Gay novelist Richard Mason likes doing things the hard way
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.
“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.