Operating from a Space of Truth: An Interview with Amy L. Bernstein and Michelle D. Smith

by Julia Rios

This month we talked with two writers about their mermaid books. Amy L. Bernstein has a fantasy novel coming out in July of 2021, and Michelle D. Smith’s channeled mermaid novel came out in its 4th edition in August of 2020. Below is our conversation.

Julia Rios: Please introduce yourselves and tell us a little bit about your books.

Amy L. Bernstein: Hi, I’m Amy, and I’m excited to be swimming with the mermaids! I call Baltimore, Maryland home and I live right next to the harbor, so I guess water is on my mind every day. As an author, I enjoy writing in so many genres, I can’t seem to pick just one. Ell, about an unconventional mermaid, is a fantasy. But my other novels coming out are speculative or dystopian with a dash of mystery, set in the real world. I began writing fiction about a dozen years ago, beginning with plays, eventually moving on to novels. I think every story tells you what it wants to “wear,” whether long or short, contemporary or old-fashioned.

Here is the teaser for Ell

Meet Ell Gossamer: “The instant I tell you I am a mermaid, you will jump to many conclusions, and all of them will be wrong.”

When sixteen-year-old Ell’s two mothers mysteriously disappear, she flees to a distant New England town in order to conceal her identity from those she believes must have kidnapped her parents. There, she traverses the uncertainties of friendship, and first love with a young woman who is everything Ell isn’t. But things aren’t what they appear. A fanatical cult that’s tracked her seeks to possess the last known mermaid, while the activist group she joins makes the plight of her species public. But will public exposure protect her or serve as a death warrant?

Michelle D. Smith: I was born in Harlem, NY, lived in Bermuda for 5 years with my Grandpa and great aunts, then returned to what has been home, Baltimore for what seems like forever. The consistent theme of all my homes has been proximity to water. Here in Baltimore, I live near a park and the Jones Falls waterway. Water has been ever present in my life, I would not understand the connection until I wrote My Life As A Mermaid.

I am a regular person who, throughout my life, has had angelic interventions of every kind. I am a she/her but have been a they until I tamed my Gemini alter ego, who has her own name (which shall not be spoken 🙂 ). 

I began a spiritual blog (Your Spiritual Garden) after an extended illness, and several angelic messages focused on clearing my home. To make a long story short, after months of clearing, cleaning, donating, and throwing away, I finished in my attic and planned on celebrating by smudging the space. My angels had other ideas and gave me a dolphin as my first prompt. 

“My angels had other ideas and gave me a dolphin as my first prompt.  “

~ Michelle D. Smith’s dolphin prompt.

In the next few weeks, in my dreams, I was told to write a book. If that wasn’t absurd enough, the title given by angels was My Life As A Mermaid. Trust me, I am a highly suspect candidate for this kind of spiritual message. I am not religious, but love God and her angels. I am willful and tend to do things my own way. I cuss daily and drink often. So I resisted this message. My angels were persistently annoying. I finally asked exactly WHERE would I get this information? The answer was “The Keeper” – and my adventure in channeling a past life began. 

It didn’t occur to me until today, this book was written 10 years ago. I self published the 1st edition in 2015. Recently, my blog visitor logs show the majority of my readers are looking for information about mermaids – it seems now is the time to share what I know! 

Thank you for creating space to explore and share all things mermaids!

Julia Rios: Wow, what a journey, Michelle! Amy, as someone who writes all over the map, what about Ell made you know it had to be a mermaid story? Did you find yourself dreaming about mermaids like Michelle, or was it a more conscious choice, and did the story come to you fully formed, or was it a slower build?

Amy L. Bernstein: I guess you could call me “fantasy-curious,” meaning that this is a genre I had never expected to write in. But as I became more aware of fantasy writers’ wild imaginations and the incredible world-building that goes on, I began to think this genre made room for so many exciting possibilities. Mermaids, even after countless myths and legends, are still so ripe for interpretation. I like writing against the stereotype of the sexy mermaid seductress. Ell is nothing like that. In fact, she identifies as human, with a particular mermaid heritage. The main arc of the story developed fairly quickly, but bringing Ell’s world to life—which is really our world, with a twist—took a great deal of time and attention.

