A few days ago I had the privilege of interviewing Demelza Carlton, author of How to Catch Crabs, the Romance Island Resort series, Turbulence and Triumph series, Ocean's Gift series, Mel Goes to Hell series, and many more titles (believe me when I say there are many, many titles)!
SSML: Thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview on such short notice!
DC: First, I want to ask how you became an author, and what inspired you?
When I was writing my Masters thesis, there was a shipwreck and a tale of survival at sea that didn't make sense – a fisherman survived on the open ocean for three weeks, yet he couldn't swim. And when he washed up on shore, it was miles from where his ship sank…and in completely the wrong directions for the ocean currents. In my notes, I wrote, "Mermaids did it," and left it at that. When I did the final proofread, I laughed, removed the mermaid reference and submitted my thesis…but over a glass of wine later, I figured I'd do a little research into mermaid legends and sightings. I'd already uncovered some local Indian Ocean legends about mermaids and water dragons, and when I put all these together, I started writing what became Ocean's Gift, the first book I published back in 2012.
SSML: What have you written so far?
DC: So far I've written 21 books and number 22 is on the way, across five different series.
SSML: What genre are your books?
DC: The Ocean's Gift series is urban fantasy, about modern-day mermaids in Australia. The Turbulence and Triumph series was supposed to be a prequel to Ocean's Gift, but it became a whole series as the events on 1923 weren't quite as simple as I'd first thought, so that's a little more historical, taking place in the lead-up to World War II in the Indian Ocean.
I have the Mel Goes to Hell series, which is a mix of paranormal romance and satire, as Lucifer emerges as the CEO of the HELL Corporation and falls for an undercover angel working as an office temp.
There's my Nightmares Trilogy, dark, psychological suspense about a girl whose body is found on a beach, almost dead…and unravelling the story about what happened to her and why.
And last up is something that came out of my Nightmares Trilogy, but is very different. A young rock star retires at the end of the Trilogy, and with his millions he buys an island resort in remote Western Australia. He's looking for love, as opposed to just the one-night stands he's enjoyed as a rock star, and he's going about it in some very unusual ways, inspired by the hotel's extensive romance library. It's called the Romance Island Resort series.
SSML: What gives you inspiration when writing a story or developing characters?
DC: Hahaha…oh, anything can do that. The whole Mel Goes to Hell series was inspired by an uncomfortable ride on a crowded commuter train.
Someone challenged me to put together a video on what inspires me to write the crazy things I do…so of course, I rose to the challenge:
Truly, anything can inspire me. All my stories are set in Western Australia or the Indian Ocean, at places I've been to. I take thousands of photos, which continue to inspire me when I'm home in my study. A fair few of them are underwater shots, too!
SSML: What inspired you to write the Ocean's Gift Series and the Turbulence and Triumph Series?
DC: Hmm…I already said where I got the inspiration for Ocean's Gift, but it's that book that inspired Turbulence and Triumph. I'll do my best to answer without giving spoilers.
Ocean's Gift starts with the sinking of the Columbia in a cyclone in 1921, where the sixteen-year-old mermaid saves a man who couldn't swim. The story then cuts to 90 years later, when the same mermaid returns to the same island. Older, wise and accompanied by her two daughters.
As the Ocean's Gift series progresses, her past becomes increasingly important – especially those 90 years, as that's when her daughters were born and she learns the skills that allow her to live on land and pass as human, something many of her people struggle with. So I set out to write a bit of that to inform the modern-day series, so I didn't get mixed up.
Except…well, Sirena only tells an abridged version of her story to her daughters. The truth is far more captivating. She didn't just meet a bloke, do the deed with him and nine months later have his children. No, William McGregor meant a lot more to her than that…and so the Turbulence and Triumph series was born.
It starts with a grief-stricken girl who is pulled out of the sea by the crew of the Trevessa. They believe their ship is cursed and tempers are running high on the ship, which is a cargo vessel that doesn't normally carry passengers. The exception is engineer William McGregor, who's on his way to take up a new job at the Christmas Island phosphate mine. He forms an odd friendship with the girl he pulled from the waves and….well, the rest is history.
SSML: I'm assuming you majored in English?
DC: Definitely not. I have four degrees, all in science or applied science However, I did proofread PhD theses for my beer money while I was at university. I have a Masters in Emergency Management from the Graduate School of Policing here in Australia – and I did my research on evacuations of remote sites, which involved investigating hundreds of shipwrecks over hundreds of years.
