Friday, October 10, 2008

A Jolly Good Fellow

Paperback: 220 pages
Publisher: Good Harbor Press; 1st edition (November 26, 2007)
ISBN-10: 097996380X
ISBN-13: 978-0979963803

I am thrilled to be hosting a virtual blog tour for the book A Jolly Good Fellow and the author Stephen Massee. This book was an enjoyable read and I am pleased to present my interview with the author. Without further ado, I give you Stephen Masse.

Hi Stephen! Thanks for granting me this interview. Can you tell us a little about yourself and how long you have been writing?
I was brought up in a home full of books and music. My mother and father used to read stories to us throughout childhood, and we were required to get two books from the library each week. Sounds great in theory, though my two library books usually ended up collecting dust under the bed and running up overdue fines. I hated to read, and loved to write. My mother used to laugh when, after I finally knuckled down to read a book, I had to go off and write one just like it.

When I was in the fourth grade, I wrote a composition for Halloween that had witches flying broomsticks and stopping for red lights. I was laughing at my creation, and the teacher said, “Mr. Masse, you seem to be having a lot of fun with your composition, why don’t you come up in front of the class and share it with us.” I recall this as the first time I was hauled up in front of the class for something honorable.

I wrote my first “novel” when I was 13, while attending caddy camp in New Hampshire. Then while a freshman in college, I began writing what turned out to be a 150 page novel, which I called “Downwind From Fire,” about a northern woodsman whose wife becomes sick and must travel to Boston for treatment. Both stories are in my attic, where they will likely stay.

After college I wasted no time beginning what I expected would be my writing career. I wrote seven novels within ten years, and sold nothing. My first check for writing was a $25.00 payment for a local newspaper article. It was so gratifying that I accepted an unpaid weekly column in Amherst which I called, “Out of Control.” Finally thirteen years after graduation, I landed a contract with a small publisher for my book, Shadow Stealer, about an American Indian boy who could magically make fire by dancing. I made about $400.00 on that before it went out of print. So after those first fifteen years, I made a total of $425.00, or about $28.30 per year. Now at long last, A Jolly Good Fellow is in print, and I’m glad to see it’s being well received.

Why and when did you decide you wanted to be a writer? And, do you write full-time?
I decided I was going to be a writer at 13, when I was handwriting my first novel in a composition book. The question why never came up. To me, writing was a vocation that was built into my microchip. I believe that some people are invested with a strong power of human observation coupled with reasonably good communication skills, and their lot in life is to observe and record for the betterment of humanity. My lifelong desire had been to write full-time, but at the same time I had no illusion of being a starving artist, so the writing had to become a dedicated hobby instead of a profession.

Do you have an agent? What were your experiences finding her/him?
I don’t put a lot of faith in agents, though they may be useful when a writer’s work is earning over $50,000 per year.

I really enjoyed reading "A Jolly Good Fellow." Duncan Wagner is an interesting character. Why did you decide to make him a "fake" Santa?
For Duncan Wagner, being a fake charity Santa Claus is a way to get out of his loneliness and self-absorption, as well as to make money without commitment to a steady job. Wagner wants to be the good guy, it keeps bubbling up out of his criminal self in so many different ways – and Santa Claus is pretty universally accepted as a good guy.

For me as author, creating Duncan Wagner was not so much a matter of conscious decision. He pretty much came to me during the six intense weeks that I cranked out the first draft of the book, and I let him tell his own story in his own Boston dialect. Ultimately it is Wagner’s choice to play Santa Claus, and that he chooses such a persona tells something about his inner reality.

Gabriel seems like the typical preteen. Do you have kids of your own to draw comparisons? If so, is Gabriel modeled after them?
Gabriel is modeled after a composite of many boys I’ve known during my time as a summer camp counselor, Big Brother, and uncle. I don’t have any children.

