Mercedes M. Yardley is a whimsical dark fantasist who wears stilettos, red lipstick, and poisonous flowers in her hair. She is the author of many diverse works, including Beautiful Sorrows, the Stabby Award-winning Apocalyptic Montessa and Nuclear Lulu: A Tale of Atomic Love, Pretty Little Dead Girls: A Novel of Murder and Whimsy, Detritus in Love, and the BONE ANGEL trilogy. She recently won the prestigious Bram Stoker Award for her realistic horror story Little Dead Red. Mercedes lives and creates in Las Vegas with her family and menagerie of battle-scarred, rescued animal familiars. You can reach her at http://www.abrokenlaptop.com.
I have been fortunate enough to speak with some wonderfully talented writers over the past few months. Interviews are amongst my most popular posts here at Grim Reader Reviews, so I thought I’d carry on for a little while. Today, I have the utmost pleasure in bringing you a conversation with the exceptional Mercedes Murdock Yardley. If you have never sampled the literary wonders of Mercedes’ work then you need to fix that…now! Mercedes’ words are delicately crafted, whimsical and wonderful, but don’t let her dreamy, lyrical prose draw you into a false sense of security. She has a dark side too…
TGR: Mercedes, thrilled that you agreed to take time out to stop by my humble little blog. Starting off with your first exposure to story. Where did it come from and was there a particular tale that really resonated with you?
MMY: Hi Adrian! Thank you so much for letting me stop by!
I grew up in a reading family. I’d literally read books at the dinner table and it was acceptable because my parents were both reading, too. I remember the very first book I learned to read was called Unicorn Magic, and it felt dark to me. It was about an evil wizard who created a girl out of straw, and it was gorgeous and glorious. I loved that sinister feel. When I was older, I was quite taken back by Kafka’s The Hunger Artist. We read it in school and it literally took my breath away. I remember not being able to breathe when I was finished, it had squeezed my heart and lungs so tight. That’s emotion. That’s powerful writing.
TGR: When did you decide writing was something you wanted to pursue as more than just a hobby? And who were some of the people that assisted you during the early stages of your writing career?
MMY: I was in third grade when I knew I wanted to be a writer. I knew it with every fibre of my being. I wrote through all of school, encouraged by my teachers, but I stopped writing after college. I put it completely aside in order to Get A Job and Be An Adult. I didn’t think writing was something that I could really do as an adult. It was fun and brought me joy, and adulthood was made of sacrifice and struggle. That’s something that I believed until I was probably in my thirties: adults didn’t get to do things. They didn’t get to enjoy. It was one of the most empowering, freeing things when I finally realized that, as a grown-up, writing could be a career and boon to society instead of merely a selfish enjoyment. I wish I had realized this earlier.
TGR: I can spot your writing style a mile off. It is very distinct and diverse, lyrical and often quite dreamy too. Your catalogue is incredibly diverse. Is your writing style something that has developed and grown over time or is it instinctual and has always been this way from your very earliest stories?
MMY: I’ve always liked to explore things. I want to see and taste and touch and enjoy every aspect of things. So I like trying fiction, and nonfiction, and poetry. I’m working on a screenplay. I do microfiction, flash, novelettes, and novellas, and novellas. I’m absurdly obnoxious like a kid in a candy store. My humour has a pretty down-home, casual, first person tone to it. My third-person prose tends to be lusher. I’m in love with language. Absolutely mad for it. I adore words and what they do for and to us.
It took me a while to step out of my own way and discover my voice. People always tell you that you must write like this, that you have to cut these words out of your manuscript. I tried to be a very good girl and follow those rules until I realize the spark and vibrancy was being beaten out of my work. When I decided that I was writing for myself, to feel joy instead of pleasing others, it was like I was unchained. I could say what I wanted in any way that I wanted.
TGR: When you write a story, what is the most important aspect for you? Is it the characters, the plot, the atmosphere? Or is it a combination?
MMY: Characters, absolutely. It’s all about the characters for me. I don’t plot as a general rule. When I started the current novel that I’m shopping around, I had one picture in my head. I imagined a very tired, broken woman and a man walking down a dirt road together. That was it. I was intrigued with these people! Who were they? Why was she so sad? What had happened? I saw poverty. Anguish. Somebody pushed beyond all endurance. By discovering these characters, the story put itself together. Ask questions about your characters and everything else will reveal itself to you. It’s an excavation.
TGR: What is the most important lesson you have learnt as a writer and what advice would you give to your younger self if you could?
MMY: The most important lesson I’ve learned was a fairly recent one: there is still time. You’re always taught to think that writing, along with everything else, has this small window of opportunity. If you don’t hit it precisely, you’ve missed your shot. I remember being 23 years old and thinking that I hadn’t come out with my first novel, so my chance was over. I was already a failure. This wasn’t true.
It’s never too late. You can write your first book when you’re 100. It isn’t like dancing, where your body breaks down after a while. You don’t have to study a certain number of years before you can even begin like doctors do. That imaginary deadline zooming by is self-imposed. It’s masochistic. Don’t let it own you.
