Today in the MADHOUSE, we have Michelle Garza and Melissa Lason, the twin sister writing team from Arizona who has since been dubbed the Sisters of Slaughter for their horror stories. They have been published by Sinister Grin Press and Fireside Press, and they have a novel coming soon through Bloodshot Books. Their novel, Mayan Blue, was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award, and in the spirit of Stoker season, I wanted to check in with them and find out the behind-the-scenes scoop about their book.
WYTOVICH: Tell us about the novel. How was collaborating on this project?
GARZA/LASON: We started writing together when we were little girls, so it comes naturally to us to work on stories together. We both have notebooks that we keep story ideas, snippets of stories, and even just titles for stories we want to write in the future. We outline everything before we jump into writing, it keeps us on track and is helpful when we're apart to go back and look at. Most of everything is written by hand first. It creates a rough draft that can be changed as we type it up. Mayan Blue was our debut novel, so we really wanted to have a unique story, and the inspiration came for it from Melissa watching a television show about how people believe the Mayans may have migrated into the southern parts of the United States. We were intrigued by it and decided to make it into a horror novel. We also wanted to write something that felt like watching some of those classic horror movies with some of our love for mythology mixed into it.
Book Summary: 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.
WYTOVICH: As a writer, what is your preferred form to tell a story? Why?
GARZA/LASON: We love to write, whether it's longer stories or short tales, but each have their own pros and cons. Short stories have to encompass the important elements of the plot in fewer words. Often, the need to add too much backstory can bog down the pace. Finding the correct beginning is also challenging. We like to start where the action begins and elude to backstory. Novels are a whole different creature. They have to incorporate that action, which drives the story along with those morsels of backstory so your audience feels like your characters are real and they become emotionally invested in knowing how the story ends. This is where we advocate outlines. It keeps us following along the path of unfolding the story, and it just helps us. Some people don't use outlines and that's fine if that approach works for them.
WYTOVICH: Who are some of your influences in the genre?
GARZA/LASON: Some of our influences are Brian Keene, Clive Barker, Shirley Jackson, Ronald Kelly and Robert R. McCammon.
WYTOVICH: What is your origin story? What drew you to horror in the first place?
GARZA/LASON: We've always loved spooky stuff. Halloween has always been our favorite holiday because in Arizona it marks the death of dreadful summers, and our mom always made it so much fun with homemade costumes and baked goodies. She got us into horror by allowing us to watch old scary movies with her, and our father reinforced our fixation on ghosts and monsters by telling us scary stories around campfires. Some kids get into dinosaurs or spaceships, but for us it was everything dealing with monsters. Werewolves have always been our favorite monster since we watched the original wolfman. We were just creepy little kids who grew up to be creepy adults.
WYTOVICH: What’s sitting in your TBR pile these days?
GARZA/LASON: Melissa is doing a re-read of the Dark Tower. Michelle is getting ready to read Song of the Death God by William Holloway. I also have to mention that I read Like Jagged Teeth by Betty Rocksteady and it was really awesome!
WYTOVICH: Where do you think the horror genre is presently sitting at in the market? What do you think the next big trend is going to be?
GARZA/LASON: Horror is on the rise again and will never die. It may not be as popular in actual bookstores, but it's probably because most of it is labeled differently now. Ebooks provide horror fans with unlimited access to great books, and they give writers the chance to connect with readers who might dig their work. Zombies have been big for years and appear to still do well. There has also been a surge of aquatic horror, deep sea monsters, and enormous sharks, which to us are absolutely terrifying because the ocean is a creepy place to begin with and just imagining what lurks beneath the waves is really scary. We would like to see horror make a huge commercial comeback where books can once again be named as such and have people embrace it fully without masking it as "safer" genres.
WYTOVICH: What can your readers look forward to on the horizon?
GARZA/LASON: We have a novel coming out in July through Bloodshot Books called Those Who Follow.
WYTOVICH: What’s one thing about you that you think your readers would be surprised to know?
GARZA/LASON: We also enjoy writing sci-fi and fantasy! We love getting lost in many different worlds.
WYTOVICH: If you could give one piece of advice to writers, what would it be and why?
GARZA/LASON: Don't give up on your writing. You can always work on improving your craft, but don't stop. Also, don't compare your writing or success to that of others.