From filicidal Medea to Hansel and Gretel’s passive-aggressive stepmother, to Norma Bates, Margaret White, and Pamela Voorhees, fiction is loaded with horrific mothers. Whether Erica Sayers, the mother in The Black Swan who made the world cringe when she cut her daughter’s fingernails, or Peyton Flanders, the would-be mother who tried to take over a family in The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, crazy mothers are a staple in horror.
When we decided to write about Priscilla Martin, it was in part out of love for all these crazy mothers who have peopled the horror world since the Greeks told their stories of Medea - who was the worst of many horrible mothers in their mythology. And surely that horrific mother archetype goes much further back. Undoubtedly, some of the first drawings done by cavemen depicted macabre maternal memories.
Who doesn’t enjoy a good evil mother? In the original Psycho, the real Norma Bates was a mummy, only “alive” because she had so warped her son that he regularly became her. But what was she all about? In the series Bates Motel, we meet her as a young woman raising a teenaged Norman and get to see, in full cringing detail, how she inadvertently helped him let his freak flag fly. She is a mother wolf, a woman who protects her son at all costs and is anything but a sociopath herself, despite her oedipal leanings. What she does, she does out of love and protection - sure, she’s a little weird, but Norman had to inherit that from someone. His mother is the obvious choice.
Margaret White, on the other hand, was a full-blown fanatical loon who thought that women grew breasts and got periods as punishment for thinking about sex. When she locks Carrie in the closet to pray to a bloody crucifix we feel the horror - the claustrophobic darkness, the confusion and terror. Carrie doesn’t even know why she’s being punished - and haven’t we all felt that way at one time or another? Imagine experiencing it over and over again and it’s easy to see why Carrie finally cracked: Margaret White is a mother who really knows how to hit where it hurts.
And who can forget the pretty-as-a-porcelain-doll Corrine Dollanganger from V.C. Andrews’ classic, Flowers in the Attic? Corrine was a woman who loved status and money so much she was willing to deny the very existence of her children, leaving them to experience life, growth, sex, pain, and even death in the confines of a one-room attic. The only woman worse in that story is the evil grandmother who forces Corrine’s hand.
Our personal favorite, however, is La Llorona, who drowned her own children so that she could win the affections of another man. In the Mexican folktale, La Llorona - the Weeping Woman - is usually married, so she’s one cold mother. We included the lore in our novel, The Cliffhouse Haunting, and our ghostly antagonist, The Blue Lady, is a new twist on this tale of terror.
There’s no shortage of monstrous mommy material out there, and that’s why, when Priscilla Martin, the mother of our own nightmarish making, came to us demanding a story all her own, we were more than happy to oblige. In fact, we were afraid not to.
From all these tales of mad matriarchs, we’ve learned that mothers can be far crueler disciplinarians than fathers. We see this in our novel, Mother. Priscilla Martin is both creative and inappropriate in her punishments, and woe unto the favored child in this case. There are plenty of mothers who fall into this category, from those who put out cigarettes on tender flesh to those who make their own children sick to gain attention. (This was best shown in The Sixth Sense when Cole meets the ghost of a girl who is the victim of Munchausen’s by proxy.)
Priscilla Martin, we learned, is a woman with a plan - and nothing gets in the way of her plans. What continually surprised us were not only the plans themselves, but the lengths Priscilla was willing to go to in order to have her way. This is a woman who does not accept failure and does not like to go unnoticed. And from her attention-commanding layers of Opium perfume to putting herself in charge of every neighborhood and church event, she is not easily overlooked. Priscilla is a woman whom we’ve all met - and tried to avoid - in real life.
As evidenced by the rooms stuffed full of decades-old trinkets and teetering stacks of dust-covered prized possessions, Priscilla’s motive, like her real-life counterparts’, is ownership. And there’s nothing she loves owning more than other people - especially when it comes to her own children.
