Field Research is Always Important
A story is only as good as the research behind it. Therefore, in my unceasing quest for accuracy, I decided it was high time I went out and conducted a bit of research in the field. The fact that the desire to do research coincided with a certain birthday is totally inconsequential.
The question as to just where this research was to be performed sparked considerable debate. Of course, the town of Colony Island is fictitious – or at least I think it is – so doing my research on location was out. So was doing my research in Florida, the Bahamas, the Caribbean, etc. as this is the high season for refugees from places like the frozen tundra of New Jersey.
Seeing as how the bills of Christmas past are still amongst us, an executive decision was made to keep the proposed research close to home and under budget. After that, the choice of a destination was easy.
The National Aquarium in Baltimore, MD
On Friday, January 27, we loaded our research gear on Amtrak and rolled northward at a civilised pace. A station stop in Alexandria, VA allowed me research and confirm ideas for a scene in the 2nd book of the Colony Island series, Syrena. We arrived in Baltimore, set up a base camp at the Fairfield Inn, and proceeded to reconnoiter the Inner Harbour area in advance of Saturday’s research excursion at the National Aquarium.
Let me begin by saying he National Aquarium is a marvelous place to explore. I do think Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium has an overall edge on the National. Nonetheless, it is still very well worth your while to visit.
Our first stop was an exhibit on Australia’s Northern Territory. We liked it so much we went through the exhibit twice. Amongst the animals we encountered was a Kookaburra bird and a Meterns’ water monitor. We compared this animal with a Parsonage litter monitor and decided the two were not related. One is a lizard whilst the other is a cat.
Moving on, we observed Dolphins at play and members of the coelenterate phylum going about their daily business. One of the later books in the Colony Island series will include a plot line concerning an invasive species of jellyfish. The author also recounted – for the umpty-eleventh time – his close encounters with Sea Nettles. The exhibit was nice but perhaps not as comprehensive as the exhibit at the Monterrey Bay Aquarium in California.
While I was not expecting a live specimen, I had rather hoped there would at least be a display covering the Box Jellyfish (class Cubozoa) These coelenterates are found in the coastal waters off Norther Australia and throughout the Indo-Pacific region. Species such as Chironex fleckeri, Carukia barnesi and Malo kingi produce an extremely potent venom. These are probably the most venomous animals known. Stings from these species can be – and very often are – fatal to humans.
From there, it was on to the other exhibits. If I were to tell you everything there was to know about the wonders of the National Aquarium, this post would go on for days.
We did see a Humphead as well as a Slingjaw wrasse in the Blacktip Reef Exhibit. In Syrena, the second book in the Colony Island series, Penelope will tell Peter she had a pet wrasse as a child. She could never tell for sure if it was the same wrasse but there was one which always seemed to recognise her at that particular spot on the reef.
Besides the fish, we also saw these colourful characters in exhibits covering the jungles that contribute their water to the sea.
What About Mermaids?
I was distressed to find there were no mermaids to be seen at the National Aquarium. I was informed, however, that the mermaids at the aquarium swim south to the Caribbean immediately after New Year’s. They don’t return until sometime in the Spring. I also learned the best place to see them is at the Hooters, across the Inner Harbour. When they’re in town, several of them have part-time jobs as waitresses.
Instead of mermaids, we got to see these Diver Fish. It appears told the fin colour has something to do with the age of the fish
Following the aquarium, we toured the USS Torsk, a Tench Class submarine from WWII. We also toured the USS Constellation. The fact that the author has inhaled the entire Aubrey/Marturin series of novels by Patrick O’Brian was of great assistance during his exploration of the USS Constellation.
 The appellation has its origins in an unfortunate slur cast upon my fellow Southerners by a woman who happened to be my fiancée at the time. My subsequent retort cast the Garden State as a ‘frozen tundra’. After nearly forty-two years of holy deadlock, nothing has changed.
 If you want to know more about the scene, you’ll have to buy a copy.
