I’ve had the pleasure of being pals with my fellow YASQ Hillary Monahan for several years now. We had both recently signed with the elusive Agent M and circled each other’s wagons for a few weeks before she finally drummed up the nerve to email me with the subject line of, “Not Sniffing Your Trash, I Swear,” and that right there is pretty much Hillary in a nutshell. She’s kooky and spooky. I also got a very early read of MARY: THE SUMMONING. I read it a few more times as she tweaked it along the way, and now that book baby hits stores TODAY!
About MARY: THE SUMMONING:
There is a right way and a wrong way to summon her.
Jess had done the research. Success requires precision: a dark room, a mirror, a candle, salt, and four teenage girls. Each of them–Jess, Shauna, Kitty, and Anna–must link hands, follow the rules . . . and never let go.
A thrilling fear spins around the room the first time Jess calls her name: “Bloody Mary. Bloody Mary. BLOODY MARY.” A ripple of terror follows when a shadowy silhouette emerges through the fog, a specter trapped behind the mirror.
Once is not enough, though–at least not for Jess. Mary is called again. And again. But when their summoning circle is broken, Bloody Mary slips through the glass with a taste for revenge on her lips. As the girls struggle to escape Mary’s wrath, loyalties are questioned, friendships are torn apart, and lives are forever altered.
A haunting trail of clues leads Shauna on a desperate search to uncover the legacy of Mary Worth. What she finds will change everything, but will it be enough to stop Mary–and Jess–before it’s too late?
So I sat and had a few words with Hill about MARY and writing horror.
(YASQ): MARY: THE SUMMONING takes a common American urban legend and infuses it with some of the characters of a Japanese angry ghost–the spirit that has no conscious and is just an angry soul seeking to make others hurt. How did Bloody Mary get to be that way in your mind?
Hillary: Abuse. The letters in the novel highlight what happened to turn a young, promising woman into a bitter, angry ghost. Enough poison around you, you will succumb. And, as one of the lines in the book says, “I don’t think that’s how ghosts work. Not in the movies, anyway. Think about it. They die and then something disturbs their resting place or someone breaks their stuff and they come back. I just don’t think they can see right or wrong anymore.”
Mary spends time both as the monster the girls can see but you have also given deft scares in building tension when she’s not seen but a presence that’s definitely “there.” What do you find harder to write: the monster on-screen (so to speak) or the monster that’s lurking but isn’t quite tangible?
The latter. I’m good with my monster. Framing her, putting her where she needs to be, showcasing her. But when she’s not there, that psychological slant of Where Is She needs to be intense or you risk losing your momentum. Too much thinky time, not enough monster time, the whole thing’s a wash. A lot of books don’t reveal the monster until the very end. With MARY, she’s in your face from almost the beginning. She’s trying to maim and murder from around page forty or so. You have to keep the ball rolling or it’ll fall flat on its face.
In writing horror, there’s an idea that a certain amount of the cast will be cannon fodder for the Big Bad Evil. Yet in MARY, all four of the girls are given purpose and personality without feeling cliched. Was that a difficult balance to strike? Some authors are gleeful in hurting their characters. Are you one of them, or what is your approach to making the worst possible things happen to your characters while still giving them the will to see it through?
Oh, there are horror movie tropes. The promiscuous girl gets killed after nudity/engaging in premarital sex, the person of color doesn’t live to see the end of the movie. You won’t see too much of that in my books because frankly, those tropes are unpleasant and unfair to anyone who’s not the assumed white guy viewer/reader. No, I don’t fear killing characters. Do I enjoy it? I don’t actually know, but in horror it’s expected and I’m not afraid to use it. My only rule is if someone dies, it serves a purpose.
You have some other projects coming up, the sequel to MARY: THE SUMMONGING (currently MARY: UNLEASHED) and your hilarious comedic horror THE AWESOME (written as Eva Darrows). What can you tell our readers about these projects?
UNLEASHED answers the lingering questions about Mary’s origins. A good portion of it takes place in Solomon’s Folly as the cast attempt to send Mary away for good. It’s a different book than the first in that Mary is, unsurprisingly, unleashed. Don’t expect her to stick to mirrors anymore.
THE AWESOME is about as anti-Mary as you can get. It’s a paranormal comedy. Maggie Cunningham’s family hunts monsters. She’s an apprentice hunter under her mother, Janice. In order for her to become a journeyman monster hunter, she has to lose her virginity—monsters go rabid for virgin flesh and Maggie’s virginity puts her at risk. The story follows her as she fumbles through some awkward firsts.
Finally, who are your literary godfathers and godmothers, and how did they influence your writing?
Christopher Moore for being so wonderfully irreverent. Also, for dedicating an entire section of his fan board to the craft of writing. I found gold in them there hills. Chuck Wendig became a huge resource later in my career, when I was serious about “hitting the big time.” A wonderful resource and a great writer. Stephen King’s ON WRITING should be on every commercial writer’s shelf. His book catalog—at least his work from the seventies and eighties—should be on every horror writer’s shelf. As should THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE just because it’s good to know that stuff. Anne Rice was one of my first creepy influences. The Mayfair witches are my tribe. Neil Gaiman made me think outside the box. Linear and expected is not always the way to go. Maurice Sendak was my first book love, and E.B. White made me the reader I am today. So many more to choose from, but those are the bones to this skeleton.
Thanks for sharing with us, Hillary!
Hillary Monahan is Eva Darrows is also an international woman of mystery. Holed up in Massachusetts with three smelly basset hounds, she writes funny, creepy things for fun and profit.
Now, Hillary, being the awesome (we can get away with calling her that since, you know, she has a book by that name coming out) is offering up a signed copy of MARY: THE SUMMONING! All you need to do is click on the Rafflecoptor link below and follow instructions for your chance to win! Contest goes until until September 12, 2014.