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

FW gay writer gets props for ‘Trannies’ story

I’ve known Jimmy Fowler for way longer than I care to admit — since we were both writing film criticism for the Dallas Observer. He was a good writer then and still is — and he has some evidence to prove it.

Fowler, who now writes for the Fort Worth Weekly, has just been nominated by the AltWeekly Awards for the best arts feature (for papers with 50,000 circulation or less) for his piece “Ticked Off at Ticked-Off Trannies,” a story that examined the controversy over Israel Luna’s transploitation comedy Ticked-Off Trannies with Knives, which had trans activist Kelli Ann Busey in a tizzy last year. Fowler is one of four finalists.

His Fort Worth Weekly colleagues also up for awards include Kristian Lin (arts criticism), Jeff Prince (media reporting), Betty Brink (investigative reporting) and Peter Gorman (long form news story). The Dallas Observer is a finalist for political columnist Jim Schutze, cover designer Alex Flores, and former food writer Hanna Raskin, and for the DC9 at Night blog.

Winners we be unveiled at a ceremony on July 22 in New Orleans.

A CORRECTION: Fort Worth Weekly and Dallas Observer used to be owned by the same company, but I have been informed they aren’t any longer. My apologies.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Wilkommen

A haunting, exhilarating, unforgettable ‘Cabaret’

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

LIFE IS A … WELL, YOU KNOW | The Emcee (Wade McCollum, center) presides over the last days of a doomed society in DTC’s excellent staging of ‘Cabaret.’ (Photo courtesy Karen Almond)

CABARET
Wyly Theatre, 2400 Flora St. Through May 22. $10-$80.
DallasTheaterCenter.org

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It’s no exaggeration to say that Cabaret is the best thing the Dallas Theater Center has done since moving into its new digs at the Wyly Theatre almost two years ago. When they took over the space, artistic director Kevin Moriarty said it would take a few years before the artists working there fully assessed what the theater could be. With back-to-back stagings by Joel Ferrell — Dividing the Estate in March, now this — it’s clear that at least one artist has staked his claim on understanding that potential.

Ferrell’s decision to turn the floor of the theater into a nightclub — with cocktail service and café tables and the actors interacting with the audience as they might inside the Rose Room — both gives some attendees respite from the notoriously hard green chairs of the Wyly and a sense for the intimacy and humanity of a musical that, at its heart, is about sweeping ideas and man’s inhumanity.

It’s 1931 Berlin, and the Nazis are rising to power, but for the staff and patrons of the Kit Kat Klub, it’s hard to see that the party’s almost over. They should know it — in Clint Ramos’ tattered costumes, ghastly makeup and walking through Bob Lavallee’s skeletal set, everyone looks hung over and slightly diseased. (So intense is the sexual energy in the buoyant opening number, I had a strong desire to leave immediately and get tested for Chlamydia.)

Cliff Bradshaw (Lee Trull) is late to the party. A stand-in for the gay writer Christopher Isherwood, Cliff hopes the decadence of the city will inspire his next novel. He settles into a boarding house that’s a microcosm for the diversity of the city — and a hotbed of what will rip Germany apart.

Of course there’s Kander and Ebb’s potent score, but Ferrell’s direction is stand-out. His deftness with political subtext, foreshadowing the horrors of the Holocaust and conveying the allure of institutionalized hatred as a rallying point for a defeated and scared proletariat, echoes realities of our own politically divisive society with haunting poignancy. (Sally Vahle, who transforms from street whore to grande dame of the Fatherland, is the starkest metaphor for its appeal. It’s fun while it lasts; après-vous, le deluge.)

Wade McCollum dominates the cast as the Emcee. In red eyeliner, low-slung hip-huggers that barely conceal his junk and a demonic grin that creeps you out and seduces you at the same time, his characterization is equal parts Alice Cooper, Dr. Frank-N-Furter and Alex from A Clockwork Orange. Surrounded by his Droogs — the chorus boys, a raucous bunch of muscled hooligans — he presides over the festivities with a flirtatious recklessness (during the Nazi anthem “Tomorrow Belongs to Me,” he hyperventilates at the notion of watching the world end), he’s practically the raison-d’etre of the piece.

Practically, but not entirely — no one disappoints. As Sally Bowles, the headliner at the cabaret, Kate Wetherhead is physically delicate but convincingly flighty and self-destructive with a great performance style. Her delivery on “Maybe This Time” lingers. David Coffee and Julie Johnson as the middle-aged couple tentatively staking out a romance form the core of the play’s emotional life. Their doom resonates and the irony of the show’s most famous lyric — “Life is a cabaret, old chum — come to the cabaret” — leaves you breathless by the end.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 6, 2011.

To read an interview with the director and star, click here.

—  Michael Stephens

What’s Brewing: Lady Gaga at the AAC; GLAAD says gays can’t say ‘fag’; Dallas mayor’s race

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. We’ll have much more on Lady Gaga’s show at the American Airlines Center in Dallas last night — and the afterparties at local gay clubs — later on today after those who were in attendance drag themselves out of bed. But for now, above is some early video of Gaga performing “Telephone” after calling a little monster in the audience.

2. In response to criticism from GLAAD, Vanity Fair has apologized for an openly gay writer’s use of the word “fags” in an article about characters on Glee. Apparently, gay writers are no longer allowed to use the word “fag” in print, according to GLAAD. Needless to say, Instant Tea never received this memo.

3. Another reason why we need more openly LGBT people to run for public office: The Dallas mayor’s race looks like a real snoozer because it features three candidates who lack much flair.

—  John Wright