As part of the #12DaysofDiversity Readathon event, I've invited several authors to visit the blog over the next two weeks to talk about their books!
Today we welcome Sarah Ockler, author of The Summer of Chasing Mermaids! Sarah started writing the manuscript for this dynamic, contemporary retelling when she was in high school! She has also generously donated a signed paperback of the book! Giveaway details at the end of the interview!
Questions with Sarah …
1) The Summer of Chasing Mermaids is a retelling of the Little Mermaid What drew you to that story in particular?
In high school, I actually wrote a pseudo-retelling of the Hans Christian Andersen version in verse form! Maybe someday I'll be brave enough to share it. 🙂 But when I first set out to work on Elyse's story, I wasn't thinking of it in terms of a retelling. I knew that I wanted to explore denial of voice issues, especially among girls and women, and what it means when the thing that most defines you is suddenly gone. I was also ready to go back to the beach with my characters, which I hadn't done since my first novel in 2009. As I started daydreaming about Elyse and the ocean and how I wanted to bring her to life on the page, the connections to The Little Mermaid started bubbling to the surface pretty quickly!
2) Without giving too many spoilers away, do you think that The Summer of Chasing Mermaids stays true to the tone and themes present in Little Mermaid or does it invert them?
A little of both! In re-imagining the fairy tale for the novel, I didn’t want to do a straight retelling in which the main character is a mermaid in a fantasy undersea setting. Instead, I wanted to evoke the overall feeling of the story about a young woman on the verge of adulthood, venturing out on her own for the first time, dealing with immense tragedy and personal obstacles, and of course, falling in love—in a contemporary realistic setting, but still with a sense of magic, wonder, and possibility throughout. I definitely took inspiration from both the original and the Disney version for this, but for the most part, I tried to subvert a lot of the themes and tropes present in both.
The original fairy tale is quite dark, and doesn't have a happy ending for the poor little mermaid! Conversely, the Disney version isn't all that dark, but is rampantly misogynistic, both in the treatment of Ariel and in the portrayal of other women in the story. In The Summer of Chasing Mermaids, I wanted to let Elyse decide her own fate, make her own mistakes, and ultimately follow her own heart, regardless of what others may have wanted for her. I also wanted to portray strong, positive female friendships and complex women who had their own desires, goals, and lives outside of the boys and men in their lives. And in my story, the witch is a good one — I wanted to show that women can be powerful in their own right, and that feminine energy and power doesn't equate with evil or corruption. *That's* a trope I'm ready to see eradicated from books and movies alike!
3) What challenges did writing a retelling present compared with your previous published novels?
At first, I was trying too hard to "stick to the script" rather than allowing my own imagination to take over, and that resulted in flat writing, self-doubt, and endless tears of frustration. Once I started to understand the difference between being directed or boxed in by the original stories versus being simply *inspired* by them, I was free to let my imagination run wild. There were still lots of challenges — writing from the perspective of a character from a different culture, race, and country; writing first person narration for a character who can't speak; developing an authentic romance that doesn't overshadow Elyse's personal transformation but becomes part of it. But once I found my passion for the writing again, I was able to deal with the other story challenges without so many tears!
4) Do you have a favourite retelling written by another author?
One of my favorites is Ash by Malinda Lo! But believe it or not, I haven't actually read many retellings. I'm just now starting to get into them, and the two that are at the top of my TBR list are The Wrath & the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh and Heartless by Marissa Meyer. I've also got Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber on deck. I think 2017 might be the year of feminist fairy tale retellings on my bookshelf!
5) What are you working on next?
I am working on a dark psychological thriller, a secret project about witches, and a vampire romance (I know! It's crazy, right? Nothing like my previous books, but I am really enjoying the change and looking forward to sharing more about these stories when I can!)