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.
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.
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.
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.