Truth be told, I’m unfashionably late to the Elizabeth Massie party. I don’t know if my invitation got lost in the mail or if I was busy that night, but lucky for me people are still hanging out having cocktails.
If you ask fans of horror fiction to list up their favorite women in horror literature, you’ll hear Massie’s name mentioned repeatedly. Hell, pick up any horror Best of anthology or short story collection and there’s a pretty good chance you’ll find one of her titles there because she’s got almost 100 short horror stories to her credit!
Like most of the women we will feature this month, Massie has a helluva long resume which includes a lot of work outside the genre, but we’ll get to that a bit later.
With such a massive catalog to choose from, deciding where to begin can be a daunting task, so why not start with the publicly revered, Bram Stoker Award-winning titles?
Massie’s long fiction tale “Stephen” was her first piece to garner the highly coveted award in 1991. Massie was up against horror lit icons like Stephen King (nominated for “The Langoliers”) and Dan Simmons (nominated for “Entropy’s Bed at Midnight”), but proved she could roll with the big dogs after claiming her own miniature castle statue.
“Stephen” starts at a brooding pace, but takes an unexpected turn with a brutally violent revelation, and closes with a morbid sexual romp. The ending is unconventional erotica while still being titillating. Of course, if you ask Massie, which I did, she would have you believe I’m a pervert for saying so! Still, “Stephen” gets under your skin. It stays with you for days, even weeks, after you’ve read the last page. Whether you get turned on or not… well, that’s your business. “Stephen” is collected in Cemetery Dance Publication’s The Horror Hall of Fame: The Stoker Winners which is currently available for purchase. There are 13 short and long fiction stories, all Bram Stoker Award-winning titles, included in this anthology ranging from 1987 to 1995 and you can pick it up here.
Massie beat out Poppy Z. Brite, among others, in 1993 to claim her second Bram Stoker Award for her first novel, Sineater. Here’s a little peak into what horror writer Rick Hautala called “one of the best, most touching, most intense ‘horror’ novels I ever read.”
According to legend, the sineater is a dark and mysterious figure of the night, condemned to live alone in the woods, who devours food from the chests of the dead to allow them to ascend to heaven. To look upon the sineater is to see the face of all the evil he has eaten, and to become insane with the overwhelming presence of sin. But now the order has been broken, the tradition violated; the sineater has a family of his own, although even his wife and children must avert their gazes on the rare occasions he visits them. When Joel, the youngest child, tries to lead a normal life, strange occurrences affect the community. Before long, no one is safe from the dark forces set loose, and Joel must discover if the havoc emanates from the sineater, the community itself, or some other mysterious force….
After you’ve finished with the essentials, I would recommend picking up Massie’s zombie short story “Abed.” This isn’t about a guy named Abed turning into a zombie, which I mistakenly thought it was, it’s infinitely more awkward and terrifying. You can download it for your e-reading device for a scant $0.99. If you don’t have an e-reader just download a Kindle app for your PC. No matter what, YOU HAVE TO READ “ABED!!” Sorry I screamed at you. But seriously, this story costs less than a 5-piece chicken nugget and will take only 10 minutes to read. That’s plenty of time for Massie to blow your mind! Just quit reading this and go read the story now…
…Did you read it?? Promise? Ok, well, I’m just gonna have to trust you. Now, what if I told you there is man named Ryan Lieske who is passionate and brave enough to pursue making a film adaption of “Abed!?” Hard to believe, huh? It’s absolutely true. In fact, filming just wrapped this past weekend and Abed is slated for release this spring/summer! You heard me right. Spring/summer 2012. And I don’t mean to boast or brag, but yours truly had the privilege of visiting the set of Abed in southern Michigan last Saturday and I got zombified with blood, guts, mud, dead leaves, decaying teeth and all that! It was probably the greatest day of my life, just don’t tell my husband.
The short story is easy to find. Once you’ve read it, which I assume you have because you promised you did, check out the Abed movie Facebook page or the IndieGoGo website to keep up with the latest developments. Keep your eyeballs on the Dreadful Tales website for the super-duper extra exclusive set visit coverage coming soon! You won’t get the inside scoop anywhere else, folks.
Massie doesn’t just write horror fiction, though. She has published novelizations of the television show The Tudors, historical fiction, and educational non-fiction as well. Her photo history of Waynesboro, Virginia, Images of America: Waynesboro which was co-authored with Cortney Skinner, was published a few years back.
