When did you first become interested in writing?
I’ve been a storyteller ever since I can remember. When I was a little girl, I was constantly entertaining (I use that term lightly; who knows how entertained they really were?) my family with made up “what if” tales. At night I might ask my mother, “What if when we’re sleeping a ghost comes down the chimney?” Or in the car with my dad, when we would stop to fill the tank with gasoline, I might say, “See that cute little stray dog over there? What if I opened the car door and he got in with us and wouldn’t get out?” Of course, then I’d launch off that question and explain all the things that might happen based on my scenario.
My parents were very patient and encouraging, though. In fact, my dad, the president of our hometown newspaper, had a lot to do with sealing my desire to be a writer. One evening, when I was four, I made up and shared a story about a squirrel who had lost her favorite acorn. When I went to bed, my father drove down to the newspaper office, typed up (yes, this was in the day of typewriters!) my story as best he could remember, found clip art of squirrels in one of the big advertising books, and hand-bound it into a booklet with a really cute cover. The next morning, he gave it to me. I was thrilled that I could now read and re-read (I was reading by the time I was four) my story, and share it with others. I’m sure my parents’ eyes glazed over with my twentieth reading, but I didn’t notice at the time.
How did you get involved in fantasy/horror?
I watched the original The Twilight Zone and original The Outer Limits on television as a kid. Scared me to death, but I couldn’t get enough. I think the reason is this…the characters were, for the most part, people I could care about. These characters faced frightening and often overwhelming situations…sometimes they made it out okay, other times they didn’t. And so, early on, it impressed on me the fact that horror, done well, could create and encourage sympathy and empathy. I really liked that. Also, these two shows tackled social issues that were often ignored during that time period. That was another big plus for me, another aspect of horror that steered me in its direction.
Tell us about your publisher.
I’ve had books out from a number of publishers: Harper Entertainment, Pan (UK), Carroll & Graf, Simon & Schuster, Leisure, Pocket Books. My current publisher is Crossroad Press (David Niall Wilson, CEO/Publisher). Established in 2009, Crossroad Press has grown a great deal, releasing trade paperbacks, hardcovers, e-books, and audio books in a variety of genres. They’ve published works by big names such as Cliver Barker, Joe Lansdale, Jack Ketchum, Chet Williamson, John Farris, and many others. They release originals as well as reprints of popular books. Crossroad Press is on top of marketing and aggressively works to benefit its authors. I’m honored to be part of the Crossroad Press family.
How would you classify the genre you write?
While I also write historical fiction and mainstream fiction, my primary genre is horror. Some people have said I write Southern Gothic, and that’s true in a number of cases (such as my Stoker-winning novel, Sineater, my rural Virginia novel, Homeplace, and one of my favorite Appalachian novels, Desper Hollow). However, having been in the horror business for a very long time (my first short story, “Whittler,” was published by The Horror Show magazine back in 1983) I’ve had the time and the interest to go all “over the map” when it comes to horror. My novel, Hell Gate, could be classified as “supernatural historic fiction” whereas my novel, Wire Mesh Mothers, could be shelved as “psychological road trip horror.” So, back to this: I write horror. A big genre with lots of wiggle room.
Why do you think horror and fantasy books remain so popular?
The world is filled with things we don’t understand. Things that worry us, scare us, endanger us, trouble us. It’s always been that way. Horror, in particular, has been popular for eons because it gives readers or listeners or viewers a chance to vicariously step in and see how others might handle a terrifying situation, to even imagine how they might deal with that same situation. It’s a like a test run, not that many of us will ever actually encounter zombies or werewolves or vampires. However, many of us (most if not all of us) will run into things that scare the shit out of us. It’s good to know we’re not the only ones. Plus, I think that, as I say in the introduction of my now OOP collection, Sundown, we “stare into the darkness to better understand the light.”
What inspires your stories?
Just about everything and anything can inspire a story, can give me the seed of an idea. A rumble of a train. A scream from down the street. An amusement park. A shadow on the wall. A dream. A piece of music. And then I start with the old “what if” question…. What if that train has been hijacked? What if that scream isn’t human? What if that amusement park ride takes people to another dimension? What if the shadow isn’t really a shadow after all?
What do you think the difference between American horror and British horror is?
