Risingshadow has the honour of publishing an interview with Scarlett Amaris and Melissa St. Hilaire.
Scarlett Amaris likes playing devil's advocate on the dark side of the moon. She spends a large amount of time tracking through ancient ruins and decoding old texts in the Pyrenees. Her more esoteric work can be found at www.shadowtheatre13.com and www.terraumbra13.blogspot.com. She's also co-written scripts for the infamous horror anthology, The Theatre Bizarre (2011), the award winning, critically acclaimed documentary The Otherworld (2013) and the upcoming feature films, H. P. Lovecraft's The Colour Out of Space (director: Richard Stanley), and Replace (director: Norbert Keil). Saurimonde is her first novel and she's currently finishing up Saurimonde II before getting started on Demon Priest - The Misadventures of Abbe Sauniere, her next erotic horror endeavor.
Melissa St. Hilaire likes to bask in the center of chaos watching supernova explosions. She spends most of her time daydreaming, researching, and scribbling. She wrote film and music reviews for The Heights Inc. Her poetry has appeared in the periodicals Shards, The Outer Fringe, and The Laughing Medusa. She co-authored several scripts for Tone-East Productions. Her debut book, a memoir titled In The Now, was released in 2012. In 2013 she released Saurimonde, a dark fantasy novel, with co-author Scarlett Amaris. After finishing up Saurimonde II, her next projects will include a follow-up to In the Now called Medicated and a sci-fi epic called Xodus.
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AN INTERVIEW WITH SCARLETT AMARIS AND MELISSA ST. HILAIRE
- Could you tell us something about yourselves in your own words?
My name is Scarlett Amaris. I'm currently living in the south of France in an amazing 500 year-old village château. I'm an esoteric researcher and writer by trade. I spend a lot of time tracking through old ruins and decoding legends and ancient manuscripts. I've co-written movie scripts for the well regarded horror anthology THE THEATRE BIZARRE ('Mother of Toads' segment, director Richard Stanley, 2011) and the award-winning feature length documentary L'AUTRE MONDE (THE OTHERWORLD) (director Richard Stanley, 2013). I've also co-written an adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's THE COLOUR OUT OF SPACE which is in pre-production and REPLACE (director Norbert Keil) which is also in pre-production. Some of my more esoteric work and experiences with the mysteries, legends, and portal areas in the south of France can be found at Terra Umbra – Empire of Shadows: www.shadowtheatre13.com, www.terraumbra13.blogspot.com and www.fiatluxfirstlight.com. I'm also a pagan soul who keeps a foot in both worlds and who has a nose for the supernatural.
My name is Melissa St. Hilaire. I live in Los Angeles, land of dreamers, but I was born and bred in Massachusetts and return to my roots once a year to reboot myself. From the East Coast to the West Coast, I’ve had so many careers in my life that I sometimes feel as though I’ve lived multiple lifetimes. I’ve worked in film as a PA, grip/electric, and even a cat wrangler once for James Gunn. I’ve been a live band photographer, read Tarot cards, and designed websites, movie posters, and album covers. However, through it all there was one constant: writing. In college I wrote film and music reviews and had multiple poems published. Later in LA, I chased the Hollywood dream by writing various screenplays both freelance and for Tone-East Productions. Then, after a particularly difficult year wherein I had the proverbial rug pulled out from under me and I had to rebuild myself and my career from scratch, I revisited a decade old memoir, rewrote it with the late Amy Wallace, who I miss every day, then released it, and so began my latest career as a writer of books.
- What inspired you to become writers?
Scarlett: Good question. I don't know. I've always written stories from as far back as I can remember. I've always been a voracious reader as well and I think growing up in the strange commune/cult type situation I was subjected to, both allowed me a form of escapism which was sorely needed.
Melissa: My grandmother, Vera, was a positive force in my early development as a writer. She taught me how to read and how to write. She told me countless stories of her own invention about such things as the fairies who lived in the moss and danced in the sunshine or used mushrooms as umbrellas when it rained or the Indian ghosts who lived in a large rock down the lane deep within the forest behind her house and how you could hear them whisper to you tales of days gone by if you listened closely. She also encouraged me to tell my own stories. I will never forget the gift of words she gave me.
- Have any books, TV series or films been a source of inspiration to you?
