Here’s the recipe behind Jamie Mason’s brand of storytelling: Mix one part nurture with one part nature, then simmer over a low flame for 30 years.
Let’s start with the nurture—growing up with a pentecostal preacher as a father.
“It was intense,” Mason recalled. “I mean, it was sort of one eye on the sky for the rapture. It was everyday life.”
That upbringing seeded Mason's imagination. Then came nature and something called aphantasia. Mason only recently learned that’s the term for her inability to visualize anything in her mind’s eye.
“I don’t like the word aphantasia because it means without fantasy, and that’s clearly not true. I have a very rich internal life. It just doesn’t include pictures,” Mason said. “They call it mind blind. In memory or invention, I don’t have any images. Once I see something, I process visually just like somebody else, but it becomes a code for what that thing is.”
Without the ability to visualize, Mason builds pictures through written descriptions. The two—the nurture of her imagination and the nature of her condition—form the foundation of the inventive plotlines and engaging writing style at the heart of Mason’s novels.
Her third and newest book is “The Hidden Things.” The story revolves around a 14-year-old girl who, unwittingly, becomes a viral video sensation after security cameras capture her fending off a home-invasion attack. The video unravels other family secrets.
Mason is launching and reading from “The Hidden Things” Aug. 10 at Malaprop’s Books in Asheville.
Here’s a passage just after the girl absorbs what she experienced—and almost experienced:
There is no proper term, no single word, for the tidal wave of a near miss. It’s made of a fear that’s completely after-the-fact. There’s nothing to fix. Everything is fine except the trembling and the terror spiked with fury at the carelessness of the universe. It’s resentment shot through with bright pangs of superstitious gratitude toward whatever power intervened to make it a horribly lucky day. It’s love concentrated to a strength that’s nearly poisonous. The worst of it, though, is the gift of preview—that cold ghost of grief that whispers that it is still out there for you, simply waiting for some other day.
“I wrote that paragraph 5,000 times,” Mason said. “I knew it was right when I read across it and didn’t want to change a word.”
Mason grew up in Alexandria, Va., and went into the banking industry. Her first taste of writing: Banking memos.
“I loved that it was just a normal life and that it was what you were supposed to do, and I was doing it,” she said. “I was absolutely thrilled.”
Mason didn’t dabble in fiction until after having her first child, at age 31, and she devoted herself to writing full-time shortly after her family moved to Asheville, in 2005.
From the beginning, she was drawn to writing stories of suspense that, for the sake of marketing, fall under the genre of crime fiction. Her novels to date all feature different characters and focus on ordinary people who fall into absurd situations, each with one story serving as a top layer for another.
“It’s hard to read my book fast. I write to the speed that I read and I read very slowly,” she said. “I’m a savorer. I don’t make a picture. I’m loving the words. It’s not that the plot is slow-paced, but the prose is deliberate. It’s very hard to skim my writing.”
Nearly every writer would envy Mason’s career trajectory. Mason quickly found an agent who landed her a deal with Simon & Schuster, and a strong review in the New York Times led to cracking the bestsellers list with her debut novel, “Three Graves Full.”
“It was a highlight. I’m still floating,” Mason said. “It made me feel I was allowed to (be a writer).”
Mason’s working on a novel about a serial bank robber stalking a defiant bank teller who happens to be sitting on information that can change the world.
“Stories never really end. That’s the funny part about fiction, both in books and movies: We write the end but, in real life, there’s no ‘The End.’ Everybody just starts doing something else,” she said. “So the idea of something you have done leading you into something insane and worth writing about, that really appeals to me.”