It is all very well, when the pen flows, but then there are the dark days when imagination deserts one, and it is an effort to put anything down on paper. – Elizabeth Aston
I had closed out chapter 17 and started work on Chapter 18 when I suddenly realised I had only four chapters to go in the first draft. Actually, it’s five but the chapter which refuses to be written will eventually succumb or the pen, or more precisely, the keyboard. Once that very last chapter is done with, it’s time for me to turn right around and start on the 2nd draft.
Why so slow?
Before returning to Hopewell, VA in order to, supposedly, spend a week writing, my wife and I sat down for breakfast at the local pancake house. Amongst the subjects discussed – actually, Judi just sat there and let me blether on – was why this book has proceeded so slowly compared to the first. There could be several possible excuses reasons for this tardigrade manuscription.
I cannot claim this story is being written from scratch. When I first envisioned the story now known as Urban Mermaid, the subject matter for the second book was simply an extension of the first. I divided the whole story in to two parts because I had to stop somewhere. Otherwise, the printed version would have been hefty enough to serve as a blunt instrument in an altercation. So, in other words, the story behind Syrena has been out there almost as long as the one behind Urban Mermaid.
Time on my hands
Some of the delay could have something to do with the employment situation . . . or lack thereof. When I seriously began transcribing Urban Mermaid, I was out of a job . . . again. In order to pass the time whilst waiting for someone, anyone, to respond to the scads of job applications I sent out, I took keyboard in hand and really got down to writing.
This time around, I’m retired and should have ample opportunity to get down and dirty with Syrena. The trouble is, I haven’t done so.
To know others is to know thyself
About the only reason that has any possible validity is that I don’t know the characters, Amy and Billy, as well as I knew Penelope and Peter. They also have a role in Syrena and their scenes have been easier to write than those of Amy and Billy. In fact, it’s been a real struggle to keep Penelope and Peter from completely taking over this second book. The inequity is something I’ll have to address in the second draft.
Meanwhile, I have scenes in the remaining four chapters to plot out.
This is a follow-up to yesterday’s post which included mentions of both the Blue blubber jellyfish and the box jellyfish. Ironically, The Daily Mail website featured an article, yesterday, about an invasion of blue blubbers in Queensland, Australia.
Blue blubber hits the beach
Thousands of these coelenterates, Catostylus mosaicus, washed up on the beach at Deception Bay, north of Brisbane. One observer noted the beach appeared to be covered in bubble wrap.
Blue blubbers have mild stings; So mild that kids were throwing them at each other. While the invasion is an annual occurrence, this year’s event is larger than usual. A cause for the higher than usual numbers has yet to be determined.
Small But Deadly
The article in the Daily Mail also referenced two other articles concerning the Irukandji jellyfish. The Irukandji is a type of box jellyfish and it is the nastiest of the nasty when it comes to stings. An Australian documentary about these gelatinous beasts was entitled Killer Jellyfish.
But wait! There’s more!
One should not become too complacent about Irukandji being confined to the land down under. Irukandji are increasingly found in Florida as well as other parts of the U.S. Rather than a mass migration, the cause has more to do with shipping than anything else. More likely than not, a cargo ship of some sort took on ballast water in Australia – or elsewhere in the Indo-Pacific – which happened to contain Irukandji.
At some point, the ship flushed its ballast tanks in Florida waters and the Irukandji suddenly became U.S. residents. So far, there have been no large outbreaks in the waters off Florida. However, as the Earth’s oceans continue to grow warmer, it is only a matter of time.
Irukandji and Colony Island
The Irukandji jelly fish will play a central role in the final book of the Colony Island series. Things like warming seas have caused the Irukandji population to explode and the waters surrounding Florida are no longer safe. Will Colony Island be part of the problem’s solution? You’ll just have to wait to find out.
 The author is old school. Originally, all jellyfish were included in the phylum, Coelenterata. Further study of the members of this phylum revealed significant differences. True jellies were placed in their own phylum, Cnidaria.
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.