I guess I never really thought about there being a difference…and I’m talking literature, not film. I read Clive Barker, Graham Masterton, Sarah Pinborough, and Ramsey Campbell as much as Stephen King, Bentley Little, Lisa Mannetti, and Joe Lansdale. However, Britain has been around a lot longer as a nation than the USA. It got a much earlier start in horror than we did over here….and did it so very well. Lots of fantastic, legendary ghosts and witches and monsters. English writer Horace Walpole gave us what is often considered the first gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto. Mary Shelley offered a hell of a horror tale with Frankenstein (1818), quite a few years before American writers got deep into what I’d classify as horror (Poe’s first horror story, “Bernice”, was released in 1835). Yet as to current literary horror works, I’m not seeing a big difference. So much great stuff to be had….thanks, UK! (If there’s a difference I’ve missed, please enlighten me!)
What are your favorite horror books?
Oh, so many! Must I really narrow them down? Okay, I’ll list some of the all-time favorites, but keep in mind there are others!
The Stand by Stephen King.
Harvest Home by Thomas Tryon
Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo (though not normally classified as horror)
Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough
The Bank by Bentley Little
The Good House by Tananarive Due
Midnight Sun by Ramsey Campbell
The Drive-In by Joe Lansdale
Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
Innocence by Dean Koontz
Deathwatch by Lisa Mannetti
I’d recommend anyone who has missed any of these to hie themselves post haste to the nearest bookstore (brick and mortar or online) and grab a copy.
What are some of your favorite horror movies?
While The Exorcist (1973, based on the William Peter Blatty novel) may be dated now, I remember being utterly terrified and enthralled by how well the movie told the story. The lighting, the pacing, the slowly encroaching and then in-your-face terror was near-perfect. No real gore except for the vomit, but it didn’t need gore. Though I’m not a devil-believer, this film came close to changing my mind!
The Other, a 1972 film based on Thomas Tryon’s novel of the same name (and not to be confused with the 2001 film, The Others), was another movie that I’ll never forget and count as a favorite. It doesn’t shove the viewers face into a shit-load of blood and guts, but is subtle and dark and creepy as hell. The ending is at once horrifying and heartbreaking.
1939’s The Dark Eyes of London (stupidly renamed The Human Monster here in the States) is one I saw initially as a child on television. I didn’t really understand all that was going on, but I was both frightened by the evil man in charge of the blind institute and so very sad for the hapless, doomed characters in the film.
The Thing (1982) has all the suspense and payoff that any horror lover would look for. Isolated, claustrophobic setting and characters struggling to figure what the hell is trying to kill them. Not a lot of gore but shocking scenes, nonetheless.
Get Out (a 2017 gem from Jordan Peele), does a brilliant job of revealing the horror of racism in a unique and horrifying way.
I could go on, there are many other favorite films; but I will point out that I’ll always prefer a movie with a good, strong story, with characters I care about, with horror that picks up the pace and does so without gratuitous violence, and stays away from jump scares and screeching, pop-your-eardrums music.
What do you consider your greatest accomplishment as an author?
I’ve been honored to have been complimented frequently on my character development. That means a lot and I consider that a wonderful accomplishment. I work to make my characters to be either relatable or intriguing…or both. There is no real emotion in a story or novel without characters to care about, to root for, to cry for, to cheer on as they struggle…and, in the case of horror, characters to cringe over, to hate, to want to see either defeated or destroyed. My recent novelette, “Baggie,” included in the anthology Voices in the Darkness (release date April 13, 2021, Crossroad Press) received a fantastic pre-release review along that line: “The character work by Elizabeth Massie was amazing. I felt so attached to the character and felt so emotional re: his entire arc. This was a tragic tale, a story of a villain and how circumstances dictated his life to where it ended. Samuel’s trauma and hardships and the way it was written, made Samuel exist beyond the pages. It had such a strong hold on me as a reader, and in the end I’m simply in heartache on how it progressed.” That makes me happy.
Do you have any advice for new writers?
