Earthy, Frank, & Ribald: 5 Questions with Horror Writer Mack Little

Georgia-raised writer with a keen eye for Buffy the Vampire Slayer memes, Mack Little has always found herself nomadic. She first began traversing the locations of her small town and immsersing herself in the universes found in books. Mack is a member of her local Writer's Guild with a background English Literature and Information Science that is clearly infused in her stories. She's studied in Spain, worked in Germany, been a librarian, soldier, and has currently found her home in Houston, Texas. Her freshly published novel, Progenie, the first in her Scions of Darkness book series.

Progenie introduces a skillful protagonist with a mysterious past named Zenobia "Zen" Grant. Her supernatural DNA and abilities are coveted by those opposed to a do-no-harm philosophy, and Zenobia's battle leads to learning about her origins along with a whole lot more about who she wants to be in spite of the madness. It rings of Blade except if Blade were Karen Jensen and N'bushe Wright became the megastar we all wanted her to. Mack recently found time to connect with us about her journey as an author discussing the importance of other literary approaches to enhance her own work, the unyielding inspiration of Buffy, and how stories from the Bible are indeed frightening.

You shared a love for "scary radio shows" with your grandmother. I’m curious about what those were and if they fueled your interest in other media outlets that could be labeled as horror, and how those early influences may have helped develop who you are today?

I think the radio show was called Inner Sanctum. It began with a door creaking. That may have been the scariest part for me as I usually fell asleep during the show. Still, the creepiness was thrilling. We listened to Dark Shadows. These shows were all before my time, but there was an AM station that played repeats of the shows late at night.

I’ve been thinking about what turned me on to horror lately. It may sound surprising, but before I could read, my mom used to read Bible stories to my brother and me at bedtime. The book itself was a huge white family Bible which contained vivid, dramatic illustrations. The whole look of it was fascinating and mystical. The stories my mother read were kind of horrifying or at least very frightening. Sodom and Gomorrah comes to mind. Cities on fire and the scariest part: Lot’s wife turning to a pillar of salt.

Movies was another source of horror that I enjoyed. I still vividly recall certain scenes in those movies, but I was too young to fully process them. Later, my mom and I would watch Elvira: Mistress of the Dark movies after church every Sunday. The thing that scared me most were movies about demon possession. It seemed insidious and inescapable, and the churches I attended insisted that demons were real. So, today, I write about demons and religion because I find them both fascinating from an intellectual standpoint and as a potential source of terror and entertainment.

What stories and personal passions/experiences inspired your Scions of Darkness book series, particularly Progenie, and how did you approach standing out in the urban fantasy/horror genre?

Okay, hear me out before rolling your eyes. I am obsessed with Buffy the Vampire Slayer (BTVS). I stumbled upon it relatively late in life. My husband and I were in San Francisco for our tenth anniversary. We were in for the night and flipping through channels. We came across this kooky show. The dialogue hooked us – it hooked me. It was amazing! And it wasn’t even the best season. We went out the next day to buy a portable DVD player and the first full season and watched it every night before bed. We came home, and I got our six-year-old daughter hooked on the show. It sounds bananas, I know.

However, from a storytelling viewpoint – I know I may be biased –  BTVS was brilliant. Vampires and demons were just a vehicle for telling this allegorical story about growing up, the angst of progressing to different stages of your life. I learned so much from the show about relationships and found so much I could relate to, sometimes in a painful way – and I was thirty-four years old! The characters were complex. And just when I was completely invested in the show, it threw in an episode that suggested the whole Buffy universe was a psychotic delusion.

While watching the show, however, it was a little disappointing that there was so little diversity in the substantial roles. Husband, daughter and I freaked out when a Jamaican slayer showed up but, of course, she was quickly killed off. I made the joke that I should write a show that correlated to BTVS. Instead of a quintessentially white-sounding name like “Buffy,” my slayer would be called “Shaenequa” the vampire slayer, from the projects of the inner city. It was an intriguing idea. Culturally, how would the show be different? Shaenequa stuck with me, though, and the story I wanted to tell began to take shape little by little.

For instance, the demons, with all their variety were more like djinn. Instead of living in inner city – because I don’t really know anything about that experience – my main character grew up the way I did, in the country, in a little pink house with no indoor plumbing. So, what started as a lark slowly developed into its own thing.

What I think makes my story stand out is the character development, the sensual and visual prose, and conflict that arises in unexpected situations. In scene and setting, I try to make it jibe as closely as possible to archeological, historical, and scientific research as possible. I take time to craft the language so that when Zen and pals go on this kick-ass adventure, it’s a rich sensual immersive experience.

How has your love of literary giants such as Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison merged with the horror stories you enjoy, help you develop your voice and work in this field?

The lyricism of Maya Angelou’s memoirs and her poetry made me fall in love with the written word. It is not just painting a picture and capturing a feeling with words, but infusing the narrative with rhythm and the sound of it when spoken out loud. It was magic to me. Honestly, I’m not fan of poetry but I study poetry, meter, tone, and sound to capture a feeling or sight. All this in an effort to emulate Ms. Angelou.

Toni Morrison. Wow. She has always been a challenging read for me. Every book I’ve read by her I’ve had to restart several times before I could get my bearings. But once I did, it was well worth the effort. The characters are haunting. In The Song of Solomon, I can’t forget Milkman and the peach pit Pilate kept in her mouth. The suffering of Pecola in The Bluest Eye. I never did figure out Beloved in Beloved, but the specter of her remains vivid. I love what Ms. Morrison does with character. They are indelible and unforgettable. She is the standard I work toward.

What can readers expect from the next two novels in the Scions of Darkness book series, Unto The Mother and Unholy Spirit?

In Unto the Mother, a serial killer stalks Zen and is leaving the bodies of dead children at her gates as she works to come to terms with her true nature. Also, we go back to the very beginning when Lylith is incarnated in the Garden of Eden.

Unholy Spirit deals with a demon who creates a new breed of feral vampires. They are a new threat to the balance of power between mortals and divine beings. Indeed, the new breed are like locusts destroying everything in their path. Zen must find a way to destroy them.

What's something horror-related that you are enjoying right now?

I’m reading The Talented Mr. Ripley trilogy. I am enjoying the dichotomy of the blithe, polite, attitude and the tautness of underlying menace. How can you fight evil when you can’t see it coming? I’d like to be able to write something subtle like that.

I cannot rave about or recommend the movie The Girl with All the Gifts enough. It is a thoughtful, provocative, zombie movie with a little black girl as the lead. She carried the movie beautifully. The soundtrack is amazing also.

I just saw Overlord. It was awesome. I’m a B-movie lover, and it was everything it should have been. I hope to see more of these and perhaps add my own screenplay to the genre.

I’ll be in Scotland in a couple of weeks, lodging in a haunted castle . . . so, there’s that. I enjoy exploring haunted places.

Latch on to Mack's work here, on Facebook, and Twitter

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