Utah-born author inspires real-life women with mermaid stories
Nov 12, 2019 03:38PM
By Alison Brimley
S.R. Atkinson, a native of Utah and author of the new book “Treading Waves.” (Yvette Sojka)
By Alison Brimley | [email protected]
When Utah native and author S.R. Atkinson released the third installment of her “Siren Anthology” series this year, she wanted to throw a party. Her past two releases were accompanied by standard book tours that took her across the country. But this time, she wanted something other than the repetitive, hurried signings at locations such as Barnes and Noble. This time, Atkinson thought, “I’m going to throw a party, so I can hang out and say thank you.”
She threw three parties: one in New Jersey, where she currently lives; another in St. George, near where she went to college; and another in West Jordan, on the back patio of Boda Bridal inside Gardner Village.
Atkinson’s book “Treading Waves” came out this summer and is the third in a series that follows a teenage mermaid named Santi. The West Jordan release party, held Sept. 20, included a mermaid-themed coloring contest, raffle, and food and drinks. Atkinson’s gratitude and affection for those who support her work was evident in the way she interacted with everyone at the event.
A graduate of Taylorsville High, Atkinson attended Southern Utah University and University of Utah before moving to the East Coast in 2010. But she never formally studied writing at a university. Rather, her degree was in psychology, which she says has taught her more about writing than she could have learned studying writing directly. Understanding psychology helped her understand her characters’ minds and motivations.
“I often tell people, if you want to write a book, know why people do what they do,” Atkinson said.
Her degree in psychology helped her writing career in another important way: It steered her toward a job working with troubled youth. The teens she met in this position eventually became her inspiration for the series.
“All of my dedications in my books are for the girls I worked with in treatment,” Atkinson said. “I think a lot of people write young adult books at kids, like ‘Here’s a book, and I’m going to teach you a lesson.’ I didn’t write this at them; I wrote this for them.”
And her vision has been realized in some meaningful ways. Occasionally, a girl she’s still in touch with from the treatment center will email her, citing a specific passage from one of her books and describing what it meant to her.
One girl that made a strong impression at the treatment center “was having such a hard time doing anything,” Atkinson said. “She was scared of everything. She just wouldn’t do what she had to to get better.” In “Breathing Water,” the first book of the series, one of the characters says, “The hardest part about breathing water is believing that you can.” After reading those lines, this girl “emailed [Atkinson] and she was like, ‘This has always been my problem, that I don’t believe I can do these things.’” Atkinson was blown away. She’d written that line with that very girl in mind.
Her writing has also enabled her to make connections with readers she hasn’t met in person. In 2015, after the publication of her first book, a speaking tour took her to one high school where, following her speech, kids lined up to talk with her—a gratifying experience. But then, just two weeks ago—and four years after the speaking engagement—a student from that school messaged Atkinson on Instagram. She said, “Your book was recommended to me by my high school librarian, and reading it helped me find my voice.”
“I was like, What?” Atkinson said. “That was the best compliment I’ve ever received, ever.”
Atkinson has found enthusiastic readers in many locations around the country, and she’ll do a standard book tour next year to visit some of those locations. She takes the lead in scheduling her own tour destinations, making it into a sort of “mini-vacation” that allows her to visit cities she’s always wanted to visit. Moving from Utah to the East Coast has also brought her a lot of opportunities in writing. Even in the age of the internet, making in-person connections has paid off for her career.
And she doesn’t just write young adult fiction. Aside from the “Siren Anthology,” she’s also written a pirate-themed book for adults that she hopes to publish. Right now, she’s at work on a suspense-thriller.
Though the “Siren Anthology” centers on a young female protagonist, she hopes it too will reach more than just young female readers. It’s something that she’s had to reckon with as an author, even influencing the choice of name she uses. While she writes under the name “S.R.,” in person she goes by her first name, “Savannah.” The choice to write under her initials is one she made based on the readers she wanted to attract.
“I want to be more confident about my decision, but I think I made it because Savannah is a girl’s name, and men and boys don’t read books written by women,” she said. “And it bothers me that I did it, but I kind of stand by it—if I trick a couple boys into reading it, great.”
Overall, though, it remains important for Atkinson to speak to women in her fiction.
“I want women to feel strong, and if they read my books and it makes them feel like they can do something that they didn’t do [before], then I’ve done my job,” she said.