You want to know a secret? While the ships have changed, the people on them haven't. When disaster strikes, there's always at least one person who does something stupid. Just watch the news next time there's a really big storm, plane crash or shipwreck.
SSML: What were you like in school?
DC: I was always a quick learner, whether it was English, mathematics, science or anything else, though the only sport I was good at was swimming. I remember sitting in my high school mathematics class, having finished everything we were supposed to do halfway through the class, so I pulled out an exercise book and worked on writing a novel.
SSML: Would you say there's a little bit of yourself in each of your characters?
DC: I honestly couldn't say, because most of my characters are distinct voices (and whole personalities) in my head that are definitely NOT mine, but they become a part of me, especially when I'm writing their story. The number of times I've watched an episode of Supernatural and had Lucifer sniggering and making snide comments in the back of my head, or watching anything with a mermaid in it and trying not to laugh as my girls made disparaging comments about the discomfort of wearing seashells. Perhaps they take a bit of me or perhaps I take a bit of them – or maybe a bit of both.
SSML: What drew you to "paranormal romance" and "satire"?
DC: You mean aside from a mermaid who wouldn't shut up until I'd written her story? Actually, I'd call my mermaid books urban fantasy more than paranormal romance, though there is a strong romantic element running through the stories.
No, it's my Mel Goes to Hell series that's a combination of satire and paranormal romance. I take it you haven't heard the story about how I was inspired by a briefcase up the bum? Oh yes. You heard that right. Without going into too much graphic detail…
I used to work in a city office, commuting on a crowded train to and from work every day. Think Tokyo – and yes, I've travelled on Tokyo trains at peak hour. Very squishy. Anyway, on this particular day, I squeezed into a train with a few hundred other people and we were packed in like sardines, so tight we couldn't move. And the train suddenly stopped, almost tipping us all over, but we were packed in so tightly, that all we did was sort of teeter together before righting ourselves.
But when I stood upright, so did everyone around me – and that's not all that went up. Someone's briefcase (attache case, I think they're called?) kept going right up my skirt until the corner was wedged between my cheeks.
Now, I'm no angel. I was having very devilish thoughts about what I was going to do to the bastard whose bag was WAY too close to my bum, starting with stomping on his foot so hard I'd break all his toes. I glanced around, trying to work out whose toes to target, when I caught the eye of the man who was holding the offending briefcase. He looked as harried and miserable as I was, and I realised…he didn't know where his bag was. So if I stomped on his foot, it would come as a complete surprise…he'd probably jump and the bag would go up even higher. Hell no. Time to rethink my plan.
So I had two options – tell him (and a hundred other people within earshot, all of whom I regularly caught the train with) that I had a briefcase up my bum, to my embarrassment and his, or do my best to endure the painful train ride for the next ten minutes until I got off the train.
I took the angel's path, and while I walked (stiffly) home, I started thinking about the background of why an angel would be commuting on my crowded train in the first place. I found the idea itself funny as Hell.
When I got home, I started writing down what would become the first few chapters of Welcome to Hell and See You in Hell. The rest, as they say, is history. And it keeps me off the commuter trains, which is an added bonus.
SSML: Have you ever written any other novels in collaboration with other writers?
DC: No. My characters cause enough trouble inside my head – I wouldn't want to inflict them on anyone else. I do have an upcoming project in 2016 with some other authors where we're all writing a novel set in a particular shared world, but each novel is just one person's work.
SSML: How do you think you've evolved creatively?
DC: Well, there are the days I'm so deeply immersed in my characters and their world, that I believe I have gills and a tail, or wings and a halo, or even horns and a tail…
I'd like to think I improve with each book. As I write each book, receive feedback from my critique partners and read their books, I learn more about writing, narrative and what readers want. I hope I continue to improve throughout my career, as I know from experience that not much survives in stagnant water…though that gives me an idea for a post-apocalyptic mermaid story…
SSML: To conclude the interview, I wanted to ask you if there was any advice you'd like to give to writers.
DC: The advice I'd give writers: If you feel your work is good enough to publish, set it free. You won't know until you try and self-publishing is well worth the risk.
Check out her website Demelzacarlton.com where she's currently giving away free books from the Mel Goes to Hell series.