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Must Love Mermaids

Today’s post by author Erika Marks | @EricaMarksAuthr | Erica on Facebook

We’re giving away a copy of Erika’s latest novel, THE MERMAID COLLECTOR today. Simply leave a comment on this post to enter.

Erika Marks

The Little Mermaid. Splash.

What is it about mermaids that we women can’t get enough of them?

By all accounts, they shouldn’t command the affection they do. After all, the tailed-maidens of the silver screen bear little resemblance to their literary counterparts. Unlike the angelic Ariel from Disney’s A Little Mermaid, the mermaid in Hans Christian Anderson’s tale on which the movie was based suffered terribly for her devotion to her human beloved. And hers is hardly the only mermaid tale to include tragedy and despair. In many myths, mermaids seek a human mate only to be doomed to perish unloved.

And yet, for all of the mischievous and manipulative—even murderous—tendencies of mermaids in lore, they remain iconic and indisputably compelling to so many women.

I should know. When I was looking for inspiration for a new novel, I had only to come across a 19th century mosaic of a sea captain and the mermaid he left his wife for before the fantasy took shape in—and hold of—my imagination. It was only when I began doing research for The Mermaid Collector that I discovered just how complex and contradictory the mermaid myth is. Are they cold-blooded hunters, amused by luring their lovers to their watery deaths—or are they fragile and misunderstood half-maidens, desperate for love from men they cannot have?

Maybe it is that same duality that compels us as women to find them fascinating. In some cases we can condemn them for their representation of a male fantasy, a woman whose only goal in life is to belong to a man and who (as in the case of Andersen’s The Little Mermaid) will endure disfigurement to win one’s approval and love. In other cases, mermaids signify a woman of independence and feminine power. Regardless of their sometimes-devious natures, they are mysterious, cunning—and they drive men to such a degree of infatuation, those men are willing to drown to possess them.

In The Mermaid Collector, the mermaids are elusive but yet forever present; characters from a local legend that have defined a town and its residents for over a century. To many of the female residents of Cradle Harbor, especially the heroine Tess Patterson, the mermaids symbolize life’s magic, the promise of dreams and the power of fantasy. It would seem a curious passion considering these mermaids are believed to have lured four male residents to their deaths in 1888—yet their purported act has inspired an annual Mermaid Festival that draws a tremendous crowd every summer, and fills the town with an undeniable enchantment.

In some ways, Tess Patterson herself is a bit like that little mermaid, determined at the story’s beginning to win the affections of a man who can’t love her the way she needs to be loved, willing to sacrifice most everything of meaning to secure that love.

Could it be that like the residents of Cradle Harbor, we as women can’t make up our minds on the subject either?

Wait.

Whoever said we had to?

 Erika Marks is a native New Englander who was raised in Maine and has worked as an illustrator, cake decorator, art director and carpenter. She lives and writes in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband, a native New Orleanian, and their two daughters. THE MERMAID COLLECTOR is her second novel after LITTLE GALE GUMBO.

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

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Surrounded By Story

Today’s post by Courtney Miller Santo, author of much-anticipated debut novel, THE ROOTS OF THE OLIVE TREE | @Courtney_Santo

Courtney Miller Santo

There aren’t any skeletons in my family closet. Well, I should say there are plenty, but the bones don’t stay put long enough to gather even a modicum of dust. I grew up surrounded by storytellers and much of their material came from the criminals and screw-ups scattered across our family tree. A good story is better currency than gold. It wasn’t until I was eight or nine that I became aware of the fact that the adults told each other stories that they didn’t tell in front of children.

These stories, often about their own mistakes, embarrassments, and regrets were much more interesting than what we heard sitting around in the living room trying to digest the bounty of a holiday meal. Such confessions were given after the children were in bed. I remember coming out of my room in search of a glass of water and hearing my father talk about his service in the Vietnam War. Nobody noticed me, and so I snuck into the living room and lay on my back behind the couch listening to my parents, my grandparents and other relatives trade stories.

If I were to pinpoint when I decided I wanted to be a writer, it would be the summer I read all of Laura Ingles Wilder’s books, but that day, when I fell asleep trying to figure out which of Grandpa’s relatives had gone into labor in a bar, I discovered the material I needed to do what Laura had done. I still eavesdrop—on strangers and relatives—because unguarded conversation is where we let a little of the truth of our lives out. After I had my first child, I became privy to the adults-only skeletons and discovered what I hadn’t realized as a child. These stories weren’t kept from me because of the subject matter, but because once told they humanized the adults—made them fallible. Children mostly require infallibility (or at least the illusion of it) from the adults in their lives.

