"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!

Mer-Made in the USA May 21, 2019 16:00

From Jess: 

This is not going to be a fun post, but I think it’s a necessary one. We'll return to your regularly-scheduled happy Mer-May news soon.

In the past week, I have observed two American small businesses that I admire and support — a well-known mermaid tailmaker, as well as deluxe art book publisher Flesk Publications — struggling with the new 25% tariff being implemented on goods produced in and imported from China. These are smart people who are doing everything rightcreating things of beauty to share with all of us at prices we can afford, and now they're being forced to question their companies' futures.

”Well,” the knee jerk response seems to be, “just stop doing business in China!”

Okay. Let me tell you a story  a story about a book.

Chris and I printed our novel “Rescue Sirens: The Search for the Atavist” in the United States. Right here in Glendale, California, in fact! Both the hardcover first edition and the paperback second edition were printed and bound in the USA.

There were a lot of advantages to this! We have a good relationship with our local printer and were happy to work with him again, we were able to drop in and see the books in progress, the entire process was really fast (we needed the first editions in time for San Diego Comic-Con 2015), and the books turned out beautifully both times. Chris and I like to support small businesses and to buy American when we can, and it was gratifying to know that the money we’d spent on printing the books was going back into our very own community.

But there’s one big disadvantage: with all the books we’ve sold since 2015, we have not profited ONE CENT.

”Well,” asks the same person who suggested not doing business with China, “why don’t you just charge more for your books?”

That’s an easy one: because people won’t pay what’s necessary for us to make money when printing in the United States.

Here are some numbers for you. I don’t normally discuss finances this openly, but it’s vital in this situation to drive home my point.

Illustrator fee: $8,000
Colorist fee: $1150
Printing/binding fee: $19,924
Total cost: $29,074

Printing fee: $16,442

Those were the costs for 1,000 books each time, which makes figuring out the unit price really simple: $29.07 per hardcover, and $16.44 per paperback.

We sell our books for $20 each.

See where this is going?

Every single copy of “Rescue Sirens: The Search for the Atavist” has been sold for a profit of about $3.56 (paperback), or for a loss of $9.07 (hardcover). Once we sell every copy of our novels, we will still be in the redAnd that’s not even taking into account the inevitable damaged books, gift and personal copies, or books we’ve sold through Amazon subject to their FBA fees (compounding the loss). We're just trying to fill the hole as much as we can.

The thing is, Chris and I knew going in that we were going to lose money, but printing and selling these books was important to us and that was a sacrifice we were willing to make at that time. We figured we’d compensate for it in other ways. He and I are fortunate enough that we were able to take a loss in order to get the first “Rescue Sirens” book out there — but most people are not. If this was our livelihood, we would obviously be screwed.

Let’s take a look at what we would have to charge in order to make this financially feasible. Keep in mind, we’ve already received plenty of complaints for selling our books for twenty bucks apiece! If we had, instead, offered them at 250% of our cost — which 1) pays for production, 2) provides us the same funds to print the books again, should we need to, and 3) earns us some actual profit on top of that — then we’d be charging $41 for the paperback and $73 for the hardcover. Do you think people are going to pay that for an 8.5"x5.5", 192-page novel? Because I can tell you that they won’t. I sure as hell wouldn’t.

”Well, why don’t you just sell the books digitally?”

Yeah. We do that. You can purchase “Rescue Sirens: The Search for the Atavist” on Amazon for your Kindle or tablet/smartphone for $2.99. It’s almost pure profit for us. And, over and over, the feedback from customers has been, “I just prefer a book that I can hold in my hands.” Digital sales have been negligible (around five hundred “copies,” last I checked).

So, tell me, what are Chris and I supposed to do when it comes time to print the next "Rescue Sirens" book and we don't want to (or can't) take another multi-thousand dollar hit? As I think this post has proven, keeping book production in the United States is unsustainable, and our current government is busy making it too expensive to work with overseas manufacturers, as well.

Is the US-China relationship and how it relates to the state of American manufacturing today a problem that has an easy solution? Of course not. I would never claim that. It's complicated, and has been for decades. But punishing small businesses by charging them money for having their goods produced overseas at a cost that allows them to actually make a living isn’t helping.

If these new duty taxes aren’t affecting you or someone you know now, they will be soon, even if it’s indirectly through the items you purchase. And if this keeps up, we’ll see a world in which products either cost a LOT more, or they simply cease to exist. I don’t want to lose beautiful fabric mermaid tails, or Flesk Publications’ gorgeous art books; I want to see these businesses (and the families behind them) thrive. That means something has to change... and these new tariffs need to go.

