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So a few months ago I received a gorgeous email from one Kerry Dale, a beautiful drag performer and artist from Winnipeg, Canada, who’s loved mermaids since he was a child and now does a popular Little Mermaid drag act (as Satina Loren).
Here’s some of what he said:
I knew I was different from an early age. I fell deeply in love with Ariel, the Little Mermaid, the first time I saw her. Her hair, her tail, the underwater realm… They enthralled me. My mother and her friends thought it was cute that I was in love with a mermaid. I wasn’t: I wanted to BE her. I wanted to live in Atlantica, swim with the fish, and someday fall in love with a Prince. Yeah, a prince. Growing up I didn’t know what ‘gay’ was, but I sure was it.
I was made fun of a lot. “Queer” “fag” “pansy” and “he-she” were some of the many colorful nametags I wore growing up, but I remained positive. I was always smiling, laughing. I remember my teachers smiling at my mom and telling her she raised such a lovely boy. “I’ve never had a student compliment my eyes before” or “I love your son! He says I look great; that I lost weight!”
The teasing got to me, but I never let it show. My brothers, one older and one younger, had to be stronger, because they were also poked at for having a sissy brother. My solace, my coping mechanism was art, and reading. Once Upon A Time… is probably the most comforting sentence anyone could ever tell me. When I was troubled I used to delve into stories about pumpkins and glass slippers; of mermaids and sea witches; of true love and the magic it contained. I read of far off places and imagined my life there. Seven dwarves to keep me company. Wicked stepmothers and dragons to conquer. When I was done I would pick up a pencil and draw until I couldn’t.
Fairy tales have been my escape. They helped me when my parents divorced. The familiar stories gave me a sense of clarity, that everything has a Happily Ever After. Finishing high school, I knew that being gay was what I was, and I needed a way to convey my talents in a different way, and I got into drag. And now, in the clubs, I do ‘Disney Drag,’ where I get to channel my creativity by breathing life into the characters from the stories I had read.
I love this, how someone like Kerry is able to draw strength and inspiration from fairy tales and mermaids and use them to infuse his own life with magic and beauty. I also think it makes perfect sense that a mermaid, in her perpetual state of transformation, would be a powerful symbol for someone coming to terms with his/her sexuality—and then embracing it.
Aren’t those gorgeous? I think we should all fly to Winnipeg immediately to see some awesome Little Mermaid drag. In the meantime, though, I asked Kerry a few more scintillating questions.
So what do mermaids and fairy tales mean to you?
Fairy tales have always been a part of my life as long as I can remember. My mom watched Disney movies all the time with me and my brothers since we were kids. I always loved reading about faraway magical lands and stories of love conquering all, Good VS evil. Fairy tales instilled in me a never-ending sense of optimism: I feel now if I remain positive, regardless what obstacles I’m facing, I’ll get my own Happily Ever After.
Why do you love mermaids?
I can’t honestly say why I love them. They’ve always been a part of my life. Since kindergarten I had a fascination with them; I was either reading Hans Christian Andersen’s tale, the Disney version, or I scoured our local libraries to find other stories about them.
I think their sense of wonderment was what drew me to them: these beautiful and dangerous beings that experienced life in such a different way. It made me want to know about them.
Can you tell me about performing as a mermaid?
I’m a Drag Queen here in Winnipeg, and I’m most known for my Disney/Fairytale looks, and most known for my Little Mermaid impersonation. I usually style my wigs to resemble her and then I dress like she would (I imagined if she was a real girl she would wear greens and blues) and I even have a mermaid costume I occasionally wear.
I know you’re familiar with Hans Christian Andersen’s story and his little mermaid. Can you tell readers about that? Can you explain why/how both his story and the little mermaid resonate with you?
According to what I’ve read, Andersen fell in love with women and with men throughout his life, and at one point he wrote The Little Mermaid after being rejected by Edvard Collin. At the time homosexuality was not an open topic and hardly discussed. The rejection and the feeling of being unwanted drove him to write the story of the little mermaid. The story resonates on multiple levels for me. I was terrified of actually coming out to my family, and I feared rejection. I knew since I was a kid that I was different, that I wasn’t like everyone else. While my brothers always had girlfriends, I didn’t. I think that the mermaid’s desire to be human mirrored my own feelings: I wanted to be something more than just a straight boy; I wanted to be different. I wanted to be me. But it took me a long time to come to terms with my sexuality and I finally told my family, and I was surprised that nearly all of them were accepting. Luckily for me I didn’t have to consult with a sea witch to do that!
Do you love Disney films, too (and Ariel)?
Disney is the reason why I got to love The Little Mermaid! It was the first movie I ever saw and it remains my favorite movie. I used to work at our local Disney store until it closed, and I got to Disney World with friends every year with friends. I love everything about Disney, as I have a large collection of Disney items … my room resembles Ariel’s grotto; I’ve got Disney stuff galore! As an artist I am also blown away by the art in the movies. The animation, colors and designs are incredible, especially in The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Sleeping Beauty, which are my favorites.
Why do you think that mermaids, and fairy tales, are so popular right now?
I think that everyone is already so familiar with the stories they grew up with, and that now that more people are writing their own versions or adapting them we want to create further connections with the characters we already know and love.
How do people respond to your love for mermaids (or drag act, or mermaidliness generally)?
Some think it’s weird that at the age of 22 I’m still watching Disney movies and collecting mermaid memorabilia; some don’t get it. I just can’t shake the feeling of wonderment and beauty I get when I read about them. Drag isn’t accepted by everyone, but nearly everyone I talk to loves what I do and appreciate I’m taking the fairy tales of our youth and reimagining them in a different light.