“My mermaid, Ell, is not like any of the myths. She is a hybrid species (part human), and descends from a unique culture, most of whose practices are long forgotten, but which are echoed in traditions handed down for centuries. “

~ Amy L. Bernstein

Michelle D. Smith: Amy, I wish I could write fiction. My life has been so strange, it just escapes my grasp. I think Baltimore, for all its bad rep, is a bit magical. The people who live here are awesome and inspiring. So many are working so hard for the greater good, it is not something I want to go look for elsewhere at this age. 

Julia Rios: Michelle, what is your channeling process like? Is this something that happened just once ten years ago, or was that the beginning of a bigger pattern? Have you written more or are you planning to write more novels that way?

Michelle D. Smith: My Life As A Mermaid is written by date. Every day, I sat and connected to my Akashic Records to access my lifetime as a mermaid. I would begin with a short meditation session, request protection and pure information, open my composition book and wait for the information to flow. I wrote in freehand, away from my computer since it was easier for me, though harder to read!

The ability to channel is available to everyone who is willing to quiet themselves enough to hear and trust the information received. This is part of the book’s message. I am highly intuitive, have been all my life. As an angel card reader, (though I can do tarot) I prefer the gentler energy of the angels. In the past, I offered readings on my site, but only share information on where free readings can be found at this time. Offering paid readings was how I kept my channeling skills intact. I have quite a few grateful clients. 

As for channeling another book, there is at least one more book I could channel, but have not had the heart or strength to do more than a few pages. 

It is from a lifetime as a slave in Virginia, with my mom and son. I’ve actually had dreams about that lifetime and it is not something I am willing to pursue yet – it is simply too painful. 

I am currently working on a book of my angelic interventions. It is half finished – I am struggling with format. It would read much better if I could write it as a story, as opposed to stories, but I haven’t figured out exactly how to change it.

Julia Rios: Wow, it’s fascinating how different your processes are! How much about mermaids did you know before you began your books? How do you think your mermaids are similar or different to traditional mermaids from folklore and fairy tales?

Michelle D. Smith: What do any of us actually know about mermaids other than fairy tales and horror stories?

Of course I read and loved The Little Mermaid – not much else exposure.  Like all things fanciful, mermaids, unicorns, Pegasus, fairies and trolls get to live in my head rent free! I am that girl! My only tattoo is a black pegasus (I didn’t know how painful that would be). 

It would be difficult for me to define how Shahia is different or similar to any other mermaid, simply because to me, this is what is, as opposed to what I think. I am operating from the space of truth as opposed to fiction, and what I share is a beautiful truth about a species that no longer chooses to interact with humans.

“The consistent theme of all my homes has been proximity to water. “

~ Michelle D. Smith

For instance, I wrote about how mers’ living spaces were lit, and just a few years ago, found scientific research on how different corals and sea plants can create their own light, deep in the ocean. This would not be something I studied, just information received in my channeled state. 

So, I had no preconceived ideas about mermaids when I channeled my book. However, I did/do have preconceived ideas about dolphins! Mers consider dolphins as playmates and protectors. I’ve thought since childhood, if I found myself stranded in the ocean, I would call for a dolphin. I found out much later in life, dolphins are one of the few animals that will fight sharks, and that sharks offer a modicum of respect to. Subconscious memory? Could be!

Amy L. Bernstein: I love Michelle’s comment, “I am operating from the space of truth as opposed to fiction.” I believe all good writing in any genre adheres to that idea. Well said, Michelle!

Before beginning Ell, the Disney cartoon version of a mermaid was also prominent in my conscious mind. I was also aware that mermaids had inspired countless myths and legends over centuries, primarily associated with fishing cultures. I ended up researching many of these legends and they are fascinating and different from one another. In Japan, mermaids were thought to confer immortality if eaten. In Britain, they were considered seducers who brought bad luck. And Christopher Columbus mistook a manatee off the coast of Florida for a mermaid, which he deemed ugly. (The fan-shaped manatee tail fin is vaguely similar to that of a conventional mermaid tail.)

