The term “behind the scenes” generally applies to film, and it makes sense literally—we’re going behind the scenes that we see on screen. Well, the term is also very applicable to fiction. My debut novel The Oyster Thief consists of about a hundred scenes, and I can tell you that there’s a lot going on behind them—much more than I’d ever bargained for.
When I started writing this underwater odyssey, I thought it would be so much easier than nonfiction. I imagined I’d dream up big ideas and jot them down and the characters and story would spring to life on the page spontaneously, like fireworks. And the best part? Unlike nonfiction, I wouldn’t have to do any research.
Well, it doesn’t quite work that way.
To make the ocean world feel real , I need to know the underwater world as well as I can. And so I’ve been poring over books on seaweeds and seashells (yes, there are books on these topics), and I’ve read hundreds of articles on fish and underwater life. I find that firsthand experience is also vital in trying to capture the feeling and essence of a place. To this end, I’ve obtained my scuba-diving certification and gone whale-watching.
Although I complain about it, the nerd in me does enjoy research. I find it fascinating to discover new things. Like what? Like seaweed. We often refer to seaweeds as plants, but they’re not plants, they’re actually algae. And there are three kinds of algae: red, green, and brown.
Varying in color from maroon to purple, red are the majority—constituting 7,000 out of the 10,000 (known) seaweed species—because their bright colors enable them to photosynthesize in deeper water than the other two kinds of seaweed. Green algae most resemble the plants we have on land, because they are the precursor to land plants. As for brown algae, they are generally taller than the two other kinds of algae because they often have little gas-filled globules that float their blades upward for easier photosynthesis, which permits faster growth. (Giant kelp, for instance, is a brown algae that can shoot up by two feet per day.)
I was recently asked how I selected the names of the two protagonists in The Oyster Thief, Coralline and Izar. Well, coralline is a rose-pink algae whose presence indicates the health of a coral reef; coralline is a beautiful algae but is also noticeably strong–it grows an encrusted armor around itself, much like a shell. Izar is a binary star in a northern constellation; to the naked eye, it appears to be a single point of light, but it is actually two different stars (that are about 200 light-years away from us and 500 times brighter than the sun).
There’s a lot more to both of these names as they relate to The Oyster Thief, but I can’t say more without saying too much.
What I can say is that practically all the character names in The Oyster Thief derive from the ocean or the universe, as fitting the setting and themes of the novel. Because the names have meanings, it takes me a while to research and choose them.
You might be thinking: what about the name The Oyster Thief? Where did that come from?… Well, it’s not what you think, and I’m not about to spill the beans here.