The best thing about horror (for me) is how much of a community it has become over the years. And it is a community that has flourished. Some of the best examples for me started back in the 1980s (my awareness to horror), how the inventors, writers, film makers, and gore masters we hold in high esteem today, started out from nothing, but worked together in many collaborated projects, movies like Creepshow, where George A. Romero and Stephen King teamed up to bring one of the best horror collections to film, or Sleepwalkers, teaming up Mick Garris, Stephen King, Doe Dante, and Clive Barker all in one movie. Or how about Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright cameoing as zombies in Land of the Dead (2005)? And probably one of the best with Wishmaster (1997) that cameoed Tony Todd, Kane Hodder, AND Robert Englund. And there are many more examples of how the horror community has worked together and collaborated over the years, each partaking in the work of a colleague, or even better, becoming entwined in the work itself. In the world of literary horror today, we’re seeing more and more of this foundational testament to community. Where before it was only a conjoined name here and there, like Stephen King and Peter Straub publishing together, among others, The Talisman. Now, there are more up and coming writers taking a cue from the book we call communal horror. This brings us to our interview today with Michelle Garza and Melissa Lason, aka The Sisters of Slaughter, and the continuation of collaborated works. So sit down. Relax. And see what these awesomely talented writers have to say about horror and the release of their new book, Mayan Blue.
Before we begin, some abbreviations ought to be clarified.
TSF = Thomas S. Flowers
M&M = Melissa and Michelle
TSF: Let’s get some basic introductions out of the way, shall we? Can you tell us a little bit about yourselves? What got you into writing? What brought you into the genre of horror?
M&M: We are twin sisters, we write horror, dark fantasy, and science fiction. We’ve been horror fans since we were little kids and our writing started when we were eight years old. Since then, it never stopped. Horror has always been a part of our lives, starting from the universal classics that our mom is a big fan of on up to present day and everything in between. Halloween has always been our favorite holiday, probably not a big surprise. It’s just like some kids becoming obsessed with dinosaurs, we latched onto spooky stuff, and we’ve just always enjoyed it.
TSF: What’s your favorite book and why?
Melissa: Moonbane by Al Sarrantonio, because I’ve always dug the premise of it being a lifelong werewolf fan. I think it is a unique take on the monster.
Michelle: There are too many. I guess Cycle of the werewolf by Stephen King. It has always ranked in my top three. I love the artwork by Bernie Wrightson, the story is totally awesome, and it spawned one of my all-time favorite movies.
TSF: What are you afraid of? Is there any subject matter you wouldn’t touch? Or write about?
Melissa: Being a mother, I would say anything terrible happening to my child is my greatest fear. Other than that, I am afraid of heights and deep water.
Michelle: My first biggest fear is something bad happening to one of my kids. I am also notoriously known for being terrified of cockroaches, so much so that I actually jumped into broken glass with bare feet, thinking I was avoiding one.
M&M: As far as writing goes, we don’t really have anything we won’t write about but certain subjects, like someone molesting a child would be eluded to and not graphically depicted. That’s just us though, we don’t bash people who do go into detail about those topics in their writing.
TSF: You call yourselves, or have been called, The Sisters of Slaughter. Can you tell us a little bit about that? How you got the nickname? How it started? Why?
M&M: That was all started by the editors at Fireside Press. It describes the brutality of some of our writing and it’s also a kick ass name for twin sisters. ;D
TSF: As The Sisters of Slaughter, what does your writing routine look like? Do you find it difficult to write a story as a pair? Do you both have similar styles of writing?
M&M: We write eerily similar; it feels like we share the same brain sometimes. We definitely have the creepy twin thing going on. We see each other four or five days of the week and we also email and text a lot. We basically have notebooks that we keep story ideas, notes, rough drafts in. Depending on which submission call or invitation is next on our calendar, we brainstorm the whole story, outline it, and start dividing up the work load. We write chapters both separately and together depending on our schedules, then we put it all together and viola! We prefer writing together but on occasion we do write on our own, something coming out very soon will actually demonstrate that.
TSF: Your last published work was “Double Barrel Horror: Just a Few/Tenant’s Right,” can you tell us a little bit about that? Motivations? Was this your first publishing venture together as The Sisters of Slaughter?
M&M: This was the first time we wrote under the Sisters of Slaughter moniker, but it will more than likely happen again in the future. Double Barrel is two of our short stories, one dealing with a tenant in her new rental home, where strange things happen there. She doesn’t even begin to think that it could be something supernatural until it all comes to a head. The other story was written after a very scary experience Melissa had with discovering a guy had broken into her house in an attempt to find prescription pain medication. Luckily he was a coward and ran away before she had to show him why we are called the Sisters of Slaughter.
TSF: What’s it like working with Sinister Grin Press?
M&M: We LOVE it! Sinister Grin has been really good to us, even gave us a lovely publicist, Erin, to help out with promoting Mayan Blue. We have always been fans of the stuff they put out and it really was a dream to have them accept our first novel. The whole staff is so helpful and we literally cried tears of joy when we saw the cover artwork for Mayan Blue. They also have so many other talented writers in their crew that have also been so supportive, it’s a fantastic family to be a part of.