Read as much as you can, not just in your chosen genre. Realize that not everything you write will be a gem; a lot will suck, and that’s okay. First drafts are first drafts, not final drafts; find a good editor and give serious consideration to the suggestions that editor gives you. When you start a new story or novel, have an idea of where you want your story to end up, so at least you have a sense of direction; this doesn’t mean things won’t change as you write, but it will keep you from grinding to a halt, standing in the middle of the road, wondering which way to turn. Don’t get pissed if your work gets bad reviews…press on and try to do better with the next one. Please, unless you are a skilled, trained illustrator, don’t draw or paint your own book cover. (Have you seen how many awful book covers are out there? It’s painful!) Write most days, but give yourself time away to let your creative well refill…and it will.
What is your opinion of the new self-publishing trend?
It was inevitable, given the way large, traditional publishing houses are buying up other publishers, shrinking the market, and making it more difficult for newer writers to get picked up. Writers who create what the publishing houses determine to be blockbusters are now paid even more bucks than before, which leaves less money for B-list (and I think B-list is really tight now, too, and possibly dying). All this makes it even more difficult for newer writers to break in. And so, self-publishing is a route many new…and some established…authors are taking. There are some fantastic self-published works, and I’m glad writers have taken the reins when no one else would. And self-published books shouldn’t be judged solely on the fact that they are self-published.
That said, there is a ton of self-published garbage out there….works that should never have been put up for sale in the first place because they are nothing more than self-indulgent ramblings, or good intentions with bad grammar, weak plots, or cardboard characters. This makes it more difficult for those with good, solid stories out there.
Little anecdote: I had an appointment with a new eye doctor a couple months ago. She didn’t know me, just had my eye chart from the earlier doctor. As she was getting ready to check my vision, she said, “So, what do you do?” I said, “I’m a writer.” She chuckled and said, “Yeah, during the pandemic everybody’s at home now, writing books.” That struck hard. But she was right in many ways, though it isn’t just the current coronavirus pandemic that has set more people onto the “publishing” path. It seems that many want to claim they are writers but aren’t willing to put the solid work into creating something worth reading. So, to make a long answer short (too late), I’ll say I have no idea what publishing will be like in the next two, five, ten years, be it through traditional houses, smaller presses, or self-publishing. I can only hope that people keep reading and that good writers will continue to share their talents and their visions. I’m counting on them, because, c’mon, I wanna READ!
What are your current projects?
I’m always juggling several things at once, like many writers do. I’m working on the next novel in Ameri-Scares, my middle grade series of horror novels (books geared at readers ages 8-13). This one is entitled Texas: Theatre of the Absurd. So far, there are 12 novels in the series, and each is set in a different state in the Union. Also, each novel is based on or inspired by a folktale, legend, or historic event specific to that state. Mark Rainey has joined me in this mighty venture, as the series won’t be completed until we have all 50 states covered. Some of the current titles include Virginia: Valley of Secrets, Tennessee: Winter Haunting, Ohio: Fear the Grassman, Montana: Ghosts in the Dust, Washington: The Deep Dark Down, and more.
I’m also deep into my next adult horror novel, The House on Wyndham Island. It’s an historic horror novel set in 1898 off the coast of South Carolina and features an asylum/institution in which innocent young people, who were unjustly found guilty of a variety of crimes, are held for very dark purposes. My goal is to have it done before the end of this year.
My newest story collection, Madame Cruller’s Couch and other Dark, Bizarre Tales, should be out this summer (2021). It includes a number of short tales as well as a novelette and novella.
All of these will be published by Crossroad Press…and I hope folks on both sides of the pond check them out and find them appropriately creepy.
Please in your own words, write a paragraph about yourself & your work.
I’m a Bram Stoker Award- and Scribe Award-winning author of horror fiction, historical fiction, mainstream fiction, media-tie ins, and nonfiction. My novels and collections include Sineater, Wire Mesh Mothers, Desper Hollow, Hell Gate, Naked on the Edge, Afraid, It Watching, Buffy the Vampire: Power of Persuasion, Homeplace, the Ameri-Scares series, the novelizations of the television series The Tudors and Versailles, and more. A 9th generation Virginian, I live in the countryside in the Shenandoah Valley with my illustrator husband, Cortney Skinner. I enjoy geocaching, hiking, knitting very long scarves, staring out the window, and listening while Cortney plays the Theremin to television theme songs (he’s really good with “Perry Mason,” “Star Trek,” and “Still Game.”) Chocolate is from Heaven and cheese is from Hell.