"Rescue Sirens" World-Building: Classes and Guilds May 31, 2021 09:00

From Jess: 

Long time no sea! I think it goes without saying that this past year has been a hard one for many of us, myself included, and it's been hard to concentrate on "Rescue Sirens" with so much else going on in my personal life and around the world. Chris and I jumped straight out of him wrapping "The Call of the Wild" -- it was literally one of the last films to get a theatrical wide release in 2020 -- to dealing with a pandemic, which you would think would be super conducive to writing, what with all the free time we suddenly had at home during lockdown, but I was in no state emotionally to pen happy stories about mermaids.

I'm still not in a great place creatively, and now Chris has begun development on his next directorial project (leaving me without a writing partner once again!), but I wanted to contribute something to Mer-May this year after dropping off the face of the planet in 2020. Thus: I'm sharing some amazing concept art sketches by artist Erin Shin! (Colored with varying degrees of success by yours truly.)

I've mentioned before that my dream project is a faux natural history guide to the mermaids of "Rescue Sirens," since world-building is more my jam than writing dialogue, and here I'm giving you a peek into my notes about the types of merfolk you'll find in the "Rescue Sirens" universe, as well as some of the different roles they assume as contributing members of their communities.

Mermaids (used in the plural form to refer to both mermaids and mermen) in "Rescue Sirens" are divided into different Classes (like submarines!). There are twelve Classes in all, so you can think of this as the "Rescue Sirens" zodiac -- and like the zodiac signs, each Class is known for distinct traits, both in terms of personality and the marine life that their tails resemble. I wrote up little rhymes to briefly describe each one, which I imagine being used to teach young mermaids about the Classes.

In addition to the twelve Classes, I asked Erin to illustrate examples of the Guilds you'd find in a mermaid tribe. There are many Guilds to choose from (not just the twelve I've shown here), and anyone -- from any Class, mermaid or merman -- can join the one they're drawn to most (although some Classes have a natural preference for certain Guilds based on the skills utilized).

Without further ado: the sketches!

"Rescue Sirens" Nereid Class mermaid, Animal Training Guild

NEREID CLASS ("nee-ree-id")
Intuitive, wise, and full of compassion,
With a fairy-tale look that's always in fashion,
The Nereid Class's tails are fantastic
When you think of mermaids, these are the "classic"!

The Animal Training Guild works closely with local marine life, teaching creatures like dolphins, sharks, sea turtles, and octopi to help with various tasks such as salvaging, hunting, moving objects, or even serving as a "guide dog" (or guide dolphin, as the case may be) to assist mermaids with disabilities.

"Rescue Sirens" Shark Class mermaid, Weaponry Guild

Known for their power, instinct, and mystery,
The Shark Class values tradition and history
From dogfish to whale shark to thresher to nurse,
The forms their tails take are very diverse

The simple weapons used by the Hunting Guild are crafted by the Weaponry Guild, using all-natural materials like sharpened shells, animal teeth, flaked stone, and wood (salvaged from shipwrecks or found as driftwood). Metal is uncommon and can only be used as discovered in shipwrecks; because they live underwater, merfolk are incapable of metalworking on their own -- except those who live near volcanic vents, who can trade their items with other tribes.

"Rescue Sirens" Sportfish Class merman, Hunting Guild

Supreme self-reliance, strength, and speed:
Sportfish Class mermaids like taking the lead
Marlin and sailfish and tuna so quick --
Their tails make this Class the most athletic

Merfolk are opportunistic feeders, so members of the Hunting Guild make a conscious decision to prey upon the weakest fish in a school. This takes less effort while also leaving the healthiest specimens to breed and continue the species. Using as many parts of an animal as possible, merfolk kill only for food, never for sport, and do so in as quick and painless a manner as they can. Because no attempt is made to hunt the largest or fastest individuals, a tribe's Hunting Guild lacks the machismo so often found in human hunters. Both mermaids and mermen hunt.

"Rescue Sirens" Pinniped Class mermaid, Weaving Guild

So playful, kind, and imaginative,
The Pinniped Class needs fun to live!
Like seals and sea lions, twirling and spinning,
Mermaids like these are always found grinning

Weaving Guild mermaids preserve fronds collected by the Foraging Guild and then weave them into items of clothing; sailcloth and other fabrics recovered by the Salvaging Guild may also be integrated. Mermaid apparel is mostly decorative in nature and designed to interfere as little as possible with swimming. In addition to clothing, the Weaving Guild is also responsible for creating products like nets, hammocks, and woven containers.

