• Featured Novel: 'The Mermaid Stair' by Maggie Secara


    Maggie Secara's fantasy The Mermaid Stair, the third standalone book in the Harper Errant series, combines elements of fairy tale, urban fantasy historical fantasy, and time-travel to tell a unique story set in 1593 and 2013. The fae folk of England's rivers, lakes, and streams are disappearing, and it's up to Ben Harper and Raven in their quest to track down and stop the "bitter man bent on their destruction".

    Synopsis:

    A scrap of parchment with a mysterious sigil... A message in a forgotten language... A mermaid paradise of waterfalls and dreams... And Ben Harperís life is about to get complicatedóagain.

    1593
    Scarred by fires inside and out, barred by his heritage from any kind of grace, half-fae Silence Carew longs for the comfort of a human soul. His life is one of unending anger and despair, until the day the voices in his head offer a monstrous solution. If he can find the nerve, and the Mermaid Stair, the reward he seeks can be bought with the blood of his motherís people, the nymphs and mermaids of England.

    2013
    When the ageless lord of the River Thames is jolted out of retirement by news of horrific death among his nymphs, he calls on the king of Faerie for aid. Already alerted by disturbing visions, Oberonís principal gentlemen, Ben Harper and acerbic, shape-changing Raven, find themselves once again in serviceóthis time on the trail of a monster. With only Benís gift of finding and faerie music as a guide, vague clues lead them on a terrible chase through Londonís many-layered history to a mythic confrontation on the banks of a vanished river. Only the gods know what will come of it all!


    Interview with Maggie Secara

    How do you bridge the two time periods of your novel's plot?

    I had to consider what things connect Roman London to early modern London, and there are many things. London is a gold mine of ancient Roman artifacts, some of them at ground level, like remnants of the old Roman wall, and the Elizabethans looked to Rome as their model of an ideal society. But what really ties them to each other and to our own modern world is the Atami: the water fae, nymphs and mermaids and a few minor goddesses. And of them all, the greatest tie is Father Tamesis, the River Thames itself.

    What subjects did you have to research about for "The Mermaid Stair"?

    Gosh, itís hard to remember exactly, but I now have a stack of books on Roman Britain to go with my existing library of 16th century material. I also wanted to know about the Thames and all the ďlost riversĒ of London as well. Naturally, you never use all your notes, but you never know what will be useful or necessary. Actually, I did keep track one week. Aside from the major elements of history and mythology, and the rivers, in that week I looked up:
    Folk songs about boats/ships, Coracles, Wind in the Willows, Dartmoor rivers, especially the River Dart, the Latin name for toads (bufo), a musical term (threnody wasnít right, but all I could think of), Beekeeping- sources of honey in Devon, the mechanics of going over a waterfall, with or without a barrel, folk songs that begin with ďAs I was a-walking...", white water rafting

    Tell us about the time travel elements. Did you have to think a lot about the complications that time travel may bring like paradox or plot holes?


    I did give it some thought, but Iím writing fantasy, not science fiction, so I didnít feel especially obliged to work out a whole Rosen-Einstein Bridge solution. People do go on about how you have to know exactly how everything works, how your magic system works, and so on. My answer is simple. Itís magic. And while the butterfly effect is one theory about the effects of time travel, there is another that says that tossing a pebble into a stream has no discernible effect on the course of the stream. Ben and Raven donít set out to meddle in historical events Ė well, except the first time, but only because Ben had already accidentally derailed something important and had to put it right. But they move through time to find something or someone that is also out of place. And itís only faerie magic that permits ďwalking the worldsĒ. Itís not something ordinary people can learn to do.

    And so far Iíve managed to keep Ben from encountering himself, or any of his ancestors. If I donít put him in a paradoxical situation, itís just not a problem. Aubrey wouldnít let him do it anyway.

    Silence Carew sounds like a very interesting character. How did you develop his character?


    Carew was the toughest task Iíve ever set myself, because of both who and what he is. His mother is a river goddess, his father a mortal blacksmith, and Simon himself is a failed scholar who becomes a serial killer. Somehow I had to explain him without excusing him. The only easy part was writing the backstory that mostly isnít in the book. I needed to know his parents story before I could understand his. But actually spending time with Carew as he spins further and further into violence and madness was tough. At one point I realized that in order to keep his development moving and meaningful, I was going to simply have to write all his scenes at once. I spent three weeks in the manís company, and his point of view, and it wasnít pleasant. Fortunately for the reader, a lot of what I wrote wound up on the cutting room floor. Whatís left is, I think, quite horrific enough for even a dark fantasy.

    How do you portray the faeries? And the famous real-life people in history such as William Shakespeare?

    The faeries are immortal creatures of spirit that can physically manifest at will. Howís that? It took me the better part of two books to decide that was their true nature. Before that, they were simply what they needed to be, and I derived their nature from what I had written, rather than the other way around. Writing is improvising, after all. I build the world as I go along, though of course I keep tons of notes and charts and lists to keep things consistent. Faerie and the mortal world are intimately connected, as we discovered in Kingís Raven.

    Faerie itself is essentially a manifestation of Oberonís will, which derives from humanityís mystical side, and its existence is the home of the creative spark, the source of our imaginings both light and dark; hence, itís perilous nature. It has no boundaries or borders, and can overlap our world from time to time, often in stone circles but in any wild places. I also see them (and thanks to Brian Froud for visualizing them all so well!) as including all manner of creature: the Great Fae like Oberon and Titania, the mischief makers like hobgobins, and the little folk who are essentially the cute winged fairies at the bottom of your garden. In the new book, weíre also going to deal with the Unseelie Court, the dark side of Faerie.

    The boys do get to deal with real historical people to some degree, like Shakespeare, who I know well, or Alfred the Great, who I had to learn from a good biography Writing lines for William Shakespeare was the nerviest thing I have ever done, and Iím afraid I shied off of writing that scene for awhile. But the Elizabethans are all so familiar to me, in the end I had to just take a deep breath and write him, I know itís kind of the thing to take an iconic person like that and write him as a lush, or poxed, or not-Shakespeare, to take him down from the pedestal. Well, I went another way and Iím very happy with how he came out. Itís easier, of course, when itís someone few people know much about, like Alfredís nemesis, Guthrum. I based his cameo on someone I know, and just let him chew the scenery!

    What kind of ideas did you absorb from Susannah Clark and Neil Gaiman?

    Susannah Clark reminds me that Faerie is perilous. Itís not a happy, bouncy castle full of dear little elves sitting on mushrooms, or dispensing wisdom. Itís also not just a different village down the road where the people happen to have pointed ears but are otherwise just like us. Theyíre not. Fae emotions donít spring from the same place as ours, nor can we be sure of their intentions.

    Neil Gaiman constantly reminds me of the importance of fairy tales, and of gorgeous, straightforward writing. His Instructions is one of the books that is always on my desk.

    And for all that, the author Iím most often compared to is Charles De Lint, which is tremendously flattering, because he does what I try to do: blend the mythic with the modern, in a modern tone of voice, not lofty or ďforsoothlyĒ. And heís been doing it very well for a lot longer than I have! Curiously I hadnít read much of his work when I first started publishing, but when people started comparing me to him, I thought Iíd better have a look, and I was blown away at the similarities I found.
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