Jay Hartlove is the author of the Isis Rising Trilogy. He is currently working on Mermaid Steel, a romance which he is publishing in serial format – one new chapter is posed online a week. Jay answered some questions of mine over email so I could share his writing journey with you!
What is Mermaid Steel about?
Mermaid Steel is a romantic fantasy adventure about a human man named Sten and a mermaid woman named Chielle who fall in love despite a generations old distrust and hatred that divides their two villages. Humans have advanced with the development of steel, but since steel cannot be smelted underwater, the mermaids have been left with human castoffs. The humans have come to think of the mermaids as thieves while the mermaids have come to see the humans as arrogant and greedy, especially for how the humans encroach on fishing grounds designated by treaty for the mermaids. The two villages differ in culture, music, and religion, with the humans believing in a divine right to excel as the inheritors of a mythical perfect human predecessor called Atlan, and the mermaids believing in cooperation with nature and the sea, who they call Rorra.
What draws this couple together? Why should we root for them? And what is keeping them apart?
Sten is a blacksmith and Chielle is a weaver. Sten has justice issues due to an earlier run in with the law. Chielle stalks him to learn more about his blacksmithing, and is on hand when he almost accidentally drowns. In talking to her, he learns the depth of the division between the villages and the injustice the mermaids suffer. When he starts to stand up for the mermaids, Chielle is attracted to him for his heroism. He is initially attracted to her because she is so exotic, but then he is taken in by her curiosity and her drive for change. If they can overcome their differences, these two might be able to bridge the gap between the villages and build peace. At the start of this story, tensions have built up to where violence has broken out so there is a lot of bridge building. As they get to know each other better, they start to adopt some of each other’s thinking, Chielle becomes more assertive and Sten becomes more patient.
What prompted you to write a romance novel in general, and this one specifically?
I’ve been writing a series of thrillers called the Isis Rising Trilogy. I have finished the first two, The Chosen and Daughter Cell, and they are out. I am working on the third and final book, Isis Rising, and I wanted to take a break, to take a step back and make sure it is everything I want to wrap up the series. I’ve been wanting to do an inter-species love story for a while, and this was a golden opportunity. It’s an adventure story, and it has a big spiritual component, which two things can be said of just about everything I’ve ever written. Whereas my thrillers hinge on people always being in danger, this story always comes back to the love Sten and Chielle have for each other. In part, I took it on as a challenge. I Method Act my characters, so I had to really get in touch with my feminine side to figure out what would make Sten attractive to Chielle, in spite of all that body hair she finds so strange.
Do you feel that being a male romance author gives you a different perspective on the genre or the characters? Do you feel that as a male writer of romance you are treated or perceived differently?
I feel like I’m taking a chance in the way I am telling this story. I am telling it every bit as much from Sten’s perspective as from Chielle’s. So the reader will see what both are thinking and feeling and how each of them changes and falls in love. I have not read that many pure romances, so I don’t know how unusual this approach is, but it is something I feel strongly about doing in this story. I admire stories with characters who all have believable motivations, fully rendered back stories, and who make the best decisions they can with the information they have. I can care about people like that. I want my female readers to fall in love with Sten and also understand why the male readers are falling in love with Chielle.
Talk a little about the publishing method – where can I find chapters (and why did you decide to publish it serially?) Will there be a finished book for sale?
This whole project is a self challenge. I plot extensively before I write prose, so I wanted to put that to the test in addition to exploring a new genre. So when I finish a chapter, I post it online. If I paint myself into a corner, then I will have to get out of it with everyone watching. I publish the chapters on my blog www.jayhartlove.WordPress.com and on Facebook www.Facebook.com/mermaid steel. According to the site counters, there are about 150 people reading the chapters at this point. There will come a point in the story where I will have to only post on my blog and link back to Facebook, given the nature of the material and Facebook’s content bans. But we’re not up to that point in the story yet. Yes, when it is all done, I plan on getting the whole book published, probably after some serious editing, and putting it up for sale. I’m going through some changes in my personal life, so I cannot say when the book will be done. I can promise I will not let the story languish. I love the story far too much to allow too great a delay.