"Rescue Sirens" Dolphin Class merman, Trading Guild

Social, intelligent; graceful as dancers
Dolphin Class mermaids have all the answers
Colorful common or gray bottlenose,
They're often seen leaping or striking a pose

Members of the Trading Guild love to travel, chat, and haggle! Some of the resources that a trader could offer to far-off mermaid tribes include sought-after jewelry from a well-known member of the Jewelers Guild, sunken treasure, local foods, fabric, medicine, special forged items like weaponry (this would come from a tribe living near a superheated underwater vent and able to work metal themselves instead of merely salvaging parts), and even human books carried in watertight pouches. Each tribe might have something that it's known for, based on the talents of the mermaids in that tribe and/or the resources in their specific region. (One thing merfolk DON'T do trade in is live plants and animals; they understand the dangers of invasive species and won't introduce non-native flora and fauna to another community.) Traders are accompanied by porters if what they have to trade is too large or heavy to carry on their own; they also may enlist the assistance of friendly sea turtles or whales, particularly those trained by a member of the Animal Training Guild (and sometimes the animal trainer will even tag along on the trip, too).

"Rescue Sirens" Porpoise Class mermaid, Healing Guild

Skilled in healing, independent and shy,
There's more to the Porpoise Class than meets the eye
They may not be flashy or splashy or loud
But their quiet smarts set them apart from the crowd

While mermaids recover quickly from surface wounds like cuts or scratches, trained members of the Healing Guild are still required to attend to more serious injuries like broken bones or damaged tails. You might see a healer secure a broken arm in a seaweed cast, for instance; remove a barb from a little merkid who got too close to a stingray; or apply a thick salve and bandage to a fire coral, jellyfish, or anemone sting. He or she can also administer medicine -- derived from plant and animal parts -- to ill mermaids and mermen.

"Rescue Sirens" Whale Class mermaid, Musicians Guild

Depth, creativity, communication
The Whale Class resembles the largest cetaceans
Belugas and narwhals, humpbacks and blues,
If you're seeking advice, this is who you should choose!

Like some cetaceans, mermaids sing very beautifully in haunting voices. Their sole accompaniment is that of percussive instruments, since wind instruments require air to play and the only material that mermaids could fashion stringed instruments from is discarded monofilament, which they abhor for the role it plays in needlessly harming sea life. Members of the Musicians Guild are the creative (and often flamboyant) performers of a mermaid community, which is important because the vast majority of mermaid history is oral. While the mystical Songwriter is the recorder and living repository of that history, it's the Musicians Guild that performs the songs teaching lessons of the past. Of course, members of the Musicians Guild also sing and put on concerts just for fun, too -- entertainment is vital in any society!

"Rescue Sirens" Sirenian Class merman, Teaching Guild

Humor, gentleness, tranquility
Tails like a dugong or manatee
The Sirenian Class takes life slo-o-ow
Enjoying the scenery wherever they go

While the Songwriter -- a mermaid community's mystic and history recorder -- is responsible for passing on lessons from the past, everyday knowledge is taught by the Teaching Guild. Reading and writing, mathematics, general biology, human lore, and (of course) how to be a Rescue Siren are just some of the things that young merfolk will learn from the Teaching Guild as they grow up.

"Rescue Sirens" Pisces Class mermaids and merman, Foraging Guild

Understanding, teamwork, the will to persevere
The Pisces Class gets along with their peers
You'll find them in pairs or swimming in schools
Working together, obeying the rules

While hunting takes a certain amount of strength, speed, and skill (as even weak fish are hard to catch!), foraging can be done by anyone: young, old, and in-between. Merfolk without an interest in or aptitude for hunting can still contribute to a tribe's food collecting by joining the Foraging Guild and searching for oceanic plant life like seaweed, kelp, seagrass, and algae. This Guild also gathers echinoderms (sea stars, sea urchins, sand dollars) and mollusks (clams and oysters) for their spines or shells in addition to their edible parts.

"Rescue Sirens" Reef Fish Class mermaid, Jewelers Guild

Whimsical, beautiful, and charming, too
The Reef Fish Class displays every hue
Angelfish, clownfish, and parrotfish bright
These colorful tails create quite a sight!

