Being Mermaid: Manatee Born

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I’ve written a yet-to-be-published novel about a mermaid in today’s ocean whose story is as much about being a woman as it is about being a mermaid, maybe more. Being Mermaid: Creating Story

I’ve spoken about worldbuilding in previous “Being Mermaid” posts. Today’s focus is about the mermaid herself.

Characterization

Characterization is an element of the writing craft referring to the description of the characters in a story, which can encompass a wide range of personality traits, actions, looks. My mermaid character needed to be as plausible as possible, so I went looking for researched facts and my imagination to develop this half-fish, half-human creature.

Mermaid as Manatee

As legends go, sailors on the old wooden ships declared they’d seen mermaids, and in some stories they’d said they were sung to and lured into the sea, whereupon these mermaids would attempt to drown them. Such deadly woman-fishlike creatures were also called Sirens in mythology Being Mermaid: From Out of the Sea

Have you ever seen a manatee? Hard to imagine anyone, except maybe a sailor who’d been on the sea for months and months, could mistake a manatee for a mermaid.

Yet, there had to be something to the stories, and the legends were where I sarted to develop the background character of my mermaid. As a result, three main aspects of a manatee’s life became a part of a mermaid’s life: diet, environment and reproduction.

Vegetation Diet

Like manatees, the mermaid characters eat strictly sea plants, particularly the sweeter seagrasses.

Temperature

Manatees have a wide range of travel in the U.S., going as far north as the Carolinas and west to Texas but they tend to live mostly in and around Florida’s waters and canals, especially during winter. The key to their envrioment is the temperature of the water. They can die from cold stress if water temperatures drop below 68 degrees Fahrenheit.

Manatee facts have become a part of the mermaid’s character as well. She is more at ease in salt water than the versatile salt or fresh water manatee, but a mermaid cannot survive long if the ocean temperature drops below 68 degrees Fahrentheit.

To ensure the lifespan of the mermaids in my novel, I’ve located them on an isolated island in the Caribbean Ocean, unless something freaky happens to drop the temperature.

Reproduction

A significant issue in my mermaid novel is the role of the female mermaid and her ability to reproduce, the key to the survival of any species.

The mantatee gives birth to one calf every two to five years; twins are rare. After a gestation period of almost a year, a mother nurses her young for one to two years before the baby becomes independent.

Reproduction is a problem for the mermaids on my made-up island of Little Mangrove. A mermaid has an on- and off- fertile cycle. If she does get pregnant, her gestation period is one year, and she cannot become pregnant again until two years after giving birth. Twins are a much-heralded birth when they occur, which, like the manatee, is rare.

About that Tail

A manatee is a slow-moving, gentle, playful animal who normally swims at three to five miles an hour but can hit up to twenty miles per hour in a short burst. Its tail looks as thick as its fleshy, barrel-shaped body.

A mermaid is not the same, except for having a tail. Somewhere along the evolutionary trail of the mermaid, she grew fish scales on her bottom half, not the fleshy skin of the manatee, and though the mermaid has a tail, it is lighter, filmier and more fishlike than a manatee’s.

A mermaid swims fast, very fast, able to keep up with the dolphin at twenty-one miles per hour and the shark at thirty-one miles per hour. However, some of the big game fish, such as the marlin at fifty miles per hour and the sail fish at sixty-eight, can out-swim a mermaid in the long run.

Building Character

Building characters is a challenge for any writer. Sometimes the details of a character’s life come quickly; othertimes, there’s a lot of research necessary to make a character believable, especially when that character is a mix of legend, heresay and reality.

“Believe in your character. Animate (or write) with sincerity.” ~Glen Keane (Animator for Walt Disney, incuding “The Little Mermaid.”)

