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Interview w/ Sisters of Slaughter, Michelle Garza & Melissa Lason

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

 

Mayan Blue tour graphic

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

Michelle

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!

 

 

 

 

 

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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

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The Stand: book in review

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And before you ask, yes, this is the complete and uncut edition review. In case you were wondering, because I know you are. When mentioning broadly that I was reading The Stand, it was by far the first question many mentioned, or stated thereof: “Make sure you’re reading the uncut or you’ll have to start all over again.” And they’re right. If one was to read The Stand for the first time or at least the first time in a decade or two, you may want to invest in this behemoth, M-O-O-N, that spells 1,000 plus page journey into the heart of the 1990s psyche. The Stand is as the New York Post commented roughly 25 years ago, “In many ways, this is a book for the 1990’s, when America [was] beginning to see itself less and less in the tall image of Lincoln or even the robust one of Johnny Appleseed and more and more as a dazed behemoth with padded shoulders. Americans seemed delighted but in an odd way humiliated when Vaclav Havel, a tiny man from a small country, entered the great halls of Congress and delivered an uninflated Jeffersonian address. ‘The Stand,’ complete and uncut, is about the padded shoulders and the behemoth and the humiliation.”

I believe, for better or worse, this above 25 year review remains true today as it did then. The Stand is ultimately about humiliation, or perhaps something more, perhaps humility as well and not just the embarrassment of a plagued ego. There is both hope and fear in that notion. Hope that we can still better ourselves. Fear that it’ll take a plague that wipes out 99% of our population to do so.

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The Super Flu, or Captain Trips, within the confines of the book, was the mother of all plagues designed, more or less, to consume the ego of humanity. What could be done within the pages of Stephen King’s masterpiece? Not a damn thing. You died, or you didn’t die. That is all. There were no preparations to be made. No magic cure. No vaccine. No decontamination. The world ended and there was nothing America (as is the focus of the book) could do about it. With all our plans, our designs of purpose and political gain, the world (via The Stand) slipped comfortably into chaos, lashing out at times with cruel attempts to maintain control. I recall reading through the opening chapters and thinking, “Why didn’t the government warn people?” Thinking about it now, what could they say? News was already spreading. Hope seemed like a cheap sale to most, others gladly took it and clung to it. Not to sound to villainous, but these were the best parts of the book, watching people react, both good and bad, in the face of catastrophe. This is more or less the same reason why I enjoy Romero-esk zombie stories as well. Zombies are cool, but what’s even cooler is watching how people react in the face of such cataclysmic odds. What will they do? And in King’s book, after 99% of America’s population dies, what will the survives do? And what I found also interesting in this aspect was discovering the “no man is an island” concept. While this does not speak for everyone, but for the majority, we are a community based life. We are a commutative species that depends upon not just our own wits, but the wits of others too. We crave belonging. We crave companionship. We crave community or as they say “common-unity.”

In King’s epic The Stand, this basic need of common-unity is broken down into three groups. Yes, you heard me, three. The first two are easily recognized. Good, Mother Abigail and her Colorado haven. And the second, Evil, Randell Flagg’s strict Las Vegas commune. The third is not easily recognized, because it remains in the shadow, for a time. This third group are the moderates, the “silent majority,” to quote Nixon. This was the group watching the events between Abigail’s and Flagg’s group unfold. They were the quiet watchers, unsure of which group to follow, or to follow any group at all. Towards the end of the book, we begin to see this silent majority take shape as members from both Good and Evil camps begin to cut tides, searching for their own undiscovered country, their own America. This was, I think, out of concern. Like Frannie and Stu, there is an unsettling feeling watching the Bolder community grow and expand and mutate back into some symbolism of what America had once looked like. But wasn’t the old America, the old ways the same ways in which brought about Captain Trips in the first place? The same despite need for control and the terrifying escalation in which that desire ultimately brings?

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So, in a way, you can say that The Stand is basically about the death of all certainty, for nothing can be for certain, and what life would look like or could look like in the aftermath.

Just like most of King’s stories, The Stand was a character infused story driven by situation. His characters are some of the most real personas found within the pages of pop culture. Some I enjoyed more than others. Nick Andros was entertaining to read, though he was a bit naive.  Stu Redman was also a favorite, being a Texan and all.  There was also Larry Underwood, Glen Bateman (for some reason, I always picture Ben Franklin when reading the bits with Glen), and I even liked the more so-called wicked characters, both Harold and Trash were both favorites, though more or less pitied. I was not really a fan of Frannie Goldsmith. I found her to be actually rather annoying in the story. My all time favorite character by far was Mr. Tom Cullen. I’m not sure if that’s an odd character to hang your hat on. Cullen certainly did not play a pivotal role in the opening or even middle acts. Though he is there in the those transitions, his character becomes more important later on in the final stages of King’s apocalyptic play.  And by apocalypse, I mean not the obvious understanding (doom and gloom), but rather, the literal Greek definition, the “unveiling of knowledge,” the lifting of the veil, so-to-speak. In this, Tom Cullen is strangely gifted. His character, at first glance is obvious thin layered, or so he seems. Being a mentally challenged character, we may have a tendency to quickly dismiss him as a simple persona. However, there are layers to Tom, more than meets the eye, as they say. He has a power, and not just in prophesy, but also in faith. Tom has an unadulterated faith in the goodness of people. Child-like, almost. And certainly a quality worth respecting in our adult haggard age.

My Rating: 5/5

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Often called The Hemingway of Horror, Thomas S. Flowers secludes away to create character-driven stories of dark fiction ranging from Shakespearean gore feasts to paranormal thrillers. Residing in the swamps of Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter, his debut novel, Reinheit, was soon published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein, Apocalypse Meow, Lanmò, The Hobbsburg Horror, and FEAST. His military/paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, including Dwelling, Emerging, Conceiving, and Converging, are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served for seven years, with three tours serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston-Clear Lake with a Bachelors in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he reviews movies and books and hosts a gambit of guest writers who discuss a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can follow from Thomas at a safe distance by joining his author newsletter at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.