Magic Under Glass / 2010 / Bloomsbury USA /
Between The Sea and Sky / 2011 / Bloomsbury USA /
Where do mermaids live?
That was the first question I had to ask myself when I began writing Between the Sea and Sky. A lot of mermaid folklore comes from the British Isles. However, I decided I wanted my mermaids to be somewhere a little warmer and sunnier. I also had to consider the climate for the winged folk; they wouldn’t want to live somewhere rainy or snowy.
In Magic Under Glass, Hollin speaks at one point of Sormesen: “The houses are painted bright colors and the sun shines three hundred days a year…and the food, they say, is the best in the world, to say nothing of the wine.”
The port city of Sormesen, I decided, sounded like an excellent place for mermaids. I imagined a Mediterranean paradise of blue skies, gorgeous waters, and olive trees. I wanted the whole book to feel lighter than Magic Under Glass, so I also moved the time frame back from an imagined Victorian era to more of late 1700s/early 1800s period, with airier clothes and tall ships before the age of steam.
At first, however, I wasn’t sure how to convey the Mediterranean around 1800. My library isn’t exactly full of “what life was like in Italy in 1800″ books. But then I remembered the Grand Tour. It was common around this time for wealthy folk to go on “the Grand Tour” to see the antiquities on the European continent. The Romantic poet Lord Byron, for instance, carved his name on an ancient temple near Athens while seeing the sites. I scoured libraries and bookstores for these travel narratives and dug up details on France, Italy and Greece, combining them into descriptions of Sormesen. Unfortunately, my mermaid protagonist has pain shooting through her feet with every step, much like Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid, so I ended up not needing to describe the city as much as I thought! She doesn’t get around that much. But hopefully there is still a sense of the backdrop.
There is one flying section of the book, in particular, where I needed to describe the world from above. This was the point where Google Maps became my best friend. I needed to figure out what it would be like to fly over the country for hours and hours–how the terrain would change, and how many miles was a reasonable length of travel. While Magic Under Glass was described somewhat vaguely, in terms of its alternate Earth equivalents, the geography of Between the Sea and Sky is based very heavily on Italy, roughly modeling a flight from Naples to Torino at the foot of the Alps, complete with some ghastly inns along the way. If I got one thing out of my research, it’s that English travelers in Italy were very displeased with the inns!
In the end, I spent so much time looking at pictures of roofs and hills that I almost feel like I’ve flown over Italy myself. I hope readers enjoy the ride too. =)
I want to thank Jaclyn Dolamore for visiting Windowpane Memoirs. It’s been a pleasure.