Mother likes to play favorites, too. While her long-dead son, Timothy, is the apple of her hawk-like eye, her daughter, Claire, makes hardly a blip on the radar. But only when unavoidable circumstances force Claire and her husband, Jason, back into Mother’s lair, did we get to see the very twisted roots from which our story evolved. When Claire’s memories come flooding back we, as the authors, got to see a past that was even more horrific than we’d imagined.
Why are horrific mothers so popular? We think it’s because, all too often, these horror stories are derived from real experience. It’s art imitating life.
Please tell us about your latest book.
Mother is a psychological thriller in the vein of Psycho and Misery, with a pinch of Peyton Place and a dash of Gaslight. It concerns a young, expectant couple, Claire and Jason Holbrook, who’ve fallen on hard times, forcing them to move in with Claire’s estranged mother. Claire vowed to have no contact with the overbearing woman ever again, but Mother is thrilled at the prospect of a grandchild. At Mother’s, Claire and Jason begin experiencing things that make them determined to leave immediately … but when a cruel twist of fate makes leaving impossible, Claire becomes obsessed with her mother’s motives. Fantasy and fact blur together as her compulsion consumes her, and Jason wonders who the villain really is. When a cache of macabre family secrets is uncovered, Claire and Jason find the answers they’re looking for - answers that will change them forever … assuming anyone can get out of Mother’s house alive.
What can we expect from you in the future?
More installments of The Witches of Ravencrest, a collaborative sequel to Tamara’s classic vampire novel, Candle Bay, a solo novel from each of us, more collaborations, and an abundance of fascinating dark fiction writers on our radio show, Thorne & Cross: Haunted Nights LIVE!
How do we find out about you and your books?
Readers can find everything they’re looking for and more at our websites: tamarathorne.com and alistaircross.com We also have a mutual blog.
How much of your personality and life experiences are in your writing?
While it’s impossible for an author not to “leak” into his or her stories to some degree, we try never to insert ourselves into our work. Nothing has either of us shutting a book more quickly than the author’s constant presence, peering over our shoulders as we read, telling us what a fascinating person they are, showing us how much they know. The author’s ego is an easy thing to spot, and in our opinion, doesn’t belong in fiction. So we work very hard to not inject our personalities and personal narratives into our work.
When did you first think about writing and what prompted you to submit your first ms?
Tamara: I was in second grade when I wrote my first story simply for the joy of it. I began devouring every last book on writing the library had in those years - there were hundreds - and continued reading and writing throughout school. After a hiatus to try out the “normal world” I decided to write a novel. I submitted it when it was finished. That’s it.
Alistair: I first thought about being a writer when I was in third grade. I began submitting manuscripts when I was in my early thirties and what prompted me to submit them was the hard-earned knowledge that I would never truly be happy until writing was my job and not just my hobby.
Generally, how long does it take you to write a book?
With edits and final research, five to nine months. Basic research begins in spare moments many months before that.
Do you have a set schedule for writing or do you just go with the flow?
Absolutely. We write together from 8:30 am to about 7:00 pm Monday through Friday, and put three to six hours in on Saturdays for promotional and other business-related tasks.
What is your writing routine once you start a book?
It always starts with several weeks of research and world-building and brainstorming. Then we write every day, keeping regular hours. As we get close to the finish, we give up other Saturday tasks to finish. Immediately after that, we dive into our major edit, then send it out to the copy editors. While they have it, we begin the research, world-building and brainstorming on the next book. When the completed book comes back, we read it again and do our final edit. Then it goes to the publisher and we’re instantly writing our next novel.
What about your family, do they know not to bother you when you are writing - or are there constant interruptions?
We set boundaries and made it clear very early on that writing was our job. We don’t receive phone calls or accept visitors during writing hours, the same way we wouldn’t be chatting on our phones or hanging out with friends if we worked for a company. Initially, people do assume that you’re available when you’re working at home, but you just have to shut that down before it gets out of control. Sometimes, you have to be harsh … the people around us wouldn’t really dare interrupt, and that’s the way we like it. Only our cats get a pass.
