Conversations & Guests

A Chat With Mermaid Whisperer Debbie Herbert

Happy Friday, everyone! Today, I’m pleased to welcome author Debbie Herbert to the Paranormal Unbound blog. Debbie writes YA and paranormal romantic suspense about mermaids.  Her paranormal debut, Siren’s Secret is due to be released this November by Harlequin Nocturne.

Hi, Debbie, and thanks for being with us today!  Give us the blurb for Siren’s Secret.

Debbie:  Thanks for having me!  Here’s the blurb:

In the dark waters of an Alabama bayou, two deadly secrets collide. A mermaid witnesses a serial killer disposing the body of his latest victim. He can’t afford to let her live to tell the tale. She can’t afford to let a human reveal her true identity.

With each becoming the hunter and the hunted, a lethal game ensues.

Caught in the middle is the sheriff who suspects his girlfriend is keeping secrets and knows something about the killer terrorizing the bayou he’s sworn to protect.

Q.  Serial killers and mermaids: love that combination!  According to the buzz, mermaids are the next big thing. How did you come to write paranormals and mermaids in particular?

Debbie:  As a kid I was fascinated by magical possibilities of any kind and I’ve never outgrown my love for it.  I’ve tried to write stories without paranormal elements and find that it bores me. I love that in paranormal books there is always some mystery or surprise lurking beneath the most mundane human activities. And I think that in exploring other worlds and creatures, we define what it means to be human and discover who we are.  As far as mermaids, my love of the paranormal is matched by my love of the ocean.  Who wouldn’t want to be a beautiful mermaid playing with dolphins all day long?

Q. Growing up on the Gulf Coast, I totally agree!  Describe your hero and heroine in Siren’s Secret.

Debbie:  My heroine, Shelly, is half-mermaid and half-human and finds herself straddling two different worlds, yet not fully belonging in either.  She longs for love and acceptance.  Other mermaids, including her own cousins, think she is weak because her human side makes her vulnerable physically and emotionally.  But when she confronts a serial killer, Shelly shows a unique combination of vulnerability, courage and compassion.

Tillman, my hero and the local sheriff, is not only dealing with trying to solve a double murder, but on the home front he is also the caretaker for his alcoholic mother and severely autistic brother.  The last thing he needs is a girlfriend who harbors deep secrets and that he begins to suspect is withholding information that could help him solve the case.  (Poor man! J)  Tillman is strong and smart, but also tender and compassionate with those he loves.

Q. Tillman sounds like a hero readers will fall in love with.  Do you have any other mermaid books in the works?

Debbie:  I’m working on Book Two of the Dark Seas series, Siren’s Treasure, which will be released in 2014.  It takes up the story of Shelly’s cousin, Jet, and combines the political intrigue and adventure of The Hunt for Red October with the romance and tension of Heather Graham books.  Here’s the blurb:

Mermaid Jet Bosarge should know better than to trust Perry.  He’s charming and sexy and accepts her shape-shifting lifestyle, but he’s used and betrayed her once before.  When modern-day pirates approach Perry Wyman and offer him a fortune to help recover a jettisoned H-bomb off the coast of Tybee, Island, Georgia–will he betray her again for a chance at the Ultimate Haul?

FBI Agent Landry Fields is interested in Jet’s tax records as part of an investigation in an illegal maritime excavation ring.  But he also has his own secrets and Jet wonders what this landlubber is really hiding. 

In navigating between her two worlds, Jet must decide which man is her enemy and who might be her true love.  If she makes the wrong choice, the entire mermaid civilization is in danger of exposure and extinction.

Q. So excited to read Jet’s story!  What’s your writing process?  Are you a pantser, a plotter, or, like me, a plotser?  How long does it take you to write a book?

Debbie:  I’ve done every book a little differently so I don’t know what I am!  My first and second books were total pantsing jobs.  With the third book, I had success storyboarding, although I quickly learned I didn’t stick to the outline.  But, the storyboard kept me focused and helped keep the panic away that I had nothing to write about.

I started book four thinking I had this ‘process’ thing nailed.  Ha!  I had switched genres, moving from YA to adult paranormal romantic suspense. Keeping up with clues and three different POVs made me realize the simple storyboard I used in YA wasn’t good enough.  I kept the storyboard idea, but started color-coding scenes by POV and had another color to tell me what clues had been planted.  Okay, Lexi I see you rolling your eyes!  I’m amazed myself at the color-coding thing, but I’m not smart enough to keep all my ideas and plot lines in my head without the large visual storyboard by my computer.  I’m also too technologically-challenged, and impatient, to do spreadsheets and writing software programs.

Q. I can feel my heartbeat ratcheting up just reading about all that organization!  I use index cards to help me remember major plot points, but beyond that, I plow through the story, one chapter at a time.  What do you find the most challenging in writing a book?  Sex scenes?  Dialogue? Story arc? Something else or all of the above?

Debbie:  Oddly, I think it is showing the emotional development of the love story. I say ‘oddly’ because I’m such an emotional person IRL that you would think that trait would transpose itself in writing about my characters. I didn’t realize it was a big problem until I sold to Harlequin and my editor pointed it out.  So now on my storyboard I’ve started outlining the relationship journey/arc in every chapter.

