I met Emily Kiebel a year or two ago when she was visiting relatives in my neighborhood. She mentioned she was writing a YA book, and asked if I would be interested in seeing it. I get asked this quite a bit and always say yes, and promised to be honest in my assessment. About two months ago, Serenade appeared in my mailbox, and I dug in. And it was good, really good. Even Kirkus agrees, stating “Kiebel’s fantasy boasts an intriguing premise and irresistible setting bolstered by an appealing heroine and well-drawn supporting characters.” Serenade is a paperback original, and was just released as an ebook on July 15.
In Serenade, a young woman works through the grief following her father’s death by escaping to her great aunt’s home on Cape Cod. There she discovers that several female relatives are sirens, duty bound to sing sailors to a peaceful death. Lorelei learns that she also has this gift, and begins to learn how to use both her voice and power to manipulate the ocean and those that inhabit and work on the water. Though she’s been told to never interfere with fate, Lorelei cannot bear to let one particular sailor, Tyler, die below the surface. The result of that decision could prove to be disastrous. On to Emily.
How long did you work on Serenade? What was your initial inspiration?
I spent about a year and half writing the novel and probably another six months editing it. Thankfully I had the most wonderful writing buddy, Colleen Oakes, who really believed in me and pushed me to continue writing even when I doubted myself. I initially started writing because she had taking up an interest writing a book and it got me to thinking about getting back into writing. I had just finished reading Garth Nix’s “Abhorsen” series (HarperCollins) and I loved the way he used these bells to transport his characters into another realm. I started thinking about other ways that music could serve as a portal to a certain type of magic and suddenly I was stuck on the idea of sirens. With my own musical background, it seemed like the perfect fit. Lorelei is named for the siren of the Rhine River in Germany, a myth I encountered when I visited the region several years ago.
You have several musical numbers posted on your website that are “siren-inspired,” including classical tunes as well as traditional hymns. How much did your experience as semi-professional choral singer influence Serenade?
My experience with vocal music inspired the novel tremendously. I think beyond just the repertoire that I drew from, I understand the mechanics and challenges of performance. Obviously a siren would be a naturally gifted singer, but I wanted to show that it was also something Lorelei had to work at in order to improve. Music is an overarching theme throughout the book, and I tried hard to find music that fit with the mood.
The sirens, Deidre, Helen, and Calliope, have very distinct personalities, ranging from party girl to high priestess. Are they based on anyone you know?
Deidre is based loosely on my younger sister, Lauren. She’s not quite as flirty as Deidre, but she’s a self-assured and chic young woman and she’s inspired me tremendously over the past few years and is stronger than I ever gave her credit. Lauren’s much cooler than I am, just as Deidre is more confident than Lorelei. Helen is a bit more of an archetype, the keeper of knowledge who guides the hero on her quest. I’d say she’s a mix between Maggie Smith and Helen Mirren. Calliope is not based on anyone in particular, but I view her as being very focused with a bit of a rigid set of rules. She serves as the foil to Lorelei’s mother, but really, they’re two sides of the same coin—they’ve just made different choices in their lives.
One particularly intriguing secondary character is Aeson, the siren’s messenger. In the classic mythology, is there really such a go-between? He also seems to be one of the few men that the sirens trust.
The messengers serve as the protectors of the sirens.They have the ability to see into the future, and they’re the only men who are immune to the siren’s allure. This isn’t something I found in mythology, but I thought would be interesting, to have a man in the siren’s realm that they trust. Aeson’s still young and somewhat immature, but he really does care for the sirens and I think by the end, he does some growing up himself.
Lorelei’s protection of Tyler really brings the worst out of Calliope, and there are hints of even more danger ahead if she continues to defy fate.
Calliope is driven by her belief in rules and what is and isn’t fair. Life hasn’t always been kind to her and she uses everything in her power to ensure that her own personal moral code is followed. She’s the kind of person who will create ultimatums and who will exact her own brand of justice against those who violate her sense of what is right and wrong. To Calliope, life is black or white. It infuriates her when Lorelei goes against what she views as the siren’s duty. Lorelei’s disobedience brings out a much darker side to Calliope’s personality.
I love your Serenade Inspirations Pinterest board. How long were you accumulating these images? Will there be a new board for the next title in the trilogy, Nocturne?
Thanks! There is so much beautiful art out there and gorgeous photography in particular. I actually didn’t start pinning on the Serenade Pinterest page until after the book was complete, but I still love finding images that relate to the book. Nocturne means music that is evocative of the night, so as you can imagine, it is darker than Serenade. The story focuses more on the darker aspects of fate and introduces readers to several new types of beings that were mentioned briefly at the end of the first book. I plan to create a separate Pinterest board for this novel, as it will have a bit of a different feel and will incorporate new characters.
Tell us about the experience of having your debut novel published by a new-ish, small independent publisher, SparkPress.
SparkPress is the new imprint of its parent company, BookSparks. BookSparks has been doing public relations for authors for quite a while, but they’ve only recently gotten into the publishing game. I actually love working with them—they’ve been so supportive and encouraging throughout the whole process. I’ve had more of a say in how my book came into print, from the cover design to the editing, than I would have with a large publisher. They’re obviously very savvy with public relations and I feel like Crystal and her group really believe in my story and they want to help me share it with the world.
You had the amazing experience of singing a solo at the Sydney Opera House. If Lorelei was invited to perform there, would she? And what would she sing?
I think she would jump at the chance! I think she’d take advantage of the acoustics and sing something with a small ensemble that features the voice without overpowering it and allows her to convey an emotional range, like the “Chanson Perpetuelle” by Chausson. She could also sing something more orchestral. I recently found a recording of Dawn Upshaw singing the “Baïlèro”, one of the Chants d’Auvergne arranged by Canteloube, and I could picture Lorelei singing that. A few Puccini arias, maybe a couple jazz standards, then she could conclude by singing the “Flower Duet” with Deidre. And most of all, I’d hope her mother would be there to watch her sing.
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