Do you have any advice for aspiring mermaids?
No matter what, do what you need to do to make yourself happy. RuPaul says “What other people think of me is none of my business.” No matter what, BE YOU. DO YOU at 100 percent, always. Never let others dictate your decisions. Obviously take into consideration the wisdom of those that know what you’re wanting to do, but just remember to do what you need to to be happy, and your Happily Ever After will certainly come along!
So Mermaids is finally coming out, and I’m really excited. It’ll be a special issue of Faerie Magazine, put together and edited by yours truly, featuring our favorite half-ladies half-fish in all their manifold glories. It’s shipping from the printer on December 5. Look:
A small team of us have been working and working to get everything shiny and perfect. And there’s all kinds of amazing content: beautiful original fiction and poetry from writers like Alice Hoffman, Aimee Bender, Keith Donohue, Francesca Lia Block, Matthea Harvey, Tera Lynn Childs, Sarah Porter… Articles on everything from Mami Wata to Superman’s mermaid girlfriend to cover model Hannah Fraser and tail maker Eric Ducharme and ocean conservation… Not to mention a bunch of featured mermaids and glamorous destinations and photography so vivid you’ll start to hear the crash of ocean waves and the flip of shimmering tails moving through water.
Here is a little sneak peek. And you can order the magazine right now from the Faerie Magazine website.
So last month I went to MerPalooza in Tampa, which I really should have posted about already and where, among many other things, I got to serve as one of the judges of the poolside mermaid pageant run by Stephanie Sims and hosted by Weeki Wachee mermaid Kylee Troche. Please do not be too jealous. A slew of charming merbabies (ok, one merbaby) and mer girls and full-grown mermaids walked or were pushed on office chairs or were carried by strapping men in front of our judge’s table, many of them in dazzling tails they’d crafted themselves (unless they were in tails from the Mertailor, who had a massive display with mermaids lounging all around it, and/or from any of the other tail makers on hand). Amongst all this feminine glamour and shimmer were three brave mermen competing for the title of Mer King. I think that’s what they were competing for, anyway. All I know is that when I saw one ChristoMer Starfish in his sparkling blue pants and body paint, carrying his trident and being full-on oceanic, I felt there was a clear, undisputed winner. Not every guy can put on glitterpants and look like an underwater king.
Here he is at the judge’s table, winning:
And here he is with the other winners (plus last year’s winner Canadian Mermaid Marie), looking like the patriarch of one gorgeous pale-haired deep-sea family with a penchant for blue:
Here is our penetrating Q and A:
How did you end up at MerPalooza?
I ended up at Mer-Palooza after seeing the event online and my pod “NCMerfolk” decided to make a trip together down to Florida. We stopped on the way down and went for a swim in an underground spring and on our way home we stopped at the Jekyll Island to rest our tails before returning to hustle and bustle of life on land.
Are you a bona fide merman?
If so, how long have you considered yourself to be a merman and/or been into mermaids generally?
I have been a bona fide merman in my heart since I was a little boy playing in the sand at the beach. I became a certified frogman when I was 19 in college and decided to recertify this spring. When I was doing my research about recertifying I came across free diving and monofins. Through further reading I found the links to the mermaid and merman tails. After a few discussions with tail makers I ended up ordering my silicone tail from Abby and Bryn Roberts, co-owners of Finfolk Productions in St. Paul, Minnesota. I am the president of the NCMerfolk, which is the fancy name for our pod in Cary, North Carolina. I can be found swimming with my little mermaid, Casidy, at the Triangle Aquatic Center three times a week.
What is it that appeals to you about mermaids/mermen?
I love the freedom to be your own spirit! I have no fear of depths and a great fear of shallow living! Subscribing to their motto’s I think is at the heart of what makes each and every mermaid and merman decide to put on a tail. I love the water so anything that allows me to spend more time in it is a plus. I also love bringing my daughter’s imagination to life by being able to swim together with her in our tails. I think we have a responsibility to use our gifts to give back to the community that we live in. Being a merman has given me the opportunity to travel around the US “sharing the mermagic” with other pods.
Can you tell me about your recent astounding win at MerPalooza?
My win at Mer-Palooza was EPIC and AMAZING! I was happy to enter the pageant and made a lasting friendship with Merman Christian. He and I enjoyed a bit of friendly competition from not only the pageant but a swim from the end of the pier to shore. Our dear friend, Caribbean Pearl being the competitive spirit that she is added a bit of spice to the pageant by entering her own merman last minute! The Mer-Palooza Royal Court enjoyed dinner together after the event and then came back to the hotel to enjoy mer-company poolside along with the Mer-King’s special Mermaid Punch!
Do you have any other merman plans coming up?
I just finished up a three-week trip visiting pods in Maryland, California, Nevada and Minnesota. I had a wonderful visit with merfolk from across the US. It was inspiring enough that when I got back to North Carolina our pod decided to setup our own mer-gathering schedule for January 2014 in Cary, North Carolina. We have been invited to make appearances at many pirate events this coming spring on our coast. We are looking forward to being in the Christmas parade this year with a group of fellow scuba divers.
How large a role to mermaids/men play in your everyday life?
I believe that being “mer” is a way of thinking and living. I believe you have to live your dream everyday and if you keep that idea in your heart, mind and soul you are truly living the “mer” life. I have “MERMAN” on my license plate and I get asked at least once a day about it. I also wear a custom carved merman necklace around my neck that gets just as many questions. As it turns colder outside I can be seen wearing my mer-inspired hoodie that looks like a fleece version of my silicone tail. I think being “mer” can be as big or little part of your life as you want. For me it is like having a tail on even when I don’t have mine on in the water. You just have to live the dream with no regrets and never looking back.
