Miren O’Malley, a girl raised on stories of merfolk by her domineering grandmother, goes searching for her parents in Slatter’s All the Murmuring Bones (Titan, Mar.).

What inspired this story?

I had the image of a girl looking out to sea from a headland, that’s where it started. I wanted a novel set in the fairy tale world of the Sourdough and Bitterwood mosaic short story collections. Themes I revisit are ideas of home and family, losing and recreating those things. And I wanted to explore the mythology of the ocean. I’m also fascinated by the line between truth and rumor and lies, and how we negotiate our lives between those states.

What draws you to writing fairy tales?

They’re the first stories I remember being told, and I guess they’re just embedded in my brain. I think they tap into our darkest fears. The old oral versions were warning tales, a way of explaining the world and also trying to make people aware of its dangers. They’re a place where strange and wondrous and terrible things happen—and I guess I’ve tried to recreate that in my own stories.

The interactions between magical beings and humans are more businesslike than cordial. How did you land on this dynamic?

Most fairy and folk tales warn against trusting creatures of the other world. Someone like Miren, with access to the O’Malley book of tales, knows the rules. Like a kelpie will drown you, fairies will steal children away, and a circle of salt will protect you from ghosts. She understands there’s always a real price for any bargain you make with these creatures.

The book explores the lengths some people will go, often toward cruelty, for wealth and prominence. How did you approach bringing that out in your characters?

I tried to show the source of their pain, and its effect, so there’s some understanding for them. But not everyone becomes cruel; some people become compassionate from suffering, so I’ve tried to show that, too. There’s a tension between those with compassion and those who are simply selfish. I’d like to think that even the antagonists are engaging even though they’re not likable.

Miren makes a brave heroine. What motivates her to break from her long-held family traditions?

I think a lot of people have felt trapped by the idea that because something’s been done one way for a very long time you must keep doing it. It’s always hard being a person who bucks a tradition, and Miren’s always been obedient but she reaches the point where she says, “No more.” She realizes that following family traditions hasn’t done any favours for the O’Malleys. So, she makes the shift.