Jennifer Donnelly reveals some of the life lessons she learned from the characters in her new novel, Deep Blue, book one in the Waterfire Saga.
Flawed characters struggle. They screw up. Freak out. Burst into tears. Make a mess.
It might take a bit longer. It might not be terribly pretty. There might be some broken nails, broken hearts, and broken teeth along the way, but triumph they do. Because they have something better than perfection—they have heart.
My new novel, Deep Blue, is about six flawed characters and their struggle to right an epic wrong. These characters happen to be mermaids—teenagers going about their everyday lives until a river witch beckons to them in a nightmare. She urges them to leave childhood behind and join together. To take up the responsibilities of adulthood. Make important decisions. Become leaders.
But they don’t know how. Neither did I when I was a teenager. I’m not sure I do now, or ever will. Because no one ever tells you the formula for making good decisions. Or hands you a list of people to trust. Or spills the secret of how to lead. Because no one can. You have to learn it for yourself, just as my six mermaids do.
There are a few pointers to be had, though, and the mermaids of Deep Blue taught them to me.
1) Fail. Over and over again. In absolutely spectacular ways. Serafina is a princess under pressure. Her imperious mother demands perfection, but Sera feels like she is always letting her down. She falls in love with the wrong merboy, gets herself captured, and gets a friend caught in a fishing boat’s net. But, over time, her failures teach her and toughen her.
Becca is a powerful songcaster who can control waterfire. Sort of. She can’t seem to turn it up or down without burning her dress and singeing her hair.
Then there’s angry, aggressive Astrid. That merl has a lot to learn—mainly that her biggest weakness can become her biggest strength.
Failure doesn’t kill you. It makes you smart, resilient, and strong. Stronger than you ever thought you could be.
2) Don’t run from your fears. Instead, invite them for tea. Give them a nice, big hug. To escape their pursuers, the mermaids must travel through Vadus, a dangerous realm. There they meet the Mirror Lord, who literally feeds upon their deepest, darkest fears. Serafina eludes him once, but the second time she’s not so lucky. The Mirror Lord nearly binds her to his realm, until she learns that facing your fears is the only way to free yourself from them.
3) Nothing succeeds likes access(ories). Each of the mermaids has a passion that sustains her. Neela’s passion is clothing. As a royal, she’s not allowed to sully herself with work, but she longs to be a fashion designer. Her knack for choosing just the right belt or bracelet may seem trivial, but it is life-saving on several occasions. When she and two friends are taken captive, Neela engineers their escape by picking a lock with the prong of her belt buckle. And she can turn discarded scraps into the perfect disguise.
For Ava, blind since childhood, the perfect accessory is Baby, her ferocious seeing-eye piranha.
And Serafina, never without a history conch in her hand, would be stuck in the mud if she didn’t love listening to these recordings about the merpeople’s past.
Though the six mermaids in Deep Blue are very different from one another, they all teach the most important lesson of all: what you love will save you, even in the most challenging times.