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NC Mermania 2017, part 4 - Memorable Moments February 02, 2017 00:00

From Jess: 

There was so much to see and do from Friday night to Sunday evening, but, in the end, it was the connections created and friendships formed that made NC Mermania so special. Everyone who Chris and I interacted with was just so incredibly kind and giving.

It started at the mixer on Friday night, when Mermaid Olivia introduced herself and presented us with a tiny, perfect Nim that she’d crocheted -- I was so surprised and touched that I almost started to cry! Both Olivia and wee Nim are adorable.

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That generosity of time and spirit continued throughout the entire weekend; over and over again, people came up and introduced themselves, and they really made us feel at home during our first mermaid convention. There was no snobbery, ego, competition, or cliquishness that we encountered (which I'll confess I'd been a little concerned about in such a tight-knit community), only openness and acceptance and warmth.

A few examples: during the mixer, Pearlie Mae gave me a stunning mermaid pendant that she’d molded from a personal piece of jewelry and cast out of resin; Joseph McGarry, author of “Operation Mermaid: The Project Kraken Incident,” swapped books with us; Merman Arion (who'd traveled all the way from France!) introduced himself and was so sweet and welcoming; at the GAC, Mermaid Bridgette showed me the best way to pose at the side of a pool so my tail would point out straight behind me (trying to lift those flukes to the water’s surface uses muscles that I didn’t know I had!); Fablefish taught me how to blow bubble rings, which Colin was awesome enough to catch on camera so Chris could watch me in action later; Christine Michele Vogt-Klimshuk gave us a pair of beautiful handmade bookmarks and a heartfelt, supportive letter about “Rescue Sirens: The Search for the Atavist”; Tom Cardwell, one of the co-founders of NC Mermania, was a friendly face every time I saw him, and kindly took underwater photos and video of (and with!) me; Mermaid Kaitey of Kate Hall Photography captured some awesome underwater photos in the hotel pool and at the GAC; Mountain Mermaid Photography's Karsten Shein spent the weekend breathing compressed air at the bottom of the dive well to give us all stunning candid photographs; and Mermaid Jolene and her mother, Georgia, were a true joy to chat with at our Saturday night dinner -- plus, I was fortunate to spend a lot of time over the weekend swimming with Jolene and talking with her about writing, which was delightful.

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Then, I was brought nearly to tears (again!) by Casey and Natalie, who stopped by the GAC on Sunday to say hi to me and Chris in a pair of very familiar outfits.

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These amazing young women dressed as two of our Rescue Sirens in costumes that they’d crafted themselves: “walking” versions of Echo and Kelby in their mermaid forms, complete with a purple ponytail for Echo, glasses for Kelby (Natalie’s own, as it turned out!), their shell and sea star “hair flair,” “GUARD” tops, and jeans carefully hand-painted with the patterns of each girl’s tail! I was so blown away. I'm getting a little emotional just writing about it!

Every time we’ve seen people dressed as our characters -- Becki’s Kelby (the very first “Rescue Sirens” cosplay!), then Sabrina’s Nim at SDCC 2016; and now Casey’s Echo and Natalie’s Kelby at NC Mermania 2017 -- it’s been more than a little surreal. These characters started out as ideas in my head and were first brought to life as drawings in Chris’s initial character designs, and now to see them actually walking around right in front of us is almost indescribable for me. It’s very humbling.

I actually spotted Casey and Natalie from all the way across the dive well; few times have I swam faster than I did to cross the pool and greet them! I just couldn’t get over how fantastic they looked, not to mention the fact that they’d go to the trouble of making such great costumes and driving down to visit us. I was beyond honored. Ladies, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.


(Thank you, too, to Mermaid Olivia, Ashley Mayumi Wolf, and Venessa Lewis for several of the photos used in this video!)

My only regret throughout this entire event (well, besides neglecting to bring a waterproof digital camera!) was that I didn’t have more time to spend with Casey and Natalie, Jolene, Bridgette, Olivia, and all the many other terrific people that I met over those forty-eight magical hours.

At the Expert Panel, when we were all asked which superpower we would choose to have (if water-breathing was off the table, that is, since that’s probably every attendee’s first choice!), one of the Roberts twins from Finfolk Productions answered that she’d like the power to function without sleep. If only I’d had that ability during NC Mermania! I wanted to talk more, swim more, laugh more. I loved every minute of it, and I'm so glad I attended.

