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Speculating Merfolk Physiology with a Marine Biologist for Debut Paranormal Romance By Desirée M. Niccoli


Eco-horror meets paranormal romance in CALLED TO THE DEEP, the first book in a Maine-based duology that features a flesh-craving mermaid and her offshore fishing captain beau. Releases September 20, 2022 in paperback and digital formats.


When writing my debut novel CALLED TO THE DEEP, I took more of a biological approach to merfolk rather than a mythical one. Although not completely without supernatural features, many of their physiological traits were inspired by a speculative chat I had with Dr. Sean Todd, a marine biologist and professor at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine.

It was a fun thought experiment, one I’m grateful he graciously humored, because while I took a lot of artistic liberties, that conversation was invaluable for this book and its upcoming sequel.

Fact Sheet: Speculative Merfolk Physiology & Behavior

In the Gulf of Maine, merfolk compete with sharks for the apex predator title. They have webbed fingers, sharp teeth and claws for gripping, slashing, and holding onto prey.

Possessing both mammalian and bony fish features, they are human presenting above the waist with a fish tail below. Their scales are both as smooth and sharp as a shark’s—when touched against the grain, they will cut.

Merfolk typically live and hunt together in pods, and like sperm whales, can travel between the epipelagic and mesopelagic zones, to hunt or to escape ghost netting, noise pollution from shipping traffic, and other environmental hazards.

Preferring darker, deeper waters—such as Georges Basin—they are both hearing and light-sensitive but will come to the surface to hunt for humans or engage in storm play.

The whole population suffers from a cetacean morbillivirus that was transmitted to and subsequently mutated within their species. The viral disease presents rabies-like symptoms, making merfolk aggressive and feral for human flesh. Environmental factors like pollution cause stress in marine life, weakening the immune system, which created the conditions for the merfolk population to become infected.

Despite their vicious tendencies, merfolk are sapient and have personhood.

Other Features Both Natural and Supernatural:

Bioluminescence – Bioluminescent nodes pepper their extremities, particularly faces and hands. They’re used primarily for communication. Their eyes also glow with the same bioluminescence.

Cruising Speed – 10 mph; speedy bursts of 28 mph.

Diet – Fish, crustaceans, potted meat, and an unsavory taste for human flesh.

Gills – Located to either side of the neck, rather than the torso, and kept moist, to prevent sealing and drying out.

Lungs – Like lungfish, they have a highly specialized respiratory system, and can switch between breathing air into lungs and filtering oxygen from water through gills.

Rib Cage – Flexible and collapsible like a whale’s, their rib cages allow their bodies to bend, not break, under drastic changes in pressure as they dive deeper and deeper.

Shifting – Can retract scales, fins, teeth and claws and shift tail into a pair of legs for walking on land.

Siren Song – Eerie, compulsive singing that puts prey in a trance-like state, drawing in and commanding.

Tails – Brightly colored like betta fish to lure prey, human and otherwise.

CALLED TO THE DEEP by Desirée M. Niccoli

Haven Cove #1

Called to the Deep

First comes desire. Then hunger.

When Killian Quinn, captain of offshore fishing boat Dawn Chaser, receives a distress call from a sailing ship caught in a terrible storm, he and his crew rush to provide aid. But when they arrive, all that’s left of the ship and its crew is splintered wood and a borderline hypothermic woman who can’t remember how she survived. His attraction to her is instantaneous, and maintaining a professional distance proves to be a struggle, especially when she needs a place to stay that’s far from the press and curious townsfolk, and his idyllic cottage by the sea is the perfect sanctuary.

What was supposed to be a thrilling once-in-a lifetime opportunity for Lorelei Roth, turns into a seafaring tragedy. As Lorelei struggles to accept that she’s The Osprey's only survivor, she’s plagued by strange dreams and sleepwalking episodes that draw her into the ocean. And if the grieving process wasn’t hard enough, Lorelei also grapples with guilt from developing feelings for the captain who rescued her. But worst of all, is a new, unsettling hunger for raw flesh that’s eating her from the inside out. The handsome captain begins to look like a tasty snack in more ways than one.

Discovering she’s descended from the people-eating mermaids who devoured her crew, Lorelei struggles to accept her identity knowing her entire existence relies upon its secrecy and devouring human flesh. What happens if Killian finds out? The world at large? What if Lorelei answers the ocean’s call to the deep?


Paranormal Romance [City Owl Press, On Sale: September 1, 2022, Paperback / e-Book, / eISBN: 9781648982316]

Buy CALLED TO THE DEEPAmazon.com | Kindle | Apple Books | Kobo | Google Play | Amazon CA | Amazon UK | Amazon DE | Amazon FR

About Desirée M. Niccoli

Desirée M. Niccoli

By night, Desirée M. Niccoli writes adult monster, paranormal, and fantasy romance with (mostly) emotionally intelligent characters and heart. By day, she is a public relations professional living the nomadic military lifestyle with her husband and two cats Pawdry Hepburn and Puma Thurman. She graduated magna cum laude with a B.A. in English from Allegheny College in 2014. Although born and raised in Pittsburgh, Desirée has since lived in Maine (where her heart truly lies) and Maryland.

Her debut novel CALLED TO THE DEEP, a paranormal romance featuring people-eating sirens and a sexy, sea captain, will be published by City Owl Press in 2022. It can now be added on Goodreads and The StoryGraph.





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