Interview With Elizabeth Massie
Elizabeth Massie is known for her work in horror and dark fantasy and has written numerous novels, short stories, and novellas, often exploring themes related to the supernatural. Massie's works have earned her critical acclaim and awards for her contributions to the genre, such as the Bram Stoker award from the Horror Writers Association. But, most of all, Massie has a dedicated following among fans of horror literature, including your humble staff here at Screaming Eye Press.
Where are you from? What is your background?
My family has lived in my region of western Virginia since 1747, having immigrated from Scotland. I live in Augusta County, just 6 miles from where I was born. My grandfather stared our town’s newspaper and my father was, likewise, a journalist who wrote well-crafted articles as well as clunky and hilarious poetry. I’m the first family member (as far as I’m aware) became a career fiction-writer, but, like a journalist, I do love researching topics for my fiction.
What inspired you to become a writer?
As a child I always inundated my family with “what if?” questions. At the gas station prior to a road trip: “What if that dog over there got into our car and wouldn’t get out?” In the backyard at night: “What if there was a witch hiding in those shadows?” In the movie theater: “What if that man in the movie hopped out of the screen and came down to sit with us?” So I don’t know if I was inspired to be a writer; I think I just was!
So many writers sold their first if not one of their first stories to David B. Silva’s The Horror Show Magazine. Did you submit “Whittler” just for that magazine in other markets, and what was the inspiration for it?
I met Brian Hodge at a writers’ conference in Boston many years ago, a conference that focused on horror. I’d never sold a story; had never even submitted a story for publication. Brian told me about The Horror Show, and how he’d just sold his first story. Up until then, the stories I’d written were all quite long, but he said The Horror Show preferred stories 3,000 words or less. When I got back home to Virginia, I challenged myself to write a very short, complete horror tale, and “Whittler” was born. It was inspired by time my family spent in the Smoky Mountains and we would watch people from the mountains have whittling contests. I sent it off to Dave Silva (snail mail back in the day!) and within just a few weeks got an acceptance letter and a check for $2.
What inspired you to write the novels Sineater and “Stephen”?
Sineater, my first novel, was actually inspired by a made-for-television movie starring Lindsay Wagner as a nurse who spends time in Appalachia. There was a minor character in that movie, a sineater, who was outcast and despised, in spite of the important role he played in the community. I felt someone like that needed a story of his own. As to “Stephen,” which actually is a novelette rather than a novel, it came almost fully formed from a dream. Except in my dream, Stephen was housed in a barn, not a rehabilitation facility.
You have a series called Ameri-Scares, was it a conscious decision to write for a younger audience?
Oh, absolutely. I was a middle science school teacher for 19 years. Middle school kids are awesome and curious and energetic. Encouraging them to read was and remains a goal of mine. Knowing that so many of those kids (like I did when I was about 10 years old) love to read scary books, I decided to launch the Ameri-Scares series. The series is spooky, exciting, and features protagonists of middle school age. The books are not gory or over-the-top, but are what I consider age appropriate. I’ve heard from readers who love the series, and that’s very satisfying!
What advice can you give to new writers?
Read a great deal, in a wide variety of genres. Know that first drafts are rarely if ever perfect. Don’t be upset by constructive criticism. Some say you have to write every day but I disagree. Sometimes you just need time to step back from what you’re doing so when you return to it, you have a fresh eye.
How do you feel about the current state of genre fiction?
It ebbs and flows like everything else. At the moment, horror as a genre seems to be doing well, what with shows like The Last of Us, movies by Jordan Peele, and the Shudder network. I’d like to think that such exciting, visible horror translates into readers seeking out actual novels and short fiction, but I can’t say for certain. With fewer bookstores and fewer horror sections in the stores that are still with us, it looks discouraging. Yet, though big-house publishers seem less into horror than back when, say, Stephen King started out, there are many quality specialty/small presses offering amazing horror fiction, which is great. The flip side, though, is that there are plenty of amateurish “publishers” who don’t know what quality fiction constitutes and lots of writers who aren’t ready to publish who go ahead and self-publish poorly written material. In short, people are into horror, there is a great deal of excellent horror fiction to be enjoyed, and it’s just a matter of wading through the junk to find the good stuff.
Do you think your environment, past area you’ve lived in, has an effect on your writing?
Sure. I’ve lived within six miles of where I am now for my entire life. Much of my work is set in Virginia or the South.
I see that you wrote media-tie-in for the Tudors TV show. We’re they strict with plot points, or were you allowed to take stories where you wanted?
The books I wrote for the Showtime Tudors television series were a specific kind of media-tie in, a novelization. I was sent the scripts, which were in many cases bare bones dialogue with a little bit of scene description, and I fleshed out and crafted the scripts into novels (novelizations.) So, yes, I need to follow the plot points very carefully.
What projects are working on now?
Following a year fighting cancer during which I had a hard time focusing, I’m back in the saddle. I’m juggling two commissioned short stories as well as the novella sequel to my novel, Sineater.