Bubble Talk: Elizabeth Fama and Monstrous Beauty

Bubble Talk is where I interview some truly amazing authors and tell you all about their books! November is all about those elusive creatures of the sea, mermaids, and I’m so happy to be able to introduce you to ten talented authors and their stories.

Today, I’m happy to be hosting the wonderful Elizabeth Fama! Her novel Monstrous Beauty isn’t coming out until August 2012, but I promise that the wait is worth it.

Angel: What kind of research did you have to do before writing your book?

Elizabeth: MONSTROUS BEAUTY required a fair amount of historical research (although I find that work to be fun). There are bits of four time periods in it: contemporary, 1872, 1627, and 1522. I’m a stickler for accuracy, so I ended up fact-checking everything for the historical periods, from the etymology of words and idioms to the manufacturing of 1870s dolls. The copyeditor found one anachronism: wire window screens were patented after 1873, she pointed out. but in fact advertisements in periodicals show they were regularly available in the 1830s, so window screens stayed in! As for the fantasy elements of the book (mermaids and ghosts), I researched traditional tales for those as well, because I can’t stop myself, but only as a springboard for my own imagination. I gave myself permission to make up the undersea world and the rules of magic as I saw fit.

Angel: Why do you think humans are fascinated by mermaids/sirens/selkies and tales of the sea?

Elizabeth: Well, you can’t stand next to an ocean or a lake and not be moved by it, for one thing. It’s like looking up at the stars at night away from city lights, or seeing a photo of the earth from the vantage of the moon: it makes you realize that life on this planet is more than just you, that you have less control than you imagine, and that your stay is temporary. Beyond that, I think so much of our human history is sea-faring, it’s natural that the stories that sailors invented out of boredom, stir-craziness, and creativity on their long journeys would linger in our collective imaginations.

AngelWhat are your favourite sea-themed stories or legends? Did any of them influence your own book?

Elizabeth: The dirty little secret is that I didn’t start this book as a fan of mermaids. I have a knee-jerk reaction that the ones with fish tails are too biologically strange to be plausible (my mermaids have mammalian tales, like a porpoise or a whale), and I dislike the way they’re depicted in art as pretty or overtly sexy, rather than dynamic and wild. I also worry about the message behind traditional stories of mermaids (like Ondine) giving up their lives in the sea in order to live with mortal men who cheat on them or disappoint them in some way. But I DO like the darker stories of sirens as killers! As far as my influences, the mermaids and setting of Mike Mignola’s HELLBOY: STRANGE PLACES (“The Third Wish”) have precisely the feel and tone that I want my readers to take away from the undersea world in MONSTROUS BEAUTY.

Angel: How does your novel stand out from other mermaid/siren/selkie-themed books?

Elizabeth: For one thing, the mermaids aren’t the only supernatural focus of the book; the ghost story is inextricably intertwined with the mermaid story. There’s an important curse for the main character to solve. The mermaids are dangerous sea creatures. The plot is ridiculously complicated and sometimes very dark. You won’t enjoy it if you’re looking for a light read about a girl whose absent parent might be a siren. You’ll love it if you want two intertwining time periods like HOLES, a main character who is a history nerd, violence, cemeteries, love, death, and cathartic redemption.

Angel: If you were a mermaid, which ocean would you want to live in?

Elizabeth: I’d want to be a freshwater mermaid or water spirit. As it is, I spend prodigious amounts of time in Lake Michigan.

Angel: Ariel (of Disney’s The Little Mermaid) is the most famous mermaid of my generation. What would you tell her if you had the chance?

Elizabeth: That she should be studying so that she can take over Triton’s kingdom, instead of chasing after a boy.

As the book won’t be out for almost 10 more months, I’ll be holding off on a review for maximum exposure, but I do have a little treat for everyone. Check out the breathtaking cover of Monstrous Beauty!

Monstrous mermaids, ghosts, and a century-old curse feature in this beautifully crafted, compulsively readable thriller.

In 1872, mermaid Syrenka falls in love with a young naturalist. When she abandons her life underwater for a chance at happiness on land, she is unaware that this decision comes with horrific and deadly consequences.

One hundred thirty years later, seventeen-year-old Hester meets a mysterious stranger and feels drawn to him in a way she can’t explain or resist. For generations, love and death have been inextricably linked for the women in her family. Is it an undiagnosed genetic defect…or a curse? Hester’s investigation of her family’s strange, sad history leads her to the graveyard, the crypt, and the bottom of the ocean–but powerful forces will do anything to keep her from uncovering her connection to Syrenka and to the tragedy of long ago.

Macmillan was kind enough to send me an ARC and I hope they keep the cover as it is–the texture and details are amazing! This is truly one astonishing mermaid novel that will haunt you for weeks.

Go visit Elizabeth Fama at her website and follow her on Twitter @elizabethfama.

You can also check out Monstrous Beauty on Goodreads and pre-order it on Amazon and Book Depository.


8 replies »

  1. Ooooh I love being able to see the cover that you were talking about on Saturday!! Personally I love it.
    Great review too. I can’t wait to read this once it comes out!

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