Q. The emotional component in a romance is a toughie.  You have the ability to write three-dimensional villains.  What’s your secret?

Debbie:  Thanks, Lexi!  This will sound strange, but I love villains, they are so much fun to write.  If I’m successful in their characterization, it’s because I try to show what happened in their past that warped them, and what triggers their maladaptive behavior.  Then, of course, I make sure to set the environment so their buttons keep getting pushed.

Q. I completely understand.  We can say and do things through our villains that we’d never do or say in real life.  Like me, you’re from Alabama.  How does being a Southerner affect your writing?

Debbie:  It’s huge.  I think that Southerners have a deep sense of place.  My bayou mermaids wouldn’t be the same if they frolicked in frigid Lake Ontario!  And for paranormal writers, what is more perfect than a Southern Gothic setting?  I also think as a Southerner, family and extended families are important and in every family you will find your eccentrics that are accepted and tolerated with amused fondness.

Q. Being a Southerner has certainly had an impact on my writing, as well.  You obviously like mermaids.  What other paranormal critters fascinate you and why?

Debbie:  Fairies!  I think I love fairies and mermaids for the same reason:  they can be good or evil and can take a myriad of forms and shapes.  So much material there for writers.

Q. I love fairies, too!  What is the easiest thing about writing mermaids and, on the flipside, the most challenging?

Debbie:  I don’t know that anything about writing is easy for me.  But, I do love mermaids, so that makes them a fun subject.  What I find challenging with my mermaid stories is that humans cannot follow them to their undersea world and interact with them like they can with fairies and other paranormal creatures on land–so there’s a distinct dichotomy in the hero and heroine’s physical worlds.

Q. Writing is hard work, IMO.  Every writer has her own journey. What hurdles have you jumped on the road to publication and what challenges do you anticipate ahead?

Lack of self-confidence has been my biggest battle.  Several years of rejection on my first three books almost broke my spirit and I considered giving up.  But I believe most writers can’t stop writing, and neither could I. I’m sure I’ll be challenged in the months ahead as I learn new things in the publication process . . . revising, marketing, etc.  And for the first time I’m writing on a deadline.  But I’m not complaining, I love the writing world and the friendships I’ve made with others pursuing the same dream.

Thanks for visiting with us today, Debbie!

Thanks for having me!

debbie's picture

Debbie’s Bio:  Debbie Herbert writes paranormal romance novels reflecting her belief that love, like magic, casts its own spell of enchantment. She’s always been fascinated by magic, romance and gothic stories.  Married and living in Alabama, she roots for the Crimson Tide football team. Her oldest son, like many of her characters, has autism. Her youngest son is in the U.S. Army.  A past Maggie finalist in both Young Adult & Paranormal Romance, she’s a member of the GA Romance Writers of America. Debbie has a degree in English (Berry College, GA) and a master’s in library studies (University of Alabama).

Visit Debbie at
Or on Twitter at:  Debbie Herbert@debherbertwrit

Debbie’s blog:

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29 thoughts on “A Chat With Mermaid Whisperer Debbie Herbert

  1. Great interview! Debbie, I love what you said about Southerners having a deep sense of place. I’m from Louisiana, and I think this really is true. It finds its way into my writing no matter what. 🙂 These stories sound great–thanks for sharing your process!

  2. Great interview–and I love merpeople. I have mermen in one of my series, but haven’t gone the mermaid route yet. Faeries! And yet another Southerner here. I think we’re so tied to sense of place–we tend to identify with our region before our nationality–that it makes setting stronger in our stories.

  3. Great interview Lexi and Debbie. Merpeople fan over here, too. Recently finished writing a merman paranormal romance set in San Francisco. Glad to hear the merfolk are back in publishing fashion. 🙂

  4. Great interview! I’ve had the privilege of reading a little of Debbie’s mermaid series. She has the ability to take you into her world of merpeople and make it as realistic as your own. I can’t wait for the release of both these books!

    • Thanks, Mia! Mia is a wonderful critique partner and fellow Georgia RWA member. And she’s written a great book about vampires in the south that is looking for a publishing home–which it will soon find!

  5. Great interview! I had the privilege of reading a little of Debbie’s mermaid series. I loved the characters. And her undersea world of merpeople is SO realistic. I can’t wait for the release date to read more!

  6. Fantastic interview! There is always more to learn about Mermaid mythology and to incorporate that into romantic/suspense is even more compelling.

    • Hi, Sherrie! Thanks for everything–all of your suggestions on this book, wise advice, and friendship. Your paranormal romantic suspense books are great and I can’t wait until they are published!

  7. I can hardly wait to read your book Debbie! 🙂
    I love that it is set in the south and I have a great love of suspense with romance. All my favorite elements.

  8. I am excited about this book, and can hardly wait to read it. You have all my favorite elements…
    I identify with the struggles you faced writing with the emotional arc. I love writing action–but the hard stuff is the emotion.

    • Thanks, Mary. For any of you who may not know Mary, she also writes paranormal romance and her book, Incandescent, is marvelous.

  9. Correction: Debbie’s debut novel is entitled Siren’s SECRET, not Siren’s Song. Epic fail on my part. Noticed my mistake when I went on Amazon to look up the book. Debbie is too much a lady to point out my mistake.

    Lexi, slinking into the corner, red-faced.

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