Because mermaids generally aren't capable of working metal, the adornments created by the Jewelers Guild are either made from materials found in nature or repurposed items from sunken ships. Favorite natural materials include unoccupied seashells, small fossils, humanely acquired animal teeth, sea glass, found bits of coral, ivory (collected in the frozen seas from deceased walruses), and pearls, while the outer shells of mollusks and echinoderms are fashioned into accessories, as well; man-made objects most often used are beads, coins, and existing jewelry pieces. Members of the Jewelers Guild are often accomplished carvers and may whittle small charms from wood or even stone.

"Rescue Sirens" Cephalopod Class mermaid, Tattooing & Body Art Guild

Adaptability, concealment, and wit
Cephalopod Class mermaids are always a hit
Need a hand (or eight) with something? Just ask --
Their tentacles mean they can multitask!

In addition to jewelry and accessories, merfolk also enjoy expressing themselves through body modifications, which is where the Tattooing & Body Art Guild comes in. Using traditional tattooing methods like stick-and-poke, mermaid tattoos are simple and graphic: geometric designs, lines, chevrons, spirals, etc. Ink is harvested from squid, or derived from sea urchins or even bioluminescent sources. (Imagine a tattoo that glows in the dark!) A mermaid or merman who acquires an ornament from a trader or the Jewelers Guild will then visit a member of the Tattooing & Body Art Guild to receive a piercing, which may be in their ears, face, or even fins.

"Rescue Sirens" Aphotic Class ("Deeper") mermaid, Salvaging Guild

Sensitive, patient, and very precise,
Aphotic Class mermaids always think twice
These "Deepers" hide down in the inky black sea
Like an anglerfish, glowing dim and ghostly

While the Foraging Guild focuses primarily on collecting edible items, the Salvaging Guild collects--well, everything else! Salvagers seek out anything that might be useful to a mermaid community, from sunken artifacts to trench-mined resources. When merfolk and humans still interacted, members of the Salvaging Guild were also responsible for treasure recovery: retrieving the riches of downed ships and returning them to sailors in exchange for other valuables or services. Today, though, a salvager might find a gold coin and trade it to a mermaid from the Jewelers Guild to be turned into jewelry, and then it could end up as a piercing via the Tattooing & Body Art Guild, or maybe go on to another mermaid tribe through the Trading Guild. Finders keepers, humans.

What do you think? Do you enjoy learning more about the world of "Rescue Sirens: Mermaids On Duty"? There's so much more that I like to play with beyond our five main modern-day Miami Beach mermaids, and I hope to be able to assemble it into something like the 1976 book "Gnomes," written by Wil Huygen and illustrated by Rien Poortvliet (or its 1978 spiritual sister "Faeries," by Brian Froud and Alan Lee). I love exploring the biological and cultural aspects of my mermaids, not only in today's world but throughout history. "Rescue Sirens" has always been really scaleable -- it can be aimed toward different age groups, focus on a variety of topics, and take place in multiple time periods -- and that makes for a fun sandbox to play in.

With our five main mermaid characters, the twelve Classes, numerous guilds, and other world-building material, I easily have enough topics to create a daily MerMay prompt list for next year. Mermaid artists, would you participate in something like that?

Mer-movie trivia for your 2020 Leap Day February 29, 2020 18:35

From Jess:  

My husband and co-author Chris's movie "The Call of the Wild" FINALLY came out earlier this month! Hooray! And although the film is an adaptation of Jack London's classic tale of a dog overcoming adversity and getting in touch with his inner wolf in the 1890s Yukon, there was originally a mermaid-related Easter egg or two before -- in true Hollywood fashion -- the relevant parts of that scene ended up on the cutting-room floor. Bummer. But, because I love filmmaking trivia and deleted scenes, I'm going to share that with you here!

The town of Dawson's saloon, the Argonaut, advertises a "magic lantern" show. For a place full of prospectors and not much else, a slideshow of tintype photographs from around the world made for an exciting evening, and several of the images that Chris chose referenced some of the Disney films he'd worked on in his lengthy animation career: the Eiffel tower for "Beauty and the Beast," lions for "The Lion King," and hula dancers for "Lilo & Stitch." Also included were some geishas, the leaning tower of Pisa... and yours truly, dressed as a mermaid (naturally), which served double duty for "The Little Mermaid" (the film that was wrapping up production when Chris started at Disney) and "Rescue Sirens."