I want to take a moment here to thank my husband, Chris. He's my partner in all things, and it's because of him that we were able to make it to NC Mermania and have such a fantastic time.

Chris is my rock. He handled the travel logistics (including building a box to safely transport my mermaid tail), manned our vending table at the GAC all by himself both days, helped me into my tail every time I wanted to go swimming, and took the vast majority of the photos and videos that I've shared in these posts. He also provided moral support when I was nervous about something (like our panel!), and he spent the whole weekend reminding people that "Rescue Sirens" is my creation. (Because Chris is so well-known for his work on animated films like "Lilo & Stitch" and "How to Train Your Dragon," some people assume that he's the one who came up with "Rescue Sirens," which is frustrating for both of us. Chris is always quick to correct that misconception and credit me, which is so important to me and means so much!) I literally could not have done this without Chris, and I'm endlessly grateful for everything he does -- and everything he is -- every day of our lives together. I'm so blessed.

In the time that it's taken me to go through our photos and video, choose and edit my favorites, and write these four blog posts, nearly two weeks have passed since NC Mermania 2017 began. That means we're two weeks closer to NC Mermania 2018! I can't wait for next year.


PART ONE · PART TWO · PART THREE · PART FOUR

NC Mermania 2017, part 3 - Social Events & Panels February 01, 2017 00:00

From Jess: 

There was so much more to NC Mermania than just swimming at the Greensboro Aquatic Center! The convention's organizers also planned multiple social events, classes and workshops, and panels so attendees could have fun, make friends, and learn something, too.

Friday Night Mixer
As soon as Chris and I checked in at the Sheraton and had a chance to freshen up after our cross-country flight and drive from Raleigh, we ventured downstairs to the first event of the weekend: the merfolk mixer! There, we were delighted to see people we'd only ever spoken to online, like Raina, as well as introduce ourselves to a host of friendly new faces. As vendors, we set up a table stocked with copies of "Rescue Sirens: The Search for the Atavist" and other "Rescue Sirens" goodies for sale, and we had an absolute blast meeting other attendees.

I'll write more about the mixer in my next post! For now, here's a photo, courtesy of Venessa Lewis:


The Sheraton's pool, which closed to other hotel guests at ten PM, was open to NC Mermania attendees from ten until midnight, tails allowed. Chris and I intended to go -- I hadn't been swimming in my tail in months, and I was so excited after the mixer! -- but I laid down "for just a minute" and was out like a light. Whoops!

Mers of Color Diversity Panel
One of the highlights of NC Mermania, for me, was Saturday morning’s Mers of Color panel discussing diversity in the mermaid community… or, more accurately, the current lack thereof. It’s a topic that I was grateful to learn more about from the people who are directly affected. Well-known mermaids in popular culture have had a major influence on society’s idea of what a mermaid “should” look like, to the unfortunate detriment and exclusion of anyone who doesn’t fit that specific mold. The stories the four panelists told of being passed over for jobs because they didn’t have red hair or pale skin were sad and frustrating, as were anecdotes shared by people of color in the audience.

Raina took some photos during the panel.

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I feel very passionately about the strength and necessity of diversity in the media we’re exposed to; I don’t think anyone, regardless of what they look like, should be told, “You can’t be a mermaid.” Especially in a world that can be, at times, negative, frightening, and uncertain, I think it’s important as people to find hope and a safe harbor in fantasy, in the stories we create and share, and it’s absolutely ridiculous that a child playing pretend in a pool or an adult working as a mermaid performer might be told that they’re the wrong skin color, hair color, gender, body shape, or anything else to be a mermaid -- these are mythical creatures, so imposing those kinds of limitations makes no sense to me. Why on earth would you restrict someone’s ability to dream?

That’s one of the reasons, when I first began developing “Rescue Sirens,” that I knew my characters would be different sizes, shapes, and races: I wanted all girls (and boys, once we introduce mermen in later books) to look at these characters and see something of themselves, to imagine that they, too, could be a Rescue Siren.

But I need help to do that. While Nim and Maris are Caucasian, like myself, Kelby is Latina, Pippa is African-American, and Echo has an Asian heritage. As a white woman writing characters of color, I want to do so responsibly and authentically. During the Mers of Color panel Q&A portion, I asked a question that’s always on my mind: how do I make sure that I’m doing this right? I added that when my husband and "Rescue Sirens" co-author, Chris Sanders, co-wrote and co-directed “Lilo & Stitch,” the crew consulted with the Hawaiian community to ensure that the film was respecting the people it portrayed.

