After living 50 years as a devout Mormon, Lorelei Kay accepted a “calling” from her bishop which caused the doctrinal foundation of her world to crumble. That journey is captured in her new book, From Mormon to Mermaid – One Woman’s Voyage from Oppression to Freedom.
Interviewer: Christina Hamlett
Q: With 50 years of your life invested in the Mormon Church, what prompted you to leave?
A: My transformation began when my bishop called me to teach Gospel Doctrine, the scripture class for adults. Like anything else any bishop had ever asked me to do, I put my whole heart and soul into it. I spent over ten hours a week in preparation for my class each Sunday. As I began to realize the depth of problems in Mormon doctrine, my spirituality changed from a placid sea into a raging torrent. Then, as I tell in my memoir, “All halibut broke loose.”
Q: Your book has an intriguing title. How did it come about?
A: While my father was a soldier stationed in Italy during World War II, he heard the enchanting story of the Lorelei—the German mermaid who perches on the River Rhine. After he returned home, still fascinated by the tale, he named his first-born daughter Lorelei. That’s me!
As a child, I felt embarrassed I had been named for a half-naked siren. It took a few years, but I came to appreciate and claim my mermaid heritage.
After I left the church, I found many people interested in the controversial and complicated doctrines that makes up Mormonism. One day I was sharing with a friend the Mormon belief that God is a polygamist, and he said, “You should write a book—and call it, From Mormonism to Mermaidism. Great idea!
I shortened his suggested title to From Mormon to Mermaid and began writing my memoir. I used an aquatic metaphor because of my name. I found using my sea-theme throughout gave me a net to hang my story on.
For example, some of my chapters titles are, “Hook, Line, and Thinker,” “The Undertow of Underwear,” “Kissing the Sails of Ships,” and “Prying Open the Oyster Shell.” The chapter on sex is called, “Wet.”
Q: Who is your target audience and what do you envision as the book’s takeaway value for them?
A: Women! Men! Inquiring minds! Mormons struggling with their faith! Mormons not struggling who want to understand why people leave! People who want to understand how Mormon doctrine influences the daily life of its members.
Many people hear, “Family first,” and have a lofty false impression about Mormon family life. The truth is, “Follow the Prophet” comes first, often at the expense of the family. And while the men are taught to work toward godhood, the women are kept bound to the shoreline by men who wield all the power.
I tell my story of my life as a Mormon woman to encourage people to break free from damaging doctrines and limiting belief systems—and claim their own authentic lives.
Q: There’s no question that penning a memoir is a cathartic experience. Catharsis, however, doesn’t necessarily translate to commercial success. What did you envision in this regard at the outset and has that objective been met?
A: Commercial success is a long voyage, and I’m still on that trail.
Q: To what personality traits do you attribute your passion and commitment to the craft of writing?
A: Loving my dad and following his example.
Q: Were there particular parts of your memoir that were challenging for you to write?
A: I didn’t want to write about my divorce—I didn’t want to rehash it or relive it. But after my first editor pointed out I couldn’t just sail along and then say, “we got a divorce,” I tackled it. This caused me to rewrite much of the memoir. In fact, I did a complete edit from my ex-husband’s point of view just to make sure I was being fair. But it’s richer. And because of that edit, I gained new insights.
Q: What constitutes a safety net for you … or do you have one?
A: The California Writers Club has been a terrific safety net. Friends there have provided critique, information, networking, and support. The club we have here in the High Desert is a tremendous asset.
Q: What prompted you to go the self-publishing route?
A: After ten years of hard work, I wanted a professional edit before sending my memoir out to the world. I went with Dog Ear publishing because I was impressed with the editing done there by Stephanie Seiifert-Stringham, Managing Editor. That worked very well for me because Dog Ear awarded it their “Literary Award of Excellence,” which they bequeath annually to just a few authors. Stephanie also wrote a wonderful blurb for my book cover.
Q: What did you learn from this DIY experience that you didn’t know when you started?
A: That’s a whole other book . . .
Q: Appendix/footnotes are unusual for a memoir. What inspired you to include all the references?
A: When I shared my memoir with a good friend who had been an active Mormon, he said, “No one is going to believe the shocking doctrines you share about the Mormon Church—unless you give them proof.” He suggested footnotes, which I tried at one point. But it looked too scholarly, not friendly enough. So I moved them all to the back under the title of Appendix. That way, no one can say I misunderstood, or my family misinterpreted doctrine, or my bishop didn’t explain things correctly. I quote Mormon scripture and prophets. I give references. There can be no question about my claims about the doctrines espoused by the Mormon Church. I back up every claim I make.
Q: The book has accrued no shortage of reviews since its publication. Which reviews have personally been the most meaningful to you?
A: One of my strongest and most meaningful reviews on Amazon came from an active Mormon woman who loved my book. Many Mormon and ex-Mormon women have written me expressing gratitude for writing a book showing the demeaning and oppressive role of woman they experienced while members of the Mormon Church. Many have shared with me that reading my story has given them the courage to make changes in their lives, and that’s been most gratifying.
Q: I understand you’ve won some awards, too. Tell us about them.
A: I was thrilled when Dog Ear Publishing awarded From Mormon to Mermaid an “Award of Literary Excellence” upon publication. Also, Shelf Unbound awarded it a “Best Indie book for 2016 Runner-up.” Hip hip hooray!
Q: Who or what has had the greatest influence on your decision to be a writer?
A: When I was in third grade, my father sat me down and helped me with my first poem. I was hooked.
I also saw my father’s dedication to writing his own book about the Book of Mormon and writing family history. Since he couldn’t find any room in our small home for writing, he carved out a place in the crawl space under the house, made a desk using an old door sitting on cinder blocks, and set his Royal manual typewriter on top. And he wrote.
I have inherited a glorious heritage of commitment to writing.
Q: What is your definition of happiness?
A: Living a life at peace with internal beliefs, and being able to explore new, fun adventures. For me, writing is always an adventure.
Q: What is your favorite quote that inspires you?
“If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is (sic) asking to do it, the men better let them.” Sojourner truth, activist
I also get a big kick out of Gloria Steinem’s quote: “Women grow radical with age. One day an army of gray-haired women may quietly take over the earth.” She just may be onto something.
Both of these quotes, along with many others, can be found in the book, Nasty Women’s Almanac – Feminine Voices Striving for a Brighter Day, which I published in 2016.
Q: If you could share a cab ride to the airport with any celebrity, who would it be and what would you talk about?
A: I would love to have a heart-to-heart conversation with Sojourner Truth. She was an African-American abolitionist and women’s rights activist born into slavery. She escaped with her infant daughter to freedom in 1826 and went to court to recover her son. In 1828 she became the first black woman to win such a case against a white man. She has left us with a wealth of personal wisdom, and demonstrated how confidence in her abilities overcame huge adversities. What a shining example of overcoming obstacles!
Q: What’s next on your plate?
A: I’m in the middle of writing a novel called Breath of the Dragon, which is based on a true story of a Mormon missionary. And madness. I also continue my love of writing poetry, and I’m almost ready to publish a children’s book called Oh! The Places We’ve Been!
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: I’d like to leave you with is refrain included in From Mormon to Mermaid:
A symbol of transformation,
mermaids whisper from the sea:
“Live true to your inner heartstrings,
and your truth will set you free.”