Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Mike Mason has been a full time writer for thirty years, with ten books to his credit, including The Gospel According to Job and the Gold Medallion winner The Mystery of Marriage. The Blue Umbrella, a children’s fantasy, was nominated for a Christy award in 2010. Mike has an M.A. in English Literature and has studied theology at Regent College in Vancouver. Married since 1982 to Karen, a family doctor, they live in Langley, British Columbia. Their one daughter, Heather, born in 1987, is pursuing dance studies. All in all Mike enjoys a simple life filled with family and friends, a dog, books, music, and prayer. More at

Mike, I am so thrilled to have you on The Borrowed Book. I read THE BLUE UMBRELLA and loved it, and I am SO looking forward to the sequel. But enough gushing...let's talk about you. Did you see yourself becoming a writer as a child? If not, what did you dream of being?

I’ve wanted to be a writer since age 11, when I had an excellent English teacher who encouraged me. I’ve never wanted to be anything else—except a university professor of literature, which I thought might go well with writing. But after five years of university I knew I would never write there. I’ve gotten many things wrong in life, but one thing I got right from an early age was to stick to my writing dream and not allow anything else to interfere. So I deliberately did not develop a second career to fall back on.

How long did you write before you sold your first book?

Seven years. I
didn’t write seriously until I left university at age 25, and I sold my first book (THE MYSTERY OF MARRIAGE) at 32. It really was my first book—at least the first one I tried to get published—and I was very lucky because the first place I sent it to accepted it. In fact it was the first unsolicited manuscript that publisher (the old Multnomah Press) had ever accepted. During those first seven years of writing, I sold several short stories to little magazines, and completed two full-length books that I knew were not publishable. I’d also done some writing as a teenager, plus tons of university essays, so probably my apprenticeship amounted to about ten years, which I think is par for the course.

Many of the people who follow our blog are aspiring writers themselves. Can you share your favorite writing tip with them?

When I begin the day’s writing, I always start where I want to start. For example, in doing this interview, I started with the easiest question, the one for which I had an immediate answer. Then, once my fingers are moving over the keyboard, everything else tends
to fall into place. So when I’m writing a novel—and especially if I feel stuck—I don’t necessarily pick up where I last left off. I’ll write any scene, passage, or bit of dialogue that comes to mind, whatever my fingers seem to want to do. Once I’m moving, it’s much easier to go back to where I was stuck, or else just to leave that hard bit for another day—because the day will come when that is the bit I want to do.

Now for the readers…many times, it’s easy for them to connect with the characters in a book, but not so much the authors themselves. Share something about your day-to-day life that might help a reader to feel as though they know you a little better.

My first vocation is not really to writing but to prayer. Even though I’m married, I think of myse
lf as a kind of monk. Morning, afternoon, and last thing at night I devote to prayer, and in other ways I try to live a simple, contemplative life. Prayer is the thing I love to do best, and all my writing flows out of time with God. Good writing, I believe, requires a lot of space: space for just sitting, reflecting, reading, listening to music, looking out the window, drifting around the house, walking in nature. Words emerge from silence.

Now that you are published, do you still experience rejections? If so, how are these rejections different or similar to the ones you received before becoming published?

Since publishing my first book, all my other books have easily found homes—with two notable exceptions. One exception is a book I wrote about fifteen years ago called ADVENTURES IN HEAVEN, which I’ve never been able to get published. I’ve sent it
to about thirty publishers and several agents. A collection of visions of heaven, it seems to be too radical for anyone to handle. But of all my books, it’s the one I’ve most enjoyed writing, so it hurts that I cannot find an audience for it. However, I’m resigned to this, and I believe the day will come when it will be “discovered”—probably after my death! The other exception is my first children’s fantasy novel, THE BLUE UMBRELLA. With this book, too, I went through about thirty different publishers and two agents before it finally got published. Coming at a point when I’d been a successful writer for twenty years, this was VERY difficult. But I’d changed genres (from devotional books to fiction) and so I was trying to break into a new market. It was like beginning a whole new career. These two rejections later in life have been much harder than anything I faced in my early years. Youth is full of confidence, but now as I approach 60 I feel I should have my foot in the door—and it just isn’t so. No tenure in this business.

Tell us a little about your latest release:

THE VIOLET FLASH is the sequel to THE BLUE UMBRELLA. (To read a review of The Blue Umbrella click here.) Whereas the first book took place at Christmas, this one happens at Easter and has a different protagonist named Ches. But otherwise the setting is the same: a little town called Five Corners with an old general store called Porter’s that is filled with magic. The magic centers around a blue umbrella owned by the storekeeper, Sky Porter. As Book 2 opens, Ches’s sister, Chelsea, vanishes into a hole in the open umbrella! Ches, who cares about nobody but himself, is surprised to find how much he misses Chelsea. Her disappearance propels him on a journey of self-discovery. Adding to the mystery is the fact that seconds seem to be disappearing from the world’s atomic clocks, with dire effects on everything from air travel to stock markets. So the story is full of clocks and lore about time, including an attempt to prove Einstein wrong!