One of the panelists, Whitney, responded that I’d actually answered my own question -- that consulting with people from the races and cultures that I’m depicting is always the right thing to do, that no one I approach is going to say, “You want to know more about me and my culture? No way; get outta here”… and if they do, she said with a smile, I probably don’t want to be basing my book on them.

Whitney reiterated that encouraging diversity and overcoming some of the obstacles that people face today begins by starting a conversation. All of the panelists agreed that they are always open to answering questions and to helping anyone who’s interested in writing or creating art that represents someone from a culture outside the artist’s own. That kind of representation is so crucial when it comes to making everyone feel seen, heard, and valued. We’re all in this together, after all.

Eric, Arielle, Whitney, and Kenn. Photo courtesy of Raina.

I want to thank Eric, Arielle, Whitney, and Kenn for taking the time to discuss race and diversity as it relates to the mermaid community, for being so open with their own life experiences, and for answering everyone’s questions with honesty and kindness. That took bravery. The Mers of Color panel was so thought-provoking and informative, and I’m really glad that the panelists, moderators Raina and Venessa, and the rest of the NC Mermania team put in the work to make it a part of the weekend’s schedule of events. For a convention revolving around fantasy, this was something very real, and very important.

Group Photo
At around 3:30 PM on Saturday, everyone at the GAC found a spot on the edge of the pool for the group photo. Chris and I weren't at NC Mermania last year, but we've heard that 2016's attendees took up one side of the pool, while this year--well, see for yourself!

In the following video, Chris takes a walk around the three sides of the pool where merfolk perched for the photo, which just goes to show how many people showed up. That wasn't even everyone! Special thanks goes to Joey Kirkman Photography for the awesome overhead shots.


(The video also includes a few photos from the Fathoms Below ball, plus a clip from the after-hours swim in the pool back at the hotel.)

This year, it was impossible to fit everyone into a ground-level shot! Attendance more than quadrupled from 2016. Holy mackerel!

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Dinner and Fathoms Below Ball

After a long day of swimming, what do you like to do? I like to eat. Man, there's no hunger like post-swimming hunger! Remember when you were a kid and you spent all day at the pool and you were starving when you got home? That's how I felt on Saturday after four hours in the water at the GAC. I was tired (and my feet were a mess after being in a monofin for that long), but I was really grateful that NC Mermania was providing dinner and dancing at the Fathoms Below ball.

The theme of the ball was the deep sea, so many people showed up in incredibly creative dresses and costumes evoking the bioluminescence of the creatures who call the darkest depths of the ocean "home." So much brilliance was on display! Blacklights made even the humblest outfit (like my ocean wave-themed dress) glow brightly, and lent the ball an appropriately otherworldly feel.

But first: dinner! Not only did we have an opportunity to talk to our fellow attendees during our delicious repast, but the staff had arranged for entertainment, too: Captain Jim would be providing music and doing magic tricks, while Mermaid Glimmer, AKA Fire Pixie, would put on a dazzling light show. It was mindblowing! Glimmer wrote a great blog about her experience that includes photos and videos, although you really have to see her in person to appreciate her art. So cool!

Chris and I were too busy dancing the night away to get many photos during the ball, but we took a few!

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For an even better glimpse into those mysterious Fathoms Below, watch this terrific video from Mermaid Glimmer highlighting some of the crazy creative costumes spotted at the ball:


After-Hours Swim
As the ball wound down, people began heading to the hotel pool for another after-hours swim. I wore my tail (of course) and also, for the only time during the weekend, sported my gorgeous custom Merbella top.


Mermaid Kaitey of Kate Hall Photography took some great underwater shots, including this one!

Workshops, Story Time, and Kids' Swims
Although I spent all my time at the GAC swimming in the dive well, there was a lot more to take advantage of, and, if I hadn't been having so much fun in the water, I would've been interested in doing it all.

There was an underwater posing class, workshops about water safety (yay!) and merwrangling (the term used to refer to the jobs done by a mermaid or merman performer's assistant), and events for kids, too. The kids' story times and swims were so popular that they sold out even after more slots were made available!