I found it interesting that the chapters were labeled as "tapes" instead of chapters. Why did you do that?
In the end of A Jolly Good Fellow, Duncan is in court-ordered therapy, and his therapist encourages him to make recordings of his story. He narrates into an old-fashioned tape recorder, which is consistent with his indifference to modern electronics.

The fact that Gabriel still wets the bed was so realistic. What was your reasoning behind this detail?
As with creating Duncan Wagner, I found that Gabriel’s character manifested itself to me during the writing process. He just happened to be a bed wetter, and I found it gave Gabriel more complexity as well as giving Duncan another opportunity to show his true self.

How long did it take you to write "A Jolly Good Fellow"?
The initial writing process took six weeks during the Thanksgiving and Christmas season of 1976, and the final publication draft was finished in summer of 2007.

Do you write longhand or use a computer?
While in college I found that longhand was inefficient, because I couldn’t write the words as fast as my mind could think them. Typing was perfect for me because I could type pretty much as fast as I could put my thoughts into words. Now all my writing is on the computer, though I keep a note pad and pen right next to me so that I could jot down the various urgent notes that come up during any writing session.

Many writers listen to a specific musical playlist when working. Did you have a playlist for "A Jolly Good Fellow" and if so, what was on it?
During a major re-write a few years ago, I discovered a musical sound track to the book, and perhaps someday, the film. Because the book is really about a man’s salvation, a string version of “Oh Come Oh Come Emmanuel {Celtic Harp for Christmas, Lori Pappajohn (1994 Ancient Echoes Music)}, followed by the choral version by Robert Shaw Chorale {A Festival of Carols, Robert Shaw Chorale and Orchestra (1987 RCA /BMG Music)}.

The orchestrations throughout the first half of the Moody Blues’ Days of Future Passed have the perfect seasonal style to match the street scenes of A Jolly Good Fellow.
Also the following:

Chantons Noel {Erato Disques S. A. 1969 (2292-45641-2)} “Mon Jesus, Doux Jesus”

Carols from Clare (Rutter) {EMI 1988 (CDM 7 699502)} “Infant holy, infant lowly,” “Rocking,” “Nativity Carol,” “Gabriel’s Message.”

The Holly and the Ivy, Clare College Choir (Rutter) {Decca Record Company D-125048}

Carols from King’s (David Willcocks) {EMI 1991 (CDB7 67356 2)}

Cambridge Singers/ Rutter - Christmas Night, Carols of the Nativity {Collegium Records 1116535} “Adam Lay Ybounden,” “In the Bleak Midwinter,” “I Wonder as I Wander,” “Myn Lyking.”

“Adagio for Strings,” Samuel Barber

Can you describe for us your writing environment?
I built a small office in my basement specifically for writing. It has a large window on the southeast side, with custom mahogany stained oak desk and bookcases. The desktop is eight feet long. The walls are sponge-painted in light yellow, with Berber carpeting on the floor.

What do you enjoy reading? Have your reading tastes changed over the years?
I used to enjoy reading the Atlantic Monthly every month of my adult life until fiction was discontinued and the magazine moved out of Boston. I do continue to read Smithsonian, and always have a pile of at least three books by my bed (now it’s 5). My tastes are generally in the field of good fiction and interesting non-fiction.

What are your working on now?
I’m hoping to finish up my final re-write of a children’s book, Short Circus, within a few months. This is a story narrated by twelve year old Jem Lockwood about his adventures with his Big Brother and a merry assortment of neighborhood friends, all while living under the threat that his Big Brother may have to move away.

I enjoy visiting your website- Stephen V. Masse - Do you enjoy updating the site, or is it just one of those writer "chores" for you?
It’s a little of both, depending on how urgent the changes to the website are.

If you could be any animal in the world, what would it be and why?
I’m pretty happy to be a human animal, because a human can imagine himself to be any animal or combination of animals at any time, and still come back to being human.

Thank you Stephen. To read my review of A Jolly Good Fellow, go here.


Tracee said...

Excellent interview - thanks again for being part of Stephen's tour!

The Holistic Knitter said...

Good interview ;0)