, a young mermaid who is devoted to shark conservation and also beautiful mermaid design. I also was very moved by Stephanie’s story of her grandmother, who ran away from home in the 1940s to become a real mermaid in the Weeki Wachee roadside shows.
Why do you think mermaids are so appealing to us, anyway?
Mermaids swim through all of our myths and folklore. Like you, Carolyn, I much prefer the powerful, sexy, soulful, and darkly complex mermaids that authors are creating for the 21st century. The psychologist C. G. Jung always asked, “Why this dream now?” So I wonder: Why this mermaid trend now?
Is it because we intuit that we are all bound for a MerWorld as seas rise and coastlines sink? Is mermaiding a way of adapting, first in our imaginations, before we finally face the facts of climate change? Maybe it’s simply time for women to make and reclaim their own mythology. We no longer believe the prince will save us or give us a soul. We realize that, like Venus rising from the sea, women must find our own destiny—even if it means running away from home.
Can you talk about The Drowning World, your Kickstarter.com campaign, and how people can join in/order the book?
I turned down a publisher’s offer for The Drowning World because I wanted complete artistic control—from cover design to choosing my own professional editors, some of whom worked with me on other traditionally published books. It’s a ton of editorial work but also an exhilarating experience to produce an indie book. I’m so grateful to my many Kickstarter bakers who are part of my Publishing Pod.~
By Judith Rosen |
Publisher's Weekly, Mar 10, 2013
Brenda Peterson is one of the growing number of authors who are working on
self-published projects in addition to writing books released by traditional houses.
Peterson has written 17 books that were published the traditional way. Her latest,
The Drowning World—a science fiction/fantasy tale about a mermaid who is half
dolphin and half human—was accepted by a publisher, but Peterson turned
down the offer to release the book through her own Delphinius Publishing
“I was thrilled,” she said of learning that her manuscript was accepted, “but it was
going to come out in spring 2014. It was July 2012, and I wanted to be part of the
conversation on mermaids.” Interest was shifting from vampires to mermaids at
the time, and Twilight series author Stephenie Meyer announced in an interview
in USA Today that she is working on a book featuring the latter. “When I started
this book [10 years ago], mermaids were not on the horizon,” Peterson noted.
She also wanted to keep her book—about a young mermaid who comes ashore
in Florida and is forced to choose between the advanced culture of Aquantis and
a Cuban refugee and his polluted Skyworld—from being categorized as YA. She
sees it more as new adult, written for adults but with teen appeal.
By self-publishing, Peterson—who has been edited by Judith Jones at Knopf and
Jill Bialosky at Norton, among others—was able to make e-book and paperback
editions of The Drowning World available on Amazon and at other online retailers by
mid-November 2012. She recently posted the file to EspressNet so that
independent booksellers with Espresso Book Machines can carry the novel in
their stores. The e-book edition is also available for iBook, Nook, and Kobo.
For Peterson, going the self-publishing route hasn’t meant going it alone. “I
carried traditional people with me,” she said, referring to her “publishing pod” of
proofreaders, editors, and designers. Peterson called the move “the most
exhilarating and daunting process. I had complete control with experts. I love this
book. It really came from my artistic vision.” Betty Watson, who designed
Peterson’s Animal Heart cover, also did the cover for The Drowning World, for
example. Others from the traditional publishing world contributed in different
ways. Da Capo editor Merloyd Lawrence, who edited Peterson’s I Want to Be
Left Behind, was one of more than 60 people who donated to her Kickstarter
campaign, which was launched last August to raise $5,000 to cover printing.
“It was her idea to self-publish, and given her energy and passion for the subject,
and growing fans, [Brenda] may well be right,” said Lawrence. “I’ll be following
Brenda’s exploits with The Drowning World and expect to learn from them.”
Another “podmate” whom Peterson singles out is film agent Mary Alice Kier of
CineLit. Five years ago she persuaded Peterson to protect the cosmos she
created in The Drowning World by trademarking the technology described in the
book. Kier has already gotten what Peterson describes as “real” interest in a film.
The sequel, part of an Aquantis trilogy, will likely be included in a film package,
and Peterson has written 80 “polished” pages for it with current plans to self-publish
that title as well. Readers have been wanting to spend more time in the
world beneath the waves that Peterson has imagined. “This underwater world is
so believable and vivid and fascinating. It’s a page-turner,” said author Sy
Montgomery (The Good, Good Pig).
As for sales, Peterson said that she’s received three royalty checks from Amazon
and would welcome the opportunity to read in independent bookstores now that
the book can be printed on demand. She also promotes it through her writing in
places like Huffington Post, which includes a story on military sonar that led to a
radio interview aired in 28 cities. Peterson has no regrets about her decision to
publish independently. “Indie publications really go hand in hand with traditional
publishing,” she said. “They’re not either/or. I can do both.”
Reviews and Interviews:
And to read Peterson's article on the second national Mermaid Convention, Merpalooza, held in August, 2012, "How to Become a Real Mermaid," here's the link:
More wonderful whale and dolphin video, some of the best I've ever seen! Enjoy.