Expert Panel
By the time Sunday afternoon rolled around, I was even more appreciative of the Mers of Color panelists’ participation when it came time to appear on a panel, myself. Eep! Chris has taken part in panels at comics conventions in the past, so this was nothing new to him, but this was my first time, and I was definitely a little anxious. I was surrounded by such a varied collection of professionals, and I wanted to do a good job!

The Expert Panel assembled an eclectic group of people with expertise relevant to the mermaid community: Joseph McGarry, an accountant (and author of “Operation Mermaid: The Project Kraken Incident”) who was there to answer financial questions related to running a mermaid business; Chris and myself, discussing the development, co-writing, and self-publishing of “Rescue Sirens: The Search for the Atavist”; Marla Spellenberg, a former mermaid performer at historic Weeki Wachee Springs, Florida's “City of Live Mermaids” that really popularized the practice of swimming in mermaid tails; Merman Christian, sharing his experience as a professional merman performer; Abby and Bryn Roberts, full-time tailmakers and twin owners of Finfolk Productions; Charles D. Moisant of Silver Phoenix Entertainment, a comic book writer and creative partner of the final expert rounding out the panel: Philo Barnhart, one of the animators from Disney’s animated classic “The Little Mermaid.”


Photo courtesy of Karsten Shein (Mountain Mermaid Photography).

Honestly, between the exhaustion and the nervousness (and, now, the passage of time), the whole thing is a bit of a blur, haha! Raina and Venessa took turns moderating questions from the audience, and I remember discussing what goes into character development and whether anyone has challenged the lore that I wrote for “Rescue Sirens” because it’s so different from “traditional” mermaid mythology (the answer, at least so far, is blessedly “no”!). Chris and I also talked a little bit about the process of collaborative writing as well as what’s in store for the future of “Rescue Sirens.”

I was really proud to be a part of the Expert Panel, and very pleased with the set-up. Even though I didn’t ask any questions of my own, I learned a great deal from the questions posed by the audience. I wish the panel had been twice as long -- I wanted to hear more stories from my fellow panelists! Given my fondness for the attractions of “Old Florida,” I was especially intrigued by Marla’s time as a mermaid for Weeki Wachee. Each and every panelist had something unique and valuable to offer, and my hat is off to the staff for assembling such a swell line-up.

Closing Ceremonies
NC Mermania wrapped up with closing ceremonies that paid tribute to staff, guests, and attendees who helped make the event the smashing success it turned out to be. Chris and I were so honored to receive certificates of appreciation and a beautiful custom mermaid scale necklace for our part as special guests and panelists -- the pleasure was all ours, and we'd do it again in a heartbeat! We're so grateful to Raina, Sean, Venessa, Dan, and everyone else on the staff of volunteers who was so kind, hardworking, and dedicated to creating a magical weekend that none of us would forget.

On that note, my fourth and final blog entry in this series will highlight some of my favorite moments from NC Mermania!


PART ONE · PART TWO · PART THREE · PART FOUR

NC Mermania 2017, part 2 - Mermaiding January 31, 2017 00:00

From Jess: 

It’s hard to believe, but I haven’t written yet about my mermaid tail! I’ve posted a handful of tail photos here on the “Rescue Sirens” website as well as pictures and video clips on Instagram and Tumblr, but this is the first time I’ve blogged about it, and I don’t know if I can do it justice with mere words. My mermaid tail is a wearable, working piece of art.

Although it’s been around for decades, the sport, performance, or hobby of mermaiding has really taken off in recent years. Today, you can buy an affordable fabric tail that slips over a plastic monofin (a device, as the name suggests, that looks like a pair of fins fused together, designed to contain both feet and keep a swimmer’s legs together to aid in the dolphin kick), or you can spring for a variety of other materials, varying in price up to $4,000 or more. One of the most popular materials is silicone, and there are multiple tailmakers who create truly stunning silicone mermaid tails for swimming. My tail and matching top were handcrafted by Raven and Tyler Sutter of Merbella Studios Inc., based in my home state of Florida.

The story behind the creation of my tail is pretty magical. On our family vacation to Orlando in August of 2015, Chris, his daughter Nicole, and I made a side trip to meet Raven and Tyler at historic Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, Florida’s “City of Live Mermaids.” There, I got to view the fabled springs for myself for the first time -- I grew up in Florida and spent a lot of time at Ginnie Springs over the years as well as Silver Springs and Homosassa, but, almost unbelievably, I’d never visited Weeki Wachee… and now here I was in this iconic mermaid mecca, with Mermaid Raven, seeing one of her gorgeous silicone mermaid tails in person! Wow!

