Mason, ajar

Gay novelist Richard Mason likes doing things the hard way

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CLARK KENT OR SUPERMAN? | Despite techno aspects of his new novel that include an upcoming smartphone app, Richard Mason wrote ‘History of a Pleasure Seeker’ in longhand. (Photo courtesy Michael Lionstar)

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer

The charm that novelist Richard Mason exudes is undeniable. Words fall from his South African accent crisply, enunciated to perfection even as he talks rapidly. Rarely at a loss for words, ideas seem to flow in his head at a river’s pace and while he brushed on myriad topics, including his just-released fourth novel, History of a Pleasure Seeker, and his plans for his already-plotted next book. Yeah, he’s that guy — the overachiever we all want to be.

But Mason’s personable aura instead makes you root for him. And it’s refreshing to know the handsome gay writer isn’t Superman … despite an unavoidable resemblance to Clark Kent.

“Well, it is hard to juggle while doing this and researching a new book,” he admits. “You really got to keep on putting creative energy to the new book, but then I struggle to read whatever everyone else thinks and do these sorts of interviews. Both are distracting.”

Mason was 18 when his first novel, The Drowning People, was published during his first year at Oxford. Rave reviews and bestseller lists cemented his place in pop-lit, so he took his time with his follow-up, 2005’s Us, which continued his winning streak.

Mason’s complexities may lie in his being bipolar; his heart is set on the memory of his sister Kay, who died when he was a child. With that and an exposed life to arts and literature across Europe, Mason has created a universe of characters in his rich, sophisticated novels.

With Seeker, he’s set the scene in bourgeois Amsterdam, centered on the handsome Piet Barol and his foray into the upper classes. Mason will discuss the book Friday in Dallas as part of the Arts and Letters Live series at the Dallas Museum of Art.

“I really want to create this constellation of novels in that you could read my first six books in any order,” he says. “This character demanded a book of his own. I made him Dutch, because I wanted to write about Holland.”

Mason is glad to have an audience, though on his Twitter feed, he confessed disappointment that people weren’t getting the true point of the book. “So far no one has noticed that History of a Pleasure Seeker is a story about God,” he tweeted, and not just the tale of a social-climbing Dutch boy. Mason makes the strong point that to create a fictional world without the notion of God or spirituality, a chief element of humanity would be missing.

lead-02“Every character relates to God quite strongly, they’ve made pacts with God,” he says. “Nobody seems to notice that. They think it’s about sex. You can’t create a fully dimensional character without talking about their spiritual life, but it’s the same about talking their erotic experiences. All that is what it means to be human.”

Mason moved to New York City in 2010 with his partner of 12 years. The demands of the city didn’t offer him much quiet time to write, but at the same time, he thrives in the artistic atmosphere and excites over the endless collaborative possibilities. He says the jury is still out on his living there because he finds himself yearning for his tent in South Africa, where he did research.

But his collaborations paid off for Seeker — this will be the first novel to have its own smartphone app (it comes out in May). Mason researched certain sounds he imagined while writing or even songs playing in the background. He worked with artists and developers to create a full-on interactive reading experience.

Ironically, despite a technological approach to literature, he sat and wrote Seeker by hand.

“Writing it was a profoundly different mental process to write out, but with a computer, you never see the architecture of the text,” he says. “The app came about having spent a year in that tent. The way I write has real buildings, things to see and hear. When you’re reading where Piet says goodbye, a man playing music in the back. You can set the level of your own imaginable engagement to the book. I think it’s an inspired new way of telling a story and I got to work with terrific artists to make it exciting.”

Mason doesn’t write gay books per se, but he applies his same philosophy to queer characters as he does the notion of God.

“It’s important to give the exposure of gay characters,” he explains. “Once you’ve written a number of novels, you can’t create a world without them. There is a more profound truth from that now. I don’t know how you can avoid writing about gay experience.”

For an international, jet-setting author, Mason leads a very normal-sounding life. He and his partner recently celebrated their 12-year anniversary but they don’t “do” Valentine’s Day. He complains about the emails he has to trim down which is an ongoing saga on his Twitter feed and he’s prefers a healthy and Zen way of life over “the raunchy gay scene” of New York as the London Evening Standard described in an interview with Mason last year. He cleverly responded, “You can throw yourself into a life of debauched hedonism or you can live a sober life of self-improvement, meditation, personal trainers and 12-step programs. I’m trying to stick to the second, with just a little bit of the first for fun.”

