DROWN: Author Esther Dalseno’s Retelling of The Little Mermaid

drownI was a kid when Disney released its version of The Little Mermaid. My friends and I were warbling our own versions of “A Part of Your World” at the same level little girls today sing “Let It Go” from Frozen. So, when I saw Esther Dalseno‘s novel DROWN and discovered that it’s a new version of this classic tale, I was intrigued. More than that, I had greedy hands for her book. (I mean, just look at that amazing cover!)

You can pre-order DROWN now on Amazon, and it will arrive on your e-reader on October 31. To celebrate her release day, Esther agreed to talk with me about her book, her journey to publication, and why she’s eager to read INCONCEIVABLE!

Tegan: Esther, how did you get the idea to do a retelling of The Little Mermaid?

Esther2Esther: It’s always been my favorite fairy tale all of my life, it’s so gorgeous and sumptuous and bittersweet, and I kept waiting and waiting for someone else to do it.  I am a big traveler, having left my country Australia nearly ten years ago, and at the time of writing in 2009 I found myself in a very lonely situation in third-world Laos.  Having been in the South East Asian region for some time, I had become a very enthusiastic scuba diver, and my love for the underwater world led to DROWN.  Everything about the atmosphere in the depths influenced DROWN’s dream-like narrative voice and pacing, and I found myself inspired by every little thing – the way light fractured when it hit the water surface and fell on sand beds, the way octopus ink jets and stains the water in cloud formations just for a moment, the tiny popping noises in your ears during breeding season, when the water is filled with fish spawn.

Tegan: Who do you think will most enjoy your book and why?

Esther: Readers of all ages, especially those who enjoy a more literary approach to a story.

Tegan: Often, fairy tales leave readers with some kind of lesson. Do you have a particular idea or two you hope readers take away from your book?

Esther: The Little Mermaid has always been a character who gave up life as she knew it not just for a man, but for a chance at humanity.  The theme of DROWN is how precious humanity is, and how readily it is taken for granted.  I live in Europe and currently there are thousands of Syrian refugees seeking safety and a new home here.  They have crossed land and sea in perilous conditions – the old, the young, small children and newborn babies, just for a chance of belonging to a society that respects human life.  In a way, DROWN’s protagonist has motives similar to that of refugees, and she seeks safety and value in the human world.

Tegan: The cover of your book is gorgeous–eye-catching and it certain piques my interest. Who designed the cover for your book, at what levels were you involved in its design, and is there anything you want to tell readers about?

Esther: Thank you, Tegan!  It is gorgeous, and I feel very fortunate to have such a cover for my book!  Let me tell you, this design was not at all what I had in mind for DROWN, as I had very set ideas regarding all aspects of the novel!  In fact, that cover was the very last option I would consider.  However, it grew on me so rapidly, and the public’s reaction has been so positive that I’ve once again reached the conclusion that it’s best to leave such things to the professionals!  Here is a lesser-known fact that only advance readers know: the character on the cover is not at all who you think it is.

Tegan: Tell us about your journey to publication.

Esther1Esther: I sent out query emails immediately after finishing DROWN, and it was on a beach in Thailand that my little Nokia travel phone rang.  It was Holly Root of Waxman & Leavall, yes, THE powerhouse agent Holly Root, whose client list includes V. E Schwab and Rae Carson among many other bestselling authors, offering little old me representation.  I had just had another offer the day before, but after our conversation, I knew Holly was the right agent for DROWN.  Sounds easy, right?  Like a recipe for success?  Not entirely.  Then came the storm in the guise of the Big 6 publishing houses, who had difficulty placing the novel.  “The fairy tale aspect screams YA,” they said almost simultaneously, “but the writing feels so adult!”  I can confidently say that in the year 2010, there was not a Young Adult or Fantasy editor in any of the big publishing houses who had not read DROWN.  We held our breath, as we were so close to a significant book deal with a certain house we could practically smell it.

After that fell through, DROWN was rebranded from Young Adult to Adult Literary Fantasy.  We never found a publisher who wanted to take a risk on an indefinable genre and an unknown author at that point in time.  After five years of radio silence, DROWN is now being released by a baby indie press and I have never been happier.  I never, ever thought DROWN would see the light of day after what happened in New York. All I ever wanted was for people to read my writing, and now that dream is coming true.  My advice to aspiring authors is this: that the face of publishing has changed, and there is no guaranteed set path to success any more. There are many, many ways to get there. And no matter how long you have to wait, never, ever, ever give up.

Tegan: You and I connected when our books were featured together by a reader on Instagram. I think we were both instantly intrigued by the other person’s novel. I was drawn to Drown because The Little Mermaid is a longtime favorite story of mine. Also, that cover! What drew you to INCONCEIVABLE?

Esther: Tegan, I’d actually been interested in INCONCEIVABLE before that Instagram post!  Obviously that cover draws in any eye that beholds it!  But when you read the synopsis, you see there is far, far more beneath the surface than the promise of a gorgeous, frothy, whisk-me-away-from-my-real-life romance.  I think themes of woman’s reproduction and infertility being written about in mainstream fiction is the way forward.  There is a great deal of shame and an expectation for women to hold their tongues and not bring up their struggles with conception, or God forbid, miscarriage.  As someone who has experienced the latter, when I was thinking about how to respond to this question, the first thought that crossed my mind was: my friends and acquaintances will feel immediately uncomfortable reading this, seeing the word “miscarriage” and equating it with me.  And that’s what made me decide to include it.  I don’t think people truly understand the devastation of miscarriage unless they experience it themselves.  The hopes you have for that child, the bond you feel when their body flutters inside yours, and the day the flutters stop and everything becomes still.  Doctors blame you: something you ate?  Exercised too much?  Or in my case, they blamed my age.  And then everyone who knew you were pregnant begins to avoid eye contact for a little while.  It is this shame and aversion to the subject that requires more brilliant writers like you, Tegan, to include these themes into your work.  It’s so people like me can look others in the eye and say:  “That’s right, I lost my baby.  No, I am not okay.  Yes, I do want to talk about it.

Esther DalsenoEsther Dalseno was born in rural Australia, and has traveled the world writing and teaching. She lives in Berlin, Germany with her husband, daughter, and dog. She was previously published in the acclaimed short story collection, We All Need a Witness, by Pan Macmillan. Her second novel, Gabriel and the Swallows, is due for release in 2016.

All images provided by Esther Dalseno

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