I was so impressed with her handiwork’s artistry and flawless construction, and even more impressed with Raven and Tyler themselves: they’re brilliant, beautiful, fun, and phenomenally talented people who I feel very fortunate to call my friends today.


That first meeting. As you can see, we all got caught in a Florida thunderstorm!


Before we parted ways, Tyler and Raven took detailed measurements of my lower body so they could custom-build my tail, and I left Weeki Wachee looking forward to the day when I could try it on and go for my first swim.

Both the tail and the top that went with it were going to be designed as a “realistic” version of Nim’s, the Rescue Siren whose appearance Chris based on mine, and I was curious to find out how Raven would adapt Chris’s drawings into something that had to obey the laws of physics and look like it “belonged” on a real human being (as opposed to a cartoon), while still retaining the spirit of Nim’s design. Over the next eight months, Raven periodically sent work-in-progress photos as she sculpted Nim’s flukes and fins as well as the leafy, kelp-like halter top that Nim wears in her undersea home, Lophelia. Even in humble gray clay, everything looked amazing.

In April of 2016, Chris and I took another trip to Florida, and we made plans with Raven and Tyler to spend some time at Orlando’s YMCA Aquatic Center. The Y features a seventeen-foot-deep dive well, and I was beside myself with excitement at the idea of hanging out with Raven again and even getting to swim together. I knew that she was close to completing my tail and had already finished my top, but I wasn’t expecting to receive them until May, so I figured she’d bring one of her extra tails and I could borrow it for our swim. Imagine the look on my face, then, when Raven unveiled my very own Nim tail in the YMCA’s parking lot! It was so unexpected that I actually didn’t register what I was seeing for several moments, and then I squealed and squeezed Raven half to death.

Raven had taken the images of Nim that Chris had drawn and she had made them real. The delicate curling fronds of Nim's seaweed top, with sparkling green crystals imbedded amongst the gentle floral curves... the sweeping lines of Nim's graceful tail -- "blue as the ocean in the morning," scales glittering with iridescent shine -- from the flawless transition at the blended waist to the lightly ribbed dorsal, adipose, and ventral fins, all the way down to the immense flukes: three feet wide and ingeniously hiding a Finis Competitor monofin within.


Raven
 still had some finishing touches to put on my tail’s paint job, but I could try it on and go swimming with her!

I didn’t truly understand the phrase “fits like a glove” until I put on my Nim tail. It was made to conform to my body exactly, and, boy, does it do that. Even with Raven’s help, I swear it took me something like an hour and half to wriggle into my tail that first time. I’ve since gotten it down to under ten minutes (again, with my husband Chris’s help), but, if I hadn’t had Raven there to show me what to do at first, I honestly don’t know if I would’ve believed I could get into that tail. Once it’s on, it fits like a second skin, which makes moving through the water effortless. (Loose tails can flap around a person’s waist and legs, catching water as they swim and creating drag.) And once it was finally on that first time, I took off into the dive well… and I felt like I was flying.

When you’re wearing a mermaid tail, you can’t really get a good look at yourself while you’re swimming, so what made me do a double-take was seeing Raven (who can get into her tail in, like, two minutes!) glide past me in her own tail. The illusion is flawless; the blended waist effect that Raven can achieve with her tails is wholly convincing, her tails’ flukes bend and flow realistically, and Raven herself is so fluid and graceful in the water that you would swear she’s a real mermaid.

 



Chris and Tyler, watching us, discussed the interesting quirk about mermaid tails: when a Victoria’s Secret model wears angel wings, she can’t fly, but, when someone puts on a mermaid tail, they really can swim. The fiberglass Finis Competitor monofin built into my tail is rated for ocean swimming, and I can cross a pool in only a few dolphin kicks. I went from the dive well’s surface to the bottom at seventeen feet below in the blink of an eye. I felt strong, powerful, and beautiful -- just like I imagine the Rescue Sirens in my stories -- and I can never thank Raven and Tyler enough for that.