But first he has to concentrate on his next novel.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 17, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

Author, author!

Mark Lee Kirchmeier and Alvin Granowsky add their gay voices to the Dallas literary community

RICH LOPEZ | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

MUTUAL ADMIRATION SOCIETY | Granowsky, left, and Kirchmeier peek at each other’s tragic tales. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

It seems unlikely that Mark Lee Kirchmeier and Alvin Granowsky had never met before this week, since both are in the niche market of gay writers in Dallas. But perhaps they represent a budding scene of out local authors. Dallas gays are claiming a presence.

When the authors finally met, a literary camaraderie took over. Kirchmeier had heard good things about Granowsky’s book, which delighted Granowsky. Several mutual acquaintances and writing comparisons later, the two seemed like old pals.

Kirchmeier published his first book, The Promise of Hope, four years ago; the story of his hero, Johnny, continues 10 years later in his second novel, The Open Pill Box.

“I intended it to be a sequel but it took on a life of its own,” Kirchmeier says. “It’s so much larger than the first. He’s psychotic as a young man in Promise, but now he keeps himself under control with meds but no safety net.”

He calls his first book more romantic, but in Pill Box, Kirchmeier fully knows the story is not pretty or romantic. Johnny is a gay bipolar man seeking the help of anyone who can get him meds. Without insurance, he’s close to being thrown away by society until he finds a reprieve from his ex and the Catholic Church. Pill Box is also Kirchmeier’s exploration and criticism of America’s healthcare system.

Granowsky explores social topics as well, though from a different perspective. In his 2009 book Teacher Accused, he addresses what happens “when homophobia explodes in a Texas town.” But he has added romance into the picture giving the reader a beacon of hope amid a tragic story.

“I see this story as a journey to pride,” he says. “I think people sometimes feel kind of defective because they are gay. I really want this to have a positive depiction so younger people can see there is a great life to be had — even if it’s in a homophobic society.”

That both books have dour, dire plots begs a curious question: Is gay tragedy an obvious outlet for an out writer? With the usual backgrounds of LGBT people growing up being bullied or shunned, the need to rehash such unpleasant environments for the authors was a catharsis, whether it was experienced first hand or observed.

“I’m bipolar,” Kirchmeier candidly admits. “This is an advocate book for the mentally ill who don’t have insurance and who are gay. I’ve felt thrown away and not wanted. This isn’t my story, but I am in there. Johnny and I are alike in many ways because of the things I’ve seen and life experiences.”

Granowsky, by contrast, writes from observation. As a former educator, he noticed the students who might be gay and the way they were treated by everyone else. He was pained by this memory that years later, and needed to get it out of his system.

“There is a catharsis talking about this,” he says. “It’s like cleansing one’s own sense of self. I needed to let it come out. My value system suffered. The funny thing is, I had no intention of getting published. I just wanted to write it down. It was a labor of love.”

That venting of ill emotions has its rewards. Each author sees his novel making an impact in the community, whether from an appreciative fan or an actually life changing moment. Both express compassion in their books that speaks to readers.

“I looked around and wanted to make a change, a statement,” Kirchmeier says. “I’m angry about the lack of universal healthcare. The way hospitals treat people without insurance. I wanted to speak out in anger and take a look at the social injustice that’s even based here in Dallas.”

He took a year and a half to write The Open Pill Box, and its darkness took a lot out of him physically and emotionally. It affected his hygiene, his health and even his teeth: He became so rapt he eventually had to have a root canal for ignoring his teeth.

That should change with book three.

“I’m currently writing My Best Pledge, which is a lighthearted romp through fraternity hood. And then after that, I’m writing The Paleta Man — a sequel to The Open Pill Box.”

Meanwhile, Granowsky is still reveling in having his book published. With people coming out earlier, he sees a shift in a new generation of pride. Something he didn’t have.

“Younger people are coming out earlier,” he says. “Sometimes they aren’t as prepared but now there are more solid role models for that. Plus, I think this book could inspire people to be proud of who they are and that life can be happy. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.”

Once the photo was done the authors exchanged books, spreading their message a little further. And each seems to know that they could be part of a homegrown trend of giving a voice to the gay community.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 02, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas