I connected with Jamie Mason through Facebook last year, and he held my attention through his interesting viewpoints and unique perspective on the world. After awhile, I ended up exposed to his short work, which led me to his new release, Kezzie of Babylon, a rip-roaring zombie apocalypse adventure. I invited him to virtually sit down with me, if you will, to discuss his fiction, his process, and the tumult that is life; welcome Jamie Mason to the blog.
Let’s give readers a little background on you. What should we know about Jamie Mason?
In broad strokes, the picture is pretty conventional. Born in Montreal, went to college in the States, returned to Canada 22 years later. It’s only in the details that a life becomes interesting. Such as, for instance, the fact that I grew up in a series of cult- and cult-like environments. Also, that my life became abruptly derailed when my parents went to prison and I lost more or less everything and was forced to start from scratch earning $4.75 per hour doing sales cold calls. I’ve been a professional musician, a self-defense instructor, a teacher, a security guard, a clerk/typist (I’m currently employed as a PI).
Throughout all of this, writing has been the one thread that’s tied everything together. It’s kept me sane. Without it, I’d probably have been one of those guys you read about in the news who walks into a shopping mall and starts gunning people down.
You’ve accumulated a large body of work in a few years time, consisting of two novels and forty plus stories. I want to talk to you about Kezzie of Babylon, but let’s rewind first. How’d you get started writing? How did you start as a writer seeking professional status?
The writing began spontaneously at age 7. Whatever else my mother did wrong, she gave me a love of books. We had an electric typewriter at our house and I became fascinated by the challenge of creating things on it that resembled the pages in books I read (this was before I knew about typesetting). I wrote my first novel in seventh grade, handwritten in notebooks during math class. It was an espionage novel.
I don’t believe in “professional” writers. What the fuck is that, anyway? If you mean some guy who makes a living writing, you can count them on the fingers of one hand. Anyway, the term “literature” has been rendered more or less meaningless in the age of self-pubbing and Amazon direct-to-market vanity projects. What do you call someone who’s conscientiously devoted the past 25 years of his life to learning to write well (apart from “misguided”)? A writer. There are writers and non-writers. And wannabes. I suppose I’m a writer.
You’ve got a first novel, Echo, first published in 2011 from Drollerie Press, and more recently, about to be reissued by Permuted Press. A first novel marks an important stage in an author’s career. What did you learn? What would you have done different?
Echo was reviewed and accepted for publication fairly quickly by a publisher called Drollerie Press. Selena Green, their marketing VP, was very enthusiastic about the project. We had an uphill battle pushing the novel through the editorial process because, unbeknownst to us, the owner was planning to shut the press down. We pushed out an e-edition which reached an Amazon sales ranking of 14,000 or so before Drollerie’s owner vanished. I never saw a royalty check, although Selena and I remain friends. We collaborated on bringing out the current (second) edition and I still involve her in projects from time to time. I recommend her as a freelance editor and typesetter.
What would I do different? Nothing, really. There was no way to predict what happened. It just happened. It sucked, but I adapted. Like Master Kan counseled Grasshopper in Kung-Fu when asked whether or not to trust people: “Trust! But expect surprises.”
I read a synopsis of Echo, which is sci-fi, and you followed up with Kezzie, which is firmly in the zombie/horror camp. What inspired the transition, and do you prefer a particular genre?
It was a surprisingly easy transition. I’ve always straddled the sci-fi/fantasy fence quite comfortably, so writing a zombie story for Exile Edition’s Dead North zombie antho back in 2013 seemed like an easy way to make some bread. Well, I made more than that — I made an invaluable friend in the person of Silvia Moreno-Garcia, a very fine Mexican-Canadian writer who edited the project. I’m very proud of our professional association. Have you read her new novel, Signal To Noise? You should …
For me, genre is a vehicle to convey stories I have experienced that would be otherwise impossible to share with people. For example, how do you explain what it’s like to be manipulated by a cult leader to someone whose entire experience of religion consists exclusively of Sunday trips to church? Or what it’s like to watch your parents dragged into a court-room handcuffed to prison trustees to someone who grew up in a conventional family environment? You can’t. But horror (and, to a lesser extent, sci-fi/fantasy) allows me to share my subjective experience of the world in a way that’s understandable to people with more conventional backgrounds. When Permuted Press bought my novel The Book of Ashes in May of last year, they asked if I had any other novels. I told them about my short story “Kezzie of Babylon” and said I could develop it into a zombie novel because Permuted likes those. And now here we are.
Zombie fiction has had quite a lot of staying power in the past ten years; even when a lot of people were saying the trend was dead, true to its spirit, it continues to shamble on good naturedly, from The Walking Dead to World War Z, from Jonathon Maberry to Joe McKinney and many more. Where do you see this trend/genre in ten years?
That’s hard to say, Martin. Honestly, I never expected the zombie craze to outlast one season of The Walking Dead. No here we are – what? Five? Six seasons in? There’s a whole raft of spin-offs TV, games, stories, novels, comics, the cultural phenomenon of zombie “walks” … Who could have predicted that surge in popularity? Not I.
For what it’s worth, my prediction. Ten years from now, the hot topic for PC/social justice warrior types will be zombie rights. The fact that zombies don’t exist won’t bother them. After all, neither does social justice. It’s a myth, like Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. Ivory tower stuff. Like Dylan said: “This world is ruled by violence / but I guess that’s better left unsaid.”
