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For those of you who don’t already know the name Elizabeth Massie, let me introduce you from my perspective. When I started writing for publication, back in the late 1980s, and decided I should do my own magazine, I also started attending conventions. Along the way, I met some colorful characters, some unbelievable talents, and some timeless friends. Beth qualifies, in her own way, on all three counts. I read her first published short story in The Horror Show and followed her career through years of publication, growth, and words. Her story “Smoothpicks,” from Deathrealm Magazine (which you can read by ordering the collection: DEATHREALMS – edited by Stephen Mark Rainey and published by Delirium Books ) stands as one of the top five most memorable stories I’ve ever read. I hope to interview authors of several of the others here, eventually, but for now, let’s concentrate on Beth.

Her novel SINEATER rekindled my own interest in rural church customs and the south. I still don’t know the title of the short story I read back in school that was about a man who was a Sineater, but Beth’s novel brought it back to life for me, and you can read the result of her influence in my novels “Deep Blue,” and “Ancient Eyes.” Her story Hooked on Buzzer gave me nightmares, and her story “Abed” was one of the most disturbing tales to grace the anthology STILL DEAD edited by John Skipp & Craig Spector.

Despite this, Beth has had a career as an award-winning teacher, a young adult author, written children’s books with her sister, raised horses (and fine children), run the most successful sort-of convention I’ve come in contact with, and created the extended writing family I still call my own almost single-handedly. It’s my pleasure now to ask “Five Questions you didn’t expect” of Ms. Massie – and to show you that, expected or not, she was up for the challenge! One other thing she didn’t expect (I’m sure) is that I’m sharing two rare Elizabeth Massie photographs she probably doesn’t even know I have…one is the first photo she showed me of herself years ago before we met at a convention – and the other is one I took myself (the black and white) while attending NECON in the early 1990s.

Without further ado:

Deep Blue Journal: You are one of the busiest and most diverse people I have ever met. I've known you as a teacher, horror author, children's author, orb spider yo-yo champ, and creative genius behind your own odd writer's convention.
In all of these areas you not only "get by," but excel -- how in hell do you do it, and what focuses you when you switch gears from one "life" to the other? To clear up that mess of a question, how do you take off the middle school creative writing instructor hat and put on a hat that allows you to write fiction like "Hooked on Buzzer," and "Smoothpicks," and still manage to find your way back?

Elizabeth: First of all, thanks for the kind words. Sometimes I don't realize how busy I have been until someone else points it out. Maybe I'm really just multiple personalities and one steps forward when he or she is needed while the others sit back and sip Pepsi?

"Knock, knock. Cindy Lou, honey, are you there? Come out now. You are needed to talk to this classroom of sixth graders."

"Johanna, we need you. Come on, don't be shy. It's time to get to work on these letters to the editor in support of same sex marriage."

"Darkelle Winter-Jane, you are needed now. Time to step forward and do your...hey, shut up, ya gloomy freak, I said it's time to write some scary stuff. Sit your ass down and have at it."

Maybe that personality leaves a bread crumb trail for the others so we can all find our way back to center when it's time. I really don't know! In truth, though, I find myself interested in a lot of different things, a lot of different places, and a lot of different people and circumstances. I think that's important...not only for writers but for people in general.

Even though most of my time is spent writing, I find it important to get out of that role for a bit, stretch, take some deep breaths, and do something different so I don't become stagnant in my thinking and in my experience. It benefits me as a human and as a writer. For example, I'm currently coordinator of our local Amnesty International group. Few if any horror fans in that bunch, but still we all have a passion for human rights at our core, so I gain a great deal from that. And hey, I've written some horror stories that are based in the idea of human rights..."Brazo de Dios," "Shadow of the Valley," "Snow Day," "Pisspot Bay," for example. As to working with kids, not only do I feel I have something to offer them as young writers, but their energy and enthusiasm inspires me. They have given me the desire to write for younger readers as well as the insight to do so. As to the orb spider yo-yos, some talents are just there with you when you're born. I can't take credit for that one, but I flaunt it when I can.

Deep Blue Journal You have written a lot of stories and several books focused on a southern gothic theme. I know you live in the mountains of Virginia (I've been lost there trying to find your house, and it wasn't pretty). Did you grow up there, and if so, how do you think that environment affected your writing?

