“Punk Rock Catfish”: Q & A with Brenna Ehrlich, author of PLACID GIRL

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Brenna Ehrlich’s YA debut Placid Girl came out today, and I had mentioned that it was one of the August books I’m psyched for. I whipped through this fast-paced read like lightning out of Asgard!

Placid Girl‘s narrator, Hallie, is a drummer in a band with her BFFL and is obsessed with two things: the obscure band Haze, and the photo-sharing app on her phone. These two obsessions collide to become, what I’ve seen the book dubbed as, a “punk rock version of MTV’s Catfish.”

This book blew me away and Brenna was kind enough to spend some time answering my silly questions about Placid Girl, music, and her writing. It’s my very first author interview, folks!


Jenna (Underwater Reading): Music plays such a big part in PLACID GIRL. Not only does the narrator, Hallie, and her best friend Sarah have a band, but Hallie is a huge fan of the little-known band Haze. Do you have any musical background yourself? Is there an obscure band that you love the way Hallie loves Haze?

Brenna Ehrlich: I am sadly terrible at music. When I was a kid, I desperately wanted to be David Bowie (I’ve been a fan since age 6), but my voice isn’t really the best — despite all the singing lessons I took. I wish someone had told me when I was little that I could be in a punk band, because you don’t really need to “sing.”

Oh, I love TONS of smaller bands. That’s pretty much exclusively what I like. I actually got really into this band Nobunny while I was writing. My friend introduced me to him because he wears a mask (a bunny) mask and I was writing a book about a musician who wears a mask. Haze isn’t based on him by any means, though. But I do have a funny story where my leather jacket ended up on tour with him…

Hallie says she could never get tired of listening to Haze’s one and only album. What is an album that you could listen to and never get sick of?

​This definitely changes over the years. I tend to listen to records on repeat for months at a time, and then get kind of tired of them. I can pretty much never get tired of Man Man, though — Ryan from the band wrote my wonderful coverline, by the way.

— We see Hallie driving the action when it comes to getting to Haze’s comeback gig. What makes Hallie so passionate about Haze, and music in general?

When you’re a teen — and an adult, too, I guess — it can be a big deal to define yourself. To find an outlet for who you are and who you want the world to see you as. For Hallie, music is that outlet. AND, since she’s a teen and can’t really go play gigs and tour and all that, she lives vicariously through Haze. She lives through Haze’s career — and, as she says, she kind of confuses her desire to be him with her desire to be with him.

 I can’t believe I read a book in which the plot is hinged entirely on a photo-sharing app. How did this aspect of the story evolve?

​I kind of love Instagram. I’m a little obsessed — and I have been since it came out.

I used to be a mostly tech/music reporter, and when I worked at Mashable I gave bands advice on how to use new social networks, including Instagram. I was fascinated with how they could give their fans an intimate look into their lives that was, at the same time, extremely controlled.

Since I write about music, I have a bunch of bands who I’ve met and made friends with through Instagram, and it’s always interesting to see how their lives either match or differ from what they put out there.

Not to give too much away, but I had the really morbid thought one day: What if on the outskirts of all these idyllic pictures, something terrible was going on? And then it went from there.

— You really capture the excitement of making a connection with a stranger on social media. Why do you think these types of connections are so thrilling?

I actually wrote an article on this for CNN!It’s a lot easier to tell a stranger things than it is to tell someone you know well — someone whose face you have to see change (in ways that might not be pleasant) when you tell them your secrets.The issue arises when you meet that stranger and you’ve built up an image of them that they can’t possible live up to.

— I enjoyed reading about Sarah. She is going through a hard time at home, but we only get glimpses of this through Hallie, yet I get a very real feel for Sarah’s situation. Naturally, Sarah’s problems had to take a back seat to Hallie’s story, but is there anything more you wish you’d included about Sarah.

I love Sarah. I think if I was going to tell more about her, though, it would have to be her book. Part of the reason we see glimpses of her home life — and not much else — is because the book is told via Hallie’s POV and Hallie is a little… selfish? She becomes less so by the end — partly because she stops blaming Sarah for holding her back — so I think if the book continued we would find out more about Sarah’s live because Hallie wouldn’t be so blind to her issues.