Scarlett: Oh yes. Algernon Blackwood's 'The Willows' or 'Ancient Sorceries' or 'Sand' are short stories which I constantly come back to because I know what an adventurer he was and there is an element of distinct truth in his writing as if he experienced the dark forces imbued within the various landscapes of his stories first hand. Another is Shirley Jackson's 'We Have Always Lived in the Castle' . The book is clever, hilarious, heart-breaking, terrifying, and neurotic. It really is an amazing piece of work I love Ray Bradbury's 'The October Country'. Probably the most influential book for me is Peter Straub's 'Shadowland'. No matter where I've traveled to in my life (and that's a lot of places) I've always kept a copy of the book with me since I was about 13. Films are always an inspiration. I love movies like THE MIRROR (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1975) or DERSU AZALA (Akira Kurosawa, 1975) because the play of words and images in these films has the ability to literally tear my heart out and leave me sobbing on the floor. Through some alchemical process of light and shadow they create magic and something which transcends the medium itself. Someday I would like to be able to do the same with words. I haven't seen too many T.V series as I don't own a television and I am 'that' person who is still on season 2 of GOT (although I've read all the books so I already know what happens). I did some research the summer before last on 17th century witchcraft traditions in France and how they connected to the New World for a friend of a friend who was developing the TV show SALEM which was still in its infancy. Some of what I found at the time (namely 'The Affair of the Poisons' 1677-1682) was so fabulously outlandish that we incorporated elements of it into the latest 'Saurimonde' book. Although I haven't seen the show yet, I did get a chance to hang out with Elise Eberle recently who plays Mercy Lewis on the series, and show her some of the mystery spots in my very strange neck of the woods and introduce her to some olde world magic. I hope to see SALEM soon and wish them all the luck in the world with season two.
Melissa: I just wanted to add David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. I watched that show every day after school when I was younger, then devoured the book, The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer, by Jennifer Lynch. I’d stay up late nights reading passages over and over. Both heavily influenced me. I would be remiss if I didn’t also add Anne Rice. I’ve read all of the Vampire Chronicles, as well as the Mayfair Witches, and some of her tales written as Anne Rampling or A. N. Roquelaure. They would carry me away to exotic places when I needed a break from the day to day.
- You've written two fantasy books, Saurimonde (May 2013) and Saurimonde II (October 2014). Could you tell us something about these books?
Like a bird in a gilded cage, Saurimonde is trapped between a brutally abusive husband, Gilles, who treats her like a possession, and a lover whose name she doesn't even know. The only thing she longs for is an escape. But to where? She should have been more careful in what she wished for because the day Gilles spies her and her lover together is her last mortal one. With the aid of the local wise woman, Elazki, Gilles gets his hands on a dangerous ancient potion. He figures out the perfect way to serve it to her – cooked into her lover's heart. One bite has dire consequences.
Left for dead by her husband at the river's edge, Saurimonde awakens to a whole new existence. Now she has become a part of the river itself. Days are spent in erotic encounters with unwary passers-by. Nights are spent in predatory pleasure, feasting on those she has seduced.
As the body count begins to rise in the village, Gilles starts to suspect his wife is still alive. He enlists the help of Elazki, who has secrets of her own, and her darkly handsome nephew, Sordel. Newly returned after being banished by his magus master in the black lands, Sordel unknowingly holds the key to all their fates. One will die, one will wish they were dead, and the other will fulfill their destiny.
Danger awaits them at every turn as they enter a realm where nothing is as it seems. Each will be forced to make terrible sacrifices. Will they be able to break the spell and stop the beautiful demonic creature Saurimonde has become? Can they possibly save her? Or will they too find a brutal death beneath the deep dark waters...
After becoming suddenly human again, the tragically lovely Saurimonde, and her handsome consort, Sordel, realize their overwhelming attraction for each other despite the unnatural way in which they met. All goes well until Saurimonde discovers the terrible truth about Sordel's birth, which causes him to fall prey to his now demonized aunt, the wise-woman Elazki, as circumstances conspire to make Saurimonde believe Sordel has left her for another woman.
With the aid of a not so innocent priest the wise woman spends her nights converting the young women of the village for their own nefarious plans. Will Saurimonde be able to overcome the demons and find Sordel in time to save him from a malefic fate? Or will she succumb to the answering of an ancient rite, a Beltane bacchanal, which promises to leave none of them alive?
- What inspired you to write these books?
Scarlett: The first time I visited the Languedoc region in the south of France many years ago I was driving up to the castle of Montsegur (which would later become my home) and my traveling companion at the time was reading from a story from a book by the fantastic French prose writer, Maurice Magre, entitled, 'The Unknown Master of the Albigenses' (from 'The Return of the Magi', 1931). Driving through that wild and magical landscape and listening to Magre's powerful words about the Albigensian Crusade and the tragic death of the Cathars really made an impact on me. But there was one quote in particular that truly resonated, "the solitary Saurimonde, the inspired prophetess of the Mazamet district, who went naked as in the days when the world was born, because her soul was as bright as the sun she invoked." A few years down the line, and many movie scripts later, I found myself in Los Angeles sitting by the pool with Melissa discussing another potential project when I told her what I really wanted to be doing was to be writing books - gothic books with supernatural and erotic elements based on little known myths and legends which I had been researching and translating in the Pyrenees. She agreed this would be a great idea. Later that year, in the heart of a very dark and rainy spring, I was sitting by the fire script doctoring on a project which was a train wreck and I remember staring into the flames and suddenly the plot for the first 'Saurimonde' book popped into my head so I quickly wrote it down. I had just read Melissa's first book 'In the Now' and had been impressed with her writing skills, and her brutal honesty, so I sent the idea to her and asked her if she would want to work on it with me. She said yes and we continued on from there.
