Tales of mermaids

Workshop explores how an idea becomes a story

Joe Keleher pictured during a visit to Scotland. Enlargephoto

Courtesy Photo

Joe Keleher pictured during a visit to Scotland.

The old saying goes something like this: rumors stem from a kernel of the truth.

Bigfoot, Chupacabra, Mothman and the Loch Ness monster are well-known myths. But where did they originate? Where does the true story begin?

Joe Keleher doesn’t find the rumor as interesting as he does the kernel. This author and Cortez resident, is interested in the why.

“I believe that something happened (in these stories) whether it involved a particular creature or not, is not as intriguing to me as why this story incurred,” Keleher says.

On Friday, Nov. 16, Keleher will be at the Cortez Cultural Center to present a workshop about his novel writing process. He will talk about his travels that led him to discover his recent work of fiction, Beul Nam Beinn, and share the importance of the writing journey and its transitions.

His newest book is a genre he deems, “merworld fantasy.” It’s not historical fiction, and it’s not complete fantasy but it does contain both, and the focus is mermaids.

A well-known cryptid and character of Irish and Scottish legends, mermaids or merfolk, are a staple in Scottish ballads. In fact, some families of Hebrides and Orkney Islands on Scotland’s west coast, can trace their lineage to unions between human and merfolk.

Strange as it may seem, there is always a school of thought that believe whole-heartedly in the existence of these myths, or truths.

A Scottish tradition

Keleher was introduced to one of the most popular stories of Scottish tradition, by a friend who is a cryptologist, someone who studies hidden or mythical creatures.

The story goes like this: Residents of the Scottish island of Benbecula, saw a mermaid playing in their coastal waters. Men tried to capture the sea creature but it resisted. Upon retreating, a young boy struck the creature with a rock, it cried out and swam away. Her body washed ashore a few days later and the people of Benbecula held a burial. The creature was said to have the torso of a woman and a lower half like a fish, but no bigger than a 4-year-old child.

“I didn’t believe the story as much as I was inspired by it,” Keleher says.

He had helped the same friend research the legendary “monster lizard,” a large fan-collared lizard that stands on its hind legs, that resides in the Four Corners area. Naturally, he was intrigued to do the same with this tale.

“I traveled to Edinburgh, Scotland, and a few other places. I did research in their historical files and found nothing,” he says. “I also went to Benbecula, where the sighting occurred because I thought researching the people mentioned in the story would lead me to something, but again, I found nothing.”

He did, however, find the traditional oration of the tale. The bed and breakfast he stayed at, was owned by a man whose family had been passing down this particular legend since it began in 1830. His mother recited the legend to him, his grandmother to her and so on.

But Keleher did not assume defeat. He simply thought up his own tale.

Beul Nam Beinn, is his fictional story of a young man who inherits Scottish land from his grandfather. Unbeknownst to him, he comes across a family secret locked away in a sea cave, buried in his great-great-great grandmother’s journals. He encounters the myths and legends surrounding her journals only to happen upon his own self discovery. The book is romantic at moments but is more about the main character’s epiphany.

“This book is definitely for adults,” Keleher says. “I tried to write it for young adults but I threw that out and started over. It came together better that way.”

Workshop for writers

The workshop at the cultural center is intended for writers, or anyone interested in writing, to approach the process with a greater and more in-depth outlook. Keleher feels that writing for today’s society can be challenging. Holding the reader’s attention is sometimes a tough thing to accomplish.

“This workshop is primarily meant for people to think about those ideas they’ve had, and how they could turn them into stories,” he said.

With a background in anthropology, Keleher’s novels focus on the cultural aspect of geographical areas. Although not all of his fiction is filled with talk of legendary creatures, he does base much of his work on existing historical sites and then he fills those stories with his own historical characters.

He has five published books, two of which are online eBook purchases only.

A worldwide traveler Keleher has visited Poland, Scotland, Spain, Romania, France and other countries. His traveling has inspired a few of his novels such as, “Grandpa and the Christmas Tree,” “Vlad’s Son” and “Dancing Stones: Cliff Huggins in the American Southwest,” the first in a series.

Keleher was born in New York but has lived in Cortez for several years. He moved back to the East Coast for three years. He also lived and taught in Tanzania at the International School of Moshi-Arusha for seven months this year. Recently returning to claim Cortez as his home, Keleher works part-time for Kemper Elementary as an aide and hopes to continue his teaching in the area.

Visit with Keleher and learn about his journey while writing Beul Nam Beinn at the Cortez Cultural Center tomorrow evening from 5 to 6 p.m. For more information on Keleher and his novels check out his website at jwkeleher.com.

rachels@cortezjournal.com