What do you do to relax and recharge your batteries?
Tamara: After a long day at the computer, I like a couple of cats in my lap, a Family Guy or two and then some horror - a Walking Dead, a Supernatural, a horror movie. In bed, what I need is a hard, strapping novel that knows how to make love to my brain.
Alistair: I read. A lot. I’m also a fan of The Walking Dead. And I like going for drives with no destination in mind, listening to really loud music.
What truly motivates you in general? In your writing?
Tamara: Desire for knowledge and love of fun motivate me in equal parts. In my writing, it’s all about being passionately interested in my subject matter - so it’s pretty much the same thing.
Alistair: My primary motivation is to get out the stories that have been milling around in my mind for the majority of my existence. My secondary motivation is a refusal to fail, an unwillingness to be one of those “writers” who never actually writes anything.
Where do your ideas come from?
Tamara: Often my ideas gel in dreams, though more often, Alistair and I just begin riffing on something small - a tiny detail in a photo, a peculiar word, a place - and we end up brainstorming. Before we know it, we have another book to write.
Alistair: Agreed. The real question is, where don’t you get ideas. Ideas are all around you, all the time.
Do you feel humor is important in the horror and thriller genres and why?
Humor is vital to horror or any other anxiety-inducing genre. Unrelenting stress isn’t any fun for many of us (although we have met a handful of folks who seem to enjoy chronic stress and chaos!) Alfred Hitchcock always made his audience relax or even chuckle before doing something shocking. While we don’t set out to do humor, certain characters inevitably rise up and give some comic relief. We’re grateful - they keep our heads from exploding.
What are your thoughts on love scenes in romance novels, do you find them difficult to write?
Not at all. While we don’t write full-on romance, there’s plenty of it in many of our books. The Ghosts of Ravencrest is loaded with it and our scenes tend to be quite spicy. Every so often, we enjoy titillating our readers. We’ve been told the section of The Ghosts of Ravencrest titled “Awakening” requires smoking after the, uh, climaxes.
What kind of research do you do?
We do all kinds of research. We always try to get reality right - from housing styles, to types of high heels, to how to get a pike into someone’s skull properly. We discovered we both have a penchant for historical research when we wrote “Christmas Spirits,” a historical novella inside The Ghosts of Ravencrest. For Mother, we researched certain aspects of psychology - both through written material and by consulting a friendly psychologist - to make sure we got everything right. To write outrageous things, your base in reality must be impeccable.
Would you like to write a different genre than you do now, or sub-genre?
We don’t really think about genre. No matter what we write, it’s unlikely we - alone or collaboratively - are capable of enjoying writing a story that doesn’t have a horrific aspect.
What does your husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend think of your writing?
We are both very fortunate that our spouses are extremely supportive of our careers and what we write. They love our stories and we love them for it.
Do you ever ask him/her for advice?
Neither of us have ever let our mates read until a book is complete - then both will read for continuity and grammatical errors. We appreciate that, and their praise. It means a lot.
Please tell us about yourself (family, hobbies, education, etc.)
Tamara lives in southern California with her high school sweetheart and a passel of purring felines. Her husband loves to cook and her hobby is encouraging him. Tamara’s educational background is in journalism and psychology.
Alistair also married his high school sweetheart and they live near the mountains with two cats and one blind, deaf, elderly dog. Alistair’s hobbies include poetry, photography, and stalking Stevie Nicks. Well, not stalking exactly, that would be creepy. But, you know, waiting in angst for the next album to drop … googling for pictures he might somehow have never seen before. Things of that nature.
Fill in the blank favorites - Dessert. City. Season. Type of hero. Type of heroine.
Tamara: Lemon sour cream pie. San Francisco. Fall. Deadpool. Feisty.
Alistair: Raspberry cheesecake. New York. Fall. Anyone who dares carve their own path. Spandex pants?
What are some of your favorite things to do?
