Erika Marks: The Mermaid Collector

Today on my blog, I’m happy to interview writer friend Erika Marks, author of the recently-released novel THE MERMAID COLLECTOR. I met Erika on Twitter right after I first joined, almost two years ago, and we quickly discovered I live very near where she grew up in Maine. We’ve traveled many of the same paths in Maine at different times, making for some fun and lively Twitter discussions. Last summer when Erika came home to Maine, we met in person—it was so much fun! Time flew as we talked like old friends.

Erika has generously offered to give a copy of THE MERMAID COLLECTOR to one lucky commenter! To enter to win, simply leave a comment on this post before midnight on Saturday, November 10. On Sunday, November 11, I will pick a winner at random. Contest now closed: congratulations Amanda Hoving, you won! 🙂

Please join me in welcoming Erika!
Thank you so much for being a guest on my blog! I’ve read (and loved) The Mermaid Collector. One of the things that makes it such a distinctive novel is the 1888 story about The Mermaid Mutiny. I’m curious how you came up with the idea? Was there some historical event that sparked it?

Erika:The idea for the legend came from a photograph I saw in an architectural magazine of a mosaic that depicted a local sea captain and his mermaid lover. As soon as I read that, it clicked for me what a romantic backdrop that would make for a novel: a town with a mermaid legend and what it would be like to live—or visit—a place that thrived on such magic and mystery. And of course—as you well know as a coastal Mainer, Julia!—seaside life always bring with it an irresistible element of enchantment.

I loved the scene in the book where Tess is preparing food for for her romantic evening with Pete. You always write the best descriptions of food! (I have only one complaint: your books always make me hungry!) Are the dishes in this book ones you make in your real life (as in Little Gale Gumbo)? Do you use food to represent something more?

Erika:Julia, thank you! I do find myself writing romantic scenes that center around cooking—either in preparation for an intimate scene (such as the one you mentioned with Tess and Pete) or building a romance around a meal. For me, the romance and food go hand-in-hand. As I talked about when LITTLE GALE GUMBO came out, my husband and I do a great deal of cooking together so I can’t help but find it a natural and appealing way to reveal a romantic relationship, whether it’s one just starting out, or one that is well-established. How people cook together can reveal a lot about their intimacy as a couple—as well as about themselves as individuals.

In the background of The Mermaid Collector’s cover is a photograph of a lighthouse in Portland, Maine—very near where I live now (and I know you grew up seeing a lot of this lighthouse)! When you were writing, was this the lighthouse you were envisioning? If not, what lighthouse or type of lighthouse did you imagine? And was there a house that you were thinking of as a model for the lightkeeper’s house?

Erika: Oh, you and I know that lighthouse well, don’t we? And I love that the art department picked it without knowing how much personal significance it had to me. Actually, I wrote the book envisioning the lighthouse and keeper’s house at Marshall Point Light in Port Clyde, Maine. In the book, the keeper’s house is set a good distance from the tower, and my family and I were staying in Camden the summer around the time I began writing THE MERMAID COLLECTOR in earnest, so that setting and the orientation of the keeper’s house to the lighthouse, and that wonderful white-fenced walkway down to the tower all quickly fixed themselves in my mind when I went home to start writing.

There are certain characters, certain love stories that stick with me long after reading a book, and I have to say that I grew particularly attached to Lydia and Angus as a couple. Was there one character over others that you could particularly relate to or felt akin to? How about a favorite character? What about a favorite couple?

Erika:As I mentioned to you before, Julia, I LOVE that you appreciated Lydia and Angus—I too treasured them as a couple because they were both such genuinely good people put in a very difficult situation and they learned to survive together. I loved Tess and Tom too because, while they are an unlikely match, they are both deeply flawed people who needed to connect with one another on a very raw level. Unlike in LITTLE GALE GUMBO, where the couples have years and years to nurture their affection and their attraction, Tess and Tom have a much more condensed love story—as do Lydia and Angus, really—and I loved the idea of exploring that. So often we focus on the permanence, on wanting the confirmation of the happily ever after, when in life we also can experience those connections that are more immediate, that are somewhat “lightning in a bottle.” They are no less powerful or meaningful, but they may be briefer and without that guarantee of forever.

One of your main characters, Tess, was an artist by profession, a woodcarver. I thought it was a great fit for her character! I’m curious if you yourself are a wood-carver? If not, what kind of research did you need to do to write her character? Did you actually try your hand at it?  

Erika:I’m not a woodcarver but I have spent a lot of time around woodworkers (and am married to one!) I worked for several years for a woodworking magazine and gleaned some techniques there. I think there is something so romantic about working with wood—and I loved the idea of Tess sculpting this mermaid out of a piece of raw wood, of it coming to life as her own story evolved.

You mentioned on your website that you had started a mermaid collection—how many are in your collection? Did you have any mermaids before you started writing this book?

Erika:I have started a collection—yes! It is woefully small still (but growing!) and my daughters are always eager to help me expand it. This year’s Christmas tree will have several mermaids on its boughs.

Please remember to leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of Erika’s book!

BIO: A native New Englander, Erika Marks now lives and writes in Charlotte, NC. She has worked as an illustrator, an art director, a cake decorator and a carpenter. This is her second novel after LITTLE GALE GUMBO.


  1. Julia and Erika — two of my favorite people! Erika — I finished up my current read just this morning, and guess what’s next? The Mermaid Collector (I couldn’t resist and read the first few pages … immediately drawn in!!). Cannot wait.

