WiHM Special - Mercedes Murdock Yardley

An accomplished author with several impressive contributions to anthologies and her own written works, Mercedes Murdock Yardley has taken on plenty of credits that show her skills rather effectively. Now, in honor of Women in Horror Month, I talk with her about her early interest in writing, getting interested in the industry and her memories of several of her past works.

Me: Hello and thank you for taking the time to do this. First off, when did you get into horror in general?
Mercedes Murdock Yardley: I was always sweetly fascinated with the dark side since childhood. I always liked the things that crossed that line a little bit. I wanted to watch Monster Squad when my friends wanted My Little Pony. But I was actually quite resistant when it came to writing horror because of the stigma. I assumed horror was blood and guts and murder and slashers. I didn’t realize that horror was also about dread and the quiet, gorgeous, creeping things we experience every day.

Me: Were you into genre films growing up? What films specifically got you into watching horror movies?
MMY: Poltergeist. I adored all three movies of the Poltergeist series. They were terrifying and not gory (for the most part) and even as a child I realized the first movie had a lot of girl power. The mom ties a rope around her waist and jumps into hell to save her daughter. The medium is this brave, frightening woman who deals with the impossible. It scared me to death, and I loved it.

Me: Who were some of your favorite writers growing up? Do you try to take influences from their style with your own voice in your work?
MMY: I read everybody. I was a voracious reader. I read every book we had in my small town library, and then I read them again. I loved Stephen King, Dean Koontz and Erma Bombeck. Elizabeth Berg and Alexander Lloyd. Margaret Weis and Tray Hickman. I never felt like I purposely took any influences for my voice as much as I finally stepped out of my own way. If I’m writing in the first person, I have a different sort of humor that comes through. It’s very much my humor. When I’m writing third, I tend to have a more poetic turn of phrase. It’s truly the way I speak. I’m fortunate that I read enough diverse authors so I could eventually realize both differing voices were not only mine but valid.

Me: What was the starting point to become a writer? Were you always into writing growing up?
MMY: Oh, I always wanted to be a writer! I felt it in my bones. I’d sit in the branches of our weeping willow, reading books and writing. I enjoyed being lost in stories. But I didn’t think writing was a way to make a viable living, so I always wrote alongside whatever else I was doing. After I graduated college with a degree in sociology and creative writing, I put that aside and focused strictly on working to support my new little family. It was about five years later, after withering away, that I started writing again in earnest. I started a blog about my son’s unique genetic disability. I wrote my heart out with it. I eventually wrote a novel and some short stories and started submitting. It was because I had lost myself. Writing kept me sane, and I was vanishing without it.

Me: What is your writing process? How do you stay focused on writing?
MMY: My process is wild and organic and horrifically undisciplined. I do show up at my desk, but I do better if I have a concrete reason to be there. Either I’ll set an appointment with someone and we’ll write together, or I’m using a bot on Discord to keep a tally of my words, or I’ve promised somebody I’d check in with my progress. I have difficulty focusing, especially during Covid where all five members of my family are in a tiny home with virtual school, work, and activities. There’s no space for me to write. I have no office. I’m on the kitchen table with my husband and at least one kiddo. But I write with a passion as fast as I can, as hard as I can, until I’m forced to do something else.

Me: Having contributed to various anthologies early in your career, what tools and skills do you acquire working on those that transferred to future projects?
MMY: I think anthologies were priceless in my learning curve. I learned how to write to a deadline. I learned how to work with others, how to correctly format my stories, and what an editor wants. It helped with query letters and the business end of getting paid, etc. I learned not to take things personally because sometimes stories just don’t fit into an anthology. Writing short stories helped me learn form and how to complete a project, so novels weren’t quite as daunting.

Me: What is the general process for getting involved in these projects?
MMY: Originally, I would track anthologies down. I’d look up submission calls to see if there was something coming out that I was interested in. Eventually, I started being invited to anthologies, which was such a privilege and made it easier. It saved so much time. Being invited doesn’t mean that you’re automatically accepted into the anthology, of course, but it means that you can skip the initial slush pile and be read by the editor right away. Now I’m at a point where I can be choosy about which invitations to accept because I don’t have time to do them all. It’s a wonderful place to be.

Me: How did you settle on the plot for your novel 'Pretty Little Dead Girls?' Where did the inspiration come from?
MMY: Pretty Little Dead Girls was a wonder. I was “supposed” to be writing a sequel to my first novel. And I just didn’t want to. I had already written two novels in this world (both unpublished) and I was bored. I was restless. So I threw caution to the wind and wrote the first line: “Bryony Adams was the type of girl who got murdered.” That was it. That was all I knew of the story. I had no plot and no characters besides this mysterious Star Girl who was fated to die. I wrote that book with breathless delight and intensity. I didn’t know whether Bryony would live or die. I discovered as I wrote. When I was finished, I actually spiraled into a pretty deep depression because I thought I would never write anything else that I would ever love as much. While PLDG is still my favorite book, I’m thrilled to have fallen in love with each other book I’ve written after that. That terror was unfounded.

Me: Was there any special significance to making the characters engage in a relationship despite the horror surrounding them?
MMY: Horror is always there. Love is also always there. When we went into initial quarantine with Covid, look at who reached out to you. There was an influx of love. I think relationships are what get us through the horrific times. They’re the reason we choose to survive. To me, it was natural to have these beautiful friendships and romantic relationships blossom while things were so dark. That’s what humans do.

