Claudia Grossman’s first novel is about being caught up in adventure. For Claudia’s characters, it’s how one little MacGuffin sets them off in a way that summarizes the mysticism of true friendship and the joy of art and beauty. But The Story Behind The Story is Claudia’s own adventure, choosing to publish independently instead of waiting for agents and publishing houses, letting her characters drive her story and letting her determination drive her success. Her characters are empowered by the mahjong tile they find; Claudia is empowered by her own creativity.
What is the theme behind your story?
Women empowering themselves through the things that matter the most to them—women whose art is their heart and whose heart is their art.
What’s the logline?
A fantastical, fabulous, feminist fairy tale.
How would you describe your book?
The book is a lot of things; mostly, I hope, a little jewel.
At its heart, it is a modern-day, grown-up fairy tale. It’s the story of two best friends, both artists, and an adventure that takes them from the present to the past and back again, thanks to a tale about a mysterious mahjong tile crafted a century ago.
It is neither about your grandmother’s mahjong nor is it your granddaughter’s fairy tale.
It’s modern because it’s set in the current day, mostly; because the heroines are two grown-up women of a certain age; and because it is about women who create their own destiny and their own happiness. Unlike the fairy tales that so many of us grew up reading, where the woman waited for the prince to come along so that her life could begin, in this fairy tale, the women create their own fulfillment. Fun little fact: except for two very minor characters, all of the characters in this novel are female, even the dog. And that was intentional because I wanted it to be about a woman’s heart and her art and the power of that connection.
The book is also about the creativity in all of us that can lead us to discover new things about ourselves—whatever that creativity and passion might be. It’s about finding and nurturing that spark, and about empowering ourselves to create and, as a result, to enrich our own lives and the lives of those around us.
It’s about the possibility of “what if,” of believing in things that we may not be able to see, of stretching our imaginations and opening our minds.
It’s about best friends and the power of friendship.
On a very personal note, it’s about finding your voice, even if you’ve never had the courage to do so before.
And it’s about bringing a sense of enchantment to life.
Finally, the novel is a love letter to San Francisco, my favorite place in the world. The book gives the reader the chance to see the city through the eyes of an artist and to glimpse its heart and soul.
How did you come up with the book’s title? What is the connection between mermaids and mahjong?
I’ve been fascinated with mermaids ever since I was a little girl. Fairies, pixies, and mermaids—I spent countless hours reading about them in storybooks and I became utterly enchanted. Beautiful, ethereal, and delicate, they were a magical mix of color and luminescence. The storybook illustrations were gorgeous—the mermaid’s shimmering tails and flowing hair, the fairies’ tinted, translucent wings—and those illustrations informed the rich descriptions and colors that I’ve written into the book.
Mermaids were magical to the shy little-girl me; mahjong came from my love of color and art and design.
I find mahjong tiles, with their delicate art, to be so interesting. They are like tiny canvases, each with its own story to tell. And I love the sound they make when they click together. Full disclosure—I’m not a mahjong player myself. But the game always had a presence in the New York Jewish culture that I grew up in, and I was always aware of it.
Here’s the connection:
One day when the word “mermaid” popped into my mind, I started randomly doodling words that might go along with it because playing with words is a true joy to me. Mermaids and mahjong—it just sounded like fun. In fact, I thought that Mermaids & Mahjong would make a great name for a funky little store in San Francisco that sold vintage clothing and accessories (which do come up in the book, as it so happens). But because I’m a writer, not a retailer, once the combination of mermaids and mahjong came to me, I knew there had to be a story in there somewhere. And, as it turns out, there was.
As I say in the prologue to the book, “The beauty of circles is that they go around endlessly, joining people, generations, lifetimes. Sometimes the connections are seamless; sometimes surprising; and many times, magical.” That all proves true.
How did the original idea change as you went along?
I always thought it was a myth when writers would say that their characters took them where they wanted to go—until it happened to me. I found that one scene would often lead to the next in ways I hadn’t originally thought. No sooner would I write one clue to the mahjong tile mystery than a new twist presented itself. But I always knew how the book would end. I wrote it from start to finish (without an outline, which was an adventure in itself), except for the four separate “mermaid stories” within it. Each of those is like a standalone tale and those were written afterward.
Do you have favorite characters? Who and why?
I’m partial to Lorelei, the 800-year-old mermaid who is our storyteller and Evie and Hannah’s fairy god-mermaid, and who is filled with personality. She owns every room she enters. I also love Aunt Venny. She’s headstrong and spirited, with an indomitable, positive energy.
How do your professional life and your creative life blend?
My career has been spent as an advertising and marketing communications copywriter (think Peggy Olsen in Mad Men), so words and wordplay have always been a big part of who I am—like writing headlines, for example, or naming nail polish colors, a job I held for a decade. I love crossword puzzles; I love the Before & After category in Jeopardy; I just love playing with words. Combine that passion for words with a really big imagination, and writing a novel became something I just had to do. It took many years for me to find my story and for my story to find me, but when it did, it was like magic.
Claudia Grossman has spent her career as an advertising and marketing copywriter, both in New York and Los Angeles. She has been published in the Los Angeles Times, in Victoria magazine, and in blogs for both More magazine and skirt! magazine, as well as having authored a series of children’s educational books about Jewish culture. She writes a blog of often humorous life observations entitled Rice on Your Head(www.riceonyourhead.com). She and her husband live in LA, although San Francisco will always have her heart.
The Mermaid Mahjong Circle—A Fairy Tale for Women by Claudia Grossman is available at amazon.com (https://amzn.to/3uYFCDa) and other online booksellers, both as a paperback ($15.00) and as an ebook ($9.95).