Emily Kiebel talks about her novel Serenade, the mythology behind sirens, and her (not so) secret life as a singer.
Serenade follows the story of Lorelei as she deals with her father’s death and the reality that she is a siren, a mythological creature that sings doomed sailors to their inevitable end. But is she ready to take on this responsibility? One misguided decision could change her life in an even more drastic way. Read our review.
Interview with Emily Kiebel
Tell us five interesting things about yourself.
1. Although I was raised in land-locked Colorado, I did spend one year living on the Long Island Sound in Connecticut, which gave me a feel for life in New England, and particularly life along the shore. I also dragged my then 18-year old sister with me to visit Chatham, MA so I could research the town in which I based the novel.
2. The highlight of my collegiate music experience was a month-long choir tour to Australia where I had the amazing opportunity to sing a solo in the Sydney Opera House.
3. I love the shows on Masterpiece. Whenever Laura Linney introduces Downton Abbey, I get all giddy.
4. At one point, my heroine, Lorelei, finds herself in rural western North Carolina. In a strange twist of fate, I ended up relocating this year to rural western North Carolina due to a job change. I never would have planned on that happening when I was writing the book.
5. Someday I’d really like to own a corgi-themed bed and breakfast/ranch.
You studied classical music and English in college. Was writing about sirens seemingly inevitable?
I definitely think there are stories that certain authors are simply meant to tell, and I think this is the case with Serenade. A lot of the experiences in my life informed what I wrote about in this book, especially the music. Having spent my adolescence as a choir nerd and then going on to study music in college and perform semi-professionally, I was able to use that background in the novel and in developing my characters. I was really intrigued with the idea of music being a portal to a certain kind of magic and the misunderstood siren as a conduit of that magic. Beyond the music connection, I’ve also spent my adult career working in the ocean freight industry, so my professional experiences in that realm also inspired certain scenes from the novel.
Bringing classic mythology into the present day is always a bit of a challenge, and some authors have done it to great acclaim. Did you ever feel any pressure to live up to those standards?
I really can’t say that I felt too pressured in this regard. I used the mythology as inspiration, but I wasn’t necessarily bound to it. In this case, I tried to think about what it would be that would motivate a siren to carry out such dark deeds. Was she simply malevolent and blood-thirsty, or was there more to it than that? And how would a young woman react when she found out she had these abilities? I think in that way, I aimed to create a more complex character rather than just a retelling of ancient mythology.
Do you relate mostly to your main character, Lorelei, or your secondary characters?
Lorelei and I share a lot of similarities, so I do relate to her the most out of all my characters, but she really is inspired by my younger sisters, who were about her age when I was writing this novel. I had a whole inspiration board collage with pictures of what famous people I think each character resembles, but I don’t want to give that away because I want my readers to be able to picture the characters for themselves.
What’s easier to write, the first line or the last line?
The first line is so, so hard. It is so hard to decide where you want to start with your story. You don’t want to drag it out so long that the reader gets bored, but you also want to set a scene and begin to establish characters. I had a few chapters early on that I scrapped because they contained too much backstory. I probably rewrote my first line at least twenty times and even still, I’m not sure that I’m totally satisfied with it. My last line, however, came so naturally. I knew what my closing scene was going to look like about halfway through the writing process and I feel like it ties everything together, but it leaves a feeling of longing.
Which YA book or series do you wish you had growing up?
I did really love the Hunger Games series. I don’t remember there being any adventure or action series that featured a strong female lead when I was growing up. I think those would have been awesome to read as a teenager.
Can we expect any more books to follow Lorelei on her journey as a siren?
Yes, I have planned to write at least two more in the series. While this first book is focused on what it takes to be a siren, the end of the story hints at the other creatures that inhabit Lorelei’s world. The following novels delve deeper into the world beyond the sirens.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on the follow-up novel to Serenade, tentatively titled Nocturne. I also occasionally mess around with a story that’s been stuck in my head about oracles and old magic.
About Emily Kiebel
Emily Kiebel was raised in Colorado and went on to study classical music and English at Concordia University. She found a love for singing early in life and now sings professionally and directs a local church choir. In her spare time, she can be found exploring the natural beauty of the great outdoors with her beloved dogs, Ginny and Diggory, cooking for friends and family, traveling or dragging her friends along to obscure historical sites. Serenade is her debut novel.