 My father spent part of his boyhood in Baltimore. (He also spent a good part of his youth in Parlin, NJ.) I belong to the Baltimore St Andrews Society. I paid enough inheritance tax on my Aunt’s estate, that I feel qualified to call myself a citizen of Baltimore.
 Sadly, an old gum tree was not included in the exhibit.
 The Parsonage litter monitor is an eight-year-old semi-Siamese tiger-monkey, part tiger but mostly monkey, whose mission in life is to cover everyone else’s business in the litter box while expelling as much litter from said box as possible.
 There is little or no information on how these stings affect mermaids.
 It should be noted that this ship is the sloop built in 1854 and not the earlier frigate which bore the same name. By the way, did I mention the sloop was built in Norfolk, VA?
Here is a little bit of poetry to inspire or brighten your day.
I am become . . . Victor Meldrew
There’s got to be a reason for it, but I just don’t understand. Would someone please tell me just how I can collect a head-full of ideas over a six-week hiatus and then have them all fly out of my skull, the moment I open Scrivener?
There I was, yesterday afternoon. I had completed posting to this blog, brewed a cup of tea, (Earl Grey, if you please) and was ready to rumble. Scrivener came up and then, suddenly, poof! Everything was gone. It was if I’d never thought of these things in the first place. To quote the legendary Victor Meldrew, “I don’t believe it!”
Putting Peter on the spot
The day was not a total loss. I spent time reviewing my notes for this story and occasionally wandering off into scenes from future books; not the first time that’s happened. Once, I strayed into book number four, Suburban Mermaid, and did not return for days on end.
Most of Syrena takes place on Colony Island – or the Greater Royston Metro Area – with only a relative few taking place elsewhere. With all this time on the Island, one would think I’d have plenty of opportunities to make Peter MacPherson uncomfortable. In Urban Mermaid, Peter had to deal with the quirks of Island culture on a regular basis. The chapter covering his first night under his in-law’s roof is a prime example.
This time around, these moments are limited to just a couple of instances. Indeed, one of them is there just so Peter can become even more annoyed with Billy King, his old college roommate. Of course, there is a bit of hugger-mugger in the build up to all this, but you’ll just have to wait and find out what it is.
And in conclusion . . .
Goodreads.com has a great feature which emails you a weekly collection of blog entries by the authors you’re following. This blog roundup gives me a chance to learn what my fellow writers are up to and maybe even the opportunity to steal an idea or two. Needless to say, it’s something I look forward to reading.
This morning, I opened the email from Goodreads to find just one one blog entry. It was from my own blog. To quote Victor Meldrew once again, “Unbe-lieeeve-able!”
 Victor Meldrew is the central character of the long-running British sit-com, One Foot in the Grave. (1990 – 2000). Victor is the archetypical ‘grumpy old man’. Of course, he would disagree, claiming he was simply a “normal man in a world full of idiots.”
 If you have no idea what happened in this chapter, the go buy a copy of Urban Mermaid to find out for yourself. There are handy links in the sidebar which will allow you to do just that.
 noun – secrecy, reticence. adjective – secret or clandestine. verb – to keep secret or concealed; hush up.
It’s been 2017 for over two weeks, now
It’s 2017 and the Holiday Season is finally over for me. I finished taking down the Christmas tree in Charlottesville on Saturday and I’m now in Hopewell, ready to resume work on Syrena. I took a hiatus from writing in December and that has spilled over into January. There’s no escaping it. Time to get back to work.
Meanwhile, back at the Island
The holidays were relatively quiet but not uneventful on Colony Island. There were two big announcements in the Tench Household. One of them dealt with a wedding while the other dealt with a new business in town. More change is coming to Colony Island.
Meanwhile, Amy sought an escape from the feuding by going to sea for over a week and Billy King spent a quiet Christmas at home in Alexandria, VA. A far cry from his usual carousing. There are things on his mind as he boards the train for Florida and his return to work will be postponed for a day. He’s planning a detour through Royston and someone will be waiting for him at the train station.