Elizabeth: Yep, I did grow up in the mountainous region of Virginia, in the shadows of the great Blue Ridge. In fact, I live all of four miles from where I was born. My mom's side of the family moved into the area in 1747, so I'm about as "indigenous" as one can be without being Native American. My town, Waynesboro, was and remains small. Life is a lot slower than in many other places. People aren't in as much of a hurry as elsewhere. You could get (and still can) from one end of town to the other in six minutes. Outside of town lay farmland, forests, foothills, and, of course, the mountains. We hiked and camped a lot as kids. I grew to feel very much at home surrounded by the kind of nature that is wilder than humans. I love the long shadows in the woods in late afternoon, the sound of foxes barking at night, the mixed smell of decay and fresh moss along a stream or river, the feel of cold hard earth under my feet. I may write a variety of things set in a variety of places, but when left to my own devises, I usually find myself writing about such isolated rural or small town spots, and the people (and other creatures) who live there with their fears and distrust of the "outside" as well as their attempts to connect with the world.

Deep Blue Journal: You have attracted an odd assortment of companions on your road of life. For instance, the Not Quite Right Reverend Lee, Wayne Sallee, Brian Hodge, and myself. Taking just this short list, what do you see as a thread of commonality binding it all together? There are differences in all of these people that would take volumes to record, but you drew them together and it worked...from Karaoke to Wayne talking with pigs, and people with video cameras being chased out of Walmart...and you did all of this without even COOKING ...how?

Elizabeth: Back in the summer of 1983 I attended the New England Writers Conference at Simmons College just outside of Boston. It was a week long program where you submit a manuscript portion to the instructor(s) and spent agonizing, inspiring days listening to what was wrong and what was right with your work and the work of others. I went alone, knowing no one who would be there but anxious to 1) have part of my novel manuscript evaluated and 2) to meet Stephen King, who was slated to be one of the speakers. The week was incredible; I gained a lot and I enjoyed listening to Stephen King share his story. But the best part of the week was meeting another aspiring horror author...Brian Hodge. Oh, but we were young and we were hopeful and we were enthusiastic!

I'm not the kind of person to jump into the middle of a crowd and start juggling or doing a comic routine; I'm basically the kind of person who scouts out an area and looks for an opportunity to say something if the opportunity or need arises. In other words, I'm not a blazing extrovert. Brian wasn't, either. However, we got to talking about our similar interests and hopes, and he told me about the magazine to which he'd recently sold his first short story...The Horror Show. He gave me the contact info and I promised myself to go home and write a story within the word limit (3,500). It was a wonderful connection, because I went on to sell a number of stories to The Horror Show and then to other magazines and anthologies. Over the ensuing years, I attended a number of fantasy/horror/science fiction conventions, and met other people with whom I had a lot in common...people who were not egomaniacs, people who realized they were a bit different from the ordinary cross-section, people who were creative and funny and talented.

These people included you, Dave Wilson, as well as Brian Hodge, Wayne Allen Sallee, Stephen Mark Rainey, Jeff Osier, Yvonne Navarro, Lisa Lepovetsky, Harry Fassl, and others. We all came together with our unique similarities, something that conventions helped sift and focus. In the late 1980s I began hosting "Pseudocon," a gathering of these creative friends at my home in Virginia. Pseudocon, which lasted 3-4 days, featured readings, movie marathons, and events such as "Walmart A-Go Go," and "Fool Olympics." Not only were writers and illustrators invited, but so were some longtime friends from our youth, such as Cathy VanPatten (who fell in love with Jeff Osier in a tent in our yard during one Pseudocon, once she realized that he knew the love theme to Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster...now that's a true love connection!), the unique Reverend Lee (Snavely), and my wacky sister Barb. No, I didn't cook during Pseudocon...we usually got take out or let Peggy Rainey in the kitchen. Unfortunately, Pseudocon is no more. But we remain friends. I think the thread for us was, again, our senses of humor, passion for creating, and unabashed support for each other's success.

