Mercedes M. Yardley is a prolific short story writer whose longer works are just starting to hit the market. She is often referred to as a horror author, but her works tend to straddle a number of genres including horror, dark fantasy, and magic realism. Her novella, Apocalyptic Montessa and Nuclear Lulu, was published through Ragnarok Publications in late 2013, and her first novel, Nameless, has just been published by Ragnarok in January 2014.
Reviewer Ryan Lawler caught up with Mercedes to chat about women in horror, emotional storytelling, and dragon kimonos.
Ryan Lawler: Hi Mercedes! Welcome to Fantasy Book Review. Can you tell us a little about yourself? What do you do for fun? What do you like to eat? Feel free to get a little… intimate.
Mercedes M. Yardley: Oh. Oh my. I was all dressed up, but let me slip into my dragon kimono so we can relax and really get started.
I like to do everything for fun. This is true. Rollercoasters are some of my favourites. I'm nuts over a good amusement park. I love going to movies more than almost anything, but I only get to hit one or maybe two a year. I want to learn how to blow glass. Last week I put glitter on my bedroom wall. I like all of it.
I have a stiletto obsession but I'm always barefoot in the house. I live in Las Vegas, but I'd rather have a tiny house on a patch of grass in the middle of nowhere. I pretty much love everything that isn't nailed down except for fish - yuck - but I can bake like nobody's business. I asked for a trifle dish for Christmas. I received that, and my great-great aunt's rouge and bright red lipstick cases. Apparently she was quite promiscuous and died of syphilis. But her makeup tins are treasures.
Too intimate, perhaps?
Ryan: You are a horror author by trade, and you specialize in telling short stories. What has that experience been like? Has it been hard learning to write longer stories?
Mercedes: I started out writing novels, believe it or not. My first work was a pretty cool novel that I think could be awesome with some rewrites. But that's still hidden away, as it deserves to be until it's polished.
But the short story form? I love it. I love the brevity of it, the chance to drop into somebody's life and tell a story in few words. It's really my playground. I was told once to polish every word like a jewel, and I really enjoy that. Flash fiction, especially.
I wouldn't say it was necessarily harder to write longer stories, but it is a different beast. There isn't that pressure to be concise. You can explore the characters in richer detail, and can insert more backstory than you can in short fiction. In short story form, you have all of the information. You know the character inside and out, but nobody else ever really gets to know them like you. They simply need to trust the author enough to invest emotion in a character.
Novellas and novels allow you to have more intricacy, and more time to manoeuvre. It's like swimming in the ocean instead of swimming in the pond. I had to learn to make my strokes a little bit broader.
Ryan: Horror as a genre seems to be dominated by high profile male authors. What is it like being a female author in this genre? Is it a welcoming genre, or have you found it to be a “Boys Club”?
Mercedes: There are pros and cons. Horror is mostly male-dominated. So you hear a lot of “Why aren't there any women on this BEST OF list? Why did men make up 98% of the award nominees?” The good thing is that you're hearing about it. There's a genuine effort going on to get women more exposure in this genre. In fact, February is Women in Horror month, which is pretty cool.
I thought it was a huge Boy's Club when I first started. And it's tough being a woman in any male-dominated activity. It would be nice to open your email or go to a convention without being solicited. It feels like we're never taken completely seriously. There's always that disclaimer. I've been called a “female Joe Hill” and a “female Neil Gaiman”. That's extremely flattering, because I love their work and the comparison is an honour. But how about simply saying, “She's good”? I doubt they'll ever be called “The Male Mercedes M. Yardley.”
So there are obstacles, sure. But I find that most people want to be welcoming. Most of the people in the genre have been palling around together for a long time. They have established relationships that go back for years. I think it's more like being the new kid on the block, rather than just being the new woman. And being female has opened doors for me, as well. My writing voice can be very pretty. I'm allowed to do that. I can explore horror in a gorgeous, feminine voice and that allows me to stand out. It's something different.
Ryan: Horror has such a stigma to it that authors and publishers tend to rebrand their stories as dark fantasy. Why do you think that people tend to avoid the genre? And, as a follow-up, how would you go about getting more readers to try horror?
Mercedes: I never would have thought I would end up labelled as horror. I didn't understand the genre at all when I first started out. I thought horror was blood and guts and shock value, which is a fairly common misconception. People tend to think horror is rather stupid and simple, and that just isn't the case.
There's amazing, beautiful horror out there. I'd consider Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind to be horror. It's exquisitely done. The TV series “An American Horror Story” is straight-up horror, and celebrates many of the horror tropes, and you can't call it simple.
I can't tell you how many times I heard somebody say, “I don't read horror. I hate horror. I can't abide horror,” and in the next breath they told me how much they loved my short story collection Beautiful Sorrows. It's fantasy. It's horror. There are dead girls and ghosts and serial killers. There are also boys with wings, sentient stars, and beauty. There are different subgenres, like everything else. Find what you like.