My Nim tail has already been on a number of adventures, from Orlando to two Hawaiian islands to Weeki Wachee Springs and back here to Los Angeles, but those tail-tales will have to wait for another day, because today I want to write about mermaiding at NC Mermania!

 

***

The main event of NC Mermania was our time at the Greensboro Aquatic Center, affectionately referred to as the GAC (that’s pronounced “gack”). Merfolk took over the facility’s dive well, which, just like Orlando’s YMCA Aquatic Center, is a whopping seventeen feet deep and twenty-five yards wide; vendors (like us) set up on either side of the giant body of water. Chris and I readied our table with books, buttons, and Diving Belle motel key tags, and then I “turned tail”… with the help of Chris (who is an incredible husband for many reasons; this is only one of them) and a whoooole lot of coconut oil.

Although the tail is a challenge to get into, the reward once I’m in is well worth it: I get to go swimming! It’s so refreshing, both physically and mentally. I feel like a little kid again, only I’ve leveled up the way I “play mermaids” in a manner that wee Jess never could have imagined. I've always been a water baby, and swimming in a realistic mermaid tail is a whole new way of interacting with the element I love so dearly.

I recently had rashguards screen-printed with the “Rescue Sirens” logo, and I wore those stretchy lifeguard tops as part of my Nim outfit for both days in the dive well at the GAC. I was so tickled every time someone recognized our property! I loved talking to people, answering their questions about the books and the world, and spreading the word about this series that means so much to me. Because NC Mermania attendees are passionate about many of the same things that I am -- the ocean, marine conservation, water safety, and mythology -- that made everyone easy to talk to, even for an introvert like me!

Besides talking about "Rescue Sirens," conversations involved admiring and discussing one another's tails (Merbella Studios' tails like mine, Finfolk Productions, Mertailor, Mernation, any number of commercially available fabric tails, and even handmade), swapping water-friendly hair and makeup tips, learning new tricks (I was taught how to blow bubble rings!), and simply having fun swimming together. There was an innocence to the event that I found really charming. When was the last time, as an adult, that you really just enjoyed splashing around in the water with friends the way you did as a kid? I didn't realize how much I'd missed that.

While I played in the dive well, Chris was a rockstar and, as usual, a phenomenal husband: he not only sold copies of "Rescue Sirens: The Search for the Atavist" at our poolside table, but he also took lots of photos and videos to remember our time at NC Mermania. The only thing that Chris couldn't do was take photos from in the water (since he had to be able to return to our table at a moment's notice), but the wonderful Karsten Shein of Mountain Mermaid Photography had that covered, spending both days suited up in scuba gear at the bottom of the dive well with camera in hand.

Here are some of my favorite candids shot by Karsten (thank you so much!).

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In addition to Karsten's underwater photos, I chose some of the best pictures and videos that Chris shot from the pool deck and compiled them into this short video, which follows me around a bit during our time at the GAC on Saturday. Huge thanks also go to Tom Cardwell for graciously sharing the underwater footage that he recorded of me swimming, and to Mermaid Aria for the photo of her, Mermaid Jolene, and yours truly. I'm so grateful for everyone's help!



Next in this series: it's time to make legs and dry off for NC Mermania's social events and panels!


PART ONE · PART TWO · PART THREE · PART FOUR

NC Mermania 2017, part 1 - Introduction January 30, 2017 00:00

From Jess: 

It's been a week since Chris and I returned home to Los Angeles from the second annual NC Mermania -- a convention for all things mermaid and merman -- held in Greensboro, North Carolina, and we have so much to talk about! We had an absolutely amazing time.

Chris and I were first contacted in the summer of 2016 by Raina, owner of Halifax Mermaids and one of the organizers of NC Mermania, asking if we’d be interested in appearing at the event as special guests and vendors. We’d wanted to attend 2016’s Mermania, but the timing hadn’t worked out, so we were determined to be there in 2017! In addition to promoting and selling signed copies of our first novel, “Rescue Sirens: The Search for the Atavist,” Chris and I would be appearing on Sunday afternoon’s Expert Panel to discuss co-writing and self-publishing alongside other professionals with experience relevant to the mermaid community.

