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Julia Nunnally Duncan at Little Switzerland Books and Beans

August 30, 2019 from 3pm to 6pm
Julia Nunnally Duncan will be a featured author at Little Switzerland Books and Beans on Friday, August 30, from 3-5. A book signing will follow. Julia will read from her latest books A Neighborhood Changes, A Part of Me, and A Place That Was Home.See More
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Guide to Antebellum Flat Rock

"The introduction of my new publication, Guide to Antebellum Flat Rock will be launched on Sept 14 2019 at 1:30 PM at the Henderson County Court House 500 Main Street. A talk and a brief slide show follows with refreshments afterward. …"
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Can women rescue the planet from ecological disaster?Nancy Werking Poling will launch her new novel, WHILE EARTH STILL SPEAKS, set in WNC. She'll tell the stories behind the story: How did Mary (more crone than virgin) get into the narrative? And Mary Surratt, a co-conspirator of John Wilkes Booth?See More
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Flat Rock history via a road

Travelling back in time on a Flat Rock roadby Rob Neufeld             If you walk the one mile length of North Highland Lake Road in Flat Rock, you step nearly 200 years into the past.            At the east end, the 21st century reigns.  Fronting six-lane Spartanburg Highway, a super-Ingles sits above a bog; and a CVS store faces an Octopus Garden smoke shop, a chiropractor, a cell phone provider, and a six-lane avenue to I-26 a mile away .            Neither Ingles nor CVS carries the big…See More
Apr 8

Asheville thriller writer Mason broods with the best

by Rob Neufeld

 

            “Everything you need for measuring a person,” Dee Vess, the heroine and narrator of Jamie Mason’s novel, “Monday’s Lie,” reflects, “can be found in the nature of what he chooses to hide from everyone else.”

            It’s a sign of how delicious Mason’s writing is that you can see many resonances coming from this one sentence on page 59.

 

Fuller than a thriller

 

            Dee, at the time of her reflection, is on her way to tracking down a scary lead about Patrick, her husband of nine years. 

            This is the heart of a thriller.  You find yourself asking: Have the covers been pulled back on Dee’s bedmate to reveal a demon?  In Mason’s hands, the question redounds to Dee.  Has she deceived Patrick about who she is?

            The measuring-a-person quote, above, is from one of the chapters that is headed by the entry, “Friday,” which means we’re in the present time, moving toward the climax, which doesn’t come to a head until the end.

            Mason works flashbacks smoothly, which fits her protagonist, who loves to brood.  That’s why Dee says that a person’s measure resides in “the nature of what he chooses to hide” rather than in simply “what he chooses to hide.”  It has to do with the deceiver’s intent.

            “People who think that lying is the lowest point of the human condition aren’t paying attention,” Mason said in an interview with the Citizen-Times Tuesday.  “If there’s any arena in which intent matters, it’s lying.  It’s extremely nuanced...Can it go horribly awry?  Sure.”  That makes for a great story.

            One more resonance: Dee’s mom, Annette Vess.   Right after commenting about Patrick’s type of lying, she says, “My mother’s secrets were a professional necessity,” meant “to safeguard our life together as separate and protected from her work.”

            Annette was a secret agent and a deeply loving mother who trained her children in the arts of observation and deduction.  Unlike the father in John Le Carre’s “A Perfect Spy,” who was a conman, the mother in “Monday’s Lie” is so admirable, it’s hard for anyone to escape her influence; and that includes Dee, who strives for a boring life despite her talents and the voice of her mom in her head.

            Mason speaks in Greenville, SC, Thursday and Saturday nights (see below); at Fairview Library, Apr. 7; on the second day of the Blue Ridge Bookfest at Blue Ridge Community College, April 25; and at City Lights Bookstore in Sylva, May 9.

 

Childhood

 

            Mason’s own dad had been a minister in Oklahoma City, who moved his new family, and two-weeks-old Jamie, to Alexandria, Va.  Growing up, she was asked by adults, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”  She answered, “a writer,” but she now admits, “I was lying.  I would say that because it got a big reaction.”