Any tips for aspiring mer kings/title holders?
I have set the bar pretty high this year and I look forward to passing the crown along to a deserving merman. I think you have to be humble and follow your heart. Listen, listen and listen to what your mer’s are trying to tell you and lead from your heart! Be open to change and always lend an ear to a mer in need. Just be yourself and “Share the Mermagic!” wherever you go with whomever you meet!
So I recently learned about an Oakland-based punk/surf band called Dark Beach consisting of two awesome, mermaid-loving girls named Melissa (on drums) and Faith (on guitar and vocals). Here they are:
On their Facebook page, Melissa and Faith call their genre “gloomy girl punk rock,” which is really what every band should be. Plus they sing about mermaids, which everyone should, in a gloomy girl kind of manner. Well, they did one mermaid song, called “Mermaiding,” and made this goofy, celebratory, super-fun video to go with it. Look!
If that doesn’t make you want to slip into a tail and throw your Fender Stratocaster underwater, I don’t know what will. Here are some more ultra-glamorous photos, followed by my penetrating Q&A with this fish-tailed duo:
So tell me about your band. How’d you two get together? What’s your music like overall?
MELISSA: I had seen Faith’s old band, Hooray For Everything, play around town throughout the years. It seems like we were always bonding over our love of grunge music, old movies and feminism. I describe our music as surf-goth. It is definitely catchy but there is a bit of a dark, rough edge to it. Our friend Jack told me we sound like a goth version of the Go-Go’s. I’ve always liked that description.
FAITH: Melissa’s old band Sweet Nothing and my old band Hooray for Everything used to play together. When both bands weren’t active anymore, we said, hey, let’s play together! And history was made. I guess our music is a mix of chick riot, dark wave, surf and garage/punk.
You say your lyrics are influenced by feminine fiction and myth. Can you talk about that?
MELISSA: Faith writes all the lyrics so I don’t really contribute to that side of things. But we both have an interest in female characters which I think is totally natural but strangely enough it does make us stand out from other bands. I think it’s cool. I have heard enough songs about falling in love and partying to last me a lifetime so working on songs about a variety of female characters is more interesting.
FAITH: I try to tell a story with most Dark Beach songs, to take recognizable tropes and characters from fiction—robots, mermaids, vampires, swamp monsters—and make them compelling and sympathetic and new.
What is it about mermaids that appeals to you?
MELISSA: What doesn’t appeal to me would be a shorter list! I’ve always been attracted to the otherworldliness of them. They kind of remind of vampires, there’s a certain romanticism to them and they look like us (to some extent) but can never fully be a part of our world. Faith has done a lot of research on Mermaids and she found that in most cultures mermaids originally had a negative connotation. They were often known as sirens who sunk ships and caused a variety of problems for travelers. So it’s interesting that today a typical mermaid is thought of as beautiful and carefree. Their legend has definitely morphed a lot over the years and their complex history only adds to the appeal. I have also always had an affinity for beach/surf culture.
FAITH: I think the most appealing thing about mermaids are that they represent a woman who is unattainable and untouchable to human men. They’re mysterious and their worlds are off-limits to us. There are so many kinds of mermaids, too. Hollywood mermaids are all fun and good, but the fiji mermaid and other grotesque half-fish-half-human creatures fascinate me as well.
Do you guys identify as mermaids at all? Have you always loved them?
MELISSA: Yes, in spirit. I have always been into mermaids and my interest only seems to intensify as I grown older. It defies logic (ha ha).
FAITH: Yep, I’m a walking mermaid. I have always loved mermaids. It’s a childhood fantasy I can’t seem to shake.
Can you tell me about your song Mermaiding?
MELISSA: Faith wrote the song. In preparation for this interview I listed to the “demo” version she gave me back in the summer of 2011. Of course I was drawn to the subject matter and I remember really liking what I refer to as the “rocking” part that comes in around 2 minutes in. The song seems to have elements of rockabilly and surf but the quieter parts remind me a bit of a lullaby. I think overall it’s pretty unique. I remember having trouble envisioning what to play during the intro but once we decided on the cold start of the tambourine and bass drum things easily fell into place. The sparse intro really makes it stand out from our other songs.
FAITH: As a kid and teen, I used to be obsessed with all things Marilyn Monroe. I remember in Norman Mailer’s biography on her there was this quote that really stood out that someone said about her, that she was a “mermaid in shark-infested waters.” I thought of mermaids for the first time—and female beauty—as prey. When writing “Mermaiding,” I imagined a mermaid’s life as difficult and scary, constantly eluding men with hooks and staring sailors, and peace as a sisterhood-love with fellow mermaids.
Did you guys get tails for the video shoot or did you have them/use them before?
MELISSA: I had bought a black tail but decided to rethink my costume about a week before the shoot. I didn’t have enough time to order a new tail (shipping would take too long) so I made my tail with some fabric form Joann’s Fabrics. I didn’t finish it until the day before we left for filming! Everything came together last minute but overall I am happy with the monochromatic “surfer girl” look.
FAITH: I bought it for the shoot, but you can bet it’ll be used again. Maybe we’ll play a show in tails!
What was the video shoot like?
