Interview with Catherine Jones Payne

  1. I remember, quite a while ago, reading that mermaids were going to be the next big thing in the publishing industry after vampires ran their course. Although there has been a slight influx in mermaid-centered fiction, it hasn’t quite taken off as of yet. Why do you think this is?

I don’t think those predictions were wrong—I think they were just a little premature. Mermania’s been taking over everything in 2017, and I think we’ll continue to see the trend grow into 2018 as a number of big movies come out. At least that’s what I’m crossing my fingers for!

 

  1. What enticed you to write about mermaids?

There’s just something magical about mermaids. I love the ocean—I got that from my mom—and I’ve always found mermaids fascinating. So when I decided to take the leap and write a real novel, it seemed like a natural setting for me to write about. It didn’t hurt that there was speculation about an upcoming mermaid trend, either.

 

  1. Breakwater follows the exploits of a young mermaid named Jade who is trying to navigate a society fraying at the edges when her fiancè murders a naiad. How does one approach incorporating social issues into fantasy while maintaining a sense of escapism that many readers of fantasy look for?

I think that a lot of the best—and most popular—fantasy delves into some really serious issues. Escapism doesn’t have to mean that a book is light and fluffy. Characters in fantasy novels work through themes of loss, power struggles, and injustices all the time. I think you just have to be careful to write serious fantasy and not a thinly veiled allegory.

Some readers are drawing parallels between my book and contemporary social issues, and I think it’s wonderful that they’re using its themes as a jumping-off point to talk about really important things. Of course any book about politics, injustice, instability, and prejudice will reflect real-world issues we face today. But if someone’s looking for a neat and tidy allegory where everything in the book has a one-to-one correspondence with things happening in the news, they won’t find it in Breakwater because I drew on so many different ideas—historical, literary, and contemporary—when crafting the world.

 

  1. What was the most challenging thing writing in a world set underwater?

Keeping the vocabulary consistent to the world! In early drafts of the novel, the formal way to say that someone had been indicted for a crime was, “He stands accused.” I realized during the revision process that the mer—who do not stand—would not use this metaphor, so I had to rework it. So much of our language is based on metaphor (well, all of it is really, but that’s a whole different conversation), and we often don’t realize it. And since those metaphors are drawn from human experience—standing, running, breathing—many of them don’t translate to an ocean-based world.

 

  1. Did you do a lot of research about the history of mermaids in mythology?

Yes! If you’re familiar with mermaid lore, you’ll find quite a few subtle nods to different ancient stories throughout the book. One of the more obvious ones is the name of the city. Thessalonike isn’t named after the similar-sounding Greek city but after Thessalonike of Macedon, a princess who became a mermaid.

 

  1. If so, what is the most interesting thing you found out about them?

I don’t think I’d realized how popular mermaid stories were across the world. They weren’t just a European invention—stories arose about them independently in so many cultures, and I find that kind of development fascinating.

 

  1. What is the biggest misconception people have about mermaids?

I think The Little Mermaid has popularized a really sanitized, romantic view of mermaids that you just don’t find in a lot of the early stories. Ancient mermaids are always cursing people, or drowning people, or eating people. Especially drowning people. They do that a lot.

 

  1. You are the manager of Quill Pen Editorial and the editor of Splickety Magazine. How do you manage to delegate time and energy towards those and your writing?

Honestly, it’s hard to balance, especially because I’m not the kind of person who easily keeps a great many details organized at once. I have to use regimented to-do lists or things start slipping through the cracks.

 

  1. What does a normal workday look like for you?

I tend to work all day with periodic breaks. I’ll start almost as soon as I get up, at maybe eight in the morning, and I won’t be done until eleven at night. I don’t have an “off switch,” so the idea of being “done for the day” is really foreign to me. But it’s not like I always put in 14-hour days—I’ll take breaks to eat, play games, talk a walk, or watch an episode of Parks and Rec.

 

  1. What does your “perfect work day” look like?

For me, a perfect work day means that I check off everything on my to-do list for the day. This doesn’t often happen—I tend to have very ambitious to-do lists—but it’s an immensely satisfying feeling.

 

  1. Can you share a picture of your work area?

I don’t have one set work area. I’ll work from bed, from my recliner (that’s probably my favorite spot), from the kitchen table, from Starbucks, or from my office. But my office desk looks like this right now. I’ve been to busy to organize it this month, so it’s spiraled out of control, but I like to have a couple of motivational quotes, a clear space, and lots of room for notecards.

Catherine Payne Work area

 

  1. What are you reading right now?

In addition to the books I’m editing, I’m reading The Five Choices by Kogon, Merrill, and Rinne, which is nonfiction about achieving greater productivity, and I’m loving Nadine Brandes’ Out of Time trilogy.

 

  1. What do you say to those who say it is impossible to learn anything from fiction?

Psh.

No, seriously, that’s what I say. I think there’s something deeply human about stories. All cultures have myths, stories about how the world or different natural phenomena came to be—stories that help them make sense of reality. You have the coyote in some Native North American tales, the pantheons of the Norse, Greek, and Egyptian peoples, the Tuatha Dé Danann of Ireland, the jinn of ancient Arabia—all of these creatures, deities, and spirits are very different from each other, but they show humanity’s common impulse toward story as a way of understanding the world and our place in it.

As a Christian, I believe that we were created in the image of God, who is the author of the greatest story—the fall, redemption, and restoration of all of creation—and storytelling is one of the ways we show that image.

 

  1. Can you give us a glimpse into your writing future? 

I’d very much like a glimpse into my writing future! 😉

But I actually do have the next 5 years more-or-less planned out. There will be an in-world short story available for free this fall—hopefully September, but it may be October. And the sequel to Breakwater should be out in February! I’m planning a four-book series right now, and a couple of standalone novels or duologies in the same world after I’m done.

Thank you, Catherine, for stopping by!

Check out my review of Breakwater here!

Catherine Jones Payne

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