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, Sarah Porter stops by to tell us about her beautifully-written series, Lost Voices. I was utterly enchanted by Sarah’s first two books and am already eagerly awaiting the third!
Angel: What kind of research did you have to do before writing your book?
Sarah: I didn’t do that much research for the first book, Lost Voices. I read a couple of books about the Bering Sea, studied photographs of Alaska online, and looked at some wildlife guides for the region. The second book in the trilogy, Waking Storms, required a lot more research. I read books on the history of whaling, on ecological problems impacting the oceans, and on the arctic. Oh, and I reread the Odyssey. For a while I had a satellite image of the Bering Sea up all the time on my computer, and I’d refresh it every day to watch the progress and retreat of the sea ice over the course of the winter. That was when I really understood that mermaids living in that area would be forced to migrate in the winter, and I had to make huge changes in my original plot to reflect that! But then it all worked out perfectly.
For the third book the research has involved more actual exploring around the San Francisco Bay Area and less reading, though I did read an amazing book about squids as research for a scene near the beginning.
Angel: Why do you think humans are fascinated by mermaids/sirens/selkies and tales of the sea?
Sarah: Well, the sea represents everything unknown and unknowable: both the secret aspects of ourselves, our unconscious minds, and then the elusiveness of reality. The ocean is a symbol of everything that exceeds our understanding and overpowers us, so of course we’re fascinated! And when you think of how a mermaid’s body is divided into two halves, everyday and humanoid on top and secret, subaquatic, and inhuman on the bottom, it’s like a metaphor for our own minds: how we’re both known to ourselves but also how we can never completely know our own dreams and motivations. Half of each of us, or maybe more than half, lives forever in that deep sea of the unconscious. We can guess at what that part of ourselves is doing, we can catch glimpses of something fast and strange and graceful, but we can never fully grasp it. So I’d say we’re fascinated by mermaids because they reveal a very true image of human nature.
Sarah: I can think of a few mermaid stories and legends that relate to the Lost Voices books. Did you know there was actually a mermaid saint, Li Ban of Ireland? Like my mermaids, she seems to have lost her humanity through trauma: her village flooded and everyone in it drowned. Because she was a princess she lived in a high tower with her little dog, so she was the only survivor. Then she became a mermaid, and her dog became an otter, and after living in the sea for hundreds of years she met some monks and gained sainthood. The Inuit sea goddess Sedna was also a human who turned into a mermaid when her father threw her from their kayak and cut off her fingers to stop her from holding on! I didn’t know either of these stories when I started writing Lost Voices, so I was completely amazed when I learned about them.
I think there are some obvious links between the plot of Waking Storms and Andersen’s original “The Little Mermaid.” And then there’s Charles Kingsley’s book The Water Babies. The water babies aren’t mermaids, but they are children transformed into magical aquatic creatures because of terrible things that happened to them. It’s a very heavy-handed, moralistic Victorian story, but in a strange way I’d say it’s probably the closest literary antecedent that I know about.
Angel: How does your novel stand out from other mermaid/siren/selkie-themed books?
Sarah: I’ve been making a point of not reading any of the other mermaid books out there; I want to stay submerged in my own mermaid mythology and not start envisioning somebody else’s version of mermaids. As far as I know my mermaids are distinct in being ex-humans driven by revenge, the lost girls of the sea, but of course without doing a lot of reading I can’t say for sure.
After I finish writing the trilogy I’d like to read some of the other recent mermaid stories; just not yet.
Angel: If you were a mermaid, which ocean would you want to live in?
Sarah: I’m pretty obsessed with Antarctica these days, so I’m tempted to choose the Southern Ocean that circles Antarctica in an endless current. But it would be dangerous: I could get trapped under the ice, there are lots of orcas and leopard seals and possibly colossal squids, and food might be tricky. I could end up like Shackleton, with nothing to eat but penguins! So… well… maybe I’ll take Penobscot Bay in Maine. It’s gorgeous and there are plenty of shellfish. Eating penguins seems too sad; they’re wonderful birds.
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?
Sarah: That has to be my least-favorite Disney movie. The only characters in it I really like are Flotsam and Jetsam. I’d tell Ariel that completely changing your identity and giving up your voice for a guy are generally not good strategies for creating long-term happiness.
What happens to the girls nobody sees—the ones who are ignored, mistreated, hidden away? The girls nobody hears when they cry for help?
Fourteen-year-old Luce is one of those lost girls. After her father vanishes in a storm at sea, she is stuck in a grim, gray Alaskan fishing village with her alcoholic uncle. When her uncle crosses an unspeakable line, Luce reaches the depths of despair. Abandoned on the cliffs near her home, she expects to die when she tumbles to the icy, churning waves below. Instead, she undergoes an astonishing transformation and becomes a mermaid.
A tribe of mermaids finds Luce and welcomes her in—all of them, like her, lost girls who surrendered their humanity in the darkest moments of their lives. The mermaids are beautiful, free, and ageless, and Luce is thrilled with her new life until she discovers the catch: they feel an uncontrollable desire to drown seafarers, using their enchanted voices to lure ships into the rocks.
Luce’s own talent at singing captures the attention of the tribe’s queen, the fierce and elegant Catarina, and Luce soon finds herself pressured to join in committing mass murder. Luce’s struggle to retain her inner humanity puts her at odds with her friends; even worse, Catarina seems to regard Luce as a potential rival. But the appearance of a devious new mermaid brings a real threat to Catarina’s leadership and endangers the very existence of the tribe. Can Luce find the courage to challenge the newcomer, even at the risk of becoming rejected and alone once again?
Lost Voices is a captivating and wildly original tale about finding a voice, the healing power of friendship, and the strength it takes to forgive.
Discovery: Lost Voices is the first mermaid book I’ve read in years, thanks to all the buzz on book blogs and Goodreads. [Full disclosure: I am writing this review after having read the second book, Waking Voices, so many of the themes I noticed are more fully fleshed out in WV. ]
+ Luce. The fourteen-year-old protagonist of this novel isn’t a Katniss or a Gemma Doyle or even a Bella. She’s just a girl looking for a home and the cabin she inhabits with her uncle is a trap in itself. It’s clear from the first page that she never belonged on land.
There are a lot of things I loved about this novel, but Luce herself was a big part of it. Her tentative and vibrant voice carried the story. There were times when I had to put the book down because my heart would ache with sympathy and concern for her, and the rest of the mermaids. None of us were wise at 14. But Luce will never age, never grow up, never have a real future full of changes. It is a terrifying fate that was handed to her, and while she might seem fragile and easily broken at first, she becomes a force to reckon with. Her story is inspiring as it is terrible.
+ Themes. Popular culture is familiar with the image of the carefree, beautiful mermaid. None of them asked for their fate, and their story challenges the reader to reconsider what justice really means. Is justice served when the mermaids sing to kill? Do they have the right to take revenge on innocent humans for their crimes? And is music truly beautiful when it commits acts of violence? The mermaids were victims, but the reader learns to consider all sides of the story.
Honestly, Lost Voices is not an easy book to read. The story is emotionally wrenching, and the characters are so very alive that it almost makes you want to look for them in the ocean. But it is a story that needed to be told, and told well. T.S. Eliot writes in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”: I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each/I do not think that they will sing to me. In Lost Voices, the melodies are haunting and flow through every word. It is up to the reader to decipher the true nature of those words and see the beauty beneath it all.
Recommendations: When I am asked to recommend a mermaid novel, this is always the first to come to mind, and rightly so. Lost Voices draws deep into the reader’s soul and captures them in its unending song.
Go visit Sarah Porter at her website.