Heather Rigney talks mermaids and Waking The Merrow (INTERVIEW)

Good morning, all! Please join me in getting the week off to a great start, and extend a warm welcome to Heather Rigney, who has stopped by today to talk about her upcoming novel Waking The Merrow - a dark historical fantasy about a vengeful, man-eating mermaid, and those who still hunt in Narragansett Bay today.

Q: Thanks for taking the time to stop by today, Heather. For those who haven't yet heard of Waking the Merrow or the short story that inspired it, please tell us a little about yourself.

Thank you for having me, Bob! I appreciate your readers’ time. It’s very kind of you all to spend a few minutes with me as I blather away about myself and my book. With that in mind, here we go … I’m from New England, which means I always find it initially offensive when a stranger says hello to me. I have to pause, then remember, Oh, they’re being nice. It’s not my favorite feature, but it explains why I enjoy the darker side of books, movies, television, etc. On the outside I’m blonde, perky, a mom, and I laugh easily, but on the inside? I have the soul of Darth Vader. Which brings me to my obsession with Star Wars … oh, and sushi, and donuts. Not sure how those three elements relate, but that’s me in a nutshell. Bubbly on the outside, dark on the inside.

Q: Writer, artist, and underwater fire-breather - that’s quite an opening line for a bio! I have to ask, what’s with the underwater fire-breathing?

I have always wanted to join the circus, but not a nice circus, a slightly grungy one—like a carnival from the depression era. I would be the fire-breather. To me, this is THE job—spitting fire. Half startling, half amazing people. However, aside from my inability to find anyone to teach me this skill, and aside from the whole family obligation (reality) thing, I do enjoy the idea of the impossible. Hence the underwater part. Also, I thought it would be funny to put this on a business card. People put all sorts of random stuff on their cards. I’m just trying to fit in.

Q: Fit in? No, I think it's more like stand out . . . in a good way, of course. The journey from 'aspiring' to 'accomplished' can be a long one, even in the era of small presses and digital publishing. When did you begin writing Waking the Merrow, and what has the journey to publication been like?

In September 2012, my short fiction piece, Mermaids Are Not Nice was released in the anthology of short stories entitled, DIVE: A Quartet of Merfolk Tales. I received a lot of positive reviews. People liked my characters. People liked my writing. I was like Sally Fields, You like me! You really like me! So I put aside the MG zombie novel I had been trying to peddle around town and started extending my short into a full-length novel. I thought about shopping it to agents but, in the fall of 2013, I attended independent authors/powerhouses Marie Force and Penny Watson’s Independent Author Symposium. They sold me on going with self-publishing. As an indie author, I wear many hats, but I don’t mind. I’m a control freak, and I like being in charge. This life suits me well.

Q: In terms of writing, what comes easiest for you, and where do you struggle the most? Is it the title? The first paragraph? The last chapter? The cover blurb?

The meat of the story, the actual telling of a tale is my thing. I have no trouble laying out a scene, writing dialogue or action sequences, but a cover blurb? a synopsis? the task of summing up my entire novel in three sentences or less? I would rather clean a toilet. But I studied and studied and studied this art. I’m not saying I rock at it—I don’t. I spent A LOT of time on Queryshark.com refining my short game. I highly recommend this site. I learned so much from watching Ms. Janet Reid (aka- the literary shark) tear people’s queries into tiny, bloody pieces.

Q: Sometimes, characters can take on a life of their own, pulling the story in directions you hadn't originally anticipated, especially when indulging your imagination. What was it about Mermaids Are Not Nice that compelled you to take the concept further?

My main character, Evie (rhymes with “heavy”) McFagan is a hot mess. She’s a thirty-something funeral director, a sub-standard new mother, and she’s an alcoholic. She’s a total screw-up. But people liked her! Anti-hero, thy name is Evie. In the short, and in the novel, a vicious merrow (Irish for mermaid) has it out for her. Turns out, merrow have been around Evie’s coastal neighborhood for some time—hanging out, eating local guys, usually flying under the radar. But when Evie witnesses a merrow up to no good, Evie becomes a target. Since she was so popular in the short, I wanted to give readers more Evie, dig a little deeper into the motivation behind the bad merrow, and give my protagonist a little bit of a fishy background of her own, vis à vis her husband’s Irish heritage.

