Michelle Garza and Melissa Lason, aka The Sisters of Slaughter, are ripping faces off with their debut novel, Mayan Blue. I knew I was in for a pretty old-school action-horror ride, but there is also some unique “lost history” this book offers its readers right out of the gate.
A small group of anthropology students begin fieldwork at an apparent Mayan site located in rural Georgia, but when their professor carelessly opens a portal with an ancient artifact they all find themselves trapped within Xibalba, The Land of The Dead where torture, ritual sacrifice, wakeful dismemberment, and eternal enslavement are the only logic.
Michelle and Melissa have been writing SF/horror since they were very young, and the prose carnage of Mayan Blue strikes the reader with equal doses of refinement and relentlessness, cinematic and punishing like the most hoarse gasps of nausea (and ecstasy) elicited by the works of Jack Ketchum and Clive Barker. MB also reminded me of the best parts of The Evil Dead, Fulci’s The Beyond, and The Descent.
This is a hyper-violent novel with a startling pace and as the casualties ramp up, the story begins an intriguing parallel track narrative that reveals the horrific intricacies of this “hidden” world (on a high-fantasy level, even) that swallows the unwitting and the innocent with vicious ferocity. The violence also hit me where I live on a personal level–my insecurities always tell me that I totally deserve all the bad things that happen to me, so navigating the nightmare world of Xibalba with these characters really messed with my head.
Once I finally made it through the punishment of Mayan Blue I knew I had to hit the authors up and ask them about their workflow, background, and influences:
LG: This has been a really intense year for the both of you. How are you both feeling about the way 2016 has been shaping up?
M&M: This year has been both extremely exhausting and also pretty amazing. We tend to take on a million projects at once and it wears us out but the payoff is worth it. Mayan Blue was released in May and so far, it has been well received. We jumped into another horror novel right after that and while writing it we were asked to write our science fiction novel, Vengeance, for Nick Webb’s Legacy Fleet Kindle World so we worked on those simultaneously. Now we’re working on another horror novel for a publisher that should be completed by Halloween and sent off, hopefully it gets accepted because it would be big for us. In 2017, we are continuing with at least one more horror novel and also a dark fantasy novel.
LG: Where did you get the idea/inspiration for Mayan Blue? I assume the Kenimer Site in North Georgia lit a spark.
M&M: The Kenimer site was definitely inspiration for Mayan Blue. Melissa was watching a show about it and just got goosebumps considering the possibilities of writing a story about what would happen if the Mayans had come to the southern states. She discussed it with me (Michelle) and we took it from there, of course it had to be a horror novel because that’s our thing. The Mayan underworld of Xibalba was perfect for what we required to convey the vibes of a good old fashioned horror movie, riddled with death and blood.
LG: You really build quite a world with Xibalba. I’ve studied the history of Cortes’ conquest of the Aztecs, and what strikes me is that both civilizations both thought they were righteous in the eyes of their God/gods. Had you any interest in pre-Columbian Mesoamerican society/religious practices prior to writing/researching Mayan Blue?
M&M: We have always been into ancient civilizations and mythology so this was right up our alley. Actually before we wanted to be writers we really wanted to be like Indiana Jones.🙂 We used to walk to the library when we were in Junior High just to read about different civilizations, it intrigued us to find out how they lived and died. For horror writers the past holds so much inspiration, there has been so many atrocities wrought in the name of religion and conquest that one doesn’t have to look very far for sources of darkness. The Mayans weren’t new to us when we began research for the novel but to dig deeper into their beliefs was a labor of love and even though Mayan Blue is a work of fiction, we hope we did their mythology justice in the way we portrayed it.
LG: One of the things I loved about Mayan Blue is the parallel track narrative towards the end as Alyssa and Wes both try to navigate their situation. Then as the stakes get really high, you both really pick up the pacing. How do you feel about the struggle of these principal characters trying to survive the horrors of Xibalba? It’s quite an intense ride and it really resonated with me on an emotional level.
M&M: We really wanted the story to be action packed, we didn’t want to lose the attention of the readers with very much lag. Also, we thought logically if this were real life these characters would do anything just to get the hell out of the underworld, especially Wes because of the depth of his knowledge about Xibalba. It’s the land of fear, a place of not only death but painful humiliation. Humans that find themselves there are put through trials that are meant to be hopeless and its pure entertainment for the malevolent beings that live there. We decided that while one was put through these trials the other character would be on their own path of darkness, creating no safe zones for either one, no time to breathe for the reader, torturing them as we torture our characters. Most people that have read it enjoyed its rapid fire pacing. Our main characters were both people we felt we could identify with, being geekier and not the athletic jock type. We were attached to them by the end of it all and we hope the audience was as well. We had a few readers message us while reading it saying they hope the main characters end up together, and in a way they do.😉
LG: I know you both have a collaborative system firmly in place from so many years of working together. Do you both develop ideas as you go, what is your process and/or do you try to experiment with new approaches to writing?
M&M: We both keep notebooks of ideas and descriptions of stories, just the things that pop into our minds on a daily basis. We sit down together and choose the best out of those ideas and write the magical outline that we will adhere to, we rarely stray from that outline and if it happens it is discussed first. This method has always worked best for us because since we tag team manuscripts we don’t want any discrepancies in the story as it unfolds.
LG: What was some of the first horror/SF you remember when you were growing up? (books, TV, film) What drew you to the genre and kept you there?