My advice to Younger Me is to breathe. She isn’t a failure. She took time away to finish school, support her husband through an MBA, and care for a very sick family. These don’t make her a loser who missed her shot. They make her human. I’d tell her that her time to write will come, and she isn’t any less for waiting.
TGR: Your life away from writing must be incredibly hectic. You’re a mother to three children and a wife. Not to mention your work as a fiction editor with Gamut Magazine. Your family must be incredibly proud of your achievements. How do you fit it all in and what does a typical day in the life of Mercedes M. Yardley look like?
MMY: That’s so sweet of you to say that my family must be proud! My husband supports my writing because he supports my happiness, but really, it’s just another day at the ranch. My husband is the first to buy my work on Kindle but doesn’t read most of it. My mother, who is a librarian, doesn’t read much of it, either. But my father reads everything I put out and will tell me briefly what he thinks. He read Apocalyptic Montessa and Nuclear Lulu and said, “They were slipping around in more blood than I would have thought, but you did a good job, kiddo.” But honestly, I write and it’s just a job to them. Daddy goes to the office and Mommy works at home with scary things. They use my Bram Stoker Award as a dollhouse. It’s wonderfully grounding and never lets me get caught up in the drama of being a writer for long. I’m grateful for it.
I’m trying to find a way to describe a typical day without using the words “dumpster fire.” It’s wild. Very wild, all the time. The kids are young and need constant attention. They need snuggles and validation, so every day is full of “Look at this!” and “Watch me do this!” and I really only get to write in 10 or 15-minute increments, if that. My computer is always on. I run to it whenever I have the chance, but the kiddos know family comes first. Quite often I’m trying to write a horrifying death scene with Blue’s Clues in the background, but I do the best I can. Most parents do.
TGR: Speaking of Gamut, some of the work that has been published in the magazine has been exceptional. Although you have to take the rough with the smooth, and it can’t all be great, let’s be honest. Overall, have you been impressed by the quality of the submissions thus far and what has been your personal favourite acceptance?
MMY: There have been some amazing stories that have taken my breath away, and there have been other stories that make me want to rip my eyes out. My least favourite is stories where the author clearly has an axe to grind and wants to use Gamut as a soap box to preach their point of view. There are so many revenge stories like that, and I quite hate them. There’s enough hate in the world without writing about it gratuitously. But the good ones? Ah! That’s why I love being an editor. I love collecting these hidden diamonds that are inspiring and gorgeous. My favourite might be one called “Forestborn,” which is a very beautiful, otherworldly, delicate story that is very reminiscent of a fairytale. It’s quite lovely. The second I read it, I knew we had to have it, and I fought tooth and claw for it. It reminded me of working at Shock Totem, where we had out-and-out staff brawls over work. So passionate.
TGR: What would you like to see more of in the submissions and what would you like to see a little less of?
MMY: I’d love to see people read the guidelines. It’s jaw-dropping how many people will email our personal emails with a story attached, which isn’t how we do it. It wastes quite a bit of time. My personal favourites are ghost stories. I’d love to see more of them. Richard tends to want something more cerebral and I want something with teeth. Give the story some bite. Make it hurt in exquisite ways.
I’d like less of the gratuitous revenge stories. I’d also appreciate less annoying children in stories. Like you mentioned, I have three kids and I dig children, but a child in a story (usually named Tommy or Sarah) doesn’t get automatic sympathy just for being a child. Children are difficult to write well, but they’re so effective when written correctly. If your kid is a jerk, I’ll hate them and cheer when they’re eaten up. That’s not necessarily what you want if that child is your “loveable” main character.
TGR: Back to your own work now, Little Dead Red is a novellette that I read twice, it also won a Bram Stoker award! Both times I was left in pieces by this story, so I wanted to ask about where this one, in particular, came from.
MMY: Thank you! Somebody told me it was the saddest book they had ever read, and that made me so happy and heartbroken.
Stacy Turner asked me to contribute a story to a cool little anthology where five women each wrote a story based on fairytales by the Brother’s Grimm. While the anthology became nothing but a headache due to the publishers at the time, the stories themselves were intriguing. I always had an affinity for Little Red Riding Hood, and I wanted to take the concept of a predatory wolf into our current time and place. It was difficult to write because it deals with such real issues. It delves into child abuse, murder, guilt, and revenge. I wanted to explore these issues without shying away, but I also wanted to do it in a respectful and delicate manner. I cried quite a bit during the writing of this book. It tapped into my worst fears as a parent.
TGR: You also collaborated with John Boden on Detritus In Love, a beautiful novella released by Omnium Gatherum last year. You know John from your time with Shock Totem. He too has a very unique writing style and the novella worked seamlessly. Was the collaboration your idea or John’s and where did this tale come from?