As a kid, I was heavily influenced by the Irish Folktale Flory Cantillon’s Funeral by T.Crofton Croker. In this tale, the Cantillon family has a history of leaving their dead (in a coffin) on the beach. Everyone is supposed to vacate the premises post-wake-partying, but this one drunk guy sticks around and witnesses these sea creatures coming out of the surf. These fishy guys are responsible for returning dead Cantillons back to the sea. This whole burial at sea business is the result of inbreeding between fish people and land people many, many years past. I thought, what if Evie’s husband was a descendant of the Cantillons?

Q: Do you have a soundtrack to your writing, a particular style of music or other background noise that keeps you in the mood, or do you require quiet solitude?

It’s hard for me to write with too many lyrics running through my brain. I get distracted easily, so I prefer general background noise to music with a lot of vocals. I write, mostly, in local coffee shops. The din of people talking is comforting. Writing can be very lonely. Pretending the people (strangers) around me are keeping me company works well for me. However, I did notice that a lot of writers are into this soundtrack thing, so I gave it a try. I made a Pandora station called, Music for the Merrow. These were my flavors: The Pogues, The Dubliners, The Tossers, Dropkick Murphys, Flogging Molly, and Enter the Haggis. I wanted a gritty Irish vibe and these bands delivered.

Q: When writing, do you ever consider how a reader or reviewer will react, or do you write solely for your own satisfaction?

Well, first of all, I try very, very, very hard not to think about my dad reading any of my sex scenes. Man, that is difficult. I once pulled the shade down while writing a saucy scene because I feared my neighbor could see my computer screen. Yeah, I’m that pathetic. Other than that, no. I don’t worry about what people think. It’s not healthy for me, as a writer, to be concerned with pleasing others. I write for me. I have a high standard for myself and I try to uphold it. So far, this works. I love criticism. I was an art student and went on to become an art teacher—critiques were vital to these endeavors. I welcome criticism, I crave criticism. It makes me stronger. Once my work gets out into the world, I will take the good, the bad, the ugly, and I will sort through it, examine it, and then use the most insightful tidbits when I write the second book, and the third, and the fourth … but I will always strive to write for me—first and foremost. Otherwise, writing will become work. Writing is pleasure. I want to keep it that way.

Q: Parents and peeping neighbors, eh? In terms of reader reactions, what is the strangest or most surprising reaction to your work that you've encountered to -date?

I’m always surprised when someone likes my work. That’s a horrible thing to admit, but it’s true. I know my tastes, my crassness, my darkness is in my writing, and when people experience that, they see the real me. I don’t go around expecting people to like me. I was different at a very young age, and I learned that if I didn’t get comfortable with my weirdness, no one would. I didn’t like the same foods as my friends, I didn’t dress like my friends, I didn’t like the same music as my friends, but I was accepted nonetheless. I just kept my preferences to myself (except the weird clothing—you can’t hide that. But kids are forgiving. They got used to me wearing drab olive green for six months because I was into that for a while.) Now that I am an adult, I’m better at hiding my quirks—until someone reads my work. Then I feel exposed. So to have people like it (or at least pretend to) is always shocking to me.

Q: To turn from pen to page for a moment, is there a particular author who has influenced or inspired your writing? I know you discovered Stephen King and Clive Barker at an early age, but is there somebody who either made you want to write in the first place, or who just refreshes your literary batteries?

Margaret Atwood. Her ability to transcend genres and her presence as a writer—not a woman writer, but a writer—has become the sun in my sky. Her writing is intelligent, relevant, dark, insightful and both beautifully visual and terrifying. I don’t think a week goes by where I don’t think about one of her books.

Q: When you're not writing, reading, or breathing fire underwater, what are some of the hobbies and passions that keep you busy?

Painting brings me a lot of joy and nourishes my writing. When I write, I think about painting, and when I paint, I think about writing. It’s a wonderful thing. My daughter is another wonderful thing. She is my whole world and I treasure her beyond anything else on this planet (although, my husband is a close second). We are an active family, too. That helps. My husband and I met through mountain biking. Cycling is a huge part of our lives. I even named my publishing company Cycling Mermaid Press. We also snowboard, hike, and camp. Additionally, I run regularly with a fantastic group of women.

Stephen King mentioned in his book On Writing that the key to being a good writer is to exercise and have a stable relationship. I am blessed to have both of those ingredients in my life.

Q: My toddler is in a major Ariel phase - I think he'd love the idea of a cycling mermaid. Assuming you had total creative control over the production, who would you cast as the leading roles, were Waking the Merrow to hit the big screen?

This is a fun question! The always sassy, delightfully crude Natasha Lyonne (Orange is the New Black, Slums of Beverly Hills, American Pie) would make a lovely, foul-mouthed, screw-up Evie. The hilarious Chris O’Dowd (Moone Boy, Bridesmaids, The IT Crowd) might be a perfect match for Evie’s Irish-born, gentle giant of a husband, Paddy McFagan. As for the slinky, dark-haired vixen merrow Nomia (pronounced no-ME-ah), I believe Eva Green (300: Rise of an Empire, Dark Shadows, Casino Royale) would effectively pull off the necessary vicious, sexy antagonist vibe. And last, but not least, Fionnula Flanagan (Brotherhood, Lost, Waking Ned Devine) would do an amazing job of bringing the tight-lipped, iron-clad silver fox matriarch Catherine McFagan O’Conner to life.

Q: Before we let you go, what can we look forward to from you next? Will we be seeing the second book in the Merrow trilogy next, something from your upcoming Junior High Is Hell series , or perhaps a completely different project that’s looming on the horizon?

Before I go, thank you, once again, for allowing me to babble away. It has been a pleasure answering these well thought out questions. As for what’s next? I plan on writing the sequel to Waking the Merrow this fall. The working title is Caging the Merrow. Beyond that, I have a lot of ideas. I might dabble in a graphic novel about a red-hooded bike messenger vs. a food critic/werewolf. I might go back and revamp my Junior High Is Hell novel The Lock-In. This book takes place in a single night, in a junior high school, on an island where an experimental military base is also located. The twist? Zombies are on the loose and all the students are participating in a Halloween Zombie lock-in game at the school. I’m also looking for a home for my dark short story, Black Hut Reservations, loosely based in the woods of my childhood home. So yes, there is more to come from me. Thank you, again, Bob!

Thanks for taking the time to join us, Heather.


About the Author

Writer, artist, and underwater fire-breather, Heather Rigney likes to make stuff. Stuff with words, stuff with paint, stuff that’s pretty, and stuff that’s not. Heather’s stories reflect her dark, gothic childhood spent alone in the woods of northern Rhode Island.

Having discovered the works of both Stephen King and Clive Barker at the age of eleven, she started to wonder if she truly was alone in the woods, or perhaps not. The perhaps was what kept her up at night. Her imagination cranked out stories and dreams that she kept to herself. She was an odd child and didn’t need one more reason for the neighbors to cluck, “That Rigney girl is so odd …” But now that she’s comfortable with her oddness, Heather would love to share her stories with you, dear reader.

Waking the Merrow (release date: June 9, 2014) was adapted from the short story, Mermaids Are Not Nice, which can be found in the anthology DIVE: A Quartet of Merfolk Tales.


About the Book

Waking The Merrow by Heather Rigney
Expected publication: June 9th 2014

In 1772, angry Rhode Island colonists set fire to a British ship, sparking the American Revolution. Taxation without representation was a motivator. So was the vengeful, man-eating mermaid who had it out for the commanding officer.

That was then. This is now.

Mermaids, or merrow, still hunt in Narragansett Bay, but these days they keep a lower profile.

At night, centuries-old Nomia seduces smutty frat boys, lures them into icy waters, and feeds them to her voracious kin. By day, she and her half-breed daughter attempt to blend at the coastal Village Playground.

But Nomia slips up. She makes a friend. Then she makes that friend disappear, and someone notices.

Thirty-something Evie McFagan just wants to make it through working motherhood. But she’s a blistering stew of issues—snarky alcoholic and a friendless funeral director who just witnessed Nomia dismembering a guy at the nearby yacht club.

When Evie believes a mermaid stole her baby, who will help? The Merrow of Ireland? Or maybe anti-hero Evie will surprise everyone, including herself, and will summon the strength to save her own family.

Intertwining the stories of two primordial families with the colonial history of Narragansett Bay, Waking the Merrow is a dark historical fantasy.


  1. Great interview. The description of "dark historical fantasy" was enough to make me add Waking the Merrow to my wishlist. I don't think I've read too many mermaid books either, so I'm intrigued.


    1. Thank you, Mogsy!
      I appreciate your interest and hope I deliver something you will enjoy.
      If you're on Goodreads, feel free to add the book to your shelf and, while you're there, enter the Waking The Merrow giveaway (there's also a sample of the book available on the contest page):

      Enjoy your week,

  2. Dark and delish. Just the way we want it...thanks for being as creative as you are.

    1. You are too kind, JM88! Thanks for reading. ;)

  3. Great interview! Heather, I can't wait to go to the opening in June and get my own copy of Waking the Merrow.


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