MELISSA: I had originally envisioned doing a darker, more moody video that aligned with the song lyrics but we pretty much went in the opposite direction and for the most part it just felt like playtime in the pool. Shooting underwater was definitely challenging but I was expecting that. The hardest part of the video: keeping the wig on my head!
FAITH: Like a super fun mermaid pool party for two. And, yes, we didn’t realize what a challenge it was to a) keep wigs on our heads and b) play our instruments underwater. Being a rock and roll mermaid ain’t easy.
Have you hung out with other mermaids/people in the mermaid community?
MELISSA: I haven’t. Fellow mermaids should hit us up on Facebook! It would be great to meet them, even if it’s just a digital meeting. It seems like a highly creative community that I would like connect with. I also want to mention that Faith and I did a podcast discussing mermaids, maybe people in the community would be interested in checking it out.
FAITH: No. But I would love to!
Why do you think people like mermaids so much, anyway?
MELISSA: There’s a certain segment of the population that will always be in love with beautiful, mysterious female characters. Also, it seems like mermaids are truly independent, free of day jobs and the variety of responsibilities us mere mortals have put upon us by society. That type of freedom and playfulness is very appealing to most people.
FAITH: They’re hot. They’re mysterious. And you can never catch them, you can never “have” them, you can never sleep with them, you can never get too close to them.
Any advice for aspiring mermaids?
MELISSA: Keep your head held high both above & below the sea.
FAITH: Use a lot of bobby pins when you fasten that wig to your head, girl.
P.S. People can download “Mermaiding” (for free) from our bandcamp page and watch our other videos with vamps and she-bots and fun stuff like that on our YouTube page.
So the brand-spanking-new 2014 Weeki Wachee Mermaids 16-month calendar is now available online, featuring gorgeous images from famed photographer Andrew Brusso. The calendar is limited edition, with only 1,000 printed and a few hundred left, and they’re 20 smackers each, or 30 if you want a signed edition from a recent calendar signing with the mermaids (there are only a handful of those left), with a portion of the proceeds benefiting the Friends of Weeki Wachee Springs State Park. The calendar is a really beauteous thing. Andrew’s done all kinds of stunning, fancy photography but has a special place in his heart for mermaids—he’s an avid, ocean-loving surfer, this is his fourth Weeki calendar, and he’s also the dashing beau of the incomparable Bambi the Mermaid, queen of Coney Island. So it shouldn’t really be a surprise that he regularly dives into Weeki Wachee Spring and emerges with images like these:
I love how Andrew’s Weeki photos feel like they could have come straight from way back when, from the days when Weeki put on elaborate, choreographed shows like “Mermaids on the Moon” and “Alice in Waterland,” and yet they all have an unmistakably modern, diamond-sharp edge to them, too. Also, I am very jealous that a whole pile of manatees showed up for the shoot, managing to weasel their way into many of the shots. Yours truly will return to Weeki next month and I might have to haul an elaborate camera under the water to lure those fame-seekers back!
Anyway, I recently asked Andrew many illuminating questions about the calendar, Weeki Wachee, being an exceptional mermaid beau, and mermaids generally.
So how did you get to be so involved with mermaids?
Growing up on a small island on the west coast of Florida and surfing most of my life, I’ve always been around water and had plenty of time to dream up what was swimming below the surface. Mermaids were always at the top of my list.
What’s the appeal of mermaids to you? Why do you think they’re so popular?
Throughout history, wherever there’s a body of water there’s some form of a mermaid myth, so either mermaids are just part of the collective unconscious or they really did or do exist. Ninety-five-percent of the ocean is undiscovered so they can’t be ruled out. As for their popularity, I think as a race we are always looking for mythic stories and images to distract us from our everyday lives and I think mermaids do a good job of that, flying freely through the oceans without a care. And of course women want to be them and men want to be with them.
When did you first visit Weeki Wachee and why is it such a special place to you?
I was a wide-eyed five-year-old on my first visit and ever since I’ve had a consistent ongoing image running through my mind of the great Weeki Wachee mermaids. Years later, while living in New York City, I heard about Weeki’s “Save our Tails” campaign to raise funds and awareness for the park and reached out to Robyn Anderson and John Athanason to donate my services. I’m really stoked with the projects that we’ve done together through the years. I find them much more rewarding than my day job of photographing for magazines and advertising.
Having the world-famous Weeki Wachee mermaids as your focus point and the beauty of the natural spring as your studio is a dream come true. I am constantly amazed by their athleticism and grace and how they make it look so easy. Believe me, it’s not! The Weeki Wachee Spring truly is a miracle of nature and one of the great fountains of youth, all you have to do is watch the former mermaids perform like giddy teenagers again to know that it’s magical. The water is around 100 years old when it comes out of the spring’s head after filtering through the limestone aquifer at a rate of over 165 million gallons a day. It’s the clearest water I have ever photographed in, and that’s pretty special to me. I hope in some way that we can help raise awareness about Florida’s springs and aquifer and how vulnerable the whole system has become. Many are slowly being affected by the heavy use of nitrates from fertilizers and some have dried up all together because of Florida’s increasing need of water. I think the recent rise in sink holes is giving us a wake-up call to pay attention to what is happening below the surface.
Can you tell me about the Weeki Wachee calendars you’ve done? What was the inspiration for 2014?
This is the fourth calendar that we’ve done with Weeki over the years (and the fourth in Weeki’s history). In the past we based the themes on the holidays of each month, like a Mermaid Witch on a broom stick for October, a Mermaid Bunny for April, and so on. This year we wanted to make it about the mermaids and the spring itself, more natural, plus we were excited to have the Mertailor/Eric Ducharme’s tails involved.