When Massie isn’t terrifying readers, corrupting minds, or educating the masses, she’s warming bodies and hearts with her homemade knit scarves and Skeeryvilletown drawings. Yep, you read that right. The author of “one of the most disturbing horror stories ever written” also knits scarves and draws cute little characters from the fictional world Skeeryvilletown, with names like Boo Boy, Stinky Square Eyes, and Fire Breathing Dog ‘O Death! Doesn’t look like much has been happening in the world of Skeeryvilletown in a while, but you can still enjoy these bizarre little cartoon animals on Massie’s website.
Massie took a break from writing her latest novel, Desper Hollow, and her furious knitting (she never stops!) to answer some questions for Dreadful Tales. Find out about her influences, the inspiration for a few of her stories, and why she thinks I’m a pervert beyond the break!
DT: Based on the background provided on your website it sounds like you had an open-minded and creative family. Were your parents very encouraging of your artistic endeavors, and in particular your interest in horror?
MASSIE: My Mom was a very talented, award winning realist watercolorist and my Dad was a journalist/newspaper man who wrote totally wacky poetry to entertain us on family vacations and to present to us as gifts on birthdays. My Mom had an art room that was always open to us as kids; we could draw or paint whenever we wanted. We also had full run of the basement where we created a room-sized map of an imaginary country, complete with roads, 3-D houses, theaters, parks, campgrounds, rivers, and railroads. My Dad bought a motorcycle with a sidecar so we could take turns getting rides to school in it. Yep, they were fun, funny, creative, and, yes, very encouraging when it came to creative expression. That said, neither parent totally understood my attraction to horror. In fact, my Mom said on numerous occasions, “Wouldn’t you like to write something for Women’s Day magazine?” It was hard to explain to them why I was drawn to dark fiction, but in spite of their uncertainty about my choice of genre, they never criticized me for the direction in which I took my writing.
DT: As a horror fan I am often taken to task for my love of the genre. Have you been criticized for what you write, either directly or indirectly? What is / would be your case in defense of the genre?
MASSIE: Oh, sure. Seriously, I would think any horror author worth his or her salt would have been jumped on with both feet on occasion by someone who thought what they were writing was bad/disgusting/sinful/degrading/worthless and/or harmful. I recall a book signing when a woman came up to my table and began to tell me how wrong it was for me to add more horror to the world by writing what I write. I asked her if she had ever read my fiction and she said no, but didn’t seem to realize that horror fiction isn’t all the same. It isn’t all based on what you see in horror film. In the genre you’ve got your graphic The Girl Next Doors and your Abeds at one end and then you’ve got your more psychological House on Haunted Hills and your Turn of the Screws on the other end. Yes, I’ve written very explicit horror, but more often than not I tend to be somewhere in the middle. But graphic content aside, it’s the story that is most important. It is the exploration of the human condition, examining human reactions and defenses, human strengths and weaknesses. I don’t write horror to gross people out. I don’t write horror to “add more horror to the world.” I write horror because I believe that when we look into the darkness we can better understand and find the light.
DT: What authors do you like? What is it specifically about them you enjoy?
MASSIE: I’ve always loved Stephen King’s treatment of character. To me, stories and novels must be character-driven or I lose interest. I want to get into a character’s heart and mind and take the journey with them, regardless of how terrifying that might be. For the same reason, I love the writings of Joe Lansdale and Gary Braunbeck. Rick Hautala tells a fine and creepy ghost story…atmospheric and deliciously enticing. Yvonne Navarro creates wonderful characters and fascinating plots. Lisa Mannetti is one of the most unique voices in the genre…quality stories, intriguing characters, and a great sense of fun, as well. Even though Cormac McCarthy might not be considered an author of horror fiction, his fiction is some of the darkest, most troubling, thought-provoking work around.
DT: What are your non-literary influences?
MASSIE: If you mean where do my story ideas come from….oh, music, dreams, artwork, people I watch at the Bux (Starbucks), my own fears and limitations, and, of course, my insane imagination. If you mean what inspires me as a whole…as a person and not just an author…I would say humanity and its strengths and weaknesses. I’m influenced by the human condition and my place in it. I’m influence by people who try to help one another and make the world a better place. This includes people involved in human rights and civil rights struggles, spiritual and religious people whose beliefs inform and instruct their lives in positive, generous ways, and non-religious people who stand up for those who need a voice and need a champion. People who, yes, look into the darkness to find the light.