            She didn’t fulfill the truth of her self-projection until 30 years later, after a career in banking, during which she was known for channeling her creativity into memos.

            “Ah, customers,” one memo went when she was tasked to calm down credit union employees about a payroll delay that was likely to garner panicky calls, “you can’t live without them, you can’t strangle them.”

            It was addressed to a branch manager, who, unpredictably, sent it out as a teaser to the employees.

            Nonetheless, even as a tot, Mason was writing in her head.

            “I would see sentences,” she said.  “I would narrate what was happening in my life...One time I was watching ‘Stranger than Fiction,’” the movie in which Will Ferrell hears a voice narrating his life and realizes he’s a character in a novel, “and I died laughing and said to my husband, ‘That’s what it sounds like in my head.’”

            Eleven years ago, Mason and her husband moved to Asheville, where they are now raising a family; and she wrote her first novel, “Three Graves Full” (2012), named a top crime novel by multiple review sources.

 

More sublime than crime

 

            “I think in terms of predicaments more than crimes,” Mason revealed, and it shows.

            “Monday’s Lie” has a handful of predicaments going on, which puts it above most other thrillers.  To get lost in a novel, it’s got to feel like reality; and to feel like reality, it’s got to be complex.  A good author has to make the complexity seem all of one piece, which Mason does.

            The novel started out with something that an FBI agent had told Mason about face recognition.  It’s easier to remember a face if you study it upside-down.  That tidbit made it into the opening chapter, in which 13-year-old Dee studies the photo badge of a man who’s taking her mother away for what would be a traumatic seventh months. Of course, she’ll meet this man much later, and he’ll play a critical role.

            Mason’s second story seed was something she heard Dee’s mother saying:  “Never keep a man for more years than you could count on your fingers.”

            In the novel, Mason follows this up with this afterthought of Dee’s: “Of course, that was a faster-paced game for her than for most people.  She’d lost two of her fingers in completely separate escapades.”

            This invention allowed Mason to have her mother relate her adventures in digit injury in well-spaced narrations.  Storytelling!  Delight is as important as suspense.

            Also delightful are the games and contests that Annette stages for Dee and Dee’s brother, Simon; arguments and zingers; the cat-and-mouse play of agents; and Mom’s sayings, such as “Freer than me,” whenever she captured and released a spider.

            The thriller plot does require that Mason concoct a big ending, which she covers pretty well by giving a good amount of space to Patrick’s slide from self-respect and sanity.  A purely psychological novel would have been even more fully in Patrick’s head; and the ending would most likely end up being resoundingly mundane in a strange way; or feelingly tragic, as with Anna Karenina.

            But let’s take “Monday’s Lie” for what it is: one of the best thrillers you’ll read, more flip than James Cain, yet full of much more food for thought than Alexander McCall Smith. 

Just one word of advice to the publisher, Gallery Books, a division of Simon & Schuster: ditch the cover art for the trade paperback.  Two wedding bands and a ribbon connote a romance—no guy will touch it.  Instead, go James Cain on it—maybe an Edward Hopperesque artwork of a woman in the mid-distance getting into her car and casting a paranoid glance over her shoulder.

 

AUTHOR EVENTS

 

Thurs, March 26, 6:30 p.m., “Men of the South meet the Women of Asheville,” ticketed event in Greenville, SC, visit fiction-addiction.com.

 

Sat. March 28, 7 p.m. at Joe’s Place, 640 South Main Street, Suite 101B

Greenville, SC (864-558-0828).

 

Apr. 7, 7 p.m., book discussion and Q&A at Fairview Library, 1 Taylor Road, Fairview (250-6484).

 

Apr. 25, at Blue Ridge Bookfest, Blue Ridge Community College,

Flat Rock, visit www.blueridge.edu/blueridgebookfest.

 

May 9, 6:30 p.m., “Liar’s Night” with Mason and Kim Michele Richardson, City Lights Bookstore, 3 E. Jackson St., Sylva (586-9499).

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