TSF: Okay, let’s talk about this new book coming out, Mayan Blue. Can you tell us about some of the main characters and situations they find themselves in? I don’t want you to spoil anything, but curious minds want at least a hint of what to expect!
M&M: We have a group consisting of an associate professor and some students who are going out to meet up with their professor that has made a mind-blowing archaeological discovery- proof that a group of Mayans migrated to Georgia after the collapse of their society. The professor has discovered a doorway in a system of caves, and it turns out to be a gateway to Xibalba, which is the Mayan underworld. Brutality ensues…There are shapeshifting creatures, the lord of death and his putrid kings, a character named Blood Maiden and did we mention brutality?
TSF: Would you consider Mayan Blue to be historical fiction? Did you have to do any research for the novel? About the Mayans? Locations?
M&M: We did a lot of research into the Mayans, their reasons for human sacrifice, their mythology concerning evil spirits, their version of hell, their way of life. Is it historical fiction? In a way, yes, because of the factual information about their society that we incorporated, but the part about the Mayans being in Georgia has not been founded. It was actually on one of those mystery shows; some people believe it while others say its bullshit but we thought it would be an interesting premise for a horror book.
TSF: The book cover for Mayan Blue looks amazing. Can you tell us a little bit about that? Who designed it? Did you both get any say in the creative process?
M&M: The artist is Zach McCain; he’s done a lot of other horror covers. His work is just fantastic and everyone needs to check him out. We were asked what we ideas we had for a cover and relayed a few things to Tristan, Matt and Travis. We were given updates, first the sketches, just seeing those made us extremely happy and excited but when we were sent the final copy, in color…we nearly crapped our pants. It is so amazing, so beautiful, we couldn’t have dreamed of anything more awesome!
TSF: Besides putting out sinister looking books, what else do you two have going on?
M&M: We are both mothers so our kids keep us really busy, our writing office is in the car, in the backyard, the school parking lot, on the top of a bunkbed, on the couch in the living room, etc. We love reading horror, fantasy and sci-fi. We love watching horror movies, sci-fi flicks, fantasy movies, and gaming. We are also into all kinds of music from heavy metal to Celtic music and we love getting away to the outdoors.
Melissa Lason and Michelle Garza have been writing together since they were little girls. Dubbed The Sisters of Slaughter by the editors of Fireside Press. They are constantly working together on new stories in the horror and dark fantasy genres. Their work has been included in FRESH MEAT published by Sinister Grin Press, WISHFUL THINKING by Fireside Press, WIDOWMAKERS a benefit anthology of dark fiction. Find them on Facebook!
Xibalba, home of torture and sacrifice, is the kingdom of the lord of death. He stalked the night in the guise of a putrefied corpse, with the head of an owl and adorned with a necklace of disembodied eyes that hung from nerve cords. He commanded legions of shapeshifting creatures, spectral shamans, and corpses hungry for the flesh of the living. The Mayans feared him and his realm of horror. He sat atop his pyramid temple surrounded by his demon kings and demanded sacrifices of blood and beating hearts as tribute to him and his ghostly world.
These legends, along with those that lived in fear of them, have been dead and gone for centuries. Yet now, a doorway has been opened in Georgia. A group of college students seek their missing professor, a man who has secretly uncovered the answer to one of history’s greatest mysteries. However, what they find is more than the evidence of a hidden civilization. It’s also a gateway to a world of living nightmares.
Praise for Mayan Blue
“From the outset, Garza and Lason let the blood spill, plunging their small cast of characters into the depths of Mayan hell. There’s plenty of action to go around as the group is confronted with a number of horrors, from the labyrinthine and booby-trapped maze of the newly discovered Mayan temple to the angry gods and their owl-headed, sharp-clawed servants.” –Michael Hicks, Author of Convergence
“Their short works are wonderful to read. However this book proves that they can tackle longer works without missing a beat.” –Tom, GoodReads
”These two show no quarter dragging the characters–and by extension, the reader–into the depths of the Mayan version of Hell. There’s vividness to the scenes they craft that made me want to make sure I was reading in full daylight, or at least with most of the lights on.” –John Quick, Author of Consequences
May 26, 2016 | Categories: Horror | Tags: author interviews, Aztecs, community, dark fiction, fiction, HookofaBook, Horror, horror community, legends, Mayan Blue, new releases, Sinister Grin, Sinister Grin Press, Sisters of Slaughter | Leave a comment
The imagination of horror writers can be…precarious, at best, if not down right odd and strange and every bit unusual. Writers of horror tend to go to some rather appalling places. Venturing in the great unknown, the unfathomable dank pit of the human heart or the human psyche. Horror writers seek the worst in us to find the best in us, if it exists at all. But where do horror writers get their ideas? Where do they find the tools to show us what we’re often to scared or uncomfortable to see? Certainly, from the world around them. No doubt. For the world, historically speaking, can be both terrifying and gut-wrenching. But perhaps equally important, horror writers hone the craft from reading the works of others. It most certainly feels like a prerogative. To write, you must read. Thus, here with Opus Questions we delve into this line questioning. What do horror writers read? What works have helped shape their own words. What books have inspired these wordsmiths of the macabre? So, to keep things interesting and to be a bit villainess on my part, I’ve asked my guests to tell us what their favorite books are and why. And they can pick only two. You heard me. Just two!!! (laughs manically) So, without further ado, here is…
Thomas Flowers III recently asked me if I would review two of my favourite horror books. Two? How was I going to review just two out of the plethora of fantastic books that I’ve enjoyed? Which two had truly stuck with me since first reading them.