Further reading:

John Fleskes’ Facebook post about how the new tariffs are affecting Flesk Publications

INKtober 2017 October 23, 2017 06:00

From Jess: 

Now, if you've read our past blogs, you know about Mer-May -- when everyone spends a month drawing mermaids -- but are you familiar with Inktober?

As the name suggests, artists take the month of October to work on inking traditionally: with a brush, pen, or quill; some draw every day and follow prompts (just like the prompt lists you'll find during Mer-May), but other artists just draw what they feel like as often as they can. No matter how you do it, Inktober is a celebration of all things inky! With so many people creating their drawings digitally now, it's awesome to see such a dedicated return to hand-drawing.

My husband and "Rescue Sirens" co-author, Chris Sanders, is a master with a brush and a bottle of ink. While he often colors his drawings digitally in Photoshop, Chris still sketches them on paper with a pencil, then inks them with a Winsor & Newton Series 7 sable brush. It's like magic to watch, and, last Inktober, Chris recorded himself inking a cute witch pin-up for Halloween, which I then edited into a short time-lapse video.

Several months ago, I did the same for an illustration of Rescue Siren Kelby that Chris drew earlier this year as part of the artwork on our booth backdrop at San Diego Comic-Con. I waited until now to upload the video because, hey, Inktober!

Take a look:

Isn't it mesmerizing?

As a bonus, let's revisit the adorable chibi-style drawing of Rescue Siren Nim that Chris offered as a prize in our "Rescue Sirens" fan art contest this past May:

Inking even a relatively simple drawing like Chibi Nim seems like witchcraft (appropriate for this time of year!), at least when it's done by someone as skilled as Chris. I could watch him ink all day long! Between Halloween (my favorite holiday) and Inktober, October is a pretty fin-omenal month.

If you'd like to see more "Rescue Sirens" videos, you can always visit our Videos page or our YouTube channel.

Underwater photography workshop with Brenda Stumpf March 31, 2017 13:35

From Jess: 

Back in October, I had the opportunity to do something really special: wearing my beautiful silicone mermaid tail and top from Merbella Studios, I participated in an underwater modeling workshop with photographer Brenda Stumpf that was facilitated by professional mermaid performing company Sheroes Entertainment here in Los Angeles. It was amazing! The resulting images of me dressed as Rescue Siren Nim have the dreamiest, most ethereal look to them; they're magical.

I've been photographed underwater a couple of times, but I still feel like a newbie; let me tell you, it's something that takes practice! Imagine everything involved in normal modeling -- striking a great pose, finding the right angle, making sure your hair isn't doing something weird, and wearing a casual facial expression that doesn't betray all the things on your mind -- and then add a giant mermaid tail and an inability to see clearly (because mermaids don't wear goggles). Oh, yeah, and you also can't breathe. Whew! I still tend to wind up with "thinking face" as I mentally tick off all of those boxes, which, of course, isn't usually what you want in a photograph.

Fortunately, Brenda has a ton of experience shooting models underwater, and she and Sheroes' Catalina Mermaid made the entire workshop experience really easy and fun. When Chris and I arrived at the shooting venue, there was a rig set up in the delightfully heated pool that I could grab onto and hang from when I was above water -- this allowed me to keep my tail still to avoid disturbing the fabric backdrop as I came up for air or chatted with Brenda and Catalina about our next shot before dropping back beneath the surface.

As you've probably guessed from the concept of "Rescue Sirens," safety is something that's very important to me; luckily, it's important to Brenda and Sheroes Entertainment, too, and Catalina acted as a safety diver for the workshop. She watched me closely and kept a lifeguard tube handy in case I experienced any sort of difficulty, and, knowing the extent of her lifeguard and rescue training, I knew I was in good hands and could enjoy myself. As you can tell from these behind-the-scenes photos snapped by Chris, I was all smiles!

The ninety minutes I'd booked seemed to fly by, and I was sad to wiggle out of my tail and dry off because I'd had such a good time with Brenda and Catalina; I didn't want it to end. Saying goodbye meant that I was closer to seeing the four final images that came with the workshop package, though, and I was thrilled when they arrived in my inbox about a month and a half later!

Click to enlarge:

If you're in the Los Angeles area, Sheroes Entertainment is facilitating another underwater modeling workshop with Brenda, coming up in May. There are currently only two spots left, so be sure to check it out if you've ever wanted to get incredible underwater pictures of yourself! (You don't have to wear a mermaid tail, either, although fabric tails are available for the shoot if you're so inclined.) Both Brenda and Mermaid Catalina are the very definition of professional, courteous, experienced, and responsible -- and they're friendly and fun, too! I'm already looking forward to the next time I get to work with them.