Melissa: Scarlett covered most of our inspiration, but I just wanted to add that we both practice the craft and have been heavily influenced by all things occult. It was a commonality that brought us closer together as co-writers and friends, and one that continues to inspire us every step of the way.
- What is the target audience of Saurimonde and Saurimonde II?
Scarlett: I think people who loves dark fantasy and are interested in supernatural mythology and in magic will enjoy this book. There are strong elements of sex and violence but the action is fairly tightly written so it is a bit of a page turner. The first book contains quite a bit of death magic and the metaphor of 'day and night are not what they seem' is also a metaphor for the psychological aspects of what needs to be destroyed in oneself to come back to the essential authentic wild soul. I also think that anyone who has ever been bullied or been forced to live in the shadow of someone more powerful than themselves, and has found the courage to rise up and find their own voice and personal power, will enjoy these books.
Melissa: I would add anyone who is fascinated by otherworldliness, things unseen but felt, and the thin veil between the normal and paranormal, like shapeshifters, and those who want to escape to another world for a spell.
- Is there anything that you can tell us about the characters in these books?
The character of Saurimonde contains elements of the medieval legends connected to her name but there are parts of myself and Melissa in there, as well. Gilles, the antagonist of the first book, is an atypical brutal narcissist. Sordel would like to be the hero of both stories, but he isn't quite there yet. In discussing Sordel's heroic aspects, we talked a lot about Melissa's husband, Jeremy Graham, who is a real gem and a true gentleman. Elazki, the wise-woman, contains elements of a very powerful witch and Druidess who I am honored to call my friend. The character of Mariel is interesting because she is based on a former actress who had pretended to be my friend while having an affair with my then fiancée at a major film festival we were attending. They both lied about it for months, but eventually the truth came out and I was still having to deal with the betrayal of that situation when I was writing the first book. Melissa and I discussed it at length and decided it might be good therapy for me to turn her into a character and it was. In doing so, instead of being devastated and wondering why this had happened, it allowed me to see both her and my then fiancée as the damaged people they are who care nothing about who they hurt around them, and it allowed me to move on. It was cathartic in its own way. Personal experience, whether good or bad, can make for great character fodder. In the second story I don't know where the very naughty Bazak came from. He appeared on the page one day and it was all we could do to rein him in as a character and not let him take over the story. It was the same for a lot of the characters in the second book and Melissa and I had so much fun with them.
- How would you advertise Saurimonde and Saurimonde II to readers who are thinking of reading them?
The stories are a whirlwind of magic, mythology, sex and horror. They are page turners and are a personal quest to reclaim the authentic wild soul after it has been lost, damaged or forgotten. And for those who are 'in the know', there are elements of real ancient magic hidden within the subtext.
- Will there be any sequels to these books?
There will be seven books in all. Like the seven gates to heaven or hell and seven creatures who guard them.
- What was the most rewarding part of the writing process?
Scarlett: Giving voice to these characters who are swirling around in one's mind and then having the time to bring them to life and really craft their story and seeing what they will do and where it will flow from there. Melissa and I generally have an outline that we work from but often it will take a left of field turn as the different characters take on a slightly different arc and do something completely unexpected. That's the real fun of it. I guess, too, would be the satisfaction of finishing something you have started. I'm a big believer in that.
Melissa: I’d like to add that I find the actual act of co-writing to be extremely rewarding. I’ve heard from many other writers that they couldn’t imagine having a co-author, but for us it works incredibly well. It’s great to have someone to bounce ideas off of and ask, “Have I gone too far?” or “Does this sound completely insane?” and receive honest feedback.
- Is there anything you would like to add?
Thank you so much for the interview and the thoughtful questions. I have a personal writing blog at: www.scarlettamaris.com which I try and keep updated with new projects and whatever is going on in my life. Melissa has the same at: www.melissa2u.com. There is also a blog for the 'Saurimonde' books at: www.saurimonde.com for more information on the making of and inspirations. Both of us are easily accessible on Facebook, Twitter and most of the social sites which can be found here: