One of the most decidedly decadent things I have ever done for myself is put my nonfiction on hold to write a novel. Gone were the rules of journalism, and suddenly I had the freedom to twist and turn and create and invent. Mermaid Mambo was released last year and it’s been one of the more joyful risks I have ever taken.
In my acknowledgments, I note, “Novels are scary things to writers like me, who have built careers in the nonfiction world. If your nonfiction stinks, it might be the topic. If your novel sucks, it’s all your fault.” Because of that fear, I’d been too chicken to let go of my fiction. I asked Stephen King how he got the confidence to let go of his fiction and he told me, “You just have to know you are brilliant.” It’s a hard thing, putting your work out there in full view, where it can be ridiculed. That kept me from letting go of it and receiving all the wonderful mail from people who loved my characters and story. Mambo has been out there for a year now, and it is the most joyous project I’ve had.
My central character is a 78-year-old former Weeki-Wachee mermaid who needed to get back to the 60th reunion of the mermaids at the faded Florida tourist attraction. She winds up on a crazed road trip and it’s kind of a combination of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood and Thelma and Louise. In doing my research, I was embraced by the former and current Weeki Wacheemermaids who have filled my world with levity and perspective.
Some people tell me they are impressed by the litany of famous people I have interviewed for my nonfiction books. They want to know what Hillary is like and what I thought of Susan Sarandon. They ask about the presidents and prime ministers and CEOs. And the movie stars and Nobel laureates.
Those icons gave me such great material for success and leadership strategies. But, the people who gave me the greater insight on life were the mermaids of Weeki Wachee. I go tubing down the Weeki Wachee River with them and I am suddenly 20 again, and so are they, even though most of them are in their 50s and 60s. I’ve often told the story of mermaid Vicki Smith climbing a tree, letting out a yell and swinging through the air from a rope before making a remarkable splash into the river. At the time, she was 67. That said everything about living. Mermaid Barbara Wynns introduced me to this world and I marvel at how she redefines herself every day with more whimsy. That’s her helping me get into the tail in the above photo.
They are mermaids. They put on fabric tails and swim through the water, performing synchronized routines in a pristine Central Florida spring that has called to them since they were paid mermaids in their teens and 20s. They have their issues and their hardships — like all of us. All of that fades when they are on that river or are together sharing the bonds of friendship that have so deepened over time. I meet many people who measure their worth by the title on their business cards or the number on their paychecks. They miss the point of living.
Life really is a big adventure where we become rich with experience — if only we open ourselves to accept all the magic the world offers. We can live closed and limited lives by focusing on things or achievements that are temporary or ultimately inconsequential, or we can find great joy in the moment, daring to take in all the energy that surrounds us — if we just let go and live.
Mermaids Susie Pennoyer, Crystal Robson and Bev Sutton continue to crack me up with their river antics because they are free-spirited women who don’t care about pretense. They care about celebrating good times — even when they have their own challenges. We have a lot we can learn from them.
That’s why they inspire me.
Fawn Germer is the best-selling author of four books and speaks to corporations and organizations about courages and creative leadership strategies.