I had the great fun to talk to Judi Fennell about her new book, In Over Her Head.
About the book
When Erica Peck, one terrified-of-the-ocean marina owner, finds herself at the bottom of the sea conversing with a Mer man named Reel, she thinks she's died and gone to her own version of Hell. When the Oceanic Council demands she and Reel retrieve a lost cache of diamonds from the resident sea monster in return for their lives, she knows she's died and gone to Hell.
When they escape the monster and end up on a deserted island, she amends her opinion - she's died and gone to Heaven.
But when Reel sacrifices himself to allow her to return to her world, she realizes that, Heaven or Hell, with Reel, she's In Over Her Head.
I asked, Judi answered
A. What's the scariest thing that's ever happened to you? Bonus question: have you used it, in any way, in a book?
J. The scariest thing that's ever happened to me was when I was 10 and had to run to a neighbor's house to get something for my mom before school. We lived in a nice suburban neighborhood. All the neighbors watched out for everyone's kids. There were a zillion kids. It was a great place to show up.
Until that morning.
I had just crossed the street and a car stopped. A guy asked me how to get to a local motel (remember, I was 10...). When I said no, he said he had a map and did I want to see it. I looked in his car.
That was no map.
I was lucky he had both hands, er, occupied, or I might have ended up in that car with him. I stepped back, almost tripped over the curb and ran to the neighbor's.
It was scary then, and as a parent, I understand how truly horrifying it was.
Would I put it in a book. No. I don't like to explore avenues that dark. I lived it. It sticks with me. I don't need to relive it.
A. Mystery writers often give their characters an unreasoning fear - and then make them face it. Do you have any phobias, like fear of spiders or enclosed spaces?
J. Ding, ding, ding! This is the REASON In Over Her Head was written. Well, one of them. I wanted to twist The Little Mermaid and the easiest way to do that was to make him the Mer. So, who would be the absolute worst heroine for him? One who was terrified of the ocean.
I saw JAWS at an impressionable age. It left a mark. Before that movie, I used to love swimming in the ocean - or floating on a raft and reading a book. I'd float about thirty blocks on my raft beyond where the waves break (in Ocean City, NJ) then walk back up the beach and do the whole thing all over again. Saw that movie, however, and that was the end of that.
To this day, I have a running dialogue with myself whenever I'm in the water. Hawaii, Mexico, Bahamas, the Mediterranean... doesn't matter. I'm always on the lookout for sharks, even though I know there's no great white out there twiddling his pectoral fins just waiting for me to go in the water. It's a totally irrational fear, and I know it, but it's there.
A. Do you have a favorite mystery book, author, or movie?
J. Of course. April Henry. :)
A. At its heart, every story is a mystery. It asks why someone acts the way they did - or maybe what will happen next. What question does your book ask?
J. Will they make it out alive and if they do, where are they going to live?
A. Is there a mystery in life that you are still trying to figure out?
J. How to have 45 hours in a day. These days I need it. If only I didn't need to sleep!