    I love the way you analyze and explore relationships in your books (and even in your blog posts), so this is sure to be a treat. The way the story came about is SO fascinating. It’s amazing where those kernels for our stories/novels originate. A mural for you! For me and the next potential WIP: a fleeting glance at something as I tooled down a Pennsylvania highway.

    Can’t wait to get to Maine to see those lighthouses for myself!

    Great interview, Julia and Erika.

    • Erika Marks says:

      This is so special for me, Melissa–it’s like we’re all huddled around a pot of coffee together. Julia and you have a knack for making the blogosphere feel like a cozy corner table…

      I love that you have been inspired by something you saw driving–that has happened to me too–and I love that.

      Thank you so much for cheering me on, my friend–and it’s so neat that you mentioned that about analyzing relationships–just a few hours ago I was speaking with my mom about how we can’t help but do that, can we?

    • Erika Marks says:

      Julia, thank you so much for letting me come back and visit your wonderful blog again, my dear! I feel so fortunate that we connected over twitter, never knowing how close we already were in geography and reference–so fantastic. And thank you for such thoughtful questions that were so much fun to answer!!


  2. Thanks for another great interview and recommendation. I love the magical element that a mermaid legend brings to a story, so I’ll definitely be adding this book to my TBR list. Especially because I’m married to a woodworker, too. 🙂

  3. Loved this: “seaside life always bring with it an irresistible element of enchantment.” So true! Very nice interview. The Mermaid Collector sounds quite intriguing.

  4. “They are no less powerful or meaningful, but they may be briefer and without that guarantee of forever.” This is so true, Erika, not just in romantic relationships but in friendships that come into our lives at just the right moment and quickly fade. I’m fascinated by stories with elements of magic and mystery (and did I ever tell you how I wanted to be a mermaid when I grew up, much like most little girls?). I can’t wait to read your novel.

    • Erika Marks says:

      Hello Natalia dear!

      Such a good point about friendships that flare in and out of our lives sometimes briefly but have such a lasting impact on us. Sometimes it’s more about the timing of when someone comes in to our lives than how long they are there.

  5. This sounds like a great novel. I’m already a fan of anyone who blends romance and food!

  6. Erika is such a neat person! I feel like I could just sit and listen to her talk all day–and having read Little Gale Gumbo, I know I could sit and read her words all day, too. Can’t wait to savor this new book; the food descriptions are delightful!

    • Erika Marks says:

      Oh you sweet lady:) Here’s hoping someday we get the chance to do just that, you and me: sit together over something sweet and TALK. Can you imagine how much fun we would all have if (no, WHEN!) we finally got the chance to meet IRL? When Julia and I met for a “quick” cup of coffee last summer, we nearly shut the place down, didn’t we, Julia? 😉

  7. Your book sounds positively magical, Erika. Gosh, I miss the ocean in the NE, and all those beautiful, mysterious (and inspiring) lighthouses. A Mermaid Mutiny? That’s never been done before (I don’t think) what an original idea!

    You know, reading your little bio here it’s interesting to note that all your jobs have been creative ones, no matter what you’ve been doing. But I bet writing’s the hardest, and maybe the most rewarding. Best of good fortunes with this new book 🙂

    Great interview, Julia!

    • Erika Marks says:

      Cynthia, thank you for your kind words, my dear. I’ve missed checking in with you–and I loved your post about Michael Morris’ wonderful book. Are you doing NaNo this year? I’ve been determined to try this year for the first time.

  8. What a thrill to open this blog post and find this lovely interview contained therein! I have become so intrigued by mermaids and the myths surrounding them that I can hardly wait to dive into THE MERMAID COLLECTOR. I’ve already purchased my copy and it’s begging me to finish my current read. 🙂

    I love hearing how you got your story idea, Erika. I find that part of the writing process fascinating. Sometimes it is just a mention that comes across it the most innocuous of ways like seeing a photograph in an architectural magazine.

    Like Julia, I am also a big fan of reading your cooking scenes. I was thinking of you last weekend when I went to visit a friend who had a big pot of gumbo on the stove to watch the LSU football game. He insists upon adding just the right amount of rice to everyone’s bowl. (Apparently there is a right way to do this and a wrong way!)

    Julia – you always ask the best questions!

  9. Lisa Ahn says:

    I’m so intrigued! I love books that work themselves around magic and legends, mystery and discovery. I’m looking forward to reading The Mermaid Collector.

    • Erika Marks says:

      Hi Lisa, thank you so much for saying so. I had a wonderful time building the legend for the story–and thinking of how it might be different than what the townspeople thought they knew.

  10. Nina B says:

    Can’t wait to read this one!!! (Whether I win or not!)

  11. Loved the Q&A, ladies! Thanks for giving us some more background, Erika — I so enjoy hearing about the little details of how it came together.

    • Amanda!! It’s so great to see you! I’m so glad you enjoyed the Q&A and hope you enjoy Erika’s book as much as I did. Hope all’s well with you!

    • Erika Marks says:

      Amanda, hello, dear! I’m going to echo Julia and say it’s so great to see you here. I miss you! I hope all is well at your home and with your writing. Are you doing NaNo this year?

    • Hello, friends! No NaNo for me this year, Erika. My only writing at the moment is academic. I will get back to it, (and blogging) eventually, though. I think. I hope. 😉

  12. Leah says:

    I loved “Little Gale Gumbo” and now cannot wait to read Erika’s second book. I loved her descriptive writing and Maine background.

  13. CMSmith says:

    I’m looking forward to reading it Erika.