Our Women In Horror series marches on, featuring amazingly talented ladies writing the weirdest, the wildest and spookiest tales in horror fiction! Speaking of amazing talent…we caught up with Mercedes M. Yardley and got to pick her brain, so to speak, about the genre and her work.
Mercedes is a dark fantasist who wears poisonous flowers in her hair. She is the author of Beautiful Sorrows, the Stabby Award-winning Apocalyptic Montessa and Nuclear Lulu: A Tale of Atomic Love, Pretty Little Dead Girls, and Nameless. She won the Bram Stoker Award for her story “Little Dead Red” and was a Bram Stoker Award nominee for her short story “Loving You Darkly.” Mercedes is editor of the dark fiction anthology Arterial Bloom. You can find her at mercedesmyardley.com.
Apocalyptic Montessa and Nuclear Lulu: A Tale of Atomic Love is a story about murderous, star-crossed lovers, and how love can burn it all down.
Do you write listening to music? If so, what music inspired or accompanied Apocalyptic Montessa?
I do write while listening to music! Usually it’s because my home is so chaotic and it’s the easiest way to block out the noise. But I can’t write while listening to songs I know well because then I’ll get caught up in the lyrics. I was listening to some random Spotify channel that was outside my genre, and suddenly I paused in my work and simply listened. I heard this glorious, sultry song that fit the book perfect. It’s titled “Dark Do Wop” by MS MR and it’s such a gem. It’s the unofficial theme song to Apocalyptic Montessa and Nuclear Lulu. It’s sensual and catastrophic.
What is the significance of the title?
People often ask about the title. In this case, I had the title before the story was actually written. That seldom happens. My husband speaks Russian and our last name sounds like the Russian word for “nuclear.” Sometimes we call him Nuclear Lulu. I’m Apocalyptic Montessa. I wanted to write a story about two people who came together and burned it all down. I wanted to explore an empowering, toxic love, if such a thing exists. My husband and I have a very cool, safe, loving relationship, but we do have these atomic names, so I used them for the characters.
What was the highlight of writing this book?
I had such passion for this story. It was burning me from the inside out. I wrote this book in three weeks, start to finish, and it left me breathless. It burned away a necrotic portion of my soul. I was exhausted by the end of the book. Editing it felt like peeling back bandages on healing skin. Every book is special in its own way, but this one was vicious and lovely and I was a completely different woman when I came out the other side of it.
Can you tell us about some of these changes you felt after finishing the book?
I felt much more sure of myself. I handled some dark, important topics in a lyrical fashion with a paranormal bent. I wasn’t worried about “Will this book sell?” or “What will people think?” I had let myself go completely, and I was happy with the experience. I grew up in a very restrained environment where you keep things to yourself and you don’t go wild in any way. Montessa and Lu ran completely wild, and it felt like a breakthrough.
Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?
I do hide secrets. I have several little Easter eggs tucked into different books. Characters briefly show up in up in each other’s stories. For example, I have a story titled “Love is a Crematorium.” It’s a slow burn novella about young love and addiction, which mirrors Montessa and Lu in a way. Montessa and Lu make an appearance for a split second in a gas station. It’s a sentence or two mentioned in Crematorium, and the story goes merrily on its way. In Apocalyptic Montessa and Nuclear Lulu, however, the gas station scene is an important one to the story. The characters criss cross each other and prove that they’re really alive, that they live and walk across this surreal, shared world. They leave footprints for each other (and the reader) to find, and I love that. There’s a richness to that.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
I have three unpublished novels, two half-written novels, and one unpublished co-written novella. The novella is edited and technically publishable but my co-writer isn’t particularly interested in putting it out, and that’s just fine. It was written for fun, anyway. The others are my first novel, its sequel, and the sequel to Nameless. They just aren’t there yet. Basically, I realized that I don’t enjoy doing sequels. They were written and I haven’t been interested in going back and getting them ready to go. I’ve been involved in other projects that have won my attention, and it’s difficult to go back and look at something older. I like to work on different things and I struggle with spending more than a year on one project, apparently.
What are you reading now?
I have quite a few books going right now. My goal is to read eight books a month and they’re scattered across genres. Right now I’m reading Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood, Hollow Skulls and Other Stories by Samuel Marzioli, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnusson, and Red Gear 9 by Matt Betts. I’m also reading the owner’s manual to our furnace to our son, who has Williams Syndrome and autism. He adores manuals. I just finished the microwave manual and we discussed all of the different ways to void its warranty. It’s nothing but good times here at the Yardley house.
What’s for dinner tonight? What would you rather be eating?
Tonight I’m making a ginger pork noodle bowl. I mean, that’s fine. It’s pretty good. But I’d rather skip dinner entirely and have a root beer float. Is that strange? It sounds strange.
Would you rather live in a haunted mansion or live in a un-haunted cottage?
Well, this is delightful! Give me a haunted mansion. I like roommates.
Shower or bath?
Bath, please. I’m secretly a mermaid. I want the candles, the jets, the drink in one hand, and the lights off. That’s luxury.
Are you working on anything at the present you would like to share with your readers about?
Yes! I’m working on getting out the first volume of the Pretty Little Dead Girls graphic novel. It’s based on my novel, and the artist, Orion Zangara, is just blowing the art out of the water. I’m also working on a magical surrealism novel about vigilante justice, and I just signed for a new sweeping thriller/conspiracy theory project involving multiple authors. We’ll be publicly announcing that in March. It’s always delightfully busy.
As a woman author, what are you most proud of in bringing into horror literature?
I write with a particularly feminine voice, and I think that adds diversity and strength to horror literature. I vehemently deny the idea that women don’t know horror, because that isn’t true. We live horror. Every single day of our lives, we’re dealing with horrific situations. There’s an undercurrent of “be careful, be safe” that runs through everything we do. I like to tackle social issues in my work. I discuss addiction, rape culture, sexual abuse, child abuse, mental illness, and suicide. I explore the dark side of what is out there, but also try to enjoy beauty and hope, as well.
Do you feel women are treated differently in the genre? If so, how?
I’ve seen massive progress in the last ten years. At first I thought women were definitely treated differently. Going to a horror convention felt like going to a meat market, and you were the meat. I felt like female horror writers weren’t taken seriously and we basically got a pat on the head. I also felt like there were so many projects and deals being made in the back rooms, and I didn’t feel safe in these back rooms. I didn’t want to go to someone’s suite for an after-party in the hopes that I’d make connections. I didn’t want to risk my safety or reputation for that, and at the time I felt like I missed out on quite a few opportunities. That said, editors and publishers are now actively seeking out diversity. There’s a real movement to be more inclusive and elevate the genre by showcasing all different kinds of voices. The #metoo movement shone a light on some of the things women dealt with, and I think that came as a genuine surprise to quite a few wonderful men. It started conversations. People were able to look at themselves and at the situations around them and realize it could be problematic. I think it’s a wonderful time for horror in general, and especially for women in horror.
Well-stated! A big thanks to Mercedes for all she does and for taking some time out of her busy schedule and away from her Nuclear Lulu! You can support her work by picking up a copy of Apocalyptic Montessa and Nuclear Lulu: A Tale of Atomic Love. With a title like that, how can you not?