I’ve known Mercedes M. Yardley for a few years now, and count her among my true friends, and she’s simply someone who inspires me as a person as well as a writer. She’s got her own style and it’s both tragic and beautiful. The simple truth in the writing world is that only a select few writers will ever go far, but M is one of the select. She’s someone with whom you’ll probably relish her prose and the beauty and power of her stories, and at the same time envy her for said talent. She’s a good mother, a good woman, a good person. I admire her and once you give some of her work (say, Beautiful Sorrows) a chance, I think you’ll admire her too. So, on to the interview!
Lee: Beautiful Sorrows: What was your favorite part of the project? How has the collection been received? Why a collection before a novel?
MMY: I loved every part of the project. All of it. Writing the stories, of course. Picking my favorites for the collection. I especially loved throwing out ideas for cover art and seeing what the artist, Yannick Bouchard, came up with. That was an amazing aspect.
Beautiful Sorrows is being received fairly well, I think. It’s getting some wonderful reviews and 5 star ratings, which delights me. But I’m an unknown and it’s my debut, so not a lot of people have heard about it. And a collection at that! We all know novels are much more popular. In fact, my first 1 star rating came because the reader said it was a collection instead of a “proper novel”.
I chose a collection first for a couple of reasons. I started out with short stories rather than novels, so I felt that I had some that were strong. Also, my agent is currently shopping a novel around, but he doesn’t represent short stories, so he let me go ahead and do a collection with the small press while he focused on my novels. It was really exciting that I was able to do that with his blessing. And lastly, I work for Shock Totem Publications, who started with a magazine and is branching out into books, chapbooks, etc. We’ve never done a collection. In fact, Beautiful Sorrows was our second book, so I was the guinea pig. We learned (and we’re still learning) what works and what doesn’t. So I did it to help Shock Totem, as well as ST helping me.
Lee: Very cool! What, during your beautiful career so far, has truly surprised you?
MMY: I love that you call it a beautiful career! Thank you!
I’ve been surprised at the praise, I think. The wonderful, wonderful words that people have to say. That somebody would actually part with their hard-earned money to read something I’ve written. It means so much to me. I’ve been surprised at some of the people, I’ve met and they’re like, “I know your book.” They do? Really? These are people I look up to! It’s astonishing.
Lee: It’s praise well-earned, M. Do you prefer short over long fiction, or vice-versa? Or are you equally comfortable and in thrall with both?
MMY: I love words. Words words words. Long and short fiction both have their place. I adore short fiction because I can explore twenty different ideas in the same amount of time that a novel explores one idea. I adore that freedom. But long fiction gives me the ability to really crawl inside the souls of my characters in a deliciously fulfilling way. I love reading and writing both.
Lee: Neat. Tell us about your typical writing day…
MMY: Oh my. My ideal writing day would include hours of solitude by a river, in an office with a door that closes. My writing day is the opposite of that.
I boot up the computer around 5:30 AM when my kids get up. I scramble with them for a while. Baths, dressed, teeth brushed. I try to write for 15 minutes or so before checking my email. The second I look at my email I’m distracted for two hours.
I leave the computer up all day. I’ll read slush for Shock Totem. I’ll write a few words. I’ll remember I have an interview to do or a contract to sign or review to write, so I’ll work on that. I think about my project. Or more accurately, I think about the project lined up after the one I’m working on now. Then I stare at the screen of my current project.
It’s a lot of communication, and a lot of things having to do with the business side of it. I can do these things while getting my child toast, or having my hair brushed and styled (and I use the word “styled” very loosely) by my five-year-old, or with my two-year-old on my lap, begging for Mickey Mouse. Actually having a block of time to quietly concentrate? It doesn’t really happen. I write in starts and spurts all throughout the day.
Lee: Ha! Cute on the “styled and Mickey Mouse.” Another one of my heroes, Tom Piccirilli, works in a similar manner, with short, intense bursts. Do you ever find the idea frightening of what it’d be like to have too much time?
MMY: I was just discussing this concept with another writer a few days ago. We were discussing how being busy and day jobs and all of this forces us to be productive with our writing time because there isn’t another option. But I would love to have too much time. It’s a dream of mine. It isn’t frightening at all. I’m sure there would be lovely ways to fill it. I’d also like to win the lottery, as well, if only to prove that money wouldn’t change me.
Lee: What do you want to achieve both personally and professionally?
MMY: Funny you should ask that. I’ve been wondering that myself, trying to define what my concept of personal success is.
I want to write for all of my life. I know that. I want to always expand and find new challenges. The same goes for my personal life, as well. I want to make sure that my family is always happy, that my kiddos always know that they come first and work, no matter how fulfilling, comes second. If I could marry these things seamlessly, that would be ideal.
Lee: That’s wonderful. I hope you find a way to marry them seamlessly. Who are your biggest influences? Have you ever read a book that changed your life?
MMY: My biggest influences…let’s see. I read a lot of Erma Bombeck growing up. I think she let me know that it was all right to be a woman and speak your mind, but with humor and in a kind way. She was never mean. I have two distinct writing styles, and the humor and swagger comes from her, I think. The more ethereal voice…it was something I developed when I got out of my own way. I’ve been told that it’s reminiscent to Neil Gaiman or Kelly Link, but I wasn’t familiar with their work while discovering this voice. I stopped conforming to what I thought I was “supposed” to write, and just let myself…say. Say what I wanted to say, in the way I wanted to say it.