Getting to Greensboro, North Carolina, however, was going to take some planning. Although we have a booth at San Diego Comic-Con every year and are no strangers to vending at conventions, Chris and I had never exhibited at an event that wasn’t within driving distance, so we needed to figure out how to get ourselves and our merchandise across the country successfully. We also needed to adapt our promotional displays (we made the cutest little travel-friendly stand-up banners!) as well as pack my mermaid tail (more about that later). Without a direct flight from Los Angeles to Greensboro, we made the decision to fly from LAX to Raleigh-Durham, rent a car, and then drive the hour-and-change from Raleigh to Greensboro; that way, we didn’t have to worry about our checked luggage getting lost while making a connection between airports. We didn’t want to show up to NC Mermania without our books or my tail!

On Friday, January 20th, Chris and I woke up at four AM in California, dragged ourselves to the airport to board our flight to North Carolina, and arrived in Raleigh at around 4:30 PM EST. After some unexpected delays (are there any other kind?), we had all of our precious cargo, our rental car, and our destination: the Sheraton Greensboro at Four Seasons.

The weekend was pleasantly crammed with activities, beginning with Friday night’s mixer and after-hours swim, then continuing with Saturday morning’s Mers of Color panel on diversity, swimming and vending time at the nearby Greensboro Aquatic Center until five PM, and Saturday night’s dinner and ball followed by even more swimming in the hotel pool. (Are we spotting a theme, here?) Sunday would see another day in the dive well at the GAC, and then it was back to the Sheraton for the Expert Panel and closing ceremonies.

On top of all that, sprinkled throughout both days at the GAC were classes and workshops for the attendees (underwater posing, “merwrangling” for mermaid assistants, and water safety), in-water photo slots with professional photographers, and even children’s story times and swimming with mermaids for the local little guppies. Whew! Considering Chris and I usually spend our time at SDCC either in our booth or fast asleep back at our hotel, having the option to actually participate in panels and social events was something new and different for us. It was a lot to take in!

From the first moment that Raina greeted us at Friday night’s mixer, Chris and I felt really well taken care of by NC Mermania’s staff of dedicated volunteers. We primarily interacted with Raina; her partner and Merwrangler, Sean; Venessa; and Dan, and each person was always ready with answers to our questions and a smile, even though I know they were all exhausted after putting so much time and energy into planning the convention. Chris and I really appreciated their attention to detail and their ability to roll with the hiccups and sudden changes that accompany any large event. This was only NC Mermania’s second year, but everything went really smoothly, and they quadrupled their attendance numbers from 2016. Wow! We’re looking forward to seeing the event continue to grow and evolve, and we hope to be an even bigger part of it in the future.

Throughout the week, I’ll be posting a series of several in-depth blogs about our experiences at the world’s largest convention for merfolk, including photos and video clips. I can’t wait to share our adventures with you!


PART ONE · PART TWO · PART THREE · PART FOUR

"Rescue Sirens" at NC Mermania 2017 January 16, 2017 00:00

From Jess: 

The "Rescue Sirens" team is starting 2017 off with a bang! Chris and I were invited to be special guests at NC Mermania 2017, the second annual convention revolving around all things merfolk taking place in Greensboro, North Carolina. Hundreds of mermaid fans from around the globe converge on the Greensboro Aquatic Center to spend time with their mer-friends, buy mermaid merchandise (merchandise!), and get their tails wet in the facility's seventeen-foot-deep dive well. You might've seen last year's convention featured on CNN! When we were approached by NC Mermania's coordinators about appearing at this year's event, Chris and I jumped at the chance.


In addition to selling signed paperback copies of "Rescue Sirens: The Search for the Atavist," we'll also be participating in Sunday afternoon's Expert Panel: a diverse assembly of professionals with experience that's relevant to the mermaid community. Chris and I will be answering questions about our co-writing and self-publishing process for "Rescue Sirens," and we're joined by Marla Spellenberg from Weeki Wachee, Florida's "City of Live Mermaids"; Chris O'Brocki, representing mermen in the community; author Joseph McGarry, who will discuss finances and taxes in the mermaid business; talented tailmaking twins Abby and Bryn Roberts from Finfolk Productions; and Philo Barnhart, an animator on Disney's "The Little Mermaid." The lovely Raina of Halifax Mermaids (and one of NC Mermania's coordinators) will be moderating.

There's a lot going on at NC Mermania, including more panels, story time and swimming for kids, workshops and classes, and even a ball. Whew! Want to know what's happening when? Here's the weekend's schedule (also available in printable form):


For ticket information, please visit NC Mermania's website. We hope to "sea" you in North Carolina later this week!