Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Real Sirens

I love greek mythology.

I discovered it serendipitously in my elementary school library and I was instantly hooked. I read through every book I could find on the subject, wherever and however I found them. By the time they started teaching it to us my freshman year of high school, I was already thoroughly versed in all things centaur, satyr, and nymph. I was weird like that.

So it's really no wonder I ended up drawing from my love of mythology for my fiction. SONGBYRD was inspired by the mythical Sirens of ancient Greece. I wanted to bring them into the modern world and make them so real we'd never even know it if we passed one on the street.

What might be surprising however, is that the real Sirens from ancient myth have diverged in pop culture somewhat from their classical origins. And while my book is contemporary in setting, I stuck to the Greeks' vision of the Siren, not today's twist on it.

So what's the big difference?

Well, it's a matter of parts. Animal parts, that is. (Minds out of the gutter. Keep it clean, people.) Today's idea of the Siren looks something like this:

Sultry half-fish women who lure men to their doom with the promise of forbidden sex.

And then eat them. Or something.

Now don't get me wrong. I love a mermaid as much as the next author. Probably more. Don't even ask me about the impact the movie Splash had on my malleable, innocent, child's mind. But the true Sirens weren't mermaids at all. And they weren't necessarily beautiful. The ancient Greek version looked something more like this:


Deadly half-bird women who lure men to their doom with their hypnotic singing voices.

But don't kill them—not directly anyway. They just kind of watch as their ships crash to smithereens.

Of course, when you think about it, birds make more sense. Fish don't sing. At least, I don't think they do. Unless you count whale noises. Which are eerie and haunting but hardly alluring enough to lead to certain death. Birds, on the other hand, are the most beautiful vocalists on the planet. And we have a history of associating feathers and wings with heavenly and spiritual messengers. Just think of angels and fairies. And while angels and fairies may seem benign, in older folklore they quite often were considered dubious if not outright dangerous.

I'm not sure the ancient Greeks were getting all hot and bothered over Sirens the way we do today. But then again, that's our culture. We hypersexualize everything, especially everything female. And to be honest, I did draw on that tendency in SONGBYRD, raising questions (and eyebrows) about female sexuality, about where the ethical line in the sand is drawn in regards to women using their attractiveness and appeal to get ahead, and whether our romantic idea of one woman to one man is the only viable one.

So in all fairness, I guess you could say I drew inspiration from both wells. That of the winged minstrels of ancient Greece and the femme-fatal fish women of today.

I love both takes because, as I so recently replied to a reader's question at the reading/signing I did earlier this summer, "I love bad women." You know that saying, women who behave rarely make history? Well, they also rarely make for interesting characters. But give me a woman of ill-repute, someone who breaks all the standards her culture and society place on her, someone who lives by her own rules, trashes her reputation, and torches the family's good name. Someone infamous, or dangerous, or at least moderately offensive. And I can spin storytelling gold with that. One thing all my books have in common are "bad women". Or bad girls one the verge of becoming bad women. And SONGBYRD is no exception. In fact, it's the gold standard. Every woman in this novel is questionable at best. And that's exactly how I like it.

You can see why the Siren mythology was irrisestible to me. I hope you find it equally delicious while reading SONGBYRD.

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