A New Venture
There’s a new venture on the horizon. It has nothing to do with writing and everything to do with Colony Island. I plan to take my two years of high school art, as well as a college course in art history, and try my hand at jewelry making. Nothing fancy, mind you. I just want to do something with my hands besides pounding the keyboard.
I spent my working life trying to figure out how write programs that would work. I’m now trying to figure out how to write scenes that will work. I need to learn a few new tricks.
Colony Island Crafts
My plans – such as they are – include setting up a shop on Etsey.com, called Colony Island Crafts, and selling a few things. If I’m lucky, I’ll earn enough to buy a new pipe every now and then. Don’t expect to have a mermaid stuck on everything, though. However, I’m planning to work a lot with shells, corals, and other natural bits.
The Back Story
Urban Mermaid mentioned that many of Penelope’s shower gifts were items of hand-made jewelry. The mermaids of Colony Island have long earned pin money by collecting shells and selling them to the tourist shops on the mainland. Some went a step further and turned the shells into necklaces, etc. which let to experimenting with sea glass and, later, conventional jewelry making materials.
As it will be mentioned in Syrena, mermaids have always searched for things to adorn themselves as well as their spouses. Edna Boatman, of Edna’s Home & Bath, can teach mainlanders a thing or two about merchandising. Using the slogan “Decorate Your Mate”, she has a glass case full of locally crafted, necklaces, bracelets, etc. for mermaids to give to their mates. Since these items are produced on the Island, she makes little – if any – profit out of the transactions and instead, uses them as a loss leader to attract shoppers.
Now, you know the rest of the story and it’s time for me to sit down and write.
Try as he might, the author has yet to find any images of mermaids and Hanukkah menorahs. Therefore, the image below will just have to do. (At least it has a ‘beach’ theme.)
It’s That Time of Year . . . Again
Thanksgiving is now history. Black Friday is but a memory and Cyber Monday will soon be in life’s rear-view mirror. We have begun the slow, inexorable march towards Christmas. At least those amongst us who celebrate Hanukkah will get a bit of a break this time as the start of the holiday won’t begin until the evening of December, 24th.
Then, there’s Old Christmas, the Winter Solstice, Saturnalia, the Feast of Mithras, and we can’t forget Boxing Day on December 26th. Let’s face it people, there is no escape and sooner or later, you’ll have to hand over a gift or two . . . or three.
Holiday Gift-Giving – Solved
Fortunately, your friends from Colony Island are here to help. For those of you with a mer-mad relative or two . . . or three . . . on your list, this is the perfect opportunity for you save yourself a bit of hassle. Why not turn them on to the mermaid novel for grown-ups that everyone’s talking about? Yes, why not give them a copy of Urban Mermaid?
If you do, your friends, relatives, postman, etc. will have a chance to cuddle up with a hot cup of tea on wintery evenings – or afternoons – and escape into the fantastic world of Colony Island. They’ll get to find out that the merfolk of this mythical town on the Florida coast have jobs, hopes, dreams and income taxes, just like the rest of us. This boy-meets-mermaid story is a tale of love against all odds.
Urban Mermaid – The Story
Penelope is facing a lonely, loveless existence, living amongst humans. Peter MacPherson is the poster boy for rejection. Ever since he discovered the wonder of girls, none of his relationships have lasted longer than four weeks.
Mermaids are strongly advised to avoid relationships with human males. Penelope is out of options and is on the verge of pulling the plug on her life. Except for his brother, Peter is alone in the world and facing a bleak, loveless future. His broken heart can only take so much abuse.
All this changes one Sunday afternoon in April, when a chance encounter and a practical joke turn into something more; an epic story of love, acceptance, and overcoming obstacles. Penelope and Peter will learn they are more alike than different. Penelope will find her anchor and Peter will arrive at his safe harbour.
This tale of tails is a sweet love story; just the thing we need in times like these.