Me: Once it was finally written, what was the process to having it published?
MMY: I’ll say it frankly: publishing Pretty Little Dead Girls was a nightmare. I pitched it to a fantastic agent who stood behind it but ultimately couldn’t find anyone willing to publish it. It was too different. It wasn’t straight horror, it wasn’t straight romance, and it wasn’t a straight thriller. It was a magical surrealism fairytale murder book with a strong love story, and where does that go on the bookstore shelf? The bigger companies sell everything according to where they can place it. I eventually sold it to a small press, commissioned a gorgeous cover from artist Galen Dara, and then the small press went under. I was devastated. Crystal Lake Publications eventually bought it, and that’s where you can find it today. That novel has walked through fire, much like the main character herself.

Me: How did moving from short story to full-length novel challenge your writing skills?
MMY: Shorts are gratifying because you get to explore an idea and then move on. Novels are cool because you get to dig deeper into your characters, and I like that. But it’s more challenging to keep the tension with a novel. We tend to run into that “saggy middle” that you hear so much about. There’s a tendency to meander around in there. I found it challenging to keep the novel interesting throughout, and also to keep my interest. I like flitting from project to project, and a novel is usually a much longer commitment.

Me: Your other novel, 'Apocalyptic Montessa and Nuclear Lulu' also contains characters engaging in a romance in the midst of a serial killer rampage. What did you do differently with Montessa and Lulu’s relationship to separate their fate?
MMY: While both PLDG and Apocalyptic Montessa explore relationships amid horror, they’re quite opposite from each other. Bryony in PLDG is loving and giving and shines with a weak, tremulous light. Everybody kind of rushes to help her, and in turn, they learn how to help each other. It’s a very feel-good book in a murderous sort of way.

Montessa and Lu are both victims of abuse and learn to inflict that abuse on others. They’re isolated and wary and bare their teeth at anyone who comes near them. They don’t have any friendships or attachments, and originally didn’t care about each other, either. Lu hit Montessa in the head with a wrench and tied her up as a victim. The fact that they forged any sort of connection is, of course, otherworldly.

Me: More recently, your story 'Little Dead Red' adapted the famous story into a modern-day setting. How did that approach come about?
MMY: Little Red Riding Hood is such a well-known tale, and one of my favorites. It’s difficult to put a fresh spin on it, but I wanted to try. It’s a tale all about DANGER! and PREDATORY! and DON’T LET YOUR GUARD DOWN! I wanted to explore predators and prey but do it in a different way. Little Red Riding Hood’s mother is almost a non-entity in the fairytale. “Take this to grandma, kid. Don’t stray.” She sends a small child into a dangerous forest and we never hear from her again. Did she hope Red made it safe? Was she trying to get rid of her like the mother in Hansel and Gretel? I wanted to take a forgettable character, who is the actual catalyst for the story, and spend some time sitting with her. Doing it in a modern setting made sense for that. We all deal with enough modern wolves that we’d understand the danger immediately.

Me: Outside of writing, what do you do to keep your creative energy flowing?
MMY: I’m a creative at heart. I experiment with my dress. I change my hair constantly. I just shaved it to the skin a few weeks ago, which I’ve never tried. It’s empowering and terrifying and seems to disturb people, so I find that I cover it up not for myself, but to ease the confusion in others. I like to watercolor. I sew quilts with skulls on them. I sew voodoo dolls by hand while watching true crime documentaries. I bake, and play music, and make handmade cards. I don’t do any of these particularly well, but I enjoy them and I think it’s important to allow yourself time to do things that lift your soul. My kids do better when there’s joy at home, and creativity brings a lot of that. It’s difficult to step back from responsibility and give yourself permission to have fun, but it’s important. Life is short.

Me: What else are you working on that you'd like to share with our readers?
MMY: I’m delighted to say that there’s a lot going on at the moment! I’m working on a Pretty Little Dead Girls graphic novel with amazing artist Orion Zangara. The first volume should be out at the end of the year. It’s going to come out in three 100-page volumes and at the end, we’ll put it into one complete 300-page omnibus. It’s going to be gorgeous! Keep an eye out because each separate volume has a Kickstarter.

I also signed on to a multi-author, sweeping conspiracy thriller project that will officially be announced next month. I’ll be showcasing in July. And I just sold a project very dear to me, that will also officially be announced soon. We’re looking at a summer 2022 release for that. I’m so excited that I could simply weep with joy. Maybe I have, a bit.

I also have a story coming out in the Classic Monsters Unleashed: New Stories of Famous Creatures anthology. It’s a modern twist on Dorian Gray. And I have a story called “The Rhythm of Grief” coming out in a very cool anthology this July. There’s always something going on and I am here for it.

Me: Lastly, being that this is Women in Horror Month, what special message do you have for any women out there looking to join in the industry in any capacity as you are one yourself? Thank you again for your time!
MMY: I’d say that we all have unique voices and experiences that would only make the genre stronger. Everybody should be allowed at the table, and if it doesn’t occur to somebody to invite you, then simply pull up a chair and introduce yourself. Have grace and take matters into your own hands. The genre, and the world, will be better for your presence.

Thank you so much for talking with me! It was a pleasure.

To follow more of her work, check out her official website:

This interview ran as part of our Women in Horror Month celebrations. Click the banner below to check out all of our reviews and interviews about the occasion: