Hellbox Editions (2020)
Dave Mason was born in England and raised in Canada. The things he learned as a CJFL quarterback, while working in a women’s prison, a forensic psychiatric hospital and a subatomic physics laboratory and while coaching high school football naturally prepared him to start a design firm immediately after graduating from college in the late 20th century. He subsequently co-founded internationally recognized Chicago/Vancouver-based SamataMason in 1995, and Chicago / Vancouver / Atlanta-based Multiple Inc. in 2013.
Honored for excellence in virtually every significant design publication and competition, Dave’s work has been exhibited at The Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe in Hamburg, Germany. He has served as a juror for international design competitions including Communication Arts Design Annual, The Mead Annual Report Show, AR 100 Annual Report Show, Taiwan International Poster Competition, and Applied Arts, and as a guest speaker at design and business schools, conferences, and events throughout Canada, the United States and Asia. In 2010 he was named a Fellow by the Society of Graphic Designers of Canada.
Dave has also co-founded of a number of additional ventures including OpinionLab Inc., the leader in web and mobile voice of customer feedback systems (acquired by Verint / Nasdaq VRNT), Cusp Conference LLC, the annual Chicago-based conference about ‘the design of everything,’ PowerPlayer Inc., a company dedicated to helping youth hockey coaches teach young athletes through feedback.
EO-N is his first novel.
Hi Dave, thank you for joining us today at Reader Views! Tell us a bit about your novel, EO-N.
EO-N is a little bit of history, a little bit of mystery, and a little bit of contemporary social commentary. Maybe not a typical combination for a novel but somehow it just made sense to me.
EO-N is your literary debut – what motivated you to sit down and write a novel?
Honestly, I never set out to write a novel. For eleven years, my business partners and I hosted Cusp — an annual conference “about the design of everything,” and in the final conference in 2018 one of our presenters suggested writing for fun as a way to reduce stress. I hadn’t written for anything like fun since about third grade but that somehow made sense I guess, and I just started. Mostly random stuff at first, but pretty soon my pattern-seeking brain began to put things together, and before I knew it, I had what seemed like the beginning of a novel.
How did you choose historical fiction and what inspired this particular story and era in history?
I’ve been fascinated with history my entire life. I spent the first years of my existence in a small village in England, walking to a two room school through the spooky graveyard of a church built somewhere around the 13th century, the child of parents whose cities had been bombed by the Germans in the not-so-distant past. Moving to Canada as an 8-year old opened up a whole new history to fire my imagination – stories of the Iroquois and Algonquin and Mohawk and coureur de bois were like magnets to me. EO-N likely emerged from that fascination, as I am constantly drawn to news articles and stories that pertain to newly discovered pieces of history. I think at some point I read an article about a kid who found a virtually complete German fighter plane — lost pilot included — buried in the mud on his family’s farm in Denmark, and that got me thinking “what if?” What if there was more in that plane than was supposed to be there? The rest just unfolded for me from there.
How extensive was the research for EO-N? Can you share some of the research involved in plotting this story?
For me, history is an everchanging thing, but what’s ‘known’ is massively outweighed by what’s not known. That gives fiction writers a fantastic platform on which to build their stories, but the trick is to get the ‘known’ stuff as right as possible. Placing a fictional story in a pretty well-known period like the Second World War puts a heavy burden on getting the details right, so I did a tremendous amount of research to be sure nothing would seem amiss to anyone who had solid knowledge of the events and machines and tactics around which my characters do their things.
Without giving too much away, I needed an aircraft that would accommodate aspects of my initial storyline with credibility, and I reached out to a number of museums and restoration experts to confirm a lot of details. One restoration group, The Calgary Mosquito Society, connected me with two 95-year-old Canadians who’d actually flown those specific aircraft in combat — one of whom amazingly enough flew from the very airfield from which my fictional Canadian pilot operates! — and the time I spent with those two gentlemen was incredible in so many ways. I was able to ask them about things I’d never have known — what did it smell like inside the cockpit, for example — and they both offered deep insights into a ton of little things that helped bring credibility to my fiction. When I asked one of them who’d read an early draft of some of the Mosquito-centric chapters if I had things about right, his response was fantastic: “Right enough. You’ve got to f$#k with the facts to make good fiction!”
I was also able to connect with a forensic investigator from Canada’s DHH, and her insights into the processes and protocols they follow when the remains of lost Canadian military personnel are found, and the emotional impact of those discoveries on the families and descendents was incredibly informative.
What area of research did you find most fascinating?
I loved all of the research aspects, but getting to know Tom Burdge and George Stewart, the two Mosquito pilots, will stay with me forever.
How did you balance your research with creativity to come up with your unique story?
For me, the weight of credibility was critical, so doing the factual research was absolutely necessary in order for the fictional components to work. And even the fictional stuff is based in fact. Some of the locations in EO-N are real, the RAF Coastal Command base at Banff, Scotland, Norway’s Folgefonna glacier and Nova Scotia’s Lunenburg harbor, for example.
Others, like the unnamed German “Institute” that hosts so much of the core part of the story, are entirely fictional, but are based on actual locations and facilities from which I drew certain details. The basic creative part of the storyline was there from day one, but it was actually influenced and modified by the facts I uncovered, so I guess research and creativity are two sides of the same coin to me.