If you could only share one line from THE VIOLET FLASH, which one would you choose and why?

How about the very first sentence: “Chesterton Cholmondeley poked the bridge of his tortoiseshell glasses with one finger, a gesture he performed a few hundred times a day.”
I like to find one physical detail that sums up a character’s personality. In this case we get an immediate picture of someone who is a bit preposterous (that name!), and probably over-intellectual and preoccupied with himself. There’s a hint that he moves slowly (like a tortoise) and that he’s trying very hard to figure something out or to see something—hence he’s always adjusting his glasses. By the end of the book he has, in fact, learned to come out of his “shell” and to “see” much more clearly. I love layering my sentences with these sort of overtones and hidden suggestions.

Writers often put things in their books that are very personal—like a funny story that happened to them, a spiritual truth they learned through difficulty, or even just a character trait that is uniquely theirs. Is there something in THE VIOLET FLASH that only people close to you know is about you or someone you know?

Like my protagonist, Ches, I’m fascinated with celestial optical phenomena such as sundogs, northern lights, glories, or noctilucent clouds. If it’s raining and the sun is shining, you’ll find me outside searching the sky for a rainbow. In fact I have a fat file on rainbows that I hope to turn into a book some day. Or maybe I’ve already done it in THE VIOLET FLASH ... 

Readers often talk a lot about the hero and heroine of a story, but today I’d like to know something about your villain. Does he or she have a redeeming quality? Why or why not?

The villain in my first novel was evil through and through. I wanted him that way because there really are such people in the world. In THE VIOLET FLASH, however, I wanted to explore a totally different kind of villain, and so this one is much more complex. He is full of redeeming qualities, very likeable, and yet, like a tragic figure, one fatal flaw takes over his character and brings him down. This, too, is true to life.

What kind of research did you have to do for this book? Can you share some articles or website links you found particularly helpful?

I did research in two areas particularly: weather and time. The “violet flash” of the title is a meteorological phenomenon that requires very delicate weather conditions. You can see a rare photograph of a violet flash here. And this website has great photos of the more common phenomenon called the “green flash.” On the subject of time, I visited clock stores and read piles of books on Einstein, relativity, clockmaking, sundials, and so on. One of my favorite articles was “Clash of the Time Lords” from the December 2006 Harper’s Magazine. It’s full of fascinating details, a few of which found their way into my book, such as: “The length of a day in the Devonian era, 400 million years ago, was about twenty-two hours.” And here’s a cool website where you can view the “night terminator”—the shadow of night moving across the earth—just as I describe it on a special clock in THE VIOLET FLASH.

Tell us what new projects you’re working on.

Having completed two novels, along with the challenge of learning how to do it, I’m tired, so I’m taking a sabbatical year. But it’s not all rest. My days are filled with things that I could never get around to while working on a long book. Playing catch-up with my life, I call it. And I’m also putting a lot of time into publicity for the new book, and editing a dozen or so of my Christmas stories into a collection. For the future, of course, I have plans for a third novel in the fantasy series. And I’m gearing up to write a long novel in verse about angels. I’ve been dreaming about that one for years. My magnum opus!

The most common thing I hear when people learned I’ve published a book is, “I’ve always wanted to do that.” Faced with this statement, what advice would you give to someone just starting out in this business?

Just do it! Glue your butt to the chair and write one word after another. If you don’t have the self discipline to work at writing, then try just playing at it. Try some non-threatening form of writing such as journaling. All of my books have grown out of journaling. I write away in my journal about whatever I want, whatever happens to be on my mind, and after a while I’ll notice that my thoughts are heading in one direction. Before I know it, I have a book idea, for which a good deal of the writing is already done!

What is the one question you were afraid I would ask…and how would you answer?

I’m embarrassed about the fact that I don’t start work until about 4:00 p.m., or sometimes even 5:00. Years ago I wrote in the mornings, so I’m not quite sure how I got to this point. But since I started writing novels I tend to stay up very late, till about 2:00 a.m., because my mind is busy working out story details. I find fiction much more consuming than nonfiction, and if I started in the morning I might just keep on going all day long. So if I want to have a life apart from writing, it has to be before work, not after. From past experience I know that if I write more than 3 or 4 hours a day (that’s actual writing time, not counting research, planning, etc), I soon burn out.

Anything you’d like to add?

My book launch for THE VIOLET FLASH will be at the real Porter’s Store, just down the hill from where I live. I don’t call it a book launch, however, but a “Grand Opening,” because the main event is opening the book for the first time in public and reading from it aloud. I also have a beautiful blue umbrella (see photo) that I open to a round of applause as I say, “Gandalf has his staff, Luke Skywalker has his light saber, Harry Potter has his wand, and Sky Porter has his blue umbrella!”
Mike is giving away a copy of his book The Violet Flash. Be sure to stop by The Borrowed Book on Friday for your chance to win!

1 comment :

  1. Oh! Sounds so good. I'll have to buy it for my daughter. Thanks for letting us interview you!


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