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World-Building with Mermaids

Yesterday, I hit the 30,000 word mark with my first mermaid book. WOO-HOO!!! The average length of my books is 80,000, though I shoot for 90,000 words to allow for cuts during the editing process.  This means I am about 1/3 of the way there.  WOO-HOO!!!

My goal is to finish writing by the end of July. Then it goes out to my editors and beta-readers (speaking of, my list of beta-readers is growing, but if you are interested, see my post here). Final release date (crossing fingers until they turn white) is September 2013.

So, at the 30,000 mark, I’m done setting up most of my undersea world, introduced in bits and pieces throughout so it doesn’t come off as one big info-dump. I have to admit, this is the slowest I’ve ever written a book because I have to stop every few sentences to research something. Seriously – by the time I’m done with the series, I might just have to apply my research toward a Marine Biologist degree! I’ve even emailed a professor at Stanford specializing in ocean acidification with questions Google can’t answer, and I get a quick response! Note to self: include him in my acknowledgments.

World building is a difficult thing, and so you may ask, what does my mermaid world like? Below are some answers (just some – can’t give away all my hard work, yet), followed by a short excerpt.  Let me know what you think!

mermaid 2

Want to see some more awesome mermaid pics? Check out my Pinterest page: http://pinterest.com/terraharmony/mermaids/ and be sure to follow it!

What do mermaids call themselves, their kingdom, humans, the earth above, etc.? In my story, they call themselves ‘undine’ which means ‘water fairy’. Humans are ‘ungainly’ (meaning clumsy or awkward), and the human world above seas is called ‘The Dry’ (this one seems a little cheesy, so I may change it – feel free to offer ideas). The undine community is ‘Society’.

How is the ruling party structured? There is a king advised by his second-in-command and his council. The council is selected by the king himself and consists of the most powerful members of Society (head of the guard, head caste or ‘school’ master, etc.). All male undine join the king’s guard, simply because there are so few males left. There are about a dozen of them compared to maybe 300 females.

What is their schooling like? All undine attend school until they are 16 years of age. Each year is a different ‘caste’ (thus, caste master (school teacher), caste mates, etc.) At graduation, they enter The Choosing. They select three potential jobs they would like to spend the rest of their life doing, then during a ceremony are told what they are given. Most (and that is the key word – MOST) are given one of their three choices.

What do they eat? I just got done writing this part, and learned some very interesting facts myself! I found a very interesting article to help. Basically, the sea is an especially potent source of minerals. Whereas terrestrial vegetables are limited to what they can obtain from the soil, sea vegetables spend their entire lives luxuriating in the world’s largest, oldest, most complete mineral bath. They soak it up and are among the richest sources of iodine, magnesium, calcium, iron, zinc, potassium, manganese, and all other (56 of ‘em in total) minerals essential to the human body.

Basically, undine eat the dozens upon dozens of edible seaweed, plus fish and crustaceans. Our main character is a vegetarian, though. 😉


Where do they live?
The setting is in the waters of British Columbia, the northern pacific ocean. Browning Pass, to be specific, between the mainland and Vancouver Island. The undine live in underwater caverns, some which become flooded during high tide, and empty during low tide. For the most part, undine are protected from curious humans by dangerously quick currents running through the pass.

How do they have sex and give birth? Like fish or mammals? (I promise, this is a YA book – but this question is always on the tip of my tongue when I think about mermaids.) The undine in my series transform into their human forms to mate and give birth. Although they can transform at will (and it is painful for them), they only consummate and give birth during the full moon.

Where do the werewolves come in? Here is the exciting part! A while back, werewolves were actually created by undine to protect them on land while they mate and give birth – which is why werewolves only change during the full moon.

What is the conflict? Werewolves viewed their status almost as ‘slaves’ to the undine, so they revolted. It was a one-night blood bath, during the full moon, when several undine were giving birth, including the queen herself. The queen, the newborn prince, and several others were killed. In fact, the only one to come out alive was our main character, Serena. She grew up as an orphan, and because of the werewolf uprising, is one of the last undine to be born. The species as a whole is on the decline because of 1) ocean acidification and 2) they are unable to procreate.

 

So there is the start of my world! It isn’t everything, and though I may reveal more later, you’ll just have to read the book to get all of it. Below is a short excerpt, you can read the first chapter here (after the call for beta readers).

 

When Serena reaches the surface, bobbing between Vancouver Island and the mainland, the sun is already sinking into the ocean. Already, she can spot the outline of the moon behind her. It is waning, and though it may look the part of a full moon there will be no werewolves tonight.

Normally, she can swim in the shadows cast by seagulls skimming the waves for their dinner, moving in closer to shore undetected. This evening the skies are as deserted as is the thin strip of beach. A light rain begins to fall and thunder cracks in the distance.

