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Yolanda Sfetsos Interview

A missing girl named Molly returns sixteen months after vanishing in the woods. Her mother should be relieved, but Molly isn’t quite the same as she was before. Something has changed and her return is beginning to impact everyone in odd ways. Yolanda Sfetsos’s new novella, Suffer the Darkness, is a haunting tale of mothers and daughters nestled in a small-town setting.

Read the full interview below.

Suffer the Darkness is a wonderful title. I’m always curious about titles. Did you come up with it right away or was it one of those stories where you changed the title several times?

Thank you! I’m the same and always like to know the story behind a title choice.

When I get stuck into writing a new story, I usually give the file a codename and don’t come up with a proper name until the final draft. Suffer the Darkness actually came to me during the final revision. I’d been struggling to come up with a title for ages, until I realized the perfect title was right there—inside the story itself.

Was it always planned as a novella? Was it at any point poised to be a short story or a novel?

The first draft started out as a novel with an extra subplot, and a completely different direction. It was also told in the alternating POV of Kae and Molly, so we got to see the mother and daughter perspectives as the events unfolded. But halfway into the second draft, it just wasn’t working. Molly’s side of the story seemed redundant, revealed too much and conflicted with Kae’s personal struggle to keep her family together. Knowing so much about Molly also removed a lot of the tension and mystery. So, I cut her entire POV (except for the prologue), replaced it with Roy’s, and it became a much tighter and creepier novella.

I actually took some of the best elements of that first draft and added them to the prequel short story, Time to Return, which you can grab here for free.

You pitched this story as The Exorcist meets The Return. Do you have a favorite possession movie or book?

Well, I’ll read and watch anything that mentions the word possession, and I enjoy most of them. But if I had to pick only one, it would have to be The Exorcist. Not only is this movie a horror classic that’s horrifying in the best way possible, but the book is a very dark experience in its own right. They complement each other very well.

Suffer the Darkness takes place in a small town. What’s your favorite thing about small town horror stories? Either as a writer or as a reader.

I love small town horror stories as a writer, and as a reader, for the same reasons. There’s nothing like setting a story in a small community where everyone is familiar with one another but don’t really know each other as well as they think. That’s what makes small-town horror so intriguing. The secrets (there are always secrets), the myths and folklore that seep into the very essence of a place, but are so often hidden beneath a polite and lovely veneer.

Small towns provide the best setting for truly horrific tales.

You delve into the relationship between a mother, Kae, and her eldest daughter, Molly. What was exploring that relationship like? Was it harder to navigate because Molly returns from her disappearance as a changed person? There’s the daughter Kae knew before and the one she has now.

The relationship between Kae and Molly was both interesting and hard to explore. Here we have a mother who lost her teenage daughter the day she went for a jog and never came home, but she never gave up hope. She wanted Molly to be found, or to return home safely. It was her only wish.

This is something I always see in true crime when parents are faced with the disappearance of their child. In most cases, it never ends well and the body is eventually found. But I wanted to explore what would happen if a mother gets her deepest wish, but then doesn’t know what to do because when her daughter re-appears she barely resembles the teenager she remembers. Or is it the one she’s now built up in her own mind? It makes Kae realize she has no other option but to accept this isn’t what she wanted, and all the emotions that entails.

Sometimes, what you think you want most in the world, turns out to be a nightmare. And I delved deep into this part of the connection between parent and child, to tell the terrifying side of where hope can lead.

There’s this incredibly moving push in contemporary horror towards stories that address trauma and grief. It’s very vulnerable. Do you think this is tied to the way we turn to horror for comfort when we’re feeling vulnerable?

Yes, definitely. Horror stories are horrific and scary because when we expose the layers hidden beneath the darkness, we also reveal the many protections we wrap around ourselves. Horror strips away all of those layers, pushes the characters we meet to face their trauma—no matter how big or small—and throws us headfirst into the courage, and sometimes desperation, that entails.

Not to mention how easily someone dealing with grief can find themselves slipping into the tortures of their own mind and memories.

Horror reveals our weakness without shying away from everything that makes us vulnerable, uncomfortable. It helps us find comfort in the monstrous and realize that the darkness sometimes has teeth, and bites deep. It forces us to accept that terrible things happen no matter what. And that we can’t walk away from the biggest monster: ourselves.

I think that’s why so many of us feel safe in horror. The raw honesty and acceptance of trauma and grief in their most vulnerable and, even violent, forms.

What was the hardest thing about working on this novella? And, on the opposite side of that, what came easiest to you?

The hardest thing had to be tying up all the folklore, family issues, and the individual trauma/nightmare each character is forced to face in a way that connects everything. For example, while both Kae and Roy face many problems together, the way things turn out pushes them into their own personal hell. So that took a lot of thinking and some figuring out.

As for the easiest... Surprisingly enough, the location and myth. I have a thing for mysterious woods/forests, and had a great time with the setting, as well as the demonic angle. Demonic inclusion always comes easy. I can’t seem to stay away from demonology. 😁

I love the cover, from the ominous figure in the foreground to the feel the image has of a scratched photograph negative. Who did the artwork and what did you think when you first saw it?

I agree, this is the perfect cover for Suffer the Darkness! It was designed by Truborn Design, and I felt it captured the right atmosphere from the moment Andrew (DarkLit Press) showed me. It’s just perfect for this story.

Do you have any other work coming out this year you’d like to tell people about?

At the moment, I don’t have anything new coming out this year, but I do have a few books that will be released next year. I have a modern gothic horror novella called Wings of Sorrow coming out with DarkLit Press. I also have a horrormance slasher novel, Crushing Obsession, coming out with Aesthetic Press.

I’m very excited about both because they’re very different, yet still have my signature mix of tragic love, horror, darkness, and mythology.

What’s your favorite recent read? Any genre or category. It doesn’t have to be horror.

I’ve been busy working on several writing projects this year so my reading time has been more limited than I like, but I did read several awesome novellas lately—Below Economic Thresholds by Adam Hulse, 28 Days Sassier by Damien Casey, Hungers as Old as This Land by Zachary Rosenberg—and a very dark YA thriller novel that I really enjoyed called, Expectations by B.T. Hayes.

Yeah, I couldn’t pick just one. 😁

Thank you so much for talking to Frightful!

Thank you so much for having me over! I enjoyed answering your great questions.

Suffer the Darkness is available now.

Yolanda lives in Sydney, Australia with her awesome husband and spends a lot of time daydreaming about dark ideas. Or writing them. When she’s not taking notes on her phone or sitting at her desk with her laptop, she loves going for long walks and is sure to be reading something. If she’s not reading, she’s definitely buying new books to add to her HUGE TBR pile, or checking out cute Squishmallows. Maybe she’s even playing a cozy game or two on her Switch Lite.

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