The day we arrived to start shooting, a herd of ten manatees arrived in the spring and stayed for four days until the day we left. I’ve never heard of that many manatees hanging over a period of days at Weeki. It was great to see and incorporate what seafarers from the past thought to be the original mermaids, the manatees, along with the Weeki mermaids. Talk about natural magic! It was one of my all-time top experiences.
I grew up on old Florida and the kitsch that went with it so we try to keep a little of that in how we shoot and design the calendars. Weeki Wachee is the last of the pre-Mouse invasion attractions that has not only survived but is thriving.
What is it like dating a famous mermaid? =) Are you constantly covered in glitter and scales?
I had to get over the glitter thing years ago, I’d be on a shoot and someone would come up and say, “umm you know you’re covered …” and I’d be like “I know, I know.” Now I’m just “yep, that’s right, got a problem?” Bambi the Mermaid is the smartest and most fun-loving mermaid I’ve ever met and a true genius at her craft. We’ve shared a lot through the years, she’s my best friend and my true soul mate. Don’t get me wrong, she can cast a long shadow of a tale, but I’ve been able to hold my own so far. In the last couple of calendars we’ve had a “Find Bambi” game with small hidden images of her throughout the calendar. This year she’s limited in her hiding but she’s there.
Can you tell me about your experiences at the Coney Island Mermaid Parade?
In 1988 when I first moved to NYC I was hired by Travel and Leisure Magazine to shoot portraits of the mermaids and the participants in the parade and it was an absolute blast. I’ve had some incredible fun over the years at, in and around the parade but I’m a lover of its early days as a smaller art parade. These days it’s great if you’re in the parade but as a viewer it’s gotten a little too crowded for my taste with way too many ornery photographers (I tell everyone I’m a plumber that day).
I know you’ve also photographed Bambi the Mermaid all over the world. Can you tell me about that?
We’ve created projects everywhere from Weeki to the islands of Fiji. One of the best was an awesome trip to Turtle Island, where they shot the movie Blue Lagoon. I’d been to Fiji once before to surf but this was crazy special, we would be taken by boat with Bambi’s costumes and props plus amazing food and spirits to our own different deserted beach each day. We created a great body of work based on the Feegee Mermaid and Blue Lagoon plus got to hang with the “God” rock structure that Brooke Shields’s character feared so much in Blue Lagoon. We gave him a much-needed make over.
And finally, do you have any advice for aspiring mermaid beaus/escorts?
Learn to walk slowly, be good with a spray bottle and build up your arms: there’s a lot of carrying to do.
Many, many mermaidly things have been happening of late. The New York Times Magazine, for instance, ran a big story about Weeki Wachee by super-smart Virginia Sole-Smith (who quoted yours truly in the article, as well as Eric Ducharme, Barbara Wynns, and other glamorous Weeki folk). The Los Angeles Times published a roundtable on The Little Mermaid. At The Huffington Post, Brenda Peterson posted an interview with Hannah Fraser. And I wrote an article on mermaids for The New Inquiry that then inspired this article on the The Atlantic Wire, this article on Jezebel, this grouchy piece on Slate, this summary of the mermaid/vampire debate on Andrew Sullivan’s The Dish, and possibly more things but I don’t know about them. Meanwhile, the government has denied the existence of mermaids, the Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen is about to turn 100, and photographer Andrew Brusso delivered the 2014 Weeki Wachee calendars (interview and images to come!).
EVEN MORE IMPORTANTLY, the second annual MerPalooza “International Mermaid Convention and Party” takes place this weekend in Tampa, at the Bay Harbor Hotel. I’m flying down on Friday and will be reading and signing my new book, The Fairest of Them All, on Saturday at 2pm (there will also be copies of Mermaid and my novel Godmother, provided by Tampa’s Inkwood Books). I know that Eric Ducharme will be there with plenty of mermaids, that several Weeki ladies will be in attendance, that Stephanie Sims will be hosting another mermaid pageant, and that all kinds of other delights will be in store. You should obviously start heading to Tampa right now.
Speaking of my new book, which just came out yesterday and which I have to tell you about this one time, The Fairest of Them All is a fairy-tale mash-up about Rapunzel growing up to be Snow White’s stepmother (it’s okay for teenagers but not for kids!). Eleanor Brown calls it “intricate, inventive, and charged with magic.” Jamie Ford says he “loved this unexpected spin on the story of Rapunzel, this strong-willed devourer of hearts.” Caroline Leavitt says that it “unfolds like a waking dream, with prose that shimmers like cut diamonds.” You can read more praise for it here. And here’s an excerpt.
Because of an ongoing battle between Simon & Schuster (my publisher) and Barnes & Noble (a fight that has nothing to do with me), The Fairest of Them All will not be in brick-and-mortar Barnes & Nobles. So please, if you’re inclined, tell your friends, share the link for my book, write a song about it, get the cover tattooed on your chest, or show up at MerPalooza (or your local indie) this weekend and buy five copies… I will be eternally, eternally grateful if you do. Thank you!
More mermaids to come!
So legendary pin-up artist Olivia De Berardinis has painted a zillion gorgeous bombshells over the years (she’s been doing it since the mid-70′s and has been contributing an original painting every month to Playboy Magazine since 2004), and is not averse to the occasional bombshell mermaid. Her Bettie Page in a black latex tail is one of the most striking mermaids out there, and she has a few pink-tailed Marilyns and a host of other ultra-glam half-fish half-ladies in her oeuvre, too (not to mention a few other be-tailed Betties). I recently emailed Olivia to see if she’d talk mermaids with me, and though she noted at first that this isn’t the work she’d most known for, she did let me send her some penetrating questions and responded with this charming note:
I probably first painted a mermaid in the 80′s. The tail is very expressive—they’re fun to paint! It’s a great fantasy. I always found mermaids to be more pretty than sexual, though. I figured they were seals or manatees that only looked like women to lonely, horny sailors centuries ago. I honestly don’t understand their sexual appeal since they’re not built for human copulation.
In the decade after “The Little Mermaid” came out (I loved that movie), quite a few of the girls from Playboy who modeled for me seemed to have a great interest in being painted as a mermaid. I found it curious that so many of them were buying the fantasy. Most of the time I used a lingerie version of a tail. Bettie Page was the fetish queen, so I chose a latex fin for her. It made a perfect bondage implement.
I think the beautiful Ariel changed a generation’s focus toward mermaids. It was a great movie, and a beautiful story. I also loved Splash!
We went back and forth for a little bit as I tried to find the right images to post (I’m only including ones I could find online that contain her signature) and to clarify a few things (the Bettie mermaids were her idea), and at one point she noted, “I guess I did a lot of mermaids.”
So I am a huge fan of Francesca Lia Block. I first read her classic YA novel Weetzie Bat in 1995, when I’d just moved to Los Angeles from New York to attend grad school at UCLA and wasn’t totally happy to be in that weird, glittery city. But those opening lines made that whole city come alive with magic and seem like some kind of wonderland, and from then on my heart burst with Angeleno love:
“The reason Weetzie Bat hated high school was because no one understood. They didn’t even realize where they were living. They didn’t care that Marilyn’s prints were practically in their backyard at Graumann’s; that you could buy tomahawks and plastic palm tree wallets at Farmer’s Market, and the wildest, cheapest cheese and bean and hot dog and pastrami burritos at Oki Dogs; that the waitresses wore skates at the Jetson-style Tiny Naylor’s; that there was a fountain that turned tropical soda-pop colors, and a canyon where Jim Morrison and Houdini used to live, and all-night potato knishes at Canter’s, and not too far away was Venice, with columns, and canals, even, like the real Venice but maybe cooler because of the surfers. There was no one who cared. Until Dirk.”
It’s not every writer who can make you see the world in a brand-new way and/or seek out hot dog/pastrami/cheese burritos on Pico Boulevard (which I totally did).
Francesca has written nearly three dozen books by now, full of all kinds of magical creatures (technical and otherwise) and the occasional mermaid. Here’s a random mermaidly quote from her novel Echo:
“Maybe I would become a mermaid… I would live in the swirling blue-green currents, doing exotic underwater dances for the fish, kissed by sea anemones, caressed by seaweed shawls. I would have a dolphin friend. He would have merry eyes and thick flesh of a god. My fingernails would be tiny shells and my skin would be like jade with light shining through it I would never have to come back up.”
And from Wasteland:
“You asked me who I thought I was before. I said maybe I was a fish because I love water and you said, you thought a mermaid, maybe. If you were a mermaid, you said, if you were a mermaid, I was the sea.”
Do you see what I mean?
Francesca also, by the way, contributed to the not-yet-published Mermaids magazine I’ve told you about, and which will come out soon I THINK (watch this space!), and one day recently she emailed me a link to these
which officially makes her the best author with the best taste in sunglasses ever.
Our illuminating Q and A follows:
So can you tell me about your fictional mermaids? When and where do they appear in your books? What do they do?
Weetzie grows up, goes to a pink hotel and rescues one here:
And I have an erotic mermaid tale here:
Are you yourself a mermaid?
No, I am a wood nymph. In my system, outlined in Wood Nymph Seeks Centaur, mermaids are beautiful, warm, maternal, challenging divas. Wood Nymphs are wild, loving, somewhat neurotic artists.
Why do people love mermaids so much, do you think?
What’s not to like? They are like us and yet completely foreign and inaccessible. They also echo our origins from the sea.
Do you have any future mermaid plans, in your books or outside of them (or both)?
I have one coming to visit me next weekend from Manhattan. She has red hair, does yoga and writes poetry and stories.
In my new book Love in the Time of Global Warming, there are some sirens. The book is based on The Odyssey by Homer with a female protagonist named Penelope (Pen) who has to help save the world after an apocalypse.
Do you have any favorite mermaid art/fashion statements/books/movies?
The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Anderson.
The Odyssey by Homer
Aquamarine by Alice Hoffman [interviewed on this blog here]
The Secret of Roan Inish. (film)
As I think more about this, I would like to write one!
What do you think makes mermaids so cool?
I am fascinated with all half-human, half animal creatures but there is something especially enticing about the ability to live under water, to swim like a fish, to sing on the rocks, to charm the object of your desire into your hidden realm.
What are you working on now?
I’m currently writing a sequel to Love in the Time of Global Warming and a new adult book for St. Martin’s Press called Beyond the Pale Motel.
And finally,do you have any advice do you have for aspiring mermaids?
Wear sunglasses (I just had cataract surgery at an early age) while you bask on rocks. And wear sunscreen.
So artist David Delamare is kind of a big deal, mermaid-painting-wise, and you’ve probably seen one of his mermaid masterpieces whether you know it or not. At least in your dreams or drunken wanderings (or here). I mean look:
He’s got tattooed mirror-holding mermaids hanging out on rocks, and steampunk Marie Antoinette mermaids sitting on metal horses
and streamy-haired mermaids hanging out around bathyspheres for possibly nefarious purposes
and poker-playing mermaids about to cheat pirates out of valuable loot
and well coiffed mermaids pressed against seahorses in questionable manners
and plenty more mermaids besides, many of which you can gaze upon in this glittering gallery.
