C.B. Lee joins us today to talk about her 2015 book Seven Tears at High Tide. This contemporary twist on the ancient tale of the selkies is part romance, part action-adventure, part myth-retelling—and 100 percent heart-wrenching.
In Seven Tears at High Tide, Kevin Luong walks to the ocean’s edge with a broken heart. Remembering a legend his mother told him, he lets seven tears fall into the sea. “I just want one summer—one summer to be happy and in love.” Instead, he finds himself saving a mysterious boy from the Pacific—a boy who later shows up on his doorstep professing his love. What he doesn’t know is that Morgan is a selkie, drawn to answer Kevin’s wish. As they grow close, Morgan is caught between the dangers of the human world and his legacy in the selkie community to which he must return at summer’s end.
Seven Tears at High Tide is available now.
Seven Tears at High Tide features both a magical realm, where Morgan struggles to figure out who he is as a selkie, and a realistic realm, where Kevin struggles to figure out who he is as a human. What inspired you to merge these two realms? What intrigued you about the lore of selkies, in particular?
Selkies have always been a fascinating mythological creature to me; they seem to live in this liminal space, existing as either human or seal and kind of in between. I always found the tales sad, even as ethereal and magical as they were, especially as most of them involve a man stealing a selkie woman’s pelt, in order to keep her ashore, and then hiding it from her. The stories always end in tragedy, ending when the selkie finds the pelt and returns to the ocean, to freedom.
When writing Seven Tears, I wanted to address that part of the stories, to give agency to the characters and to the selkies, how they saw humans and the way they would have dealt with this, what kind of culture might have sprung up around them and their particular brand of magic.
I’ve always been fond of stories where magic seems to be right around the corner. Morgan and Kevin both think they’re alone in their struggles, and they both learn about this whole other world from each other, and their lives are made richer for it.
The sea and the setting of the California coast inspired the feel of the book; how the sea is ever changing, where the land and sea meet and how the coastlines and the sand and the stones are all a result of millions and millions of years of water and wind. That’s magic to me. The fog, so thick you can’t see the horizon, can transform any mundane morning into a realm of possibility. There may be monsters in those depths, something fantastic and something entirely new.
How does it feel to look back on a book you wrote years ago? Has your perspective on the book evolved with time?
This was my first novel, and I remember being terrified upon its release. Would people like it? Was it terrible? It was probably terrible, I thought, and so many coulda-woulda-shoulda’s flooded my mind. Wanting to add things, to change detailing this part of the story, changing this subplot, I was so self-critical of everything. In some ways I still am, but I try not to let these things bother me. I’ve accepted finally that I did the best I could in the time that I had, and I’m pretty happy with how it turned out.
I learned a lot in the process. Before, the idea of a novel was absolutely ridiculous to me. Short stories, I’ve done, but something like a novel seemed insurmountable, like climbing an impossible mountain that got taller and taller the more you climbed. Now having actually done the thing and lived through it, it gives me resolve to be able to finish my other projects.
How have readers responded to Seven Tears at High Tide? Does the response of readers impact you as a writer?
Absolutely. It’s been incredibly rewarding to have people tell me how it’s impacted their lives. Creating a story is one thing, and hearing what it means to see yourself and your identity as a character in a novel, someone that’s just having an adventure and a romance and living happily ever after; it’s been really amazing and I’m so thankful for everyone who took the time to enjoy and respond.
In Seven Tears at High Tide, Kevin and Morgan face a series of choices. Some are imposed on them by external forces (like the magic of the sea or their parents’ actions) while others are the result of their own prior decisions. You even dedicate the book to “anyone who’s ever felt they had to choose.” What made you want to explore the theme of choice in this story?
Choice to me is such an integral part of life, and with the selkie mythology, I wanted to give voice to those who didn’t get to choose in those stories.
Selkies are always selkies, whether their current form at the moment is a human or a seal. Like bisexuals, the world might insist on seeing them one way or another. In one way, I hope that the dedication and the novel lets people know they aren’t alone, whether they’re facing pressure about their sexuality or otherwise.
In our world, there’s a lot of outside voices telling you to choose, and there’s so much expectation and anxiety associated with making the wrong choice. What to wear, what to study, what to do, how to be. It’s all very stressful.
There’s an enormous amount of pressure, especially on teens, to grow up a certain way, to become the people their parents want them to be, to find success in a defined career path. Everyone faces difficult decisions in their life; whether from external forces or as consequences of their own choices, and I wanted the story to be a message of hope.
Has your approach to writing changed since this book? If so, in what ways? If not, what has stayed the same?
I’m definitely less worried about getting the words down perfect the first time. With my first novel, I wrote all of it from beginning to end, and I struggled with having blank pages before finally getting to start, and when I got stuck I got stuck, and would leave it until I was inspired to come back. I wanted every line to be as perfect as I could get it to be when I was writing, and it took me a long time to write.
Now, after finishing NaNoWriMo twice, I write first and edit later, and don’t worry about making it pretty on the first go. It’s easier to flow and get the concepts and story out. I also don’t worry about writing chronologically; it helps a lot when I get stuck, I simply move on to another part of the story that I can focus on. It’s a really great strategy for keeping up with the flow.
What have you worked on since Seven Tears at High Tide? Can you share any details about your current project(s)?
Sure! The first of a futuristic adventure series, Not Your Sidekick, was published last fall, and the second one is set to be released late this year. The series will follow a group of queer teens as they navigate superpowers, robots, and leading a rebellion against a corrupt government. In the first novel, Jess is worried about living up to her superhero parents’ expectations and takes an internship with the town supervillain. She ends up working alongside her crush, Abby, when she uncovers something sinister about the hero-and-villain system in their world.
Do you have any advice for new writers on the twists and turns that a career in publishing can take?
Take deep breaths and go for it; I think the biggest thing holding anyone back is the fear of rejection. It happens, and by far it happens the most in publishing, but someone out there is gonna love your story, and it’s going to make a difference, so keep going.
Who do you hope will find this book?
I hope anyone who wants to be transported into a world very much like ours—one with magic and mystery, who wants to spend some time with these characters and be inspired by them, to be able to enjoy this story.
What else would you like readers to know about Seven Tears at High Tide?
Kevin’s obsession with rocks is a nod to my almost-scientific career in earth science. Having said that, I still love geology. Just couldn’t write the research papers for it.