[Photo credit: Andrew Imanaka vis VisualHunt.com]

 

 

 

 

Being Mermaid: Creating Lore

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I’ve written a yet-to-be-published novel about a mermaid in today’s ocean whose story is as much about being a woman as it is about being a mermaid, maybe more. Being Mermaid: Creating Story

Worldbuilding is an element of the writing craft referring to the creation of an imaginary world within which the characters live. Today’s post is about lore, the accumulated knowledge and tradition held by a group that’s passed from generation to generation in the oral tradition.

Mermaid Lore

What is the history of my mermaids? How do they know where they’ve come from and what is important in their lives? How do they share their stories? express their beliefs? What are the traditions and rituals that set them apart, as a family of mermaids and as one mermaid from another?

Before I began to work out the answers to these questions, I knew for certain there would be no history books, journals, diaries, nothing written. Mermaids do not write or read.

What they would do is express music.

The Oral Tradition

The term “oral tradition” is a means of passing on one’s heritage only by word of mouth or example.

To specialize the oral tradition for my mermaids who, in part, stem from the mythology of Sirens Being Mermaid: From Out of the Sea, I focused on music. Rather than talk about their past, mermaids sing, chant and use body movement.

“Subtle flips of her tail and twists of her arms and hands emphasized specific notes and images.” ~from When Oceans Sang (working title)

Every aspect of a mermaid’s life resonates music. The family sings praise as the sun rises and sings hope for a safe sleep when the sun sets and the moon rises. They have songs about the taste of sweet seagrass and enjoying freedom. Music reflects their moods and expresses their history.

A Mermaid’s Personal Lifesong

The mermaids of Mangrove Island know the lives of the past and present mermaids. How?

As a mermaid ages, she chooses from the experiences of her life and creates lyrics and movements to express them, called her lifesong.

“Her personal lifesong ebbed and flowed with her movements.” ~from When Oceans Sang (working title)

The song is as individualized as she is.

The Eldest female mermaid and the Elder male mermaid possess the longest repertoire of mermaid lore because they know the personal lifesong of each member of the family.

A lifesong is s key aspect of the death ceremony. As a mermaid’s body is taken to the bottom of the sea in a ritual I’ve described as “Born of the sea; given back to the sea,” the mermaids sing her lifesong in honor of the being she was among them and will continue to be thereafter.

Creative Challenge

The creative juices are at work here as I imagine a family who lives in the ocean and communicates through music. From conception until death, a mermaid expresses herself through song.

Music is the strongest link to mermaid lore.

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”  ~Phillip Pullman (The Golden Compass)

 

 

 

 

Being Mermaid: Creating Story

DSCN0959I’ve written a yet-to-be-published novel about a mermaid living in today’s ocean whose story is as much about being a woman as it is about being a mermaid, maybe more. Being Mermaid: From Out of the Sea

She has a fish tail, lives on an isolated island in the Caribbean and struggles with issues dealing with family, their expectations of her and those of herself.

Like many women today, she is faced with the results of the choices she makes. They challenge her. They develop her. They define her.

Worldbuilding

Worldbuilding is an element of the writing craft referring to the creation of the imaginary world within which fantastical characters live. For the next few posts, I’ll be sharing my mermaid’s world.

As the ocean life came alive in my mermaid’s story, I had one goal: Make it as believable as possible.

I want you to believe that mermaids could, indeed, exist among us today.

If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”   ~Toni Morrison

Being Mermaid: From Out of the Sea

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I’ve completed an unpublished novel about mermaids who live on an isolated mangrove island in the Caribbean Sea somewhere between Cuba and the Grand Cayman Islands.

The writing of their story has taught me the amazing power of fiction in its freedom to develop lives and places out of fact, legend and nothing at all.

The mermaid Tanis is one of those beautiful and mysterious females of the sea. She lives in contemporary times, though she doesn’t know what a minute is or a day; her life is counted in moon cycles and sun cycles and seasons. The size of her favorite fish, the tarpon, isn’t five feet but two mermaid tail lengths long. When she’s hungry, she eats seagrass, which is sweetest when its young.

I’ve made up basic facts like these about her life because they make sense for a family of ocean creatures.

I’ve also incorporate myth. Why not?  Myth serves a purpose in our lives. It must or it wouldn’t have endured since its origins during the eighth century.

Like Sasquatch and Yeti, mermaids are a part of mythology to me. No matter how outlandish a myth may be–Really, Hercules held the world on his shoulders?–there exists a kernel of truth in the telling.

One ancient myth concerns mermaid-like women called Sirens who use their seductive singing to lure sailors to their deaths. In Homer’s epic Greek poem, The Odyssey, Odysseus’s crew stuffs beeswax in their ears as they sail toward the land of the sirens. Unlike his men, Homer goes without the wax; he wants to hear the sirens’ enchanting sound. To survive, Odysseus’s crew tie him to a mast and promise not to release him no matter how he begs.

Like the Sirens, the mermaids on mangrove island are also musical; singing is their main form of communication. They resonate their emotions musically. Music is so vital, every mermaid creates her and his personal song throughout life. When mermaids die, their personal song lives after them. These intimate tunes are like scrapbooks and are sung again and again throughout the generations.

Tanis is a modern-day mermaid with an ancient background.

“The Red Ball” Earns the Cut

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I had five pages to convince the judges that my short story was the best.

Midwest Writer’s Workshop of Muncie, Indiana, has a five-page maximum length requirement for its entries in long fiction, nonfiction and short and one hundred lines for poetry. No exceptions.

“The Red Ball” is a futuristic tale of a young man who rarely steps outside and a young woman who does, for thirty minutes every night while the city detection system goes offline.

It was seven pages long.

The judges expected to read incomplete entries, but wouldn’t it be to my advantage if I could end the story within the limit?

I trimmed.

Like lovely locks of hair, my story lost its extra curls of enriched characterizations. The words weren’t shorn for good, I consoled myself, only stored away in another word file.

“The Red Ball” took Best Short Story. Placed against the winning pieces in all four categories, it also earned me the Top Writer Excellence Award.

In the end, I couldn’t deny it: the impact of the tightened, five-page story was sharper.

The judges thought so, too.

A Convention of Rejuvenation

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Writing Panel “Don’t Ever Let Me Catch You Doing This” featuring Dayton horror writers, Brady Allen and Tim Waggoner.

I notice the excitement generated by a writing convention and how valuable it is to reigniting my own drive to keep writing and learning the publishing business.

I recently attended Context 25, one of my favorite conventions because its focus is on writers and readers of science fiction and fantasy. Many of its offerings are free with registration: one-hour panels on everything from “Children Characters in Fantasy and Horror” to “Nanotechnology.” Other sessions are more intensive and longer and cost extra. Two of the three of my choice were “World-Building” and “Revising Your Manuscript.”

I love being a student and taking notes; listening to interviews with guest of honor writers in Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Editing; asking questions of the experts. I write it all down in a journal used exclusively for anything relating to writing, whether the source is a convention, workshop, online or in magazines.

My top task is connecting with other writers and those involved in publishing. Small talk isn’t my forte. How do I sidle up to strangers and just chat? Here, the Con Suite is a good beginning. It offers free food, snacks, sweets, and nonalcoholic beverages. Usually, some of the seasoned writers, singers (called filkers), boasters, thinkers, talkers come to sit around the tables and share stories. After a few minutes, I feel like I fit in.

Chatting gets easier as the weekend passes. Seeing similar faces at various activities builds camaraderie. Shared experiences lead to writing discussions.

A mere weekend is exhausting, but only physically, and mostly due to less sleep. What is accomplished is my rejuvenation of spirit. It is only with perseverance that a new writer can make inroads into professional publication. This age of e-books and self-published books is shaking up the traditional book publishing process. I can get lost in that surge of change. But if I stick with it, I will find my way.

Writing conventions like Context in Worthington, Ohio, buoy my spirit and energy level. I return home to the rather solitary life of a writer, eager to write something new and focused to submit something already written.