Monday, August 17, 2020

A Mer's Best Friend, revisited!

original post in la Vie Sirene 15 June 2013

Author Carolyn Turgeon, creator of I Am a Mermaid
'a delicate ladylike blog for mermaids and the humans who love them'
[photo by Joi Brokek]
Author, and widely recognized mermaid expert, Carolyn Turgeon, runs a hugely popular blog called I Am a Mermaid.  There, she routinely seeks out and interviews interesting individuals who lurk in and around the mer waters, selflessly promoting others and even putting some on the map!  We get to know these mer denizens through Carolyn's incisive questioning. We get to know her rich characters through her books.  Now here's your chance to get to know her!

Her bio reads like that of a fantasy character, or at least one of those really captivating kids we always regret not getting to know better in school.  In her own words she describes the channels she swam to become the mermaid she is today:

I was born in Michigan and grew up in Illinois, Texas, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. I wrote my first novel at age eight called The Mystery at the Dallas Zoo, about a group of kid sleuths called in to find a stolen tapir. I submitted my first story at age 15, to Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, about a doll whose eyes popped open when you left the room. I went on to write many poems about my soul, and in college wrote a handful of short stories, including one about a strange, magical place called Rain Village. Which would, many moons later, become my first novel. 
In the mean time, I graduated from Penn State and went on to graduate school at UCLA, where I studied medieval Italian poetry. After getting a Master’s degree I left graduate school to write novels, and moved to New York, where I worked as a writer for a large engineering firm and then a think tank and did various freelance work, once writing a love letter for a heartbroken Japanese woman. I also spent a lot of time taking photographs, making collages, and drinking pink cocktails at the Algonquin Hotel. 
Click here to sneak a peek on Amazon
Rain Village was published in 2006 and since then I’ve become a full-time writer and published three more novels, all of them based on classic fairytales: Godmother: The Secret Cinderella Story, Mermaid (which might be a movie, click here for more info), and my first and only (so far) middle-grade novel The Next Full Moon. I love the combination of beauty and darkness you find in these old stories, and love taking a traditional tale and illuminating it in some new way. I also love the combination of gritty reality with gorgeous, lush fantasy. My newest book, The Fairest of Them All, will be out in August from Simon & Schuster, and is about Rapunzel growing up to be Snow White’s stepmother. 
While I was writing Mermaid, people started sending me mermaid photos and bits of mermaid news and then mermaids started appearing everywhere in my travels. At one point I was staying in Berlin, Germany, where I had a friend who did a mermaid burlesque act, and then I went to see Leonard Cohen in Warsaw and was shocked to find myself in a city whose symbol has been the mermaid since the middle ages. I gave into fate and created my mermaid blog I Am a Mermaid, and started interviewing everyone from Tim Gunn to Alice Hoffman to the Magnetic Fields about these mythical creatures. I talked to so many mermaid lovers and real-life mermaids, in fact, that I found myself giving into their allure. I went to mermaid camp at Weeki Wachee Springs (and wore a tail and swam with a wild manatee) and even got myself scuba certified some months later in Nicaragua.
I’m now based in central Pennsylvania, teach in Alaska at the University of Alaska at Anchorage’s Low-Residency MFA program, and am working on many lovely new projects, only some of which involve wearing a tail.
As a diligent blogger, she is constantly interviewing and promoting others.  I was delighted to get to turn the tables and shine the spotlight on her!  (Kindly pay no attention to the gushing, fawning nature of my questions.  Being a fan will cause that.)

You're incredibly bright, articulate, witty, and interesting as all get out. So why mermaids? What first intrigued you and propelled you into your unique career?

Why thank you, Joy! I’m a novelist (my fifth comes out in August) and my third novel was a retelling of the original Hans Christian Andersen little mermaid story. As I was writing the book, people started sending me mermaid stuff all the time—photos of mermaid statues or paintings they’d come across, mermaid articles, all kinds of stuff. I was also travelling a lot at that time, and started encountering mermaids everywhere on my travels. They really are everywhere, once you start looking for them. I was in Berlin, Germany, where my friend did a mermaid burlesque/singing act, and so I interviewed her, and I went to Warsaw to see Leonard Cohen and realized that the mermaid has been the symbol of Warsaw since the middle ages, so I took a lot of photos and video there… I deliberately went to Denmark to pay homage to Hans Christian Andersen, and basically just started gathering mermaid stuff in my regular life. I even planned a trip to Weeki Wachee when I was in Florida visiting my grandmother, and by pure coincidence received an email from Weeki’s artist-in-residence Julie Komenda the week before. I ended up meeting up with Julie and, through her, tons of the Weeki mermaids. At a certain point, I decided I ought to start a blog to capture this stuff, and then I thought I ought to do some interviews. I emailed anyone I could think of and in early 2011 started to post interviews with people like Tim Gunn, novelists like Alice Hoffman, mermaids like Hannah Fraser… What I love about mermaids is how flexible they are, how they inspire people in so many unique ways, and so I tried to represent that a bit.

You are considered an expert in the field of mermaids. Do you find it a joy? A responsibility? 

Oh, well I’ve become fascinated by mermaids and mermaid culture. I have to resist doing too much because there’s so much out there and I could spend countless hours writing about only that. And I’m a novelist! I earn a living through my books, not through my mermaid blog or the writing I’ve done about mermaids for places like The Hairpin.

What sort of doors and opportunities have opened up as a result?

Well I didn’t start out with any kind of real mermaid obsession or anything. I just wrote a novel with a mermaid in it, the same way I’ve written novels with fairies and trapeze stars and witches and swan maidens. But once I started the blog and started meeting and interviewing so many mermaids out there, I found myself more and more wanting to get in the water. And I’m 40, with very pale skin, and had spent my whole life avoiding the ocean and the beach! But when you talk to mermaids all the time about their passion for the ocean, you can’t help but be swept in. In 2011 I attended Weeki Wachee’s Sirens of the Deep mermaid camp for the first time—and swam with a wild manatee that came to visit—and a few months later went snorkeling for the first time in the Bahamas, and a few months after that actually got scuba certified in Nicaragua. Now I love diving, and even went, last summer, on a mermaid diving trip in the Bahama that Malena Sharkey hosted. We went on a shark dive and Chris Crumley was there taking breath-taking photos of Iara Mandyn and Kristi Sherk.

Are there any experience that stand out to you most since you became a mermaid?

Signing copies at MerCon 2011
I’ve met a lot of people who are pretty fascinating. I did go to MerCon in 2011 and brought some

mermaid-y authors in an attempt to add that component, though it didn’t end up working too well. BUT the night before MerCon started, I hosted an evening at the Las Vegas Barnes & Noble, where amazing authors like Matthea Harvey, Timothy Schaffert and Tera Lynn Childs all did short mermaid readings and then Hannah Fraser (who had to be carried, in tail, from the restroom) read a short mermaid piece I’d written. Weeki Wachee’s Kylee Troche was also there in her tail, and former mermaid Arlene Brooks spoke to the crowd, as did mermaid tailmaker Jerilyn Winstead. That was a pretty amazing evening—a very special gathering of people who will probably never be in the same room at the same time again. And a bookstore room at that!

What do you enjoy most about mermaiding?

I’ve only swum in a tail at the Weeki Wachee mermaid camp, so I can’t say I really “mermaid” myself. But I’ve seen plenty of it by now, and just love the idea that someone like Hannah or Linden Wolbert or Dana Mermaid or any number of ladies can put on a tail and dive in the open ocean with sharks and whales and manta rays. It really blows my mind. And when you can free-dove 100 feet and hold your breath for 5 minutes, like Linden, you’re pretty much a full-on mermaid in my book. It’s a beautiful thing, the way so many people in the community incorporate magic so fluidly into their real, everyday lives.

What changes have you seen in the community since you first dove in?

Oh, well in the community itself I’m not sure. I’m not really hanging out on mernetwork too much or anything, but I have been surprised at how there was this burst of interest in 2011 that seemed to kind of die down, from the world at large. And then now, suddenly, there’s this huge resurgence (it seems to me). Just this morning a friend sent me a Vulture article claiming that mermaids are the new vampires—a claim I saw numerous times a couple of years back. There also seems to be a massive amount of interest from reality television. Eric “The Mertailor” Ducharme just got a ton of press from being on TLC. I can’t tell you how many reality tv producers have emailed me for “expert” advice!

What's on the horizon for mermaids?

I don’t know! I suspect, and hope, that people will begin to see it as less an oddity and more a beautiful and creative form of self-expression, especially for women. I know of some press coming out that will take a more thoughtful approach to mermaid culture and hope that trend continues. I also hope that some big fat mermaid movies are on the horizon, including my own (my novel Mermaid is currently being developed for film by Sony Pictures)!

What sorts of projects have you been working on and what's in the offing?

My fifth book comes out in August from Simon & Schuster; it’s called The Fairest of Them All and is about Rapunzel growing up to be Snow White’s stepmother. I’m also working on two other projects as we speak—one is a historical novel and the other a crime novel, and I’m excited about both of them. And I teach in Alaska every July so I’m getting ready for that. This time I’m taking a jaunt up into the Arctic Circle!

You seem extremely prolific, with all that you do. What do you do just for fun... to wind down?
Well I travel a lot and spend a lot of time with friends and I love to read and wish I spent more time doing that and less time watching television, which I also love! Sadly, I love watching shows like The Bachelor/Bachelorette through every other line is about “finding that fairy tale ending,” which in my book can never be a very happy one. Fairy tales are dark and twisted! Which is why I love them.

If you had a mermaid bucket list, so to speak, what would be on it?

Oh I totally do. I want to dive with whale sharks, with humpback whales, with manta rays, with dolphins… with more sharks. So far I’ve only dived in the Caribbean; there’s a lot more ocean to dive into!

Thanks to a schedule that is beyond human abilities, you may get a chance to meet her in person in the coming months. Here are her notes on her upcoming doings:

I will be reading at the University of Alaska at Anchorage’s campus, as part of the Northern Renaissance Arts & Sciences Reading Series, which happens every year as part of the residency held by the Low-residency MFA Program (where I teach). Date and time will be announced! Hear previous years’ readings here.

August 6 
Click here to check it out on Amazon
The Fairest of Them All comes out on August 6th, and I will definitely be doing readings at Barnes & Nobles in New York City and State College, PA, and likely in several more places. Check her blog for details!

October 26 
I’ll be at Nora Roberts’ store, Turn the Page Bookstore, in Boonsboro, Maryland, from about 11am on, signing books with Ms. Roberts herself and a smattering of other fabulous authors.

I’ve been an associate faculty member at the University of Alaska at Anchorage’s Low-Residency MFA Program since 2010, so spend a couple of weeks every July in Anchorage as part of the annual residency and then mentor a few students throughout the year. I also lead private workshops in State College, Pennsylvania, based on workshops I took for several years with author Jennifer Belle in New York. These workshops kept me accountable and helped me through my first two books. In six-week sessions, a small group meets meet once a week for three hours, each person bringing in up to seven pages to read aloud to the group and getting instant, detailed feedback from me and the rest of the group. Occasionally I hold a free workshop, like one I did on query letter writing this past December.

As if all that weren't enough, she will apparently begin teaching online workshops soon.  To keep up with her doings, as well as all the latest and greatest news below sea level, subscribe to her blog.  You just might learn you are a mermaid too!

The mermaid herself!