Melissa Broder | 'Why is it always a man and a mermaid? What if it was a woman and a merman?'

Melissa Broder | 'Why is it always a man and a mermaid? What if it was a woman and a merman?'

Melissa Broder’s first full length novel, The Pisces (Bloomsbury Circus), follows heartbroken PHD student Lucy as she moves to her sister's house in Venice Beach and subsequently falls in love with a merman. 

With glowing reviews from Roxane Gay and "Parks & Recreation" writer Megan Amram (“These are some of the most real, relatable merman sex scenes I have ever read in any book”), The Pisces is a wildly funny and provocative tale of love, obsession and loneliness. 

What inspired The Pisces?
After I finished writing So Sad Today, I felt compelled to continue exploring the intersection between love and addiction—the appeal of a fantasy love that might destroy you. Writers often write about the same things their whole lives, and I don't know if I will ever be done parsing this. I was on the beach in Venice reading a gorgeous book called The Professor and The Siren by Giuseppe Tomasi de Lampedusa when I realized that nothing embodies this paradox like the relationship between mermaid and human. How many men in literature have walked into the ocean and drowned in pursuit of that Sirenic nectar? But why is it always a man and a mermaid? What if it was a woman and a merman? And what if it happened now? The story just kind of came to me whole, right there on the beach.

What are the key themes that you wanted to explore?
Real love vs. fantasy love. False gods vs. real gods. The human attempt to fill existential holes with romantic obsession. The ways women can save each other's lives.

What inspired the mythical, fantastical elements of the story? Is this a particularly influential genre for you?
As a poet I've always been open to realms beyond this dimension. But I was never a big mermaid fan. Ask me to choose a mythological creature and it’s Pegasus all the way: not to hook up with, just to hang out with. If I were to have sex with a mythological figure, it would more likely be a giant squid, maybe Cerberus the hound of hell or Appollo, the sun god. But this book called for a merman. I just followed the muse.

What kind of impact are you hoping the title will have on its readers?
I hope they laugh. I hope they get turned on. And for those who need help, I hope they discover that the medicine can work in spite of how gross it may taste and how annoying the bearers of it may be—and in spite of ourselves.

You’ve also written poetry and essays in the past, what’s your favourite medium? How does your writing process differ between the three?
I'll always be a poet at heart. But each medium has its charms. When I lived in New York I wrote poetry on the subway, but when I moved to LA, I started dictating in my car. The line breaks disappeared and the language became more conversational. That's how So Sad Today came to be. I dictated the whole thing. The geography literally informed the text. When I came up with the idea for The Pisces I was like, "But I can't write a novel." Then I was like, "Why can't I?" So I decided to just experiment and dictate three paragraphs a day and see what happened. Nine months later I had dictated the whole first draft.

I’m a really big fan of So Sad Today! What has been the reaction to that since publication?
I get amazing emails from people every day letting me know that my book makes them feel less alone in the world. It's such a gift to be living my life and suddenly receive one of these emails from a stranger.

What’s the most challenging part of writing about your own personal experiences?
The most challenging part is ignoring the voice that says, "Who gives a shit?" 

Do you think public perception of mental health, and the books published around it, have changed/evolved in recent years? 
It's hard for me to gauge public perception since I'm sort of inward-facing. But some of my favorite books on mental illness were written decades ago. Anything by Janet Frame is amazing, particularly: Faces In the Water and The Edge of the Alphabet. I also found that Darkness Visible by William Styron really mirrored my experiences. The poem "I felt a funeral in my brain" by Emily Dickinson is maybe the best description of a psychic break I've ever read. 

What was your experience of finding a publisher?
I was scared to let my agent take the reigns, because as a poet, I was so used to doing everything myself. Also, with the So Sad Today book, an editor found me through a friend and through the essays I'd been publishing online, and we came up with the book idea together. I didn't even have an agent when I first met with her. So Last Sext and The Pisces were the first time I ever had anyone selling something for me and I had to trust and let go. I wanted to take the first offer for The Pisces, then the second, but my agent, Meredith Kaffel-Simonoff, encouraged me to ride it out and let it go to auction. She is the smartest, classiest, most supportive agent a woman could ask for. 

Are you working on anything new at the moment?
Yes. I'm writing the screenplay of The Pisces for a major production company. And I'm also at work on two more novels. 

Finally, what was your favourite book of 2017?
I loved Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado.