Please welcome Marsheila and Jeff to the blog! Their new book, 7 Sykos, just came out this year, and they kindly answered a few questions about it.
What inspired you to write 7 Sykos? Will you tell us a little about it?
MR: The initial idea was Jeff’s, but broadly speaking, we both have an interest in psychopaths and the psychopathic brain – what makes one person with all the hallmarks of a psychopath turn into a killer and another one live a completely normal, violence-free life? For me, I’m also interested in the subject from a profiling angle – how can you tell someone’s a psychopath in the first place? Our agent is currently shopping my series about a profiler with paranormal abilities, so my interest extends beyond 7 SYKOS.
JM: It’s usually hard to know exactly what inspired a book or a story, because it’s typically an assortment of things—the meshing of multiple ideas that go together like puzzle pieces to reveal the proper path. In the case of 7 SYKOS, though, I remember the exact moment the initial inspiration struck. I had been reading about the distinctive brain structure of psychopaths (as one does). One afternoon, driving home from the day job, I started mulling the story possibilities, asking myself in what situation that brain structure might be an advantage rather than a drawback. I hit upon some sort of zombie-like plague, and immediately called Marcy to tell her of my brainstorm. She helped shape that into an actual story, with characters and everything, and it became the book.
What makes Dr. Fallon O’Meara a compelling character? She definitely has a unique secret that she keeps close to the vest.
MR: Fallon is a woman trying to come to terms with her own nature. She’s also a mother desperate to protect her child. I think those things make her a relatable and compelling character to read about, even though she’s in a situation that most of us will never find ourselves in (thank goodness).
JM: I think the things that make her interesting are her intellect and her drive (in addition to that secret you mentioned). She’s not satisfied at home or in her professional life. Circumstances described in the book thwart her ability to achieve that satisfaction, so what we see in her arc is her growing acceptance of what she considers the worst part of herself, and how that helps her find the best parts of herself.
What kind of research did you do for the book?
MR: Since we’re both already interested in psychopaths and the criminal mind, we’d amassed quite a library on those topics, so we had plenty of research material on hand. We did have to do research on state of the art neuroscience to make sure what we wanted to do was at least theoretically possible.
In terms of researching the setting, we drove the entire route that Fallon and Co. take during the course of the book, so we were familiar with everything they’d run across and all the obstacles we could throw in their path. We found some interesting things along the way, some of which made it into the book (Waylon Jennings’s grave) and some of which did not (the graffiti under the bridge leading to the Phoenix International Raceway).
What is your collaboration like? How do you divvy up the writing and stay organized?
JM: Organized? Us? Generally, when we collaborate, we try to work out a solid outline ahead of time so we’re both following the same map. Then we alternate chapters, or sections, or scenes, whatever seems to make sense at the time. Sometimes we write until we don’t know what comes next, then hand off so the other one has to figure it out.
MR: Since we have the outline to work from and our writing styles are similar, it’s often hard for us to tell later who wrote what.
Have you always wanted to write?
MR: Yes. I learned to read when I was three, and fell in love with words and stories. I wanted to create worlds that other people could fall into the way I did with my favorite tales.
JM: Absolutely. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t.
What’s one of the first things you can remember writing?
MR: A handwritten 20-page Conan pastiche complete with a princess, a reluctant warrior, and a talking cat. I was in 6th grade at the time, so I think I can be forgiven for all the clichés.
JM: The earliest fiction I recall was when I was maybe 8 or 9 and had read some Hardy Boys mysteries. I wrote my own extremely derivative “mystery” stories that I’m sure weren’t at all mysterious, in retrospect.
Why horror? What do you enjoy most about writing, and reading, in the genre?
MR: Because it’s real, but it’s safe. I can experience all the emotions I would in a terrifying situation without having to face the consequences of that situation. Better, I can evoke all those emotions in a reader, with the assurance that they’ll be returned to their own world safe and (mostly) sound when it’s over.
JM: I think I like writing horror because it’s an emotion, not a setting or a time frame or anything else. So any kind of story can become a horror story. I’ve written horror westerns, horror thrillers, horror science fiction, horror fantasy. It’s infinitely malleable.
Have you read any good books lately? Anything you’d recommend?
MR: I recently read Brandon Sanderson’s first Mistborn book. Some pretty neat world-building in that one.
JM: Unfortunately, I haven’t been reading much fiction lately. I’ve been on one book after another—or more commonly, multiple books at once, so my reading has been necessarily confined to research material for one or more of those. I think the last novel I finished was Revival, by Stephen King. Good King, but not great King. Before that was probably Wayfaring Stranger, by my friend James Lee Burke. It was, as always with Burke, gorgeously written and powerfully affecting.
What are you currently reading?
MR: Nothing, sadly. I recently moved so my TBR pile is all in boxes. I am, however, really enjoying the Shannara Chronicles on TV. That almost counts as reading, right? 😉
JM: See above. I hope to have time for pleasure reading sometime this decade.
What’s next for you?
MR: We recently turned in the first in a trilogy of books based on Xena: Warrior Princess, so we still have two more books to write for that contract. Then there’s the series our agent is shopping. Plus we have a fantasy series we want to start working on featuring the mercenary duo Elin and Kord, about whom we’ve written a couple of stories already. And a far future sequel to 7 SYKOS might be in the works at some point, too.
JM: Separately, I’m writing NCIS: Bolthole, and an original novel tentatively title Lucid. There are various short stories coming out, and probably other commitments I’m not remembering.
MR: Plus, we’re getting married in April, so we’re going to be collaborating on life from here on out, which I know will keep us pretty busy!
About 7 Sykos:
Detached from the world, how are seven psychopaths going to save it?
Phoenix is one of the most populated cities in America but not for long. With a mysterious sickness spreading through the streets, two things are becoming very clear: there s no cure, and it doesn t necessarily kill you.
Instead, the so-called Infecteds have become a living plague, killing and eating everyone they come into contact with. Chaos is spreading, and no one is safe.
No one, that is, except for a group of psychos.
Somehow unaffected by the disease and with promises of clemency for their monstrous pasts a group of seven is sent downtown to hopefully find the cause of the disease and therefore a cure. But when the asylum is the size of a city, it no longer matters who is running things.
Not when everyone is running for their lives.
The Walking Dead meets The Andromeda Strain in this fast-paced mix of science fiction and horror.”