Kezzie Of Babylon is a zombie, apocalyptic, horror novel, featuring a cast of characters with interesting histories, such as Zack, who ends up picking up a mysterious package for the local drug kingpin. Meanwhile, he tracks the footsteps of a girl he’s never met, but whose diary he’s been reading for years. This leads him to a ragtag fringe group living in a woodland, when all hell breaks loose. There, we meet Kezzie herself. At first glance, she’s a religious psychopath, but is also something much more than what she appears.
Can you share with us how the idea for Kezzie Of Babylon came about?
To return to what I said earlier: horror allows me to share my subjective experience of the world in a way that’s understandable to people from more mainstream backgrounds. Both as a young adult and middle-aged PI, I’ve come into a LOT of contact with the criminal element. Writing about druggies and assorted low-lifes is absurdly easy for me. The “Kezzie” short story was intended to be a romp, nothing more — a zombie shoot-em-up on a grow-op with an interesting character in Kezzie. With the novel, I went deeper, trying to offer an interesting REASON for the zombie outbreak (an influx of bad street drugs) and an answer as to how bikers and other marginal types might cope during a zombie apocalypse. Better than most, I suspect, simply because they’re accustomed to living high-risk lifestyles.
Kezzie herself is my first stab at writing a true “cult” leader and I modeled her on David Koresh. The cult experience is something I first addressed in ECHO and will continue to address going forward. It’s fundamental to my life. I’m good friends with Gina Catena, who works with cult survivors and writes about cult recovery issues. We’re both involved in the life-long process of PTSD and cult recovery. So writing this kind of stuff is therapeutic for me.
Did you do any research, any prep work for Kezzie Of Babylon that might be of interest?
Living it. I only write about things I’ve experienced personally. The old Chinese curse applies here: “May you live in interesting times”. My life has certainly been interesting. And quite often upsetting. I’m turning that to my advantage and putting all those bad experiences to work for me. It’s only in the past 3 years or so that I’ve moved beyond the very real consequences of things “people did to me” and began “doing unto others”. Like it says in the book: “Do unto others before they can do unto you”. I choose to inflict my stories on the world.
Scenes in Kezzie Of Babylon often reminded me of certain characters I’d run into in real life. Are you willing to talk about how observation informs your work, or the juxtaposition of reality in a fictional work?
I’m a total outsider. I’m one of those guys who won’t accept your invitation for drinks or dinner, doesn’t attend parties or social events like weddings or baptisms, doesn’t participate in group activities of any kind anymore (I trained in judo and BJJ for years but cut that cord in 2013). I live alone, I work more or less alone in my day-job and spend my days off at home with the door locked and the curtains drawn, hip-deep in my latest WIP. What does this leave?
Observation. I’m fascinated by the behavior of the human animal. One of my heroes is Dr. Jane Goodall, whose work I first encountered via National Geographic as a child. I take the same approach to human society she did with her chimps: approach stealthily, sit quietly and observe. Remember: I’m a trained investigator. I can size you up in three seconds flat — how you dress and cut your hair, whether you’re right or left handed, the way you walk, a smoker or non-smoker, the condition of your shoes … all these things tell a story. In my daily life, I’m constantly snapping pictures of people and engaging in analysis. It’s a habit I cultivated as a child in abusive family and cult environments. It was a prerequisite for survival. It kept me alive — literally. It’s a compulsive, learned behavior that I’ll never stop engaging in.
So. I observe. I extrapolate. I write.
Do you feel you learned anything about publishing your second novel you didn’t learn with your first?
Mostly, I learned what it was like to have a supportive publisher for a change. Permuted has taken a pounding in the public eye of late, but they’re a great environment. Very innovative and forward-thinking. And I have a great family of writers around me, many of whom are as deeply disturbed as myself. It’s such a relief to be able to shoot an e-mail off to a guy like Jeremiah Israel or Bill Vitka and say something like: “Hey guys! Break out the box-cutters and the chloroform! Time to find some some organ donors!” I love those guys. They get me.
Are you working on another project we can expect to see in the near future, or something you’re excited about?
Permuted is scheduled to publish my next novel in December of this year. The Book of Ashes takes place after a plague has more or less destroyed civilization, turning Vancouver Island into a feudal wasteland ruled by the Hell’s Angels. Cory O’Neal is a retired school-teacher who spends his days in a trailer on the edge of the forest, scavenging firewood, hunting for food and ducking attacks by gangs of marauding cannibals. In the evenings he composes a history of the plague. But what begins as a history soon begins to resemble a confession. His sole indiscretion as a teacher, forming a special bond with a troubled female student, ended his career. It may also end Mankind.
My ongoing major project is the republication of Echo and, afterwards, its four sequels: Echo Tribe, Echo Quest, Echo War and Echo Lord. This quintet is my life’ s work — a sci-fi epic that examines the religious experience from the point-of-view of the five principle figures of any faith: the prophet, the leader, the visionary, the warrior and the heretic. Permuted will republish Echo in 2016.
How can we keep up with you?
Catch me online at www.jamiescribbles.com
We thank Jamie Mason for taking the time to answer our questions, and Kezzie of Babylon is available from Permuted Press and Amazon.
Jamie Mason is a Canadian writer of dark fiction whose stories have appeared in On Spec, Abyss & Apex, White Cat and the Canadian Science Fiction Review. His zombie novel KEZZIE OF BABYLON was published by Permuted Press in March of this year. He lives on Vancouver Island. Learn more at www.jamiescribbles.com