There is a book that changed my writing, which changed my life, in a sense. It’s Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s book One Hundred Years of Solitude. I didn’t enjoy the book particularly, per se, but it deeply influenced how I allowed myself to write. I wrote one of my very favorite essays about it *here*.
Lee: Oh, I’ve gotta read One Hundred Years of Solitude, now! And that is a great essay, M! Discovering that we don’t have to approach storytelling in the exact same fashion as everybody else is definitely a huge release! What do you have in the works now?
MMY: Ha! A little bit of everything!
I just finished a story titled “A Love Not Meant to Outlast the Butterflies”. It’s a magical realism piece about soul mates turned tragic. I have a magazine in mind for it, so we’ll see how that goes. I’m also working on a novella titled Apocalyptic Montessa and Nuclear Lulu: A Tale of Atomic Love. It’s sort of a modern day Bonnie and Clyde tale, in a way. I want to see how far I can push it. I’m also putting notes together for my new novel, which has to do with a very charming and independent kitchen witch. It’s going to be dark and very emotional. I’m moving on to that as soon as I finish with Apocalyptic Montessa.
I’m also turning Beautiful Sorrows into an audiobook, which is fun and very exciting! I’m reading it myself, so it’s fulfilling a little bit of a dream for me. I like the idea of adults telling other adults stories. “I’ll read you a story, my darling. Now listen.”
I have two other stories coming out in a wonderful audio collection with several friends. That releases this month or next, I think. And I’m in the Tales of Jack the Ripper anthology that’s coming out next month. I’m extremely thrilled about that one.
And I’m working on learning screenwriting, too. I have something to adapt. So I’m trying a little bit of everything, and seeing if I like the taste. This goes back to what I want to achieve personally and professionally. I want to be happy and busy.
I also learned to knit last week, so I’ve been making scarves like a madwoman. And I’m learning the ukulele. And we adopted two Russian dwarf hamsters this week. So life is good. Happiness is a tiny little rodent in a pink plastic hamster ball.
Lee: God, you are one busy lady. I can’t wait to hear the new stories have been finished and purchased! I loved your post on the production of the audiobook for Beautiful Sorrows. Having listened to audio interviews and talking to you on the phone, I think your voice will add so much character to the reading of the stories. Do you think you’ll ever end up narrating anyone else’s work?
MMY: You’re so nice, Lee! I’ve always wanted to do audiobooks. And I love when authors read their own work, because there’s such an intimacy to it. That said, we both know I have a rather small voice. It works for the whimsy that I write, but I don’t know if I could ever narrate, say, a thriller and have it sound all right. It would sound like any other nine-year-old girl reading aloud. It might be disconcerting. But I’d love to try. Reading aloud is one of my favorite things. And I adore being read to.
Lee: Let’s talk a moment about Shock Totem, which along with Black Static, is arguably the coolest, bravest, and most visionary genre magazine. What role(s) do you fill there? Does Ken Wood really have a third nipple?
MMY: The best thing about Shock Totem is that everybody does a little bit of everything. I read slush and vote for stories. I contribute content for the magazine and the site in the form of reviews, interviews, and articles. I’m learning more about promotion and marketing, and I’ll be taking that area over, a little more. Everybody pitches in pretty whole-heartedly. It’s an awesome place to be.
And you don’t want to know some of the things I know about Ken. You really don’t.
Lee: Cool, and yes I do want to know what you know about Ken. He’s an enigma! What do you honestly think of all this ‘networking’? Are you comfortable with it? Is it really that important?
MMY:Then we’ll get together for lunch sometime and discuss Ken. He’s a good guy. One of the best. He can take a ribbing as good as he gives. He’s family.
Mmm, networking. It’s a mixed bag.
On one hand, I truly feel like it’s necessary. You can write the greatest book in the world, but if nobody ever reads it, it will never sell. I wish it could be all about the work. I wish all of our time could be spent writing and not divided into social media/networking/whatever.
And I abhor the very concept of networking. The people that don’t understand it, and think that it’s all about making superficial connections in order to get ahead. When somebody comes up to “network” with you, it’s obvious. I’ve absolutely been tossed aside when a Bigger, Better Deal walked into the room. There’s that insincerity, and I hate that.
But I do value the friendships. That’s what I personally think networking is, or at least should be. Making friendships, seeing what another person likes, and keeping an eye out for that person. If I see a call for steampunk, I send it to Matt Betts, for instance. And that’s how I scored an invite to the Jack the Ripper antho, actually. My friend, Mason, received an invitation, emailed the editor and said, “Hey, I have a friend named Mercedes who is actually pretty good with serial killers. Could she possibly…?” and so I was invited to submit as well. It’s nice to have somebody looking out for you. It’s fantastic to look out for other people. It makes everything more interesting and friendly.
I hate networking to network. It’s shallow and feels like being used. But I love strong friendships. That’s a different beast, entirely. A beautiful one.
Lee: I like your attitude. You’re the best, along with those other three people I always claim are the best! Thanks so much for taking time to share your heart with everyone! *Hugs*
MMY: Thank you, Lee! You know I’m a huge fan of Lee Thompson the writer as well and Lee Thompson the person. You’re one of the good ones. Have a wonderful day, my friend!
Lee: Likewise! Thanks again, M! And thanks to anybody who gives M’s work a try or shares the interview! You can find Mercede’s website, and all the other places she stalks, *here*. Carpe diem.