I braved Stilettos to interview writer and all round good egg Mercedes M. Yardley.
This is what the deadly wordswoman had to say:
Steven Pirie: Tell us who Mercedes M Yardley is.
Mercedes M. Yardley: I'm the girl next door in heels and red lipstick. I wear poisonous flowers in my hair, bake muffins, and write about dead girls.
SP: Of course, that answer could be viewed as somewhat flippant, or it might point to some deep internal struggles—a power struggle between the orthodox, sweet, girl-next-door Mercedes, and the Mercedes desperate to explore life's dark side. Humour, after all, is one way of vindicating ourselves.
Is there anything in that? Do you feel as a young mother there's any kind of internal conflict in you writing dark fiction? Do you think as a woman it's harder to be generally accepted (in your social circles and in your writing circles) as a writer of 'dead girls', more so than were you a man?
MMY: Mmm, you caught me. Most people go through their lives not knowing exactly who they are so it’s a difficult question to answer. Who is Mercedes M. Yardley? Does it really all boil down to “she’s a girl”? No, of course it doesn’t. People are fathomless. But that’s the surface of it: she’s a girl.
There’s definitely a disconnect between my different circles. I think of it as Real Life and Writing Life. I’m the same in both worlds; I don’t have a persona. The Mercedes who goes grocery shopping with a toddler is the same Mercedes who writes about murder. But the people in my life tend to divide themselves into one camp or the other. Somebody from Real Life approached me the other day and asked how I can write the things I do. I think it disturbed him that I’m a woman writing dark fiction. He couldn’t picture it because I’m an optimistic person. At the same time, I’m very much aware of the darkness, and it’s very much aware of me.
SP: When did you begin writing? Have you always written dark stuff? Do you see any changes in your style or content as your writing talent matures?
MMY: I was always wild about books. When I misbehaved, my parents would punish me by taking my books away. Apparently I misbehaved enough that I was forced to write my own stories. I’ve been writing to entertain myself for a while, but I just started submitting for publication in the last three years.
There was always a little bit of darkness in my work. I think it’s because I was so sensitive. I constantly brought home stray animals. My parents had to turn off the news because I’d cry whenever I saw people suffering on TV. When you’re that gentle, the world is filled with horror. You always see delicate things being broken.
My outlook has changed now that I’m older. Yes, there’s still tragedy and horror, but now I see the strength of humankind. There’s much more beauty and hope to my work. I’ve lost the bleakness, and I’m happy about that.
SP: You have a gift of understating your horror. For example, in your story "Evanescent"
we have essentially a love story but for three words, and those three words turn the tone of the story completely around. Is that something you set out to achieve at the outset or is that something that naturally evolves into your writing?
That it seems effortless is testament to your skill, but like a duck, I'm guessing all the work is done below the waterline—tell us how you work—are you a planner or a free-writer? Are you a compulsive editor? Do you know before you start where these little subtleties will appear?
MMY: Oh, I’m definitely not a planner. I tried outlining once and it was a disaster. I’m also extremely pressed for time, so I’m only able to work in fits and starts. I’ll sit at the computer and think, “All right, I have ten minutes to write. Let’s go!” I’ll type as fast as I can for my ten minutes and then I have to be done. Maybe I’ll have 20 minutes the next time, so I’ll read a paragraph or two to catch myself up, and I start again. I actually do very little editing. I think the insane typing within a tight time frame helps me to be more honest. I don’t have time to hesitate and search for just the right word. I’m forced to bleed everything onto the page in seconds. I’ve heard that writers write to find what their current obsessions are. Sometimes I’m surprised at what I see on the page. Sometimes I’m pleased. Other times...not so much.
SP: Ten minutes here and there? I'm surprised your stories are not terribly disjointed!
You've been open and vocal elsewhere about your young son's Williams Syndrome, and I know you're currently writing a non-fiction book about that condition. How difficult is that to do given you've likely a lot of emotion invested in that? How does it compare to your writing of fiction—do you feel more of a responsibility to get that project "just so"?
MMY: You hit the nail right on the head, Sev. It’s a tremendous amount of pressure. We’ve had some gruelling experiences with Niko. Emergency room visits. Kidney failure. A bizarre genetic syndrome that nobody had ever heard of. It’s immensely painful to open up that baggage and come face to face with it, especially since my family worked so hard to put the negative emotion behind us.
But at the same time, it’s a book that I feel needs to be written. When Niko was diagnosed, I couldn’t find a single book written by a Williams Syndrome parent. I searched the Internet and all I could find was technical jargon written by doctors and scientists. I was flooded with complex information that I couldn’t wrap my head around. I wanted a book that said, “Hey, my kid doesn’t sit still. He doesn’t sleep. This is how we coped, and this is what we should have looked out for.” To my knowledge, that book still doesn’t exist. I’m writing the book that I wish somebody had handed to me.
SP: Tell us about your experiences slush reading for Shock Totem. Has working from the other side of the "writing fence" taught you anything (apart from all slush readers eventually sit in the corner and twitch a lot)?
MMY: Oh, the twitching! I wear sunglasses to hide the constant spasms of my right eye.
Just kidding. Kinda.
Shock Totem is an amazing experience for me. I met the guys when I sold them a short story and then started hanging around the forum. Later on they asked me to join the magazine, and it has been very, very cool. Yes, it’s different being on the other side of the fence. It feels like an accelerated learning curve. I had no idea how much work really goes into a magazine. I thought you sent in a story, the editor waved a magic wand and WHAM! Literary Magazine! I definitely have more respect for the time and effort that goes into creating something like this.
I learned not to take rejection personally. You hear “It’s a matter of taste” so much that the words lose their potency, but it’s really true. Say you send in a story I’m wild over. I want to marry it and have its little story babies, but Nick hates it because there aren’t enough exploding heads or whatever. Does that mean it’s a bad story? Not at all; it’s simply that matter of taste. That’s helped me when it comes to my own rejected work. It’s easier to move on.
But maybe one of the most important things is that I feel part of a writing community. The Shock Totem forum is absolutely phenomenal. Like I said, I joined the forum long before I was ever on staff. It’s a friendly place with people that I have really grown to love. There are some sharks out in the writing waters, and it’s fantastic to have people who will haul you back into the boat if you need it.
SP: Sharks are just tiddlers with attitude. :-)
We know about the Williams Syndrome book, but what else (if anything) are you working on at the moment? Where do you see your writing career going in the short term and the long term? I believe you're courting agents—any news on that?
MMY: My main focus is finishing the Williams project, but every now and then I take a break and work on my demon novel. This novel has been a bit of a dalliance for me; I work on it when I really “should” be working on something else. I’m also working on a short story collection.
I’m taking my writing career one step at a time. Right now my short term goals are to 1) raise my rank in the SFWA from Associate to Active and 2) Find the right agent. The agent search goes slowly but I’m getting some wonderful advice and experience. Long term, I’d like to see myself stretch and grow. I want to continue to write pieces that I’m proud of, but perhaps tackle some of the ideas that seem a bit ambitious right now. I’ll always be writing, though. You can be certain of that.
SP: Thank you, Mercedes, for talking to me. Now, a final word of wisdom?
MMY: Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do something. They don’t know what they’re talking about. But be gracious when you prove them wrong. I find that cookies tend to soften the blow. ;)
I'm an author living in Liverpool, UK. My comic fantasy novel, Digging up Donald, is published by Immanion Press, as indeed is my new novel Burying Brian. My short fiction has appeared in numerous places all over the world.