Marian Allen has been busy on tour with her recently-released e-book, Eel’s Reverence. She managed to squeeze in a few minutes to talk about the Eel, Aunt Libby, and the forces that shaped them–and their world. She’ll be checking in today, so if you have questions of your own ask them in the “comments” section. I’ll be posting my review of Eel’s Reverence tomorrow, and talking a bit more about it in the coming days. If you’d like to know more about the books check back here, or visit Marian at her online home here.
Can you remember where you first got the germ of the idea for Eel’s Reverence?
I read Matthew Arnold’s poem, “The Forsaken Merman”, in which a merman whose human wife has deserted him goes into her village and sees that she’s made a “normal” life and will never come back. The merman on land was the germ of the book.
What inspired you to plant and water that germ, so to speak?
I had two or three random scenes floating around in my head. A couple of them were of this merman in a desert city with a human friend. Another, disconnected, was of a priest surrounded by wolves, with a background in my mind of true priests and antagonistic ones. For some reason, it suddenly occurred to me that the scenes were all part of one book.
Tell me about the mermayds.
When I decided to make them ambiguously gendered and non-mammalian, I couldn’t call them merMAIDS. But, since that was the look I wanted to conjure–humanoid from the waist up, fish-like from the waist down, long hair, slightly vain–the term, with alternate spelling, seemed appropriate. I used a same-but-different species because I thought it would be fun to work with; the developing story line turned it from just fun into a metaphor for defining people out of humanity.
To what degree were they inspired by real world cultural groups and species?
They were originally inspired by Matthew Arnold’s take on the fantasy creatures, but you’re right: I did research alternate sexual reproductive systems. I also thought about cultural cross-contact in which each side knows only as much about the other as is necessary to trade. In Eel’s Reverence, you see how this affects human attitudes. In “Line of Descent”, the short story I give away on Smashwords, I look at an early contact from the mermayd point of view.
Let’s talk religion. The coalition of reaver priests rule the Eel. They have private armies, levy taxes, and hold court. In fact, they have completely replaced secular rule. Why is that?
From the coalition priests’ point of view, it’s because they want all possible wealth and control. In terms of the narrative imperative, it forms a knot of conflicts opposed to my protagonist from the outset: true priest versus reavers, true believers versus apathetic followers versus militants, competing economic interests, violence from various quarters versus pacifism.
Were you thinking of historic examples when you created the Eel’s religious government?
Not specifically, but pre-Reformation Catholicism must come to mind. There were a GREAT many priests who followed the way of pacifism, inclusiveness and compassion, as well as the cynical indulgence sellers.
One of the central conflicts in Eel’s Reverence is between the “True” priests, who foster private spirituality, and the reaver priests, and in particular the coalition of reaver priests seeking to expand and secure their hold on power by driving out the true priests, and by extension, destroying private spiritual practice. Can you explain a little bit about how you came to devote so much of the book to that issue?
My main character is a priest who comes into the area when she leaves her parish because a fancy reaver temple is pulling her devotees away. So the conflict begins before the book’s action, and is the impetus that puts Aunt Libby where I want her for the story to begin. She doesn’t intend to be part of that conflict. Her intention is to avoid the conflict by leaving. When she lands in the middle of this more intense version, she still intends to pass through and wander on, feeling sorry for herself. I had intended for the story to be about Aunt Libby, Muriel and Loach’s adventures in Batumi, the desert city, but the stew of conflicts in Port Novo was so rich, I had to use it.
The birds and the bees get a bit of a makeover in Eel’s Reverence. The mermayds can shift gender at need, like those African frogs, and both mermayds and “humans” follow the pattern set by seahorses-the females produce the eggs, and the males nurture them in belly pouches. I found the way that seemed to affect the male characters’ relationships to children, and male/female roles in general, fascinating. Can you tell me a little bit about what prompted that?
I’m glad you noticed that! There are a lot of reasons human societies in general stereotype attitudes/duties by gender, and it pleases me to eliminate some of those reasons and see what happens. It’s my contention that, without societal stereotyping, males and females are equally nurturing or not, depending on their particular individual natures.
Where does Eel’s Reverence fit in with the other books you’ve written?
Eel’s Reverence was the first book I completed and the first book I sold. It and the next two books due out from Echelon Press, Force of Habit and Sideshow in the Center Ring, were epublished back in 1994, in the first Rocket eBook era. They did well at first, but languished when ebooks fell into eclipse. When the Kindle revitalized the industry, I requested my rights back and submitted them as reprints to Echelon, which is devoted to maximizing the new technologies with and for its writers. Not that I have a word to say against my previous publisher–Serendipity Systems was and is great, just not right for me. We parted on good terms.
Force of Habit (due out in November of 2010) and Sideshow in the Center Ring (due out in February of 2011) are very different, and each is very different from Eel’s Reverence. FOH is a crazy sf farce, an exploration of the writers’ mantra that each character in a book is the main character in his/her own story. I use multiple points of view and sometimes show the same scene from two or three of those points of view. Each person is convinced he or she knows exactly what’s going on, and they’re all so wrong, but it all works out in the end. SIDESHOW is sf set mostly on a planet on which slavery is legal, giving me a chance to explore some of the ways we give our lives over to other people, some of whom abuse that honor.
One thing all three books have in common is the willingness of some people to take responsibility for the wellbeing of others, even if there’s no obvious requirement or expectation that they do it. I find that amazing and absolutely admirable.
In addition to these three novels, I’ve put together collections of short stories available for Kindle and, on Smashwords, for a variety of formats.
Find out more about Marian Allen and her books here.