My mermaid, Ell, is not like any of the myths. She is a hybrid species (part human), and descends from a unique culture, most of whose practices are long forgotten, but which are echoed in traditions handed down for centuries.

Julia Rios: Has writing about mermaids taught you anything that you’ve carried with you in your land life? Do you have any mer-wisdom to share?

Amy L. Bernstein: Oh, gosh, my land-life is truly enriched by immersion in mermaid land. From the earliest recorded mermaid legends in 1000 B.C. up through the early Victorian obsession with mermaids, sirens, nymphs, and fairies, some clear trends emerge. For example, humans have always had a deep need to believe in the fantastical, in magic, in forces at work greater than themselves. Organized religion fills some, but not all, of this need. We long to be humbled, to be awed, by forces and powers we do not understand. But there is a dark side, as well. Many mermaid myths (and others, of course), do damage to entire groups of people by “othering” them. With mermaids, females bear the brunt of this, as many mermaid myths demonize women as evil seducers, as bad omens for fishermen, and so forth. I think one lesson is that legends can be a force for good, by inspiring our imaginations and being open to new ideas. They can also be a negative force that reinforces stereotypes that some people accept as truth. Complicated, to be sure!

Michelle D. Smith: After channeling My Life As a Mermaid, I immediately put the composition book in my file cabinet. I removed it to read almost four years later. After reading my work, I decided to try to find a publisher (which failed), then researched self-publishing options.

The irony is 2011 was WAY too soon for something this fantastical, yet it seems more are open to the possibilities a decade later. 

Mermaids live in a matriarchal society. Only women hold positions of leadership and sharing wisdom. It is a peaceful existence based on love, joy and purpose. 

In this lifetime, I love reading (I taught myself to read when I was 5), have a wicked sense of humor, and abhor social injustice. I have been a social warrior my entire life – and that is my twitter name.

I believe in community and women. I don’t consider myself a feminist. I’m a black woman and have always done what was required. I never dreamed about a wedding, or children for that matter, though I am a happy mom of two and Oona (grandma) of one. I feel this sense of belief in myself and others comes from the mermaid’s vision of how society should be.

Being Human is considered the highest honor. To be veiled, and have to figure out how to live a kind, honorable life is only for the chosen few. Or in our case, the few billion we are here with. 

There is an expression “We are all walking each other home” (Ram Dass) 

This is the mermaid society!

I did not come “here” alone. I have had so many strong women who have uplifted and supported me from birth. In fact, I had my own personal Fairy Godmother, who lived to be 105 years old! 

Finally, water is my healing balm. Combine water and being in New York City and I am floating for weeks, just from the direct energy charge I get going home. Bermuda offers a more chill effect. Right now, I cannot wait to get my feet on a beach, and in the water!

Julia Rios: Can you tell us where to find you and your work?

Michelle D. Smith: I don’t have social media dedicated to my book. I have a page on my website: My Life As a Mermaid — Your Spiritual Garden

You can find my book wherever books are sold! My direct book link is: https://books2read.com/mermaidlife

Should anyone really be interested, you can find me on Twitter as @Pegasus612 Spiritual Warrior.

Amy L. Bernstein: Ell comes out in July through Scarsdale Publishing, and you can pre-order it on Amazon Kindle here: https://amzn.to/37QeDyq

Here is all my social media info:

Twitter & Instagram: @amylbernstein

Facebook: /wordberg

Website: https://amywrites.live/

Goodreads: Amy L. Bernstein

Julia Rios: Thank you both so much for taking the time so share your thoughts with us!

© Copyright Julia Rios

Julia Rios (they/them) is a queer, Latinx writer, editor, podcaster, and narrator whose fiction, non-fiction, and poetry have appeared in Latin American Literature Today, Lightspeed, and Goblin Fruit, among other places. Their editing work has won multiple awards including the Hugo Award. Julia is a co-host of This is Why We’re Like This, a podcast about the movies we watch in childhood that shape our lives, for better or for worse. They’ve narrated stories for Escape Pod, Podcastle, Pseudopod, and Cast of Wonders. They’re @omgjulia on Twitter.

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