Deep Blue Journal: I won't ask you what frightens you, because you covered that in "The Scariest Book I Ever Read," and I hate to belabor a point. There is another facet of this question though (you knew there would be). It is a little known fact that you are also deeply disturbed by cheese. Can you elaborate on this? Beyond the joke factor, what is it about something -- anything -- that can causes instinctive reactions like this, and what happened to cause you to attach such sensations to a dairy product? (I would laugh, but I have a fear of staring, bug-eyed sheep, and I still don't really know why, or where that fear arose from).

Elizabeth: Okay, look at it this way. What is cheese? It is rancid milk.
Curdled, hardened, rancid, coagulated milk. Arugh. (Okay, Dave, you're getting sleepy...SLEEPY....tell us the truth...what's up with the bug-eyed

Deep Blue Journal: I've read a lot of dark fantasy and horror, and a great deal of that has been written by authors of the fairer sex. Your fiction stands out against a field of men and women equally as particularly sharp and brutal with very few punches pulled. It doesn't seem to be for shock value; the violence and the deeply disturbing imagery are integral to the plots...and powerful. Do you have a sense of why this would be true of your writing - of what well it might rise from, or why it should be so particularly dark?

Elizabeth: As a little kid I was very sensitive to many things. I cried for the Christmas tree that wasn't bought in time and was left in a pile with the other unloved trees on the Waynesboro Fire Department the day after Christmas. I couldn't bear to go to the SPCA as a child because I wanted to take every dog and cat home to save them from the gas. I felt sorry for the Runaway Pancake when he got eaten by the fox in the middle of the river. As an adolescent, I was mesmerized and horrified by stories of the Holocaust, of Stalin's reign of terror, of the Japanese treatment of the Chinese in WWII, and the atrocities in Africa and elsewhere in the world. My brain could hardly deal with it, and I still struggle mightily with the idea that people can be so awful to each other. As I told a fellow writer long ago, it's like walking around with a layer of skin removed, feeling so much and being compelled to do something constructive with that feeling. I don't write horror fiction to instruct or moralize; in fact, some of my work is written purely for the fun rush of the scare. However, in a good deal of my horror fiction I do tackle topics that bother me...isolation, discrimination, alientation, cruelty, ignorance, poverty. These are damn scary springboards for stories. And I only feel I can do these justice by not tippy-toeing around.

Upcoming projects and other stuff... this year I will have a novella, "They Came From the Dark Ride," in Moonstone's new Night Stalker anthology, The Kolchak Casebook. I also have a new story, "Death From a Blood Red Sky," in Moonstone's new anthology of stories featuring the 1930's crime fighter, The Spider. In April I'll be a guest at RavenCon in Richmond and will take part in the Diabolical, Sometimes Maniacal, Deadly Housewives Traveling Show in DC, where I will sign and help promote the new HarperCollins anthology, Deadly Housewives, in which I have a story titled "Next Door Collector."
This June, I'll be a guest writer at the Beach Writers Conference in Wildwood, NJ (on the Jersey shore.) I'm also working on a new novel but can't give any publishing specifics yet...however, let's just say I do have a new horror novel scheduled for 2007 release, and I'll share the info as soon as I can! Now, back to work, Darkelle!



( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 27th, 2006 07:30 pm (UTC)
Wow! Great interview. "Brazo de Dios" is one of the finest short stories -- of any genre - that I've ever read.
Mar. 27th, 2006 07:51 pm (UTC)
Beth sticks with you
Particularly if you get too close to the Smoothpicks.
Mar. 27th, 2006 09:06 pm (UTC)
"Sineater" sounds cool. I gotta track down a copy.

Mar. 27th, 2006 11:07 pm (UTC)
Re: Neato
It's a good book indeed. Um...if you click the link in the interview you can find a copy of it on Amazon (wink)

Almost everything is linked.

Mar. 27th, 2006 11:28 pm (UTC)
Wonderful interview. It's great to get to know more about Beth from someone who is clearly a fan, as well as a friend. Please thank Beth for her candid answers. I really hope to get a chance to thank her in person someday. Love that zazzy cat icon of hers on Shocklines.

Thanks for a great interview.

Mar. 28th, 2006 12:01 am (UTC)
No problem ... it was fun doing it...it's more fun when you know the person you are interviewing.

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )