“Monstrous Beauty” Blog Tour Stop: “On Syrenka” Guest Post by Elizabeth Fama!

Hello! And welcome to the fourth stop on the “Monstrous Beauty” blog tour! Today, we have author Elizabeth Fama writing a guest post on how and why she created the main character, Syrenka, and more about her process in general. There may be spoilers lurking within this guest post, so beware! Elizabeth starts explaining beneath the jump.

Before I begin, let me say how excited I am to be a guest on Birth of a New Witch. Usagi and I share so many pop culture interests, we need to sit down someday over a cup of matcha.
Between the ages of four and eight years old, my daughter Sally begged relentlessly for a dog. My husband, John, and I didn’t want a dog. We already had our hands full caring for our growing family. But Sally’s requests were not typical childish pleading, they were more like a savvy political campaign–a 1500-day intellectual, reasoned, researched onslaught of partisan dog facts and irresistible dog art.
Honestly, it’s something of a miracle that we held out for four years.

This is my son Eric’s self-portrait carrying Angie.

In the end, my husband and I became owners of the best dog ever, and I’m convinced it was partly because we had no spare emotions to confuse our early training of her. Angie was not an adorable, sensitive little puppy in our eyes (though, goodness, was she cute); rather, we felt it was a privilege for her to live with us. We expected her to behave and not contribute to the chaos of a six-person family (including, at the time, a one-year-old). We clinically held her to impeccable standards, and wonderful people-pleaser that she is, she complied mightily. She has never once been on the furniture, has walked off-leash her entire life, and cheerfully tolerates the inadvertent abuse of our neighbors’ toddlers on the sidewalk without blinking. In her old age we devotedly carry her down the stairs several times a day to go outside, because for fourteen and a half years this dog has more than held up her end of the bargain. She deserves the royal treatment.



Why do I bring up Angie when I’m supposed to be talking about one of my main characters, Syrenka? Because somewhere in there I’ve found an analogy, that’s why. You see, I never in my life expected to write a “mermaid novel.” I don’t even likemost mermaids. Poor Syrenka had to prove herself to me, just as Angie did.

From Mike Mignola’s “Hellboy: Strange Places”

Mermaids make no evolutionary sense. A human on top and a fish on the bottom? It feels too implausible. Add to this the eye shadow, sequins, and sea-shell bras that popular culture sometimes foists on these poor creatures, and they can verge on saccharine. But then I met some pretty brutal mermaids in the short story “The Third Wish” from Hellboy: Strange Places by Mike Mignola. These mermaids were worn and ruthless, their queen was the Bog Roosh, who had somehow transformed into a grotesque, giant catfish with breasts. Suddenly mermaids were so cool.


Some aspects of traditional mermaid lore remain in Monstrous Beauty: the immortality and soullessness until a baby is conceived; the tendency to drown sailors (which, in some legends, is accidental); the attachment to the sea. Some world-building is my own invention: the death of males and the dying nature of the race; the subsequent obsession with babies; the specific magic of Noo’kas.

When I brought my college biology major to the project, I was able to think of mermaids as wild animals, with mammalian tails to match their mammary glands. I decided they had very little melanin in their skin and hair because of the depth of their home. Their hearing is excellent. Their vision is attuned to the smallest amount of light filtering through the water.

The Bog Roosh.

My biggest goal was for Syrenka to be a sympathetic character for the reader, despite how different she is from humans. She wants to be like us, and she’s a fierce learner. But she has her own monstrous sense of justice, her own unique emotional strength. I wanted readers to root for her happiness and also fear her. I wanted them to worry that her story would end in tragedy, but still push through to the end hoping for a different outcome. Syrenka is misunderstood in Plymouth of 1873, but because we know her we understand her.

By staying true to the monster/horror genre, I was able to construct a mermaid I respected and loved. I can’t carry Syrenka down the stairs, but I’m deeply grateful that I was able to bring her story to publication.
And now, a message from Usagi: And thank you, Elizabeth, for stopping by on the blog! Remember everyone, that the book is out now in North America (and coming soon to other territories) so be sure to go and check it out! Yes, it really is that awesome.

5 thoughts on ““Monstrous Beauty” Blog Tour Stop: “On Syrenka” Guest Post by Elizabeth Fama!

  1. Pingback: Page not found | birth of a new witch.

  2. Pingback: Stacking the Shelves: Week 18 | birth of a new witch.

  3. I’ve been on the road with the book this past week (with more stops to come next week on the Fierce Reads tour!), and I’m so pleased with how many readers have said they empathized with Syrenka but also felt wary of her. I couldn’t have hoped for a better reaction. It means a great deal to me!

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