M&M: Some of our first horror and sci-fi would be the Universal Horror Classics, Hammer Horror movies, The Twilight Zone, Night Gallery, Kolchak the Night Stalker, Scooby Doo, Dark Shadows, Battlestar Galactica and of course Star Wars. Most of this came from our mother who was into the classics and allowed us to watch with her, sometimes she’d get excited when reruns of old shows came on TV and we’d sit beside her on the couch, spellbound. Our older brothers had the coolest Star Wars toys and lunch boxes, probably had a collection worth a ton of money but we played with Chewbacca and the gang outside in the dirt. The He-Man action figures were also our favorites until our dog chewed their faces off. We grew up in a very rural area, with horses and chickens and other farm animals, on a dirt road with no sidewalks or streetlights, it was a wonderland of the imagination. We loved horror, sci-fi and fantasy because it was a playground for the mind, a place where wondrous things could happen. We’ve never let that go.
LG: Have you both always lived in the Southwest? Does the region have an influence on your fiction?
M&M: We were born and raised in Arizona and still dwell here. The desert is a harsh environment; most would consider it ugly–sometimes we agree with them–but the mixture of cultures down here in the border states is beautiful. The art, the food, the music, it seeps into your soul and its magical. It has influenced our fiction; we’re working on a novella with our friend Kam Lee [LG–one of the original members of the legendary Death !!!–aka Mantas] that is about a young Curandera battling a cartel leader who uses Black Magic to gain ultimate power, it’s a bloody tale about the devil coming to a border town and the young woman that does battle with him.
Of course it’s hotter than Satan’s taint and it doesn’t rain often, and we love rain, but it definitely shaped us as people and as writers. We’re a little rough around the edges but we always try to look on the bright side of life (Cue Monty Python’s Life of Brian music) we’ve lived through many summers and each time that we’re greeted by the reprieve of fall weather we are reminded that it isn’t so bad out here in Hades, at least we don’t have to scrape the heat off our windshields in the morning so we can drive the kids to school. Maybe it wasn’t completely the environment, maybe it was more our upbringing that taught us to keep trying and never give up, even the shittiest shit can’t last forever.
LG: Michelle I know you and I have geeked out about outlining vs. pantsing (sometimes the combination of both) as part of the writing process. Melissa I’d be interested in hearing your take on how you like to prepare/develop a story with Michelle.
Melissa: Don’t tell my sister but she’s kinda a nag about the outline. Just kidding. We work together really good, and she sometimes has to remind me of the outline so I don’t get off track but we’ve done this our whole lives so it’s more of a labor of love than actually working. We get together about three to five days a week and we talk about our projects. We have a schedule of everything we want to accomplish and in what time frame. Each time we meet up we will write together or sometimes split up chapters to take home then when we get back together we read them out loud. Most of everything is written by hand first and then typed, so our handwritten work is like our rough draft that can be changed once we get behind a keyboard. We usually take notes along the edge of the paper about anything we need to add or take out.
LG: What can you tell us about your new book Legacy Fleet: Vengeance? How did you land this series? Had you any interest in Military SF?
M&M: Vengeance takes place between the first two books of Nick Webb’s Legacy Fleet trilogy. It’s about a captain that has already saved earth once from a massive attack by a hostile alien force. Our story tells the tale of what happens after that attack, the story of two more swarm (the bad guys) attacks on different planets and the sacrifices made to drive them away once more. It has been well received so far and we will more than likely write another one for this kindle world. We worried if our sci-fi chops would be up to par because Nick writes very intriguing stories, he keeps his audience engaged and his books are packed with action. To have people like it really makes us feel accomplished.
We got involved in this Kindle world by being in a writing group with Nick, we became buddies and when he made the announcement that he was getting his own kindle world he asked if anyone would like to write for it and we expressed interest so once the time got closer he emailed us asking us to join his fleet and we accepted. We’ve always been interested in it and wrote two sci-fi novellas for a boxset that was on Amazon for a while that sold very well so we guessed we could write in that genre but we worried about giving his fans what they wanted. It looks like we were successful!
LG: What are you reading these days?
M&M: When we can squeeze in reading between mothering our hell spawn (joking, they’re angels.) and writing like maniacs, we are reading the works of Brian Keene, Gabino Iglesias, Adam Cesare, and Glenn Rolfe. Michelle has also been doing some reviews for This is Horror and she got the chance to check out some really awesome anthologies so keep your eyes peeled for those.
LG: Do you both set writing goals, like word counts or anything like that?
M&M: Our writing goals are based on our projects due, sometimes that’s 3000 words a day and sometimes that’s 500 words in a week. We might not write daily but we definitely keep up other parts of the game like promotion, interviews and plotting stories. Sometimes it’s as simple as reading mythology, demonology and true crime stories until inspiration hits for another story, but we rarely take a day and do nothing at all when it comes to our writing.
LG: Do you think women in horror/SF are being taken more seriously nowadays? What do you think could be improved upon?
M&M: Women are smashing down walls within the genre, we’re taking it by the balls. We got to thank those ladies that came before us and braved the turbulent waters ahead of us. It’s getting better but it still isn’t perfect, there are still pricks out there that think women can’t write as well as men but guess what? They’re a dying breed, like dinosaurs that spew misogyny and hate. A flaming, feminine comet of horror is coming to drown them in seas of fire and ash, one day they will be spoken of only as a joke when we laugh about how they couldn’t scratch their nuts with such tiny arms and maybe that’s why they were always so cranky … Anyone who disagrees can lick our buttholes.
LG: What’s next for the Sisters of Slaughter?
M&M: We’re going to have more horror and dark fantasy in 2017 and probably more sci-fi. We love writing, we love mixing and playing with all of these genres. We’re so grateful to be where we are right now and refuse to stop. No rest for the wicked!
LG: Thank you!❤
Mayan Blue is really fucking intense. It is available in both electronic and paperback editions, and Legacy Fleet: Vengeance, the new military SF novel from the Sisters of Slaughter, has just been released in September 2016.