Saturday, October 31, 2009

A View from Mike Mason's Window about his fiction debut: The Blue Umbrella

Earlier this month I introduced my readers to a delightful fantasy novel entitled The Blue Umbrella. I was so enchanted with this story, I sought out an interview with the author, and Mike Mason generously answered all of my questions! I am so delighted to introduce Mike to you, and I hope you will give him a warm welcome.

I also hope that you will read his delightful novel and that you are as enchanted as I was by his wonderful and adventuresome tale! You will find my review here, and you can also visit Mike's website to read a sample chapter.

Welcome, Mike Mason!

Regardless of age, people can’t help but be fascinated by the weather. What is your favorite kind of weather and why?

I’m not a sunny day sort of person. Like Zac’s mother in my book, I love weather with character, especially thunder and lightning and wind. This goes back to my childhood when, like Zac, I used to stay up with my mother late at night to watch storms. As it happens, the place where I live now (on the west coast) doesn’t have much electrical activity, but we do get a lot of rain. There’s nothing I like better than an all-day rain. It’s great writing weather!

You have a daughter. What weather events have you enjoyed together?

When Heather was about ten we had a holiday at a lakeside cottage. It rained solidly for several days, until we were sick of it. On Sunday we decided to have a little family church service. We read scripture, sang, and talked to God and about Him. Then at the end, moved by the Spirit, we did a sun dance! You’ve heard of rain dances? Well, this was a sun dance, to make the rain stop and bring out the sun. After all, it was Sunday! So we danced around the cottage and whooped it up and had ourselves a ball. And an hour later the sun came out and it stayed sunny the rest of our holiday.

As a child, weather also provided some terrifying moments…lightning struck our home and caught it on fire…a tornado touched down within 100 yards of our home and literally moved our porches around. What has been your most memorable weather moment?

Yes, I’ve known some extreme weather, especially the tremendous blizzards when I lived on the prairies. Ther’ve been times when I didn’t know if I’d come out alive. But my most memorable weather event was actually very peaceful and beautiful. Again I was at a cottage with my family, only this time I was the ten-year-old child. I was on a hike with my parents and we got caught in a downpour. We found refuge in the woods, where my dad built a fire, and for the next few hours we sat around that campfire and had the most beautiful family time, with the sound of the rain all around us. I still have the wooden spoon that my dad carved for me with his jackknife that day. My father was a very busy man and I didn’t get much time with him. But that day I had him and my mom all to myself and I felt so happy and protected.

The Blue Umbrella is your first journey into fiction. What drew you to the children’s fiction genre? Were you surprised by Zac Sparks’ adventure as it flowed from your mind to the page? Did your characters take on a life of their own?

About ten years ago I started reading children’s fiction for the first time as an adult, and I’m still at it. I find it so refreshing. Children’s literature is allowed to be idealistic in a way that modern adult literature is not. There are happy endings, heroic characters, a clear battle between good and evil, and portals leading to other worlds—all things that reflect, I believe, the deepest truths of life. Writing one of these stories for myself has been an amazing experience. I was at a point in my writing life where I needed a new challenge, and I definitely got it! With the change to a new genre, suddenly I was in the midst of a very steep learning curve, and I often felt terrified. What was going to happen next? Could I really do this? How would it end? So yes, I was very surprised at how the story and characters took on lives of their own and tumbled, or sometimes stumbled, forward. Eventually I learned to relax and just trust the process. Which is very interesting, considering that my story is fundamentally about learning to trust.

Who is your favorite character in the story? Why?

Chelsea! I love her because she is the one who has most retained her childlikeness. Through her connection with Eldy, she has resisted all pressure to conform to the evil that has the whole town in its grip. Book 3 in my series will be from Chelsea’s point of view and I can hardly wait to write it!

You have stated in the After Words section of the book that the spiritual analogy was not intentional. However, the final scenes seemed to reflect a deep sense of the gospel message (e.g. the color of Sky Porter’s umbrella will probably be seen by many as representative of the blood of Christ). Were you pleased that the story so effortlessly represented your faith? Do you hope that others will sense your message as they read? That parents will use this as an opportunity to talk with their children about Christ?

“The story effortlessly represented my faith”: Yes, this is exactly what happened. The red umbrella is a good example of a symbol that naturally presented itself. Of course I could have made that umbrella some other color. But if the story itself wants to go to Connecticut, and I see a signpost that says “Connecticut,” then I’ll take that road. Writing is a matter of following, not forcing. I was deeply pleased to find myself writing a story with such spiritual significance, and I do hope readers will notice this and talk about it. But I’m also pleased that the book can, I think, be enjoyed without fully being aware of this other dimension. If the story works well in its own right, then its spiritual truth can still be felt as a resonance, a perfume, that lingers in a reader’s heart. This is what C.S. Lewis meant by “baptizing the imagination,” and it’s what I experienced when his book The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was first read to me as a child. I had no idea of its Christian significance, but the story stayed with me powerfully.

What memorable moments have you enjoyed along with the release of The Blue Umbrella? Can you share a favorite moment with a fan? A memory of holding the finished volume in your hand? What stands out most about this fiction debut?

The best part was my book launch at the real Porter’s Store, just three blocks from where I live. It was one of the most wonderful events of my life. Not since my wedding day (27 years ago!) had so many people that I know gathered in one room. And it was a great community event. Before this, as a writer of non-fiction, none of my other books was really rooted in a particular place. But with this one I love the feeling of the neighborhood connection. One neighbor played jazz piano, the store managers were as excited as I was, and the owner even baked cookies in the shape of blue umbrellas! My favorite moment came as I announced, “Gandalf has his staff, Harry Potter has his wand, Luke Skywalker has his light saber, and Sky Porter has his blue umbrella!” whereupon I dramatically opened my own spring-loaded blue umbrella to a round of applause. As for a favorite moment with a fan, I think it was the little boy who asked, “Are you famous?” I suppose I should have said something about there being degrees of fame (“I’m not as famous as Hannah Montana!”), but instead I just beamed and said, “Right now it sure feels like it.”

Can you give us a sneak peek into the next volume, The Violet Flash? Will we see some of the same characters again?

Yes, the whole cast will be back, but this time the story takes place at Easter and it will be narrated from Ches’s point of view. I’m very fond of Ches. On the surface he’s gruff and unlikable, but he’s also very frank, and that’s a sign of someone who loves truth. Due to Ches’s background, he has so many problems. But precisely because of that, he has a great journey to make from darkness to light.

What exciting things is God doing in your life? Any closing words of encouragement you’d like to share with your readers?

Finding the courage to identify myself as a fiction writer, committing to writing a long novel, and struggling through every difficulty to finally give it birth, has brought me to a mountaintop experience. I’ve never been happier or felt more free in my life, and I find myself with the closeness to God that I’ve always dreamed of. What happened is that I didn’t just write a novel, but I went on an epic journey myself. Although my book is a fantasy, in order to write it I, too, in my real life, had to face down villains, slay dragons, slog through darkness, and eventually emerge into the light. As I look around myself now, I see the battlefield strewn with the corpses of my enemies, and I am a new person. So I would challenge my readers to embark on a similar journey. It may not be writing a novel, but what is it for you? What is God stirring in your heart? Take hold of that dream and pursue it with all you’ve got, and don’t stop until you’ve achieved it.

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