MMY: Oh, John Boden! He’s one of my favourite people in the world. I knew him first as Shiney, and he’ll always be Shiney to me. While we were working at Shock Totem, he would send me little snippets of these wondrous things he would write. We called them Shineyisms. He says things in such a beautiful, grotesque, and poetically straight-forward manner. He sent me pieces of Detritus, which was originally titled Loving the Girl with X’s For Eyes. We had to change the title because Laird Barron came out with X’s for Eyes at the same time. Anyway, I fell in love with it. I was mad for it. Blank was such a strong character to me, and Schultz in his Nazi uniform, and poor Det, who I imagined as a young Tom Petty. Shiney asked me if I’d like to collaborate on the book, and I was so flattered he’d trust me with something so important.
It was by far the easiest and best collaboration experience I’ve ever had. He’d write a little. I’d write a little. There was no stress and absolutely no ego involved. He’d change a few of my lines and I’d change a few of his. It was dark, lovely, and bizarre. We didn’t plot ahead. We just wrote. It was a reward for completing the work I was currently doing. It was a slow process, a couple of years because we’d often let months go in between each snippet, but I loved every single second of it. When I read through it now, I don’t know what I wrote and what Shiney wrote. There’s magic in that.
TGR: Your most recent release is a limited-edition collection of micro fiction stories written alongside Dustin LaValley. I recently enjoyed and reviewed Dustin’s collection, A Soundless Dawn, over at Ginger Nuts of Horror. On paper, it seems like a perfect match as Dustin has a style very much his own as well. How did this collaboration come about and what was the writing process like? Did you exchange ideas or themes for the collection or was it much more organic than that?
MMY: I’ve known Dusty for a few years and I’m in awe of his tension. He just has this drive in both his work and his life that makes you breathless. It reminds me a bit of walking my pitbull, where he would just go and drag me behind him on the leash. Dusty has that type of forcefulness to him.
We both love microfiction and he asked me to do this collection. Again, it was a reward, just a fun thing that we weren’t under contract to do. Some pieces were already written and some were originals. Dusty finished first and after I read his work, I twined a few of my pieces around his. I set them up in a similar format, and the last piece says something like, “You are bone and I’m the flowers that twine around your ribs” or whatnot. That’s very much how In This Point of Stillness came about. He gave me structure and I flowered in it. It’s an interesting exercise in male/female work as well as our own unique personalities. Dusty fights and scrabbles for every precious second, while I tend to float dreamily and watch the years pass. While Shiney and I are very similar in personality, Dusty and I are opposites, and I’m extremely fortunate to work with both of them.
TGR: I always imagine micro-fiction, flash-fiction being much more difficult to write than longer stories. There is little to work with in regard to word count but the reader still needs to make a connection to the writing. What do you think is the key to writing such short pieces of fiction?
MMY: The key is taking every word and polishing it like a jewel. In microfiction, there isn’t time for any excess. I love that. Everything has to be thought out and cut down, down, down. It’s the ultimate example of killing your darlings. It’s like poetry. There’s also a level of trust that the author must extend to their reader. You have to believe in their intelligence and ability to put things together. You can’t spoon feed them. Instead of “There were light purple curtains that in turns scared me and made me feel uncomfortable,” you simply say, “There were sinister lavender curtains.”
I think there’s a trend where authors talk down to their readers and over explain everything. It’s a shame. Readers are intelligent and you should never write down to them. They’ll rise to the level of your work.
TGR: Your work has been lauded by many different writers and readers, culminating in you receiving the Bram Stoker award. What goals did you set yourself back when you first started writing and what else would you still like to achieve from a creative viewpoint?
MMY: I started out exceptionally hungry and perhaps a little obsessive. I wrote quite a bit of short fiction, so I had a goal to have 40 pieces on sub at any given time. It worked for a while, but as you can guess, it was ultimately too much to sustain, and I was brutal with myself for not keeping it up. I tried to have goals that I could measure. Selling enough to get into the Horror Writer’s Association was a goal. I’d hold challenges with my friends to see who could finish a project first. Things like that kept me on track.
My goals now are to finish everything that I’ve committed to. I’d love to let some new work bloom. My goals are to write a book about Williams Syndrome, do a graphic novel, and hopefully at some point be nominated for the Nebula and the Shirley Jackson awards. I’d love that so much! That’s not a goal I can control, however. I try not to set myself up for failure anymore.
TGR: Mercedes, I know you’re extremely busy and I appreciate your time. Please tell us what else you have in store for the rest of 2017 and beyond?
MMY: Oh my goodness, there’s so much going on! I have a beautiful limited edition short story collection called Little Dead Red and Other Stories coming from Vault Books. It’s beautifully done and has stunning artwork from Mercela Bolivar. I’m working on the sequels to Nameless: The Darkness Comes. I have a few short stories coming out in different places. Keep an eye out for “The Absolutionist,” and “Loving You Darkly.” I also have a cool secret project in the works with an author I very much admire. It’s going to have a lot to say.
Thank you so much for the interview! It was absolutely a pleasure.
Visit Mercedes at her blog A Broken Laptop
Check out the books at Amazon
Check out Gamut Magazine