Easy to Buy!
Urban Mermaid is available in both print and electronic formats and can be purchased by using the links in the sidebar to your right. Give those on your list – including yourself – the gift of awe, wonder, and unconditional love.
Happy Holidays and thank you for your support.
Howard Parsons – author
Writing a novel can be a perilous business. The other day, I was minding my own business, mapping out an upcoming chapter of Syrena, the sequel to Urban Mermaid. As part of the outlining process, I quickly sketched out some dialogue which will occur between Peter MacPherson and Mrs. Gar, the widowed next door neighbour to Ilene and George Tench.
Mrs. Gar is a nice old soul of indeterminate age. She is definitely older than George and Ilene, but it’s hard to put a finger on just how old she may be. Her husband disappeared at sea decades ago, years before George and Ilene moved in. Her mate’s first name was Hector and though she will admit that he’s, in all likelihood, dead, she nonetheless keeps a candle burning in the window of her heart, hoping for his return.
What happened to Hector?
I’ve often wondered this, myself. Originally, I had planned for Ellen Gar’s mate to have been lost at sea, years before the narration starts. Not content to leave well enough alone, I kept picking at it, trying to come up with a plausible explanation.
Returning to Syrena, there is a scene, in the chapter I’m currently outlining, where Peter asks Ellen about Mr. Gar. It seems he had this tattoo of a multi-coloured sea fan on his back. Ellen had paid for the tattoo and she looked forward to waking up every morning so she could admire the artistry.
Well friends, that did it. I put down the outline development I’d been working on and started contemplating exactly what happened to Hector and exactly what I am going to do about it. I can now reveal that what happened to Hector will appear as a sub-plot in book number three. I already know of a few other things happening in book number three but I’ve got to save something for later.
Keep the reader in suspense
So, there you have it. Will Mrs. Gar ever learn exactly what happened to Hector? Will Hector ever return? I have just one word for you: Madagascar.
I hope you have ( or had) a culturally appropriate Thanksgiving. Now, time to get back to that outline.
Chapter Progress for Syrena
I finished another chapter of Syrena yesterday. Please don’t start thinking I’ve turned into some sort of writing demon who can whip out chapter after chapter. The only person I know who can do that is S.K. Munt and she lives in Australia.
When I was writing Urban Mermaid, I cranked out a chapter in a day, one or two times. That was a rare exception and I am not expecting a repeat performance. Up until recently, my writing speed was more like one chapter per season.
Another chapter bytes the dust
The secret behind the speed on this latest accomplishment is the fact that I’d already written a third of the chapter . . . Several seasons ago. I do feel like I’m picking up speed on the sequel to Urban Mermaid but don’t expect Syrena (the working title) to go to the printer’s anytime soon. I’m working on the first draft and I already have a list of revisions I’d like to make. I also need to add some descriptive language to a good number of scenes.
A Change of Topic
Changing topics, I’d like to mention a few of the underlying themes found in Syrena, as well as the rest of the series.
Aside from two people finding each other, the Colony Island series is also about people who have had a difficult time in life, getting a second chance, finding their true home, finding acceptance. One underlying theme in Syrena is that of redemption.
Billy King is Peter MacPherson’s old college roomie. They were thrown together for their freshman year and stayed together for their entire college career. Billy is an extremely talented musician who’s a bit stuck on himself. Moreover, he’s a lady’s man and has, on many occasions, taken advantage of his musical abilities to snag bed partners.
He is a peripheral character in Urban Mermaid but plays a much larger role in Syrena. His womanizing makes him come across as more than a bit sleazy. He also has a condescending attitude towards Peter. Billy repeatedly tried to help his roommate find a steady girl in college but to no avail. This included interfering with some things Peter wanted to do.
His condescending attitude even extends to Peter’s relationship with Penelope. Billy is convinced that the whole thing is a fluke and gives them three years at the very most. He also wonders if he could snag Penelope on the rebound. The two of them both work in the city and Peter seems determined to stay in the jerkwater town of Colony Island. Syrena is about his ultimate redemption.