Obviously, I had to ask David some questions at some point, lest I be remiss in my mermaid duties and leave this blog somehow eternally incomplete. Our enticing Q and A follows.
When did you start painting mermaids? What was the first inspiration?
The first mermaid I painted was for ready money, nothing more. She was part of a very fanciful wooden sign for a restaurant called Buttertoes. At the time I had no idea that this seemingly simple sea creature would ultimately provide so many interesting conceptual and compositional possibilities.
How has your mermaid art evolved over the years?
My mermaid art has changed dramatically because my approach to making paintings is so different. For many years I painted using an air brush for areas of continuous tone (both on the figures and in the backgrounds) then added details using a traditional brush with water-based paint. Several years ago, I switched to the most traditional of media—oil brush on canvas. Using a brush rather than a spray gives the areas of continuous tone a much more organic and less mechanical effect. With oil painting, I start with a layer of opaque paint which will become the shadows and continuous tone, then glaze over this with transparent washes. The result is that the light bounces off of lighter areas while being absorbed by darker ones. This creates a depth and luminosity that my earlier paintings couldn’t have. You can’t see this in the photographs of the art. It’s really only visible when looking at the originals. If you’re curious about how the individual elements of the paintings are added, you might view the progressive slideshow on You Tube of my Alice painting titled “Beware The Jabberwock.” There are also some progressive albums on my Facebook page.
Has your idea of them changed at all—over time and/or as a result of mermaids’ increasing popularity, etc.?
At first, my narratives were influenced by Greek mythology or the Pre-Raphaelite movement. Later, my interpretations become more personal, primarily driven by the desire to create more complex and interesting compositions, settings, and features. I experimented, of course, with different anatomical elements such as gills, fin shapes, and scale styles. Then, in the last ten or twelve years I began interpreting the writings of my partner and publisher Wendy Ice, who has written a field guide describing a mermaid world of her own invention. We occasionally have late night discussions about the symbolic or metaphorical significance of the mermaid, usually taking a fairly psychological approach having to do with the conflicted (divided) self or the division of the conscious and unconscious.
Can you talk about what continues to inspire you? How/why do mermaids continue to interest you?
Artistic genius never stops inspiring me. Painting, music, live theater, film, and literature are all favorites. If I find myself at a temporary impasse, certain artists never fail to jump-start me. Reliable touchstones include Mozart, Django Reinhardt, Orson Welles, Harold Pinter, Caravaggio and Monty Python. Mermaids continue to interest me because their conceptual elasticity is endlessly encouraging as a source of engagement.
What’s the most challenging part of painting them?
The challenging part is to keep reinventing them so that they remain vital.
Do you have an interest in or fascination with mermaids outside of your art? Are you, for example, interested at all in mermaid culture and/or have a particular love of the sea?
Wendy and I have both carefully avoided reading any contemporary writings about mermaids because we don’t want to be consciously or subconsciously influenced by the material. Also, we don’t want to feel as though we can’t use an interesting idea just because someone else happened to use it. The odd result is that we’ve been creatively immersed in the subject matter for many years but are almost completely ignorant about how it has been handled by others in the last century. For the same reason, we know next to nothing about contemporary mermaid imagery. Like anyone else, we occasionally stumble upon a mermaid painting online, but we don’t go looking for them. (The downside of this approach is we miss out on what is likely a wide variety of interesting literature and imagery.)
Can you share with us one of your favorite mermaid paintings you’ve done—and why?
My favorites are the most recent. I particularly like a newer series that we’re calling the “Victorian Mermaids.” It features Victorian carnival portraits that depict a caste of mermaids described in Wendy’s writing. In these images mermaids are posing as humans posing as mermaids. I like the fact that they have a psychological quality about them, akin to something found in traditional oil portraiture.
And finally, do you have any advice for aspiring mermaids?
Beware of the undertow and always bathe in moonlight.
So I’ve been aware of Joy de Vivre and her Siren School for a while, and was even set to visit one of her San-Diego-area camps last year that involved irresistible swan maidens and a whole lot of white feathers. Siren School hosts fantasy-based camps, parties, tours and even cruises centered around romantic, magical creatures (including, of course, mermaids) that every woman might want to be for a day—or longer. You can see a list of upcoming events here. More recently, she’s launched a cool online magazine called la Vie Sirene and this month its focus is mermaids. Check out the cover and click around to read, among other things, Joy’s awesome interview with one of my favorite mermaids, Weeki Wachee’s Barbara Wynns:
I ask Joy for further gorgeous illumination below.
Can you tell us something about yourself?
I am a confessed siren! I don’t use my gifts or talents to lure men to their doom; but I do appreciate being a woman and all that it entails.
I have always known I was cursed with the entrepreneurial bug, but before I struck out on my own I worked in film production and marketing in the performing arts. I’ve owned a few small businesses I absolutely loved, including a tea room, fine dining garden restaurant and a theater company. But my latest venture, Siren School, looks to be the most fulfilling as it inspires and buoys women to find and express their true selves.
How did you become interested in mermaids?
My favorite story as a child was Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, which, as readers know, has a different sensibility than the Disneyfied version. My mom forbade me reading it cuz I would be late to dinner, crying in my room while pouring over the especially heart-wrenching parts
Have you long been involved in mermaid culture, etc?
