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Erewhon Acquires When the Tides Held the Moon, an Illustrated Novel From Venessa Kelley


Erewhon Acquires When the Tides Held the Moon, an Illustrated Novel From Venessa Kelley

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Erewhon Acquires When the Tides Held the Moon, an Illustrated Novel From Venessa Kelley


Published on December 11, 2023


The Shape of Water meets The Greatest Showman

Erewhon Books announces When the Tides Held the Moon, a queer historical romantasy from author and illustrator Venessa V. Kelley—forthcoming in Spring 2025. World rights negotiated by Saritza Hernández of Andrea Brown Literary.

Learn more about the book below, and get a peek at Kelley’s designs for main characters Benny and Río!

The Shape of Water meets The Greatest Showman in this queer, speculative fiction novel by author/illustrator Venessa V. Kelley in her authorial debut.

Benny Caldera is a young, multiracial migrant from Puerto Rico losing faith in a life beyond the smoke-filled furnaces of the Brooklyn ironworks where he builds the skyscrapers that will one day shape the New York skyline. When he is tasked with building a one-of-a-kind aquatic tank for Morgan’s Menagerie of Human Oddities at their upcoming Coney Island installation, he ends up finding himself roped into kidnapping its intended inhabitant: an ocean-eyed merman with copper hair, pewter skin, and a grudge against humanity.

Compelled to care for the creature he helped cage, Benny joins the Menagerie, where its seasoned crew of curiosities adopts him as one of their own. But as his affection for the merman in the tank grows, Benny must reckon with the forces that have held him captive as well and soon realizes there is more than one way to be trapped. Fighting for the merman’s freedom may cost him everything.

Illustration of Benny, a character in When the Tides Held the Moon. A young man wearing a white shirt, blue tie, suspenders, and fedora stands in front of the Brooklyn Bridge with a bag slung over one shoulder.
Illustration: Venessa Kelley


Illustration of Rio, a character in When the Tides Held the Moon. A merman with blue-gray skin and red-brown hair lies partially submerged in water.
Illustration: Venessa Kelley

From the author:

When the Tides Held the Moon was the accidental byproduct of many years of interrogating my identity, making it an especially personal story. As a part of the diaspora and as a queer individual, I have grappled with hybridity, a destabilizing experience for those of us with a toe in multiple races, ethnicities, genders, orientations, etc., and that experience directly informed the trajectory of my main character’s arc. Benny is negotiating who he is as a queer, Afro-Boricua man in a historical moment when Puerto Rico itself is caught in the space between identities—that of a former Spanish colony, a new American territory, and the autonomous nation it had aspirations of becoming—so finding a publisher that would preserve the cultural integrity of the story was very important to me.

Along with this desire was my prayer for a publisher who could realize my vision for an illustrated adult work. Tides being set during the 1910s, I had imagined this book like a time capsule from that period when all books, regardless of the audience’s age, were illustrated… imagine how that buzz exploded when [editor Diana Pho] conveyed Erewhon’s support of making Tides an illustrated novel!

I have been a long time admirer of Diana’s work, and I feel so incredibly honored to have her award-winning storytelling expertise and compassionate support behind this book. From the first virtual meeting with her, it was clear she understood the soul of Benny and Río’s story and its potential as a queer historical “romantasy” with comfort-readability. I am overcome with gratitude for the opportunity she has given me to share this Progressive Era fairy tale in the visual and textual way I had always hoped to deliver it!

From editor Diana Pho:

After reading When the Tides Held the Moon, I felt like my heart grew three sizes and floated off to sea! As someone who fell in head over heels in love with New York City after visiting Coney Island for the first time, seeing Venessa’s gorgeous artwork was the cherry on top of an already beautiful story. I can’t wait to show the world Benny & Río’s journey of self-discovery and romance!

From TJ Klune, author of The House in the Cerulean Sea and Under the Whispering Door:

Back in 2021, I partnered with Venessa Kelley to create art for the publication of my novel, Under the Whispering Door. The scene she ended up making–two men standing on a porch, one alive, the other a ghost—was extraordinary. Of course it was! Venessa’s art is tremendous.

But that’s not the point of this. When batting around ideas, I told Venessa of a particular scene that was my favorite in the book—unfortunately, this scene occurs near the end of the book and spoils quite a bit, so we obviously couldn’t use it. I told her how much I loved that scene, and why it meant so much to me. Then something wonderful happened: Venessa came to the launch event for the book months later and presented me with a gift: the scene I had wanted to use but couldn’t. That book—and that scene in particular—is of deeply personal importance to me, and she brought it to life in ways I could not have expected. It proudly hangs in my home.

But then that’s Venessa’s art. She gives life to the most unexpected things. And now she’s a writer too? Is there anything she can’t do? Maybe, but I haven’t yet witnessed that. She is, in a way, like me: we create because it’s what we were made to do. And I can think of no better person than Venessa Kelley to tell a story that only she could tell. I have a strong, strong feeling that this is the start of something special.


Venessa is a Washington, DC-based writer, illustrator and sequential artist. Her work focuses on magical realism, fantasy, and romance in a culturally diverse world, and has been featured in Discovery Girls Magazine, on Buzzfeed, as well as in board games and activism campaigns for Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez, creator of the “La Borinqueña” comic series. She holds a BA and MA in English Literature with concentrations in film from The University of Delaware and The George Washington University.​​

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