Are there certain parts of the story where you took more creative liberties than others?
The story is, of course, imaginary, so there are no doubt some creative liberties in there. But for me, the biggest challenge was to weave the fiction into enough credible reality that a reader would find it difficult to know where one ended and the other one began. Hopefully that line is pretty blurry!
Your writing skills, imagination and execution of EO-N contradicts the fact that it is your debut novel. That said, you are not new to the creative world. How has your career as a graphic designer and cofounder of a number of software companies influenced your writing?
Kind of you to phrase your question that way! I’ve been a visual thinker my entire life, but as a graphic designer that usually entails working with words as well. I do a lot of writing for my clients, but as I mentioned, I haven’t written for fun in a long, long time. I’m guessing that my experiences in thinking about communication from both visual and written perspectives might have helped me put this thing together.
Tell us a bit about your characters. How did you create them?
All of the central characters are imaginary. The story came first and I needed certain people in certain positions and situations to give it life, so as I began to write, the characters just kind of showed up and introduced themselves! I got to know them as they lived the events.
Who was your favorite character to develop (and why)?
Hmmm… which of your kids do you love the most? Seriously, that’s a tough question. Each character is critical to the story, and each of them brings their own histories and hopes and fears and idiosyncrasies along with them. But for me, that’s really what makes a story worth reading — the plot is one thing, but it’s the humans who inhabit it who make all the difference.
How long did it take you to write EO-N?
The initial draft probably took me about six months. By the time I’d realized I might actually have a novel on my hands, and had done all the research and reworking I was probably a year in. Working through editing and fine tuning took about six more months.
What has the general response been to EO-N?
Incredibly positive. I think people are surprised at the level of humanity and emotional impact in what they might first perceive to be a typical historical mystery. I hear over and over how much people gravitate toward certain characters – one of the best early responses came from a reader who simply texted me a photo of themself crying. I had to make sure that was a positive response!
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your book?
I learned a few things about the publishing world, that’s for sure, but I also learned how much writing for fun actually DOES eliminate stress. And as a born control freak, I also discovered how awesome it is to create people out of vapor, but that creation also comes with the responsibility to give them true and meaningful existences. For readers, those imaginary people temporarily become real people, and that’s a heavy load.
What is one thing you wish you knew when you started out?
I wish I knew what “head-hopping” was. I do now!
What do you like to read and which authors have inspired your own work as a writer?
I read all kinds of books, historical fiction, science fiction, narrative history, history, business books. I’ve read so many authors it’s difficult to pin ‘inspirational’ on just a few, but most recently Michael Ondaatje, Annie Proulx, Paul Auster, and Joseph Boyden come to mind. Of course, Orwell and Trumbo and Heinlein and Vonnegut are all mixed up in there somewhere. It’s murky in the inspiration pool.
As you may be discovering, being an author is a full-time job these days. What do you enjoy most about the process? And the least?
I’m only just coming around to realizing that I am, in fact, an author, and I also have a couple of actual full-time jobs that keep me pretty solidly occupied, so I’m expanding my days a little. But as someone once said to me, if you want to get something done, ask a busy person. I’m enjoying all of it, but especially meeting and working with so many great people along the way.
Describe how you felt when you first held a copy of your novel in your hands.
Like it was the end of the beginning. I’ve produced countless books for other people over the years, so I’m used to seeing my imagination made real, but it was pretty surreal to see EO-N in physical form.
How does your family support your writing? Were they surprised when you told them you were writing a book? (Or did you keep it a secret until it was finished)?
I never intended to show my early hack job to anyone, but I thought maybe my wife should know what I was doing on the train to and from the office. To say she was surprised when I told her I thought I might have written a novel would be a huge understatement. “What else don’t I know?!” Of course, she read it and told me she thought there was something there, but she suggested I share it with some people who would tell me it sucked if it sucked: my siblings. Turns out they thought it most definitely didn’t suck, and from there it took on a life of its own.
What do you like to do outside of writing? What are some of your other passions?
I still love the design world, and I’m involved in a software system designed for youth sports coaches (I grew up playing everything from soccer and rugby to lacrosse and hockey, and played football into my 20s before spending a few years as a high school football coach).
Now that my kids are young adults, my number one thing is hanging out with my wife, and we ski and hike and travel (pre-Covid, anyway) as much as we can.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received, as a writer or regarding life in general?
A fantastic designer named Michael Cronan once told me to be sure I gave my clients what I thought they needed, not what I thought they wanted. That’s never left me. And my father once advised me to be sure I fully understood that there are two things in life you can never undo: creating someone and ending someone. Weirdly, those two pieces of advice played into writing a piece of fiction, too.
So, what’s next? Are there more novels in your future?
Ha! Actually, I’m partway through the first cut at another one. Mostly because it’s still an escape. Will it suck? I’ll have to ask my siblings! And you!
What advice can you give to aspiring authors?
Write for fun. Write for yourself. Because there are people out there who will get it. The trick is to find them, or to have them somehow find you.
Dave, thank you so much for joining us today at Reader Views and sharing a bit about yourself and your work!
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