Sarah, what was your inspiration for writing THE SUMMER OF CHASING MERMAIDS?
Like all of my book ideas, inspiration for The Summer of Chasing Mermaids came from many different sources, all crossing my path at the same time and ending up in a big daydreamy soup pot that eventually boiled down into a story! It went something like this:
1. The beach. I love books that take place in the summer on the beach, and the last time I’d written a story like that was in 2009 (Twenty Boy Summer). Five books and five years later, it was time for me to go back to the sea!
2. Mermaids. Daydreaming about the ocean got me thinking about mermaids, and soon I found myself wondering how I might incorporate a bit of mermaid lore while still keeping the book grounded in a contemporary realistic setting. I re-read the original The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen, and watched the Disney adaptation, and took a bit of inspiration from each!
3. Voice. This was a huge one for me. Denial of voice is a major theme explored in the book, and something I see so many young people—particularly girls and women—struggling with. From a young age girls are often taught—explicitly or implicitly—to be nice, accommodating, and selfless. Often we’re also told to “be ourselves,” and that we can do anything we put our minds to, but we’re not given a lot of direction on what that really means, or how to deal with the challenges that inevitably arise when we truly, authentically put ourselves out there. Not everyone will accept that—even (and sometimes especially) the people who claim to love us most. And so often I see—in my own life as well as the lives of girls and women around me—denial of voice in action, where we’re shut down and shut up simply because we don’t fit into whatever box society has built for us. We’re confronted by things like sexism, gender roles, expectations, double standards, lack of opportunity, aggression, poverty, racism, fear, power dynamics, institutionalized misogyny, just to name a few. That’s a super simplified reduction of a complex issue, but one that’s very important to me. So I really wanted to explore that theme in a YA novel, symbolized by a character who literally has no voice—she’s permanently mute after an accident—and has to learn new ways of expressing herself, embracing her new life, and standing up for herself when others either speak for her or shut her out.
4. Trini Accent Tag. Around the same time I started thinking about the beach, mermaids, and denial of voice issues, I was randomly clicking through YouTube and came across a meme about accents. I’ve always been fascinated by regional accents, slang, and language development, so I got totally sucked in to watching them—a kind of fun game to see just how differently people say the same words and phrases in English. I ended up in the Trini accent tag collection, and one of the videos featured two sisters from Trinidad and Tobago who’d also posted other videos of singing performances. When I saw these girls singing, it just hit me all at once, like a big anvil of inspiration falling on my head! I thought, that’s my character, and she has a twin sister. But what is her family like? Where does she live? How did she grow up? What does she do for fun? I immediately dove into research mode, learning as much as I could about Trinidad and Tobago, the culture, the food, the music, the history, the people—it was such a rewarding process; I didn’t know much about the country at all when I started. So thanks in large part to random strangers on YouTube, Elyse was born, one of six sisters (like in The Little Mermaid), a girl who grew up singing with her twin, both of them en route to stardom. But then she loses her voice, and everything changes. She can’t sing. She can’t speak. Who does she become? What happens to her sister? Where does she belong? Who is she, if not the girl with the beautiful voice? I wrote the book to answer those questions.
5. Supernatural. Christian Kane is basically Dean Winchester on a boat, so that’s pretty inspirational IMO. ;-)
What scene was really hard for you to write and why, and is that the one of which you are most proud? Or is there another scene you particularly love?
The scene that was hardest for me to write was when Elyse catches her cousin Kirby trying on the dress that Elyse was wearing the night of her last singing performance several months before the novel opens. The night of that event – a Soca performance during Trindad and Tobago’s annual Carnival -- Elyse and her twin sister Natalie had just been invited on a world tour with a famous Soca singer, something they’d been dreaming about for years. Unfortunately, Elyse never got to go on that tour – she lost her voice the next night in a tragic boating accident that nearly claimed her life. Since losing her voice, Elyse has avoided looking at or wearing the dress. She views it as a sort of time capsule representing her old life, back when everything was perfect and her dreams were just taking off. So when she sees Kirby modeling it for Vanessa, she’s heartbroken. Further, when Kirby challenges Elyse on the fact that she won’t open her heart to new friendships and new possibilities, Elyse can’t even respond, and Kirby and Vanessa leave her to her silence. It’s a rock-bottom moment for Elyse personally and friendship-wise, and it was heartbreaking to write. It just felt like everything was falling apart for Elyse in that moment, that all the best things about her life had already happened.
How long did you work on THE SUMMER OF CHASING MERMAIDS?
About 5 months from first words on the page to polished manuscript turned in to my editor.
What did this book teach you about writing or about yourself?
Writing THE SUMMER OF CHASING MERMAIDS taught me an important lesson about letting go and trusting my intuition when it comes to writing. So often with my novels, I spend months plotting out extensive outlines and spreadsheets, leaving very little to chance. But when it came to this story, a little voice inside told me to just write, to trust the flow and get it all on the page. Of course, being addicted to my spreadsheets, I fought it every step of the way. My dear friend Jessi Kirby was instrumental in giving me the gentle reminders I needed to let go of my outlines and just dive in. So going forward, I know I need to spend some time up front feeling out the story, and then following my gut. Some stories do require more advance plotting and pre-writing. Others need more space to wander and unfold organically. The trick is knowing what kind of story you’re writing, and what process works best for you. It takes a lot of practice. I’m still practicing. :-0
What do you hope readers will take away from THE SUMMER OF CHASING MERMAIDS?
