Monday, March 2, 2020

Susann Cokal Interview - Mermaid Moon

Photo Content from Susann Cokal

Susann Cokal is a moody historical novelist, a pop-culture essayist, book critic, magazine editor, and sometime professor of creative writing and modern literature. She lives in a creepy old farmhouse in Richmond, Virginia, with seven cats, a dog, a spouse, and some peacocks that supposedly belong to a neighbor. She is the author of two books for young adults and two for regular adults.

Susann's previous book, The Kingdom of Little Wounds, received several national awards, including a silver medal from the American Library Association's Michael L. Printz Award series. It also got starred reviews in Kirkus, School Library Journal, The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, and Publishers Weekly, and praise from Booklist, The New York Times Boook Review, and other venues. It was #3 on the Boston Globe list of best YAs of the 2013 and won an ALAN citation from the National Council of Teachers of English.


Hardcover: 496 pages
Publisher: Candlewick (March 3, 2020)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1536209597
ISBN-13: 978-1536209594


“Susann Cokal’s latest miracle, Mermaid Moon, springs from the tides where Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid once swam — and walked to land. But she delivers something even more rich and strange, and a mermaid heroine who will swim away with your heart.”Gregory Maguire, author of Wicked and Egg & Spoon

“Cokal's moody and sea-drenched tale weaves touches of Hans Christian Andersen with a dash of Pied Piper, using language that gorgeously sets each scene, including the exceedingly creepy bone vault … Lyrical, complex, and occasionally dark.” —School Library Journal

“Cokal creates a well-developed matriarchal mermaid mythology in which women couple, bonded by love and respect, and men are largely unnecessary. Through several voices and richly detailed prose, these markedly different worlds overlap and diverge to impart a nuanced exploration of power, family, faith, and love.” —Publishers Weekly

“Mermaid Moon is an action-packed tale of parental abandonment, familial longing, treachery and dark magic with an appealingly determined heroine.” —BookPage

“A beautifully told, immersive story that layers fairy-tale elements with more modern themes, allowing for a different experience with every reread.” —Shelf Awareness

What inspired you to pen your first novel?
My very first was written so long ago that I literally did pen it. I was thirteen, and I wrote the ominously titled THE COVEN in a spiral notebook, sometimes while riding the bus to school and in between classes. It was about three girls in junior high who make a deal with the devil to become popular. I think it’s easy to deduce my inspiration.

The story is 183 pages long and has a complete plot—which is amazing to me because a streamlined plot is very hard for me. And that inky notebook now drips with irony, not least because the bullies in my junior high saw me with it and picked on me for both thinking about witches and thinking I could actually write a novel. Then sometimes they asked to be characters in the story. Heroes, naturally.

As to my first published novel, Mirabilis, that came much later. But it was inspired by much the same feeling in my life—and it also has witches. Suspected witches, particularly the wealthy woman who is the heroine’s beloved. I suppose we find our themes early on.

Tell us your latest news.
Well, I do have this new book out, which is pretty important in my mind. Thank you for giving me a chance to talk about it!

And I’m working on a couple of new novels. One is set in the Dark Ages, which is new territory for me—though it takes place in a town where I lived for a year. It has a dragon who’s a big part of the plot. The other hops twelve hundred years to the Cold War and is set in the town where I went to high school, which happened to be the place the Atomic Bomb was invented. Combine the fear and blustering of Cold War Los Alamos with the fear and blustering of high school in general … It’s the way some parts of our world feel to me today.

Who or what has influenced your writing, and in what way?
I’m afraid to say it because it might sound cheesy, but … every dang person I’ve met and experience I’ve had has been an influence. There’s a deep well from which each of us draws, and the well is unique, and the waters bubble in ways we don’t even expect. Someone encountered very briefly twenty years ago might unlock part of a story being created today.

Tell us your most rewarding experiences since being published.
Unbelievable rewards—every book has truly changed my life. Especially the first one, of course, because it was the first. With that one, a lot of things happened at the same time, actually: My mother died, I finished graduate school, and Mirabilis was published. Suddenly I was a grown-up. Because of that book, I got my first job as a creative writing professor, and I bought a little house near the beach.

Those things are practical, but the experiences that matter most are the emotional ones. Especially the people who’ve written to me, or even come up in person, to tell me that my books have meant something to them. That’s happened the most with The Kingdom of Little Wounds, which speaks to young women who have endured a trauma. There is nothing like the pleasure of connecting with readers. That’s a big reason to write.

What do you hope for readers to be thinking when they read your novel?
Most of all, I hope they are feeling. I always write from a mood first. The mood with which I started Mermaid Moon was melancholy. I was sick in a way that made speaking and reading difficult, and I couldn’t sleep. I lay in bed and told myself a story about someone who manages to transform her body and doesn’t give up on the quest to find out who she really is. As I wrote, Sanna learned to switch her body from seavish to landish and back; she claimed her body and her story. I truly believe that writing this story helped me heal and find some more hope. I would love for readers to go through that arc of emotion with me—to feel in the end that they can claim their power.

Your new book, MERMAID MOON—can you tell my Book Nerd community a little about it?
It’s a story about accepting your body, getting control of it, and mastering the magic within. Sanna, the main narrator, has learned witchcraft in order to fashion herself a pair of legs and go ashore looking for the landish girl who gave birth to her. The trouble is that nobody can remember who this person is or exactly where she lives; the elder sea-witch cast a spell of forgetting after the birth. So Sanna follows a clue to the Thirty-Seven Dark Islands, where she accidentally lets some magic slip and then is considered a saint, and then she is imprisoned by a wicked baroness who has plenty of plans for her …

The baroness, Thyrla, is one of my favorite characters out of all my novels. She will stop at nothing to live and be beautiful forever, which means she slaughters her own babies in order to draw the life out of them and add it to her personal store. Sanna has to figure out what sort of body she wants, then how to use that body and her magic to outsmart the baroness and possibly complete the quest to find her mother.

It’s also a feminist take on fairy tales. The mermaid clowder, or flok, is steadfastly matriarchal and nomadic, as I’ve always thought mermaids would be. Sisters, you know, are doing it for themselves; they rule the flok democratically. And they’re constantly on the move, so their life is a quest for beauty and new experiences.

If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
I would love to put together a couple of villains, or maybe three of them, from my last two novels. I think Lord Nicolas from The Kingdom of Little Wounds would try to take on Sjældent and Thyrla from Mermaid Moon—and they’d make mincemeat of him. He thinks he can use his good looks and sexuality to get anything he wants, but Sjældent wouldn’t care for him and Thyrla would take what she wanted and then mount his bones on her wall. Now I’m imagining how all of that would go down …

Great question!

What’s the most ridiculous fact you know?
It might be that there is a word for a big tangle of hair, the kind that’s so matted you can’t get it out with a brush but have to work on it with your fingers. That word is feesk.

Have you ever stood up for someone you hardly knew?
Of course! If you see someone getting bullied, attacked, or unfairly insulted, and you’re a decent person, you have to do what you can to make the world a more compassionate place. And you might make a friend, too.

Best date you've ever had?
I think it was a non-date, with someone who had been my friend and co-worker for years and had separated from his wife. We went to see the English Beat, a band I’ve loved since college. It was perfect. At the end of the night, we sat in the car for a moment. Our ears were ringing from the music and we had a hard time hearing each other. I thought very distinctly that if it had been a date, we would have kissed then, and I wondered if I should make a move. But I respected some boundaries and went inside my house … A month later we were a couple, and we were blissfully happy. We still are—we’re married. It was one of the biggest surprises of my life.

Choose a unique item from your wallet and explain why you carry it around.
An old ticket from the S-train in Denmark. You used to be able to punch the ticket one time or more to travel around the various zones of city and exurbs. Mine still has some punches left, but that kind of ticket isn’t valid anymore. I tell myself I keep this one handy in case I need a bookmark, but really it’s to remind myself of the possibilities for exploring the world.

What event in your life would make a good movie?
There was a sort of David Lynch / Quentin Tarantino / Pedro Almodóvar period in which my eccentric uncle was murdered and the rest of us started finding out what he’d been up to, which was thieving and lying and being deceived by people even less scrupulous than he was. My other uncle and I were determined to untangle some of it, which meant getting documents from five countries, three continents, and four states of the U.S. So maybe it was more like an episode of Law and Order: International. I had a bad concussion shortly after it all started, which made things feel unreal. The family fortune vanished, and honor got drop-kicked into the Amazon. This would be a romcom, obviously.

What is something you think everyone should do at least once in their lives?
Fail. At something you really, really care about. It feels terrible for a while, but it makes your spirit and confidence more elastic.

And while you are busy failing, remember that your standards may be different from somebody else’s, and in other eyes you’re succeeding wildly.

Which incident in your life totally changed the way you think today?
In 2012, I had a serious concussion. In a very obvious way, it scrambled my brain and changed the way the synapses fired: I became dyslexic and aphasic (unable to find words), I couldn’t understand math, and my short-term memory was so bad that by the time I got to the end of a sentence, I’d often forgotten how I had started it. I used to lie awake terrified that my brain would stay that way­ forever (but mercifully and paradoxically, because of the injury, I don’t actually remember those times all that much). This lasted over a year.

Because I was awake anyway, I told myself stories about a big flok of mermaids. And I got out my laptop and typed the stories, though with the dyslexia and confusion, those drafts are unreadable now. The important thing was that I kept going, and I pulled through the concussion.

I had always loved a good story—who doesn’t?—but that was when I realized how absolutely vital it is to have them and be able to tell them. Stories keep us alive.

Where can readers find you?
My website is It has information about my books, some of my short stories and essays, pictures of the little houses I build, pictures of my cats and peacocks, advice and tips for burgeoning writers, and a link for email. Come visit—let’s have a chat!

In the far northern reaches of civilization, a mermaid leaves the sea to look for her land-dwelling mother among people as desperate for magic and miracles as they are for life and love.

Blood calls to blood; charm calls to charm.
It is the way of the world.
Come close and tell us your dreams.
—The Mermaids

Sanna has been living as a mermaid — but she is only half seavish. The night of her birth, a sea-witch cast a spell that made Sanna’s people, including her landish mother, forget how and where she was born.

Now Sanna is sixteen and an outsider in the seavish flok where women rule and mothers mean everything. She is determined to go to land and learn who she is. So she apprentices herself to the ancient witch, Sjældent, to learn the magic of making and unmaking. With a new pair of legs and a mysterious quest to complete for her teacher, she follows a clue that leads her ashore on the Thirty-Seven Dark Islands. 

Her fellow mermaids wait floating on the seaskin as Sanna stumbles into a wall of white roses thirsty for blood, a hardscrabble people hungry for miracles, and a baroness of fading beauty who will do anything to live forever, even at the expense of her own children.

From the author of the Michael L. Printz Honor Book The Kingdom of Little Wounds comes a gorgeously told tale of belonging, sacrifice, fear, hope, and mortality.

You can purchase Mermaid Moon at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you SUSANN COKAL for making this giveaway possible.
5 Winners will receive a Copy of MERMAID MOON by Susann Cokal.
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