Mercedes M. Yardley is an author who’s been getting a lot of attention lately, and rightfully so. Her novella, LITTLE DEAD RED is a dark retelling of the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale, so disturbing in it’s execution that it would make a Grimm brother hide beneath the covers. I’ll be reviewing that wonderful book later this week. In the meantime, I’m delighted to have the author herself here to chat with. I’ve had some great conversations with some of the best women authors in horror this month and I’ve been tickled to discover that, on average women are a lot more candid than men. Mercedes does nothing to disabuse me of that notion. If anything, she merely further cements it. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Mercedes M. Yardley as much as I did.
Shotgun Logic (SL): Hi Mercedes. Thank you for chatting with me today. Why don’t you start by telling us a little about yourself.
Mercedes M. Yardley (MMY): Thanks, Shane! I’d be glad to. I’m very much the friendly girl next door who likes dead things. I write whimsical horror, nonfiction, short stories, novels, and now I’m working on my first poetry book. I have three kids, a motorcycle, a ukulele, and a rabbit. And stilettos. I have a huge thing for stiletto heels.
SL: How long have you been writing?
MMY: I’ve been writing all of my life, but wrote my first novel about eight or so years ago. I started publishing not long after that, short stories, mainly. It took me a very long time to decide that, as an adult, I was allowed to do things like write and continue dreaming. I had a sick kid in the hospital all of the time, and all of my energy was focused on keeping him alive. After he became a little healthier, I realized I had room to breathe and writing would be my outlet.
SL: When did you know that you wanted/needed to write horror?
MMY: I always wrote dark things, but I never called it horror. Horror had this stigma, and I thought it was all blood and gore. I had a real mental block about horror, and it held me back for a long time. This happened until some friends read my work and were like, “This is horror!” I said, “What? This isn’t horror! This is just me. How I see things.” There is horror in everything. The things you love will die. You can’t stop it. Rail against it as much as you want, but beauty and pain are intertwined.
SL: Which authors have been the biggest influences in your career?
MMY: You’d be surprised. Most people think that since I’m a horror writer, it would be King or Koontz. (I do love both.) But I was heavily influenced by Erma Bombeck. I grew up reading her and I loved how she made every day things sparkle with wit. I learned little things can be fantastic. Elizabeth Berg has such a beautiful, poetic writing style. She taught me to write with femininity and not be afraid of it. I’m a huge fan of Neil Gaiman. So dreamy, lovely, and dark.
SL: What are your favorite books? Any that have stuck with you over time?
MMY: One of my very favorites is titled August Frost by Monique Roffey. It’s a very creative book of surrealism. One of the best books I read last year was called We Are Monsters by Brian Kirk. It’s his debut novella and it’s a very cerebral tale of the horrors inside everyday people. But it was written with such empathy. It’s fantastic.
SL: Who’s your favorite author?
MMY: I have several. Growing up I adored Lloyd Alexander. I love Aimee Bender. I do adore Stephen King and Neil Gaiman.
SL: As an experienced, published author, what is the most important advice you would give to an aspiring author?
MMY: My advice often changes. Some days I think it’s most important to celebrate every single step forward, no matter how small. Other days I think it’s most important to write a little every week. Even if it’s five lines a week, just do it. Today my most important advice is not to get caught up in the persona of being a writer if you aren’t writing. So many people will say, “Hey, I’m working on this great website and I’m looking for a publisher. Who do you recommend?” But they haven’t finished their manuscript. Do that. Write. Don’t put the cart before the horse.
SL: What’s the worst advice you’ve been given as an author?
MMY: “Listen to others who know better than you do.” Sure, it’s great to get advice from people with more experience, but if something feels wrong in your gut, it probably is. Don’t discount yourself.
SL: If I have my trivia correct, you have a family and young children to care for in addition to being an author. How do you manage to find writing time?
MMY: Yes! I have three kiddos. The oldest is twelve and has special needs, the middle is eight going on forty, and the youngest is four and a prima donna. Finding time to write is my biggest challenge. I’ve learned that there will never be a perfect time to write. There’s always going to be someone having a meltdown or playing at my feet. I’ll never have a week somewhere that’s quiet. So I learned how to write through it all, in fifteen minutes of time, usually. More than fifteen minutes without my complete attention and the house tends to explode.
SL: Your newest book, LITTLE DEAD RED, is a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood. What was your inspiration for writing that story? Have you written retellings of fairy tales before?
MMY: I love fairytales. I grew up on them, and not the sanitized versions, either. I grew up on the bloody ones that warned you about life. Quite a few of my stories are told as fairytales. I have a story called “The Boy Who Hangs the Stars” in my short story collection, Beautiful Sorrows, that is straight-up fairytale. I love the language of them, and the surrealism.
SL: Did you face any major obstacles or difficulties while writing LITTLE DEAD RED?
MMY: It’s a very dark book and there were some scenes I struggled with. The scene with Marie at the hotel was difficult to write, because it went into some deep places. I wanted to tell the story honestly without sensationalizing sexual abuse and murder. Aleta and Marie’s stories needed to be told compassionately and yet almost clinically. That was difficult to crawl out from under. I had to take a break after writing Little Dead.
SL: Will we see more books like LITTLE DEAD RED in the future?
MMY: I’d love to do more like Little Dead Red. I’d love to do a whole series of them and eventually put them into a collection. I’m thinking the next one I the Little Dead Red world is going to be called Broken Boy Blue. I have to clear off my literary plate, first.
