Please help me welcome Erika Marks, author of THE MERMAID COLLECTOR (NAL, October 2012).
A native New Englander now living in Charlotte, NC, Erika Marks has worked as an illustrator, an art director, a cake decorator and a carpenter. THE MERMAID COLLECTOR is her second novel, after LITTLE GALE GUMBO.
“women’s fiction to be savored…a winner.”—Library Journal (Starred Review)
I met Erika through The Debutante Ball, where Erika blogged as a member of the Class of 2012. I’m thrilled to have her here at my blog today! And now, on with the interview:
1. Where did you grow up? Will you share a favorite story from your childhood?
I grew up in a small town in Maine in a 250 year-old house that my mother lovingly restored, right in the town village and with a huge community of other kids around all the time. Our house was once the town tavern and I always loved that—thinking about all the dramas that had unfolded downstairs or in the inn bedrooms that we kids inhabited. We had a huge old barn which was perfect fodder for a young detective like myself—treasures abounded in every crack—and a winding path down to a dirt road that ran parallel to the village. The town library was a dear little building with alcoves full of pulpy paperbacks that I’d get lost in until closing time. Everything, every place, was steeped in history. It was a wonderful place to grow one’s imagination.
2. What inspired you to start writing?
Comic books! From a very young age, I read comic books and I truly think they were my earliest inspiration to create stories of my own. Even now, my daughters pore over my old collection. They are just learning to read but I love that they are as spellbound by the blending of the illustrations and the action. I think comic books are a wonderful introduction to story and building plots and condensing ideas and themes.
3. If you could go back in time and share one writing lesson with “new writer you” before starting your first manuscript … what would that be?
Oh Susan, I’d have to take that time machine waaaaay back. Like twenty years! But I know exactly what I would say to that “new writer me”: Don’t rush that query! Revise and revise and revise before you send out your work. For years, I didn’t—hence the 13+ unpublished, unwanted manuscripts! (Revise? What means this revise?) “Now writer me” knows that patience isn’t just a virtue in publishing, it’s a must. I was always in such a hurry to get the query out that I didn’t take the time I needed to work the story. I know better than anyone how exciting it is to finish that novel, how eager we are to start the query ball rolling, but it can only help to take the time you need to make it the cleanest, strongest manuscript possible.
4. Your new novel, THE MERMAID COLLECTOR, is set in the coastal town of Cradle Harbor, Maine, and features a love story intertwined with a legend about the allure of mermaids and the sea. What inspired you to choose such a unique setting and backdrop?
Growing up in Maine, the coast was always a pivotal part of my landscape and remains fixed in me, even now that I live three hours from the ocean. I have always loved mermaids (Come on, don’t we all??) and when I came upon a mosaic of a sea captain and his mermaid lover, the legend of the Mermaid Mutiny took shape and I knew it could make a great backdrop to a modern love story.
5. Do you have a favorite author? If so, who and why?
I have so many—and I love them all for different reasons. Among them: Alice Hoffman, Annie Proulx, Pat Conroy, Stephen King, Jo-Ann Mapson, John Irving—I could keep going! (I’ll be expecting you to share yours now, Susan, btw! 😉 )
6. THE MERMAID COLLECTOR’s female protagonist, Tess Patterson, is drawn to the sea – and to the romance of Cradle Harbor’s mermaid festival – but has trouble finding lasting, supportive love. What did you find most challenging about creating Tess and writing her story?
In all honesty, Tess eluded me for a long time. I knew I wanted to tell her story and I knew I felt deeply for her character, but boy, I couldn’t pin her down. Some days she was too prickly, others not prickly enough. I think once I let go of my expectations of her character and simply let her evolve through the drafts, she became clear to me, but it was a long journey, probably the longest I’ve had for a main character.
