Catherine Jones Payne is a Seattle native who loves the written word, international travel, crashing waves, and good coffee. Her earliest memory involves pulling up a rolling chair to her parents’ old DOS computer—while wearing a tiara, naturally—and tapping out a story of kidnapped princesses. By day she’s the managing editor of Quill Pen Editorial and the editor of Splickety Magazine. She lives in Waco, TX with her historian husband, Brendan, and their cats, Mildred and Minerva.
When a teenage mermaid witnesses a naiad’s murder, she must navigate roiling tensions between the mer and the naiads . . . or more will die.
What went into world-building when creating BREAKWATER?
This was one of the most complex aspects of the writing process. In any fantasy world, you have to carefully think through how the society views race, gender, and class, what the political systems are like, and how romantic relationships typically function. You also might play with idioms or with swear words in any fantasy world, according to the culture’s deepest values, hopes, and fears. But in a water world, more so than any other setting I’ve worked with, world building happens with almost every action the characters take. Let me give just a few examples. Movement happens differently underwater than it does on land. If someone drops something, it doesn’t clatter to the floor—it sinks. Except in a few specific cases, characters swim rather than walk, and most of the default terminology we use for moving has to do with walking, so I had to get creative when I was describing character movement. Mermaids don’t breathe, so they can’t hyperventilate, which means I have to find a different way to convey a panic attack—one that works underwater. If a mermaid cries, tears wouldn’t be visible underwater, so her eyes might feel hot and she might sob, but a tear wouldn’t trail down her cheek. The underwater setting also makes their culture different from ours in ways we wouldn’t necessarily think of. Since paper and ink wouldn’t work well underwater, the mer use stone tablets and scribs (which are more like pencils). But since a stone tablet would be both heavier and more expensive than paper, it doesn’t make sense for them to use books, which means it makes more sense for their storytelling to be visual and oral, focusing on pictures and sculptures and drama and oration, rather than based on books. I think if Jade were a human, she’d read a lot and maybe even write, but since she’s a mermaid, she draws a lot and has a particular appreciation for sculpture art. The mer aren’t pacifists—not by a long shot—but because sharks and other underwater predators are drawn to blood, there’s a strict cultural prohibition on the use of blades (even for self-defense) because, if you stab someone, you could bring a feeding frenzy of sharks down on the whole city. The unique features of the water world allowed me dive straight into the action rather than relying on lengthy descriptive passages—which only worked because the action was so infused by world building.
Can you tell us a little bit about what led to the tensions between the mer and the naiads?
Oh, I don’t want to give away any spoilers for future books! But I’ll give you the gist of it. A lot of the tension originally stems from the naiads’ ability to cast and manipulate water. People tend to be afraid of things they don’t understand, and to some mer, the amount of power the naiads wield seems terrifying. Now, naiad water-casting abilities vary a lot. Some really can’t do much more than coast on a current of their own making (especially in saltwater) while others, like the water dancer Juliana, can shape nearly anything. But when people are afraid, nuances like that can get lost. Shortly after the naiads arrived, many of the mer questioned the wisdom of letting them stay. This led to scattered outbreaks of violence. A number of naiads were assaulted, and a few died. In the midst of this chaos, a group of naiad youth started calling themselves liberationists and fighting back. Mer and naiad innocents got caught in the crossfire, including Jade’s father. Shortly after his death, the naiad leaders, including their queen, Tryphaena, broke up the liberationists in an effort to calm things down and reestablish an uneasy coexistence. Violence still broke out occasionally—especially against the naiads—but Tryphaena insisted that the naiads hold their peace—for the most part, anyway.
I love the way mythological creatures such as harpies and dragons and naiads get mixed into the world of mer. Will we be seeing more such creatures in future books, and will they play a larger role in the world of mer?
Yes! This is something I’m really looking forward to in Book 2! People of other kinds—sirens, harpies, and kelpies—will all make appearances, but I’m actually most excited about two mythological animals—a baby water dragon and a hippocampus.
If you were a mer, what color would your hair and tail be? What would your favorite wrap look like?
Well, my hair’s bright blue right now, so my mermaid self might have blue hair, too, and I’d definitely want a silver tail. I’m a big fan of comfortable clothes, so my favorite wrap would be something soft and super comfy—like the yoga pants of wraps.
What are some of your favorite movies, books, etc. about mermaids?
The Little Mermaid was a childhood favorite, and I’m currently obsessed with Carrie Anne Noble’s The Mermaid’s Sister and Laura VanArendonk Baugh’s Bait.
If you could be a mermaid for a day, what would you do?
Lure sailors to their deaths . . . just kidding! Actually, I’m pretty sure I’d swim with as many underwater animals as I could—especially dolphins, orcas, sea otters, octopi, and manta rays.
The fate of the world comes down to this: Do you choose the Hans Christian Andersen rendition of The Little Mermaid or the Disney version?
I love a good tragedy, and I find the mermaid’s motivations more explicable in the Hans Christian Andersen version, so I’m definitely going to go with that one. But maybe we should add “Under the Sea” to it to give it a little Disney flair. (Ummm, good answer! It's my favorite, too! I think you and I share an unpopular opinion! ^.~ And yes, for a little music to go with it!!!) Thanks for stopping by, Catherine! I love everything related to mermaids, and found your answers to be fascinating! I can't wait to continue on with this series and see where you take us next!
Title: BREAKWATER Author:Catherine Jones Payne
Release Date:May 30, 2017
Publisher: Fathom Ink Press
A red tide is rising. As the daughter of one of the mer-king’s trusted advisors, seventeen-year-old Jade has great responsibilities. When her fiancé murders a naiad, plunging the underwater city of Thessalonike into uproar, tensions surge between the mer and the naiads. Jade learns too late that the choices she makes ripple further than she'd ever imagined. And as she fights against the tide of anger in a city that lives for scandal, she discovers danger lurking in every canal, imperiling her family and shattering the ocean's fragile peace. Can the city's divisions be mended before the upwelling of hate rips apart everything Jade loves?
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