SL: Talk a little bit about the importance of that story to you as a mother and what kind of hardships you faced tackling that subject matter.
MMY: It was exceptionally difficult to write this story as a mother. My son has a genetic syndrome that pretty much guarantees his heart will simply stop one day and he’ll be gone. I live in utter fear of this. It’s always in the back of my mind. I was also carrying triplets a few years ago and we lost two, both little girls. I know the fear and guilt of thinking that somehow everything is your fault. If you had just been more careful, if you had been born with different genes, if you somehow could halt the universe and put everything back as it should be, things would be better. I wanted to explore Grimm Marie’s guilt and her desire to correct what she could. She failed her Aleta by not protecting her as a child and then allowing the Wolf to snatch her. But she didn’t really do anything wrong. She trusted the wrong man and as soon as she learned what was happening to her daughter, she rushed to rescue her. And with the Wolf? She took a bath. She took an hour for herself, which she desperately needed. But she’ll never forgive herself for that, ever.
It was difficult to face this guilt head-on. We’ll never be able to protect our children from everything out there. We will fail as parents and loved ones. I was very aware of that while writing this book.
SL: Are you currently working on any other projects that you’re excited about? Any more fiction coming from you in the near future?
MMY: Oh my goodness, yes! This year I have a plethora of fiction coming out! This month Crystal Lake is rereleasing my favorite novel titled Pretty Little Dead Girls: A Novel of Murder and Whimsy. I often refer to it as a fairytale with a high body count. It’s quite a charming and horrifying tale. They’re also releasing my novella Apocalyptic Montessa and Nuclear Lulu: A Tale of Atomic Love. It’s sort of a Romeo and Juliet meets Stephen King’s Firestarter story. Very fierce, very bloody, but there’s so much love involved. I’m proud of this and it won the Reddit Stabby Award, which means they sent me a medieval dagger with my name carved on it. That’s pretty cool. And frightening.
I’m also finishing up the BONE ANGEL trilogy this year! Book two is titled Heartless: The Demon Prince and it’s coming out in July. Book three is Relentless: The Bone Angel and it’s out in September. It will be nice to wrap up my first series. I love the characters.
I’m also coming out in the Madhouse anthology, among others. And I’m assistant editor for Gamut magazine, which is a very cool, very diverse online magazine ran by Richard Thomas. We’ll be paying ten cents a word for original neo-noir fiction, which is double the going professional rate. We’re running the Kickstarter for that right now, if anybody is interested in pitching in a few dollars and funding us. Here’s the link to that. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/richardthomas/gamut-magazine-neo-noir-speculative-literary-ficti
It’s a busy year for me. I like being busy, but a nice, slow year would be nice, too.
SL: As a woman, what are some of the biggest obstacles you’ve faced as a horror author?
MMY: There are quite a few obstacles. Sometimes women aren’t taken seriously because what do we know about horror? Forget that pregnancy and childbirth is perhaps the most horrifying thing that can happen to a human being. We’re looked over. It’s a boy’s club and it’s difficult to break in. Or sometimes we’re brought on to projects because they need women specifically to even out the roster, and it feels condescending. I was asked to a project not too long ago and the editor actually said, “They tell me I need more girls. Will you join?” Nothing about my skill as a writer. I didn’t want to be somewhere that needed me specifically because of my body parts. They have nothing to do with how I write. My uterus didn’t write that story. I did.
It’s also difficult because although most men in the literary field that I know are perfect gentlemen, there are always a few that say they’ll help you up the career ladder in return for sexual favors. That’s heartbreaking. To be thought of as entertainment instead of an artist. That isn’t just in the horror community, either, of course. It’s in any career. Things like that are frustrating.
SL: Something that I hear a lot is that we don’t hear much about women writers because there’s a dearth of them in the horror industry? Thoughts?
MMY: That’s untrue. There are so many women writing in the field today. We’re here; we’re just overlooked. I think people are starting to look for us, though. There’s definitely more awareness than there used to be, and I like that. We are legion.
SL: Any thoughts or opinions about women in horror that you’d like to share with us?
MMY: I think that whatever type of horror you enjoy, you’ll find a woman who writes it. Dark horror, edgy horror, splatter punk, paranormal, feminine, subtle. Women have always written horror. Who hasn’t heard of Mary Shelley and Frankenstein? Some can argue that she kicked off the horror genre. Women are here, we’ve always been here, and we’re not going anywhere. It’s quite nice, really.
SL: Thank you so much for talking with me today, Mercedes. Is there anything else you’d like to talk about before we wrap this up?
MMY: It was a pleasure, Shane! Thank you! I just want to say that I can be found on Facebook as Mercedes M. Yardley and on Twitter as @mercedesmy. I appreciate the conversation. It was a good one.
About Mercedes M. Yardley: Mercedes M. Yardley is a dark fantasist who wears red lipstick and poisonous flowers in her hair. She writes short stories, nonfiction, novellas, and novels. She is the author of Beautiful Sorrows, Apocalyptic Montessa and Nuclear Lulu: A Tale of Atomic Love, Nameless, Little Dead Red, and her latest release, Pretty Little Dead Girls: A Novel of Murder and Whimsy. Mercedes lives and works in Sin City, and you can reach her at www.mercedesyardley.com