DT: I assume winning the Bram Stoker Award (both times!) was a career highlight. Do you have another example of a “THIS is why I write” moment?
MASSIE: Any time I get an e-mail (used to be letters…yeah, way back in the day) from someone who has read a story or novel and felt moved enough to let me know how much they liked it, I have that “THIS is why I write feeling.” It’s affirming, it’s like someone telling you your kid is cute or smart or nice. You hope what you create will make an impression or be remembered…and there is SO MUCH out there that it’s really hard for something to make that much of an impression. Oh, and when Ryan Lieske asked if he could make a film of my controversial story “Abed,” and was so incredibly enthusiastic about it, I got that “THIS is why I write” feeling in a big way. Getting paid to write is also affirming. Heh….
DT: Some fans of horror fiction would say that there is some distinguishable quality in the work of a female horror writer. The comment is not always meant to be a criticism, and in fact is often complimentary. Do you agree that there is any tangible difference between the work of a female horror writer versus her male counterparts. If so, what do you think makes their writing different, whether positive or negative?
MASSIE: I get this question a lot. And twenty years ago I might have answered this differently, but today I have to say that for the most part, there is very little difference between horror written by males and females. Women are not timid anymore; most will write as graphically as is needed for a story to be what it should be. And most men who write horror are not hesitant to offer softer sides to their characters, to ride the ebb and flow of action and terror and then introspection and emotion. That said, I do believe there are less women writing horror than men even today. This is because I think less women are interested in reading horror than men. Horror has a reputation of being disgusting, harmful, brutalizing, and without merit. This is sad, since a good story is a good story. However, because of the rep, less women are drawn to horror than men. Most of my female friends can’t tolerate horror. I’m not stereotyping, just reporting what I observe.
DT: Do you think making such a distinction is problematic for our progress or acceptance into what has most commonly been a boy’s club?
MASSIE: Yeah, I wish the distinction was dropped. Women’s writings, be it horror, science fiction, romance, westerns, fantasy, mysteries, or mainstream should only be noted for its value and quality or lack of those. Though, to show my willingness to accept the distinction anyway, I still write for women’s only anthologies when invited to do so. I guess I don’t so much see it as a battle to fight as something that should eventually fade away.
DT: You were asked about the advancement of e-reading technology in a couple interviews right around this time last year. I understand you had no interest in them, but do you have an e-reader yet (that you acquired as a gift perhaps, or otherwise)?
MASSIE: I’ve come to terms with e-books, and am glad people are reading…. Yay, reading! That’s the main goal anyway, isn’t it? Now, as for me, I don’t have an e-book reader and don’t see myself getting one anytime soon. I don’t even have texting capabilities on my cell phone and have no interest in texting anyone or getting texts. I like to use my phone to talk to people. And I like to get my reading from books and magazines that I can feel and smell as I turn the pages.
DT: In a couple of your short stories, “Abed” and “Stephen” in particular, you blend very violent and sick imagery with highly erotic prose. Was it your intention to evoke some satisfied sexual reaction in your readers out of something grotesque or am I just a pervert? What was the response you hoped to elicit from your readers in the case of each short story?
MASSIE: Sex is one of the most intimate, personal, private, and vulnerable activities in which we can take part. We are exposed, naked…sometimes embarrassed, sometimes worried, often hopeful that we won’t be rejected, abused, made fun of, or wounded. With that vulnerability in mind, combining horror with sex creates, to me, some of the most terrible situations possible. With “Abed,” which from the outset was to be a zombie story, I asked myself, what would be the most terrifying, most vulnerable situation I can imagine myself in? Without giving away the plot of the story, let me just say that my intention wasn’t to titilate but to unearth a universal, gut-level terror. With “Stephen,” again, the sex plays with the idea of vulnerability, with what it means to be human, and how desperation and hope can strip away personas, facades, and bring us face to face with what and who we truly are. So, yeah, I guess you’re a pervert. (Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, of course!)
DT: Back to “Abed,” filming is currently underway in Michigan with director Ryan Lieske at the helm. How did this come about? Do you have any input into the final product or does Lieske have the freedom to take the short story and run with it?
MASSIE: I read Ryan’s script and was really happy with it. Other than that, the final product is up to him. The story has been expanded somewhat but is very true to the plot and the tone of the tale. I have total confidence in Ryan and his cast and crew to make “Abed” an incredible, disturbing film.
