[SWP: Behind the Book] The Mermaid and Me
Contributor
Written by
Leora Krygier
November 2016
Contributor
Written by
Leora Krygier
November 2016

Keep Her began in a place where many of us writers go to think, to write, and to caffeinate – that ubiquitous coffee shop,  Starbucks. If you stop and look up from your own latte or laptop, there’s always a lot going on there, teens doing homework, people on their first date, prospective hires being interviewed, chess matches, even mini book groups. And then – there is The Mermaid. Everyone knows her. She’s got that enigmatic Mona Lisa smile. She’s green. Her mermaid tail rises up like a stole around her, and she reigns over her coffee kingdom with the round, neon benevolence of a fairy godmother.

And so, there I was, on another one of those triple-digit rainless Los Angeles summer days, ducking into my local Starbucks for the AC and an iced latte and scrounging around for a new story, when The Mermaid looked down at me from her perch and tapped me lightly on the shoulder. “Look around,” she whispered (Mermaids can only whisper). “There’s a story right in front of your eyes.” And there was. It was just a quick, little look, exchanged between a young man and a girl, barely noticeable across the room, but I saw it. It was a nanosecond moment of quiet attraction, just a slim sliver of possibility, but I could feel its almost gravitational pull.

Bam. A hundred questions, what-ifs, and meant-to-be’s danced in my head. What if those two young people had acted on that momentary attraction and impulse? And what about The Mermaid? Wasn’t she the classic fairy tale symbol for star-crossed lovers? And Starbucks? Wasn’t that the name of the first mate of the Peqod in the Melville classic Moby Dick, Starbuck, the hero, the one who stood up to the obsessed Captain Ahab?

The first pages began to write themselves, there in that first Los Angeles Starbucks, and later in a succession of Starbucks in New York, Atlanta, Chicago, Nashville, Sedona, and even London. That was seven years, three title changes, a few character name changes, (till I settled on Maddie and Aiden) and twenty-five drafts ago. That was before I, completely by chance, met a Greenpeace volunteer who was asking for donations in front of a supermarket and got me interested in a 2008 mission to save whales in the Southern Ocean. That was before I dug up and found, then reread my own worn-out high school paperback copy of Moby Dick, which was falling apart and yellowing.

I then spent a lot of time researching the Greenpeace mission, reading up on it, following the blog posts of those daring volunteers, reading about their training, watching videos and webcams, poring over diagrams of the Esperanza, the actual ship that was involved in the 2008 mission. I’m not a very good sailor myself, honestly, more of a “landlubber,” so it was somewhat ironic to me that I was writing a seafaring part of this story, but another part of me felt it had to be written.

There were also other things I wanted to touch upon – family, climate change, secrets, the healing power of the arts, loss, and forgiveness – all issues that are important to me as a person and writer. And as I was writing Maddie, I also realized that she was a bit like me in the sense that she liked to encapsulate and understand the world in photographs, and to discover the details in things and scraps that other people might overlook. I took hundreds of photos throughout the time I wrote Keep Her, my way of crystallizing the story and stepping into Maddie’s shoes, loving every minute I spent with Maddie and Aiden’s story.

As for now - I’m thinking of continuing Maddie and Aiden’s journey together in a new novel. Some tiny fragments of the next part of their story are tossing around in my head. I’m still unsure, though, so I may have to go visit The Mermaid again. I wonder what she has in store for me this time.

 

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Comments
  • Michelle Cox

    Love it, Leora!  Can't wait to read it!

  • Leora Krygier

    Thanks so much Betty Hafner!

  • Betty Hafner

    Fantastic story for all aspiring writers to learn how it takes a combination of serendipity, inspiration, research,and just plain hard work to put together a beautiful story like this. Thanks so much for sharing.