We Crooked Cat authors are a supportive and friendly crowd, and Maggie Secara, who sounds such fun, is one of those special people who goes the extra mile. I am honoured to have her as my guest today.
Thanks so much, Jane, for giving me a chance to introduce myself and talk about my new book, The Mermaid Stair, soon to be released by Crooked Cat. To do that, I thought I’d take a few cues from the extraordinary Chuck Wendig, and answer a few basic questions.
Who on earth is Maggie Secara?
I’m the girl who got a D in 7th grade sewing and became a costumer anyway, because a love of history, myth, and theatre had led her to the one place in the world where they all came together in 1977: the Renaissance Pleasure Faire in Los Angeles. And I couldn’t present myself as the MacColin’s sister, or the Countess of Southampton, or a German campfollower unless I made the clothes myself.
I’m also the girl who got a D in Typing then took up writing as both a career and a vocation. (The typing has improved a little.) A technical writer by trade, I’m an occasional poet, and the author of three novels and a little Elizabethan handbook for writers, actors and re-enactors. I love what I do.
So what’s The Mermaid Stair in 75 words or less?
Mermaids. Nixies. Nereids. Lost rivers. Ancient goddesses who make the fae look young. A half-fae serial killer who believes he can earn redemption by killing them. Music, violence, and Faerie mayhem while time-walker Ben Harper and his shape-shifting partner Raven track the killer from ancient Britain to modern London. A little help from Will Shakespeare and an unhappy Roman housewife. Not just another mermaid love story. Not even close.
Where does this story come from?
Honestly, I’ve never been one of those people who are “into” mermaids. While of course they have many virtues, it’s never been my particular fantasy. But I kept coming across this impossible phrase, usually as a mis-read of something else: mermaid stair. What did it mean? What does a mermaid need with stairs? Then it occurred to me that mermaids were deeply under-represented in the fantasy genre, and maybe there was a story in this somewhere. I didn’t want to write yet another “Little Mermaid”. It had to be different. So I started diving into research on all manner of watery fae and, well, here we are.
How is this a story only you could’ve written?
Almost half the story takes place in the 16th century, and the Elizabethans are my specialty. My research in this period has been going on for more than half my life, some of which you can find on my history website Renaissance—The Elizabethan World. Most of the rest is set in Roman Britain, which I’ve always found fascinating. IN fact, I spent part of my recent visit to London with a friend who is an expert in the subject, walking some of the Roman sites in the City. They say you should write what you know? This is what I know.
What was the hardest thing about writing The Mermaid Stair?
Writing the villain! The antagonists in the previous books in the series were strong, determined women of power. They were each challenging to write, which is as it should be, but it was time for a guy to sit in that chair. But Simon Carew is a scholar, a student of ancient languages, secretary to the man whose books became the basis of the British Library—and a serial killer. He’s also an Elizabethan who, among other things, believes that faeries of all kinds are demons.
His targets aren’t just women or even children, but the childlike nymphs and mermaids. I can’t begin to say just how disgusting it was to spend time in this guy’s head. I felt like I had to take a shower after every one of his scenes.
What did you learn from writing The Mermaid Stair?
Mostly that every project is different. The first two books had come so easily—even King’s Raven where the story is not so much plotted as braided together. This one had completely different challenges. The second draft was almost like starting again from scratch.
What do you love about The Mermaid Stair?
Actually I love it all, but two things stand out. First, all the little river nymphs are just adorable. They’re childlike and innocent, which isn’t always the same thing as nice—but mostly they’re delightful, which makes their deaths so much more horrible. Second, there’s the secondary plot, a kind of irresponsible teen-age love story that appeared just as I got to the climax of the first draft. A brand new character just popped in and demanded to resolve the main plot for me. Then of course, on the second pass, I had to figure out where he came from, where he fit in, and what else he was doing while Ben and Raven were chasing Carew. And I just love the ending!
How about a sample?
How about a little exchange between Ben Harper and the nymphs that live in the river behind his house on Dartmoor? He is standing on a footbridge.
One of the girls raised up, balancing her slender pink feet on a mossy stone, and reached a tiny hand as dainty and as strange as a Brian Froud painting. When she touched his shoe he felt a slight, almost electric tingle, and realized what he must have known all along. The little Ravenbeck wasn’t that deep—she was closer than he thought. In fact, she could be no more than two feet high, standing on her tiny toes.
She tapped his foot again, then held out a hand like a child asking for candy. Transparent moth-like wings, which could not possibly be meant for flying, fluttered with agitation. Ben threw a quizzical glance at his partner, who lifted his hands and his eyebrows, totally useless.
Not to be ignored, the pixie frowned, hopped into the air with a boost from the little wings, and this time gave Ben’s knee an irritated slap.
No one brings us offerings anymore!
What’s next for you as a storyteller?
I suddenly seem to have a lot of irons in the fire. I’m giving the short story form another try—I was never very good at it in my youth, but I may be figuring it out at last.
I have several more novels in planning, including one that’s a spin-off of characters from King’s Raven. It’s a ghost story that I’m writing as a series of ghost stories that will all be knitted together eventually