The answer to that was much easier than I thought.
When I was a kid, Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone were producing the Fighting Fantasy series of Choose Your Adventure Books. I remember eagerly waiting for the each one to come out, waiting for it to whisk me away to some fantasy world on a wild adventure. That was until they released book 10 – The House of Hell.
This time Steve Jackson changed the rules. It wasn’t an imaginary fantasy world. This was contemporary, this was set maybe somewhere you knew, and that real world grounding made it seem more vivid and real to my nine year old mind than anything the previous nine books had done. The mist enshrouded house on the cover boarded by gangrenous things both attracted and repelled me, but more than anything I knew I wanted to read this story!
As with all Choose Your Own Adventures, the writing was in the second person, everything that happened was described as happening to YOU. You are no longer the passive reader of someone else’s story. You are the active participant of the story, your choices leading you down different corridors of the old rambling house bringing you face to face with goat-head wearing devil worshippers, shambling undead, ghosts, tortured prisoners, demons, and the one who always sticks in my mind for some reason – an old torturer. Play your cards wrong with him, and you ended up locked at his convenience for the rest of your increasingly painful life.
A new element introduced in The House of Hell was that of a Fear stat, rolled up with the others of Skill, Stamina & Luck, before you even began the story. It was your character’s breaking point. If you ever exceeded your Fear stat, your character was assumed to have become catatonic and left gibbering on the floor of the House, fate unknown but unlikely to be pleasant. Just the inclusion of this one new stat made the offer of exploring each room, each darkened passageway, wrought with tension especially towards the end of the book.
The vivid descriptions within the pages of the House of Hell, together with the beautifully illustrated black and white plates throughout evoke such a sense of growing terror the more you discover about your situation that I was hooked from my first reading. My imagination eagerly filled in the blanks deliberately left in the writing. Best of all, Jackson pulled no punches with his story. This was a book for kids, and yet the content, writing, and illustrations wouldn’t have been out of place in an 18 certificate.
I can’t think of another book I’ve read that comes close to the sheer terror House of Hell gave me.
My second choice is John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids. The thing I love about John Wyndham’s books is the slow creeping unease that he builds from the get go, and Day of the Triffids is no different. From the narrator, Bill, waking up in hospital, head wrapped in bandages, listening to the disturbingly silent London through the descriptions of the blinded citizens stumbling, bumping into each other, as they fumble their way along the streets to the (admittedly, info-dump) background. There is an unsettling feeling of danger, undercurrents of violence born of fear from the blinded populous and the greater menace of the Triffids lurking, waiting to attack, kill, and consume.
Wyndham portrays the collapse of a capital city in a completely believable way, while those stricken blind struggle to find their way through the now silent streets. Collisions between people resulting in angry, frightened, verbally and physically attacks at unseen attackers. In the distance, fires burn their way through houses. We are never told how they were started, and perhaps it’s for the best we are never shown their outcomes. We are fed just enough to allow our minds to wander and wonder at their causes, and consequences.
For me, the greatest sense of terror that Wyndham creates revolves around the whole sense of being blind and vulnerable, the fear that generates, and what that fear does to ordinary, normally genteel, people. Forced to be reliant on the goodwill of the few scattered people who can see, knowing that should anything happen to them their chances of survival are next to nil.
Peppered throughout Bill and, later, Josella’s explorations of London are several time where they stumble across people stricken blind, and unable to cope with their new condition opt for suicide. These incidents are often fast and unexpected, shocking both the main characters and the reader alike, leaving one to wonder what you would do in their situation.
The Triffids themselves, for me, almost take a backseat throughout most of the book. For me they are a menace, in much the same way as the Martians are in War of the Worlds. They have superiority over Humanity and become a background threat to poke the main characters with every so often, but the real horror comes from the ways and lengths the various characters use and abuse others while trying to survive in this new post-apocalypse world.
I want to thank Paul for taking the time and telling us a bit about the works that have haunted his dreams and have shaped his own writing. You can find Paul on Facebook. He posts his words of macabre on writing(dot)com. Paul will also be featured in the up and coming horror anthology The Black Room Manuscripts, due to release summer 2015.
April 6, 2015 | Categories: Horror, Reviews | Tags: author interviews, books, fiction, Horror, horror writers, house of hell, John Wyndham, opus questions, Paul Townsend, Reviews, Steve Jackson, The Day of the Triffids | Leave a comment