(Crown, jewelry, and tail by none other than my beloved Merbella Studios, of course.)

This is a really-for-real tintype: a "wet plate" form of photography most popular in the mid- to late 1800s (so, totally period appropriate!), made -- per Wikipedia -- "by creating a direct positive on a thin sheet of metal coated with a dark lacquer or enamel and used as the support for the photographic emulsion."

So where do you go to get a tintype in the 21st century? In our case, we visited Bailey-Denton Photography in Garden Grove, California. Using authentic equipment -- hundred-year-old cameras and original 19th century lenses -- this husband-and-wife team really knows their stuff, and Chris and I left with multiple stunning images that were developed right before our eyes like an 1800s Polaroid photo!

We were so pleased with Bailey-Denton's work that I suggested Fox hire them for the crew gift at the end of principle photography for "The Call of the Wild." Because tintypes were a portable photography method, this means Bailey-Denton can travel, and indeed they do much of their business at Civil War reenactments, steampunk events, and Victorian-era festivals. With racks of fun clothing and props to choose from, the cast and crew were able to take home a really unique memory of their time on the film. Of course, Chris and I took one together!

(Finally, my RBF comes in handy!)

While the saloon scene changed focus and the tintype slideshow was sadly lost, I'm happy to be able to share this little bit of trivia with you. Maybe part of it will show up on the DVD? Fin(ger)s crossed!

The Diving Belle and Lophelia's Council Chamber January 31, 2020 23:11

From Jess: 

Oh my cod, how was January SUCH a long month, and yet the 31st snuck up on me like this? I'd intended to publish the January blog way earlier than this, but my husband/co-author Chris has been wrapping up his live-action/CG hybrid debut, "The Call of the Wild," and it's been another weird month. Fortunately, the movie is in the can, and, after the premiere in less than two weeks (!!!), we can both shift our focus from the beautiful but harsh and snowy Yukon to the warm waters and sherbet colors of Miami Beach. Ahhhhhh...

To that end, I wanted to kick off 2020 with some fin-tastic artwork from Nicholas Kennedy. We commissioned Nick back in 2018 to create two layouts for our "Rescue Sirens" pitchbook; because we were pitching the property as an animated series, we were looking for something bold and fairly simple that would feel right at home as a background in a cartoon.

First up: the pool and cozy sheltered courtyard of the Diving Belle, the rundown little motel-turned-condominiums where our Rescue Sirens live while they're topside. Nick did an amazing job capturing the soft colors of a Florida sunrise, and illustrating the twin bell-shaped pool and Art Deco-inspired two-tiered diving platform.

Next is a peek into the secret mermaid community of Lophelia, specifically the grand council chamber/library that is first glimpsed in one of Genevieve Tsai's gorgeous black-and-white illustrations in our novel "Rescue Sirens: The Search for the Atavist." For this illustration, we wanted to pull back a bit to give a wider view and also feature the moody underwater lighting and glowing crystals inside the chamber.

Didn't Nick knock both illustrations out of the park? He's such a pleasure to work with, and fast, too! We really owe one to Gabby Zapata for recommending Nick to us when another artist left us in the lurch right before our pitch.

To see more of Nick's work, check out his Instagram!

I'll be back next month with more goodies (provided I survive this movie premiere, haha). Until then, I hope your 2020 is off to an auspicious start!

Kawaii Shark ita bag pin layout template tutorial December 31, 2019 00:00

From Jess: 

I've been meaning to do this for months, so I thought it would be fitting to end the year on a productive note!

I want to share with you my preferred method for creating ita bag inserts to use as pin layouts in the Kawaii Shark ita bag -- in this case, I use large sheets of stiffened felt (which you can buy on Amazon), and I trace the pink "pinsert" that ships with all Kawaii Shark ita bags as my guide to creating an accurate shape.

But what if, like me, you're really picky about your pin layout and you don't want any of your enamel trinkets being blocked by the display window's edges or the shark's cute teeth? You can take it a step further by choosing a light-colored sheet of stiffened felt (one that you don't intend to ever use as a layout; I decided on this rather gross flesh tone) and cutting out where the teeth and edges of the window are. That way, you can lay that template on top of your felt inserts to have a decent idea of the best spots to place your pins.