Ask a friend who knows your taste to recommend something. And find what interests you as a reader. Do you like superb language? Hauntings? Stories of loss? Splatter? Possession? Humour with your horror? Because whatever you like, there's an author who specializes in it. Ask around. Ask me. I can set a reader up with their author. It will change the entire horror-reading experience, I guarantee.
Ryan: Apocalyptic Montessa and Nuclear Lulu is dark supernatural story about killers falling in love. We laugh, we cry, we feel elated, we feel sick, and then book is over in just under 200 pages. Was it hard trying to fit in all of this emotional content without losing control and going too far in one direction?
Mercedes: Writing that novella was a delight. It was also an exploration for me. I had the concept of the characters and knew that they'd have this explosive, dangerous love, but I didn't know where it was going from there. I let the characters develop until they were real to me, until I knew what felt natural and unnatural for them. Then I just wrote. I didn't worry about pulling anything back. I tried to paint the abuse with a delicate brush, and that was a matter of respect. But the volatile horror and love of it… I just let it go. You can't have characters this desperate for love and revenge without everything going up like a powder keg.
Ryan: You brought this book out through Ragnarok Publishing, a brand new publisher who were yet to put out a single book. You have also signed with them for three more books, the first of which has just been published ahead of schedule. That seems almost crazy to me. Do you think it was a big risk signing with a publisher that had yet to establish a track record?
Mercedes: This is a great question. I can't tell you how many times I've heard “that seems almost crazy to me” regarding a decision I've made. I suppose it does sound a little crazy, but it doesn't feel that way at all, and I usually go with my intuition. They're also taking a leap of faith by publishing me.
They did wonderful things with Apocalyptic Montessa and Nuclear Lulu. Ragnarok was professional, enthusiastic, and friendly. I was really pleased with the passion that they put into the project. I thought about shopping Nameless to another publisher, but I really enjoyed my Ragnarok experience. So I hit them up again.
While they were reading Nameless, I had my favourite novel I had ever written out with several publishers. It's my baby, and it's quite unusual. It received wonderful feedback from some traditional publishers, but its uniqueness makes it difficult to market. So even though it was out with other people, I asked Ragnarok if they'd be interested in taking a look at it. I'd rather something so special to me come out with people that I really enjoy versus a bunch of strangers. I was so pleased when they picked it up! They're kinda my dream publishers. They're small and new, but they hit the ground running. I mean, they're constantly working. They're doing everything right. Soon everybody will know about them.
Ryan: What does the future hold for Mercedes M. Yardley? Will you be staying in horror, or would you like to branch out into other speculative fiction genres? Is there anything big you are working on that you can talk about, or do you already have enough work?
Mercedes: I love horror. It's a really fun place to be. But I'm also breaking into fantasy. I think horror and dark fantasy go hand-in-hand. It's more a matter of labels than the work, really. My stuff straddles both genres. I also work heavily in magical realism, which might be my favourite. So my work is actually firmly entrenched in fantasy as well; it's just that nobody has ever heard of me.
Oh, I'm working! I have a few stories in anthologies coming out. I'm also doing two different shared-world projects, which will be fairly epic. My favourite novel ever will be coming out in September. And then the sequel to Nameless will be out in January of 2015. I'm also working on a collaborative trilogy with my friend Ryan Bridger, and another collaboration with John Boden. My work is pretty much cut out for me. And I love this! It really makes me happy. So many projects! So many ideas. This is what happiness is.
Ryan: Finally, can you please tell us three books that you feel have significantly impacted or influenced your life and / or your career?
Mercedes: Hmm, three books. Family: The Ties that Bind and Gag by Erma Bombeck. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. And The Book of Goodnight Stories by Vratislav Stovicek, Karel Franta and Stephen Finn. I read that inside and out as a kid, several times. I still have it.
Ryan: Thank you for giving us some time and answering these questions, Mercedes. It sounds like you are a very busy person at the moment, so we appreciate it very much.
Mercedes: It was a pleasure, Ryan! I think we all get too busy sometimes. It's great to take a second and… wait, is that Koi pond? This place is unreal.
Her mama always said she was special. His daddy called him a demon. But even monsters can fall in love. Montessa Tovar is walking home alone when she is abducted by Lu, a serial killer with unusual talents and a grudge against the world. But in time, the victim becomes the executioner as 'Apocalyptic' Montessa and her doomed lover, 'Nuclear' Lulu, crisscross the country in a bloody firestorm of revenge.
"AM&NL is a dark supernatural tale about two broken people who are fuelled by raw emotion. It is an intense story, but it is a rewarding story, and I think a lot of people will be able to connect with it. Also, it was recently voted on Reddit (r/fantasy) as the best piece of short fiction for 2013, which probably says more about how great this story is than what I can say in a few short paragraphs."
Yardley has shown that with Nameless, she has the ability to really make waves with longer form novels. This book is not as focused as Apocalyptic Montessa and Nuclear Lulu, and I don't think it is going to be to everyone's tastes, but it is definitely to my taste, and I can’t wait to see what Yardley writes next.