Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Apocalypse Now: an interview with LIES BENEATH author Anne Greenwood Brown

Today Anne Greenwood Brown’s book LIES BENEATH makes a splash, thanks to Random House/Delacorte. 

Calder White lives in the cold, clear waters of Lake Superior, the only brother in a family of murderous mermaids. To survive, Calder and his sisters prey on humans, killing them to absorb their energy.  This summer the underwater clan targets Jason Hancock to avenge the death of their mother.  Hancock has a fear of water, so to lure him in, Calder sets out to seduce Hancock's daughter, Lily. Easy enough—especially as Calder has lots of practice using his irresistable good looks and charm on ususpecting girls. Only this time Calder screws everything up: he falls for Lily—just as Lily starts to suspect that there's more to the monsters-in-the-lake legends than she ever imagined.

Hi, Anne!  Thanks for being with The Lucky 13s today.  I found LIES BENEATH creepy and compelling, and absolutely believed the sinister mer culture you created.  What merfolk source material was particularly inspiring?

The story was very "done" in my head before I'd written much more than the first chapter, so I didn't use research as a starting place. However, I did take a look at some Native American legends about mermaids and other water spirits (e.g., the Passamaquoddy legend from Maine and the Manitou stories from the Great Lakes), as well as more modern mermaid sightings to add evidentiary support for my story. For the most part, though, mermaid research played very little part, and I felt free to create my own societal rules, physical powers, and bad behavior for the White family.

On the other hand, even though I grew up near Lake Superior, where the story takes place, I had to do a lot of geographical research to help me express the feel of the place to someone who had never been there. For the most part, all of the locations are real. If you want to, you can go to Bayfield, Red Cliff, and Basswood Island; you can take the ferry to Madeline Island, etc. (There's a map at the front of the book!) Although . . . sometimes I had to move things around to make them work with the plot. For example, I picked up a cliff from Madeline Island and moved it to Red Cliff. No biggie. Be a novelist. Move mountains!!!

What writers do you admire?  What did you read as a teen?  And what do your kids read?

Growing up, I was a huge Anne of Green Gables fan. She had snark before it was a word. I hope my character, Lily Hancock, has a little bit of her quick tongue. Authors I admire are too numerous to mention (although, just to be contrary, I'll throw out Libba Bray, J.K. Rowling, and Janet Evanovich). At the moment, my kids are into John Green, Rick Riordan, J.K. Rowling, Scott Westerfeld, and Suzanne Collins.

There are quite a few books in the world about mermaids, but not so many about mer-males.  You did a great job making Calder a sympathetic character, despite his murderous nature. What was your process in designing such a complicated protagonist?

Thanks!  My goal with this novel was to write an Evolution Story (in a very Darwinian sense). Calder White and his mermaid sisters are animals, or at the very least animalistic. They're predators. They stalk and kill their prey without apology, just like the lion stalks and kills the gazelle. This is not a question of morality with them. They would never describe themselves as evil, just like you wouldn't describe the lion as evil. It's purely a question of their nature and their survival. The fact that humans aren't at the top of the food chain, well...I can see why that bothers some readers!

My "process" was to let Calder slowly evolve over the course of the story from animal to man. Because of the unique nature of his origins--when compared to his sisters--he does have some lingering remorse for what he is, and that allows him to adapt to new situations, and ultimately to grow toward what I consider to be the two most profound aspects of the human spirit: the ability to forgive and the ability to be self-sacrificing.

It's an ongoing process for him. He's not the hero, but he's trying really hard to be one. I think that's why he's sympathetic. You want him to finish that journey.

One of my favorite scenes in the book is between Calder and a surprising confidante.  (Don't want to give it away, but he's a man of the sea.)  As you wrote this book, how did you surprise yourself?  

I am definitely a planner and a plotter. That being said, you've zoomed in on the one scene that doesn't show up in any of the original outlines. The concept for that scene didn't surprise me. I've always liked the idea of a confidante who doesn't have a lot to say him/herself. (I had a dog like that growing up.) And, as bizarre as that scene is, it's actually based in a sad reality. What surprised me was how much I learned about Calder in just a few paragraphs, and how that new knowledge became so important to the sequel, DEEP BETRAYAL.

Congratulations!  I can’t wait to find out what’s next for Calder.  Thanks for stopping by, Anne!

Anne lives in Minnesota with her amazingly patient husband and their three above-average children.

You can connect with Anne on her website, Twitter, or Facebook.

And you can purchase her book at your local bookstore or at Indiebound, B&N, or Amazon.

This interview was conducted by Lucky 13s member Julia Mary Gibson as part of an ongoing series of interviews with The Apocalypsies – YA, MG, and children’s book authors debuting in 2012.

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