Serena disappears below the water, resurfacing down the stream. Her eyes scan the shoreline for signs of life; ungainly or otherwise. Werewolves aren’t the only animal to inhabit these forests. Grizzly bears, coyotes, and the most concentrated population of cougars in North America all patrol the borders where Serena’s world ends.

She appears further up the coast. The rain is falling harder now, and lightning flashes in the distance as though the sky goddess herself is giving her the all clear.

One powerful push and Serena is caught up in the breakers. She swims just below the whitecaps, a mirror image of a surfer gliding on a wave. One of her fins slice up, catching a taste of briny air.

All too soon, the earth below angles up to meet the sky above, and the ocean disappears in a squeeze between them. Serena’s smile grows wider, as it always does when she flirts with the edge of the world.

She somersaults with the dying wave, fins brushing sand, air, sand, air. On the next flip, a cold wind scrapes against the bottom of her feet, freshly formed, still raw from scales retracting in. Tucking her legs for one more roll, she straightens them to stand. She sinks into wet sand as the remnants of a once powerful wave lick at her ankles; a desperate attempt to call her back into its clutches.

Serena moves forward, toward the moon. It is another force, almost as powerful as the ocean, calling to the undine maiden.

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Be My First Chapter Beta Reader

I am currently undertaking the daunting task of reading my entire novel out loud to myself.  As I’ve discovered with my vampire short story series, and even the second book to the Akasha Series, ‘Air’, this method works wonders for catching hard to spot grammar/spelling mistakes and awkward sentences.  Although ‘Water’ has been on the market since September 2011, I haven’t yet put it through this process.  I have vowed to have this done by the time we go to Canada for our kid’s spring break trip (better get a move on because that is next week). Anyway, by the time I finished reading the first chapter out loud, I decided it needed a complete rework.

Whether you have read ‘Water’ yet or not, I would very much appreciate your input on the short 637 word excerpt below.  Does it grab your attention? Do you want to find out more? Does the dragon analogy work? If you have read ‘Water’, should I just stick with what is already there? Please leave your comments and thank you!!!

Chapter 1: Avalanche 

I leaned forward.  The board strapped to my boots responded.  Slicing through the fresh powder, I made a sharp curve to the right.  A quick glance uphill showed the wave of snow had almost tripled in size, and it was about to catch up to me.

More than anything else, it was the noise that pumped me full of adrenaline.  Like the roar of an angry, unrelenting dragon; breath stinking of the earth churned up in its path.  The entire right side of the unmarked backcountry trail was a wall of thick trees, impossible to break through.  I pulled my toes up, arching back to the left side of the trail.  But I wasn’t going to make it.  The dragon’s spittle pelted me on the back of my neck, sending chills down my spine.  Instead, I pointed my snowboard straight downhill and put all my weight on my forward leg, hoping to outrun the beast.

I willed my board to go faster than I ever dared before.  The avalanche was faster.  The dragon opened its mouth wide, closing in on me from both sides and overhead, blocking out the bright blue sky and the trees to the side of me with its gray jaws.  The slope beneath me cracked and slithered forward, like the monster’s forked tongue.  As the force of nature dropped over me, I closed my eyes and threw my arms around my head.  My screams were lost deep inside the creature.

Completely engulfed, I moved with the dragon.  The whole of the trail had transformed into its body; an agitated, unstoppable river of churning snow and debris.  The world became darker and darker, the snow heavier and heavier.  Flashes of light were few and far between.

When I gasped for air, I was sometimes rewarded with a clear breath but more often than not I sucked in a mouthful of snow.  Hacking to rid my throat of the slush, I came to the awful realization that I was drowning on dry land.

My hands, flailing for something solid to hang onto, finally caught hold of a tree.  Small as it was, it held fast against the merciless rush of snow.  I fought against nature, literally holding on for my life.  I wrapped myself around the trunk as two large branches just above me ripped away and disappeared in the churning white waves, along with my screams.  I squeezed so tight the rough bark scratched at my arms and cheek.  The scent of pine was strong, and I inhaled deeply as though the scent alone would keep me tethered to the tree.  I willed the roots to be strong.

They were, but I was not.  My grip started to loosen as my tired muscles and numb fingers were unable to hold on against the rushing snow.  I lost the stable trunk and returned to the tumble of snow.

I came to a halt just like the rest of the debris of the Canadian mountainside.  A small air pocket had formed, allowing me to spit out the coppery taste of blood.  Suffocation couldn’t be too far off, encased in an immobile block of ice as I was.  Feeble attempts at movement proved useless.  Silence settled in on me as I heard the last of the snow come to a halt above me.  Tolerating its crushing weight because I had no choice, I was left as I always was – alone.  Most of the time I preferred it that way; people were nothing but annoying.  But annoying or not, having someone who at least knew of my vacation plans would have been welcome.

As the numbness slowly receded, pain returned to one hand.  I wiggled my fingers.  They were free, possibly above the surface.  I grimaced.  Great – at least the wolves would find me.  Closed casket for me.

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