DT: There is a coffee shop in my neighborhood that also sells used books and I found a copy of MAMMOTH BOOK OF VAMPIRE STORIES BY WOMEN which includes your short story “Forever, Amen.” Knowing your strong interest in history and the impact that has had on your work, I wondered if this story represents your own opinion of history (for example, the theme throughout that nothing really changes over the passage of time). If it does, how so?
MASSIE: I think human nature is human nature. We’re bodies of flesh and bone and muscles, carrying around the weight of our ideas, aspirations, fears, expectations, prejudices, kindnesses, and cruelties. We’ve been that way ever since we evolved a sense of self as humans. As a species, we still seek revenge against others. We still celebrate violence in many ways (even if that violence is couched as sports, or if the violence is verbal or emotional…check out the disgusting reality shows that are popular because of how bad the people treat one another). We still go to war, still oppress the poor and minorities. We still lie and steal to gain power. However, the more aware we are of our natures, the more willing we are to look at where we’ve been and where we are heading, we can make conscious decisions to direct those natures toward improving things. Speaking as an American, I’m glad to live now and not 100 years ago. Women have the vote. It doesn’t matter what race you or your partner are when you choose to marry. Public education offers more to those with disabilities. DADT (Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell) has been repealed. We have many things to work on, but we’ve made progress. So in general, little changes over time. Specifically speaking, things do change. In “Forever, Amen,” I deal with several issues, one of which is the fact that “justice” seems to constantly demand blood, even if each new step sees itself as more humane.
DT: Can you tell us what you are currently working on? Do you get some sick pleasure teasing your fans with excerpts via Facebook? And what do you have coming out in the near future?
MASSIE: Just this week I’m finishing up a zombie novel set in Appalachia. It’s called Desper Hollow, and it’s one wild ride. Granny Mustard brewed some powerful brew and then all hell broke loose. Sure, I love teasing people with excerpts… and it also lets me have a little feedback. So far, so good! This book will be released by Apex Books, through its Zombie Feed imprint. I’m also working on a vampire short story, a nonfiction book about dangerous critters (co-authored with John Platt, who writes for Scientific American), and various other fun, skeery, bizarre projects. Am resisting the temptation to start a new room-sized map in the basement…
Also, in the summer of 2012, a short film based on my controversial zombie story, “Abed,” will be released. Directed by Ryan Lieske, this, I have a feeling, will blow some people out of their shoes, out of the water, and possibly even out of their heads. It’s basically a very sad love story with some of the most disgusting, horrific, terrifying things going on. I’ll be very curious as to how or if this one will be rated. And I cannot wait to see the results. What I’ve seen so far has been stunning.
DT: And last one,
Vincent Price is hosting a party at The House on Haunted Hill and he’s letting you pick the other 4 guests. Who, dead or alive, do you invite to share this macabre evening with and why?
MASSIE: Flannery O’Connor… she had one of the darkest, most creative minds in the business; and she was a fellow Southerner.
Lon Chaney, Jr…would love to talk to him about how he created such troubled, terrifying characters on screen.
Tod Browning…would want a blow-by-blow on what it was like to cast and direct “Freaks”… a film that still gives me serious chills.
Elizabeth Bathory….so I could ask her, “What the flyin’ fuck is wrong with you, girlfriend? Here, have some Mary Kay and quit slicing up the peasant girls. This stuff goes on easier, streaks less, and doesn’t coagulate.”
DT: OK, I’m serious this time. One more….
Just a day after I sent my interview questions off, I saw the Mania.com’s Top 20 Greatest Horror Authors of All-Time and there is not one woman on that list! Nada, zip, zero!
What do you think about lists like this that glaringly omit women in horror fiction?
MASSIE: I think it’s a shocking and sad oversight. It’s as if those coming up with the list were wearing men-tinted glasses that no women were included. Not even in the honorable mentions?? Granted, less women have written horror fiction throughout the history of fiction, but come on? Really? No Flannery O’Connor? No Joyce Carol Oats? No Nancy Holder or Shirley Jackson or Elizabeth Hand? I would never expect women to be force-fit into anything as tokens, but I would certainly expect the search for the greatest to be done with a flood light, not a spot light.
Thanks again to Elizabeth Massie for her time and giving us some great insight into her work. And calling me a pervert which I will wear as a badge of honor!