Elizabeth Massie is an American author of mainstream, horror, and historical fiction. Her first story appeared in The Horror Show magazine, in 1984. She won two Bram Stoker Awards: for novel, with Sineater, and for novella, with Stephen. She also wrote the Scribe Award winning novelization The Tudors (season 3).She is now working on Ameri-Scares (Crossroad Press) a 50 novel series of spooky books for middle grade readers, as well as new novels and short works for adults.
She lives in Virginia with illustrator Cortney Skinner.
Her latest novel is Hell Gate (DarkFuse, 2013).
Mircea PRICĂJAN: How would you define your work for those who didn’t get the chance to read it yet?
Elizabeth MASSIE: I actually write many different kinds of things – historical fiction, nonfiction, media-tie ins (books/stories based on movies and television), poetry, contemporary mainstream fiction, but my main focus at this point in time is horror. Some of my horror fiction is supernatural horror (ghosts, zombies, magic, vampires) and some is psychological horror (the real horrors of the human condition.) All of my work, however, focuses on people, on characters, on their strengths and weaknesses, and on the fears and compassion that arise when they are placed in dire circumstances.
M.P.: Which one of your books would you advise a reader new to your work to read first? Why?
E.M.: Sineater is my first horror novel, so it is a favorite of mine. Then again, Hell Gate is my most recent horror novel, so it is also a favorite of mine. Sineater features psychological horror and Hell Gate features both psychological and supernatural horror. What I love about both of them are the characters and challenges they face so boldly. Joel, the protagonist in Sineater, is a lonely soul. He lives in an isolated mountain region where fundamentalist religion keeps its followers in line through superstition and fear. He must challenge or accept this increasingly dangerous and oppressive lot in life. Suzanne, the protagonist in Hell Gate, is a lonely soul. She lives in the populous, treacherous, and frantic world of Coney Island and its amusement parks during the turn of the 20th century. She must delve into her own vague, nightmarish past in an attempt to free herself for the present… even as it puts her own life in peril.
M.P.: What sparks your imaginations?
E.M.: What doesn’t? Really, I can be inspired by just about anything… people, music, art, dreams, shadows, sunlight, sounds, smells…! This interview might even stir up an idea.
M.P.: What is the thing about writing that you love the most?
E.M.: I’ve always been the kind of person who wonders “What if?” Writing stories allows me to answer many of those “what if” questions.
M.P.: What was the starting point for your writing?
E.M.: I have always told stories, even before I could hold a pencil and write. I think most writers are the same way – we love stories, whether they are in books, magazines, on television or film, or told in music, poetry, or orally. However, I didn’t start sending fictional works out in hopes they’d be published until the mid-1980s. My first short story, “Whittler,” was purchased and published in the now-defunct but wonderful magazine, The Horror Show. Since then, I’ve had probably 100 or so short stories published and 20-some novels.
M.P.: Writing comes easy to you or is it a long and painful process?
E.M.: Sometimes it’s very easy. Sometimes it’s extremely painful. But I push onward. As someone who makes her living as a writer, I don’t have the option to sit and wallow in writer’s block. I can’t wait for some mythical muse to inspire me, but realize that writing is as much work as it is fun. But that’s okay, because that’s how it goes, how it gets done.
M.P.: Do you begin your book with an idea or a message? Do you know where you’re going when you start?
E.M.: I usually start my novels with characters. Then I imagine them in particular situations and ask myself, “What if…?” I don’t know where I’m going at the very beginning but I figure it out pretty quickly. That way, I have a rough road map to follow.
M.P.: What is your medicine of choice when you really don’t feel like writing?
E.M.: A nap. I nice hot chai. Hiking in the mountains of Virginia. Reading.
M.P.: Who are the writers you look up to?
E.M. I’m thinking you mean horror writers whose work I admire. That would include, among others, Stephen King, Rick Hautala, Gary Braunbeck, Lisa Mannetti, Lucy Taylor, Yvonne Navarro, Thomas Tryon, Robert R. McCammon, Peter Straub, Bentley Little, Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, John Skipp, Craig Spector, Christopher Golden, F. Paul Wilson, and Craig Shaw Gardner. These men and women know how to write a deep, thought-provoking and terrifying story. I also enjoy the works of nonfiction authors Anne Tyler, Bill Bryson, Dalton Trumbo, Alice Walker, William Styron, and more. In other words, I read across the board and enjoy all kinds of fiction penned by talented authors.
M.P.: What scares us in this day and age?
E.M.: Speaking for myself, the loss of personal power or control (over my physical or mental states), religious extremism, totalitarianism, greed, prejudice, and cruelty all scare the hell out of me. And I suspect these are things people have feared throughout the ages.
M.P.: What do you think are the main coordinates horror literature should follow in order to gain prominence?
E.M.: I think all literature, not just horror, should feature characters we care about or who interest us as well as a story that shines the light on some aspect of what it means to be human. As for horror fiction specifically, to become classic and memorable, to become fiction that lasts through the ages, it should not just scare for scare’s sake, should not just be blood and gore and gross out, but should illuminate that scare, investigate that blood and gore, and offer the reader something beyond a few shrieks and gasps.
M.P.: What is next to come from Elizabeth Massie?
E.M.: Currently, I’m writing a series of spooky novels for younger readers ages 8-12. The series, called Ameri-Scares, sets each novel in one of the 50 states of the United States, and each story is based on or inspired by a certain historical event, folktale, or legend from that state. Four of the novels are now out from Crossroad Press – Virginia: Valley of Secrets, New York: Rips and Wrinkles, California: From the Pit, and Maryland: Terror in the Harbor. I’m writing the 5th book (Minnesota: Dead of Night), with 45 more to come after that. I hope I live long enough to finish! I’m also pondering the plot for a new adult horror novel. Unlike Hell Gate, which had a large literary canvas, the new novel will likely be set in a small location for an intimate experience for both me and the reader.
M.P.: In our current issue, Romanian readers have the opportunity to read one of your stories, “Donald Meets Arnold” What can you tell us about this story?
E.M.: I’d read there is a theory that claims each cell in our bodies has its own intelligence. That fascinated me… because what if cells not only had their own intelligence, but their own abilities to make decisions, too? Knowing how many people these days don’t take very good care of themselves physically, and have become very lazy, I pondered the possible outcome should one man’s cells decide they’d had enough of the abuse.
M.P.: The last word belongs to you. You may address it to your future Romanian readers.
E.M.: Even if we live in different nations, even if we are far apart from each other on this wild, terrifying, and beautiful planet, what we hope for and long for are the same. What we fear, what we dread is the same. How we struggle and fail or struggle and overcome is the same. I write my stories and novels because I want to know. I want to explore. And I want to share with you. I invite you to join me on these dark journeys, to see what we might find and learn together.
M.P.: Thank you so much for this interview. Good luck with your future projects.