What does a typical writing day look like for you? What are you working on now?

I’m either vomiting words all over a page while listening to a record on repeat with my cat — or quietly editing. It’s a whole messy process that gets progressively less so.

I’m working on a new book! I just had a small breakthrough, so hopefully I can finish it up soon.


Thanks so much for the interview, Brenna! Our names totally rhyme!!

Go forth and treat yo’self to a copy of Placid Girl. And go ahead and it to your Goodreads shelf. While you’re at it, you should also follow Brenna on Instagram and Twitter. It’s what Hallie would do.
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Moving Day is a Very Dangerous Day

Moving Day is upon me. One of the packing challenges I’ve faced is dealing with my hordes of books. I might have a lot of books, and I’m not going to be able to take them all with me. I catalog my books at LibraryThing, and when I started packing, I owned 1,055 books. I’m trying to conduct an epic down-size, but it’s painful and demanding. As of this writing, I’ve managed to get my collection down to 982 books.

Here’s my defense: When I was 18, I began my very first job — a bookseller at Waldenbooks. I then worked at Barnes & Noble, and then at Borders. I enjoyed an employee discount on books for the better part of a decade (and Borders gave monthly $30 gift cards to full-time employees — miss you, Borders.) I’ve also developed a passion for trolling library book sales for scores on massive quantities of cheap books. I also trade on PaperBackSwap. My book collection is in constant flux as books tend to go in and out. In the spirit of Moving Day, I offer my criteria for deciding to part with books.

First, I separate the books into two simple categories: READ or UNREAD. This part is easy. The criteria for getting rid of READ and UNREAD books are different.

For READ books, I ask myself:

Did I love this book enough to want to read it again?

If the answer is yes – then the book probably belongs on my Favorites shelf, which is a shelf I have dedicated to … well, my favorite books. It’s my shelf of beloved books that I can pick up, grab and read at any time from any point.

If the answer is no – then I need to ask myself some follow-up questions: How highly did I rate it on Goodreads? Is it a book I might want to refer to in the future? If I rated the book poorly, if it has no re-read value, and I see no reason to hang onto it – it goes in the Discard pile.

Would I want to lend it to someone because it is so amazing?

Sometimes I keep books for the express purpose of loaning out to people. Sometimes these are books on my Favorites shelf, but sometimes not. Sometimes I need to re-evaluate my Favorites shelf. Sometimes I have to force myself to part with a book I enjoyed but didn’t LOVE, just to make room for more books.

How did I acquire this book? Did I buy it, or was it a gift?

I am more likely to keep books that I bought brand new, especially First Editions. I used to feel that I needed to keep every book I was gifted, but now I don’t care so much for that sentimentality. If I bought the book used, it is somehow easier to get rid of — I feel as though I am just one stop on this book’s journey. I feel it must be passed along.

Is it autographed or personalized in some way? 

These are keepers, no matter what.

For UNREAD books, I ask myself some of the same questions for READ books:

How did I acquire this book? Did I buy it, or was it a gift? Is it autographed or personalized in some way? 

But this is the MOST IMPORTANT QUESTION I ask myself when deciding to keep an UNREAD book …

Would I buy this again right now?

I try to think of what motivated me to buy it (if I bought it myself) and if I’m still interested in reading it. If I can’t remember the circumstances of acquiring it, or if the idea of reading it doesn’t thrill me anymore, then it goes into the Discard pile. If, while I am holding the book, and I have a very strong urge to dig into it immediately, then I must hang onto it.

When UNREAD books become READ books, I can re-evaluate them once again! It’s a process that never ends!

What happens to the books that end up on my Discard pile? First I check to see if they are worth $$$ on half.com, then I check to see if it’s a hot item at PaperBackSwap. If the online market is flooded with particular titles, I’ll send books off to my local used bookstore, Goodwill, my library’s donation shelf, or, very rarely, I release them into the wild via BookCrossing.

What criteria do you use to part with your books? What do you do with them when you let them go? Do you have any advice for a bookaholic moving into a teeny tiny apartment?

5 August Releases I’m Psyched For

August is less than a week away and there are a few new releases that I’m pretty eager for. I’m even lucky enough to have read a few of them in advance! I may be drowning in student debt, but at least my status as a library worker and MLIS candidate has perks of free books before they even come out!

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I devoured Felicia Day’s book You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) [releases 11 August] in less than two days. The book captures Day’s voice and her conversational tone feels like she’s speaking directly to you! [Read my review]

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I’ve been anxiously awaiting Slasher Girls & Monster Boys [releases 18 August] for a long time, despite not liking horror very much. I DO, however, love short stories. And weirdness. And creepiness. And psychological thrillers. Maybe I do like horror more than I realize. I don’t want to play favorites, but am particularly looking forward to Nova Ren Suma’s contribution, “The Birds of Azalea Street.”

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I am about halfway through Jennifer Nielsen’s historical middle-grade fiction A Night Divided [releases 25 August] about a young girl trapped in East Berlin after the Berlin Wall goes up … with her father and brother on the other side. This is one of my favorite time periods in history to study, particularly because as a historian I focus on social histories of oppression, and Berlin Wall stories never cease to simultaneously fascinate and horrify me. This is an era that isn’t covered too often in historical fiction and definitely deserves more attention. It’s important to remember that this terrifying thing actually happened. Who needs dystopian fiction when we have horrific events like this in our history?

24465492I plowed through Brenna Ehrlich’s fast-paced debut novel Placid Girl [releases 25 August], and it even kept me up late one night and creeped me out so much I had to turn my lamp back on! The plot centers around Hallie, an introvert girl drummer who is obsessed with the little-known band, Haze. One night, Hallie receives a message via a photo-sharing app, and she finds herself not only falling for the person at the other end, but also wondering if the person could indeed be Haze himself! The action kicks into high gear when Hallie, her best friend and band-mate Sarah, and new next door neighbor (who also happens to run the preeminent Haze fan-site) go on a road trip to Haze’s comeback gig. There were so many twists and turns, and I was not expecting that ending at all! [Read my review]

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Ah, yes, The Diviners #2: Electric Boogaloo or Lair of Dreams [releases 25 August, finally!] Libba Bray’s follow-up to The Diviners, a book I’ve been coveting for what seems like forever. I preordered my copy back in January 2014, as soon as it was listed on Amazon. I was even lucky enough to be in attendance at her reading at the KGB in August 2013, when she read an excerpt from Electric Boogaloo Lair of Dreams. Not that I remember any of it. I adored The Diviners, (which, if we’re being honest, I actually only managed to finish a few weeks ago.) and I can’t wait to jump back into the 1920s with Evie O’Neill.

Waterlog: Saturday, 18 July 2015

Originally I was going to call this post “What am I Reading, What Have I Read?” — but that seemed a little too Cotton Eye Joe. So then I came up with “Waterlog,” which is close enough to a pun and also doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.

So! I’ve had this blog for one week now! And I have one follower! Shout-out to my first follower, Lacey, who is on a journey this year of chronicling her foray into re-watching (or, sometimes, watching for the first time) every Disney animated feature in release order. Last week, she finally got to review and analyze my favorite movie of all time, The Little Mermaid. For extra credit, here is a post from Autostraddle last year regarding The Little Mermaid. I can be found in the comments gushing about having just written and handed in my twelve page paper about The Little Mermaid for my Feminist Theories class.

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Art by Ellador! Click pic to buy this design on a t-shirt or 27 other products, including a spiral notebook I think I need for school.

A lot can happen in a week. Since I last updated, I have found new living quarters and I WILL BE MOVING IN TWO WEEKS. Freakout mode is fully activated as I scurry to throw random things into boxes and figure out what the heck I’m going to do with all of my books. I’ve been listing some books and things on half.com — please buy them!

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My first box packed! There are Rainbow Brite pint glasses and Ariel mugs in there.

A few weeks ago, right after I enrolled in library school, I decided pursue a summer project of reading as many award winners for children and young adults I could carry home in my library tote bag. But now since I’m moving, I returned all of them so I don’t get overwhelmed and confused and, let’s face it, procrastinate-y.

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Uh-oh, I’m falling into my old habit of posting photos of books I haven’t read (yet).

I did manage to read a few picture books over the past few weeks, though. And because I count them as actual reading, I am super ahead on my Goodreads reading goal. (As far as I’m concerned, anything with an ISBN counts.) I really enjoyed the stunning art in Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales and The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend.

I finally caved and got a Kindle. And a mermaid Kindle case. I resisted getting a Kindle for a long time, but I’m really digging having it. I’m currently reading my fourth e-book since I got it two and a half weeks ago, and it’s still on the original charge.

One of the books I read on my Kindle was an e-ARC of a YA debut novel by Brenna Ehrlich, Placid Girl. When summarizing the book for Lauren, my new roomie, she said, “That is the weirdest story I’ve ever heard.” Yes, trying to explain the plot did make me feel a little wacky — mostly because much of the plot hinges on a the communication between two strangers over a photo-sharing app. This was also one of the creepiest books I’ve read. While reading it in bed late one night in the dark with just glowing light of my Kindle, one part scared me so much that I actually had to turn my lamp back on! I’m working on an actual review that I plan to post closer to the release date (which is August 25th.)

Thanks for reading all the way through to the end of my second blog post (or skipping directly to the last paragraph — welcome!) Please comment and let me know you’re out there. What are you reading? How do you feel about mermaids? Do you have a Kindle (or another e-reader)? Do you want to be Goodreads friends?

So … I’ve been thinking of starting a blog

While driving to work one morning back in June 2009, I had this hare-brained idea of starting a blog. A blog about books. The only thing that had been stopping me since I’d thought of it a few days prior was the perfect blog title. I remember sitting at a red light and the phrase “Mermaid Pants” popped into my head. I busted out in laughter. The idea of a mermaid wearing pants … I mean, come on, that’s pretty great, right? I knew I’d come up with a name that was uniquely mine. I registered the blog name as soon as I could. And that’s how my blog Mermaid Pants came into the world. I also started using the name all across social media.

That was six years ago. My little blog became a scrapbook where I’d post photos of books I’d snagged from book sales (and other places, but mostly book sales.) Occasionally I would post other things, like In Defense of Hans Christian Andersen in 2011 (which still gets occasional hits from people doing Google searches about Andersen’s sexuality) or this post from 2010 called The 5 Best YA Novels You’ve (Probably) Never Read when I was invited to be part of a project called “Unsung YA.” Sometimes I get hits on my blog for people searching for the best mermaid-related YA novels … something I never actually wrote about (but should have) (and always meant to get around to).

Mostly … MermaidPants was a blog for myself of images of books I’d acquired, (perhaps I would have been better off with a tumblr), which, as time went by, mostly just made me feel bad about myself for not actually getting to read those books at the rate I could snap their photos. I did post the occasional book review, but I tended to feel more comfortable posting reviews on a LiveJournal community called I Like Books and on GoodReads where I felt more like I was sharing and being heard by other readers.

I haven’t posted in my MermaidPants blog in over two years … my last post having been about the fifth Wizard of Oz book The Road to Oz, a review I called Go Home, Button Bright, You’re Drunk. (I really, really didn’t like Button Bright.) And, I’m telling you, sometimes I miss the blogging experience. I mean, we can argue that blogging is dead, yadda yadda, but I still miss having a place on the internet where I can write more than 140 characters at a time (I tend to waste spend lots of my time on Twitter ((where I tweet as @mermaidpants))). Sometimes I think about resurrecting that old blog … but it seems akin to digging out an unfinished journal I’ve had since I was a teenager and picking up and writing about what I did today. Just. Plain. Weird.

So, beginning this blog is just like me taking a stroll down the school supplies section at Target (like I did yesterday) and choosing a new notebook to write in (which I also did yesterday) (but I put it back) (I don’t need anymore notebooks). So, I present to you Underwater Reading, which is hopefully impervious to water damage, my new grotto on the internet.