My book, THE ROOTS OF THE OLIVE TREE explores the problems that arise when skeletons are kept in the closet and parents, especially mothers, fail their children. So many of the stories in the novel are re-imagined versions of the stories I’ve heard about my own family over the years and I hope that readers find them as fascinating as I did.

We’re giving away a copy of THE ROOTS OF THE OLIVE TREE today. Simply leave a comment on this post to enter.

Meet the Keller family, five generations of firstborn women—an unbroken line of daughters—living together in the same house on a secluded olive grove in the Sacramento Valley of Northern California.

Anna, the family matriarch, is 112 and determined to become the oldest person in the world. An indomitable force, strong in mind and firm in body, she rules Hill House, the family home she shares with her daughter Bets, granddaughter Callie, great-granddaughter Deb, and great-great-granddaughter Erin. Though they lead ordinary lives, there is an element of the extraordinary to these women: the eldest two are defying longevity norms. Their unusual lifespans have caught the attention of a geneticist who believes they hold the key to breakthroughs that will revolutionize the aging process for everyone.

But Anna is not interested in unlocking secrets the Keller blood holds. She believes there are some truths that must stay hidden, including certain knowledge about her origins that she has carried for more than a century. Like Anna, each of the Keller women conceals her true self from the others. While they are bound by blood and the house they share, living together has not always been easy. And it is about to become more complicated now that Erin, the youngest, is back, alone and pregnant, after two years abroad with an opera company. Her return and the arrival of the geneticist who has come to study the Keller family ignites explosive emotions that these women have kept buried and uncovers revelations that will shake them all to their roots.

Told from varying viewpoints, Courtney Miller Santo’s compelling and evocative debut novel captures the joys and sorrows of family—the love, secrets, disappointments, jealousies, and forgiveness that tie generations to one another.

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

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A Necessary Egotism – Guest Post by Margaret Dilloway

Today’s post by Margaret Dilloway, author of THE CARE AND HANDLING OF ROSES WITH THORNS | @mdilloway

Margaret Dilloway

One of the things I love about Gal, the main character in The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns, is how she always thinks she’s right. Whether it’s about rose breeding, student grades, or friendship, Gal has very very definite ideas about everything, with no room for error.

For most, this egotism would be inexcusable and kind of annoying. For Gal, however, it’s a necessary egotism. Gal has had kidney disease since she was a child, and since she was a child, she has had to believe strongly in herself and her abilities. If she did not have this strong belief in her convictions, she would not be able to stand up for herself with her doctors. She would not have the will to fight through all her secondary infections and transplants. She would have died a long time ago.

But this egotism has also permeated other aspects of her life, driving others away.

Her parents have encouraged this attitude to a large degree, in ways both deliberate and unintentional. They have tried to give her whatever she wants and needs, sometimes to the detriment of her older sister, Becky. The disease has affected her family in ways big and small.

A couple of years ago, as I was germinating the idea for this book, I was at a local mall. The children’s hospital had an art display and commentary created by the siblings of kids with chronic illness. The siblings, who are often forgotten. Not on purpose, but forgotten nonetheless.

One child’s brother had kidney failure, just like my husband’s sister had. The boy said he understood his brother was very sick, he loved his brother very much, and he knew his parents had to spend a lot of time with his brother in the hospital; yet his final comment was, “I think my parents love my brother more than they love me. ”

I don’t think that sentiment is uncommon for children in these situations.

In some ways, the book is about how we can grow out of our childhood roles and let go of our idealistic expectations of family. Becky has experienced the fallout from being in a family where she got limited attention. Her pain at being the outsider has resulted in a stunted adulthood, but she needs to learn how to parent her own child and bear responsibility for herself.

Gal has to learn to admit that she is not always correct, and that the point of view of others is worthwhile. She must relax her grip on human relationships to open herself up to them. She has to learn that frailty is human and natural, and that perfection, perhaps, cannot even be found in her roses. Yet she has to do this while still maintaining her fierce devotion to life.

Do they succeed? You’ll have to read it to find out.

Thirty-six-year-old Gal Garner lives a regimented life. Her job teaching biology and her struggle with kidney disease keep her toggling between the high school, the hospital, and her home on a strict schedule.

Only at home, in her garden, does Gal come alive. It’s here that she experiments with Hulthemia roses, painstakingly cross-pollinating various specimens in the hopes of creating a brand-new variation of spectacular beauty. But even her passion has a highly structured goal: Gal wants to win Queen of Show in a major competition and bring that rose to market.

Then one afternoon Gal’s teenaged niece Riley, the daughter of her estranged sister, arrives. Unannounced. Neither one of them will ever be the same.

Filled with gorgeous details of the art of rose breeding,  The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns  is a testament to the redemptive power of love.

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

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