7. Do you have a favorite scene in THE MERMAID COLLECTOR? If so, what makes it stand out for you?
For the present story, my favorite scene is when Tom comes to Tess’ cottage the same night that her boyfriend has stood her up—as well as her luscious homemade meal. Tom has only come to use her stepfather’s shower but the encounter—and the invitation into her enchanted home—has a profound effect on him. I love the scene because Tess is so raw in her despair and Tom is such a decent man in his concern for her well-being—and there’s such a fierce attraction between them that clearly neither one understands or dares to admit.
In Lydia’s (the lightkeeper’s wife’s) narrative, my favorite scene would be the one where she and Angus—the assistant lightkeeper—venture up into the lantern room together. It is Lydia’s first time because she has a terrible fear of the water. They are new friends but there is a tenderness between them that is so innocent but yet so palpable. You can see at once that Angus will care for Lydie and she for him—even if the reader doesn’t yet know what events will bring them closer.
8. What is the last book you read, and why did you read it?
THE BIG HOUSE by George Howe Colt. I read it for research because my third novel is set in a shingle-style “cottage” on the Cape Cod shore and Colt’s book is a fascinating memoir of a family’s last summer in their cottage, also on the Cape. He covers some of the architectural and cultural history of the area as it was on the cusp of its growing appeal with seasonal city visitors. I enjoyed it immensely.
9. How long did it take you to write THE MERMAID COLLECTOR? How did you push yourself to get past difficult moments in writing and editing?
Start to finish, several years. I began work on it even before I was revising LITTLE GALE GUMBO in earnest—and it went through an insane amount of changes over all the drafts. I can say in all seriousness that I rewrote the first 100 pages a dozen times. Eventually I got those first 100 pages to a place where I felt certain I could carry the story on, but it was a grueling process for a while. What got me past those walls was truly believing that there was a story there that I wanted to tell—it was just a matter of getting to it.
And now, the speed round:
– Plotter or pantser?
Both! In the beginning, I’m a total pantser—and usually by page 150 I need to plot. But I can go back to pantsing at any time. It’s not really ever one or the other for me.
– Coffee, tea, or bourbon?
Coffee and bourbon. I have never been a tea drinker (I’ve tried!)
– Socks or no socks?
When I write, I have socks on. I love my flip-flops but I feel the cold terribly so the minute it goes below 65 degrees, the fat wool socks come out.
– Cats, dogs, or reptiles?
All of the above. We are the Doctor Dolittle family. Or Ace Ventura in his apartment. We stretch out our arms and animals land. (I wish!)
– For dinner: Italian, Mexican, Burgers or Thai?
Always Mexican. I lived in San Francisco for a while in my twenties, and there were days I did in fact eat a burrito at this amazing place at the end of Haight Street for all three meals. So when I say I could eat Mexican three meals a day, I am serious. I have. And I would again.
Huge thanks to Erika for joining me today! THE MERMAID COLLECTOR is a fantastic read:
More than a century ago, lighthouse keeper Linus Harris left his beloved wife and waded into the ocean with three other men to reunite with their mermaid lovers. The mysterious Mermaid Mutiny of 1888 has become legend for the residents of Cradle Harbor, Maine, honored by the town’s Mermaid Festival every August, when wind chimes are hung from seaside porches to drown out the alluring sound of mermaid song.
For twenty-five-year-old Tess Patterson, the legend is more than folklore; it’s proof of life’s magic. A hopeless romantic who is profoundly connected to the ocean in which she lost her mother, Tess ekes out a living as a wood-carver and longs to find a love as mystical as the sea. But when she’s hired to carve the commemorative mermaid sculpture for the coming festival, a chance to win the town’s elusive acceptance might finally be in her grasp.
For Tom Grace, life’s magic was lost at eighteen, when the death of his parents left him to care for his reckless brother, Dean. Now thirty-five and the new owner of Cradle Harbor’s prized lightkeeper’s house, Tom hopes the quiet town will calm Dean’s self-destructive ways. But when Tom discovers Tess working on her sculpture, an unlikely and passionate affair ignites between them that just might be the stuff of legend itself—even as it brings to the surface a long-buried secret that could tear everything apart.