My young adult novel, Morning of the Mermaid, came about because a few lines appeared in my head –
When her parents died, an hour apart, of a mysterious fever, Calista thought–now I will experience great grieving and utter desolation. All of her family had just passed on to the world of eternal rest, leaving her alone for the first time in her sheltered, pampered life. Yet she felt nothing. The depth of emotion she hoped for never came.
I thought these would make great opening lines for a story and a great character to explore. The story, from there, formed in about a week. I would tell of the first ever mermaid and how she came to be, starting with her mother’s story. The mother fascinated me, this gorgeous doomed girl who, because of a cursed beginning, never developed feelings. Hopefully, readers would grow to love her as she grew to find love, only to die in childbirth, leaving a daughter who was half-human, half-fish.
I wrote the entire first draft before I recognized the problem with it. Most of the first half of the book dealt with her mother’s troubles, how she came to live on a deserted island and formed a friendship with the creatures there, grew a heart and fell in love with the mermaid’s father, a man enchanted into dolphin form.
I would begin to tell friends the story and instantly they would ask, “Is she the mermaid?”
“No, wait,” I’d say, “and then…”
“But where’s the mermaid?”
Obviously, this should begin with the mermaid. Total rewrite in which the mermaid, Kallea, not only seeks to find others like herself, but also to learn her mother’s story. It becomes the story within the story. And those lovely first lines come in somewhere around page 118.
I finished the manuscript, again, and took the synopsis and first two chapters to the summer SCBWI conference for a critique by an agent. I was told I needed to “take it to the next level.” The next level? What did that look like? Didn’t I just do that?
I spiraled into self-doubt, self-pity and defeat. Which lasted for a few months.
Digression: I’ve never found time off from writing, for any reason, to be unproductive. I usually read a lot and do a lot of cooking and baking. And it usually results in fresh ideas and a wave of creativity.
This time was no different. I knew what Mermaid needed. How had I not seen it before? The problem was that, for Kallea, the stakes weren’t high enough. All I had to do was make her troubles more do-or-die, put more shadow into the story.
I attacked another revision, the images clear in my mind. I wanted to make this book so good, no agent could refuse it. My mermaid deserved it. Her story should be read.
But a certain amount of my interest and faith had faded. And there was another, more insistent, story pounding on my door. This one had been wanting in for a year as I’d made notes and tossed them into a basket. It was time to put the mermaid aside and channel my inner eighth-grade bully.
The plan was to go back to the mermaid after I’d finished Alex Bullied. I strove, through several revisions, to make this the book that no agent would reject.
I got the idea for My Identical Cousin and decided that instead of tackling Mermaid again, I would write Cousin, because it would be a better book to follow Bully. We all know how delusional I was. And probably still am.
Cousin had to be put on a back burner, which is fine, because, apparently agents can reject Bully pretty easily. I’m not ready to give up on either of them, but I needed a middle-grade novel break. I wanted to work on something new and different.
Or maybe old and different. I’d decided to turn Morning of the Mermaid into a graphic novel. The time seems right to start that project. Graphic novels for the Middle Grade and Young Adult crowd are popular right now and not going away any time soon.
I bought some books on the subject, and am reading graphic novels that were actual novels in a previous life. A Wrinkle in Time is one of them. I’ve never read it. (I hear your collective gasp.) I’m reading the novel, then will see how it transformed into a comic. The San Diego chapter of SCBWI, which I attend, is sponsoring a graphic novel intensive next month. It’s a sign that this is the right course to take.
It’s so nice to revisit this old friend, the mermaid. She’s been so patient. I read some printed out pages of the book, the first chapter. Then I pulled it up on the computer and it’s a totally different first chapter. Which one is better? Which version is more suited to graphic novel?
And so it begins.