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May 4, 2015

Mermaids are Real --- Guest Post by Michael Buckley

Posted by Shara

Many fantasy readers love the genre because, well, it’s just that --- fantasy. They get to explore worlds they would never get to see in real life, ride on the backs of dragons, fight with giants and take a dip in the ocean with mermaids.

But as bestselling author Michael Buckley shares, sometimes fantasy can be a little bit more real than we give it credit for. In fact, the inspiration for his newest book, UNDERTOW --- in which an empire of human/sea-life hybrids begins a community on Coney Island --- came from one of the most reality-based things there is:  a newspaper!

Read the details below --- you may find yourself thinking twice about what’s fantasy, after all.

When UNDERTOW comes out on May 5th, readers will meet a brand new race of people --- the Alpha. Made up of dozens of different species of human/sea-life hybrids, the Alpha have come together to form an empire made of all wildly-different beings. There are creatures that have razor-like swords that pop out of their arms, jellyfish people with electric-fueled bodies, monstrous creatures that are part body builders/part sea lions, and, of course, some that even look the Little Mermaid.

Where did I get the idea to write about mermaids? The newspaper. Yes, folks, I’m not talking about mermaids from mythology, I’m referring to actual sightings from people who claim fish people are real. No, not crazy people, but people just like you and me ---some of whom were famous. Take this account from a ship’s log dating January, 9th 1493:

“The day before, when the Admiral was going to the Rio del Oro, he said he saw three mermaids who came quite high out of the water but were not as pretty as they are depicted, for somehow in the face they look like men. He said he saw some in Guinea on the coast of Manegueta.”

Want to guess who wrote that? Christopher Columbus! I know. Mind. Blown. And he’s not the only famous explorer to have spotted water-breathing people.

“This morning, one of our companie looking over boord saw a Mermaid … from navill upward, her back and breasts were like a woman’s (as they say they saw her) her body as big as one of us, her skin very white, and long haire hanging down behind, of color blacke, in her going downe they saw her tayle, which was like the tayle of a porposse and speckled like a macrell.”

That was written June 15th, 1608 by Henry Hudson --- the same man for which the famous river in New York is named. Now you might be saying, Michael, these stories are hundreds of years old and back then people were crazy and ate bad diets and drank and smoked things they shouldn’t have drank and smoked. That’s true --- people were not very healthy back then, but what if I told you there have been more recent sightings? In 1943, Japanese soldiers reported spotting a group of mermaids in the Kei Islands. It was witnessed by Sergeant Taro Horiba and entered into the official record.

But if you need something reported recently, all you have to do is turn to an account from 2013 in the town of Kiryat Yam in Israel where dozens of tourists claimed to have seen a mermaid. It was such a huge phenomenon that local authorities offered a million dollar reward for anyone who could capture one.     

Kind of makes you wonder, huh? Go online and search “mermaid sightings” and you’ll find hundreds more such accounts that date back hundreds of years and end as early as last year. Could we be sharing the planet with an ocean breathing civilization?

No. I mean, I don’t think so, but it’s that little bit of doubt that sets the imagination on fire. Maybe it’s that one percent of your brain that wonders, maybe even wishes, that mermaids might be real, and that is fertile ground for a writer. The “what if” is a place like no other --- it’s where stories are born and it’s a place I like to play in every day, a place where I am open to discovering some long-forgotten secret if I just look outside the window at the right time. My new book UNDERTOW is just such a place. It’s set in a very real world but one that is suddenly caught in a clash of civilizations when 30,000 Alpha walk out of the ocean and build a tent city on Coney Island. Three years later they are still there and humanity and these new immigrants are caught in a xenophobic struggle. What would our world be like if we suddenly discovered we weren’t alone? Could humanity accept a new race of people --- ones that weren’t even supposed to exist? How would you feel if you woke up to find that something you didn’t believe in had moved in next door? Would you fear them or would you feel a bit like Christopher Columbus’s men, peering over the side of the ship and seeing the impossible swimming below? 

Michael Buckley is the multiple NY Times bestselling author of The Sisters Grimm and NERDS series, as well as KEL GILLIGAN'S DAREDEVIL STUNTSHOW and one half of the creative team behind CN’s "Robotomy".  He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and son.  He likes cupcakes.