I flirted with the culture from the fringes for ages. When the movie Splash came out I was nicknamed Madison because of my long blonde hair. And as a SoCal beach girl I have always had a very personal, passionate and altogether primal relationship with the sea. In fact, I am convinced I have salt water coursing through my veins. I am most alive and at peace and ‘myself’ when I am in the ocean.
What is La Vie Sirene?
It is a grass-rootsy online magazine “of the sirens, by the sirens, for the sirens.” In my dealings with members of the mer community I have run into scores of talented artists, authors (you may have been my first!), jewelry & tail designers, rabid enthusiasts, etc., who deserved to be showcased for their dedication and artistry. Unfortunately, many of them feel they have nothing to offer. La Vie Sirene is the place where they can not only be in the spotlight, but share their thoughts and expertise.
I relish and encourage contributions from those who are terrified at the thought of writing anything for the public, but who secretly yearn to. While the magazine will feature topics of interest to its primary demographic, women with a penchant for fantasy, dance and esteem-building, it will do so by focusing on a single theme per month to the extent that readers will be so deluged by the theme they will beg to move onto the next issue.
June’s premier issue is about Mermaids, and every single article and ad involves something mermaidy, from mermaid artists, authors, performers and shop owners, to recipes, bath products and even mermaid-specific hotels and pubs. Instead of providing the month’s content in one chunk, the information is rolled out and posted daily, with at least one article and one attendant ad, chosen to complement said article. I wanted to make both the main content as well as the hand-picked ads stand out and give readers the chance to savour each morsel proffered. At month’s end, the issue’s contents will be compiled into one publication available in PDF, Epub, Mobi and possibly even print formats.
It just launched a few days ago and already we are getting incredibly heartening feedback. People are finding it not only entertaining, but highly informative! It’s what I worked for, but dared not expect. So I am thankful, to say the least.
While it’s exciting to get involved in new projects, and try formats that reside just beyond the envelope, by far the best part about the entire enterprise has been the connections I’ve made with some incredibly soulful and talented people. It is such a gift to see them work their magic, and to get to showcase it.
What inspired you and what can we expect in the future?
I actually just posted an article about the mermaid/belly dancer who inspired Siren School to begin with, if any of your readers are brave enough to take a gander.
As for what the future holds, specifically as it applies to the magazine, we have a list of themes in the offing through 2014, though we’re open to requests.
I know you also run mermaid camps (and other fantasy-based camps) and have mermaid-themed cruises in the works. Can you tell me about all that?
Siren School grew out of my desire to stop swimming just to train for a triathlon, and to get back to doing “water ballet” as I had in my youth… only this time, with a tail! I searched the net for a “mermaid camp”—not knowing if there actually was such a thing—and found the grandmama of them all, wonderful Weeki Wachee. But I lived in California and they are across the country. Additionally, I wanted to delve into the lore and mythology of the legends in something of a roleplay environment. Next thing I knew, I was creating my own camp experience, which is not surprising given that I’ve been involved in theatrical interactive event creation since I was a tyke.
Once I got started with the idea for mermaid events, my inner genie, flapper, geisha, naiad, Venetian courtesan, Parisian showgirl and so on began complaining that they were being neglected. That is when I realized that I wanted to offer a variety of ‘siren’ archetype activities and experiences.
I sat down and created a slew of events all based in coastal Long Beach, CA, and thought I was done. But immediately, I started receiving messages saying, “I love your events but they’re too far away. Let me know if you ever do one in my area.” What to do, what to do… That is when the idea for a tour first germinated and the result is l’Experience Sirene, i.e. Siren School’s 2013 tour with events in cities all over America—each city chosen specifically to best fit the theme. Our Vampire Hunt will be in New Orleans, Pirates Caribbean Cruise & Treasure Hunt in Cozumel, Dryad (wood nymph) event at a Treehouse resort in Oregon, the 1920’s Speakeasy Die Hard gangster melee in Chicago, etc.
The aquatic events include two mermaid cruises with optional dolphin swims in the Bahamas, a Pacific Paradise mermaid getaway with dolphin encounter in San Diego, CA, and our naiad retreat which includes a manatee swim in Florida’s fresh water springs.
Do you yourself slip on a mermaid tail and/or identify as a mermaid at all?
I was over the moon when I got my first tail!!!! Being a major introvert and not liking to attract attention, I do most of my mermaid swimming and water dancing in secret, far from ogling eyes. I am in the throes of designing my first custom tail, which is fortuitous since I gave my original tail away to someone who was unable to get one for herself.
Why do you think so many people are so drawn to mermaids?
Oh gosh, I could write about that for pages and ages. I think this topic is best left to experts like.. well… you! But I will say, that to me mermaids represent confidence, freedom, grace… a lack of hangups and inhibitions… all qualities that are incredibly attractive in a woman. If the movie Splash imprinted you as it did me, then you may equate being a mermaid to being genuine, beautiful, sweet, loyal, loving, bright… so many qualities I would love to foster in myself!
And finally, do you have any advice for aspiring mermaids?
I feel it is absolutely vital to be one’s self without in any way comparing to other mers, their accomplishments, or their tails! Like any budding subculture, mer-dom has its own set of growing pains to contend with, and will find its balance, I have no doubt. While it does so, I feel it is imperative that mers act in a cooperative effort to embrace and promote this unique activity and lifestyle they adore. Like the Little Mermaid’s sisters, we too must twine our arms around each other and rise up out of the water, singing our siren song, not to induce others to wreck on the rocks, but to praise and share our gratitude and love for the mermaids we are—and more important, for one another.