March's Author of the Month is Paul Nicholas Mason. Paul is the author of three novels, one short fiction collection, and two plays. In 19 Questions about Process: An interview with Paul Nicholas Mason (below), he shares a few thoughts about his creative process.
Paul Nicholas Mason's books with Turnstone Press are:
When did you first come to think of yourself as a professional writer?
I’m not sure that I do think of myself as a professional writer, given that my total earnings from plays, novels and screenplay options have never been enough to support me and my family. I aspire to be a professional writer. The day may come. … I did, some years ago, receive a truly extraordinary advance, but when I realized the horrific nature of the project, I returned it.
Has your writing routine changed from the time of your first publication?
Yes. For years I wrote in an unstructured way, never knowing where I might end up. When I wrote my first published novel, Battered Soles, however, I plotted things out from the beginning, and this is the strategy I’ve followed ever since. Now, this doesn’t mean that I don’t make changes—even very substantial changes—but it does mean that I have at least a rough map.
Do you submit work to literary journals and 'zines?
No—but only because I don’t often write short-form pieces.
What inspires you?
The people I meet in my daily life. The characters I meet in my reading. Things I see while out walking. Beautiful architecture. My (very liberal) Christian faith.
You write in a variety of formats—novels, short fiction, drama—each genre having its own set of charms and quirks. Do you have a current favourite? Why?
The novel has commanded my allegiance for the last twelve years, but I have just finished a chapter-book for children. I write novels because I enjoy reading them. I relish immersing myself in a world someone else has created.
Do you create an overlying outline of the narrative you hope to tell before drafting the work?
Yes, I prepare a foundational outline—but I leave a great deal of room to be surprised.
Many of your works in some way or other explore the notion of journey—whether physical or personal. What is it about the idea of the journey which interests you?
Well, it is, of course, one of the great themes—and I have taken many journeys, literal and metaphorical, over the last many years. My first novel, Battered Soles, was about a walk (between Peterborough and Lakefield) that became a kind of pilgrimage, and so, in the process, a metaphorical journey. My second novel, The Red Dress, was about a moral journey, as a teenager moved from innocence, through sexual corruption, to become a decent man. My most recent novel, The Night Drummer, is about the two different journeys two friends make, before coming to a place of love and respect without, perhaps, a full understanding of the path the other has taken. … But, you know, even as I write these slim synopses, I wonder if most stories are not, at some level, journeys.
What role does research play in your writing?
A supplementary role. When I was writing Battered Soles I walked the Rotary Greenway Trail between Peterborough and Lakefield and took notes and photographs. When I wrote The Red Dress and The Night Drummer, both of which are set in the mid-1970s, I had to keep checking details on the internet: what was the cost of bread in 1976? When was such-and-such song released? What was the minimum wage? So the research doesn’t inspire the stories, but it helps me paint in the details accurately.
To date, your novels have been set in Ontario, though you’ve resided for periods elsewhere. Why set your work so close to home?
Simply because Ontario is the landscape that I know best. But, without question, I will write novels (and plays) set elsewhere in the years to come. I have a novel underway that’s set partially in New Brunswick, and I have a play I’ve started plotting that’s set in England.
Some writers prefer the process of composing a first draft to a story, while others prefer the editorial stage of fine-tuning and polishing. Do you have a preference? Why?
I don’t, you know. There are happy moments—and intensely frustrating ones!—at every stage along the way.
What’s your favourite moment in the life of your books?
Again, there are many satisfying moments along the way: the glee that comes when you know a certain passage will make other people laugh; the quieter (but no less real) satisfaction when you believe you’ve got something absolutely right; and, yes, the receipt of the first box of books in the mail, with the knowledge that the book is now being shipped to stores.
Do you enjoy public readings?
Yes—because I know I do them well. Whenever I’m invited to give a public reading, I sell books. I am frustrated, frankly, that I’ve done so few—that I’ve yet to tap into the literary circuit in which some of my writer friends now seem comfortably ensconced. —If there is any festival programmer reading this, please know that I give a lively and memorable reading.
What are you currently working on?
I’ve just finished the first draft of a book for children, A Pug Called Poppy, and I must now choose among two novels (The Rogue Wave and Colin’s Picnic), a play about Charles Darwin, and a creative non-fiction account of my aborted ghost-writing project. The latter is a kind of horror story and it scares me a bit.
And now a few fun questions:
Do you keep any talismans or lucky charms nearby when you write?
I have photos of my daughters and of my parents in my study, and there is a small statue of an angel to my left, and of a Buddha to my right, but I don’t see any of these items as charms or talismans: I don’t endow them with magical properties.
Do you draft first in longhand, or on a computer/keyboard?
I make my first notes in longhand, but do all my writing on a keyboard. I learned how to type fairly young, and it’s one of my few manual skills.
Are you a habitual consumer of anything while you write? How about when you edit?
A robust blend of tea—with condensed milk.
Favourite music to listen to while you write?
No. I like quiet. At the moment, however, one of my daughters and her husband and baby live with me, so there are often domestic sounds coming through the door. They ground me.
If you could not be involved in the literary arts, what career might you have?
In the last three months I’ve launched a second (post-teaching) career in voice-over and acting, and have been lucky enough to find film-work. If I ceased to write, I’d put all my professional energy into performance.