I hope that readers will close the book and realize that like Elyse, they, too, have an important and unique voice, even when it seems like no one is listening, or like no one cares. I hope the story inspires readers to connect with their own inner voices, and to find a way to express that voice, no matter how challenging or impossible it seems.
How long or hard was your road to publication? How many books did you write before this one, and how many never got published?
THE SUMMER OF CHASING MERMAIDS is my sixth novel. I am extremely fortunate that my very first novel was published, and it happened relatively quickly for me – we had interest from multiple publishers within days of going out on submission. That’s not to say the road was easy – it took me four years to write the book, and in that time there was a lot of hard work, emotional ups and downs, disappointments, close calls, and sleepless nights. But I’m so grateful that an agent and publisher took a chance on my debut, and that I’m still writing and publishing young adult novels now. I can’t imagine a more rewarding or fulfilling career!
Was there an AHA! moment along your road to publication where something suddenly sank in and you felt you had the key to writing a novel? What was it?
Haha no. I accepted my first book deal eight years ago, and I still wake up every day wondering how the heck one actually writes a novel. It’s a mystery! Every time it feels like starting over! One of the biggest challenges for me has just been learning to trust the process, even when I don’t quite know what that process is. Working on it! ☺
What's your writing ritual like? Do you listen to music? Work at home or at a coffee shop or the library, etc?
I mostly write in my home office, though I do occasionally venture out to the local tea shop. When I’m first brainstorming ideas, I listen to music and build a playlist that I can put on again later to get back in the mood. Each novel has its own, and they’re all totally unique. I also try to do a tarot reading for my main characters at the start, and one for the project overall, kind of as my “creative guide.” The rest is a blur of chocolate, white cheddar popcorn, and wine. ☺
What advice would you most like to pass along to other writers?
Don’t give up! I know it sounds like common sense, but it’s a lot harder than that, especially when you’re struggling with getting your ideas all shiny and pretty on the page, or with trying to find an agent or publisher, or with getting visibility if you’ve indie published. But the best thing to do, no matter where you are in the process, is to just keep writing. Keep polishing your story, or writing new stuff. Write the next book. Write the one after that. If there’s a story in your heart to tell, get it on the page no matter what!
What are you working on now?
I’m working on another contemporary romance as well as a romantic horror novel. We’ll see what comes next!
ABOUT THE BOOKThe Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler
From the bestselling author of Twenty Boy Summer, a talented singer loses her ability to speak after a tragic accident, leading her to a postcard-perfect seaside town to find romance.
The youngest of six talented sisters, Elyse d’Abreau was destined for stardom—until a boating accident took everything from her. Now, the most beautiful singer in Tobago can’t sing. She can’t even speak.
Seeking quiet solitude, Elyse accepts a friend’s invitation to Atargatis Cove. Named for the mythical first mermaid, the Oregon seaside town is everything Elyse’s home in the Caribbean isn’t: an ocean too cold for swimming, parties too tame for singing, and people too polite to pry—except for one.
Christian Kane is a notorious playboy—insolent, arrogant, and completely charming. He’s also the only person in Atargatis Cove who doesn’t treat Elyse like a glass statue. He challenges her to express herself, and he admires the way she treats his younger brother, Sebastian, who believes Elyse is the legendary mermaid come to life.
When Christian needs a first mate for the Cove’s high-stakes Pirate Regatta, Elyse reluctantly stows her fear of the sea and climbs aboard. The ocean isn’t the only thing making waves, though—swept up in Christian’s seductive tide and entranced by the Cove’s charms, Elyse begins to wonder if a life of solitude isn’t what she needs. But changing course again means facing her past. It means finding her inner voice. And scariest of all, it means opening her heart to a boy who’s best known for breaking them…
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ABOUT THE AUTHORSarah Ockler is the bestselling author of six young adult novels: Twenty Boy Summer, Fixing Delilah, Bittersweet, The Book of Broken Hearts, #scandal, and The Summer of Chasing Mermaids. Her books have been translated into several languages and have received numerous accolades, including ALA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults, Girls’ Life Top 100 Must Reads, Indie Next List, Amazon Top Movers and Shakers, and nominations for YALSA Teens’ Top Ten and NPR’s Top 100 Teen Books. Her short works have appeared in the anthologies Dear Teen Me and Defy the Dark.
She’s a champion cupcake eater, tea drinker, tarot enthusiast, night person, and bookworm. When she’s not writing or reading at home in the Pacific northwest, Sarah enjoys hugging trees and road-tripping through the country with her husband, Alex. Fans can find her on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, and at sarahockler.com.
What did you think of our interview with Sarah Ockler, author of THE SUMMER OF CHASING MERMAIDS? Let us know in the comments!
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