Can a leopard truly change his spots? You’ll have to read Syrena to find out.
Hmmmm, I assume you mean ‘What do people on Colony Island look like?’
What Do Merfolk Look Like?
Well, on land, they are surprisingly ordinary.
You could stumble upon Colony Island, park your car, and go have lunch at Judi’s Jersey Diner. Whether you chose to eat at the counter or in a booth, you would sit next to and be served by Merfolk. The conversation you might overhear would be mundane. Two guys at the counter might complain about how bad the fishing has been lately, while two ladies, in the booth next to yours, might discuss going for a swim that afternoon. It’s a seaside town and that’s the sort of talk one would expect to hear.
Have A Look Around
Walk along Main Street and look in the shops. They are just what you would expect in a small town, although the hardware store does keep a selection of tridents in the back. Edna’s Home & Bath looks pretty ordinary – although that bathtub in the window does seem a bit long – and the Colony Island VFD is no different from any small-town fire station. If you’ve parked too long on the street, you’d never know the officer writing your ticket is a merman.
By tradition, the mermen on Colony Island have long hair and beards though there are plenty of clean shaven men with short hair. On the whole, you’ll see more women with waist length hair than on the mainland but, like Penelope Tench, they’ll wear it shorter if need be. Braids are popular but otherwise, hair-styles are pretty simple. Otherwise, anything done at Bab’s Kut & Kurl would wash out the moment you went for a swim.
Just Normal Folks
just like everyone else. The islanders may have a few odd ideas about things like clothing or jewelry. These are, however, nothing to write home about. People from the mainland do occasionally drive over to use the public beach, but on the sand, it’s hard to tell the visitors from the residents.
When They’re Not On Land
As for the sea, you won’t find mermaids with tails that go on forever or extravagant fins. Mermaids don’t have huge hips, tiny waists or impossibly large bosoms like human artists are wont to depict them. The don’t have elf ears, fins on their arms, and their scale colouration runs from silver to blue-ish greys to greens. There is a population in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, known as gingers, with orange-ish scale colouration, but they are an exception to the rule.
While there are mermen with bulging biceps and ripped abs., this has more to do with their occupation on land than anything than anything else. At the same time, you won’t find very many paunchy mermen. A swim a day keeps the beer belly away.
This image is a favourite of mine.
Her hair is long but not impossibly so. The colour is a reddish brown, in other words, like normal human hair. She has a pleasing face, but it is not the face of a super model. Her breasts are average. The scale colouration is close to that of a Ginger and her fin is of a reasonable size. She is average. She is ordinary. She is . . . well, pretty. She is from the world of Colony Island.
Here are a few quick notes for your amusement.
Progress On Book # 2
Well, I finished another chapter. It wants polishing, of course. The chapter covers between Thanksgiving and Christmas in the plot’s time line. I would have finished it back on Friday, but issues with our septic system caused the delay.
I have a partially written chapter that I need to flesh out. This portion was written back in May, 2015, during my cruise to Bermuda and concerns Amy’s holiday excursion in the Bahamas. Things are starting to get a bit complicated for her.
There’s another chapter I have to go back and write. I pretty much know what’s in it so the process shouldn’t take very long. I hope.
The next item concerns the website itself. A visitor pointed out to me that the book trailer for Urban Mermaid, located on the Front Page, was not working. It seems that a parameter which once worked with the YouTube plug-in, no longer does. I have corrected this issue. If any of you tried to view it and couldn’t, now’s your chance.
I have an FAQ which will be published on either Thursday or Friday. It covers just what the residents of Colony Island look like. This should answer some questions for those of you who haven’t read the book, yet. If you haven’t, right now would be a great time to read Urban Mermaid before the holiday madness sets in,
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Urban Mermaid makes a great holiday gift for the mer-fans in your life.
That’s all of my quick notes for now. Time for me to get back to work.