I’ve known of Elizabeth Massie’s work for years, so it was an honor to share a table of contents with her in Fright Mare: Women Write Horror. Her story “Tintype” was one of my favorites in the book.
Elizabeth Massie is a two-time Bram Stoker Award winner and a Scribe Award-winning author whose works include the novels Sineater, Wire Mesh Mothers, Hell Gate, Homeplace, Desper Hollow, Welcome Back to the Night, Homegrown, and collections Afraid, Sundown, Shadow Dreams, Naked On the Edge, and It, Watching. She has also written novelizations for the Showtime television series The Tudors and the popular French miniseries Versailles. Beth’s short stories have been included in numerous magazines and anthologies. She keeps young fans of horror in mind with her Ameri-Scares series of spooky novels (Crossroad Press). Each novel, aimed at readers 8-13, is based on a strange legend, folktale, or historic event set in a particular state in the Union. She lives in Virginia with her illustrator husband, Cortney Skinner.
Did something in the real world inspire your book Hell Gate?
My supernatural horror novel, Hell Gate (Crossroad Press, January 2018), was inspired by the real world at the turn of the 20th century. The novel is the story of a reluctant psychic who works as a ticket-seller at one of Coney Island’s elaborate amusement parks and is called in to help solve several brutal murders. I’ve been fascinated with old Coney Island for years. I have researched the amusement parks and have collected postcards and trinkets from that place and time. With Hell Gate, I was finally able to put all that information to good use. Here’s the official description of the novel:
The year is 1909. Coney Island is a bright, malodorous, and garish place, luring work-weary folks in with its dangerous roller coasters, bizarre displays, and promises of “improper” gaiety. Three grand amusement parks—Steeplechase, Luna Park, and Dreamland—make Coney Island their home, as do countless independent shows along the Bowery. And some, such as the sinister Snow’s Symposium of Secrets and Surprises, take much more from customers than they give.
Suzanne Heath is a ticket-seller for Luna Park as well a reluctant psychic. She has been called in by police Lieutenant Granger to help find and stop a murderer whose victims have been dreadfully mutilated. Suzanne feels obligated to offer her assistance even though doing so forces her to recall memories of her youth, a time when her psychic talents only brought rejection and pain.
Suzanne’s one true friend is Cittie Parker, a young man who ran away from the Colored Waifs’ Asylum and now performs as a bloodthirsty Zulu drummer in Dreamland. He knows of Suzanne’s abilities and fears for her safety. As Suzanne digs deeper into the grisly Coney Island murders and her own past, she and Cittie find themselves caught up in a nightmare where worlds converge and collide, where death gleefully beckons, and insanity grins like a devil at the gate of hell.
What was your writing process like as you wrote the book?
My writing process is pretty much the same for all my novels. I come up with a bare-bones summary in my head and then start writing. As I move ahead, new ideas crop up and I either keep them or discard them. When I’m about four or five chapters in, I go back to the beginning and tweak and revise so the earlier chapters match what has finally solidified in my mind as the best direction for the narrative. Then I push on through, completing the first draft. After that, I let it sit for a week or so, then go over it again (which is when I find any goofs or irregularities, and I always find some!) With Hell Gate, keeping the old postcards and artifacts on hand near my desk were true inspirations, as were looking at countless online sites dedicated to the old amusement parks. I would love to be able to go back in time and visit Luna Park, Dreamland, and Steeplechase Park. Both thrilling and terrifying!
What is your favorite scene in Hell Gate?
That’s a tough question. So many scenes are favorites! One would be the scene when Suzanne must investigate a new murder in the claustrophobic Hall of Mirrors in the Steeplechase Park. She is disoriented and horrified at what she encounters, but can’t determine the source of the bizarre memories that want to push to the forefront of her mind. It’s a very moody scene.
What was the best thing that happened during your promotion of Hell Gate?
The book was very well received and got many good reviews. One big thrill was being approached by Radio Archives, who wanted to make an audio version of Hell Gate. Radio Archives is one of the most reputable companies out there, so I was thrilled. And the production, with narration by Nick Santa Maria, is perfect!
What do you have planned next?
I’m currently working on the 6th novel (Tennessee: Winter Witch) in my Ameri-Scares series of spooky novels for middle grade readers. I’m also writing an article for Crystal Lake Publishing; the article deals with writing dialogue in horror fiction. And then I’m working on several sample chapters for an editor who requested a specific kind of horror novel. At the moment I can’t divulge the specifics. Hopefully soon!