Tamara: Hike the trails at Joshua Tree National Monument or hike any mountain trail, go to allegedly haunted locations and soak up the atmosphere - or if it’s a touristy haunt, plant ideas in people’s heads to watch reactions. Petting cats. Reading. Roadtrips.
Alistair: Read, go on long drives. Listen to music.
Do you have a favorite author? Favorite book?
Tamara: I teethed on Ray Bradbury and consider him my mentor. His book, Dandelion Wine, is an eternal favorite. Shirley Jackson’s Haunting of Hill House, Andersonville by MacKinlay Kantor, Tolkien, LOTR. All early favorites, all influences.
Alistair: I have a few favorites. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. It by Stephen King. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. Pines by Blake Crouch. The Boy Who Drew Monsters by Keith Donohue. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte.
Who are some of your other favorite authors to read?
Tamara: Stephen King and Nelson DeMille - those are two authors whom I will read even if I don’t care for the subject matter. I enjoy many, many more. Graham Masterton, James Blaylock, Douglas Clegg, Peter Straub, Harlan Ellison, Kurt Vonnegut, and of course, Alistair Cross!
Alistair: Stephen King, V.C. Andrews, John Saul, William Peter Blatty, and Tamara Thorne (I know she’s my collaborator, but I’m serious. I’ve been a fan since the 90s)
What do you think of critique groups in general?
They’re great for some people. A good group, free of petty jealousies, is hard to find, but if you like going the critique route, that’s what you need. Neither of us have ever been joiners. We prefer another writer to critique with - and we have each other for that. We have a good friend, a children’s writer who used to be an editor that we go to for content commentary when we finish a manuscript.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
No changes except for having lots more books out! And Alistair will be totally buff. He’s working out, you know. Tamara will become buff by osmosis.
How long have you been writing - have you always wanted to be a writer?
We have both been writing since the earliest primary grades and both of us have always wanted to be writers.
How many books have you written, how many have been published?
Tamara: About a dozen, maybe more. All have been published or are about to be.
Alistair: Several collaborations with Tamara, one solo and another on the way.
After you've written your book and it's been published, do you ever buy it and/or read it?
Tamara: No. It’s behind me and I prefer to look forward. Though occasionally, I’ll reread a book that’s a few years old and I don’t remember it so well. That’s fun. Alistair and I are both about to reread my vampire novel, Candle Bay, because we’re writing the sequel together.
Alistair: No. By the time a book goes to print, I’ve already read it anywhere from five to seven times, and by then, I’m clear sick of the sight of it, and eager to get started on the next.
Among your own books, have you a favorite book? Favorite hero or heroine?
We’re in love with our new psychological thriller, Mother, as well as our ongoing series, The Ravencrest Saga, which pays homage to gothics like Dark Shadows and lots of other things. We’re both very fond of Ravencrest’s Belinda Moorland - we love watching her grow. We’re also crazy about Ravencrest’s Grant Phister - a butler who is more than he appears. And then there’s Coastal Eddie, a DJ/conspiracy nut (or is he?) who first debuted in Candle Bay and now appears in all of our collaborations as the voice of unreason and, perhaps, reason.
What book for you has been the easiest to write? The hardest? The most fun?
None of our collaborations have been difficult, but Mother has been, hands down, the most fun. An absolute blast. And despite the fact it flowed onto the page easily, it was also the most difficult to write - it’s been a complicated dance. We should also mention The Cliffhouse Haunting - we shrieked with glee regularly during its writing.
Which comes first, the story, the characters or the setting?
Alistair: Usually, the characters come first for me.
Tamara: It’s often a location, but location is a character. It’s always character.
What are the elements of a great romance for you?
Tamara: Spookiness, mystery.
What is the hardest part of writing/the easiest for you?
Tamara: The hardest part is getting up in the morning. The easiest is the joy of brainstorming - and writing once we get in the zone.
Alistair: The hardest part for me is often research, and sometimes setting. The easiest part is dialogue.
Have you experienced writer's block? If so, how did you work through it?
We don’t believe in it. If something isn’t coming, we just write. It can be nonsense, it can have little to do with the project, but before long we’re there. We think writer’s block often emerges when an author trying to force a character or story to do his or her bidding. Listen to your characters, keep typing, and it will flow. Honestly, we consider pleading writer’s block a lazy way to get out of working.
What is the most rewarding thing about being a writer?
The short commute to the desk and the comfy clothing are nice, but the best thing about being a writer is getting to create new worlds, to live in them, and feel what our characters feel. Finishing a book is about as satisfying as it gets.
If you weren't writing, what would you be doing?
Tamara: Maybe a profiler - I’ve been told I have a knack for that - and it’s similar to being a writer. Or a forest ranger or a beach bum. Maybe a Halloween-house engineer.
Alistair: Honestly? I’d be miserable. Likely drunk most of the time. Perhaps I’d have a job somewhere, doing something inane and repetitive, assuming I didn’t get fired for being drunk.
Are there any words of encouragement for unpublished writers?
Don’t write to a market because you think you might make money that way - write what you love. Write every day and don’t take advice from anyone who isn’t where you want to be.
Tamara Thorne is the author of many novels including international bestsellers, Haunted, Moonfall, Bad Things, and The Sorority. She’s been interested in ghost stories all her life and has been published since 1991. Alistair Cross’ debut novel, The Crimson Corset, was an immediate bestseller which earned praise from vampire-lit veteran Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, and well as NYT bestselling author of The Walking Dead, Jay Bonansinga. In 2012, Thorne and Cross joined forces and they have since completed three novels, The Cliffhouse Haunting, which reached the bestsellers list in its first week of release, the successful Gothic The Ghosts of Ravencrest, and Mother, which is due out this spring. They are currently working on their next projects, which are slated for release throughout 2015 and 2016.
Together, Thorne and Cross host the popular Horror/Thriller/Paranormal-themed radio show, Thorne & Cross Haunted Nights LIVE!, which has included such guests as worldwide bestseller, V.C. Andrews, Laurell K. Hamilton of the Anita Blake Vampire Hunter novels, Charlaine Harris of the Southern Vampire Mysteries and basis of the HBO series True Blood, Jay Bonansinga of the Walking Dead series, Peter Atkins, screenplay writer of Hellraiser 2, 3, and 4, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro of the Saint-Germain vampire series, Jeff Lindsay, author of the Dexter novels that inspired the hit television series, and New York Times bestsellers Christopher Rice, Jonathan Maberry, Christopher Moore.
You can visit Alistair Cross’ website at www.alistaircross.com and Tamara Thorne’s website at www.tamarathorne.com
Thorne & Cross
Glass Apple Press
Berlin Malcom, publicist
Release: spring 2016
A Girl’s Worst Nightmare is Her Mother ...
Priscilla Martin. She’s the diva of Morning Glory Circle and a driving force in the quaint California town of Snapdragon. Overseer of garage sales and neighborhood Christmas decorations, she is widely admired. But few people know the real woman behind the perfectly coiffed hair and Opium perfume.
Family is Forever. And Ever and Ever ...
Nothing escapes Prissy’s watchful eye, nothing that is, except her son, who committed suicide many years ago, and her daughter, Claire, who left home more than a decade past and hasn’t spoken to her since. But now, Priscilla’s daughter and son-in-law have fallen on hard times. Expecting their first child, the couple is forced to move back … And Prissy is there to welcome them home with open arms … and to reclaim her broken family.
Home is Where the Terror Is ...
Jason Holbrook loves his wife. He’s heard Claire’s stories about Priscilla, but now it seems Mother has mended her ways, and as he uncovers a cache of vile family secrets, he begins to wonder who the real monster is. Lives are in danger - and Jason must face a horrifying truth … a truth that may destroy him … and will forever change his definition of “Mother.”