Please enjoy this poorly color-balanced series of photos explaining how to make your own template:  

Did that make sense? Did you find it helpful? Do you now have intricately-planned pin layouts that you want to show off? Please share them with us by using the hashtag #kawaiisharkitabag, and/or tagging @rescuesirens/@pinsofsteele on Instagram!

See you in 2020, buoys and gills!

Kawaii Shark ita bags are LIVE! December 14, 2019 00:00

From Jess: 

Because everything always takes longer than expected (even when you think you've added enough extra wiggle room!), my mass order of Kawaii Shark ita bags arrived here on my doorstep less than two weeks ago. But! One reason they took longer that I predicted was that I went back and made some last-minute changes to get the design juuust right, and now I couldn't be happier with them. I may never carry another bag again.  =)

The last of the pre-ordered bags is on its way to its new home, which means... the remainder of the bags are now available for sale online!

If you prefer to use Etsy, I've reactivated the Kawaii Shark bag listing there; however, I'm trying to move away from Etsy and their rising fees, so I also have the bags listed for sale on (along with my "Rescue Sirens" enamel pins and our ghost net bracelets). In addition to the full-price standard bags, Pins of Steele also offers discounted "minor flawed" bags if you don't mind a scratch here or a speck there and you'd like to save a few bucks!

While the Kawaii Shark ita bag was originally designed to be the perfect complement to your "Rescue Sirens" pins, it's ideal for your shark- and ocean-themed pins, too, and its neutral gray-and-white color scheme means it also goes with any outfit or collection of pins. The bag ships with a pink "pinsert" to use to display your pins, but my favorite material for creating pin layouts is actually stiffened felt, particularly this 12"x14" variety pack:

You simply use your existing pinsert as a template, trace it onto the felt, cut it out, and you have a new place to put your pins! I haven't counted lately, but I think I have about fifteen or twenty different pin layouts that I've made, and there's enough room in the bag's display compartment to stack more than one layout (as long as you use rubber pin backs that won't scratch the pins behind them!) so you can swap 'em out on the go.

What's next? I already have three of the five Miami Beach Rescue Sirens available in enamel pin form -- Nim, Kelby, and Echo -- with Pippa and Maris currently in the proofing process, so it won't be too long before you can create a layout for your Kawaii Shark with all five of our girls. (Actually, if you have the chibi Rescue Sirens pins from a few years ago, you can already do that!) I'd also love to create pins based on each mermaid's companion animal, starting with Nim's zebra shark friend, Coral.

The past couple of years have been challenging when it comes to "Rescue Sirens." Chris, my husband and writing partner, has been busy directing "The Call of the Wild" (you know, that silly day job!), so I've found myself mired in writer's block with no one to throw me a rope. Meanwhile, our much-hyped pitch meeting with an entertainment production company earlier this year went straight to Nowheresville.

I won't pretend that wasn't pretty crushing. I thought I'd gotten used to this sort of disappointment -- the three other entertainment companies we've engaged with over the years, while all very nice, have each had their own quirks, and we never moved forward with any of them -- but this latest company didn't even respond to us for eighty-nine days. That prompted me to finally pull the plug and ask for our pitch book back because, seriously, that's no way to treat anyone. Who wants to work with someone who can't be asked to respond after three months, even if it's only to say "Thanks, but no thanks"? That was never going to be a good partnership, even if they'd wanted to do something with "Rescue Sirens." When someone shows you who they are, believe them, etc., etc. But even though I know we dodged a bullet, it still sucks.

However, I have hope for 2020. "The Call of the Wild" (finally!) comes out in theaters on February 21st, which means I'll have my husband back, and we're both eager to return to our own creative endeavors. I can't make any promises, but I'm crossing my fingers that we can get that second "Rescue Sirens" novel out there at last. (It's outlined! I know exactly where to go! It's just the actual writing part that's tripping me up. Ugh.) I'm chomping at the bit to introduce new characters and new aspects of the "Rescue Sirens" world that I've been keeping under wraps for waaayy too long, and we have some amazing concept art to share with you guys, too.

In the meantime, creating pins and such gives me a job that I can do all on my own, that's really satisfying and (compared to writing a book!) has a super fast turnaround. It also helps that pins pay for themselves very quickly and actually bring in money instead of digging the pit deeper, haha. Look for more "Rescue Sirens" goodies in the future!