FACETIME- Massie fear: No place like <i>Homeplace</i>

Beth Massie

Small towns have always bewitched horror authors. Stephen King has his Castle Rock, Maine; H. P. Lovecraft had Dunwich, Massachusetts; and, for over twenty years, two-time Bram Stoker Award-winning authoress Elizabeth Massie has been casting a pall over Virginia's countryside. 

Is Virginia intrinsically macabre? Not necessarily: Massie, 54, has painted a ghastly picture of her home state "Just because I'm so familiar with the territory," she confesses. 

Set in Nelson County, her latest novel, Homeplace, concerns a secluded farmhouse, inspired by a similar home that belonged to her family as early as 1746. Childhood visits to that foreboding "Homeplace," as her family dubbed it, left an indelible impact on Massie, who recalls being horrified– "the old out-buildings and the well in particular."

That well was topped with plywood with bricks "placed around the edges... as if to keep tiny animals from falling in, but there was the sense that anything inside, if so determined, could push its way out," Massie eerily hints. 

The book follows a young painter's stay in her inherited family home. There, she discovers that one of her ancestors was a "self-proclaimed witch." As the heroine's situation grows stranger, she "begins to feel that there is something at the farm that doesn't want her to be there," Massie says.

The original Homeplace is in Albemarle, but for dramatic reasons, she transplanted it to Nelson. As Massie explains, "Albemarle's been built up so much... But Nelson doesn't even have a major town. I mean, you've got Lovingston, and everything else is rural and, in some cases, extremely rustic and isolated." 

The optimal word being "isolated," Massie insists. Much of her fiction, she says, springs "from the concept of human alienation and isolation. That to me is one of the scariest places to start." 

Methods of getting under her readers' skin abound, but one that Massie has mastered is reader identification with her own personal fears.

"It's just a matter of saying ‘I'm afraid of this,'" she explains. "Let me really strip it down, let me throw myself into it, and I'm going to hope that someone reading it will feel that connection.

"Maybe other people aren't afraid of old wells in the yard that have plywood on top, but that, as a kid, scared the hell out of me. And, still, if I saw that, I would be creeped out... And why? Because you don't know what's in there, what's hidden in the dark. 

"And so even if other people aren't afraid of that, I try to connect to that universal fear– just fear in general. And if I can make someone feel that same fear, then I've done my job." 

And according to her peers, she has done precisely that. "There's a lot of bad writing in the horror field," best-selling horror author Christopher Golden tells the Hook. "If readers get disenchanted, they only need to have a taste of Beth Massie's work to remind them what horror stories are supposed to be."

Massie appears at the Virginia Festival of the Book at 8pm Friday, March 28, discussing "Tales That Keep You Up at Night" at Barnes & Noble.